The Democratic Candidates. TRANSCRIPT: 2/20/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Natasha Korecki

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend. Appreciate it.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  You bet.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us at home.  Happy to have you with us. 

Before the inauguration in 2017, after the presidential election that had happened in November, but before the new president was sworn in at the end of January 2017, so it`s when we knew Trump was going to be the next president but before he actually was.  During that interregnum, outgoing President Barack Obama announced to the American people that 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives would be kicked out of the United States.  He announced that two Russian government-owned compounds, big luxury compounds, mansions, one on Long Island, one in Centerville, Maryland, would be seized by the U.S. government because he said they were being used for Russian intelligence activities in our country. 

President Obama also announced new sanctions against Russians and Russian entities involved in the attack on the U.S. presidential election that previous year, including sanctions on the FSB and the GRU, two Russian intelligence agencies. 

We also know that President Obama during the transition, he ordered our own intelligence agencies to produce a report, a report on what exactly Russia did in that attack on our election.  By the first week of January 2017, during the transition, still before the inauguration, a declassified version of that intelligence community report was released to the public, assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections.  That`s where we got the first official public assessment from America`s intelligence community before Trump took over. 

The attack on our election was ordered directly by Vladimir Putin that the attack was to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected president and to hurt her presidency if she was elected.  The Russian government had a, quote, clear preference for Donald Trump.  That`s where we learned that the attack involved Russian cyber attacks, hacking into computer systems and stealing material.  That`s also where we got the intelligence community`s assessment that Russian military intelligence, the GRU, had used WikiLeaks and other outlets to disseminate the stolen material, to influence the media, to influence public opinion and to ultimately influence the public election. 

So, we got all that the first week of January in this report from the intelligence community that President Obama ordered during the transition.  They turned that around very fast. 

A few weeks after that report was released to the public, once Trump had been sworn in and had just started his first term as president, "The New York Times" on March 1st reported some pretty serious drama about what had gone on in those last days of the Obama administration, after the election but before the inauguration of President Trump.  "The Times" reported in a bit of a bombshell scoop that in the process of developing that intelligence community report on the Russia attack, this report that President Obama had requested they put out a declassified public version of it on January 25th, in the course of putting together that report, America`s intelligence agencies gathered some disturbing stuff on the subject of that report. 

Quote: In the weeks before the assessment was released in January, the intelligence community combed through databases for an array of communications and other information and began producing reports that showed there were contacts during the campaign between Trump associates and Russian officials. 

And that evidence did not stand alone.  Quote: According to three former American officials, who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence, American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had also provided information to U.S. intelligence describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials and others close to Putin and associates of President-elect Trump. 

But wait, there was more.  Quote: Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin.  Those Russian officials heard on these intercepts discussing contacts with Trump associates. 

So, the Obama administration was coming to a close, just a few weeks, right, between when an election happens and when the new president gets sworn in.  In this case, the election has just happened.  The inauguration is pending.  The outgoing Obama administration has taken a swipe at the Russians with expelling their spies and taking back their compounds and all the rest.  They`ve produced this public-facing assessment about what Russia did and what Putin`s intent was behind that attack on our election. 

But at that same time, in this very compressed, fraught time period during the transition, the Obama administration also realizes they`ve got this growing pile of intel, and their intel is not just about what the Russian government did, it`s about contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign during the time of the Russian attack. 

And so, in addition to all the stuff that the Obama administration did in public in its last days, in addition to that declassified public facing intelligence report and all those announced sanctions and all the rest, in addition to everything that we could see out loud, right, we could see out front and out loud, they also did something else behind the scenes, and this was "The Times" scoop.  Quote: Obama administration rushed to preserve intelligence of Russian election hacking.  That was the headline. 

Here is the lead.  Quote: In the Obama administration`s last days, White House officials scrambled to spread across the government information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald Trump and Russians.  Former American officials say they had two aims, to ensure that such meddling isn`t duplicated in future elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators. 

Amid what "The Times" describes as fears that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed or its sources exposed once power changed hands, what followed was a push to preserve the intelligence.  Quote: As inauguration day approached, Obama White House officials grew convinced that the intelligence they had was damning and that they needed to ensure that as many people as possible inside government could see it, even if people without security clearances could not.  Some officials began asking specific questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the answers would be archived and could easily be unearthed by investigators.  Hmm. 

