Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 21, 2019 Guest: Ken Vogel, Anthony Romero
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: I think that signals something. Emily Bazelon and Dorian Warren, thank you both.
That is ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I loved that segment. I loved that whole discussion. I felt like that was -- I felt like the discussion around the Democratic field is mostly all just been like gee, there sure are a lot of people running.
HAYES: Well, it`s fascinating to watch them reckon with their record and reckon with the party that`s moving in really interesting ways and agitating in really interesting ways, and she`s going to be on your program on Wednesday night, if I`m not mistaken so I`m looking forward to hearing what she has to say.
MADDOW: Thank you. I just thought -- it was super helpful. For a long time we`ve known there is a conservative movement separate from the Republican Party, and when the Republican Party is weak, in particular the conservative movement drives it. That is also true in a different way about the Democratic Party and various progressive movements in this country.
HAYES: Totally agree.
MADDOW: And this Democratic primary process will be the big, first national elucidation of that and that conversation you had there was the smartest thing I`ve yet seen about this --
HAYES: Well, thank you, Rachel. I have goose bumps. Appreciate it. Have great show.
MADDOW: Thanks, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
All right. You know, if you ever wanted to put the FBI out of business, one cheap and cheerful way to do that is organize a federal government shutdown that went on for, I don`t know, some really long period of time like more than 30 days. One of the things that you endure regularly, if you work for an agency like the FBI is that they routinely do financial background checks on you. You get the basic idea of why they might do that, right? I mean, for example, you may have seen the kind of application you have to fill out to get a security clearance from the U.S. government.
The SF-86 form becomes sort of a famous thing in the Trump era because various senior Trump administration officials have had problems of various kinds with their security clearance applications and their SF-86s. But if you look at the forms, if you look at what you have to demonstrate and spell out in order to get a security clearance, they ask you about all sorts of things but one of the things that is really striking when you actually look at the questions they ask and the documentation you have to provide is that it`s a ton of financial stuff.
A big part of the way they assess you in terms of whether some adversary or crook might be able to leverage something against you, part of the way they check that is to check your finances. If you`re going to have access to sensitive national security or intelligence-related information, they want to make sure you`re not going to be susceptible to bribery, to literally selling your country for cash. If you are in financial dire straits, or if you are debt up to your eyeballs, if you`ve got financial burdens of any kind that might cause you real stress, that`s a big red flag.
So they stress test you financially before you can get a security clearance and if you`re an FBI agent, that`s not just something that they look at the outset of your career, while you are employed as an agent at the FBI, they will go back and frequently recheck that aspect of your life, to make sure your financial situation has not changed to potentially open you up to that kind of pressure or leverage. So, given that reality, one easy peasy way to screw up the whole FBI, I mean, not even just the FBI.
Everybody involved in law enforcement and national security, intelligence work, if you want to take a quick shiv to that whole part of the U.S. government, it`s easy. Just start taking away paychecks from all of those people all at once. And not just one paycheck, it would really help if it was multiple paychecks. Let them go multiple pay periods with zero income while still requiring them to work every day.
With that one genius move, you can break the family finances of basically every single federal law enforcement and national security agent in the country. And think of all you could accomplish with just that one move. I mean, for one, you actually do risk national security by making all of those people potentially more susceptible to compromise, right? There is a reason why financial strain is a big red flag when it comes to security clearances, right? And law enforcement and national security jobs.
Putting all of the people in this country and all of those jobs under serious financial strain all at once, it does systematically increase their potential susceptibility to compromise or corruption, and even better than that, I mean, in one fail swoop with just this one neat trick, you screw up all of their careers. You can create security clearance problems for all of them, all at once by putting them all under financial strain.
And in so doing, you can in a lasting way make the FBI and other federal law enforcement and national security agencies seem like super risky and demoralizing places to work. Make it harder from here to eternity for them to ever recruit the best talent in the air, right? I mean, that`s going to happen every year that the FBI and other law enforcement and national security agencies are hiring from here on out. They`re going to go to grad schools, they`re going to go to colleges, they`re going to seek talent everywhere. They can all over the country.
