IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Pompeo blames Iran for May attack. TRANSCRIPT: 6/17/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Tom Malinowski

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Yes, that`s very apparent.  Tony Schwartz, thank you so much for your insights. 


HAYES:  That is ALL IN in for this evening. 

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Much appreciated.

HAYES:  You bet.

MADDOW:  Thanks at home for joining us this hour.  Happy to have you here. 

This is one of those news day where it feels like there is a lot of tectonic shifts going on, both in far flung corners of the world and here at home.

  For example, you may have seen some of these remarkable images from over the weekend.  What you are looking at here is a significant proportion of the entire population of Hong Kong out in the streets, peacefully protesting against a proposed change.  The local government was considering there that would have put residents of the relatively free city of Hong Kong under Chinese criminal law. 

Local authorities in Hong Kong were considering a change that would have allowed for people in Hong Kong to be extradited to China to face the famously opaque Chinese legal system.  There`s about 7 million people who live in Hong Kong.  If you get 1 million or more people out in the streets protesting something like that, out of 7 million people who live in the whole city?  That is a pretty statistically significant sample of the entire population of that territory. 

So I just can`t get over these images.  We`re going to have more on these remarkable scenes out of Hong Kong coming up later on this hour. 

But the basic bottom line here is that this huge display, huge display of people power over the past weekend culminating in weekend with these huge numbers of people in the streets -- the basic bottom line here about what we have seen out of Hong Kong is that what they`re doing in these images, it worked.  It is working.  These people are changing the course of history and changing the course of their own lives.  That`s what they have done in the streets.  Again, we`ll have more on that remarkable story coming up. 

But for sheer fatal drama today, though, there was this shocking news.  That this man, the former president of Egypt, he dropped dead today in an Egyptian courtroom where he was being tried on espionage charges.  His name is Mohamed Morsi.  He was leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

He was briefly elected president of Egypt in 2012 after the Arab spring uprising in Egypt, threw out Hosni Mubarak, that country`s long-time dictatorial leader.  Morsi was elected in 2012.  The year after, he was elected he too was overthrown and removed from office by force this time in a military coup, which promptly locked Morsi up and subjected him to this long series of trials, the culmination of which had him in court today. 

The leader of the military coup that seized power back in 2013, incidentally he still holds power in Egypt to this day.  Here he is making happy chitchat with a beaming president Trump at the White House earlier this year.  This was the headline that day in "The New York Times."

Egypt`s president basks in Trump`s embrace.  Egypt`s president hoping to be allowed to stay in office until 2034 basks in Trump`s embrace.  And Trump, of course, bestows it upon him. 

Mohamed Morsi, the former elected president who was ousted by that military coup, he was known to suffer from a bunch of different health problems, including diabetes and liver disease.  Outside observers had warned he was not getting medical care in prison under the Egyptian military regime.  Well, today, he dropped dead in a Cairo military courtroom, age 67. 

Today, we are also seeing rapid escalation of whatever it is that is going on inside the Trump administration with regard to Iran.  We got this announcement from the president last month that he was going to dispatch an additional 1,500 U.S. troops to the Middle East to somehow vaguely counter some vague new threat from Iran.  Well, now, the acting defense secretary has just announced 1,000 more U.S. troops are going to the Middle East, again, somehow in response to something going on with Iran. 

This latest announcement about 1,000 U.S. troops heading over there, this follows a series of increasingly dramatic accusations from the Trump administration that seem to be intended to put us on a war footing with Iran.  Now, we talked on the show late last week about the list of violent acts the Trump administration is now attributing to Iran, including at least one attack in Afghanistan in which four U.S. service members were wounded.  That`s an attack for which someone else entirely, the Taliban, claimed responsibility.  The Trump administration is nevertheless saying, no, we think that was Iran too. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was questioned sharply about that this weekend by Margaret Brennan on CBS News.  She pointed out to him that the Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack and there`s been no evidence put forward by the administration to back up their new assertion that secretly it was really Iran who did that and that`s one of the reasons we need to be on this newly aggressive footing toward Iran. 

Secretary of state insisted that he can`t share the evidence, he can`t share any intelligence that gives him such confidence that Iran is actually, really responsible for that attack.  Not to mention all the other attacks they put on this list to bolster public perception that we`re on some escalating march to war with Iran that they`re starting. 

But the prospect of war with Iran became a much more concretely advanced prospect today with the U.S. military dispatching a thousand more troops.  Iran today also considerably upping the stakes of whatever`s going on here with their announcement that they`re going back to enriching nuclear fuel, the way they were before they entered into the nuclear deal they signed in 2015 with the major European powers and the U.S. government under Barack Obama. 