At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence as possible into analyses, and to keep the reports at relatively low classification levels to ensure as wide a readership as possible across the government, and in some cases among European allies as well.  Quote, the efforts to preserve the intelligence continued until the administration`s final hours. 

So, there was this scramble as the Obama administration was wrapping up and getting ready to leave, and as the Trump inauguration was nearing, there was this scramble to make sure the intelligence collected on the Russian attack and specifically on contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians during the attack, that intelligence, they scrambled to make sure it could not be disappeared.  They scrambled to make sure it was basically memorialized and catalog and recorded in such a way that it would leave traces, that people would see it.  And those efforts to preserve that intelligence carried on up until the final hours of the Obama administration.  We learned that was literally true months later when this letter, this e-mail was made public, a letter that Obama national security adviser Susan Rice had basically written to herself, a memo to file that she sent herself. 

I mean, literally, I think she sent it within minutes of Trump being sworn in on inauguration day.  There was later some question about how correct that actual time stamp was since Trump was sworn in at 12:00.  Could she still have been sending this at 12:15.  But even if the time stamp itself may have been 15 minutes off, 16 minutes off, she definitely sent this letter on inauguration day, memorialized a meeting that she had had as national security adviser days earlier in the Oval Office with President Obama, Vice President Biden, FBI Director James Comey, and then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. 

So, they`re all meeting in the Oval Office at the very end of the Obama administration, just before the inauguration of Trump.  Quote: President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the intelligence and law enforcement agencies by the book.  The president stressed that he is not asking about initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective.  He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would, by the book. 

From a national security perspective, however, President Obama said he wants to be sure that as we engage with the incoming team, meaning the incoming Trump administration, Trump transition team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.  And thereafter, next in this memo to file is this big long fully redacted paragraph. 

When that letter to file came to light, memorializing this conversation, right, memorializing the outgoing Obama administration`s concerns at the highest level about whether or not it was safe to tell anything about Russia to the incoming administration, given what they were starting to learn about the incoming administration and Russia, when that letter came to light, Susan Rice`s attorney explained that she had been advised by the White House counsel that she should make a record of that conversation for the files so that that would not be disappeared some day. 

And it hasn`t disappeared.  Because that was a memo to file, because that is part of White House records, we now know thanks to Susan Rice memorializing that conversation, we now know for history and for our own purposes how freaked out President Obama and his senior national security team were about potentially giving anything sensitive about Russia to a newly elected President Trump, because of what they were learning about newly elected President Trump and Russia.  And we know that, even if we still don`t know what`s under that black redacted box. 

So, in the final days of the Obama administration, there is this rush to preserve intelligence in case the incoming folks try to cover it up or destroy it.  There is a rush to leave tracks of the intel itself and the deep and unprecedented concern caused by that intelligence within the very top levels of the administration.  I mean, being discussed in a conversation that includes the president, the vice president, the director of the FBI, the national security adviser, and the number two person at the Justice Department. 

I mean, that`s the level at which they were having this very serious concern about oh my god, given what we know about these guys coming in, can we give them anything that relates to Russia?  With everything they had to worry about at the time, that`s the meeting they`re taking in the Oval Office.  And we still don`t know some of the basis of that conversation, right?  Still redacted. 

Well, now, of course, two years down the road, we are learning about a similar effort that was taking place in the FBI, also just as the new Trump administration was getting going.  Former FBI official Andrew McCabe in his new book and in a series of interviews this week has explained that after President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to lay off the Russia investigation as it pertained to Mike Flynn, and then he fired FBI Director James Comey and then he told Russian officials immediately thereafter that firing James Comey as FBI director would relieve the pressure on him about Russia, McCabe is now able to explain publicly that his prime eminent priority upon becoming acting FBI director in those circumstances, he became acting FBI director because of Trump firing Comey for all those reasons, he can now explain that his preeminent priority was the take steps like the Obama administration had done just weeks earlier -- to take steps that the evidence and the intelligence and the investigations were protected, that they could not be disappeared by the incoming Trump administration. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI ACTING DIRECTOR:  I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace. 

