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Russia confirms radioactive materials. TRANSCRIPT: 8/16/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Ellen Weintraub

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST:  That`s "ALL IN" for this evening.  Chris Hayes will be back in the anchor seat on Monday.  You can find me weekdays on "VELSHI AND RUHLE" 1:00 p.m. Eastern, and again, "MSNBC LIVE" at 3:00. 

"The Rachel Maddow Show" starts now. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Ali, before you go, I just want to say to you that you do have a lot of shows, particularly right now.  You have been doing double duty, triple duty this week, including hosting this prime time show.  I just want to tell you, it has been inspiring to watch.  You make me reconsider my own work ethic.  You have done great, my friend. 

VELSHI:  Not at all.  You`re too kind, Rachel.  You have a great weekend. 

MADDOW:  You too.  I appreciate it.  Much deserved for you.  And I hope you at home have a good weekend too, because I`m sure you deserve it too.  I can tell. 

But before we get there, I have to tell you, we do have kind of a doozy of a show tonight, including some of the weirdest news stories we have covered in quite some time. 

We`re going to start tonight in New York state where this is the duly elected attorney general of the state.  Her name is Letitia James, Tish James.  She was first elected to the attorney general job this past November, won by a huge margin.  She`s very popular in the state. 

She is the first woman to ever be elected attorney general of the state of New York.  She`s the first African-American to ever serve as attorney general in the state of New York.  She is the first African-American woman to ever be elected to state-wide office of any kind in New York. 

And so, Tish James is a big deal in New York.  She`s a high profile public official in the state of New York.  She`s also, I think, likely to end up being a pretty high profile national figure if her career continues the way it is going thus far. 

But today, Tish James ended up in the headlines for an unusual reason, which is that today, she was sued.  She didn`t sue somebody or bring a case against somebody.  She herself was sued by the NRA. 

The NRA, this sort of legendary powerful right wing pro-gun advocacy group, if you have been following news about the NRA recently at all, you know they are embroiled in all sorts of legal drama right now.  I mean, the New York Attorney General Tish James is not the only entity that has issued subpoenas to the NRA and its constituent parts over the last few months. 

The New York state investigation that Tish James is leading, though, I think is particularly threatening to the group because New York state happens to be where the NRA is chartered as a nonprofit organization.  Back in April, Letitia James opened an investigation into allegations of self dealing at the NRA, meaning nonprofit being illegally operated for the benefits of the board members instead of for the nonprofit purpose.  I mean, that investigation doesn`t just cover potentially criminal malfeasance by the group and its members or its executives. 

That investigation theoretically could put the nonprofit status of the NRA at risk.  And that might sound like a technical thing, but that could technically put the ongoing existence of the NRA at risk. 

Well, within the last few weeks, Tish James widened her investigation and she issued subpoenas to more than 90 people, who are either on the NRA`s board of directors right now or they have been in the past.  And that is apparently what led to the NRA suing Tish James today.

And it`s interesting.  The reason they`re suing her is because the NRA is apparently quite freaked out about the prospect of what Tish James might hear from one of the people she has subpoenaed.  Again, she`s issued more than 90 subpoenas. 

But what the NRA is suing her about, what they are freaked out about is one of the subpoenas she sent to Oliver North.  Yes, that Oliver North, the felon from the Iran Contra scandal.  He`s one of the people who has gotten Tish James subpoena. 

The NRA is now suing Attorney General Tish James today specifically because they insist that they want their own attorneys present and in the room when Tish James and her team start questioning Oliver North pursuant to that subpoena.  Why?  What are you so worried about in terms of Oliver North`s testimony? 

One of the complicated legal fights the NRA finds itself in right now is a series of lawsuits and counter-lawsuits within the organization itself, and between various parts of NRA leadership and some of their vendors and former leaders.  I mean, nobody is quite sure what exactly happened when Oliver North got forced out as the group`s president earlier this year.  Part of the reason it`s been so hard to track this stuff is that everybody involved honestly is such a drama queen. 

I mean, Oliver North insisting he was a heroic whistleblower uncovering terrible behavior at the NRA, and NRA insisting, oh, no, no, Oliver North, you are an extortion artist and a con man.  You are launching a failed coup.  We`re going to head off your coup at the last moment and off with your head and we want to be cheered for pushing you out, because that means -- honestly, junior high school has less fights around the graduation dance than these guys with each other over the last few months and it couldn`t happen to a nicer bunch. 

