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Woman from China carrying malware arrested. TRANSCRIPT: 4/12/19. The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Lulu Ramadan, Aaron Belkin

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  All right.  We`ve got a great "Why is this happening" this week.  You should definitely check out, which is I talk to you prison abolitionist Maryanne Caldwell.  It`s a way of thinking about criminal justice.  I think we`ll really change the way you see things.  Check it out with Pod. 

And that is ALL IN for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.  Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Have an excellent weekend, my friend.  Much appreciated.  Thanks.

HAYES:  You too.  You too.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Happy Friday.  You made it. 

Today, a federal judge handed down the most lenient sentence yet against any of the defendants charged in the Mueller investigation or in any of the prosecutions that have derived from the Mueller investigation.  His name was Sam Patten.  Sam Patten pled guilty last year to lying to investigators. 

In a plea agreement in which he admitted, arranging an illegal $50,000 foreign donation into the Trump inaugural.  He also admitted lobbying as a foreign agent without registering.  He also admitted lying to Senate investigators about that and other matters. 

Sam Patten pled guilty last year.  Prosecutors have since said, he started cooperating with prosecutors, even before he signed his formal plea agreement, even before he pled guilty.  They say he`s been very helpful. 

Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C. today explained that she would have considered a prison sentence for Sam Patten were it not for his considerable cooperation with federal prosecutors.  But given the combination of the nature of his crime and his lack of a previous criminal record and prosecutors wholehearted endorsement and appreciation for whatever it is he`s been helping them with all these months, the judge ultimately gave Sam Patten today three years probation and a $5,000 fine. 

And again we think that may be the lightest sentence so far thus far as Mueller defendant.  That said, with Sam Patten`s case now coming to a close, with him walking out of the courtroom a free man, we the people, we the observers of this whole scandal investigation, we`re all still very much in the dark as to how his case and how his cooperation fit into the larger investigation.  I mean, prosecutors said in open court, and in a public facing court filing that Sam Patten had been a great cooperator.  He had very willingly and honestly given them tons of good help with lots of ongoing cases. 

When it comes to the details of what he helped them with, what he told them, those are all still a mystery.  They were all filed under seal to Judge Jackson in advance of today`s sentencing.  So who knows if we the public will ever see those details?  Unless and until we do, we`ll never really have any inking as to what Sam Patten was helping with.  What Sam Patten gave prosecutors that they thought it was of so much value?

And it`s of interest because Sam Patten had ties to so many different elements of this scandal.  He had connections to Cambridge Analytica, the murky and now defunct scandal-ridden firm that the Trump campaign used as their data operation during the campaign.  Sam Patten had business connections with Konstantin Kilimnik.  He was a long time associate of Trump`s now imprisoned campaign chair Paul Manafort.  Kilimnik himself has been indicted by the special counsel.  Prosecutors have said in court on multiple occasions that they assess him to be linked to Russian intelligence. 

Sam Patten, of course, also admitted to being involved in funneling illegal foreign money into the Trump inaugural.  And we know the Trump inaugural is the subject of multiple ongoing investigations, including an SDNY, Southern District of New York, which has subpoenaed the inaugural committee.  Trump inaugural is also reportedly being investigated by multiple state attorneys general, by at least one other U.S. attorney`s office and by multiple congressional committees. 

Was Sam Patten who illegally funneled foreign money into the inaugural was he helpful to investigators who are hook into those matters? 

At this point we do not know.  Whatever he helped with is still all under seal.  All we know is that prosecutors were absolutely delighted with him.  And that is why he walked today with just probation and a relatively small fine. 

And speaking of ongoing investigations, today, we also got this 19-page filing from federal prosecutors, explaining to the same judge, to Judge Amy Bergen Jackson in Washington, D.C., why prosecutors want her to reject a request from a number of media organizations, including CNN and "New York Times", and "Politico", and "The Washington Post," all of whom are looking to have documents unsealed from the ongoing case against the president`s long-time political adviser, Roger Stone. 

Roger Stone is due to go on trial in D.C. this fall.  The media companies that are making this request of the judge, they want copies of the search warrants that were executed against Roger Stone around the time that he was arrested and charged in January.  Prosecutors at the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. tell the court today that these requested materials, they understand why the news organizations want to see them. 

They say in this filing today that those Stone search warrants can`t be shown to the public because of three things that would be adversely affected if the public had access.  Number one, the first thing that will be adversely affected is the forthcoming trial this fall in United States versus Stone.  It would affect their effectiveness for prosecuting Roger Stone. 