And people who have other options, you want to work for the FBI, might be a few months where you don`t get paid but you still have to work every day. You starting to feel me? I mean, think about what this does to law enforcement and national security agencies and their ability to hire the best, especially if they want to hire people that have a perverse desire to actually be paid for going to work every day.
Last week, we reported the New York field office of the FBI started a food bank for their agents and their families. Now, David Rohde of "The New Yorker" reports that the FBI`s storied Washington field office has also started a canned food drive for its agents, as well. Just like all the other hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers, these agents are heading into their second pay period of zero dollar paychecks.
Local reporting in Washington, D.C. tonight indicates that agents have also been told that if they roll on through a second pay period with more zero dollar paychecks, they will also this week lose their dental and vision coverage for themselves and their families.
Today is day 30 of the federal government shutdown, which means tomorrow we start month number two of hundreds of thousands of federal employees either being idled entirely or forced to work indefinitely without pay. Apparently, Republicans and the White House agree that the president`s demand for the building of a wall between us and Mexico, that is the hill upon which all of this will die.
So, we precede not sure how long this can go on, and also not quite sure what exactly it`s going to look like when it all breaks. But we will have the head of the national ACLU, Anthony Romero, joining us live in studio this hour. He`ll be here live in studio for the interview. I`m very much looking forward to his prospective on this.
Today, of course, is also the federal holiday honoring the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The King holiday was the occasion for the latest big presidential campaign announcement. A third U.S. senator has officially announced a run for the presidency in 2020, three Democratic senators have thus far jumped in formally, all three of them are women. First was Elizabeth Warren, second Kirsten Gillibrand.
Now, today, California Senator Kamala Harris has made her announcement. We will have more on that announcement coming up this hour as well. I`ve got something sort of exciting to tell you about that.
But first, let`s talk for a second about this. This is footage, a little bit hard at first to tell what is going on here, but this is footage of a young woman being arrested by mostly plain clothes police or security officers of some kind. This was shot at the main airport in Moscow late last week.
And as you can tell from the footage, the woman looks a little bit out of it. Like seeing somebody arrested like this is always a little bit unsettling just in human terms. Her demeanor and affect here was worrying after this arrest video surfaced a few days ago.
But as of this weekend, we can at least vouch for the fact this young woman is alive and she appears to be OK because reporters this weekend were also allowed to shoot footage of her inside a sort of cage, sort of box inside a Moscow courtroom. Subtitles on this, you`ll see subtitled in English. The subtitles have been supplied by Radio Free Europe.
So, this young woman in this clip here, she`s speaking in Russian but the subtitles tell us what she`s saying in English and if you read along it makes the hair stand up in the back of your neck.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
ANASTASIA VASHUKEVICH, BELARUSIAN MODEL: Guys, please pass my apologies to Oleg Deripaska and Russian politician Sergei Prikhodko. I am sorry that everything happened that way. I am sincerely ashamed of what happened.
I do not want to aggravate, so I personally apologize to Oleg Deripaska. There will be no more audio recordings of Oleg Deripaska. I will not use his name in any way and will not compromise him anymore. So he can relax now. Really, this is enough for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is Anastasia Vashukevich, speaking from a Russian courtroom, a district court in Moscow this weekend.
That court appearance follows her arrest at Moscow`s main airport on Thursday of last week. What`s going on with this story is this, this was February 8th of last year. You might recognize this guy. The guy who made this video and who you see hosting this video, it`s Alexey Navalny. Alexey Navalny is the highest profile opposition figure in Russia. Vladimir Putin last year would not let Alexey Navalny run against him for president of the Russian Federation. Putin and his government lock up Alexey Navalny whenever they get a chance, whenever they decide to seize on a convenient pretext.
But February 8th last year, he released this video and the video focused on footage, focused on video footage and photographs that had been shot in the first instance by Anastasia Vashukevich, that young woman who we just saw arrested at that Moscow airport and then in a cage in a Moscow courtroom. Vashukevich`s claim was that she was hired to work as an escort on a yacht trip in August 2016. That ended up being a story of national significance because while she was on the yacht trip, she shot footage of her host Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and deputy prime minister of Russia, who`s the other guy with him in these images. These are photos of the two men aboard the yacht.