But whether or not you care about their drama, and how they are or are not resolving things amongst themselves, what is it that Oliver North might say to the New York attorney general that has the NRA so freaked out that they want their own lawyers there for questioning?  I don`t know. 

Whether or not all this drama engages you, whatever is going on at the NRA with all these guys, it has resulted over these last four months or so in just a cascade of terrible and increasingly embarrassing revelations about what the NRA does, about what happens to the donations that they get from their members and their donors.  It all started in April with this reporting in the New Yorker magazine, based on federal tax forms and charity records and contracts and corporate filings and internal communications, all of which were obtained by a reporter named Mike Spies. 

Quote: According to interviews and documents that I obtained, a small group of NRA executives, contractors and vendors have extracted hundreds of millions of dollars.  Hundreds of millions?  From the nonprofit`s budget from gratuitous payments, sweet heart deals and opaque financial arrangements.  Hundreds of millions of dollars? 

That article was published in mid-April in the New Yorker.  And it seems to have gone off like a small sort of like depth charge inside NRA headquarters.  I mean, not only was Oliver North ousted as president of the NRA amid a huge flurry of competing melodramatic assertions and accusations.  But soon enough, this trickle of super embarrassing very specific information started to flow out about what exactly the NRA spends its money on. 

When they persuade people to become members of the NRA or donate money to them, when people buy NRA swag or decide to hit that button online or respond to that direct mail thing or that telemarketer and give the NRA 10 bucks, 20 bucks, 100 bucks, we soon started to learn all the gritty details of what exactly the NRA has been spending all that money on. 

Within a week of that initial story, we got this from the "Wall Street Journal" indicating that for some reason the NRA had set aside more than $200,000 of money from its donors to pay for a wardrobe for Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA.  Within two weeks of that report "The Wall Street Journal" had more.  It turns out it was not just hundreds of thousands of dollars in outfits for Wayne LaPierre, it was also nearly a quarter of a million dollars that the NRA had spent for him to go to a five-star resort in Lake Cuomo, Italy, and also to the Four Seasons in Budapest, and also on a really long, really nice trip to the Bahamas.  Why were NRA members paying for that.

In that report, we also got a little bit more detail on Wayne`s outfit that the NRA was paying for.  Quote, many of his wardrobe expenses were incurred at a Beverly hills California store that sells clothing by the Italian luxury brand Ermeneglido, I don`t know how to say the first name, Zegna.  I don`t know how you say the first part of it.

Bottom line, sorry, Wayne LaPierre was getting Italian designer suits, Zegna suits, at a boutique in Beverly Hills which NRA members were paying for when they bought their hats and shirts and stickers and stuffer, you were buying Italian luxury suits for Waynne LaPierre, from a Beverly Hills boutique. 

Within two weeks of the reporting, we could put a finer point on that.  If you want to understand how NRA members were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on one man`s clothing, how do you even add up to that?  In trying to do that math, it helps to know that that man could spend $39,000 in a single day on his clothing.  At that one Beverly Hills clothing boutique $39,000 for one day of shopping, charge it to the members of the NRA. 

In that same "Wall Street Journal" report in mid May, we also got details of how much NRA members have been paying specifically for Wayne LaPierre`s private jet costs.  We don`t actually have a total number in terms of how much the donor funded and member funded private jets added up to over time, but we do know that during one one-month period, a one-month period that spanned from late 2012 into early 2013.  Basically over the holiday period and the new year`s period in that one month, NRA members and donors paid more than $200,000 just for Wayne LaPierre`s private jet expenses in part related to a two-week trip over Christmas to the Bahamas. 

Now, if you think back to what was going on around that time, that $200,000 that members of the NRA spent just for the air transportation costs for Wayne LaPierre to go to the Bahamas for two weeks around the holidays, that was late 2012 into early 2013.  So, that would have been immediately after the elementary school massacre at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut.  That`s what the NRA did in response.  They spent $200,000 to send Wayne to the Bahamas. 

