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Mueller's team files update on Manafort. TRANSCRIPT: 11/26/18, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Jelani Cobb

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris, and thank you.

And thank you to those of you at home for joining us this hour.  Hope you all had a great holiday.  Rachel has got the night off, but she will be back here tomorrow night. 

In the meantime, we got a lot to get to tomorrow night.  While you were polishing off that second helping of turkey, the breaking news has been piling up faster than Thanksgiving leftovers, thanks in large part to special counsel Robert Mueller.  Shortly before we took the air tonight, the famously radio silent Mueller team dropped a bombshell about the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort.  I`ll have more on that in just a moment. 

We`re also following another breaking headline, this one out of Mississippi.  President Trump is on the ground there now.  He is about to hold his second rally today for Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who faces off against Democrat Mike Espy in a runoff election tomorrow, a runoff that has at times felt like an out-of-body experience in terms of how many times it made you shake your head and say did that really happen?  Whether it was the Republican candidate saying that she`d be in the front row of a public hanging or the Republican candidate`s robotic almost comical non-apology for those offensive remarks, or her debate performance in which she seemed to say her greatest selling point is Donald Trump.

As if all of that weren`t surreal enough, today on the eve of the runoff, there were this, nooses seen hanging on trees outside the Mississippi state capitol. 

This runoff is shaping up to be an MRI of the soul of Mississippi.  The next 24 hours are critical, and I`ll have a lot more on that in just a moment. 

But first, to that breaking news from special counsel Robert Mueller and the president`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort.  The first Trump campaign official to reach a plea deal with Robert Mueller was his foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, this guy on the right.  His plea deal was announced in October of 2017, on the very same day that Mueller charged Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, on the left, and deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates with multiple tax and money laundering charges. 

Today, Papadopoulos turned himself into a minimum security camp adjacent to the federal prison in Oxford, Wisconsin, to begin serving a 14-day sentence for lying to the FBI about his Russia-linked contacts.  Papadopoulos received that relatively light sentence from the judge in his case after Mueller`s prosecutors this summer filed what is known as a presentencing memorandum.  Essentially, their recommendation about how much jail time he should receive based on the gravity of his crime and the usefulness of his cooperation. 

Now in that sentencing memo to the judge, Mueller`s prosecutors recommended jail time for the adviser was appropriate and warranted.  Quote: His lies negatively affected the FBI`s Russia investigation and prevented the FBI from effectively identifying and confronting witnesses in a timely fashion.  The defendant`s false statements were intended to harm the investigation and did so. 

Now, when it came time to describe the extent of Papadopoulos`s cooperation, the special counsel told the judge that the defendant did not provide substantial assistance, saying that much of the information he provided came only after the government confronted him with his own e- mails, text messages, Internet search history, and other information it had obtained via search warrant and subpoenas. 

And while Papadopoulos checking into federal prison today for a two-week stay signals that his role in the Russia investigation is likely at an end, tonight, we learned game-changing new details about the Cooperation of his boss during the 2016 campaign, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. 

Remember, Manafort was convicted by a Virginia jury this summer on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, but before that trial even started, the former Trump campaign chairman was already in jail.  That was before -- just before his trial was due to start in Virginia, Mueller filed new charges against Manafort in D.C., accusing both he and his long-time associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who the special counsel alleged to have had ties to Russian intelligence, with witness tampering related to their Ukraine lobbying campaign. 

Now, as a result, the judge ordered Manafort jailed pending his trial.  As the judge told the court at the time, quote, this is not the first time we`ve had to talk about him skating too close to the line.  She went on: I am concerned you seem to treat these proceedings as just another marketing exercise.  You have abused the trust the court placed in you six months ago.  So, that was in June.  Manafort jailed on new charges of witness tampering before he had even gone to trial. 

After being convicted at trial in Virginia in August and saying he would not cooperate with the special counsel, Manafort surprised many by striking a plea deal before his second trial in D.C. was due to begin on money laundering charges, as well as those recently filed witness tampering charges.  As part of that plea in September, Manafort agreed to answer, quote, fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly questions about any and all matters the government wanted to ask. 

Well, now it appears that Manafort may not have done that, and perhaps in retrospect, we should have seen this coming.  Earlier this month, we got this report from ABC News detailing rising tension between Mueller`s team and Manafort over his level of cooperation.  As ABC reported at the time, Mueller`s team is quote, not getting what they want, said one source with knowledge of the discussions.  Quote, sources told ABC News there is frustration over whether Manafort is fully providing the information he agreed to offer, putting a strain on the deal. 

