Open arguments in Greg Craig trial to begin. TRANSCRIPT: 8/12/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Julie K. Brown, Josh Gerstein

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST:  Danielle Moodie-Mills, Rick Wilson, thanks to both of you for joining me tonight.

That is all for this evening. 

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. 

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Ali.  Thanks very much.  I appreciate it. 

VELSHI:  All right.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour, as well as lots to get to tonight.  It has been a busy news day.  Mondays in August are not supposed to be busy news days like by definition.  This is supposed to be sleepy time.  But those rules don`t apply anymore. 

In particular, the Trump administration has been busy apparently leading up to today so they could simultaneously launch two new hugely controversial things.  One of them is a proposed rule change that will gut the Endangered Species Act.  The other one is a proposed rule change to make sure that immigrants don`t get let into this country unless they have lots of money. 

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  They`re not explicitly going out of their way to exclude people who are tired or huddled.  But poor apparently is definitely no longer part of the equation as far as the Trump administration is concerned.  I mean, each of these two proposals from the Trump administration would be the most controversial policy change in most presidencies over the course of an entire year. 

They`re doing both of these ones today, this Monday in August, literally on the same day targeting bald eagles and the Statue of Liberty because America.  They`ve been working on both of these proposals for a while.  They have both now been finalized as new rules.  The rule change gutting the Endangered Species Act will be entered into the federal register this week and then it`s due to go into effect in 30 days.  The anti-immigrant one is due to go in effect in 60 days. 

Realistically, though, you should consider those to be best case scenarios for the Trump administration in trying to pull both of those things off because well before 30 days or 60 days, they`re going to have their pants sued off of them over both of these proposed changes.  On the immigrant rule, one of the amazing things about how they`re trying to do this is that they`re trying, first of all, to ignore the quarter of a million public comments that came in on this proposed rule change.  Quarter of a million public comments, almost all of which were against it. 

They also just decided they were not going to bother to even estimate how many people would be affected by this new rule, which proclaims that only rich immigrants are welcome anymore.  I mean, they literally don`t even try to guess what the impact of this change would be.  They`re just insisting they`re going to do it anyway.  It`s not the way that policy is supposed to be made. 

But the details of it, the details of that immigration change are things that are very hard to square with what we know about ourselves as a country.  For example, this new rule change from the Trump administration would make it grounds to turn you away from this country if you don`t have private health insurance.  You`re supposed to like arrive having that already in hand.  You know how weird private health insurance is around the world?  Right? 

It would also be grounds to turn you away from this country if you have a low credit score. 

Think about that for a minute.  You may be from an immigrant family.  Or if you`re not I can guarantee you, there are people in your life, there are people in your community, people you interact with every day, probably including people very close to you, who if they are not first generation immigrants, their parents immigrated here or their grandparents immigrated here or at least their great-grandparents immigrated here. 

If you tart building those concentric circles out from yourself, all of the first generation, second generation, third generation immigrants in your daily life, among your circle of human beings, almost everybody in this country will end up with quite a lot of people inside those concentric circles in their own lives.  My mom immigrated here.  My dad was only a generation ahead of her.  My partner Susan`s grandparents on both sides. 

I mean, honestly, just think about it.  You know a ton of immigrants if not immigrants` kids or if not immigrants` grandkids, and if not immigrants` great grandkids, right?  We all do.  That`s what this country is made up of. 

Think about those family stories if you know them.  Or ask people in your own life who you know have immigrant lineage in one of the last one, two, three generations.  Just ask.  Ask if their family member who came over here from another country came with their own positive credit score and a private health insurance policy and lots of money in the bank.  I mean, I literally do not know a single person who I can describe -- who can describe their lineage that way.  I don`t know a single person who is a first, second, third generation immigrant who can say their family member who came over here came over here flush, right? 

And I mean, most people I know think of the American dream as this idea of, you know, hard-working people overcoming adversity, coming here maybe with nothing but believing in this country, believing they can make it here because of freedom and opportunity and the rule of law in this country, so they can build something here for themselves and their families and the next generations of their families who will come after them because hard work here is rewarded, because you can make it here, because this is a country that is fair and has opportunity and no, we do not always live up to that dream but that`s the dream, right?  That`s the whole story of this country. 

I mean, just getting read of the pretense of that and saying we`re only taking rich immigrants from here on out, who do you know who came here as an immigrant, who do you know whose parent or grandparent or great grandparent came here as an immigrant who came here with plenty of money?  I mean, that`s going to be the new rule?  They say within 60 days, that`s going to be the new rule. 