"The Washington Post" would later flush out some of the further details about that.  Apparently, Wayne and his wife charged that entire trip to the members and donors of the NRA.  Where they stayed apparently was this island.  Look.  According to "Washington Post", it is known for its pink beaches.  We did not photo shop that.  That`s an actual pink beach. 

And, you know, I`m sure members of the NRA who paid for that two-week trip plus the private jet fair to and from, I`m sure they would be happy to cough up extra to make sure that Wayne had pink sand on his beach, not just normal sand.  Again, it was a very stressful time. 

Again, in addition to the private jets, though, there was more.  There was also some interesting chauffeur expenses.  Now, I mentioned the NRA and its -- the members had been made to cough up more than -- thousands of dollars to put up the group`s CEO at five-star resort in Italy and at a Four Seasons Hotel in Budapest. 

"The Wall Street Journal" was able to report in mid May that on that trip, the Italy and Hungary trip, that trip also specifically included NRA members and donors paying more than $18,000 just for Wayne LaPierre to have a European chauffeur on that trip, $18,300 for his chauffeur on the European trip, all paid for by members of the NRA. 

So, why has all this stuff been coming out?  Like, at least every couple of weeks, often once a week, sometimes one day after another.  There`s like another one of these revelations about what the NRA is doing with the money it takes in in donations and membership fees. 

All these revelations appear to be the product of whatever complex cat fight is going on among these boys as they, you know, sue each other and countersue each other and denounce each other and force each other out and declare victory. I mean, who actually knows what`s going on among these fellows.  But we`re getting the revelations apparently because of the fight amongst them, and whether or not you care about the fight amongst them, bottom line is, we getting a ton of information. 

What`s been revealed over this weird period is that the NRA as legendary as it supposedly is for its wealth and its huge membership and its unparalleled sway in Washington.  They are really spending their donor`s money on like Italian suits and private jet trips and awesome resorts.  Just within the past couple weeks new reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" has taken it to a more ridiculous level, with the revelation that as recently as last year, the NRA had been pursuing the prospect of buying Wayne LaPierre, a 10,000 square foot mansion. 

Now, this is not, like, shaming Wayne LaPierre as a rich guy who wants to live in a rich house.  Who cares where Wayne LaPierre wants to live?  The issue here is that this was the NRA using money from their donors and members to set Wayne LaPierre up in this 10,000 square foot mansion that he and his wife picked out in Texas. 

Have you seen the pictures?  Here`s the view up the drive.  You might think that`s the front of the house, but no, false front.  That`s just the front of the house that opens on to the formal courtyard which is where the real magic begins. 

Here`s, like, sort of a view of the main room.  Here`s the kitchen with gold fittings on the stove.  Also see the fireplace in the kitchen?  Behold what would have been Wayne`s master suite.  This is a bathroom where I believe you could get really, really clean. 

Here`s the men`s closet area.  In case you get exhausted in your closet, you can freshen up.  This closet area is just for the men.  It`s separate from another whole closet area.  You should stick a pin in that for a moment, because as you can tell n this kind of closet space is wholly inadequate for somebody like Wayne. 

Here`s the gym.  We got the photo of the gym.  Here is, I think, where you punish kids when they`re bad.  Here`s where you go when you`re bad. 

Here`s a detail on the antique marble fireplace.  Here`s the -- I think they call this an outdoor room where if you don`t want to look at the lake or at the golf course, you can look at the TV.  Here`s another view of the lake from the hot tub.  Here`s the full employment program area for topiary cutters. 

Here`s the view of the house from the lake.  It gives you a sense of the scale.  But I think this is -- this one, this drone shot really gives you the full appreciation.  Just feast your eyes on that for a second. 

If you have an uncle wound up about gun rights so he paid his hard earned money and he joined the NRA thinking this is a good way to protect his gun rights.  I mean, this is the kind of thing that the NRA has been doing with his money. 

The NRA when this was first reported, initially denied that this whole mansion thing had anything to do with them.  Not a cent of NRA money went toward this house. 

And it is true that this house ultimately did not get bought.  You can still buy it today if you would like to.  I have to tell you, it has nine bathrooms.  You`re going to need to invest in -- you know, a lot of bathroom stuff.  