Also, they say there are privacy interests for uncharged third parties which would be affected by unsealing that search warrant information.  And finally, they say, unsealing that information would affect investigations that remain ongoing.  What are those ongoing investigations?  We don`t know. 

For the same reason that the Sam Patten stuff was all filed under seal, because it relates to ongoing investigations, and we`re not allowed to see it, same thing with the Stone stuff.  But because all of those factors, prosecutors are saying no, they`re saying Roger Stone`s search warrant material should not be released, at least not yet.  We`ll see how Judge Amy Berman Jackson rules on in coming days. 

But in the meantime, we actually learned one other surprised fact in this filing from prosecutors tonight, which is about Robert Mueller in the special counsel`s office.  We, of course, know that Mueller three weeks ago submitted the report on his investigation to the newly appointed attorney general, William Barr.  Attorney General William Barr then promptly threw it in a drawer and nobody has been allowed to see it since.  We`ll have more on that later.

But the submission of Mueller`s report three weeks ago, we are told that was the last official act of the special counsel`s office.  We were told at the time the report went in, that the special counsel`s office would be wrapping up its operations within days, that its investigation was complete.  We also start to get reports about what the prosecutors and lawyers and FBI agents who had been working in the special counsel`s office, what they would be doing for their next jobs. 

We have seen evidence and court filings of all the ongoing court cases, involving all of the indictments brought by the special counsel`s office.  Those have been handed off from special counsel`s office prosecutors to U.S. attorneys` offices around the country, mostly to the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C.  We`ve seen all this evidence of how things are wrapping up around Robert Mueller and his special counsel`s office. 

But, today, a little surprise.  At the end of this filing in the Roger Stone case, we learned that one of the relatively high profile prosecutors on Mueller`s team, a man named Aaron Zelinsky, we had previously not heard where Aaron Zelinsky was going in terms of him getting a new job.  But now we know, he has been named a special assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. 

So, that`s new information.  One of Mueller`s prosecutors has essentially been transferred.  He`s been named a special U.S. attorney in the prosecutor`s office in that D.C. U.S. attorney`s office that has been receiving most of Mueller`s ongoing cases.  So, a special counsel`s office lawyer moved over to the office that is receiving all the special counsel`s office`s cases, essentially to help them continue help them continue those prosecutions.

The special counsel`s spokesman tonight confirmed to us that yes, Aaron Zelinsky has made that move.  As to whether or not we should expect other similar appointments where other people from the special counsel`s office moved to other U.S. attorney`s offices to help with ongoing prosecutions that started with Mueller, we don`t know if any other special counsel`s office prosecutors will do that.  So far, it seems like Aaron Zelinsky is the only one. 

That said, as we mark today, three weeks since Mueller`s report was turned in, and we remain in this remarkable period in American history, this remarkable sort of interregnum with where the Trump administration has the Mueller report and they`re not letting anyone see it. 

Trump`s newly appointed attorney general, William Barr, of course, has been saying that he assigned a redaction team.  Those were his words, a redaction team, to cut stuff out of Mueller`s report before it released either to the public or to Congress.  Barr says that that redaction team includes staff from Mueller`s office, from the special counsel`s office, as well as Justice Department personnel. 

This new information today we got about Aaron Zelinsky from the special counsel`s office reminds us that we have actually no idea which staff from the special counsel`s office has been taking part of this so-called redaction team that Barr has been describing.  Nor do we have any ideas who else is on that team.  We have no idea what other lawyers or staffers from the Justice Department have been working on those redactions as well. 

Are the other people besides special counsel`s office personnel who are working on that redaction team, are they career Justice Department lawyers?  Are they subject matter experts and experienced prosecutors from the Justice Department?  Are they Justice Department personnel who participated with the special counsel`s office in their investigation and in these prosecutions?  Or are they random Trump appointees who have been put into a room with somebody from the special counsel`s office and everybody gets a sharpened pencil and nobody gets any water and you see who leaves the longest and gets out the door? 

I mean, how is that process working?  Who is involved?  On what grounds did anyone earn their role on that team?  If what they`re doing is censoring the Mueller report?  We have no idea. 

We are expecting some censored version, some redacted version of Mueller`s report to be released to the public sometime next week.  If it happens over the weekend, I`ll see you back on TV.  I will be mad, if I have to do that over the weekend.  But if nothing else, please join me if that happens so if nothing else, we can commiserate about the loss of good weekend time for all the things we all like to do on our weekends. 

We don`t necessarily expect it over the weekend.  Everybody is telling us sometime in the next week.  We`ll see.  We`ll be right here as soon as it comes in.