On the video footage that was highlighted by Navalny, these two men can be seen and heard discussing the relationship between Russia and the United States and again, this is August 2016. It`s in the context of the U.S. presidential election. And again, this video, these pictures, they were shot by this young woman, Anastasia Vashukevich, during the U.S. presidential campaign in August 2016. Navalny dug them up and made his video expose highlighting the footage just last year in February 2018.
And we can date that release specifically because when he did that in February of last year, it basically broke the Internet in Russia. The Russian government freaked out so badly about this expose that Navalny was running and about that footage which it was based, it freaked them out so badly that Deripaska and the Russian government got a court in Russia to block Alexey Navalny`s website, so nobody could access Navalny`s website from inside Russia anymore. He`s the main opposition figure in the entire country.
The Russian government also took steps because of that expose, because of that footage of those two guys on the yacht, the Russian government also took steps to try to ban all Russian access to all of YouTube, to all of Instagram. The yacht footage had initially been posted on Instagram. Navalny`s video was posted on YouTube and the Russian government looked at this expose and decided that the Russian people would no longer get access to either YouTube or Instagram. They tried that in response to that expose. It freaked them out so badly.
So, Navalny posted his expose based on her footage, February 8 of last year. There`s a completely over the top Russian government freak-out in response. Meanwhile, this young woman who shot the footage, the woman who said she was working as an escort for Deripaska on the yacht and made those recordings, who posted them on her Instagram account. When this whole thing blew up in February of last year, she happened to be not in Russia, she was in Thailand where she was she involved in a sex seminar for Russian-speaking tourists. I don`t know.
There is an international sex tourism trade in Thailand like there is in a lot of countries. People who participate in that sex trade in Thailand sometimes do get arrested in that country. When Anastasia Vashukevich got arrested in Thailand because of her participation in that sex seminar, her treatment by Thai authorities seemed to be inflected by the fact that she had been the source and in some ways the protagonist of this big expo that was driving the Russian government crazy.
She was arrested in February 2018, days after the Navalny expose went public. Within a couple of days of her arrest in Thailand, the head of the Kremlin security counsel arrived personally in Thailand. He`s also former head of FSB, the Russian spy service. The day that he arrived in Thailand, Anastasia Vashukevich posted this video from what appears to be on the back of an open air moving police wagon. She says she`s on her way from a detention facility to a new Thai prison.
In that video speaking Russian, she begs western journalists for help. She says, quote, I`m ready to give you the missing puzzle pieces, support them with video and audio regarding the connections of our respected lawmaker, meaning Russian lawmakers with Trump, Manafort and the rest. I know a lot. I`m waiting for your offers. I`m waiting for you in a Thai prison.
She did end up in a Thai prison and journalists did get in contact with her while she was in prison. Journalists did go to the facility where she was being held in Thailand to try to figure out what she was alleging and why she was asking for help. "The New York Times" conducted an interview with her in Thailand soon after that recording from the back of the police wagon. In that interview, she told "The Times" that she had a lot more information than she had already posted to Instagram, and that Navalny had turned into this expose. She said she had more than 16 hours of audio recordings just from that trip on the yacht with Oleg Deripaska, along with the Russian deputy prime minister. She told "The Times", quote, if America gives me protection, I will tell everything I know.
As to what was on these alleged recordings she said she had, she told "The Times", quote, they were discussing elections. Deripaska had a plan about elections. She told "The Times" that her documentation was not just about Deripaska talking to the deputy prime minister. She said she also had documentation about conversations she he had with three people who spoke English fluently and who struck her as probably American.
CNN`s Ivan Watson actually got into that Thai prison to see her as well, and although he was not able to get a camera crew inside the prison, he was able to conduct an interview with her in person eye to eye and then he walked back outside the prison and they turned on the cameras and able to immediately say what she had told him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IVAN WATSON, CNN REPORTER: For days, Vashukevich and several Russian friend haves been held at this jail in the capital of Thailand where visitors are not allowed to bring cameras.
I just came out of this detention center where I spoke with Anastasia Vashukevich. It was loud and hot and chaotic. And talking through the bars, she said she witnessed meetings between the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska and at least three Americans she refused to name. She claims they discussed plans to affect the U.S. elections but she wouldn`t give any further information because she fears she could be deported back to Russia.