Nine bathrooms?  There`s four bedrooms.  Nine bathrooms.  If you put a person in every bedroom, each of those people gets their own bathroom plus another one, and then there`s a spare.  Nine bathrooms. 

After the initial denials by the NRA to "The Wall Street Journal" that they had anything to do with this, "The Washington Post" was able to ferry out some more details about what actually happened here. 

Quote: LaPierre and his wife were intensely involved in the selection of the property, rejecting an upscale high-rise in Dallas in favor of a 10,000 square foot estate with lake front and golf course views in Texas on the market for about $6 million.  The couple wanted to secure a social membership at the exclusive golf club in the gated community as well.  They also sought the purchase of two vehicles and to keep the current owner`s golf cart, if possible. 

Now, it wasn`t all roses, one aspect of the property that concerned Mrs. LaPierre was the lack of space in the men`s closet in the master bedroom.  "The Washington Post" actually got the email attesting to that.  Quote: The men`s master bedroom and bathroom need some changes.  There`s not much closet space. 

Yes, not if you`re spending $39,000 a day at a Beverly Hill`s suit boutique. 

Quote: The discussions about the estate, which was not ultimately purchased, are under scrutiny by New York investigators.  The transaction was slated to be made through a corporate entity that received a $70,000 wire from the NRA in 2018. 

Hold on a minute.  I thought the NRA said they didn`t spend a time -- huh.  The actual check, there it is.  The $70,000 check was published in the newspaper.  Less than a week later by "The Wall Street Journal."

Now, as this story kept trickling out and kept outpacing their denials, the NRA got more and more wound up in their denials about the mansion.  Quote, not one dime of the NRA`s money was spent on this venture.  OK.  Fine. 

But then the day after "The Wall Street Journal" published the $70,000 NRA check for the mansion, we found out where the rest of the money to buy the mansion was slated to come from as well.  Quote: A top NRA executive signed a document agreeing that the NRA would be a 99 percent owner of a company formed to buy a $6 million Dallas mansion for the NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.  That`s according to a copy of the document reviewed by "The Wall Street Journal."

The document also shows the NRA agreed to contribute $6.5 million to that company that was being formed to buy the property.  Quote: This raises yet more questions about the NRA`s previous statements that none of the NRA`s money was to be used to purchase the house for Mr. LaPierre. 

Now, today, inevitably, there`s more.  I mean, at this point it`s embarrassing to even say this stuff.  But "The Daily Beast" got this story today.  Quote: The NRA spent tens of thousands of dollars bringing hair and makeup artists around the country for the wife of its CEO.  The expenses included plane flights and luxury hotel stays for Wayne`s wife`s stylists. 

Whatever you think of the NRA, maybe you`re a member of the NRA or you know somebody who is.  I have NRA members in my extended family.  I mean, whether or not you know anybody who belongs to the group or gives them money, I mean, you`ve definitely seen the NRA member stickers in the back of people`s cars and trucks and stuff. 

Now you know that every time you see one of those, you can hold it in your heart a little bit the fact that what that person`s NRA membership dues went toward.  What their donation to the NRA went toward was Wayne`s wife`s stylist`s being flown all over the country to a company for her events, hair and makeup.  The stylists also got airfare and hotels in addition to being paid for their services for Wayne`s wife, all paid for by NRA members and donors. 

Also, pink sand Bahamas vacations.  Also, the initial payments on what they almost bought here for Wayne and his wife if only, if only it had had enough closet space for his Italian suit wardrobe which your NRA member buddy paid for with his or her donation. 

NRA fundraising appeals are always a portrait of desperation, right?  Stop the NRA shutdown.  Please give as generously as you can.  Help save the NRA.  The NRA cannot survive without your help right now.  As you well know, gun haters have tried for decades to destroy your gun rights.  The NRA cannot survive without your help.  Save the NRA.  Contribute by phone. 

When they use lines like that to get gun owners to part with their hard- earned money, we now know what those membership dollars actually fund.  And this is important whether or not you care about the NRA.  This is important for the country.  Because, I mean, once again, we`re having another serious moment as a country where in revulsion after more mass shootings, we`re thinking seriously about the prospects for gun policy reform. 

