Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 17, 2018 Guest: Tony Romm
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday. Happy to have you with us.
The most important and the most powerful military alliance in the world is NATO. Within NATO, the largest military of all the NATO countries, of course, is the one that belongs to our country. But what`s the second largest military force in NATO?
It belongs to a country that is almost an original member of the military alliance. The U.S. was there from the very beginning in 1949. The country that has the second largest military in NATO was a full member by 1952, but they are a hugely important part of the NATO alliance for a whole bunch of different reasons, including the fact that their military is just so darn big. And you should know that the country with the second largest military in NATO after us is the nation of Turkey.
And whether or not you are particularly interested in the politics of that region and the balance of power in that region of the world, because Turkey is so strategically important, and because they are part of NATO, the U.S. is literally obligated by treaty to consider the stakes, and if necessary, to consider getting involved if things go particularly pear-shaped in Turkey, which they did on July 15th, 2016. And we started getting images like these out of Turkey. It basically brought the rest of the American news cycle to a halt when we saw tanks in the streets.
And it was quite a feat at the time to bring the American news cycle to a halt at that specific time because, again, this was July 15th, 2016. Think about what was going on right there in our own politics and in our own news cycle. That was not just the heart of our presidential election season. July 15th, 2016, that was right before the nominating conventions were about to start. And, in fact, that exact day, July 15th, was the day that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced on Twitter, naturally, who his running mate was going to be.
And usually it is a huge deal when a presidential candidate makes his or her running mate announcement. But in 2016, Mike Pence absolutely got off easy. He basically completely elided the whole first day scrutiny thing.
July 15th, first of all, was a Friday. So as an announcement, the running mate announcement of Mike Pence was probably doomed by the whole Friday night news dump phenomenon to dissolve a little bit anyway over the course of that midsummer weekend. But then that story, the announcement of Pence, it just got absolutely knocked out of all primetime news coverage that day because of the fiery super dramatic out in the streets, you know, shots fired military coup in the country that is the second largest military power in NATO after us.
And part of the drama with the American news coverage of that coup that night, what was going on, overnight that night in Turkey, part of the drama was that it really wasn`t clear as we were covering it whether or not the coup was going to succeed in overthrowing the Turkish government. And, of course, it did not in the end. We didn`t know that night how it was going to work out.
I remember covering that night, there was this moment when the Turkish president flew back into the country. He`d been abroad, and he flew back into the country that night and he made a live speech from the airport, proclaiming that the coup that had unfolded that night in his country, the coup that had attempted to overthrow him that night, he called it in his speech that night from the airport, quote, a gift from God. It sent a chill down everybody`s spine, right? Because he explained this gift from god, this failed coup would allow him to purge the country of his enemies, and that was a sign that things were going to get very dark, very fast, and they did. And they have stayed dark ever since.
The Turkish president intimating in that sort of blood-curdling speech that he gave that night from the airport, intimating that night that he blamed this military coup on a guy who lives in the United States, a legal U.S. resident. He`s got a green card here. He`s lived here for a couple of decades.
He is a Turkish cleric. His name is Gulen. He lives in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. He is the boogeyman for everything that goes wrong in Turkish politics.
So when President Erdogan got up there that night in the middle of the coup and said from the airport, this is a gift from God, I will purge this nation of my enemies. And, you know what? Turkey cannot be ruled from Pennsylvania. That`s what he was talking about. He was talking about this guy, green card holder, U.S. resident who lives in Pennsylvania on whom he blames everything wrong in his country.
But again, this was in the thick of it in terms of our own presidential race, July 15th, 2016. And that night in Cleveland, Ohio, the top national security adviser to the Donald Trump campaign, he himself was giving a speech to a conservative group in Cleveland, and he diverged from his prepared remarks to tell people about this coup that was at that moment breaking out in Turkey. Basically he said people at this event, you might not have otherwise heard about it because you`re here, but what`s going on in the news right now is there is a coup in Turkey.
And Mike Flynn basically explained to that conservative audience that night in Cleveland, as the coup was going on, that the coup was basically awesome, that it was something that that audience there should literally applaud because basically it would be great if the Turkish government was overthrown in that coup that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Now, I will tell you that I spent most of my career in the region of the world that we`re still engaged in, still engaged in. So, many of you maybe only caught it in the news, or some of you -- probably most of you don`t know, but there is an ongoing coup going on in Turkey right now. Right now there is a coup.