That`s not trying to make America great again.  That`s trying to make America into a whole new country we have never been before in all of the 243 years that we have existed.  What they are trying to build, what they are literally proposing with this rule change today is that we remake America, whole new idea now, because this time it`s without immigrants and also without grizzly bears or manatees or bald eagles or peregrine falcons or humpback whales. 

Both this immigration change and the Endangered Species gutted on the same day.  Richard Nixon established the Endangered Species Act when he signed it in 1973.  But his fellow Republicans have been trying to kill the Endangered Species Act legislatively for years since.  They`ve been trying to chip away at it for decades. 

It`s interesting, though.  Even though Republicans have stood against it for a long time since Nixon signed, public opinion polling shows that the American people broadly love the Endangered Species Act and see it as a great and historic success for all the obvious reasons.  This new rule released by the Trump administration will see it gutted in 30 days unless the new rule is blocked in court. 

Both of these dramatic changes unveiled by the Trump administration will now go to court.  Meanwhile, the courthouse future is very hard to predict for one of the appalling and unsettling highest-profile criminal cases of the 21st century.  The case of Jeffrey Epstein, the elusive and well- connected multimillionaire who was charged last month by prosecutors in New York for having run an ongoing sprawling child sex trafficking ring for years. 

It feels like a million years ago but it was actually only one month ago today when a Trump cabinet official, Trump`s Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, resigned from the federal government, resigned from the cabinet over his role in the Epstein case.  When prosecutors in the Southern District of New York last month brought criminal charges against Epstein, that put this very uncomfortable hot spotlight on the fact that another U.S. attorney`s office in Florida more than a decade ago had looked at much of that same evidence against Epstein or at least very similar evidence against Epstein and instead of charging him in federal court in Florida, that U.S. attorney`s office decided they would enter into a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein. 

Alex Acosta, Trump`s labor secretary, was the U.S. attorney in South Florida in 2007 when that happened.  It was his office that entered into a federal non-prosecution agreement with Epstein in which Epstein agreed to plead guilty to state prostitution charges that resulted in him serving a short jail sentence in the county lockup in Palm Beach close to his house where they literally let him out all day every day and when he came back to sleep at the jail at night, it appears that maybe he got to keep his door unlocked. 

In exchange for that inexplicable fate, Alex Acosta`s office signed off on this promise that Epstein wouldn`t face any federal charges.  Well, last month when SDNY, in fact, brought federal charges against Epstein, they proclaimed that they did not consider themselves to be bound by that agreement that Epstein got from the Florida U.S. attorney`s office when Acosta was in charge. 

Well, now that Jeffrey Epstein is dead, he was found dead in his jail cell on Saturday morning, now there are a whole bunch of urgent and interesting questions as to what`s going to happen next, what`s going to happen next for his alleged victims, what`s going to happen next for his potential co- conspirators, what`s going to happen next to this prospect -- to the prospect of this whole sexual abuse ring that he was allegedly running in multiple jurisdictions for years.  One of the prospects for it ever being fully unraveled.  Some of these things I think are questions that we may be able to get some answers to with the right expert help which we are going to try to get tonight. 

But let`s start with that non-prosecution agreement that Jeffrey Epstein got from Trump`s Labor Secretary Alex Acosta back in Florida in 2007.  Part of the reason Alex Acosta got in so much trouble for his role in the Epstein case, I think part of the reason he had to resign over it even though it`s not like the Trump administration was pressuring him to, is that he didn`t just sign off on the non-prosecution deal with Epstein.  He specifically did so without telling Epstein`s alleged victims that he was giving Epstein that kind of a deal. 

And that is not only shudderingly disgusting, it`s also illegal under the Crime Victims Rights Act.  There`s a statute that says crime victims need to be notified about those kinds of decisions by prosecutors.  Well, some of Epstein`s alleged victims brought a lawsuit in federal court in Florida alleging that their rights were denied under that Crime Victims Rights Act because they weren`t notified about the kind of sweet deal Epstein was getting from prosecutors. 

Today on the first business day after Jeffrey Epstein turned up dead, today that same group of Epstein`s alleged victims filed this new motion in federal court formally notifying the court of Epstein`s death and asking for one very specific thing as a consequence of his death.  That non- prosecution agreement that Alex Acosta gave to Epstein in Florida back in 2007, it not only promised that prosecutors wouldn`t bring any federal charges against Epstein.  It also said there would be no federal charges brought against any of Epstein`s co-conspirators. 

That was also part of the deal.  Why would you give somebody that deal? 

Well, now that Epstein is dead, his alleged victims say they want the court to invalidate the provisions in the non-prosecution agreement that preclude prosecutions of Epstein`s co-conspirators.  Quote, because Epstein is now dead, there will never be a criminal trial to hold him accountable, either in the Southern District of Florida, the Southern District of New York or elsewhere. 