That was a single report on November 9th.  Then ten days ago, we were expecting to see Mueller`s team file a presentencing memo spelling out details surrounding Manafort`s cooperation, when both sides pushed it back, insisting on a rare ten-day delay so that Mueller could prepare, quote, a report that will be of greater assistance in the court`s management of this matter. 

The reason for that delay was unclear.  There was a lot of speculation that something might be about to happen in the Mueller investigation, that Manafort might potentially be helping with.  Well, tonight we have our answer.  In a new filing this evening, Mueller`s prosecutors spell out the issue directly, saying that Manafort has breached the cooperation agreement that he signed with Mueller`s prosecutors in September by repeatedly lying to federal investigators.

  From tonight`s filing, quote: After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the special counsel`s office on a variety of subject matters.  Mueller`s team do not spell out in detail exactly what Manafort lied about, but note that they will at some point file a detailed sentencing submission to the probation department and the court, setting forth the nature of the defendant`s crimes and lies, setting forth the nature of the defendant`s lies and crimes. 

Quote, as the defendant has breached the plea agreement, there is no reason to delay his sentencing herein.  Now, the filing tonight is a joint status report filed by both the special counsel and Manafort`s attorneys.  As such, it also lays out Paul Manafort`s side of the story wherein he denies the latest allegations against him. 

Quote, after signing the plan agreement, Manafort met with the government on numerous occasions and answered the government`s questions.  Manafort has provide information to the government in an effort to live up to his cooperation obligations. 

It goes on: He believes he has provided truthful information and does not agree with the government`s characterization or that he has breached the agreement.  Given the conflict in the parties` positions, there is no reason to delay the sentencing herein, and he asks the court to set a sentencing date in this matter.

Paul Manafort has been in solitary confinement in a Virginia jail since June when he was accused of violating his probation by actively tampering with witnesses to try the get them to spin his actions in a more positive light. 

Paul Manafort was already facing the prospect of at least ten years behind bars.  Tonight, he faces the prospect of each more time for breaking his cooperation agreement by lying on a variety of subject matters.  Mueller`s team could also refile charges on counts they previously agreed to dismiss as part of the plea deal. 

Now, how likely is it that Mueller`s prosecutors do refile charges against Trump`s former campaign chair?  What does this mean for Paul Manafort?  What does this mean for the other Trump campaign officials who continue to cooperate with the special counsel?  What does this mean for Trump?  What does it mean for the special counsel himself at a time when his investigation appears to be increasingly under threat? 

Joining me now, Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, and Daniel Goldman, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. 

Thank you both for being with us. 

Barbara, let me just start with you.  These cooperation agreements require much more than answering a few questions about the matter at hand.  They require, in this case required, Paul Manafort to answer any question about any legal wrongdoing he`s ever been involved in or known of. 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MICHIGAN:  Yes, it`s an all or nothing proposition.  When the government is talking with someone about cooperation, they want to know everything about this case.  They want to know everything about their own misconduct, because they are recruiting him now to be on their team. 

They`re going to put him on the stand, essentially vouching for his truthfulness, sponsoring his testimony and asking a jury to believe him.  And they can only do that if they are convinced that he is telling them the truth.  They understand that people commit crimes, but this is the deal, and you understand what the stakes are. 

When there is a breach like this, it real slay lose-lose proposition.  Paul Manafort is now going to face more time than he otherwise would have, and now the government has lost a cooperator who had potential value to them. 

VELSH:  Daniel, he could face a lot more time.  This guy could never see the outside of a jail now.  What would have compelled him not to cooperate?  He already had to give up his property.  He already was going to go to jail for some things.  It was clear that the Mueller investigation had a lot of evidence on him. 

What do you think is behind this? 

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  Well, there is a lot of speculation already that he has been dangled a pardon, or he is afraid of some of the Russians he may have information on.  We don`t have any evidence of, that which I think is very important to point out. 

And second of all, I think it fails to understand how self-interested and irrational someone like Paul Manafort is, someone who has committed fraud in various forms for so much of his life.  I prosecuted white collar cases, and I frequently saw people like Paul Manafort who would essentially try their last heist on the prosecutors, and try to very frequently protect himself from further wrongdoing. 

And you and Barb just discussed how you have to actually admit to additional criminal activity.  It very well could just be that Paul Manafort was unwilling to admit to additional crimes perhaps related to the campaign and to Russia that we know were under investigation and that ultimately Bob Mueller just had enough and said if you`re not going to be truthful, you`re not getting a cooperation agreement. 