Now Trump, of course, and all the Republican presidential candidates in 2016, they all campaigned for president against Obama`s Iran nuclear deal.  They all promised they would end it.  Well, now we`re seeing what that looks like. 

Now, perhaps inevitably following the Trump administration actually pulling out of that deal with Iran, Iran today has announced, OK, then, they`ll stop abiding by the terms of that deal.  Why should they continue to abide by that deal if the U.S. has pulled out of it and if there`s still -- if they`re now facing all of this -- the sanctions opprobrium that they were otherwise in a deal with the United States about before the Trump administration pulled out. 

So, I mean, big picture here, chest pounding about Iran is a full-blown, semi pro sports in Washington, and it has been for a long time.  But whatever is going on with the Trump administration toward Iran right now, their combination of chest-pounding and taking action to make sure the confrontation is as acute and as heated as possible here and as high stakes as possible, that is getting us closer now by the day to all hell breaking loose.  I mean, it will not go unnoticed in Iran or around the world or here at home that the, you know, cool, calm, rational actors who are managing this rapid high-stakes nuclear escalation with Iran are these calming figures like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo and the always even-keeled rational Donald Trump.  They`re the ones who are deciding to ride this bronco this way. 

So, we`re going to get some advice on this in a moment from somebody who is in a better position to understand the stains here than I am, but I think there is a reason that people are rattled about whatever it is the Trump administration is trying to do here, whatever it is exactly that they are aiming for. 

But there`s one other thing in today`s news that I think -- well, that I also want to get some expert help about.  But this one is one where I`m not sure if it should all make us feel more rattled or more calm.  And this is something that we have covered on and off over the past couple of years, really, on this show. 

The basic story here is one that we started to hear about back during the start of the 2016 presidential campaign.  In December of 2015, right before Christmas that year, there was a huge power blackout in the nation of Ukraine.  It was Christmas time.  It was freezing cold in Ukraine.  Hundreds of thousands of people lost power entirely without any warning. 

U.S. government investigators soon assessed that that power outage in Ukraine, quote, may well have been the first power blackout triggered by a cyber attack.  Ukrainian officials were already claiming at that time and the U.S. government`s assessment would soon back them up that it was actually a Russian cyber attack that cause that blackout.  Russia hacked into control systems for the Ukrainian power grid and shut the lights off in that country, at will, right before Christmas, 2015, basically as a way to punish that country and scare its leaders. 

In December of 2016, senior Obama administration officials raised the alarm that Russian government hackers were also targeting critical infrastructure including power grid infrastructure in the United States, just as they had done when they shut off the lights in Ukraine the year before.  By the following summer, in July of 2017, "The New York Times" had obtained a copy of an urgent joint report that had just been issued by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, warning that, quote, hackers have been penetrating the computer networks of companies that operate nuclear power stations and other energy facilities as well as manufacturing plants in the United States.

The urgent joint report issued by Homeland Security and the FBI carried an urgent amber warning, the second highest rating for the sensitivity of the threat.  Then it was a few months later, in March 2018, the Homeland Security Department and the FBI issued publicly a joint technical alert.  Quote: This alert provides information on Russian government actions targeting U.S. government entities as well as organizations in the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors.  Quote: Contact DHS or law enforcement immediately to report an intrusion and to request incident response resources or technical assistance.

The first warning from DHS and the FBI that had been reported on by "The New York Times" was not a public warning.  That second one, that technical bulletin was effectively a public warning, although it was full of technical information, including specific malware, specific computer code lines that they wanted operators of those critical elements of U.S. infrastructure to look for in their computer systems. 

So, I mean, so by that point -- by March of last year, the threat and the warnings from the U.S. government were getting more specific, both in terms of the potential damage that could be caused by these type of cyber attacks and the specificity with which the U.S. government was identifying the perpetrators. 

Quote: Cyber attacks put Russian fingers on the switch at power plants, U.S. says.  That was the headline, March 15th last year in "The New York Times."  Quote: The administration accused Russia this week of engineering a series of cyber attacks that targeted U.S. and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will.  That was March of last year. 

Within a few months, by last summer, July of last year, the threats and the description of the intrusions were getting and more concrete.  This is from "The Wall Street Journal."  "Russian hackers reach U.S. utility control rooms, say U.S. Homeland Security officials.  Hackers working for Russia claimed hundreds of victims last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities where they could have caused blackouts, according to federal officials.