Meanwhile, though, Gregory Craig entered a not guilty plea in federal court in D.C. on two felony counts.  Gregory Craig is the former White House counsel from President Obama`s first time in office from his first year in office.  Gregory Craig entered a not guilty plea today after he was indicted yesterday on charges of lying to investigators about his contract with the Ukrainian political party that was a client of campaign chair Paul Manafort. 

Greg Craig, again, pled not guilty today.  He was released on personal recognizance.  You will recall that earlier this year, his highfaluting law firm, Skadden Arps, entered into a settlement with the Justice Department.  It included a non-prosecution agreement.  The law firm had to pay a little fine, had to say they were sorry, had to agree to some training, but in that agreement, the law firm basically blamed Greg Craig for all of it, said everything was all his fault.  That was nice of him.  The firm, because of that non-prosecution agreement, they are not being prosecuted for what Gregory Craig allegedly did he while he was a senior partner at that firm.  It is just Craig standing alone. 

As of today, he says he will plead not guilty.  He says he is innocent and he says wants to go to trial.  So we shall see. 

And on top of all of that tonight, oversight committee chairman, Congressman Elijah Cummings, tonight, has announced to the members of his committee that if they have a problem with what he is about to do, they can come talk to him about it over the weekend.  But unless somebody talks him out of it, right now, his intention is that on Monday morning, he will deliver a subpoena to a company called Mazars USA. 

Mazars is an accounting firm that has had a long association with President Trump and with his various business interests.  Trump Organization executive and the president`s long time personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Elijah Cummings` committee earlier this year about the president allegedly committing bank fraud and allegedly committing insurance fraud by misrepresenting his assets and his financial standing.  To back up those claims, Michael Cohen provided to Cumming`s committee a few years of financial statements from Trump and Trump`s business, including at least one that was prepared by this firm Mazars. 

Now, Cummings and his committee started investigating Cohen`s claims.  As part of that investigation, this financial firm that worked with Trump, Mazars, they expressed to Cummings and his committee that while they didn`t have any intention of resisting the committee`s inquiries, they would rather not respond to a simple request from the committee to hand over information.  They would prefer to respond to a subpoena. 

Well, we now know they`re getting a subpoena on Monday.  We now know this is exactly what they`re going to be asked to hand over, and it is sort of breathtaking.  Quote: With respect to Donald J. Trump, the Donald Trump revocable trust, the Trump Organization Inc., the Trump Organization LLC, the Trump Corporation, Donald J. Trump Holdings LLC, the Trump Old Post Office, the Trump Foundation, and any parent, subsidiary, affiliate, joint venture, predecessor or successor of the foregoing, with respect to all of those, Mazars is ordered by this subpoena to hand over all statements of financial condition, annual statements, period financial reports, and independent auditors reports, prepared, compiled, reviewed or audited by Mazars or their corporate predecessor.  They will have to hand over all engagement agreements or contracts related to the preparation, compilation, review, or auditing of such documents.  They will hand over all underlying, supporting or sourced documents or records related to those documents. 

They`re also ordered to hand over communications between a specific named partner at the firm, and President Trump, or the Trump Organization, I don`t know what that`s about.  And this is the most interesting part to me, at least the most intriguing part.  This subpoena specifically directs Mazars to hand over all communications, quote, related to potential concerns that records, documents, explanations or other information provided by Donald Trump or other individuals from the Trump Organization were incomplete, inaccurate or otherwise unsatisfactory. 

So if this was any discussion within this accounting firm that they were getting horsepucky from Donald Trump or the Trump Organization when it came to his assets and his financial standing, the firm is being directed by subpoena to produce any documents, any internal communications that attest to any worries they have in the firm.  Any concerns or conclusions they came to at that firm about the prospect that stuff they were getting from Donald Trump or the Trump Organization was a lot of hooey. 

So, this subpoena demands that those internal communications be handed over to Cummings and the Oversight Committee, and the subpoena is going out on Monday, and I think this is a big deal in terms of what Congress is going to have to work from in its myriad of investigations of the president.  We still don`t know if anyone investigating the president, either from the Mueller investigation, or from any of the investigations that happened in the U.S. attorney`s offices or the congressional investigations, we still don`t have any sense that any investigator looking into anything related to this president has ever had any substantial information when it comes to money, when it comes to the president`s financials, his business and any other financial matters that might affect any of these scandals. 