Her claims might not hold much water if it wasn`t for this. Photos published on her Instagram account of Vashukevich alongside Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska, a one-time business partner of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. He`s pleaded not guilty to money laundering and other alleged crimes discovered into the investigation into Russian meddling.
Vashukevich`s posts showed Deripaska on board his private yacht meeting Russia`s prime minister, Sergei Prikhodko, two powerful Russian men over heard in one video discussing U.S. Russian relations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So this young woman in jail in Thailand, she`s telling "The New York Times", she`s telling CNN that she`s got this material in addition to the stuff that`s already been turned into a giant expose that`s making the Russian government go crazy about Deripaska and the Russian deputy prime minister, she said she has further photos, video recordings and audio recordings. Her documented time with Deripaska on that yacht did happen around the time we know Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was in contact with Oleg Deripaska through an intermediary. We know that through Manafort`s court cases.
So what she was alleging about observing some contact between the Trump campaign and Russian government involving Deripaska and Manafort, it at least lines up in terms of the timing and what we learned about Manafort`s behavior. And she clearly was both afraid and using what she claimed to be her access to this information to try to get herself out of jail. Quote, I am ready to help with an investigation, if they help us get out of here.
She managed to get another post on to Instagram around the same time. Quote: If we go back to Russia, we will die in Russian prison or they will kill us. This is very serious. Please, USA, help us not to die from Russians.
Radio Free Europe later published photos of this hand-written letter that Vashukevich and her co-defendants managed to smuggle out of prison to have a friend deliver this by hand to the U.S. embassy in Bangkok. It says in sort of broken English, quote: We ask you political asylum and help us and protect us as quickly as possible, because we have very important information for USA and we risk our life very much. We have photo, video and audio of crimes of Russian government, and I give them to USA if you help us.
That all happened back in February and early March. Just under a year ago. And I don`t know what, if anything, the U.S. government ever did to try to help her or respond to her or not, but nine months plus went by while she and her co-defendants still sat in that Thai prison. And as we have reported, last week, Tuesday of last week, surprise move by a judge in Thailand resulted in her and her co-defendants being released. Upon learning they were quickly going to be released and then deported, a friend of Vashukevich told "The Washington Post" that Vashukevich, quote, was hoping to be deported somewhere other than Russia.
That did not work. Her relatives told "The Bell", which is an independent news source in Russia that the Russian consul in Thailand, senior Russian diplomat in Thailand had assured her and assured her family back in Russia that Anastasia Vashukevich would be allowed to transit safely through Moscow without being bothered. She would be allowed to change plans in Moscow and go home to Belarus, which is where she`s originally from.
Instead, as you saw from that video, she was in fact arrested at the main airport in Moscow while she went limp and journalists wait in vain to try to talk to her. This weekend, we got this sort of unsettling footage of her in court apologizing over and over and over again, apologizing to Oleg Deripaska. The Russia correspondent for Britain`s "Telegraph" newspaper reported today that he asked her several times at this court appearance if her arrest and her treatment was related to Russia`s interference in the U.S. election and her evidence about that. She refused to answer any questions about that.
Quote: After claiming she had evidence of Russia interfering, she doesn`t want to talk now for fear of Deripaska and Russian law. Quote: I won`t compromise myself anymore. Criminal cases were fabricated against me in Thailand, in Russia, that`s enough for me. Quote: She promises there won`t be more recordings, she won`t answer when I ask about election interference.
Well, now today, Alexey Navalny, that Russian opposition figure, the guy that made her famous in the first place when he posted her footage of Deripaska and the prime minister on that yacht, the guy who initially made her famous, today, Alexey Navalny posted new recordings, audio recordings that include the sound of two Russian speaking lawyers who appear to be associated with Oleg Deripaska and his business empire and in a phone call concerning the arrest of a Anastasia Vashukevich in Thailand. These two Deripaska lawyers appear to be negotiating for or trying to arrange for her to be charged with the most serious charges so that she would stay in prison for a substantial amount of time rather than just being released after a couple days which would be the course for someone picked up fro the type of offense for which she was initially picked up.
One f the lawyers associated with Deripaska`s companies, his aluminum empire says on the recording quote, what we are interested in is that these people be kept in jail. They should be charged. They should get a sentence which will put them in prison.