Those officials say, quote: The campaign likely is continuing.  That was as of last summer, July 2018.  By this year, by January 2019, the office of the director of national intelligence released its unclassified public- facing document which it puts out every year called the "Worldwide Threat Assessment." 

The Worldwide Threat Assessment this year, January of this year, included this short public-facing warning that Russia`s government wasn`t just looking to, you know, build this kind of capacity to shut the lights off here or threatening to amass that kind of power inside our country, the warning from DNI as of January of this year is that Russia now has that power. 

This was the exact quote released by the DNI in January.  Quote: Russia has the ability to execute cyber attacks in the United States that generate localized, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure, such as disrupting an electrical distribution network for at least a few hours.  So that was the public warning as of January this year from the director of national intelligence. 

Russia -- you know, we`ve seen all these warnings coming.  Russia now has the ability to turn off the lights in the United States if they want to, right?  That statement from the DNI in January, I mean, if you see it in context, that`s the culmination of a few years of open-source reporting and leaks of official government documents to reporters and increasingly urgent and specific warnings from homeland security and law enforcement and intelligence about Russia developing this capacity to target us in that way. 

Now, when you stack up all those reports over the past few years, you know, given the crescendo of that public reporting and the piling up of that evidence and the increasing urgency of that story, even as it was just told by the U.S. government, starting, you know, Christmas 2015 into 2016, 2017, 2018 and into this year.  If you look at the increasing urgency and specificity of those warnings that we`ve had over the past few years -- well, now, today, at the end of that long string of news stories and warnings, it probably should not have come as a surprise to get this report, that the U.S. is doing the same thing back, that the U.S. has developed the same capacity. 

Quote: U.S. escalates online attacks on Russia`s power grid.  In what David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth describe as a previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia`s grid, "The New York Times" is now citing multiple U.S. officials who are describing, quote, the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian systems at a depth and with an aggressiveness that has never been tried before.  It is intended, quote, partly as a warning and partly to be poised to conduct cyber strikes if a major conflict broke out between the U.S. and Moscow.

This initiative has been carried out by U.S. cyber command, which is part of the U.S. military, and this is interesting.  Recent changes to U.S. law, thanks to both a presidential directive and thanks to a little-noticed new legal authority that was slipped into the military authorization bill last year.  Those new legal authorities allowed these kinds of actions that are described in this "Times" piece.  They allow these kinds of actions apparently to be carried out by cyber command, on their own say so, without having to get specific permission from the president to do it, and also without having to get specific permission from Congress. 

According to "The Times," quote, "So far there is no evidence that the U.S. has actually turned off the power inside Russia, just as the Russians have not turned off power inside the United States, but the placement of malicious code inside both systems revives the question of whether a nation`s power grid or other critical infrastructure that keeps homes, factories and hospitals running constitutes a legitimate target for online attack."

So, there`s a couple -- first of all, I think this is important.  I think that`s a super interesting and sort of rattling question in terms of what capacity we have toward other countries and what capacity they have toward us that would absolutely target civilian infrastructure in a way that we might not previously understand as the way wars might be conducted.  But there`s a couple of things that are weird about -- well, I guess first I should say I think it`s not weird that the U.S. has developed this capacity, right? 

I mean, given how acutely focused we know the U.S. government has been on Russia developing this capacity over the last few years, this revelation that the U.S. has decided to develop the same capacity back at them.  So we`ve got sort of mutually assured destruction here.  It`s sort of not that surprising.  The revelation that the U.S. has developed this capacity is not what is weird here, even though that does sort of rattle me. 

The weird things here are two things about the way this story has broken, and both of them have to do with President Trump.  The first really strange thing about the reaction to this "New York Times" reporting is president Trump`s response to it online, because this story apparently sort of made him flip out. 

This is what he posted online in response: Do you believe that the failing "New York Times" just did a story stating that the U.S. is substantially increasing cyber attacks on Russia?  This is a virtual act of treason by a once great paper so desperate for a story, any story, even if bad for our country. 

Bad for our country? 

Next tweet: Also not true.  Wait, is it bad if it`s not true that -- "Also not true.  Anything goes with our corrupt news media today.  They will do or say whatever it takes with not even the slightest thought of consequence.  These are true cowards and without doubt the enemy of the people.

And I realize, you know, president types thing, right?  President says thing.  But why is the president so freaked out by this news article?  I mean, first of all, if "The Times" is reporting something that isn`t true, if the U.S. hasn`t developed this capacity then why would it be treason for the U.S. -- for "The New York Times" to report that the U.S. has done this?  It would be treason, really? 