Accordingly, the victims and the public will never witness his public trial where the facts connected to sexual abuse will be fully aired.  This means that the informational remedies that the victims have sought regarding this case assume enhanced importance and should be granted by the court.  It also means the public hearing should be held promptly to give the victims some kind of day in court.  The only objection the court received to that hearing was from Epstein and his death moots that objection.

So, that`s one really interesting tributary of the Epstein case now that he`s dead.  The Southern District of New York was already not respecting that non-prosecution agreement that Alex Acosta gave Epstein back in 2007.  SDNY said they did not feel bound by that when it came to Epstein.  Well, Epstein`s alleged victims want the non-prosecution agreement formally dissolved now that Epstein has died.  But specifically, they want it dissolved when it comes to his co-conspirators as well. 

Anything in that deal that precluded federal charges against any of Epstein`s co-conspirators, they want that invalidated now that he`s dead.  If the people who helped Epstein allegedly commit these crimes, participated with him in these crimes, were not being prosecuted because of that deal that Acosta gave him more than ten years ago, they want that wiped off the table.  That has implications not just in federal court in Florida, where this motion was filed today, but also potentially in New York. 

In response to the news about Epstein`s death this weekend, the U.S. attorney in New York in the southern district, Geoffrey Berman, released a statement that said in part: Today`s events are disturbing and we are deeply aware of their potential to present yet another hurdle to giving Epstein`s many victims their day in court.  To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you and our investigation of the conduct charge in the indictment which included a conspiracy count remains ongoing.

Emphasizing and setting apart, which included a conspiracy count.  The U.S. attorney going out of his way to say hey, one of the things we charged Epstein with here in SDNY was conspiracy.  And, of course, you can`t conspire alone.  So who did he conspire with? 

I mean, the implication of the statement from the U.S. attorney`s office is that there are other people who will be brought to account in conjunction with Epstein`s alleged crimes.  I want to know more about what the U.S. attorney means by that.  I mean, thus far, SDNY hasn`t charged let alone named any potential co-conspirators who helped Epstein do what he did even though they did charge him alone with conspiracy. 

Epstein is charged in SDNY with sex trafficking conspiracy but he is the only defendant who is charged in this case.  And because of that, with his death that presumably ends that case against him.  I mean, if they don`t charge somebody else, right?  You can`t have an indictment against no living person.  When prosecutors and SDNY brought their case against Epstein last month, one of the things they included in the indictment was that they wanted to seize Epstein`s house, reportedly the largest private residence in Manhattan. 

They gave the court notice that they intended to force Epstein to forfeit any property, real and personal, that was used or intended to be used to commit or to facilitate commission of the offenses outlined in the indictment.  That means that had Epstein gone on trial and been convicted, the government had already given the court notice that they intended upon his conviction to seize his assets, to seize his very, very valuable assets.  I mean, that one home alone in Manhattan would be worth tens of millions of dollars, right? 

Now that Epstein`s dead, you can`t put him on trial, which means you can`t convict him, which means they can`t seize his assets that way.  So, there`s a couple of other things to watch when it comes to SDNY, right?  There`s this looming dramatic question as to whether they`re going to charge anybody else, whether they`re going to charge any alleged conspirators who conspired with Epstein to commit these crimes, right?  Whether there`s anybody else who may be a target of prosecution besides him now that he`s dead otherwise the SDNY case goes away. 

But there`s these other really specific things to watch, right, about the money in particular.  Prosecutors can`t seize his assets upon conviction like they were planning.  They could get at his assets one other way.  They could bring what`s called a civil forfeiture action where the prosecutors would go to the court to try to convince the court to seize his assets and hand them over to the government even without putting him on trial and convicting him. 

It`s essentially asking a judge to rule that under a preponderance of the evidence the government should be allowed to rightfully seize those assets from his estate because they were used in the commission of a crime.  Those assets should be liquidated and redistributed to his victims.  Prosecutors have the option to ask the court for that. 

It is rarely used.  It is hard to do.  It has been done in the past.  That`s one thing that could happen in SDNY. 

Another thing to watch closely when it comes to SDNY is that it has appeared since Epstein got these criminal charges last month, sex trafficking and conspiracy related to sex trafficking.  It has appeared since those criminal charges were filed against him that the SDNY investigation into him branched out to include his finances.  There`s been a whole bunch of reporting since Epstein was charged in New York that the FBI was getting documents from banks and financial institutions about their dealings with Epstein.  There`s been reporting that some people who Epstein was going to be financially linked to have been handing over documents and information to prosecutors and the FBI. 

Epstein`s wealth say source of great mystery.  Nobody knows quite where his money came from.  Nobody quite knows the extent of it.  Nobody quite knows how or if his enormous fortune relates to his alleged career of sexual abuse.