And he is now looking at ten years in D.C. plus perhaps anywhere from 11 to 14 years will be the guidelines in the Eastern District of Virginia.  It`s unlikely they`ll both run one after the other, but we`re talking double- digits amount of years in jail. 

VELSHI:  Barbara, have you had a circumstance like this where someone who you made a deal with went and lied and is there something we`re missing here?  Is there some potential upside to Manafort doing this? 

MCQUADE:  No.  It does happen from time to time.  It`s actually pretty rare.  Usually most of the time by the time someone has sat down, entered a guilty plea, they understand that the best they can do for themselves is to cooperate fully and truthfully so that they can get that motion and have a reduced sentence. 

And a good lawyer will sit down with their client and explain that to them.  On rare occasion, there are defendants who will continue to lie, oftentimes minimizing their own role.  It sounds like that`s what happened with George Papadopoulos, and at some point, the government just tears up the plea agreement and says we`re done because we can`t sponsor you. 

If it`s, you know, a slight lie, even that`s is problematic because it has to be reported to the judge and the defense so it can be used as impeachment material.  But at some point, you get to the point where I just can`t work with this person.  I can`t trust him and we`re done. 

You know, as I said, it`s a lose-lose.  I think the government would prefer to have his cooperation, but they can only do that if they believe he is being truthful. 

VELSHI:  So, Daniel, let`s go to 50,000 feet here.  We`ve heard that Papadopoulos has signed into jail because he didn`t cooperate in the way that was meaningful.  We understood that Manafort`s cooperation was in concert with others.  We`re waiting to see a sentence filing from the government on Michael Flynn. 

Is there a ripple effect to this? 

GOLDMAN:  I think there is a significant effect for government because of Paul Manafort`s central position in the campaign.  He was the campaign manager.  He was in that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.  He was actually overseeing the convention for the party and for the campaign, and you`ll recall that the party platform changed in a Russia-friendly way. 

It felt to many, including me, like Paul Manafort would help Bob Mueller get to the bottom of whatever happened.  And this is particularly relevant for people who perhaps didn`t use e-mail, such as the president.  And that if he is the campaign manager, and he has all these contacts and relationships with Russia, that if someone`s not -- doesn`t have a paper trail, you need a Cooperating witness to know what conversations went on. 

And I think this is a real blow to the special counsel not to be able to get that information and use it through Paul Manafort, because now it can`t be used.  You need to be a witness in order to be able for the prosecutor to use the information, even if he gave some information that was truthful, they cannot rely on him to testify to that information.  So they have to find it elsewhere. 

VELSHI:  We have heard, however, today, Barbara, that Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi, who is a strange character, this the guy behind the birther conspiracy, he was due to conduct an interview with us on NBC about a week ago.  He didn`t get out of his car and didn`t do it.  Now we have heard that he has turned down a plea deal from Robert Mueller. 

Do you make anything of this? 

MCQUADE:  You know, it`s hard to know exactly what is going on.  What he has said publicly is that he refused to plead guilty to perjury because the purported perjury charge was based on his failure to remember something. 

That does not ring true to me.  Perjury is charged only when you can prove the central elements that the person testified under oath, that they then and there knew what they were saying was false, and it was about a material fact.  That is something that is important.  It is not something that has slipped your memory, you can`t recall. 

So, I don`t know exactly what has happened there.  It seems more likely that someone has decided I can`t do time.  When you agree to plead guilty, you have to own your crimes, and you may face criminal exposure, including sentencing before a judge. 

And so often, the sticking point is the person wants a promise of probation or some other sweetheart deal that the prosecution just isn`t willing to promise. 

VELSHI:  All right.  Thanks to both of you for your analysis tonight.  Barbara McQuade is former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.  Donald Goldman, former assistant attorney for the Southern District of New York -- we appreciate your time tonight. 

MCQUADE:  Thanks, Ali. 

VELSHI:  I want to give you an update on a legal story we`re following.  Back in June, the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit against the president and his charitable foundation, alleging a pattern of illegal behavior that span more than a decade.  The lawsuit has ensnared not just the president, but also his children who allegedly used the Trump Foundation to prop up Trump`s presidential bid and settle business disputes. 