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS ANCHOR:  You wanted a documentary record?

MCCABE:  That`s right. 

PELLEY:  That those investigations had begun, because you feared that they would be made to go away? 

MCCABE:  That`s exactly right. 

I met with the attorney general and later, of course, went down the street to meet with the president at his request.  The next day, I brought the investigative team together.  So I knew from those interactions with the president and the attorney general that I was likely to be removed from the role of acting director maybe very quickly. 

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC "DEADLINE WHITE HOUSE":  Why? 

MCCABE:  Because they both said I would probably be removed.  They said that they were thinking about bringing in an interim director to run the organization until a permanent director could be confirmed.  So realizing that I had very limited time to work with, my first concern is making sure that the Russia investigation was on absolutely solid ground.  If someone else was going to come in behind me, someone who might want to end that investigation or somehow diminish or hide the results of that investigation, they wouldn`t be able to do it without creating a record of the decisions behind that act. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If someone was going to come in behind me, someone who might want the end that investigation or somehow diminish or hide the results of the investigation, they wouldn`t be able to do it without creating a record of the decisions behind that act. 

So, the Obama administration did what it could do to preserve the intel as they were being replaced in office, right?  The FBI was doing what it could do to preserve the investigations as the president started firing his way through the upper echelons of the FBI, all the while admitting publicly that it was about the Russia investigation, why he was firing people like the FBI director. 

Well, now in addition, the "Associated Press" has offered some fresh support for that claim from Andrew McCabe with this, quote.  FBI had backup plan to save Russia probe evidence.  Quote, the FBI developed a backup plan to protect evidence in its Russia investigation soon after the firing of FBI Director James Comey in the event that other senior officials were dismissed as well.  The goal was to ensure that the information collected under the investigations which included probes of Trump associates and possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign would survive the firings or the reassignments of top law enforcement officials.  Those officials included special counsel Robert Mueller who was appointed eight days after Trump fired Comey in May 2017. 

And in fact we now know that having that kind of backup plan was not a nuts idea since in fact almost all of the FBI senior leadership at the time Mueller was appointed, people who were all there for the start of the investigation, they were all later either fired or forced out of the agency. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCABE:  I knew there was work we need to do to make sure the investigation was on rock solid ground. 

STEPHEN COLBERT, CBS "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT":  "The Associated Press" says that you asked for a backup plan to protect Russia evidence.  What -- what was that backup plan? 

MCCABE:  I can`t tell you the details of the backup plan, but I can say this, Stephen.  That`s our job, right?  That`s our job, to prepare for eventualities. 

COLBERT:  Is it a thumb drive inside a brick, you know, some place?  DuPont Circle?  Do you have to do spy stuff to hide it?

MCCABE:  It`s on the tape reels that turn to smoke at the beginning of the show. 

COLBERT:  Yes, you joke, but now I know those are real because it`s the first thing you thought of. 

MCCABE:  Yes. 

COLBERT:  OK. 

MCCABE:  We needed to know what we would do if Director Mueller was suddenly fired and his team was disbanded.  And what we needed to do in that circumstance was to be able to take our cases back and continue those investigations.  So, those -- that`s kind of what we thought through. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That`s what we thought through.  If Mueller got disbanded, if Mueller was suddenly fired, if his team was disbanded, the cases could be taken back and continued. 

So we can now see from this vantage, right, everybody working on getting to the bottom of what happened when Russia attacked our election and the question of whether or not Trump was in on it, everybody working on that from the beginning tried to figure out how to protect against the Trump administration and the president using their power to disappear the evidence of what Russia did and what contact there was between the Trump campaign and Russia while the attack was under way, right?

There was this multi-tiered effort to try to have a plan B, right, to have a contingency plan, to preserve the evidence, to preserve the intelligence, to protection the investigations from anything the president and his administration might do to shut it down, however they tried to do that. 

Well, now, tonight`s the night to ask how good were those contingency plans?  How`d they do?  Because CNN and "The Washington Post" tonight are now reporting that less than one week into the tenure of President Trump`s new Attorney General William Barr, it`s over.  The Mueller investigation is being wrapped up as soon as next week, as soon as Monday.  Time`s up. 