The same court that Deripaska used to block access to Navalny`s website in Russia, he`s now, according to Navalny gone to the same court to block access to the recordings everywhere in Russia, as well.
So, again, it is Navalny`s reporting, it`s Navalny`s accusation that the lawyers you can hear on these recordings are lawyers who he believes to be associated with Deripaska and Deripaska`s business empire. If that`s true, think about the universe of data here, right? He bankrolls Paul Manafort`s pro-Russian work in former Soviet Union when Manafort comes from nowhere to become chairman for the Trump for president campaign, Manafort tells an intermediary he would be happy to offer Oleg private meetings on the campaign if he wants them. Prosecutors in the special counsel`s office later allege that Manafort gave that same intermediary internal polling data from the Trump campaign during the campaign.
Shortly after meeting in prison with Manafort`s intermediary, Oleg Deripaska ends up on a yacht with a nice young escort who has a very active Instagram account and the deputy prime minister of Russia. She records them talking about the United States. When that recording months later is exposed and becomes a scandal, that young woman finds herself arrested and held for way longer than other people get held for for the sort of thing for which she got arrested.
And there are now as of today recordings that allegedly implicate Deripaska`s companies in trying to ensure that that young woman stayed in prison as long as possible after she was picked up. She went into prison claiming that she had lots more evidence including photos and audio recordings and video recording that included Deripaska not just talking to Russia officials but talking to people who she believed were Americans. She said she had a photo of at least one of the Americans.
She made these claims while explicitly asking for government help. It appears she never got that help. She now no longer wants to talk about these things. She was finally seen in open court this weekend after being dragged in a wheelchair and arrested in a Moscow airport, all she wanted to say in court was how sorry she is to Oleg Deripaska and how she doesn`t want to upset him anymore and how she cannot take much more of this. She`s supposed to be back in court in Moscow tomorrow.
Tonight, "The New York Times" just broke the news when the Trump administration moved last month to drop sanctions on companies owned by Deripaska, a binding confidential document obtained exclusively by "The Times" showed this Trump administration deal for Deripaska contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars of debt leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company.
Of all the people in the world for the U.S. government, of all -- of all the people in the world, of all the people in the world for the U.S. government to be bending over backwards to shovel money to right now, why exactly is the Trump administration going to these lengths for Oleg Deripaska? I mean, 70 percent of House Republicans sided with Democrats and said the Trump administration should not be lifting these sanctions on Deripaska. Eleven Republican senators crossed the isle and sided with Democrats to say the Trump administration should not be lifting these sanctions on Oleg Deripaska for the want of two more Republican Senate votes, this thing almost got stopped.
But because two more Senate Republicans wouldn`t cross over and vote to stop the lifting of those sanctions on Oleg Deripaska, the Trump administration is about to gift him hundreds of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Anastasia Vashukevich will be back in court tomorrow, presumably still apologizing trying to save her life.
Ken Vogel from "The New York Times" joins us next.
MADDOW: Reporter Ken Vogel has been all over this story from the beginning and he`s broken an important new scoop in the "New York Times." Here`s the headline, Russian oligarch and allies could benefit from sanctions deal document shows, and the document from that headline turns out to be a doozy.
Here is the lead. Quote: When the Trump administration announced it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted, but a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised.
Quote: The deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company, according to the documented. Following the money always gets you the best stories.
Joining us now is Ken Vogel, reporter at the "New York Times."
Ken, thanks very much for being here tonight. I appreciate you making the time.
KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, we`ve been following your reporting on this. We`ve been covering this story as well as there`s been this unusual political fight in a usual non-partisan political fight in Washington where Congress has thought about trying to stop the Trump administration from lifting these sanctions. The argument the Trump administration has marshaled is that, yes, you may want to be tough on Russia, you may want to be tough on Vladimir Putin, you may want to be tough on Oleg Deripaska, but these sanctions are actually, you know, you don`t understand them right. This move actually is really tough on Deripaska. His life is going to get worse when we do this.
I feel like you`ve up ended that whole argument with that scoop.