Betraying the -- also, why are you so flipped out about the potential consequence?  They will do or say whatever it takes with not even the slightest thought of consequence.  What do you think the consequence might be of Russia thinking that we have upped our cyber capacity against them?  What`s the scary consequence of that for you? 

I mean, the president is reacting to this like this is the worst thing in the world for the U.S. to be reported to have a new offensive capacity toward Russia.  Why is that so scary to you that that`s in the paper?  It`s a weird response from the president. 

What`s he worried is going to happen now that that`s public news?  I mean, what do you think the consequence is going to be of Russia learning that we have done this?  Why does that bother you so much? 

The other weird part about this story is that apparently the president might have freaked out about this news in part because he might have first learned it from "The New York Times."  Cyber command may have been doing this, they may have been developing this offensive capacity in Russia without ever telling him that is what they were doing. 

Quoting from "The Times."  Quote: Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the steps to place these implants, software code that can be used for surveillance or attack, inside the Russian grid.  Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials.  As he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

So, there`s a lot going on in the world.  What we have just learned from "The New York Times" is that the U.S. government has developed a new offensive capacity against Russia in the cyber field.  The president is publicly freaking out that that has been publicly reporting.  He`s both denying that it`s happening and saying that it`s terrible that it`s being reported and we should worry about the consequences of this. 

Also, U.S. officials are willing to tell "The New York Times" that they do stuff, particularly when it comes to Russia, without telling the president about it all the time.  Because they think he might countermand those actions.  He might tell them not to do it, or he might tell the Russians what we`re doing in a way that would hurt the U.S. government`s efforts, and the U.S. military`s efforts. 

So I think it`s worth getting some expert help to understand what`s going on here and the importance of this story, and some of the other stories that I just talked about. 

But let me just tell you one thing about the person we`ve got here tonight on deck to help us understand some of this stuff.  In June 2017, so the first summer that Trump was in office, June 1st, 2017, investigative reporter Michael Isikoff at Yahoo News reported this remarkable and still largely unheralded but really, really important story about what happened as soon as Trump got in office.  And Isikoff broke this story June 1st.  NBC News was able to confirm to later on that day. 

But what Isikoff figured out that day was that in the very first few days of the Trump administration, top Trump administration officials were dispatched to the State Department to immediately tell state department employees that Trump wanted to unilaterally drop U.S. sanctions against Russia.  He wanted to get rid of U.S. sanctions on Russia on his own say so alone.  And so, he dispatched top officials to the State Department his first days in office to tell State Department staffers they needed to help put together whatever plans would be necessary for him to get that done, for him to unilaterally give Putin the thing he most wanted. 

Veteran State Department officials decided that this was alarming enough behavior that they sounded the alarm to other veteran and recently retired State Department officials and they set in plan a motion to let Congress know this was happen, because these new Trump administration officials were trying to do it without telling anyone.  Senior officials at the State Department, including Dan Fried, who was a top sanctions official, and Tom Malinowski who just stepped down as secretary of state, those senior officials and former officials did go ahead and tell Congress, they alerted Democratic and Republican members of Congress as to what the Trump administration was very quietly trying to do on the president`s own say so with nobody knowing that they were doing it.

And that ultimately led to this remarkable and under appreciated thing that happened just in the first few weeks, just if the first few months of the Trump administration, which is that based on those warnings from those national security professionals who were alerted to what Trump was trying to get away with secretly inside the State Department as soon as he got in office, thanks to those alerts, both houses of Congress, both the Senate and the House in hugely overwhelming and bipartisan votes passed legislation to affirm the sanctions on Russia and to block Trump from dropping them unilaterally without anybody else`s say so. 

I say it was an overwhelming vote.  It was 98-2 in the Senate.  It was 419- 3 in the House.  Trump did not want to sign that law.  He wanted to get rid of the sanctions on Russia, right? 

But with majorities that overwhelming, well over veto-proof majorities, right?  He had no choice.  And so, he squawked and he said he didn`t want to do it.  He issued a signing statement saying he disagreed with it, but he had to sign it. 

And that`s how these sanctions on Russia got upheld, so Trump couldn`t get rid of them himself.  And that was the first reported instance we had of all sorts of people inside the U.S. government, Republicans and Democrats both, conservatives, liberals, career non-ideological, nonpartisan people, all of them coming together to the belief that this president could not be trusted to handle a national security matter like that on his own say so.  Not specifically when it comes to Russia. 