If Mazars is about to hand this over, for years and years and years, the president`s financial matters and his businesses, this will -- A, this will be a big piece of information.  But this will also ratchet up even further pressure on the question of why the president will not allow anyone to see his tax returns.  I mean, he tried to do this whole thing where he pretended if you`re under audit, you`re not allowed to return your tax returns.  Even his own IRS admits that that`s not true. 

The president still sometimes tries to say that and sometimes he admits it is not true.  That appears to be inoperable as a potential explanation for why the president won`t release his taxes.  I mean, he`s the first president in four decades to refuse to let anyone see his tax returns, either as a candidate or a sitting president.  Why? 

I mean, we know it`s not the audit.  Why?  What is he so worried about? 

And now, it`s just one thing going on.  But on the taxes thing, we are in a totally unprecedented stand-off in which the Trump administration appears to just flat out be breaking black letter law by refusing to has not over the president`s tax returns after they were requested from the IRS by the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.  There is a law that says they have to hand it over, right?  It is required under clear unequivocal law, that the IRS has to hand over any return, including a president`s return if the return is requested by committee chairman in the way it was requested this past week.  They have to do it under law. 

The administration is so far just refusing.  They`re sort of trying to delay.  They`re implying, they`re reviewing it, they`re implying there are grounds they might wage a legal fight over this.  They really appear to have no legal leg to stand on at all. 

They are just defying what the law says they have to do.  I don`t know what the strategy is there.  I`m assuming it is that no one will have the wherewithal or the bravery to enforce that law while they continued to flagrantly break it.  But this is a direct, clear legal confrontation between the administration refusing to do something they`re lawfully required to do and nobody having any idea how that will be enforced. 

The Oversight Committee is about to get a ton of financial information that may shed light on why he`s trying to hold the taxes back.  So, on top of all of that, which is ongoing, today you may or may not have seen that a great newspaper in southern Florida called the "Palm Beach Post" has also, on top of all that, broken a brand new story.  That is a whole other level of oh, my god.  They did what now? 

I`m not sure if you`ve heard about this latest "Palm Beach Post" story, but it is a doozy and that story is coming up next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Have you ever had one of those very fancy cakes, fancy desserts where it looks like a normal cake from the outside but then you put your fork into it and it turns out it is not a normal cake?  It is a stack of a million different little cakes?  Like 10 million cake layers or crepes stacked up together with frosting or whatever in between? 

Apparently, this is a whole category of dessert.  I did not know this existed before this year on my birthday, the nice ladies, my buddies who work in the hair and make-up room in this building.  They got me a cake like that for my birthday.  It was amazing.  It was a totally mind bending thing. 

I looked at the piece of cake that they gave me.  It had a, you know, a candle in it.  We sack and everything and I thought it was cheese cake.  I put my fork into it and I was like, no, it is 10,000 little tiny cheese cakes all stacked up of each other. 

It was the greatest thing I`ve ever seen.  It`s the greatest thing I ever put in my mouth.  I had no idea that existed before this month.  And that is what this news story out of south Florida is.  Except it`s not a million layers of cake.  It`s a million layers of weirdness, one on top of the other that culminate in tonight`s news story. 

I mean, it started with, the owner of the Patriots football team, Robert Kraft, and a number of rich guys getting picked up on prostitution related charges, tied to a Florida massage parlor.  Now, what does this have to do with the president?  Oh, no, no, just layer one.  There`s more layers to come.

We would soon learn that the original owner of the Florida massage parlor, an alleged prostitution den in question, was someone who was a ubiquitous presence at the president`s private Florida club, which is called Mar-a- Lago.  The pictures alone are their own distinct little level of weirdness for this story. 

Then you get the next layer on top of that, which is "The Miami Herald" reporting that she seems to be tied to a number of organizations that are sponsored by or affiliated with the Chinese government and/or the ruling Chinese communist party, oh, including the Chinese government inviting her to visit the visit of a Chinese warship into a Florida port.  Oh. 

Then we learned on top of that, through really good reporting at "Mother Jones" magazine, that this same woman has been running a very, very special kind of investment company, that she`s been marketing in China.  The investment that she is looking for is a cash investment in her.  What her company will sell you if you pay her, is that she`ll get you into Mar-a- Lago to meet the president or to meet a member of the president`s family or to meet Trump administration cabinet members, or perhaps you would prefer a White House meeting.  You could pay her to get one of those as well, at least so that her marketing company. 

At this point in the delicious layer cake, we`ve got the massage parlor owner selling Chinese nationals personal, physical access to the president, his family and cabinet level officials in the administration, while she is simultaneously hanging out at the president`s private club, taking pictures of him and working with the Chinese communist party in a number of murky organizations that seem to have no real public facing purpose. 