VOGEL: I mean, the underlying argument was that the sanctions were causing unintended economic ripple effects for companies that defended on aluminum supply by one of the key Deripaska companies that was sanctioned, this company called Rusal, and there were companies in the United States, in Europe, in Jamaica, allied countries that were really suffering is what the argument was, as for why they were lifting these sanctions.
Well, that begs the question, why did you sanction these companies in the first place? Do you not do your due diligence on what the economic ripple effects would be? And it certainly created the prospect that critics are sort of advocating that either Oleg Deripaska and his companies were able to really successfully out-maneuver treasury by using this leverage that Treasury has stated about wanting to avoid these economic ripple effects or Treasury in the Trump administration just simply caved in this instance.
And we don`t know which is which, and we don`t know, maybe Treasury painted itself into a corner by sanctions these companies without doing its due diligence on the economic ripple effects. But all three of those possibilities, the treasury caved and painted itself into a corner, or that it was out maneuvered by Deripaska certainly look real bad for the Trump administration.
MADDOW: And, of course, there`s the even darker prospect that the Trump administration was trying to do a favor for Deripaska here. I mean, it`s weird because these sanctions only came into existence quite recently. I mean, how long did the sanctions first go into effect against Deripaska`s companies?
VOGEL: Yes, they were put into -- they were announced in April of last year. So, you know, during the Trump administration, but but they never went into effect because Deripaska`s company quickly launched sophisticated lobbying and legal campaigning, highlighting some of the economic ripple effects and offering these various sort of aspects of corporate restructuring to try to get Treasury back down.
And what we learned in our reporting on this is that during this period, when these negotiations were occurring between Oleg Deripaska`s high-prized lawyers in the United States and Treasury Department, they were outside independent buyers who actually made offers for shares of Rusal that would have done what Treasury actually stated its intent was, which is to make these companies that are so critical to the world economy truly independent and instead, Rusal proceeded with the negotiation that Deripaska`s lawyers proceeded with these negotiations that got them something they wanted, getting rid of the sanctions while also really keeping in many ways the control of the company or at least the ownership of the company among Deripaska and his very close allies and allies of the Kremlin, including this VTB Bank, which is a state-owned bank in Russia that`s very close to Vladimir Putin.
Our calculations using this document that we obtained and previously available information suggests that VTB will now control 24 percent of the holding company that owns Rusal. So, you combine Oleg Deripaska`s 45 percent with about 12 percent that his families or his allies own and then the 24 percent that VTB owns, and you very quickly add up to almost the entire company still owned by either Oleg Deripaska or people very close to Vladimir Putin.
MADDOW: Right. And the whole idea of the sanctions was we need to get control of this company away from the Kremlin and instead, it stays effectively in Kremlin control and in control of this Kremlin connected oligarch, plus he benefits to the tunes of hundreds of millions of the dollars. It`s remarkable, remarkable reporting.
Ken, I know it`s a complex case but I feel like you`ve nailed it. Thanks for helping us understand it.
VOGEL: Yes, appreciate you having me on to explain it.
MADDOW: Ken Vogel of "The New York Times".
I will say that the thing that always gives these guys away, deep into Ken Vogel`s story in this tonight, quote, Mr. Deripaska`s associates have privately expressed satisfaction with the deal while publicly claiming oh, this is so terrible, it`s hurting us so much. Yes, your private expressions of satisfaction, your gloating over this kind of thing, those eventually are going to make it into the paper when it`s something this big and this much money.
All right. We`ll be back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today is day 30 of the federal government shutdown, longest one in U.S. history by far. The federal government is shut down because the president says there is a terrible crisis at the southern U.S. border. He says that requires building a gigantic wall between us and Mexico.
Other people might not just think differently about that proposed remedy. Other people might define the crisis at the southern border differently, as well. Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly ordered a new U.S. government policy to take immigrant kids away from their parents at the southern border. He ordered that in April of 2018.
And we think of family separations at the border as a crisis of 2018. But a new report from the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services reports the big surge in family separations and kids being taken away from parents didn`t begin last year, 2018, without announced policy. It started the year before.
Quote: In the summer of 2017, prior to the formal announcement of the zero tolerance policy, ORR staff and officials observed a steep increase in the number of children who had been separated from a parent or guardian by the Department of Homeland Security.