It`s been an open question whether this case could go forward.  Trump`s lawyers had challenged whether a sitting president could face a civil lawsuit.  Well, now consider that matter settled.  Over that weekend, a New York judge ruled that a lawsuit against the president`s charitable foundation can proceed.  The judge ruled in no uncertain terms, quote, I find I have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump. 

Watch this space.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  At the end of 1969, after 15 years of dragging its feet, the state of Mississippi was finally ordered by the Supreme Court to desegregate its public schools.  And so, the governor of Mississippi reluctantly ordered that when his state`s public school students came back from the winter holiday in January 1970, black and white students would start attending school together.  But on the last weekend of the winter break, the governor gave a statewide televised address, and he told the white people of his state not to worry.  He had found a way for them not to have to send their kids to school with black children.

  From the January 4th, 1970 edition of the "New York Times," quote, Governor John Bell Williams, on the eve of next week`s scheduled court-ordered total school desegregation in many areas of the state, told Mississippians that he would work to erect a private school system as a workable alternative for thousands of white children.  Governor Williams said he would ask the legislature to seek ways and means of rendering assistance to the establishment of private schools. 

And thanks in part to those hastily established all-white schools, many of those students who were on winter break that first weekend of 1970 never went back to public school again. 

(BGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The school desegregation ordered in Mississippi began today.  Children returned to classes in 11 of 30 districts which had been ordered to integrate.  The integration ordered unconditionally by the Supreme Court was accomplished without incidental though in the presence of federal marshals, but there still were attempts to evade the order.  All 46 white schools opened in some places.  In others, whites abandoned their schools to the blacks. 

The remainder of schools will open later this week.  Today in some of them, the children registered for classes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Noxubee County, Mississippi, is 80 percent Negro, and under the original court order integrating its schools, there should have been four Negroes for every white in class this today.  But over the weekend, the court changed its order of the schools` request.  For one more semester, integration will be gradual, with white students still the majority.  Instead of being 4-1 black, whites will outnumber the blacks 3- 2.  The change was reflected in the number of whites who registered for class today.  At first, it was felt that most whites would switch to a private school, but most will stay. 

PERRY WHITE, PRINCIPAL:  The majority of them and really and truly, I think that possibly 75 percent will be coming back, 60 to 75 percent of the white students. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  Now, that`s a remarkably optimistic way to say that 25 to 40 percent of your white student body has just decided not to come back after the winter break.  And it was not like all these parents were sending their kids to these brand-new white private schools for the superior education.  These schools were set up in a hurry and not necessarily with a lot of investment, despite what the state kicked in. 

The former chair of the Mississippi Democratic Party who went to public school in Ellisville, Mississippi, in the 1970s and `80s told "The Jackson Free Press" that he recalled, quote, making fun of the kids in town whose parents drove them 26 miles to a white academy and back, more than 100 miles a day, just so they could have a substandard education with teachers who often had little more than a high school diploma.  He added, quote: The only reason people of my generation went to segregation academies was to keep the white kids and the black kids apart. 

Segregation academies, that`s what those schools were called, colloquially, at least.  And we learned over the Thanksgiving weekend from some fantastic reporting from Ashton Pittman at "The Jackson Free Press" that one of the white students who was moved into a segregation academy in the 1970s was Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi`s junior United States senator, appointed earlier this year, who is running to be elected to her post in tomorrow`s runoff against Democrat Mike Espy. 

It is the last remaining race of the 2018 midterms, a contest that has become unexpectedly competitive in deep red Mississippi because of Hyde- Smith`s recent comments and uncomfortable history on the subject of race.  Quote: U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith attended and graduated from a segregation academy that was set up so that white parents could avoid having to send their children to schools with black students, a year book reveals. 

A group photo in the 1975 edition of "The Rebel", the Lawrence county academy year book illustrates the point.  High school cheerleaders smiling at the camera.  In the center, the mascot dressed in what appears to be an outfit designed to mimic that of a Confederate general offers a salute as she holds up a large Confederate flag. 

Third from the right on the ground, a sophomore girl with short hair identified in the caption as Cindy Hyde.  And, of course, Cindy Hyde-Smith should not be held responsible for where her parents chose to send her to school, though the "Free Press" points out that she, Cindy Hyde-Smith sent her daughter to a different segregation academy, also opened in 1970, a school that no longer technically excludes black students, but enrolled just one black child in the 2015-2016 school year, despite being in a majority black town. 