  But "The New York Times" reports today in something of an ominous sign that two of the attorneys who worked for Jeffrey Epstein, attorneys who dealt with financial matters for him, things like dealing with his trusts and his charities, two of Epstein`s own lawyers have now themselves hired criminal defense attorneys for themselves.  When your lawyers hire defense lawyers. 

So that`s all worth watching in terms of SDNY.  What`s going to happen to that case, what`s going to happen to potential co-conspirators, and what`s going to happen in terms of Epstein`s assets.  Beyond SDNY, though, there are a few other things that we just don`t know how they`re likely to unroll in the wake of Epstein`s death.  One of them is the obvious question of whether or not Epstein`s many alleged victims are all going to bring civil lawsuits against his estate. 

He`s not going to be charged on criminal -- in criminal court now, right?  He`s dead.  But civil lawsuits against his estate by his accusers either as a group or as multiple groups or one by one, I think that`s widely expected given the attention to this case, what appears to be the magnitude of Epstein`s wealth, what appears to be the magnitude of evidence against him.  Will those civil cases potentially lay bare for the public more of what happened here and who else may have been involved?  Very hard to say.  Worth watching. 

Also worth watching, another sort of wild card in this case, is that Epstein was accused at various times in all his legal sagas, he was accused at various times of witness tampering, pressuring or threatening people or paying off people who might otherwise have been able to give investigators information about his activities.  But one of the ways that Epstein appears to have kept people from talking to police and investigators is that Epstein reportedly made everybody who worked for him sign non-disclosure agreements.  Well, now that Epstein`s dead, not only can he not cajole or bribe or threaten people so they won`t speak to investigators, any non- disclosure agreements that anybody was bound by during the course of Epstein`s life may have just become considerably less compelling with Epstein dead and gone. 

If so, if the non-disclosure agreements that Epstein apparently passed out like candy to people who worked for him in all sorts of capacities, if those non-disclosure agreements have just become if not moot then at least much less powerful with his death -- well, that`s a potential goldmine of information both for the public and investigators in terms of tracing what Epstein did over all these years and with whom and who may have helped him in his crimes. 

And just one last thing that feels very much like an open door and you definitely can`t see what`s inside there.  A last issue to keep an eye on is whether there may still be more public disclosure to come from the existing cases that are already out there related to Epstein.  I mean, remember the timeline here of these last few days.  It was Friday morning when nearly 2,000 pages of court records were released to the public from just one of the civil suits that was previously spawned in the Epstein saga.  Those 2,000 pages of material came out on Friday morning.  And it looks like sometime Friday night is when Epstein killed himself. 

"Miami Herald" investigative reporter Julie K. Brown, whose work has been the groundbreaking journalistic enterprise that broke the Epstein case back open, one of the things she has been highlighting in these couple of days since Epstein`s death is that from that one civil case alone that gave us those 2,000 pages on Friday morning, we may be getting thousands more pages unsealed in very short order.  And that`s just one of the civil cases around the Epstein saga.  If Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in jail after the first 2,000 pages came out, what did we expect from the next thousand pages that are going to come down the pike? 

Reporter Julie K. Brown joins us live here next.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  She investigated the story for years.  "Miami Herald" investigative reporter Julie K. Brown tracked down dozens of Jeffrey Epstein`s alleged victims.  She picked through pages and pages and pages of court filings and legal documents.  The research was intense.  It was voluminous. 

In the end, it was dramatic and dark.  And it bore this fruit.  This series was called "Perversion of Justice."  And with this series, Julie K. Brown blew the lid off the Jeffrey Epstein story more than a decade after it had gone cold. 

Her reporting was credited by New York federal prosecutors who charged Epstein as helping to lead the way to the sex trafficking charges that were brought against him last month.  Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his federal prison cell early Saturday morning. 

Julie K. Brown is here with us tonight.

Julie, thanks very much for being here.  It`s nice to have you here in person. 

JULIE K. BROWN, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE MIAMI HERALD:  It`s great to be here. 

MADDOW:  Let me just ask broadly speaking what your reaction is to his death. 

BROWN:  You know, I think just like everybody else, you know, I woke up Saturday morning, I was working, actually, at the time and I got a phone call, and I was just stunned.  You know, I said, like everyone else, we thought he was on suicide watch.  So, your first thought is how does someone who`s on suicide watch commit suicide? 

And, you know, by the end of the day shortly thereafter we found out that he was taken off suicide watch recently.  So, then, my next thought was the victims.  And I called the women right away and they were pretty distraught, to say the least. 

MADDOW:  Distraught because this has implications in terms of their ability to get clarity and justice? 