I mean, we`re heading into a presidential election season.  And there`s a reason that Democrats are feeling their oats on this issue.  Heading into a presidential election season, it is hard to ignore that such huge majorities of the public, like 90 percent majorities of the public actually do want something like universal background checks nationwide in order for anybody to be able to buy a gun. 

There have been recent reports that the NRA and specifically Wayne LaPierre, have been whispering in President Trump`s ear, telling him directly, oh, no, you can`t support background checks.  You said you liked background checks?  That was a mistake, you definitely can`t support that.  That will look terrible for you if you support that. 

And OK, that`s to be expected when it comes to the NRA.  But now, after these four or five months about what we`ve learned from the NRA, now we know the advice is coming from the guy who everybody knows has been using his members` money to try to buy himself 10,000 square foot mansions and to fly his wife`s hair and makeup artists all over the country when she wants them. 

I mean, it has been an amazing few months in terms of the revelations about this all powerful group.  Well, now, new trouble.  And that story is next. 

Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  This was January, 2018, a big scoop from McClatchy wire service.  FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump in the 2016 campaign.  The story said the FBI was looking into whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the NRA to help Donald Trump win the presidency. 

That Russian banker tied to the Kremlin we know is Aleksandr Torshin, seen here with his very famous protege Maria Butina.  Butina pled guilty last year to a conspiracy to infiltrate the NRA and other American conservative groups as an unregistered agent working on behalf of the Kremlin. 

Despite a ton of reporting on Russia and Maria Butina and the Russian efforts to infiltrate and influence the NRA, we ultimately never heard of what became of that reported FBI investigation into whether part of what was going on with the NRA is that Russia was using the group to funnel foreign money into the 2016 election to help Trump.  Soon after that McClatchy story first appeared, a watchdog group filed a complaint asking the FEC to look into the complaint. 

It was never clear how the FEC actually responded to that, or what their response amounted to.  Today, we got a little bit of an answer to that with an exclamation point.  Democratic FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub has just gone public with this statement, saying that the Republican appointees on the FEC basically throttled the investigation to make sure that these allegations were never really looked into. 

Quote: This agency barely lifted a finger to find out the truth behind one of the most blockbuster campaign finance allegations in recent memory.  The FEC`s Republican commissioners have blocked the commission from taking even the smallest step to investigate whether Torshin and Butina violated the ban on foreign national contributions.  We still do not know the answer to this foundationally, imminently knowable question. 

For the Republican commissioners to turn a blind eye to the possibility that a foreign adversary secretly funneled tens of millions of dollars into a presidential campaign is to bring their obstruction to a new and breathtakingly damaging level.  She closes: further investigation was and is required. 

Joining us now is Ellen Weintraub, Democratic member and current chair of the Federal Election Commission. 

Commissioner Weintraub, thanks very much for being here.  I appreciate your making time. 

ELLEN WEINTRAUB, FEC COMMISSIONER:  Thank you for having me, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  So, help me understand what you mean about the distance between what the FEC, what you and your colleagues could have done here and what has been done.  You say your Republican colleagues made sure the FEC would barely lift a finger to look into this.  What could they have done versus what they did do? 

WEINTRAUB:  Well, we could have done an investigation.  The FEC has a process.  Anybody can file a complaint with the FEC, and our lawyers will review it and then the commission gets to decide whether we`re actually going to investigate or not. 

And the reason -- what happened today was the file was made public that showed that the FEC did not do any investigation in this case, did not take the most basic step of even calling the FBI.  The complaint was based on that "McClatchy" article which said the FBI was investigating. 

So I said to my colleagues, well, let`s at least call the FBI and ask them.  And then we`ll know whether the article was well-founded or not.  We`ll have that basic question answered, are they investigating or aren`t they?  If they aren`t, they might have some interesting information for us.  But in any event, we would at least know whether the article was based on real information or not. 

And this really was dumbfounding to me.  I could not get agreement from my colleagues for our staff to make a single phone call over to the FBI, a sister agency, a law enforcement agency, wouldn`t have bothered any American citizen or in any way impaired their First Amendment rights.  All we needed to do was call another government employee and say, are you or are you not investigating this issue?  Couldn`t get the votes.  Couldn`t do it. 

MADDOW:  If that had happened, hypothetically, and it didn`t, would the FBI have told you?  I mean, I don`t understand how the relationship between agencies works on something like this, but would the FBI have had to tell you if they were, in fact, involved in this investigation?