Also quote, the total number of children separated from a parent of guardian by immigration authorities is unknown. And quote, thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017 before the accounting required by the court. Health and Human Services faced challenges in identifying separated children.
So with the announced policy from 2018, we have known about 2,700 kids roughly who the government admitted to taking away from their parents. Now, it turns out that 2,700 number only comes from when they started counting in the spring of 2018. Now it might have been thousands more kids taken away from their parents in 2017.
The report says the 2017 kids have likely been released from wherever they were being held but really who knows? The inspector general`s office doesn`t know who the kids are or where they are or who they might be with. As you might imagine, people who care about this story are exactly asking how exactly this happens in any country, let alone here. In a letter posted publicly today, Customs and Border Protection told Senator Ron Wyden that they`ve got no idea.
Quote: No, we`re not aware of any data to substantiate this estimate from the inspector general, suggests, you know, maybe it`s 300 or so, maybe more, maybe less, who knows? It wasn`t really tracked before 2018. We don`t know.
So, here we are in 2019 with a new inspector general report that says it isn`t just the 2,700 kids from last year. It`s maybe thousands of others. Nobody is really looking into it. The reason we know as much as we do about 2018 is because of the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union took the administration to court and the courts intervened to stop that official policy. The ACLU`s case is on pause right now because the agencies involved are affected by the shutdown.
But attorneys with the ACLU tells us that they are not willing to wait for answers about how many kids were taken overall and where all of those kids might be. They tell us never mind the shutdown, they are ready to ask a court to intervene again now as we learn now about thousands more kids who have been taken away from their parents by this administration.
The national head of the ACLU is going to join us here for the interview, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: So are you unwilling, sir, to issue a written directive that it is the policy of the department to not separate the children from their mothers unless the life of the child is in danger?
JOHN KELLY, THEN-HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I don`t need to do that.
HARRIS: So is your answer no?
KELLY: My answer is I don`t need to do that.
HARRIS: You don`t need to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It was April 5th, 2017. We don`t need a written policy on telling separating kids -- we don`t need to do that.
This week, we got a written report on how that worked out on the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services reports thousands of kids might have been taken from their parents in 2017, in addition to the 2,700 plus kids who the government admits were taken from their families last year in 2018.
Joining us for the interview is Anthony Romero. He`s the executive director of the ACLU, which has been fighting administration on this issue in court.
Mr. Romero, it`s nice to see you.
ANTHONY ROMERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACLU: Hello, Rachel. Happy Martin Luther King Day.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
ROMERO: I have a dream, I still do.
MADDOW: Well, you know, on the day like today, MLK Day arriving at such a peculiar moment in American debate and American civic life, we`ve never had a 30-day long shutdown before. It`s about the president wanting to erect a wall between us and Mexico. The reason I wanted to talk to you about this is because I feel like the family separation policy, taking these kids away from their parents electrified the country and brought the issue of humanity of immigrants to the fore the way nothing else has.
ROMERO: Lit it up.
MADDOW: Since the administration has been here, ACLU did more than anybody to stop the policy in it tracks. Now, it turns out even before there was an announced policy, it was thousands of other kids.
ROMERO: Thousands more.
MADDOW: Is there -- are the courts the right place to be fighting this?
ROMERO: We got to reignite the public interest. Part of what put the pressure on Trump to backtrack, to rescind the policy, and also put the pressure on the judge and with all due respect to the judge, is only because of public response was as strong. Folks from all walks of life, even Laura Bush saying this isn`t the way to go.
So, we need to reignite the public interest and that`s there. Now when they say to us, oh, there could have been a couple thousand young folks, children who were separated from their families before they told us the 2,700, wait a minute, we`ve got to really pause. Where are they? How many of them are there?
They told us in December before our case was put aside because of the shutdown, the government came back to us and said, oops, we found another 149 kids that we should have told you about. That`s when we began to scratch our heads. We knew the data was off, and we know they weren`t fully responsive.
This is much bigger than any of us realized and we have to jump back in court, we`re now trying to explore how do we un-suspend this case that`s in advance, how do you show the exigency of this, because if you have thousands of kids separated from their families, we can`t wait for a government shutdown. There`s -- the harm and the damage is going on. And this government shutdown could go on for months and those kids cannot wait. So we`ve got to find a way to jump the queue. We got to find a way to make sure that we get the public attention and the judge back in the saddle and really ride herd over the administration, because this is absurd. It`s unacceptable and it`s ridiculous.