I`m going to be very fascinated to see what happens because if the military succeeds, one of the things that came out of the military tonight, they`re about plus eight hours from here. So, it`s probably around, I don`t know, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning there.
One of the things what the military immediately says, we recognize our responsibilities with NATO. We recognize our responsibilities with the United Nations. We want to make sure that the world knows we are -- we want to be seen as a secular nation. This is the military.
So, yes. That is worth clapping for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is worth clapping for. There is a coup going on right now. It would be amazing, right?
You want to see how corruption works? If you are ever considering selling out your country, literally selling out your country for money, here`s the world simplest demonstration of how to do that very quickly at the very highest level.
So, poor Mike Pence is announced as Donald Trump`s running mate on July 15th. Right? Mike Flynn that night gives a speech. It will be awesome if the Turkish government gets overthrown. July 15th, the night of the coup.
Now, thanks to a new federal felony indictment that was just unsealed today, now we know prosecutors say it took at most 11 days for Mike Flynn, Donald Trump`s national security adviser, to do an absolute U-turn on that important national security issue in exchange for a big pile of money.
Today, the vice chairman of the Flynn Intelligence Group appeared in federal court in Virginia to face federal conspiracy charges and a charge of acting unlawfully in the United States as the agent of a foreign government. Mike Flynn himself is described in this indictment as person A.
After Mike Flynn got up in front of that crowd on July 15th and said they all ought to applaud this military coup to overthrow the Turkish government, according to today`s indictment, prosecutors say 11 days later on July 26th, Flynn engaged in a, quote, detailed discussion with the vice chairman of his company about going to work on behalf of the government of Turkey, specifically, to go after that guy in Pennsylvania who the Turkish government was blaming for the coup.
Wait. I thought the coup was a good thing? Eleven days later, nope?
Quote: On or about July 27th, 2016, Flynn`s business partner replied to an e-mail from his Turkish government contact saying he had had a detailed discussion with Michael Flynn the previous night. Flynn`s business partner informed his Turkish contact, quote, we are ready to engage on what needs to be done. Flynn and his business partner then proposed a detailed plan to their Turkish government contact.
By the second week in August, August 10th, their contact with ties to the Turkish government reported back that they had the green light to go ahead with their plan. On or about August 10th, the Turkish government contact sent an e-mail to Flynn and his partner saying, quote, I just finished in Ankara after several meetings today with Turkish minister number two and Turkish minister number one. I have a green light to discuss confidentiality, budget, and scope of the contract.
And then, sure enough, about three weeks after that, Mike Flynn gets the contract. Quote: Under the terms of the contract, company A, which is the Flynn intelligence group, was to receive a total of $600,000 broken into three $200,000 payments. Among the deliverables that Mike Flynn was expected to produce in exchange for this money, quote, the contract noted company A was expended to deliver findings and results, including but not limited to making criminal referrals against the Turkish guy in Pennsylvania who the Turkish government was blaming for the coup.
And then, within a couple of weeks, Flynn was at a fancy hotel in New York City meeting with his business partner, who was charged today and their Turkish government contact who was charged today, and those two ministers from the Turkish government, one of whom we believe is Erdogan`s son-in- law, his Jared, if you will. The purpose of that meeting in mid-September was to discuss how Mike Flynn, for money, was going to help the Turkish government get their hands on this permanent U.S. resident, this Turkish guy who lives in this country, who has a green card here, who the U.S. Justice Department says cannot legally be extradited to Turkey, no matter how much Turkey wants to get their hands on him.
Mike Flynn, nevertheless, was going to deliver him, for money. Did I mention this was all for money? By election day itself, on November 8th, Mike Flynn published a somewhat terrifying op-ed in "The Hill" newspaper where he called this Turkish guy living in Pennsylvania a shady Islamic mullah, and compared him to freaking Osama bin Laden.
So all that unfolds over the space of less than four months. When Mike Flynn was not being paid by this foreign government, he told an American audience the night of the coup that they should applaud the coup, that the overthrow of the government in Turkey would be great for the United States. They should applaud that. That would be amazing. Let`s root for these people who are trying to overthrow that government. Let us root for the coup.
Sensing an opportunity to make a buck, though he turns on -- I was going to say turns on a dime. He turns on many dimes, $600,000 worth of dimes, and says less than two weeks later, you know what? Forget what I actually think is right for the United States when I`m not being paid to say otherwise.