That`s what`s being reported by CNN and by "The Washington Post."  And there is a few different things this might mean.  I mean, this might just be the latest in a long, long, long string of reports that turned out to be wrong that said the end is nigh and Mueller is definitely finishing very soon, right?  We`ve been hearing reports like those from the very beginning.  We`ve been hearing reports like those from the president`s lawyers from, like, a minute after Mueller got appointed. 

Remember when Trump hired Giuliani to be his Russia lawyer in the first instance, and Giuliani guaranteed that once he was hired, he`d have the whole thing shut down in two weeks, right?  That was more than two weeks ago. 

So maybe this is just another stone on this long dumb path of people saying Mueller is done.  We`ve been hearing that forever.  This absolutely could be that. 

It could also be, on the other hand, on the other range of possibility, it could be that Attorney General William Barr has just shut it down, and William Barr was hired to be attorney general, A, because there was a vacancy.  Why was there a vacancy?  Because Trump fired Jeff Sessions as the previous attorney general. 

Why did Trump fire Jeff Sessions as the previous attorney general?  Well, what he said about it out loud for months is that Jeff Sessions wouldn`t shut down the Russia investigation.  So that made him a terrible attorney general. 

So, William Barr knows that`s what he was hired to do.  The old guy left because he wouldn`t do this thing, then you were hired.  Clearly, you were hired to do this thing.  I mean, if that`s what`s happening, if Barr is shutting it down, because that`s what he was brought on to do, now`s the time when all that doomsday planning about preserving the evidence, preserving the intelligence, protecting the investigations, making sure the cases survive, now`s the time when all that doomsday planning is going to prove its worth. 

It could be neither of those, though.  It could also be that Robert Mueller and his team and the special counsel`s office, they`re wrapping this up on their own time.  In some way that makes sense within the four corners of their investigation and they`re remit and they`re not being pressured, and it is just a coincidence that this is happening less than a week after this new attorney general took over.  Could be. 

Whichever it is, I got to say what does this tell us about all these ongoing criminal cases?  I mean so far of all the criminal charges brought by Mueller, all the hundreds of felony charges, only a handful of people have hit the end of the line.  Alex Vander Zwaan got his prison sentence, did his time, he`s out and gone.  Same with Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, got his prison sentence, did his time, he`s moved on. 

The president`s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, he`s had his three-year prison sentence handed down, but even today he got his prison report date pushed back a couple of months.  He doesn`t have to start that sentence until May. 

A ton of these other defendants are still awaiting sentencing or are still in the process of getting there.  Flynn, Manafort, Gates, Sam Patten, Maria Butina, they`ve all plead guilty in one way or another.  They`re all awaiting sentence. 

Paul Erickson, he`s arraigned, he`s fighting his case.  Roger Stone is arraigned, fighting his case.  Jerome Corsi went as far as a draft plea agreement with the special counsel`s office that would have included him pleading guilty to a felony charge, but Jerome Corsi thus far has not been charged. 

After Mueller did charge two people with lying to Congress about elements of the scandal, Mueller just delivered a whole new filing cabinet where official transcripts of other people`s testimony, testimony that members of Congress tell us implicate much the same kind of offenses in terms of lying to Congress about matters material to a congressional investigation.  The Supreme Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals are considering elements of other people and other entities that are refusing subpoenas from Robert Mueller, and Mueller still appears to be fighting those cases because that evidence he is trying to subpoena appears to still be important enough to him and his team that it is worth pursuing those subpoenas all the way up through the highest levels of federal appeals courts in the United States. 

And so, whatever got us to these reports that it`s all going to end like on Monday, like as of next week, when it comes to all of those -- all of those cases and all of those different positions and all of the potential other prosecutions or cases that may derive from anybody else who becomes a Cooperating witness, particularly all those people who still have charges pending against them who haven`t plead guilty, I mean how does that all wrap up?  Maybe this -- maybe that`s all going to wrap up boom, instantly, right, the way you can shortcut a fishing trip by throwing a live stick of dynamite into the lake.  Caught everything. 