We now know that started the first few days he was in office.  It`s the whole reason there are still sanctions on Russia today.  And now, this week we learned that this far into the Trump administration it`s still happening. 

Pentagon and intelligence officials are willing to tell "The New York Times" now that they are literally not even telling him about new offensive capacities that cyber command have just developed to enable the U.S. military to shut off Russia`s lights if we want to.  They didn`t tell Trump.  They let him read about it "The Times" whereupon he freaked out!  Can`t be true. 

I mean, this idea of saving the country from the commander-in-chief, protecting national security interests from a president who is believed to pose a threat to them, I mean, that`s -- that gets talked about a lot of the time as if it`s still an abstract or like a future risk question.  It turns out we are living in that era right now.  That is happening right now and that is not supposed to be the way it goes, but how do we responsibly as Americans under this Constitution grapple with the fact that that`s happening now? 

Former Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski, who I mentioned was part of that effort at the State Department, with that initial sanctions freak out right after Trump was sworn into office, Tom Malinowski is no longer at the State Department.  He`s no longer assistant secretary of state.  He is now a Democratic member of Congress who among other things sits on the foreign relations committee and Congressman Malinowski joins us live next. 

Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Joining us now is Congressman Tom Malinowski.  He`s a Democrat from New Jersey.  He`s a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee.  Before running for Congress, Mr. Malinowski served in the State Department as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

Sir, it`s really nice to have you here on the show tonight.  Thanks for making time to be here. 

REP. TOM MALINOWSKI (D-NJ):  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  So, let me first get your reaction to the news tonight that the Pentagon is deploying an additional 1,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East.  The acting defense secretary is describing this as a response to increased Iranian threats to U.S. personnel and interests in the region. 

What`s your reaction to that? 

MALINOWSKI:  Well, there are increased threats.  It is a very dangerous situation.

But think about this from the standpoint of the last three years.  Three years ago, Iran`s nuclear program was under control, Iran was not attacking shipping in the Persian Gulf and our allies were 100 percent with us in holding Iran accountable. 

Now, they are breaking flee of the constraints of the nuclear deal.  They apparently are attacking oil tankers in the gulf, and we are completely alone.  Our allies are not with us because we tore up the deal. 

This is not -- we`re not better off.  We are not safer.  And, you know, the administration keeps thumping its chest and saying we`ve somehow restored deterrence against Iran.  We`re so tough. 

Well, it doesn`t seem like Iran is deterred.  They are doing more dangerous things today than they were under the Obama administration. 

MADDOW:  Do you feel like the Trump administration is sort of hell-bent on escalation here?  I mean, they have been making a public case that Iran has become dramatically more threatening, specifically in recent weeks. 

I mean, we in the public don`t really have a way to assess the case that they`re making.  We don`t have a great way to assess the quality of the evidence that they`re presenting.  They`re obviously telling a story that Iran is basically trying to start a war with us and we`re only reluctantly being drawn into this sort of conflict. 

I mean, do you in Congress have access to better information?  Have you seen anything that either supports or rebuts what the administration has been claiming about Iran recently? 

MALINOWSKI:  They did brief us before this latest alleged attack on the oil tankers, and I got to tell you, what going into details, in that briefing we were not presented with any convincing evidence that Iran is significantly escalating.  Look, I mean, Iran has been engaged in threatening activities for years.  They`re responsible for hundreds of and thousands of innocent civilians being killed in Syria. 

But we were not presented with any evidence of significant escalation.  The attack on the tanker, if that`s Iran, and it probably is, that`s a serious deal. 

But, again, we are -- we have our share of responsibility in bringing the region to this point.  There is no real justification for tearing up the deal, for imposing these crippling sanctions when Iran was abiding by its terms of the agreement and turning our backs on offers from our allies in Europe to help us to deal with Iran`s actual threatening activities.  The Europeans offered to work with us, to sanction Iran over support for terrorism, its missile developments.  We said no and we set off on our own on this course which the administration itself now admits has produced far more dangerous behavior. 

And what do they want?  I have no idea.  I don`t think Trump wants a war.  I don`t think he knows what he wants.  He wanted to sound tough. 

And now, we`re in this situation where, you know, I worry about what Iran might do.  The United States does not have a monopoly on making stupid mistakes in the Middle East.  The Iranians could make a stupid mistake here as well, which we would then have to respond to. 