For the low, low price of $600,000, I will not only stop telling Americans that they should applaud that coup, I will help the government that was the target of that coup hunt down the guy they`re blaming it on. I will fight and undermine the United States government`s determination that that guy is safe in our country and is a legal resident here, and I will figure out a way, for money, to hand him over to Turkey so they can do what they want with him. All you got to do is pay me. And by the way, I`m going to be the next national security adviser of the United States.
Thanks to today`s indictment, we know that the op-ed that Mike Flynn published on Election Day attracted the attention of the counterintelligence folks at the Justice Department who apparently looked at this op-ed and thought, hmm, shady Islamic mullah. They thought that seemed like it might be written by somebody who was a foreign agent of the Turkish government. Should we check to see if the incoming national security adviser is in fact a secret foreign agent? They checked.
Quote: Following Flynn`s op-ed, the FARA registration unit of the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to Flynn requesting additional information to determine whether he, the Flynn Intelligence Group, and/or other individuals had an obligation to register as an agent of a foreign government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. And, of course, in quick succession thereafter, Mike Flynn was named national security adviser. He was sworn in as national security adviser. He then very quickly had to resign as national security adviser.
After he had resigned, he retroactively registered as a foreign agent representing the government of Turkey. He was then charged with lying to FBI investigators about his contacts with the Russian government. As part of the charging documents in that case, he admitted that he also lied to investigators about him being a paid agent for the government of Turkey and the fact that he was acting illegally in this country as their unregistered foreign agent during the time that he was the top national security adviser on the Trump campaign and in fact right up through election day.
Today, with the unsealing of this indictment, we learn that Flynn`s Turkish government contact who set up this gig for him, who was allegedly running this whole operation on behalf of the Turkish government and arranging to funnel the payments to Mike Flynn through a non-Turkish company so as to hide the origin of the payments, that guy is was charged today by federal prosecutors and is facing decades in prison, although he has still not appeared in court.
He is described as a resident of Istanbul. One of the filings that was unsealed today was a warrant for his arrest. But in "The New York Times"` reporting in this case today, he is described as whereabouts unknown.
The other person was charged today, though, is the vice chairman of the Flynn intelligence group, a guy named Bijan Kian, Mike Flynn`s longtime business partner. Mr. Kian did appear in court today after responding to a summons ordering him to be there.
You might have seen a lot of headlines today describing him as a Flynn associate or a Flynn business associate who has now been charged as a secret foreign agent. But honestly, the way he should be described today in terms of the import of this new indictment and how this fits into everything, the way he should be described today is as a Trump transition official, who was charged today as a secret foreign agent.
Look, his LinkedIn page is still there. This is the LinkedIn page for Bijan Kian, who today became the latest person connected with President Trump to be charged with federal felonies. He says that he was on the ODNI landing team for Trump`s transition team. See, his title listed there, presidential title team`s intelligence community deputy lead. ODNI landing team.
And a prescient "Associated Press" piece from last summer which raised concerns about this very early, reporter Steven Braun and Chad Day noted that Mr. Kian, again, this is the guy who was charged today, noted that he was involved in the transition in, quote, sensitive hiring and policy discussions involving U.S. intelligence.
According to one Trump transition official speaking to the "A.P." last summer, one of the things Bijan Kian did in the transition when he was on the landing team at the office of the director of national intelligence, one of the things he did was he helped, quote, scrutinize then-Congressman Mike Pompeo before Pompeo was named Trump`s CIA director. So one of the senior people on the Trump transition landing team for intelligence matters was secretly on the payroll of a foreign government while he was helping select the next CIA director. Oh. And now he`s charged as part of an alleged scheme to disguise the origins of more than a half million in payments to Mike Flynn and Flynn`s company so he and Flynn could secretly work in the interests of a foreign country without anybody knowing it while they were also working at high-level jobs in intelligence inside the U.S. government.
And somehow Mike Flynn, who is person "A" in this indictment, and who the indictment spells out was pretty clearly the other big part of this scheme, somehow Mike Flynn emerges from this as an unindicted co-conspirator who is not being charged and who is not facing any jail time for this scheme whatsoever. And presumably that is because Mike Flynn`s cooperation is what led to this indictment today. But given what seems to have been his role in this, given the clear implication that he was a national security adviser to a presidential candidate who was secretly also a foreign agent for months and then lied about it when confronted about it by the FBI, I mean, that seems like a remarkable thing for him to stayed on, right?
Why do you get to be unindicted in this matter when this matter sort of seems to be all about you? We will get some expert advice in just a moment as to why Flynn himself may not have been charged in this scheme that he was at the center of. But there are a number of dangling threads here, beyond why wasn`t Flynn charged for this.