BROWN:  Yes, and closure. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

BROWN:  And they had been so close.  I think they felt finally, we`re so close to getting him in prison and finally having our day in court, which they were denied the first time around. 

MADDOW:  One of the things that we were just talking in the break as you sat down that I thought was interesting today was to see some of the alleged victims of Epstein`s, the ones who brought that case in Florida saying they were wronged by the government when the federal prosecutors did that deal with Epstein and didn`t tell them about it.  They filed a motion in court today saying that now that Epstein`s dead, the non-prosecution agreement that federal prosecutors signed with him back in the day didn`t just apply to him, it also said his co-conspirators would never face federal charges.  They`re asking for that now to be dissolved in the wake of Epstein`s death. 

That has also just been a complete mystery to me.  The unnamed co- conspirators of Epstein`s being essentially inoculated from prosecution.  Is there something about that that I don`t understand? 

BROWN:  I think there`s a lot about it that no one has been able to understand and it is one of the things when I talk to legal experts about it, it`s one of the primary things that makes people suspicious of why that had to be added to the agreement.  It`s one thing to give him a sweetheart deal, and give a few other people, but they have sort of an infinite number of people in this agreement by saying unnamed co-conspirators. 

Well, what does that mean?  It could be anybody.  It could be his lawyers.  It could be some of these high-powered men that came out in the papers the other day.  It could be -- I mean, we just don`t know who those people are. 

MADDOW:  What do you expect to happen going forward in terms of potential co-conspirators, in terms of additional disclosure of information, in terms of Epstein`s assets?  All of these different sort of open questions now about his case.  How do you expect all those things to change with his death? 

BROWN:  Well, I think that of course they were probably already zeroing in on Epstein`s accomplices.  Look, he -- there`s no way he did this by himself.  This was a whole sex trafficking organization, almost like an organized crime family.  He had -- and these were almost like family members because they were women who worked for him for years and years and years.  They kept his schedule.  They went out and helped recruit girls from various places, schools and spas and places where young people congregate. 

So, there were an awful lot of people who were involved in this who probably are a little bit worried today I would say. 

MADDOW:  One of the other questions I had was whether or not people who worked for Epstein had non-disclosure agreements with him.  That`s one of the things you`ve reported on in the past.  I wondered if his death might weaken or invalidate those non-disclosure agreements, which might free up some other people maybe who weren`t accomplices but who saw things to speak in a way that they might not have been willing to before. 

BROWN:  Yes.  Well, that was my first thought because I`ve tried to get some of those people to talk and they`ve said that they have these non- disclosure agreements.  But then again, you know, because of the way that he died, I think people are a little suspicious and worried now if there`s any chance that there`s foul play.  Then those kind of people would probably not want to talk because they`ll be afraid. 

MADDOW:  They`ll be afraid that they might themselves be in danger. 

BROWN:  Yes.  Yes. 

MADDOW:  What do you make about the president promoting this conspiracy theory about Epstein`s death on Twitter?  I was both surprised and not surprised by it, but also sort of shocked that the conversation about Epstein veered there so quickly. 

BROWN:  You know, I don`t like to talk about conspiracy theories because I don`t like to perpetuate them.

MADDOW:  Yes.

BROWN:  And I think that it`s just sad that people are getting their news primarily from Twitter and Facebook and not by reading a newspaper or reading a digital website like "The New York Times" or the "Miami Herald."  I think that people need to pay more attention to reading books and reading real news rather than getting their news off of Twitter, quite frankly. 

MADDOW:  You are a living example for why everybody within shouting distance of the "Miami Herald" ought to be subscribed to that paper. 

Julie, thank you very much for being here. 

BROWN:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  Nice to have you here in person. 

BROWN:  Thanks. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It was the signature chant at the 2016 Republican national convention which nominated Trump.  Lock her up.  Lock her up! 

Three-word chant.  Lock her up.  Three-word chant.  Lock her up. 

The Trump campaign chair at the time was Paul Manafort.  He knew all about locking up political opponents.  Before taking over the Trump campaign, Manafort had made millions of dollars working as a political consultant for Ukrainian strong man Viktor Yanukovych, the head of a pro-Russian political party. 

With Manafort`s help, the pro-Russian strongman won the presidency of Ukraine in 2010 by defeating his opposition rival Yulia Tymoshenko.  A year later, with Manafort`s guy in charge of the Ukrainian government, Tymoshenko was put on trial, sentenced to seven years in jail.  They literally fitted her up, framed her and locked her up. 

Which as you can imagine didn`t look great to the rest of the world.  But part of Paul Manafort`s job was to make this "lock her up" operation look legit.  Legit enough. 