MADDOW:  On this idea that the president and his administration may be not necessarily on the same page, that the president himself may be somewhat divorced from this prospect or at least may be sort of an inscrutable part of it, I also want to ask about this reporting that we`ve got from "The New York Times" as of this weekend that the U.S. cyber command has developed sort of remarkable new offensive capacity against Russia, but I was very struck by a couple of paragraphs deep into that story in which Pentagon and intelligence officials tell "The Times" that the president probably wasn`t briefed on that.  In part because it`s about Russia and senior national security officials, including military officials, don`t trust the president to be -- to have sensitive information, particularly when it comes to Russia, because they`re worried that he would either countermand it or he would talk to foreign officials about it. 

That just strikes me as both, like sort of half comforting that they`re trying to protect our national security from that prospect, but also deeply, deeply wrong in terms of the way our constitutional chain of command and constitutional authority is supposed to work here. 

MALINOWSKI:  It`s -- it`s really not good, and, you know, as you reported, this was probably a deliberate leak to "The New York Times" by national security officials.  They wanted Russia to know that we have this capability.  So, the message is if you hit us, if you hit our civilian population, we have the capability to do the same thing to do.

And then the next day because the president is peeved over something in the article, he tweets out that none of this is true.  He`s telling the Russians, no, we don`t have this capability. 

MADDOW:  Hmm. 

MALINOWSKI:  And you can`t have -- you can`t have this mixed messaging on an issue as serious as the issue that you laid out in your earlier report. 

This is complicated.  As you said, you know, this would be an attack on civilian infrastructure, on hospitals, on transportation.  We should probably, as in the Cold War, having established deterrence, we should probably start thinking about arms control, about forging some sorts of agreements about not using this kind of weapon first. 

But all of that is undermined when the president is not with the program, when his ego is wounded by a story and then he comes out and tells our adversary that, well, maybe we don`t have this capability.  What are they supposed to think? 

MADDOW:  Congressman Tom Malinowski, member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, former assistant secretary of state, thank you for your service as a public servant, particularly this new chapter that you`re in in Congress.  I really appreciate you making time for us tonight. 

MALINOWSKI:  Thank you so much, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Thanks. 

All right.  We`ve got much more to get to.  Busy night.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  We`ve had a lot of presidential candidates come through these parts this year.  It`s one of the most humbling aspects of this job.  I think I`m OK at candidate interviews, like sometimes.  I`m never great, but I`m always trying to get better. 

Part of the way I try to get better is by studying beneath the Mount Rushmore of presidential candidate interviews.  Studying the user`s manual on how to grill human beings who are running for president of the United States.  And that user`s manual looks like this. 


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST, "HARDBALL"  Should the woman be punished for having an abortion? 


MATTHEWS:  This is not something you can dodge.  If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under the law.  Should abortion be punished? 

TRUMP:  Well, people in certain parts of the Republican Party and conservative Republicans would say, yes, they should be punished. 

MATTHEWS:  How about you? 

TRUMP:  I would say that it`s a very serious problem and it`s a problem that we have to decide on. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe in -- do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle? 

TRUMP:  The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment. 

MATTHEWS:  For the woman? 

TRUMP:  Yes, there has to be some form. 


MADDOW:  My MSNBC colleague Chris Matthews grilling then candidate Donald Trump in 2016 over whether women who seek abortions should be punished.  He admits that he believes yes and then, hamana, hamana, hamana, spends the rest of his life trying to get out of it. 

But that interview was a freaking master class, and you are in luck because tonight, Chris Matthews is unleashing his formidable superpowers on the good people of Dayton, Ohio.  This is super interesting.  It`s "The Deciders," right?  It`s the voters in the most crucial precincts and the swing precincts in the country who are ultimately going to be key deciders in the presidential election. 

Dayton is in Montgomery County, Ohio.  Montgomery County, Ohio, voted for Obama twice before voting for Trump in 2016.  Trump -- excuse me, Chris Matthews is going to be there tonight. 

This is the second one of those "Deciders" events they`ve done.  The first one was in northeastern Pennsylvania, another key place.  That was fascinating.  But this next one is tonight, 10:00 p.m. tonight, Eastern Time, which means right after this show.  That is your quick programming note as you are thinking of your night ahead. 

Pace yourself.  You have to watch Chris Matthews in Dayton, Ohio, right after I am done at 10:00 p.m.  OK? 

All right.  We`ve got much more coming up here, though, including Joy Ann Reid fresh off her day with a whole bunch of the 2020 Democrats including her time with Joe Biden.  Much more ahead, including Joy Reid joining us. 

Stay with us. 



ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I was inspired by the words of a rapper in Atlanta about me on the campaign.  He said, I don`t know who Andrew Yang is, but he wants to give me $1,000 a month. 

So if you get that word out to people where they think that`s a reality, then we can get folks who do not think politics applies to them because they`re just putting one foot in front of the other.  It`s most of us., putting one foot in front of the other.  Just fighting for the next month. 

And then you say, hey, vote, whatever, it`s not going to matter to me.  Yo, he actually wants to put cash money into everybody`s hands, he wants to humanize the economy.  They`ll still think it`s too good to be true until they turn on the TV and see me standing next to Joe Biden on June 27th they`ll say, wow, the Asian man`s for real.


MADDOW:  That`s 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, earlier today talking about his proposal to give all Americans over the age of 18 a guaranteed basic income of $1,000 a month. 

Even though Mr. Yang is currently polling generously at 1 percent, clearly he is feeling his oats.  In part like he says because he really is about to appear on a debate stage alongside former Vice President Joe Biden.  That might make anybody take themselves seriously as a presidential candidate, even if they hadn`t been before. 

I mean, you know, it makes sense for lesser-known candidates to want to share the debate stage with a big name like Joe Biden, but if you are for former Vice President Joe Biden yourself, you might not expect that feeling to be mutual.  Since launching his campaign in April, Vice President Biden hasn`t appeared at a single event alongside his fellow 2020 Democratic candidates.  He`s been doing lots of campaign events but always by himself. 

Today was the first time he did an event with his fellow candidates.  Today at a presidential forum in D.C. hosted by the Poor People`s Campaign, Vice President Biden was asked by the great Joy Reid, among other things, about his repeated hope against hope insistence that he`ll be able to get Republicans to come along and do some bipartisan stuff should he get elected president. 


JOY REID, MSNBC NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  How would you get past either a majority Republican Senate in which Mitch McConnell was determined to kill all of these ideas or even a Mitch McConnell in the minority who repeated the consistent filibustering that happened when you were vice president in anything that came from the Obama/Biden administration, Mitch McConnell considered dead on arrival? 

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Joy, I know you`re one of ones who thinks it`s naive that we have to work together.  The fact of the matter is if we can`t get a consensus, nothing happens except the abuse of power by the executive.  Zero. 


MADDOW:  The vice president later said, quote, you cannot shame people to do things the right way.

That appears to be a big point of contention between the former vice president and lots of the other Democrats who are all running behind him in the polls. 


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Let`s be clear.  If we`re in the majority and Mitch McConnell wants to block us on the kinds of things our country needs and the kinds of things they elected me and other people to enact, then I`m all for getting rid of the filibuster.  We cannot let him block things the way he did during the Obama administration. 

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The real issue here is, can you build a coalition for change in this country?  And can we be as strategic as Mitch McConnell?  I wouldn`t want any of us to be as malevolent or cynical as Mitch McConnell, but could we please just be as strategic as he is? 


MADDOW:  Could we please just be as strategic as him? 

Senator Michael Bennet does not have as much faith in a Republican epiphany on bipartisanship as Vice President Biden does.  But we`re seeing that sort of face to face on the same stage for the first time now that Vice President Biden, the clear leader in the polls, is starting to do events alongside his fellow candidates.  Again, that started for the first time today.  How fun is it going to be when they`re actually all on the same stage at the same time simultaneously?

Joy Reid joins us next.  Stay with us. 



BIDEN:  Joy, I know you`re one of the ones who thinks it`s naive we have to work together.  The fact of the matter is if we can`t get a consensus, nothing happens except the abuse of power by the executive.  Zero.  Number one. 

Number two, it takes a brass knuckle fight.  You have to go out and beat these folks if they don`t agree with you by making a case.  That`s what a presidential candidate is supposed to do, persuade the public.  Move people as to what`s going on. 

So, you go out and beat them, you make the case.  You make an explicit case just like we did for the House.  I think we can do the same thing for the Senate. 


MADDOW:  Joining us now is the great Joy Ann Reid, host of "A.M. JOY", weekend mornings here on MSNBC.  Joy is one of the moderators at today`s presidential forum hosted by the Poor People`s Campaign. 

Joy, thanks so much for being here.  Congratulations on this event. 

REID:  Thank you so much, Rachel.  Always good to be here. 

MADDOW:  So it is striking to see Vice President Biden not doing a campaign event, he`s been doing those.  I think this is the first time he`s done a campaign event where other candidates were also on the same stage doing the same kinds of questions in the same format.  This is the first time he`s been alongside any of the candidates running behind him in the polls, right? 