MADDOW: You talked about unsuspending your case. If you can hold on, we`re going to take a quick break. I want to talk to you about that because this is one of the things a lot of us haven`t wrapped our heads around yet, which is not only does the federal government shutdown make federal government workers work without pay and stop a lot of the aspects of the federal government from working, it also in some ways has shut down some of the fight against this administration.
MADDOW: I want to talk to you about that when we come back.
Anthony Romero is executive director of the ACLU. My interview with him continues right after this.
MADDOW: Joining us once again for the interview is Anthony Romero. He`s the executive director of the ACLU.
Mr. Romero, thank you again.
You mentioned before the break that one of the things that the ACLU needs to fight for now as it fights the Trump administration on them taking kids away from their parents --
MADDOW: -- is that you need to have your case unsuspended because of the shutdown.
ROMERO: Because the courts are still functioning. I mean, the courts still have to deal with certain types of case and criminal cases. You have to adjudicate, you have to arraign, you have to indict in a certain period of time. There are certain cases on tight timeframes.
So, the judges are trying to figure out which cases they move on. They`re not all suspended. Not all the courts have been closed.
So, part of what we`re trying to explore right now is how do we unsuspend our case, there`s a level of exigency that we have to be able to demonstrate. And that`s why collecting the facts, going back to the OIG report. The OIG report is critical. This is the watchdog within the Department of Homeland Security. This is their own people --
ROMERO: -- looking over their own shoulders saying, wait a minute here, maybe there are a couple thousand more before we even started telling you we started separating kids from their families. And then when we get told there were another 149, they told us in December, oops-a-daisy, we found 149 kids who were separated. It just calls into question none of this data can be relied upon.
MADDOW: And the government is being asked by the courts, you`ve been proceeding with these cases, the government is being sort of forced by the courts to pursue reunification to try to line these kids back up with the parents from who they were taken.
ROMERO: And reunited, 2,463 kids, almost 2,500 kids have been reunited with their families.
MADDOW: And that`s through being forced through the courts to do it.
ROMERO: Only through the courts. Only with the bludgeoning of the judge, in our case, where we forced them to reunite these kids, parent by parent, kid by kid.
MADDOW: You said, you`re talking about needing to get your case unsuspended because of the shutdown. You also said just before the break you think the shutdown could go on for months.
ROMERO: Yes, you bet.
MADDOW: Why do you think so?
ROMERO: This is an impossible stalemate. He`s not going is not going to get his wall. She`s -- Nancy Pelosi is not going to give him a dime for his wall. That`s dead on arrival. The speech he gave on Saturday, it`s ridiculous. People -- she should have shut it down from the beginning like she did.
The idea that we`re going to extort the government -- here we are mired in the country`s longest shutdown, and he`s extorting money for a wall that his own party wouldn`t give him money for.
MADDOW: Right, he had two years of complete control and they didn`t --
ROMERO: Two years, and his Republican buddies, Mitch McConnell didn`t put anything forward for funding for the wall for two years. Now because he`s backed himself into the wall, his own wall, now he`s saying, oh, I`ll give this temporary protective status and I`ll give a little bit on the Dreamers.
It`s too little, too late. It`s completely anemic. Both of those are policies he rescinded. So, he`s going to give back a little bit of what he has already taken away. That`s not a compromise. Who`s he kidding?
He`s got zero credibility on immigration. He`s a man who gave us a Muslim ban, rescinded DACA, rescinded TPS, shut down the asylum laws, did family separation.
Do we think that this man has actually had a cathartic moment, oh, I have an epiphany, I`m going to be better on immigration? Come on. Who`s buying that? Certainly not Nancy Pelosi, not any of us.
MADDOW: Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. Keep us apprised, my friend. Thank you very much.
ROMERO: You bet. Take care.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Programming note, Senator Kamala Harris announced today that she is running for president. She is the third U.S. senator, the third female U.S. senator, to announce that she is running for president. I`m going to have the first interview with her since her announcement right here Wednesday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. I know, right?
That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END