Senator Hyde-Smith has not given the impression during this campaign of someone who has done much substantive grappling with her state`s or her own racial history.  After making her now infamous remark that she would, quote, be on the front row for a public hanging if she were invited to said public hanging by a particularly beloved consistent, Cindy Hyde-Smith refused to answer any questions about it for a week, and then gave a half- hearted "sorry if anyone was offended" apology at a debate, and then continued refusing to say anything about it. 

Then there were Hyde-Smith`s comments about making it harder for, quote, liberal folks at certain colleges to vote.  And the photo of her posing with Confederate artifacts, and her past support for various celebrations of Confederate heritage and civil war revisionism. 

And it`s not like there aren`t white Mississippians who are grappling, genuinely and substantively with the racial issues in the midst of this campaign.  A local Tupelo reporter who was present for the public hanging comments wrote a thoughtful introspective column on why he hadn`t picked up on those comments as news at the time he heard them. 

Quote: Reporting these remarks didn`t occur to me.  To the best of my recollection, I heard "public hanging" as a play upon the senator`s background as a cat farmer, a forced and clumsy invocation of frontier bravado.  Like everyone, I`ve had a limited life experience, and for me that experience has been influenced by the history of whiteness in the American South. 

I have no family members who were lynched.  I have no relatives who were threatened with lynching.  The words "public hanging" bring no particular menace to mind. 

Not so for other Mississippians, for other Southerners, for other Americans.  This is not ancient history I`m dredging up.  Not an old and forgotten wound I`m picking back open there are people alive today who are hold enough to have had family members lynched by a white mob, old enough to have feared that fate themselves, end quote. 

Cindy Hyde-Smith could try to face head-on why so many people were so shocked by what she said.  Instead, she is literally running away from questions about it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI:  We`re going to an event.  Thank you, guys. 

VAUGHN HILLYARD, NBC NEWS REPORTER:  Senator, can I ask you, why not speak to us about the issue of race?  It`s an issue on voters` minds.  Why not speak about the issue of race?

HYDE-SMITH:  These people are really interested in the issues -- 

HILLYARD:  And there is a lot of people that we`ve talked to across this state that are concerned about your remarks and what you were apologizing for.  Senator, why not speak to this issue?  Your comments offended a great number of people, Senator. 

HYDE-SMITH:  (INAUDIBLE)

HILLYARD:  No, you haven`t.  What is it that you`re apologizing for? 

HYDE-SMITH:  Thank y`all for being here.

This has been great.

REPORTER:  Senator, how --

HILLYARD:  Senator, you stood inside of Jefferson Davis` house and you said that this is Mississippi history at its best.  Senator, what did you mean by that?  Standing inside of Jefferson Davis` house -- senator, this is a third of your electorate is African American.

HYDE-SMITH:  We`re feeling great!  Thank y`all for being here.!

HILLYARD:  But, Senator, you`re running to be the U.S. senator of the United States -- Senator, Senator, you`re running to be the U.S. senator.  Why not talk about race? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  The United States Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith successfully evading NBC news` Vaughn Hillyard.  Vaughn does not make it a policy of chasing candidates to their cars.  But Cindy Hyde-Smith has made it all but impossible for reporters to ask for any questions during the last couple of weeks.

And maybe that`s the right strategy.  Even with all her flaws, even with the coming of the blue wave of Democratic wins this month in which Democrats just picked up another House seat today in deep red Utah -- we`ll have more on that in a moment -- even in that environment, Hyde-Smith`s Democratic opponent Mike Espy has a seriously uphill battle to win an upset tomorrow.  He`d be the first black senator for Mississippi since reconstruction, that is a heavy lift. 

Here is Cindy Hyde-Smith, and the more you talk, the more you get yourself in trouble.  Maybe the goal right now is to make to it the finish line, even if you have to run out the back door, pursued by reporters. 

Republicans are worried enough to be pouring money and resources into a race that ought to be a cakewalk.  Donald Trump is currently in the midst of his second rally of the day in Mississippi to get out the vote for Hyde- Smith.  This one is in Biloxi.  This afternoon, was his first.  He was in Tupelo, Tupelo where Hyde-Smith talked about going to a public hanging. 

Mississippi`s own William Falkner famously wrote: the past is never dead.  It`s not even past. 

Today, at the Mississippi capitol, seven nooses were found hanging from trees, initially assumed to be a racist threat.  It turned out the people who left the nooses intended them to be a reminder, a sign they left with the nooses read, quote: On Tuesday, November 27, thousands of Mississippians will vote for a senator.  We need someone who respects the lives of lynch victims.  We`re hanging nooses to remind people that times haven`t changed. 