Layer on top of that, the arrest on March 30th on a new lady we had never heard of before at Mar-a-Lago.  And a Secret Service affidavit that soon followed which explained a very strange tale of this woman inexplicably being allowed into Mar-a-Lago while the president was on a visit there.  She claimed to be there for a U.N./Chinese friendship event which was something maybe marketed by the massage parlor lady? 

It was an event that was not happening at Mar-a-Lago that day in any event.  She also told Secret Service officials at one point that perhaps she was there that day to go swimming. 

The initial affidavit from the Secret Service indicated that the woman, when she was arrested, was not found to be carrying a swimsuit.  She was found to be carrying four cell phones, a laptop and external hard drive and a thumb drive that they soon realized was infected with malicious malware. 

How did they figure it out?  Well, a Secret Service agent who later testified in court admitted that part of the reason they knew she had malware on this thumb drive is that while they were questioning her, one Secret Service agent popped the thumb drive into his own computer.  It immediately began to install files. 

According to "The Miami Herald`s" account of his testimony, quote, the agent saw that it was a very out of the ordinary event that he had never seen happen before during this kind of analysis.  The agent had to immediately stop the analysis, to halt any further corruption of his computer. 

We then learned the woman was not just carrying the four cell phones, the laptop, the external hard drive and the thumb drive infected with malicious malware that immediately starts installing itself when you pop it into any USB drive, she didn`t just bring those things to her trip from China to United States which resulted in her getting into Mar-a-Lago.  No, in her hotel room down the road, agents found that she was storing nine additional USB drives, five SIM cards, yet another cell phone, that`s five cell phones, plus a signal detector specifically used to find surveillance devices like hidden cameras.  Also thousands and thousands of dollars in cash. 

She had initially told Secret Service agents at Mar-a-Lago who questioned her as to why she had the four cell phones and the laptop with her, she said she didn`t want to leave valuable stuff like that in her hotel room.  Just that thousands of dollars in cash.  That was OK to leave there. 

And remember, besides, she was just there at Mar-a-Lago to go swimming.  It`s been a long time since I was a lifeguard, but I would advise you if you got that many electronic devices on you, don`t try to swim. 

Today, the woman with all of the electronics and the cash who turned up at Mar-a-Lago, she was indicted in federal court in Florida.  She has been held in custody since she was initially arrested on March 30ths.  She was receiving consular assistance from the Chinese government.  It does appear that she may have had links to the massage parlor lady who was offering to sell Chinese nationals access to President Trump through Mar-a-Lago.  That has not been flushed out in any court documents yet so we await any further information about that. 

But now, look today at what "The Palm Beach Post" has piled on top of all of this stack.  You thought you could not take one more layer of weirdness.  But here, it`s just wafer thin. 

This is the Mayflower Hotel which is very swanky.  It`s quite near the White House in downtown Washington, D.C.  This is a picture of an event that took place at the ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel the night before Trump was sworn in in 2017. 

The event apparently featured hundreds of guests, also an Asian opera star, also lots of big fancy dance performance.  It was a big gala event. 

This is from a Facebook photo, which described the event as an Asian- American inaugural ball, inaugural gala to celebrate Trump`s inauguration.  It was hosted by two entities, a Trump campaign advisory board, the Asian Pacific advisory committee to the Trump campaign, which is an adjunct of the Trump campaign.  Also, a registered political committee which is called the National Committee of Asian-American Republicans. 

Guess who is the fund-raiser for the National Committee of Asian American Republicans?  It`s the massage parlor lady.  Of course it is. 

To attend this inaugural gala co-hosted by this Trump advisory committee, you had to pay a bunch of money for the ticket on get in which hundreds of people did.  But there were also names sponsors.  According to someone who worked directly on fundraising for the event, who was interviewed by "The Palm Beach Post" today, those main sponsors for this gala paid anywhere between 5 grand and 15 grand to be listed as a major sponsor of the event. 

That person who worked directly on event says that all the checks from people who attended, all the checks from all the big dollar sponsors, they were all made out to that Asian-American political committee, to the massage parlor lady`s committee, to the National Committee of Asian- American Republicans.  That`s who everybody made their check out, everybody who bought a ticket, all of the sponsors.  And then all of the money promptly disappeared. 