WEINTRAUB:  They don`t have to tell us, but they often will tell us.  They will tell us basic information.  Sometime they`ll tell us we`re in the middle of an investigation, and we`d rather that you just sit tight for a while and let us sort it out and see what we can find out first.  And, you know, that`s fine.  The FEC will often agree to abate their investigations while the Justice Department or FBI is looking into something. 

Or sometimes they`ll say, we`ve decided it`s not a criminal matter.  It might be a civil matter.  We`re happy to share information with you.  Sometimes they say, there`s really very little we can tell you, or they could certainly fairly easily say, we don`t know what that article was talking about.  We`re not investigating at all. 

We just don`t know the answer. 

MADDOW:  Could you as FEC chair, as an individual commissioner call and try to get the FBI to tell you that information, or it has to be the vote of the commission to direct your staff to make the call? 

WEINTRAUB:  We have a memorandum of understanding with the Justice Department.  The normal procedure is for the staff to call and make that request on behalf of the agency.  It`s not something that individual commissioners usually do, and the FBI would probably want to respect that memorandum of understanding.  They`d expect to hear from the legal staff, from our counsel`s office, not from commissioners. 

And our staff would be, you know, probably afraid to make that phone call without the direction of or at least the approval of the commission. 

MADDOW:  Does anything about the fact that the Maria Butina case has evolved, that she`s pled guilty to unlawfully acting as a secret foreign agent on behalf of the Russian Federation, through the NRA with an eye toward influencing the 2016 election, I mean, that was a big development in this saga.  Did any of that inflect the way that this moved or didn`t through the FEC?  Were your fellow commissioners at all moved by that? 

WEINTRAUB:  Well, they certainly were aware of it.  They just didn`t find it a persuasive fact in terms of investigating this complaint. 

MADDOW:  Unbelievable. 

Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat serving on the Federal Election Commission, as right now its chair, thank you for I guess sending the flag up the flag pole to let people know this is how it happened.  Thanks also for helping us understand it tonight. 

WEINTRAUB:  My pleasure, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ve got much more to get to.  A busy Friday night. 

Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  So, both sides have had their opening statements now.  After the prosecution and the defense each made their opening statements, then the prosecution gets to go first to lay out their case, right?  The prosecution calls their first witness.  The witness testifies about his law firm and its involvement in this case that led to this remarkable criminal trial. 

The criminal trial of Gregg Craig, the only person from a Democratic administration caught up in a trial derived from the Mueller investigation.  Craig is on trial for allegedly lying to federal investigators about his involvement in one of Paul Manafort`s schemes in the Ukraine.  And this trial is strange far lot of reasons.  Not least because he`s President Obama`s former White House counsel, because he`s a Democratic administration official who for some reason was caught up with Paul Manafort.

I mean, it`s been particularly weird to see him in court in D.C. where like half the jury pool seems to know him, right?  People who worked with him at the White House.  A CIA analyst who specialized in Ukraine.  One woman whose boyfriend is a "New York Times" reporter who has been covering the Mueller investigation.  I mean, it has been small worldville like you can`t believe. 

But one thing Gregg Craig is, is a very experienced, very esteemed lawyer.  And for everything else that`s nuts about this trial, it makes it freaking astonishing that his lawyers had to formally apologize to the judge on his behalf today because after the prosecutors rolled out their first witness, but before the defense had their chance to cross examine the first witness, Gregg Craig apparently took it upon himself to walk up to the witness in the courthouse and say, quote, I know I`m not supposed to do this, but I just wanted to say hello. 

I mean, even if you`re not like one of the most famous lawyers in America, you probably know the general rule which is, don`t touch the witnesses who are being called to testify against you in your ongoing trial.  Don`t go talk to the witness and touch him or her in between his or her testimony and that person being cross examined. 

I mean, the judge actually said to Greg Craig today, Mr. Craig, I would like to caution you.  I don`t think it`s appropriate as you apparently didn`t either to go up to a witness and greet him in the middle of the trial.  Mr. Craig, this witness was in the middle of his testimony.  He is still on the witness stand.  He is not to be interacted with nor are the other witnesses in the case to be interacted with. 