But if this thing is ending, how will we know the circumstances under which it is being ended?  Who is allowed to say what and under what circumstances about how this thing is wrapping up?  If it`s wrapping up, and if this thing really is ending badly, if it is ending on orders from the Trump administration in order to protect the president, if what`s happening is the thing that people inside the scandal from the very beginning worried about from the very beginning, if this is the thing they were worried about even before Trump was sworn in when they started to take secret measures to preserve as much of the evidence and the intelligence as they could, if what`s happening now is what they worried from the very beginning that this is how it would all ultimately end, then were the doomsday plans those officials put in place up to this challenge? 

Did they do enough?  Did they find a way to make sure we would all ultimately know the truth and we would know what we need to know, regardless of whatever this administration and this president is going to do to stop us from knowing it?  Were those good plans? 

Stay with us.  That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  If confirmed, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests, or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation.  I will follow the special counsel regulations scrupulously and in good faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to finish his work. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  William Barr promised when he testified before Congress that if he was confirmed as A.G., he would let Bob finish his work.  I think we know which Bob it is, but at this point now I`m wondering if he meant a different Bob. 

Today, not even a week after Barr was confirmed, several news outlets are reporting that the special counsel Robert Mueller is, boom, it`s time, all of the sudden wrapping up.  And while these accounts have started to come in saying the Justice Department expects some kind of Mueller report within days now, by next week, Andrew McCabe, the former acting FBI director is confirming that from the very start officials in the FBI worked on a plan B to protect the Russia investigation and its evidence and criminal cases derived from it for fear the whole thing would suddenly some day get shut down by the Trump administration. 

So, are we finally coming to the end of the Mueller investigation?  What does happen to its pieces if there aren`t going to be any new criminal charges, if that`s what a report being submitted to the Justice Department should signify.  And those efforts inside the FBI and other elements of government to try to protect the Russia investigation from being shut down improperly, how will we know if those were good plans?  How will we know if those plans went far enough? 

Joining us now is Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, former senior FBI and Justice Department official. 

Mr. Rosenberg, it is great to have you here.  Thank you. 

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  My pleasure, Rachel.  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you just -- I know that you have seen the news today.  You`ve seen these reports.  You`ve seen a lot of people talking about what this might mean, the importance of these reported developments that the Justice Department is expecting a report and very soon.  Just overall in the big picture, what`s your take on that reporting and on how it`s being received today? 

ROSENBERG:  Big picture.  I don`t find it terribly surprising, and my hope, I know hope is not really a strategy is that the appointment and confirmation of Bill Barr and Mueller finishing his report are just a coincidence.  I have said on your show I don`t generally believe in coincidences, but also having worked for Bob Mueller, his remit was rather narrow, and he is not the kind of person who is going to dawdle in his work.  So it does have to come to an end at some point. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the evidence that we`ve seen in public of the sort of fruits of Mueller`s labor thus far, I ran down in the a block some of the cases that have derived from the special counsel`s investigation, and not all of them are cases that are being prosecuted and handled day to day in court by Mueller`s prosecutors anymore.  Some of them seem to be farmed out to elements of the justice department. 

But even so, there do seem to be a lot more than just trailing ends.  These are lat of open cases.  Some of them seem to be in fairly preliminary stages.  How shall we understand that reality alongside the prospect of a report from Mueller going to the Justice Department soon? 

ROSENBERG:  Right.  The report from Mueller may well end the Mueller part of this, but there is a whole other big part or parts of this, and your "A" block I think listed most but not all of it.  We know the Stone search warrant was an important investigative step and that agents hauled a whole bunch of stuff out of his house.  They`re still probably going through that, and Stone, if he wants a trial, that might be months away.  And if he ends up cooperating after that, if he is convicted, that`s even more months away. 

There are a whole bunch of pieces, Corsi and Stone.  Don`t forget as well we know that federal prosecutors in Manhattan in the Southern District of New York are looking at the inaugural committee, the relationship with AMI, the publisher of the "National Enquirer," donations, hush money or payments to Trump paramours through Michael Cohen.  We know that the New York state attorney general`s office has an investigation. 

So, Mueller may write a report.  He may send that to Bill Barr, but that doesn`t end the larger criminal investigation. 