I mean, as another matter, there have been recent reports that the Trump administration even now is newly considering handing over this Turkish guy in the Poconos to the Turkish government, because the Turkish government keeps demanding it, even without Mike Flynn secretly on their payroll to try to get that, and without the deputy head of the landing team at the intelligence community secretly on their payroll to try to get that. There are reports that the Trump administration is still thinking right now about handing that by over.
There is also the unresolved allegation that was made by former CIA Director James Woolsey, who says when he was briefly part of the discussions that took place between Flynn and Flynn`s company and the Turkish government on this matter, he recalls a meeting at which they discussed a covert plot to actually go kidnap this guy in Pennsylvania, in the Poconos, and take him -- put a bag over his head presumably and fly him to a remote prison island and thereby spirit him away to Turkish custody. Woolsey went public with an allegation that this involved a kidnapping plot. Whatever happened to that?
And then there is the timing here. This remarkable new indictment was filed with the court last week, but it was only unsealed today. And today is the eve of Mike Flynn`s sentencing by a federal judge in Washington, D.C. is the unsealing of this indictment which spells out Flynn`s whole foreign agent scheme involving Turkey, is this designed to help Mike Flynn at sentencing tomorrow? Because this is yet another instance where the defense can say, hey look, our client was super cooperative. You know, just yesterday there was another indictment where Mike Flynn`s testimony led to more indictments being charged with felonies. Is this something that could help him in the sentencing? Because it shows yet another investigation in which he has been an important cooperator?
Or would this potentially hurt him for his sentencing tomorrow since, of course, it is a vivid reminder that Mike Flynn wasn`t just an otherwise totally awesome dude who never did anything wrong until that one day he hiccupped in the middle of his FBI interview, and, oops, they mistook it for a lie, which is what his defense has been claiming to the judge. I mean, the scheme laid out in today`s indictment shows that Flynn really thought he could be national security adviser, the national security adviser in the White House, and a secret foreign agent at the same time. And he was willing to try it if you give him enough money, including lying about it to federal investigators before finally he stopped lying about it to federal investigators and he flipped on the other people involved in the scheme.
So, we will find out tomorrow at Mike Flynn`s sentencing whether or not this new indictment, newly unsealed today, cuts for him or against him, or potentially whether the judge decides to compartmentalize this and they see it as a totally separate and unrelated matter. We should get clues to that both by the length of the sentence that Flynn gets tomorrow, but also hopefully by any remarks the judge may make in court explaining the sentencing decision.
But honestly, aside from the fate of Flynn, I mean, the thing we all hope gets explained here -- and again, we will get some expert advice on this from a national security reporter who has been on this story from the very beginning, but for all of us. I mean, this is -- this is our government, right? National security matters affect all of us.
And you can`t get anywhere near the lurid story of Mike Flynn and his lies to investigators and his schemes and his foreign entanglements that he was covering up while he was involved in these sensitive matters, right, all the ways he was caught, all the warnings and the red flags flying around, you can`t get anywhere near this lurid saga of Mike Flynn as a national security and counterintelligence disaster at the highest levels of this administration without at least wondering why the Trump administration did not care about any of this, right?
I mean, we now know during the transition, which was headed up by star- crossed Vice President-elect Mike Pence, during the transition which Mike Pence was running, Mike Flynn`s lawyers notified the transition formally in writing that Flynn was the object of an FBI investigation into him having potentially acted as a secret agent for the government of Turkey. The transition was notified about that during the transition.
Despite that notification that he was under federal investigation on a counterintelligence matter, they want ahead and named him national security adviser anyway. Nobody blinked. It was only days later, literally less than a month later, when the Justice Department, the acting attorney general came up to the White House with a hair on fire absolutely unprecedented warning that, you know, OK, if you don`t care about him potentially being a foreign agent of Turkey, we also need to tell you he has been having secret communications with the Russians too, and he has been lying about those communications, which means the Russian government has compromised him.
And you cannot have a national security adviser who is compromised by the Russian government, even if you are comfortable with one who is secretly on the payroll of a different foreign government, which apparently you`re fine with. But even with that warning, nope. Nobody cared. No reaction.
They kept him on as national security adviser. They didn`t restrict his access to sensitive and classified information whatsoever. I mean, set aside -- set aside the president on this. Set aside the existentially challenging issue of the president himself potentially being compromised, right?