To help with the PR cleanup, Manafort hired a sleazy U.S. PR firm and a high-powered U.S. law firm that had a great reputation, a firm called Skadden Arps.  Manafort arranged for Skadden to be hired to write a report on why the trial of the Ukrainian president`s political rival was all aboveboard, all fine, and yes, the law firm found some little problems with the trial but as "The New York Times" noted at the time, quote, the lawyers from Skadden Arps seemed to side heavily with the government of President Viktor Yanukovych, giving the Tymoshenko prosecution the "lock her up" seal of approval. 

The main lawyer from that fancy law firm who worked on the report was a very, very famous lawyer named Greg Craig.  Craig had been President Obama`s first White House counsel before leaving the White House to go into private practice at Skadden.  Greg Craig helped author that report.  He assisted Paul Manafort with its public rollout, and even though that report was commissioned directly by the Ukrainian government, neither Greg Craig nor his law firm registered as an agent of Ukraine.  They tried to pass this ting thing off as some sort of independent assessment. 

Paul Manafort, of course, the president`s campaign chair, is now serving seven-plus years in federal prison in part for failing to register as a foreign agent for his work in Ukraine.  But today in Washington, D.C., the federal trial began for Greg Craig.  He`s the only member of a Democratic administration to be indicted in a case growing out of Robert Mueller`s investigation. 

Seventy-four-year-old Craig faces one count of lying to the Justice Department about the work he did for Manafort on behalf of Ukraine in 2012.  He was initially indicted on two counts but the judge dismissed one of those counts last week.  So, he`s just up on one felony charge. 

"Politico`s" Josh Gerstein was in the courtroom for jury selection at Greg Craig`s trial today.  He says that the origins of the case in the Mueller investigation came up a couple of times at the judge`s insistence.  Quote: Judge Amy Berman Jackson advised the 70 Washington residents of the jury pool that they may be hearing from or about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and deputy chairman Rick Gates.  Jackson told the potential jurors twice of the Mueller links. 

At one point, she noted that part of the Craig probe was conducted by Mueller`s office.  The judge asked jurors notify her if anything about that connection would, quote, prevent you or hinder you from being fair in Craig`s trial.  Craig was present in the courtroom.  He stood for a time unsmiling with his hands folded in front of him as the judge introduced him to the potential jurors. 

Opening arguments are set to get under way tomorrow, but joining us now is Josh Gerstein, senior legal affairs contributor at "Politico". 

Josh, thanks for joining us.  It`s good to have you here. 

JOSH GERSTEIN, SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR, POLITICO:  Sure, Rachel.  Good to be back with you. 

MADDOW:  So, there haven`t been a lot of jury trials that have derived from the Mueller investigation.  There`s been a lot of indictments, there`s been a whole bunch of guilty pleas, there`s been a lot of interesting legal stuff but this is only the third jury trial that we`ve seen, I believe.  And Gregory Craig is an unusual cat to see in the courtroom here. 

GERSTEIN:  Yes.  It`s somewhat strange.  It feels a little bit like a hose somebody might have let go of that is spinning around wildly.  The notion that Greg Craig window up on trial if somebody came to you at the beginning of this Mueller saga back in May of 2017 and said that at the end of this we`re going to see a former Obama White House counsel standing trial in Washington, D.C. in federal court, you probably would have said you`re nuts. 

So, it is a little bit surprising.  But these are the loose ends that you often see prosecutors run down with a vengeance when one of these investigations gets up to full speed. 

MADDOW:  One of the interesting dynamics of the sort of Mueller era has been watching the Justice Department get more aggressive than they`ve ever been in the past on foreign agents.  The Foreign Agent Registration Act has existed since the 1930s or something, but it hasn`t been something where there have been a lot of prosecutions.  But we`ve seen it come up again and again, both in plea agreements and in actual charges with a number of different people who are caught up in Mueller`s investigation. 

Do you -- does it seem to you that Craig`s defense is going to be in part challenging the fact that these types of things are charged at all, that this isn`t the sort of thing that the Justice Department would pursue in court in normal times? 

GERSTEIN:  Well, they`ve tried to raise that.  I`m not sure how much of that if any the judge will allow Craig`s defense to get into in court in front of the jury.  Those are usually the kind of sort of selective prosecution arguments you have to make in front of the judge.  But they have raised that earlier in the case. 

And they`ve said, look, things similar to what Craig did in terms of releasing a report, having a press conference, other lawyers around town have done that for foreign clients, even foreign governments sometimes without registering. 

And it`s also worth noting, Rachel, that this case is not directly charging Craig with failing to register.  It seems like the statute of limitations ran on that a little while ago.  But it charges him with basically trying to snooker the Justice Department, for lack of a better term, when they started asking questions about what his exact role was in this report and in the publicity that surrounded it. 