MADDOW:  In terms of what Mr. Barr may receive from Mueller, again, if this reporting is accurate, and a lot of this reporting in the past has been inaccurate.  This point in -- this alleged point in the process has been predicted many times now and they`ve been wrong every time.  But if this is going to happen, it seems to me the end of the range of what we might expect from Mr. Barr is that we get what he describes as his summary of Mueller`s report.  It lists all the people who have been indicted.  It says my declination to not indict, everybody not involved on this list.  You know, it says nothing other than the bare minimum about who he`s already decided to bring charges against. 

If that`s what Barr chooses to release to Congress or indeed to the public, but there is reason to believe that Mueller actually gave Barr quite a lot more information and information that relates to the administration or the president or his business or anything else that would be considered sensitive, that Barr has decided not to release, what are the options for Congress or indeed the public getting access to that fuller report that Mueller might hypothetically provide? 

ROSENBERG:  Yes, I think there are a couple of options.  But first, when Barr said he was going to scrupulously follow the regulations that pertain to Mueller`s report, what I think he`s referring to, Rachel, is something contained within the federal register.  Not a document you would ever read for fun, but it contains the rules that govern how Mueller reports to Barr, and those rules require that Mueller`s report to Barr be confidential, and how Barr reports to Congress, and those rules require that Barr`s report to Congress be brief. 

And so I`m not sure we`re going to see very much from Bill Barr to Congress.  That said, to your larger question, which is a really important one, there are a couple of ways we might see the entire Mueller report.  For instance, I wouldn`t be shocked if Congress subpoenaed it.  That may lead to a fight, but I would imagine that Congress is going to want the see that, and I imagine a lot of people, me included, you included are going to want to see it too.  That`s one avenue. 

As well, Barr could decide that his report to Congress is brief, but he could append to it all of Mueller`s report.  That may need to go through a federal judge because undoubtedly in that report from Bob Mueller, there is going to be classified information and secret grand jury information. 

But there are vehicles to declassify and to make grand jury information available to the public.  It would require a court order, but it`s exactly what Judge Sirica did with the Watergate report of Leon Jaworski. 

So, I think in the end, we`re likely going to see it, but it might be a bit of a battle in between now and then. 

MADDOW:  Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney in EDVA, former senior FBI and Justice Department official -- Chuck, as always, super clear and helpful.  Thank you for your time tonight, sir. 

ROSENBERG:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Lots to come.  News from the Democratic primary coming up as well.  Please stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In April 2015, Bernie Sanders, Vermont senator, launched his bid for the White House.  He became Hillary Clinton`s first challenger for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.  Sanders` announcement was greeted by politicos and beltway types with polite but vaguely unflattering adjectives like, you know, underdog and long shot and unlikely. 

But then the very next day after his announcement, the Sanders campaign told the world that they had raked in a record $1.5 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign, and it wasn`t like from a small number of giant donations.  Sanders took in that $1.5 million in one day from 35,000 different donors.  And suddenly everybody was paying a lot more attention to Bernie Sanders, because it`s not just the raw amount of money he brought in, it`s the number of people who donated to him on day one. 

I mean, as a political fund-raiser, think about it.  You`d rather have a gazillion people giving you a few bucks than one person giving you a gazillion bucks, right?  Over the course of your campaign, you can go back again and again and again to a low dollar donor asking them to donate to you again.  In contrast, a big dollar donor will max out after one donation, and then they`re no use to you down the line. 

Of course, Bernie Sanders didn`t go on to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, but he sure did give Hillary Clinton a run for her money in a way that almost nobody predicted when he first threw his hat into the ring in April 2015.  After Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had their epic primary, though, Hillary Clinton, of course, went on the give Donald Trump a real run for his money in the general election. 

But now we`re heading toward the next election in 2020.  Hillary Clinton is definitely not running for president again.  Bernie Sanders apparently is, though.  He made it official as of yesterday.

And when it comes to first day fund-raising bragging rights, Bernie Sanders 2020 feels a lot like Bernie Sanders 2016.  His new campaign announced today that they raised nearly $6 million in the first 24 hours since he launched, and it wasn`t, you know, a few tens of thousands of donors this time.  It wasn`t 35,000 supporters giving that money.  It was 223,000 donors giving that money. 