Flynn as national security adviser, given what we now know what was going on with Flynn and what we now know the law enforcement community and the intelligence agencies knew what was going on with Flynn and what they warned the incoming Trump folks about Flynn, Flynn as national security adviser is something that just seems impossible in retrospect. I mean, that`s like learning that I was in the running to be first lady. Like, really? No, not conceivable, no matter what drugs you take, can`t think that hard.
I mean, given the warnings and the information that everybody in the campaign and administration were aware of at the time, whatever you think of Trump, Mike Pence was running the transition. Reince Priebus was set to be White House chief of staff. Don McGahn was set to be White House counsel. None of these guys minded at all when they were told or reminded that their national security adviser designate, or in fact their sworn in national security adviser was under FBI investigation for secretly being on a foreign country`s payroll, and he had been for months.
He had potentially been on a foreign country`s payroll for months while running the national security apparatus of a presidential campaign, right? And that, of course, meant sitting in on all the classified briefings that Trump and his campaign, the upper levels of his campaign, were able to get once he became the nominee. We now know at that time, right, Flynn was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars secretly by the Turkish government to advocate for their interests in the United States at that same time the Turkish government was repeatedly pressing the U.S. government to hand over that Turkish guy in the Poconos who they wanted to blame for the coup.
Flynn was in on classified briefings as a senior Trump campaign official at the time that the Turkish government was pressing the U.S. government to act on that issue. He was secretly being paid by the Turks to lobby on that issue. Anything on that ever come up in any of the classified briefings for the Trump campaign or the transition or the new administration? Anything that he was in on?
One of the guys charged today admits to having been a secret agent of a foreign government when he was on the Trump transition, setting up the intelligence leadership of the intelligence community for the Trump administration. The guy that was doing that with went on to become national security adviser. And apparently he himself is not going to be charged.
What about all the Trump transition officials and the Trump administration folks who knew that Flynn was under investigation for potentially being a foreign agent, who had to know that Flynn`s business partner was also under investigation as a potential foreign agent while he had served in a senior role in the transition on intelligence matters? What about the other people in the transition and the Trump administration who knew all that and just let those guys in, let them stay in there anyway?
I mean, Pence, McGahn, Priebus, all these guys who got these warnings, it`s fine that they just blew them off? I mean, maybe this is just the way these things work, but what we saw today is the guy who is literally the lowest link in the chain getting charged, plus a foreigner, a guy in Turkey who nobody is ever going to be able to find.
But all these other people, all these other ranking people who had very senior and important national security roles and decision making roles in the federal government of the United States, they were either in on it themselves or they turned a blind eye to it and let these people have access to highly classified intelligence information. They decided they didn`t care, let it happen.
None of them get charged? None of them are implicated? This is how this ends? Only the lowest guy on the pole gets charged?
Maybe. But maybe not. Hold that thought. We`ve got expert advice coming up.
MADDOW: Tomorrow, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, Courtroom 24-A, fourth floor, Washington, D.C., district court. Former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn will be sentenced.
Today, on the eve of that sentencing, a federal court in Virginia unsealed a new indictment charging a Trump transition official who is the vice chairman of Flynn`s intelligence firm with illegal lobbying on behalf of a foreign country, in this case Turkey. He is facing up to 15 years in prison for his role in that scheme. But we`re led to believe that Flynn`s facing nothing, no time at all in his sentencing tomorrow, despite what prosecutors describe as his extensive role in this exact same alleged scheme.
Joining us now to make sense of this is Julia Ainsley, NBC News national security and justice reporter, who has been on this story for a very long time.
Julia, thanks for being here.
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Is there any evidence that -- I have started to think about Mike Flynn as a sort of counterintelligence and national security disaster.
MADDOW: Is there any evidence that he did change U.S. policy or the behavior of the U.S. government when he and his business partner we now know were secretly being paid by this other country?
AINSLEY: Yes, and I`ll tell you why. This is not a victimless crime.
For anyone who thinks, why do we care what Flynn did before he came into the White House, it did impact our policy. We had exclusive reporting at NBC News a few months ago. Now it`s all kind of falling together.
But the FBI was asked to reinvestigate Fethullah Gulen. They had gotten boxes and boxes of material under the Obama administration from Turkey saying, please look at this guy. Please extradite him. We think he is behind the coup.
And then went through everything and they said, there`s nothing here. And then these same investigators were asked again in early February, right after --
MADDOW: Right at the very start.
AINSLEY: At the start of the Trump administration.