REID:  It was interesting -- yes, it was fascinating for that reason.  We haven`t seen Joe Biden in the context of other people yet.  He was the first to go so he was kind of setting the tone for how the rest of the day would go. 

And, yes, you got the sense that he senses the presence of these other candidates and he senses the way he has to position himself versus them, and he has firmly planted his flag in being the guy who in his mind, and I think he genuinely thinks he can find some way to break down the partisanship on the other side of the aisle in the United States senate.  He seems to really think it can happen. 

MADDOW:  So when he responded to you so personally and physically walked over next to you and gave you the Joe Biden eye contact in response to that, to you than conveyed sincerity and the idea that he was not trying to, you know, skate around this one.  He was going directly to it because he really believes it? 

REID:  Yes, you know, I`ve never met Joe Biden.  I covered as you did the Obama/Biden administration but I hadn`t met Joe Biden before.  So it was strange to be that up close and personal literally with the vice president. 

And I got the sense let`s say he`s extremely determined to make the point that anyone who believes that it cannot be done, that Mitch McConnell cannot be reasoned with or Republicans -- maybe not McConnell himself, but that Republicans cannot be reasoned with and we can`t draw the country together around some shared set of principles is just dead wrong.  I think he genuinely believes what he called my cynicism that you can get around that kind of partisanship is wrong, and he was pretty darn determined to make that point. 

MADDOW:  Yes, it was an intense moment watching it. 

REID:  Yes.

MADDOW:  He`s an intense communicator, right? 

REID:  Yes.

MADDOW:  That`s part of it.  Well, let me ask you, in terms of the -- how this all played in the room.  Obviously, you had a wide swath of candidates from the former vice president to, you know, Wayne Messam, to Andrew Yang, we played a clip of him.  Elizabeth Warren, lots of candidates talking about issues, talking about poverty. 

Who got the best reception?  Who did a great job? 

REID:  You know, it was interesting, the way Bishop Barber who set it up, he really enjoined the audience not to cheer, not to boo, not to indicate any support for any candidate.  The audience was pretty sedate most of the time.  

There were people who broke it.  Look, this was a very Bernie Sanders- friendly audience.  I think that was obvious. 

Andrew Yang I think resonated in the room.  I`ve interviewed him before.  He`s really good at using his moments.  Whatever moment you give him, he really uses it to the best of his advantage. 

People like Wayne Messam needed that oxygen and he tried his best to get that oxygen. 

There are certain candidates who seem very natural.  You know, Elizabeth Warren is a very natural speaker.  She`s just a natural person and I think she and Kamala Harris were clearly comfortable and at home in that space and you could feel that. 

So I think everyone used it differently.  I thought Eric Swalwell, actually, had a really good moment with the crowd because he was able to draw on his personal biography of having grown up poor himself, and I think he used that opportunity to make that point that he`s not just sort of generic white guy running, he`s a guy who has been poor or at least his family has struggled.  So, everyone used it differently. 

MADDOW:  That`s fascinating. 

And in credit to Bishop Barber and to you as moderator today for being able to get so many of these Democratic candidates so early in the race talking about issues of poverty, I would loved to --

REID:  Yes, nine people. 

MADDOW:  I would love to see the Republicans do it as well, but I can`t imagine Donald Trump taking on the issue.  We`ll see.

REID:  He was invited.  By the way, they invited the other side as well.

And, by the way, you know, Rachel, I thought the points that was made, two points really shocking for me, 140 people who were either poor or low income or struggling.  That`s a lot of people.  That`s 48 percent of the country. 

The other one was that none of the debates we`ve had in the last several presidential cycles has had even one issue of poverty come up.  And so, I think it`s important that we talk about something that`s not just a niche issue.  We`re talking about nearly half the country that`s financially struggling.  So I`m hoping, hoping, hoping that it comes up at the debate that NBC is holding. 

It`s important.  It`s really important that they did this today. 

MADDOW:  And that the candidates should have to compete on the good ideas. 

Joy Reid, you`re amazing.  Thank you for making time for us.  Thanks, my friend. 

REID:  Thank you.  Thank you.

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


MADDOW:  My regularly scheduled handoff to the great Lawrence O`Donnell will not be seen tonight because we`ve got something special.  Chris Matthews is in Dayton, Ohio, tonight for a town hall with "The Deciders," with swing district voters whose votes as a whole are absolutely up for grabs in 2020. 

"The Deciders" with Chris Matthews in Dayton, Ohio, starts right now. 

                                                                                                                THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END