Now a couple of things that are interesting about that enormous first day fund-raising number.  Number one, it implies that some things are carrying over from his 2016 race.  He built a huge base there.  They`re still responding to him.  Also, the average donation size in this first fund- raising haul is the exact same size of the donation to Bernie Sanders in the 2016 cycle.  People were giving an average of 27 bucks in 2016.  Yesterday, they gave him an average of 27 bucks.  That means he can go back to them again and again and again and again. 

But also, in announcing the qualifying rules to debate in 2020, one of the ways the Democratic Party decided that this year a candidate can qualify to make the debate stage is by pulling in a lot of grassroots donations, pulling in donations from at least 65,000 different people in at least 20 states.  Bernie Sanders appears to have already done that and more, not just on his first day, but in the first few hours of his first day.  So, he at least knows that he`ll be on the stage already. 

Here we go.  Bernie Sanders is back doing record breaking grassroots fund- raising again and already, but that is not the only echo of 2016 we are seeing right now as the Democratic primary gets under way in earnest, as Democratic candidates are starting to roll out their campaigns.  There is another shadow campaign that is definitely already under way, and that story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  At 8:43 a.m. on New Year`s Eve, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced that she was exploring a presidential bid for 2020.  By 6:00 p.m. that same day, there were calls on fringe websites to use her announcement as a way to divide the Democratic Party. 

Here, for example, was an anonymous post on the message website 4chan. 

Elizabeth Warren is announcing her candidacy.  Now is the time to moving.  Go to the "New York Times" comment section, go to Reddit, go to Twitter, criticize her for being white.  Criticize her for being a woman.  Do whatever it takes to further divide the left and prevent them from unifying behind a candidate for 2020. 

Fake it.  Manufacture an apparent split within the Democratic Party.  Anyway you can.  Make it look real.  It might catch on. 

That evening, Senator Warren held an Instagram live event where she talked to supporters from her kitchen at her house.  That very same night, a false narrative started to spread online, first on message boards and then on fringe news sites alleging that there was a blackface doll sitting on Elizabeth Warren`s cabinet during that live stream, which of course is ridiculous.  Pictures provided by the Warren campaign show where these folks inserted this supposed blackface doll was actually on her shelf a little vase, like a little reproduction Greek urn. 

If this looks like the kind of disinformation campaign we saw in the 2016 election, it`s because it`s awfully similar to what we saw in the 2016 election, but "Politico" reports today on what the contours of -- what the contours are of it this time.  Quote: A wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already under way on social media with signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity.  The main targets appear to be Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and former Representative Beto O`Rourke, four of the most prominent announced or perspective candidates for president. 

Quote: The goal of the coordinated barrage appears to be undermining the nascent candidacies through the dissemination of memes, hash tags, misinformation and distortions of their positions.  But the divisive nature of many of the posts also hints at a broader effort to sow discord and chaos within the Democratic presidential primary. 

So just like in 2016, there appears, again, to be a coordinated anonymous attack under way focused on finding real fissures in the Democratic Party about blowing them up into the most extreme chasms possible so as to maybe sway the election, but potentially to dissuade Democratic voters in terms of their enthusiasm for this race and certainly to turn them against each other. 

Whereas the 2016 campaign was marked by the creation of thousands of fake social media accounts that would ultimately be fairly easily identified as bots, this time the effort is a little bit more advanced.  "Politico" is reporting today that some of the accounts are believed to be highly sophisticated synthetic accounts operated by people attempting to influence conversations, while others are coordinated in some way by actors who have identified real individuals already tweeting out a desired message.  Tens of thousands of other accounts then work in concert to amplify the core group through mentions and retweets to drive what appears to be on the surface to be organic virality. 

So, yes, this looks a little a little bit like what we saw in the 2016 campaign.  This looks a little bit like the fruits of the Russian interference effort in the 2016 campaign to try to hurt Democratic chances and boost the chances of Donald Trump.  But version 2.0 feels like it has upped its potency. 