MADDOW: While Flynn was still there.
AINSLEY: With no new information. So, they`re frustrated. We did our job. We have did our due diligence. We went through this. There is nothing there.
So it did influence our policy. You could -- at the very least, it`s a waste of time on the part of FBI and DOJ investigators who take these jobs very seriously, but at worst, it shows that there was a foreign government influencing our policy here.
MADDOW: So, if Mike Flynn, according to prosecutors, he and his firm were being -- had a $600,000 contract with the government of Turkey. One of the expected deliverables of that contract, according to prosecutors today, was that they were expected to produce a criminal referral related to Gulen. If Flynn was being paid to do that and he tried to do that, how is it that Flynn is not being charged here?
AINSLEY: That`s a good question. I mean, you look at all of this. It`s not that Flynn was duped, right? He is supposed to be top intelligence official, one of the great intelligence national security minds who can say he was chosen to do that, chosen by this job for the Trump administration.
He wasn`t duped by these people. He was involved at every piece of this. And as you go through what he had unsealed today, it`s obvious they would have calls with their connection to Turkey and that Ekim Alptekin would go to Turkish officials, it said Turkish official 1 and 2, and he would get back to them and say Flynn, they`re satisfied.
It was so obvious. It`s not there`s more than points A, B, and C here. It`s a direct way. So, he`s not being charged because he must have given something pretty great to Robert Mueller.
I mean, I think that`s what you have to take away. And in the presentencing memo that Mueller put out, he said he would not recommend incarceration for him because of his cooperation in three investigations, this being one of them.
MADDOW: Well, because this was unsealed today on the eve of Flynn`s sentencing, I mean, it`s possible that`s a coincidence, right? This is prosecutors in Eastern District of Virginia. He`s being sentenced tomorrow in D.C. Mueller is separate from these prosecutors entirely.
Is this likely to cut for him or against him? I mean, what`s in Flynn`s favor here is if he helped in his cooperation produce yet another indictment, right? That`s good in terms of the value of his cooperation. But he himself is so deeply implicated in the scheme that is outline in this indictment. I can`t imagine that the judge is going to look at this and say, oh, yes, you lying to the FBI is such a big deal. You otherwise are such a great guy.
AINSLEY: That`s right. I mean, first of all, it`s not a coincidence that they would want this wrapped up before they go through with his sentencing. They want to tie up the Flynn piece with a bow. This started before Mueller was even appointed. They need to finish this.
Flynn was a big part of this, and it would be hard for them to come forward with more charges, after he`s sentenced because he`s such a big part of the cooperation on this.
But, yes, you`re right. I mean, what this totally dashes is what Flynn`s defense put out last week, where they tried to paint him as a boy scout. How he saved toddlers from a rolling car. I mean, they tried to paint him as this --
MADDOW: He was a lifeguard. He can`t possibly have meant it when he lied to the FBI.
AINSLEY: Right, right.
MADDOW: I was a lifeguard. If I lie to the FBI, I should go to jail.
AINSLEY: Right. So, it totally takes away the idea that Flynn is this golden boy. I mean, the fact that it wasn`t like he slipped up once. He knowingly did this. He knew better, he lied to his attorneys. He lied to the FBI.
He lied on his FARA filings. First, he didn`t file and when he did, he lied on those.
AINSLEY: And he`s just so crucial to this entire scheme that you see laid out here, it would be really hard to say that he was this, you know, golden person who was really blameless and was just tricked by these people and tricked by the FBI. And then, that, of course, as we saw Judge Sullivan today had the prosecutors put out their interviews, and that actually is pretty negative for Flynn, too, because it shows he knows exactly what he was talking about. Some pretty full conversation and he wasn`t duped by them, either, Rachel.
MADDOW: It will be fascinating to see how the judge weighs out all these pieces. I mean, I know this is outside his district and this is a separate matter and everything.
But you`re right. It can`t be a coincidence that this is out on the eve of his sentencing. That`s going to be an amazing to watch.
Julie Ainsley, thank you so much. Great to have you here.
AINSLEY: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Congratulations on being part of the early reporting on this. This has been a bear to get ahold of, but now that it`s all coming together, it`s just a fascinating story.
AINSLEY: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: Julia Ainsley is NBC News national security and justice reporter.
We`ve got much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: They called it the no men midterms. Quote: Democrats win when only women vote. #nomenmidterms.
Wave bye to mommy on the way out the door. She`s going to vote. We don`t vote.