Quoting from today`s "Palm Beach Post", quote: Thousands of dollars in donations flowed to an undisclosed source at a Trump inaugural ball with links to China and dubious donors, but no financial records.  The lavish Asian Pacific American Presidential Inaugural Gala drew more than 900 people, quote, but there is no trace of the money raised that night as required by law.  Because the National Committee of Asian-American Republicans, the event host is a registered political committee, any contributions to that committee must by law quickly be reported to the Federal Election Commission.  But despite this gala event, no donations were ever reported. 

The committee`s executive director, a Florida tech entrepreneur named Cliff Li told "The Palm Beach Post", this is greatest line in the entire thing.  He told "The Palm Beach Post" today that he knows where the money from this event went.  Quote: But I don`t want to tell you. 

Li has drawn international attention as an associate of Cindy Yang, the massage parlor lady, the one time head of fundraising for the committee that hosted the gala.  Her access to Trump through his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, an involvement in groups linked to the Chinese communist party prompted top congressional Democrats to seek a federal investigation.  People involved in the gala event, the inaugural event, again say that all the checks were made out to the National Committee of Asian-American Republicans. 

One of the people involved said that there were definitely foreign nationals in attendance at the event.  It is not clear where some of those foreign nationals contributed any money to that event or paid to get in.  Of course, foreign nationals are not allowed to give money to that kind of a political committee. 

But regardless, none of the money was ever reported anywhere.  Nobody knows what happened to any of the money.  This was one of the Trump inaugural galas.  You had to pay to get in.  You had to pay the sponsor.  There were lots of names sponsors.  What happened to all the money? 

The only explanation from the people who were running this thing, again, who have, on the one hand, the Trump campaign, adjunct group, right?  And then it`s the Asian-American Republican committee, again, where the fund- raiser is the massage parlor lady who was linked to the thumb drives at Mar-a-Lago lady, they`re refusing to say what happened to any of the money raised at that event. 

Quote, Li declined to say how much money was raised or whether any of the donations went to him, the embattled Trump inaugural committee or any of the other two dozen event organizers.  He told "The Post", quote, the money went into the right account legally but I just don`t have to tell you where that is. 

I just don`t have to tell you.  I am not sure how much taller this particular slice of weirdness can get before it topples over.  But if this now relates back to the Trump inaugural, with all of ongoing investigations of the Trump inaugural already, including the two U.S. attorneys offices, I mean, that`s going to be linked as well to the Mar-a-Lago insane Chinese spying story too?  Seriously? 

Joining us now is Lulu Ramadan, who`s reporter for "The Palm Beach Post" who broke the story. 

Ms. Ramadan, I really appreciate you being here.  Thank you. 

LULU RAMADAN:  Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, first let me ask you.  I mean, you can tell that I think this is a little bit of a gonzo story.  Let me ask you if I got the details right in terms of what you`re able to find out about this gala, its connection to this political committee and what happened to the money. 

RAMADAN:  Yes, absolutely.  You pretty much summed it up.  It is pretty complicated. 

There was this inaugural gala.  And we have no financial records to tell us where the money went.  Foreign nationals attended and we have no way of knowing if the money came from them, came from the sponsors and who collected it. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the potential legal ramifications here, it seems like you`ve got a scoop on your hands here.  And you and the "Palm Beach Post" are producing this today.  It`s the first time anyone has seen reference to this line of inquiry. 

But you do point out that the committee involved here that was the apparent recipient of all these funds, they are required to report all their donations.  In FEC filings, they`ve never reported anything related to this.  Do we know if the FEC or any other law enforcement entity is looking into this at all? 

RAMADAN:  So, we don`t know at this point.  And, you know, they haven`t acknowledged any open investigations as far as we know.  But it is pretty recent.  This appears to be the first reporting about this.  So who knows what lines of inquiry are going to pop up? 

MADDOW:  You also mentioned.  Obviously people had to pay to get in.  But there were named sponsors of the event, seemed to have paid several thousand dollars to be sponsors.  One of the things that you mentioned in your piece is that the lead sponsor of the event was raided by the FBI just a few weeks after this event happened. 

First of all, is there any indication that there`s any connection between that FBI raid and what happened at this mysterious Trump inaugural gala?  And do we know further what the FBI raid was about? 

RAMADAN:  Yes.  So that reporting was actually from "Bloomberg Businessweek".  And, you know, we know very little about the raid in Saipan, at that Saipan casino.  But we know that a month later, some contractors who were hired by Imperial Pacific, that casino company, were harboring or hiring foreign workers illegally on tourist visas.