Joining us now is the reporter on this story for "Politico", Natasha Korecki.  She`s a national political correspondent for "Politico". 

Ms. Korecki, thanks very much for joining us.  Thanks for this good work. 

NATASHA KORECKI, POLITICO NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  I feel like this is a story that people kind of viscerally recognize the truth of this if they`ve been spending any time on social media, but it`s very hard to articulate what it is that people are seeing, what the contours are, how this sort of campaign works.  Because of that, I want to ask you if you think I adequately described what I`m seeing as a little bit of a crossover, be also some departure from what we saw in 2016. 

KORECKI:  Right.  I think you nailed it.  It is definitely a shift in strategy.  And that is what we found in our reporting.  A lot of that reporting was based on -- we worked in concert with this group called Guardians A.I. out of New York.  They work with a larger group of data scientists and researchers who are trying to sort of look at this in a more systematic way. 

But what they found was there was a way that they -- of tracking this through this core group of 200 accounts and around those accounts are a larger group of accounts that amplify these real people who are online making extreme -- or making message -- saying extreme things about these candidates and this larger group of accounts is amplifying them.  So, it`s more insidious in that sense.  In the sense that they`re -- the research shows that whoever is coordinating this is finding real people and building around those real people to sort of make it look like it`s organic virality, as you said. 

MADDOW:  And from that trade craft that these folks can observe, that these data scientists feel like they can map here, from that manifestation of what appears to be this organized campaign.  Does that lead to any attribution in terms of who might be coordinating it? 

KORECKI:  There is no conclusive evidence right now.  You know, there is -- as someone said in our story today, it`s an unholy alliance.  They think there are all kinds of different actors, but the research scientists we talked to, the campaign operatives we talked to, Guardian A.I.`s analysis all sort of pointed to some coordination, and that coordination was very similar to what we saw in the 2016 campaign with the Russians. 

MADDOW:  Natasha Korecki, national political correspondent for "Politico", I appreciate your time tonight and I appreciate you working this beat.  As I said, like this is something that is easy to see and hard to describe and I think the way that you guys approached this with these data scientists gives us a real first foot in the door to getting our heads around it.  Thank you very much for being here. 

KORECKI:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Today, the president`s personal attorney Michael Cohen got the start of his prison sentence delayed from March 6th to May 6th.  So he gets 60 more days of freedom. 

Before he goes to prison, we also found out today that Mr. Cohen in addition to closed-door testimony he`s expected to give to the Intelligence Committees, he`s also going to testify in open session before the House Oversight Committee on February 27th, next week. 

Pass the popcorn.  Again, this one is going to be public and the House Oversight Committee has listed the topics that will basically be the scope for the hearing.  Are you ready? 

The scope for the Cohen hearing, again, open session.  Quote: The president`s debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election.  Oh.  The president`s compliance with financial disclosure requirements.  The president`s compliance with campaign finance laws. 

The president`s compliance with tax laws.  The president`s potential and actual conflicts of interest.  The president`s business practices.  The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. 

The accuracy of the president`s public statements.  Potentially fraudulent or inappropriate practices by the Trump foundation.  And public efforts by the president and his attorney to intimidate Mr. Cohen or others not to testify. 

So, again, the intelligence committee testimony is direct to the Russia investigation and Cummings and the oversight committee are saying they will not step on those toes.  They will not step on that material when they talk to Cohen in open session next week. 

But, boy, do they have a list of stuff they want to talk to him about including, again, the first bullet point, the president`s debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election.  Again, Wednesday, February 27th, 10:00 a.m. in Washington. 

Stay with us.  More to come. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  For the purposes of planning your day tomorrow, you should know that the president`s longtime political adviser Roger Stone is going to be in court tomorrow in D.C. at 2:30 p.m.  This is the hearing at which the judge in Stone`s case has demanded that he and his lawyers show cause as to why he shouldn`t have a gag order put on him and potentially why he shouldn`t have his bail revoked and get put in jail after he posted threatening messages about the judge in his case online earlier this week. 

Again, that Roger Stone hearing ought to be pretty dramatic.  That`s 2:30 tomorrow afternoon.  We`ll all watch together.  And then after that, I`ll see you here tomorrow night. 

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence. 

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