Be a feminist dude. Don`t vote.
Then there was this one. Quote: we`re making a woman`s vote worth more by staying home, beardy guys. #letwomendecide. #nomenmidterm.
Three days before the election this year, Twitter en masse deleted over 10,000 accounts that were posting messages like these and other things that were designed to dissuade Democrats. All male Democrats, at least, from turning out to actually vote in the midterm elections because even super stupid voter suppression can still be voter suppression.
The security firm that tracked that particular wave bye to mommy while she`s going to vote campaign playing out on Twitter just ahead of this year`s election, that firm is called New Knowledge. And today, we learned that that same firm with that Orwellian name, New Knowledge, have been working on something way bigger to help us understand the attacks on our elections that we have been living through in this generation and that have continued. That remarkable story is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Chart imitates life.
This is a chart from researchers at Oxford University. And also a social media analysis company called Graphica. And what you`re seeing here is the average number of Facebook posts churned out by the Internet Research Agency each day, in their Russian disinformation campaign that they started in our country at the beginning of 2015 to try to help Donald Trump win the presidency.
And there are -- there are charts that look very similar for other social media platforms. This one happens to be for Facebook. What you see there, to a certain extent, is what you might expect. The volume of posts, the volume of this Russian disinformation that was pumped into American Facebook feeds from this Russian troll farm.
It increases fairly steadily as we get closer and closer to the election with a real ramp-up in the month or so before the vote. Reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee today made clear that the content of these posts was basically uniformly crafted to boost Donald Trump and/or hurt Hillary Clinton. And given that you might expect that once the election happened, and Donald Trump won the election, you`d expect the volume of posts to drop off, right? Job well done, mission accomplished, time to pack it up.
That`s not what happened at all. Look at the time frame here. Look, after the election, you see the dotted line there that marks election. After the election, the volume and pace of Russian social media disinformation kept going up and it continued at that ramped-up pace through much of 2017.
And while we can`t say for certain what exactly the Russian government was trying to accomplish during that time, there is one clue. You see that really big spike shortly after the election that`s the highest spike on the whole chart? That came during the presidential transition. December 29th and 30th of 2016 which were the days President Obama levied new sanctions against Russia for them interfering in our election.
That`s also when incoming national security adviser Mike Flynn, who`s due to be sentenced tomorrow, that`s when we secretly told the Russian ambassador, hey, don`t worry about these new sanctions, the Trump administration is going to be much friendlier. And then on that advice from Mike Flynn, President Putin and Russia opted to not retaliate for the Obama sanctions.
In those first months of 2017, as the Russian propagandists kept up their newly frenetic pace of social media disinformation, we now know, of course, the Trump White House was quietly behind the scenes trying to get Russian sanctions lifted, which Russia, of course, desperately wanted. We learned this today when the Senate Intelligence Committee released their reports. The one with the chart as well as another report by the firm, New Knowledge, on the Russian attempt to hack the American public as a means of helping Trump become president.
The Russians began tinkering around with this approach years before the election. They continued after Trump won, trying to get out from under American sanctions. And if you need yet more evidence that the Russian U.S. disinformation campaign continued well past the election to try to accomplish pro-Russian and pro-Trump outcomes, late tonight, we got this new round of reporting from the "Washington Post." Did you see this tonight?
Russian disinformation teams targeted Robert S. Mueller, says report prepared for the Senate. Months after President Trump took office, Russia`s disinformation teams trained their sights on a new target, special counsel Robert Mueller, having worked to help Trump into the White House, they now worked to neutralize the biggest threat to him staying there.
Quote: The Russian operatives unloaded on Mueller through fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and beyond, falsely claiming the former FBI director was corrupt and the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were crackpot conspiracies. The Russians tweeted about Mueller more than 5,000 times. Some called for his firing. Others mocked him as incompetent. Still others campaigned for the end of his, quote, entire fake investigation.
That`s just breaking tonight from the "Washington Post," one of the reporters who broke that story joins us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee released two reports showing the extent of how the Russian government used every social media platform to try to suppress votes for Hillary Clinton, particularly among African-American voters and to boost the electoral prospects for Donald Trump. Well, tonight, "The Washington Post" has added this new reporting about the Russian government disinformation campaign, training its sights after the election to try to undermine Robert Mueller, once he was appointed special counsel to investigate Russia`s interference campaign and the question of whether or not the Trump campaign was in on it.
Joining us now is Tony Romm. He`s a tech policy reporter for "The Washington Post".