MADDOW:  And, Josh, are we expecting Gregory Craig to testify in his own defense?  Obviously, that`s unusual.  Defendants don`t often -- or at least certainly don`t always get up and testify for themselves.  Is he likely to testify in his own trial? 

GERSTEIN:  He is likely to testify.  They`ve talked about it several times in front of the judge.  It sounds like that`s the operative plan at the moment.  But they haven`t made a firm commitment to it. 

I`ll tell you one other very funny Washington moment from the jury selection, Rachel.  When we were sitting in there today some of us noticed a familiar face in the back of the courtroom sort of towards the end of the veneer, the group of jurors, potential jurors that were brought in.  Another former White House official was actually called in the jury pool. 

Bruce Reid, who was chief of staff to Vice President Biden and was head of the Domestic Policy Council under President Clinton, was somehow called into this group and in fact nodded at Craig.  The two men obviously know each other.  There was a little hi exchanged.  I don`t think that Bruce Reid`s going to be seated on the jury but that`s certainly an only in Washington moment that transpired today. 

MADDOW:  Wow, what a weird moment.  That`s amazing.  Josh Gerstein, senior legal affairs contributor at "Politico".  Josh, great you have to here.  Thanks very much. 

GERSTEIN:  Sure, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Much more to get to this busy night.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  This weekend in Moscow, tens of thousands of people took to the streets on a rainy day for the biggest protest rally that city has seen in years.  An independent group that tracks demonstrations counted as many as 60,000 people at a march through Moscow city center. 

It took bravery to be there.  Russian police have been arresting hundreds and hundreds of people at these demonstrations in recent weeks and they have been beating people in the streets.  But people turned out this weekend.  They chanted "Russia will be free.  Russia will be free." 

The last time there were protests this large against the Putin government was back in 2011 when people marched to the Kremlin to protest parliamentary elections that were widely perceived as rigged in favor of Putin`s political party.  Putin was Russia`s prime minister at the time, soon to become president again.  During and after those big demonstrations in 2011, Putin blamed the United States for those protests. 

Specifically he blamed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  He alleged that she somehow convened those demonstrations and organized those demonstrations herself when she spoke out about the evidence of those parliamentary elections being rigged and when she called for a full investigation into it.  Well, now the protests are back at that size again. 

This weekend`s protest was the fifth consecutive weekend rally in Moscow.  Russian protesters are furious basically over Putin rigging the next election too, which is coming up September 8th.  Essentially the way that one`s being rigged is that opposition leaders are being banned from even being allowed to run.  So, it won`t be a real contest. 

Like I said, it takes bravery to demonstrate in Moscow, even this weekend with tens of thousands of people out, the largest protest in years.  Russian police are caught on camera punching people, beating people with nightsticks, dragging people off once again.  There were hundreds of arrests. 

As for the president`s whereabouts during Saturday`s protests, he was on a motorcycle ride in Crimea.  Sure, why not?  That`s him.  Look.  He`s got a sidecar. 

Neither Putin nor the Kremlin have commented directly on these weekend rallies.  Putin appears to be pretending they didn`t happen.  So far, they`re not blaming this iteration of protests in Moscow on the U.S. government.  They are interestingly blaming a U.S. company, though. 

The Russian government is demanding that Google stop linking to videos and posting videos about the Moscow protests on YouTube.  They want all of that stopped in the lead up to those September 8th elections.  What are you worried about? 

More ahead.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You may have heard the alarming and alarmingly still evolving news over the last few days that originated in this sort of coastal region of northwestern Russia.  You see Nenoksa is marked there on the map. 

It started off as a report of an explosion in Russia, some sort of missile or rocket engine exploded.  The initial reports were still worrying but, you know, nothing nuclear, no radiation issues, everything basically fine.  It`s described as a liquid fueled rocket engine that blew up at a testing site, two people dead, that`s it, don`t ask any more questions. 

That story quickly evolved, though, after local officials in a town about 25 miles from the missile site reported they were experiencing elevated radiation readings.  Local people there rushed to the drugstore to buy iodine to try to protect their thyroids from absorbing radiation. 

Soon enough as the story continued to evolve, the Russian government ultimately let it be known, OK, this wasn`t just any sort of rocket that exploded, this was some sort of nuclear explosion involving a missile.  And by the way, the death toll wasn`t two people as Russia had initially said, it was more like seven people killed in this mysterious accident including five nuclear engineers. 

And by this point you realize, huh, this is a completely different kind of story than the one we first got.  But I`ve got a lot of questions here as the story continues to evolve.  First of all, do we yet know what actually happened?  Or is the Russian government still lying about this?  Is there a possibility that people actually are in danger here beyond the people who are already injured or killed in whatever this accident was?  The changing nature of the story is almost as unsettling as the story itself, right? 