So, you can infer that it possibly had something to do with that.  But interestingly enough, these corporations and businesses that sponsored the gala, several of them benefited from a bill that Trump signed into law a year later, that actually assisted them and offered more avenues for hiring foreign workers legally, which essentially allowed these businesses to avoid what we now know some of them did do and hire foreign workers legally on tourist visas. 

MADDOW:  I mean, you`re right that we don`t know how the dots connect.  But the dots that you`ve been able to spell out with this reporting, in connecting with other reporting here is we`ve got entities including this rated Saipan casino firm, donating money to an entity that disappeared.  We have no idea where it went.  It definitely wasn`t reported to the FEC.

After that money was donated to the Trump inaugural data, the Trump administration did take action to benefit those firms and others like them.  Now, nobody is accounted for that money still and we don`t have any sense that anyone is looking for it.  It`s just -- I realize it is a complicated set of facts.  But when you line them up sort of chronologically in terms of who got what for what they appear to spend the money on, this is just a stunning piece. 

Lulu Ramadan, reporter at "The Palm Beach Post" -- congratulations on this scoop and please keep us apprised. 

RAMADAN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to get to tonight.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Yesterday, the founder of WikiLeaks was arrested in the London.  The United States is seeking his extradition on hacking charges.  Yesterday, President Trump tried to pretend like he had never heard of this WikiLeaks.  Let alone sung their praises hundreds of times on the campaign trail, tweeted about them innumerable times, and frankly based the whole end of his presidential campaign on hyping and promoting WikiLeaks and its distribution of stolen documents that WikiLeaks distributed after obtained them from Russian military intelligence. 

Wiki who now?  I never -- I don`t recall.  That was the president yesterday. 

Today, it was the vice president`s turn to weigh in on this delicate matter.  It went poorly. 


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Justice Department is now seeking extradition.  And we`re going to bring Julian Assange to justice.  We`re working with Chelsea Manning.  Julian Assange was involved in one of the greatest compromises of classified information in American history.  It literally put American military personnel at risk and we`ll hold them to account in American justice system. 

MADDOW:  What about what did he in 2016?  The president when he was a candidate welcomed seeing WikiLeaks and the information that they got from Hillary Clinton.  Has that changed? 

PENCE:  Well, I think the president always welcomes information.  That was in no way an endorsement.  An organization we now understand was involved in disseminating classified information about the United States of America. 


MADDOW:  That was in no way an endorsement. 

The president saying, I love WikiLeaks, or WikiLeaks is a treasure trove.  Or saying, go look at the WikiLeaks.  I love reading WikiLeaks. 

Mentioning the organization 141 times at rallies how soon in the campaign`s final month.  Not an endorsement.  It`s just this is a president who is a voracious consumer of information, as you know.  That`s what he`s known for, right?  He`s a reader. 

I would also draw your attention to that thing that Pence said there at the end.  Please play the end part again.


PENCE:  That was in no way an endorsement.  An organization that we now understand was involved in disseminating classified information about the United States of America. 


MADDOW:  We now understand, now, now we know.  I mean, well after the campaign, now we know that this was an organization that was involved in disseminating classified information. 

You know, back in 2010, around the time of the whole WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning gigantic hack thing that has now led to these charges against Julian Assange, Mike Pence was like the number three Republican in Congress.  That was kind of a scandal at the time, the idea that WikiLeaks was involved in the distribution of classified information. 

We now understand was involved in disseminating classified information.  We now understand that?  That happened in 2010.  You`re only admitting knowing it now? 

I think of myself as a marathon news consumer.  I admit, Mike Pence is wearing me out with this.  We now understand them to have -- we`ll be right back. 


MADDOW:  Attention, attention.  Quote: After consultation with my generals, my generals, and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot.  New tweet: Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.  Our U.S. military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming dot, dot, dot.  New tweet: victory that cannot burden with a tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.  Thank you. 

With that series of vaguely incoherent tweets in July 2017, the still fairly new president declared a new policy on who would be allowed to serve their country in the United States military.  He surprised the thousands of transgender troops who seemed to be serving just fine.  He surprised military leadership who would be trying to implement this new by tweet policy. 

The new policy was fought over in the courts round after round for more than a year until finally in January, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court ruled that the president could impose this ban that he had unveiled randomly on Twitter that day.

And now, today, it happened.  The Trump administration`s official anti- trans policy goes into effect in U.S. military today.  Transgender troops are barred from enlisting or if you`re currently serving, you are counseled on your failure to adhere to standards and, quote, given an opportunity to correct those deficiencies. 