Have times changed enough that a black Democrat might win a U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi? 

Hold that thought.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  You heard the old proverb, slow and steady wins the race.  Well, just ask the Democrats.  Tomorrow is three weeks out from the midterms, and Democrats continue to put points on the scoreboard. 

Just tonight, we have late-breaking news out of California, in a race that had been called for the Republican.  In California`s 21st district, votes are still being counted.  Though late tonight, Democrat TJ Cox took the lead.  Right now, Democrats have picked up a whopping 39 seats in the House.  If they notch a win in California 21, it will be 40. 

The latest Democratic win was in Utah`s fourth district where Democrat Ben McAdams beat Republican incumbent Mia Love.  Love conceded today, but first she had a score to settle with the president. 

You may remember the day after the election, President Trump singled out Mia Love, name-checked her, saying she lost because shed hadn`t embraced Trump enough.  Well, today, Love clapped back. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIA LOVE (R), UTAH:  The president`s behavior towards me made me wonder, what did he have to gain by saying such a thing about a fellow Republican.  However, this gave me a clear vision of his world as it is.  No real relationships, just convenient transactions. 

This election experience and these comments shines a spotlight on the problems Washington politicians have with minorities and black Americans.  It`s transactional.  It`s not personal. 

You see, we feel like politicians claim they know what`s best for us from a safe distance, yet they`re never willing to take us home. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  Race also looms large in another race we`re watching tonight in Mississippi, where right now President Trump is trying to catapult Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith over the finish line in that runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a runoff in which Mississippi`s past and present in terms of race are as much on the ballot as the candidates themselves. 

Joining us now, Jelani Cobb, staff writer for "The New Yorker" and journalism professor at Columbia University. 

Jelani, good to have you here.  Thank you for being with us. 

JELANI COBB, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER":  Thank you. 

VELSHI:  For a lot of people, Cindy Hyde-Smith`s wink-wink non-apology about her statement on public lynchings was a wake-up call about racism in America how.  Do you think about this?  I began to think that Cindy Hyde- Smith very deliberately not apologizing and sort of making it clear to people she won`t apologize for something, a joke that people might have taken seriously about lynching. 

COBB:  Sure.  That`s a page right out of Donald Trump`s playbook.  He doesn`t apologize for anything.  You know, the more offensive, the better, and if he is proven factually incorrect, he just changes the subject. 

And so, there has been a sort of arc to this, if you remember.  Early on in Trump`s presidency, it seemed like people who tried to emulate him weren`t really successful at it.  You know, Roy Moore was one of those examples.  Ed Gillespie`s doomed gubernatorial bid in Virginia was another example in which he defended the confederacy even after everything that happened in Charlottesville. 

And so, you know, people said that, you know, the Trump template didn`t really work for other people, and now I think they`re beginning to question those assumption is because they have seen what happened with Brian Kemp in Georgia and with DeSantis in Florida.  It seems that you can actually mimic his outrageousness, mimic his egregious racism, mimic him playing to the worst possible aspects of human character and be successful at it. 

And I think that`s exactly what we`re seeing in Mississippi. 

VELSHI:  You`re somebody who has taught the history of public lynchings.  I thought that comment, the opinion that was written by that journalist was very thoughtful, the one who said that when he heard of public hangings, he didn`t make that association.  But tell us why so many people do, why lynching and voting are so closely tied together. 

COBB:  Well, certainly.  You know, the interesting thing about the history of lynching in this country is it`s a kind of litmus test that there are Americans who know virtually nothing about this entire history of was what one historian referred to as a festival of violence. 

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI:  Did you say "a festival of violence"? 

COBB:  A festival of violence. 

VELSHI:  Wow. 

COBB:  These are macabre rituals in which people were not just hung, but they were often hung, their bodies were burned, they were ritually castrated, and the historian W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about an incident in Atlanta when he walked down the street and saw a butcher displaying the knees of a man who had been lynched in his window as a kind of keepsake. 

And so, this kind of celebratory, over-the-top violence was intended to reinforce black subordination after the end of slavery, and especially after the 15th Amendment is bestowed the right to vote on African American men.  So lynch law and mob violence was one of the chief mechanisms by which black people were excluded from the electorate and especially in the South. 

VELSHI:  So in a democracy, the ultimate subordination is if you prevent people from voting or discourage them from voting or you frighten them out of voting. 

COBB:  Right.  That`s exactly what happened. 