But also, here in the U.S., the discussion has been about whether this might have been part of Russia`s attempt to build a nuclear-powered cruise missile, which sounds crazy just like disambiguate those words a little bit here, this is not a nuclear weapon with a nuclear warhead, this is a regular non-nuclear weapon, but it`s powered by a nuclear engine.  It`s like got a nuclear reactor instead of fuel, right?  That seems nuts. 

But here`s my third question.  If that is what the U.S. thinks was going on here with this accident in Russia, isn`t it true that the U.S. tried to make that same sort of weapon before, like in the `50s and in the `60s, and it was a complete disaster?  And if so, why is Russia trying to do it now? 

Joining us now is Joe Cirincione, president of the global security foundation that is called the Ploughshares Fund. 

Joe, it is great to see you, my friend.  Thank you very much being here.

JOE CIRINCIONE, MSNBC NUCLEAR SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR:  Pleasure to be back with you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Am I right that the United States tried something crazy like this half a century ago? 

CIRINCIONE:  Yes.  Starting in the 1950s, ending in 1964, we had something called Project Pluto which was a very large nuclear-powered cruise missile.  The idea was you`d put a reactor in the back of this missile unshielded.  So, it would spew radiation wherever the missile went.  It would carry multiple bombs and the idea was it would loiter over the target area, Russia, for weeks or even months, dropping bombs and radiating large portions of that country. 

We finally decided that that was too cruel, too insane, too ridiculous, and we didn`t need, it we had ballistic missiles.  The project was canceled. 

MADDOW:  So when Vladimir Putin at his state of the union this past year bragged about how he was developing a nuclear-powered missile, the idea was not new.  But the way that he was describing it was as something that would have essentially infinite range, that could stay aloft and hit anywhere on earth at any pace. 

Was the basic idea that U.S. missile defenses wouldn`t be able to shoot down that kind of missile and that`s why it was so valuable?  It didn`t seem to me like he was bragging that he could use it to spread radiation everywhere. 

CIRINCIONE:  That`s exactly right.  Putin said in that speech last year that he warned the U.S. not to pull out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, that this would force him to develop weapons that could evade U.S. defenses.  So, the ballistic missiles fly up, the defenses supposedly would shoot them down.  This cruise missile would fly under the defenses, loiter around for weeks, even months technically if the thing worked, and that was his answer to U.S. missile defenses. 

He`s proud of this.  It`s part of the new arms race that is happening between the U.S. and Russia. 

MADDOW:  The idea of the -- first of all, the new arms race itself is worth getting our heads around.  But the idea that part of the arms race is going to be flying nuclear reactors.  It seems very sci-fi. 

CIRINCIONE:  It does.  It is nuts.  This is by U.S. intelligence sources, at least the 12th, maybe 13th, 14th test of this missile.  Only one has lasted more than two minutes, crashing into the sea. 

In this case, seven people were killed.  The explosion apparently spread deadly radioactivity over an area.  It`s going to be there for hundreds or thousands of years.  Seven brave people died.  Five of them part of the Russian nuclear agency, Rosatom. 

And it is a tragedy, a tragedy for no reason.  This weapon doesn`t work.  It`s highly unlikely it would ever work.  And, of course, it`s not needed.  Russia has hundreds of ballistic missile warheads that can penetrate any conceivable U.S. defense. 

MADDOW:  Is there any entity worldwide that can force Russia to be more open about what just happened, that can make sure this is laid bare in terms of what just happened in this accident? 

CIRINCIONE:  In short, no.  The U.S. and Russia are very secretive about accidents involving nuclear weapons.  Most of them reveal information in dribs or drabs.  In the U.S., you have a free press that probe that.  You don`t have a free press in Russia. 

MADDOW:  Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund.  I miss you, my friend.  It`s nice to have you here.  We`re always talking about something dark but it`s really nice you have to here tonight. 

CIRINCIONE:  It`s nice to see you, Rachel.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  All right.  Thanks, Joe.

We`ll be right back.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  That`s going to do it for us tonight. 

In terms of tomorrow`s news, we`re going to be looking forward to the opening arguments, the opening statements in the Gregory Craig trial in federal court in Washington, D.C. 

I also want to tell you that tomorrow night here on this program, the interview is going to be Stacey Abrams, Georgia gubernatorial candidate and all-around Democratic Party rock star.  We have not been able to talk with Stacey Abrams here on this show for a few months now.  I`ve been really looking forward to getting her back in the chair here. 

She`s got a lot going on.  She`s very much in demand.  I`m very much looking forward to that.  I`ll see you then. 

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

Good evening, Lawrence. 

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