The advent of this new policy drew sharp reproach from medical leaders, including former U.S. and military surgeons general who released a blistering statement today condemning the new policy.  Quote: We are troubled by the Defense Department`s characterization of the need to undergo gender transition as a deficiency, and by the addition of gender dysphoria to official list of congenital or development defects that include bed wetting and disturbances of perception, thinking, emotional control or behavior.  We`ve already expressed our concern over the Defense Department`s misuse of science to justify discharging and denying medically necessary care. 

Quote: Here we note there is a global medical consensus the need to undergo gender transition is not a deficiency or defect.  That de-stigmatizing transgender individuals in this way is inappropriate for U.S. government entity and scapegoating and denial of medical care will compromise the wellbeing of transgender service members who are otherwise fit and available for duty. 

Joining us now is Aaron Belkin.  He`s founding director of Palm Center on Public Policy and he`s author of "How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of `Don`t ask, Don`t Tell`".

Mr. Belkin, thanks very much for being with us.  Appreciate you making the time. 


MADDOW:  Given your previous involvement in the "don`t ask, don`t tell" fight, and, in fact, your book on the subject, I wonder how you see any parallels or lack thereof in terms of how this possibility is implemented and the type of discrimination that it means. 

BELKIN:  This is "don`t ask, don`t tell" for transgender troops and it`s a day of great anguish for the troops.  The Trump administration is claiming that this is just an innocuous policy.  It won`t harm the troops, but that`s what we were told at the beginning of "don`t ask, don`t tell", and we saw how well that worked out.  This policy will injure all transgender troops and effectively force them to remain in the closet. 

MADDOW:  The idea of gender dysphoria, some sort of defect that makes you unfit for military service is something that the Obama administration took on, dropping that term and used in that way and in 2016, since then, thousands of openly transgender service members have been serving, essentially, without there being any problem. 

How is this going to work in terms of grandfathering people in who came out under the previous policy when the previous type of discrimination -- when the previous iteration of discrimination of this kind was dropped by President Obama? 

BELKIN:  Yes, so there are about 14,700 transgender troops today and about 1,000 of them have received diagnoses of gender dysphoria since inclusive policy was put in place three years ago, and the administration is pointing to that very small minority of about 10 percent of transgender troops and saying, look, see how humane we are because we`re going to let these people remain in service and continue to get medical care.  But even for these thousand troops who are grandfathered, they`re going to be burdened by the stigma of serving in an institution that says they`re, quote/unquote, plagued by a deficiency and a defect. 

So, even for the tiny minority of troops who are grandfathered, there`s really no protection for them. 

MADDOW:  Given the Supreme Court ruling that effectively allowed this to happen today, how do you see the fight shaping up over this?  Obviously, I think people aren`t going to take this lie down.  I think the number of transgender troops who are serving openly and proudly and benefitting the military is going to create, I think, sort of an unstoppable moral force in terms of this being eventually overturned but it`s hard to see what that path looks like. 

How do you envision it? 

BELKIN:  Well, this will, this policy will fail in the same way that "don`t ask, don`t tell" failed.  It will hurt the military and the troops and it`s not going to last because the public won`t tolerate a policy that hurts the troops indefinitely, but we can`t predict now whether the collapse of the policy will be in court or in Congress where there`s now bipartisan legislation to protect the troops or perhaps if the White House changes hands. 

We know when the White House changes hands, if inclusive policy has still not been put back into place, it will be restored very, very quickly, but there`s just no way to predict how this ban will crumble. 

MADDOW:  Aaron Belkin, political science professor, author, founding director of the Palm Center, thanks for being here tonight.  It`s a landmark day in a bad way.  But thanks for helping us understand the implications.  Appreciate your time. 

BELKIN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  We`ll be right back.


MADDOW:  If polling truly mattered at this point in the primary process, Joe Lieberman would have been the Democratic nominee in 2004 and would have been President Giuliani in 2018 and Sarah Palin would have been running against Barack Obama in 2012. 

Polling this far and advance, in other words, doesn`t mean anything.  That said, aren`t you curious about this young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who is surging up the polls right now, polling third right now in Iowa and New Hampshire behind only Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. 

Pete Buttigieg is going to be here on this show for the first time ever on Monday night.  I have never interviewed Pete Buttigieg before, but he`s having a moment and he`s going to be here for the interview Monday.  Don`t say I never gave you nothing. 


MADDOW:  Thanks for being with us this Friday night.  Again, we`ve got Mayor Pete Buttigieg here on Monday night live for the interview.  We`ll see you again then. 

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Ali Velshi, in for Lawrence tonight. 

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