VELSHI:  Cindy Hyde-Smith, this discovery that she attended a so-called segregation academy.  That`s one thing when she was kid and her parents sent her there.  She sent her daughter to one as well. 

That`s not ancient history.  People -- these are people who have grown up believing that things should be separate.  Blacks and whites should not be doing things together, including getting an education. 

How does that get discussed in the context of this campaign? 

COBB:  Well, I mean, listen, the thing about this is we may be having a kind of shocked conscience in looking at this and saying that someone would be -- that her parents would make the decision to send her to one of these institutions, that she in turn would make the same decision for her child, but I guarantee you there is a whole lot of the Mississippi electorate, the white Republican electorate in Mississippi that has either had a similar experience or is sympathetic to the motive for sending your child to one of those kinds of institutions. 

And so, in talking about how this will reverberate in the electorate, if you were waiting on white Republican voters in Mississippi to have a call to conscience on the basis of racism, you are going to be out in the cold for a very long time.  And so, I think this plays one way outside of Mississippi and plays very differently inside that state. 

VELSHI:  I think sadly you may be right about that.  Jelani, good to see you. 

Jelani Cobb is a staff writer for "The New Yorker" and a journalism professor at Columbia University.  Thank you for being with us. 

We`ll be right back. 

COBB:  Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  Facts, they are important.  In 2014, Russia decided to take a chunk of Ukraine known as Crimea and call it Russia.  That`s a thing that happened.  That is a fact.

But President Trump does not believe that Russia is to blame for taking over Crimea.  In fact, on numerous occasions, he`s blamed President Obama, not President Putin.  Over the summer, he said, quote, President Obama lost Crimea because President Putin didn`t respect President Obama. 

Earlier this month, Trump said, quote, President Obama allowed a very large part of Ukraine to be taken by Russia.  President Obama, not Putin, not Russia. 

Meanwhile, Russia is at it again.  It`s state messing with Ukraine.  Since Russia took over Crimea, it`s been exerting more and more control over Crimea`s territorial waters in that area.  In fact, this spring, Russia finished building a huge bridge connecting mainland Russia to Crimea.  They named it the Crimean Bridge. 

Once the bridge was complete, Russian security services known as the FSB started inspecting all Ukrainian ships trying to make their way through the strait to Ukraine.  Now, if you look at a map, this strait is the only way for Ukrainian vessels to go back from the black sea to ports in the Sea of Azov. 

With Russians manning the waters, tensions have been on the rise, but yesterday, they came to a boil when the Russian navy blocked three Ukrainian naval vessels from passing through the strait.  Watch this ship about to ram that tugboat.  The Russian ships opened fire at the vessels, wounding six sailors, I`m sorry, and ramming into a tugboat, boarding the Ukrainian ships, detaining more than 20 sailors, and seeking -- seizing the three Ukrainian vessels. 

You can see two of them here.  Russia claims the ships illegally entered Russian waters.  I should point out the strait is like two or three miles wide at its narrowest point.  This isn`t a case of ships wandering off course.  By definition, if you`re traversing the strait, you are in contested waters. 

Now, today, when asked about Russia`s most recent act of aggression against Ukraine, Trump said he was not happy, but he did not criticize Russia, let alone Vladimir Putin. 

Russia has taken over the territorial waters around Ukraine, isolating half of the country`s coastline.  It`s blocking Ukrainian vessels.  It`s firing on Ukrainian crewmen, boarding their vessels, seizing their ships, all in flagrant violation of international law. 

NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel spoke to a former top military official in Ukraine that told him, quote, this is, quote, definitely Putin probing.  He thinks the president is pretty distracted in between holidays and Mueller.  It might be a good time for a further land grab.  This could get very ugly. 

What`s President Trump going to do?  He`s set to meet with President Putin at the end of the week at the G20.  Will he keep that meeting?  If he does, will he say anything? 

The former top American diplomat to Russia joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  Russian state media put this out today.  Preparations for Putin- Trump meeting at G-20 under way. 

Quote: The situation over the strait doesn`t affect preparations for a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, a Kremlin spokesperson told reporters.  Nothing to worry about.  Plans are under way, folks. 

Joining us now, Michael McFaul.  He`s the former ambassador to Russia under President Obama. 

Mr. Ambassador, good to see you and I appreciate you being here tonight. 

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  Sure.  Thanks for having me. 

VELSHI:  What do you make of this most recent example of Russian aggression toward Ukraine and Crimea? 