Mr. Romm, thanks very much for being with us tonight. It`s nice to have you here.
TONY ROMM, TECHNOLOGY POLICY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, I feel like we`ve had sort of interstitial reporting, over the course of the last couple of years, where every once in a while, you go through the committees, or sometimes just through the tech companies directly, we get a little more information, a little more primary sourced material about what exactly the Russians did to try to influence U.S. voters during the election. What`s different about these reports that were released by the Senate Intelligence Committee today in term of us understanding the nature and effectiveness of the attack?
ROMM: Yes, this is the most comprehensive report to date that shows the work by Russians to destabilize American democracy on the word of researchers and spread disinformation on major social media sites. And it really is a whole of Internet operation on the part of the Internet Research Agency. That`s the troll farm operated by Kremlin or backed by the Kremlin. It wasn`t just Facebook, Google and Twitter, it was perhaps lesser known sites, places like Tumblr and Soundcloud. They were selling t-shirts in PayPal. They were in Medium.
This was a very deliberate effort to spread disinformation and spread social and political unrest around the election and after Trump`s election in 2016.
MADDOW: The language used in the reports to describe the two different types of messages to approach right-wing voters or conservative leaning voters with pro-Trump messages that were Trump specific, that used his name, that built him up and on the other hand to target voters who would be unlikely to vote for Trump with messages that were designed to be negative about Hillary Clinton or to be sort of bamboozling or innervating or to make people feel like not voting or to make people feel confused about their options.
It`s fairly sophisticated in terms of the two different types of approaches -- one hyping a candidate, one very suppressive in the way that was targeted to specific communities. Given that kind of sophistication, do we have any way of knowing whether this campaign was informed by or coordinated with any Americans?
ROMM: Well, we certainly don`t know for sure that piece. We do know that members of the Internet Research Agency, that troll farm that has tries to the Kremlin, you know, did send officials to the United States, that there were definite attempts to recruit Americans and spreading its disinformation.
We saw a lot of this after the election when agents of the Russian government were creating events on Facebook to protest the president and were recruiting real Americans who were actively trying to protest the president to take over those events. So it really just sort of fit with what was already happening on social media.
But you`re right, these were very sophisticated tactics. You would expect maybe to see a corporate brand that was trying to target you, the pair of shoes, doing the same kind of thing that Russian agents were doing. They were very familiar with how to target their messages specifically to individual groups on Facebook like African-Americans who they recruited with messages pointing out police brutality while at the same time encouraging them not to vote.
And they were very good at taking those messages into places like Instagram and getting resonance with them. I mean, there were more than 187 million interactions, things like likes and shares on Instagram from content from Russian agents. So, this stuff went viral. It was seen by people. It was very sophisticated.
MADDOW: It was sophisticated and it continued to be accelerated into the Trump era even after the election. That`s the part is -- sort of makes you see everything differently, even just today looking around at the social media landscape that we`re still inhabiting.
Tony Romm, tech policy reporter for "The Washington Post", it was a pleasure to have you here tonight. Thanks very much for your time.
ROMM: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Over the weekend, President Trump announced that Ryan Zinke won`t be interior secretary anymore. Ryan Zinke has been the subject of at least 15 different investigations at his time at the Interior Department, stemming from his conduct in office and from his business dealings back home in Montana while he`s been in office.
But according to "The Washington Post," it was something specific that got Zinke to head for the exits. One of the investigations into him apparently became a criminal referral to the Justice Department. And according to "The Post," it was that criminal referral that caused the White House to push Zinke out the door. Which means he will be dragging a potential criminal investigation behind him on his way home.
He, of course, would not be alone in that. When EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to quit his job in Trump cabinet, he`d been drowning in his own ethics scandals for the better part of the year. But his sudden departure might have also had something to do with the fact that he like Ryan Zinke was being scrutinized not just by ethics investigators but by federal prosecutors at the Justice Department who were looking into whether Pruitt broke laws while he say running the EPA.
CNN reports that that DOJ investigation into Pruitt, the criminal one, it conveniently stalled once S Scott Pruitt up and quit. That`s maybe an important precedent if you`re Ryan Zinke, right? He seemed to have taken a page out of Scott Pruitt`s handbook, and quitting ahead of that criminal investigation, or perhaps he was forced to by the White House. But maybe this is the rule. You quit before t the criminal inquiry actually grabs you, get out of town, hope the whole thing fizzles before you`re gone? You think that`s one is going to work for him too?
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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