MCFAUL:  Putin`s testing Ukraine.  He`s testing the world.  He`s trying to see what he can get away with.  He`s trying to de facto create Russian territorial control over that waterway.  It`s illegal, and I hope the West and President Trump and the United States will push back. 

VELSHI:  So, Nikki Haley, this is often what happens, Nikki Haley seemed to.  She called an emergency meeting at the United Nations. 

MCFAUL:  Yes.

VELSHI:  There was nothing ambiguous about her statement. 

President Trump later on today said he`s not happy with it.  What else does you have to do?  Does that -- is that sufficient?  He didn`t seem to match Nikki Haley`s tenor and tone about this. 

MCFAUL:  Exactly.  Neither hers nor the statement that I thought was very good that was put out by the State Department under Secretary Pompeo`s name.  He equivocated like you said earlier in your piece.

He wouldn`t mention Putin.  He didn`t call it aggression.  He didn`t call it right or wrong. 

He just seems incapable of criticizing Vladimir Putin.  It is extraordinary.  He has been extremely consistent in never, ever criticizing Putin for anything that he does. 

And therefore, I think they should pull-down that meeting in Argentina.  Remember the last summit, right, in Helsinki, he stood next to Putin and because Putin spoke strongly, I think I`m quoting the president, he said, I believe Putin over our intelligence community.  I don`t want him to do that again.  Stand next to Putin and say, well, it was a provocation by the Ukrainians. 

That would not be in America`s national interest.  Just better not to have the meeting. 

VELSHI:  I remember speaking to you that day and I remember in hindsight was it a good meeting or bad meeting.  There`s a part of me that thinks that Helsinki, Trump standing next to Putin was a good thing because everybody got to see the emperor had no clothes.  You actually got to see what Donald Trump is like when he`s around Vladimir Putin. 

You know, there`s a real sense of the number of people who believe when he`s there he`ll be tougher.  This is all talk for a different audience. 

MCFAUL:  Right.

VELSHI:  He does not seem to be able to take a reasonable stance on anything when it comes to confronting Putin.  In fact, his constant conversation about Crimea blames President Obama and you as the ambassador at the time about Crimea. 

MCFAUL:  Yes.  Well, it`s an interesting point you make about exposing President Trump and the way he deals with Putin and Helsinki.  I think that`s right. 

But what`s tragic about it and what I worry about in this next meeting is the president of the United States is actually supposed to advance American national interests and our security interests and the interests of our allies and partners.  And that`s he should do in G20 -- at the G20 summit. 

And if he can`t do it then I think the U.S. Congress has to act.  There`s already pieces of legislations, several bills already have been floating around for new sanctions on Russia.  I think if the president can`t do that, Congress should step in. 

VELSHI:  We might see that. 

Michael McFaul, always a pleasure to see you.  Thank you for being with us.

Michael McFaul is a former United States ambassador to Russia. 

MCFAUL:  Sure.

VELSHI:  Well, in the TV business, you always start with a plan but sometimes history gets in the way.  That kind of story is ahead. 

Stay with us.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  The fifth game of the National League Championship Series in 1973 between the New York Mets and the Cincinnati Reds was held on October 10th, 1973.  Whoever won that playoff game would head to the World Series to play either Baltimore or Oakland. 

Cincinnati won the first game the week before, and then the Mets won both games two and three.  If they won four they`d take home the championship and head to World Series, but Cincinnati came back and won.  They were tied. 

"The New York Times" called it a grim fight.  Game five would be the deciding game of this series.  It was a nail-biter.  And in the middle of the broadcast, NBC News interrupted the playoffs to air this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Again, Vice President Agnew has resigned from office and the United States is without a vice president.  Douglas Kiker, NBC News, Washington. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This has been a special report from NBC News.  We return you now to the Mets-Cincinnati baseball game. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  The United States is without a vice president.  Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned his position, October 10th, 1973, after appearing before a district court judge in Baltimore, an event obviously important enough to interrupt the broadcast of the National League Championships. 

If you`ve been following Rachel`s podcast series "Bag Man, you`re in for a treat.  The second to the last episode of the series just dropped.  This one is not to be missed.  Episode six now available.  Get it at the MSNBC.com/bagman. 

If you don`t know how to download a podcast, doesn`t matter.  You can listen to every episode right there. 

That does it for us tonight.  Rachel will be back tomorrow night.  And I`ll see you back here at 1:00 Eastern and again at 3:00. 

It`s time now for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". 

Good evening, Lawrence.

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