Which you would think Gregg Craig would know -- but that happened today.  Truly weird. 

And not the weirdest thing that happened in that particular judge`s courtroom today in conjunction with a Trump administration scandal.  That`s next. 


MADDOW:  OK.  This is a little bit nuts.  I told you all the stories tonight are weird.  But this is really weird.  You remember Roger Stone, long-time friend and advisor to the president, now under indictment on multiple felony counts. 

He`s charged with obstruction.  He`s charged with false statement. He`s also charged with witness tampering. 

This is how his indictment explains the witness tampering part.  Quote: On multiple occasions, including on or about December 1st, 2017, defendant Stone told person two that that person should do a Frank Pentangeli before the House Intelligence Committee in order to avoid contradicting defendant Stone`s testimony. 

That indictment continues: Frank Pentangeli is a character in the film "The Godfather Part 2", which both Roger Stone and person two had discussed.  Frank Pentangeli is a character who testifies before a congressional committee and in that testimony he claims not to know critical information that he does, in fact, know. 

So, "The Godfather Part 2" thing is in the indictment.  It`s been there from the beginning.  It`s not there because the prosecutors think that Roger Stone`s behavior is like something out of the Corleone family in "The Godfather", right?  I mean, they`re only bringing it up, they`re only putting it in the indictment because they`re saying that he in real life cited the plot of "The Godfather" directly to the witness he was trying to intimidate in order to show that witness what exactly he wanted him to do when he was directing him to lie at his congressional testimony. 

Well, that`s crazy enough, right?  But it has led since then to this bizarre legal saga about "The Godfather" where prosecutors and Stone`s defense team have been fighting formally in court about whether or not the jury can be shown the relevant scene from "Godfather Part 2", the scene that Roger Stone was referencing when he allegedly told this witness to lie to Congress just like it went in "Godfather Part 2", except this time in real life to protect Roger Stone. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Were you at any time a member of a crime organization headed by Michael Corleone? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don`t know nothing about that.  Oh.  I was in the olive oil business with his father.  But that was a long time ago.  That`s all.  I kept saying Michael Corleone did this and Michael Corleone did that.  So I said, yes, sure. 


MADDOW:  So, when Roger Stone is telling this guy who has just been subpoenaed to testify in Congress, hey, do a Frank Pentangeli, prosecutors want to play that clip, probably a little more from the film, so the jury will know what exactly Frank Pentangeli did in "The Godfather" which was to unexpectedly lie under oath in order to protect someone else.  To say oh, the FBI told me to say all this stuff.  I`m not going to say that stuff. 

I have no desire to be a lawyer.  I have no special desire to be a federal prosecutor, ever, right?  But I would absolutely have job swapped for a day with whoever the prosecutor was whose job it was today to write this for the Roger Stone case.  Quote: In several communications with person two, defendant Roger J. Stone referenced a character from the movie "The Godfather Part 2" named Frank Pentangeli.  In emails and text messages sent after Stone become aware that person two had been served with a subpoena by the House Intelligence Committee, Stone quoted Pentangeli`s lines from the movie. 

When Stone sent these messages to person two, he intended to conjure a specific image in person two`s mind, a scene in which Pentangeli gives false testimony before a congressional committee.  To establish that Stone sent these messages in order to influence the testimony of person two, and that Stone did so with corrupt intent, the government, your honor, should be permitted to show the jury the image that Stone intended to create in person two`s mind by playing for the jury the scene in which Frank Pentangeli delivers the lines that Stone quoted. 

Stone does not deny that the short movie clip is relevant.  Stone argues that the clip wrongly suggests a connection between Roger Stone, the mafia and violence.  Contrary to Stone`s argument, the clip is not offered to suggest that Stone has a character of a murderous mafioso or to otherwise establish his criminal disposition. 

The government does not intend to suggest that Roger Stone is an organized crime figure.  Stone referenced this film scene in communications that allegedly constitute witness tampering.  The scene is, therefore, part of the very act at issue. 

So, we`re waiting on a ruling on that one from the judge.  And yes, I should tell you this is the exact same judge who had to tell former White House counsel Greg Craig today that he needed to stop talking to the witnesses against him and stop shaking their hands.  Same judge, same courtroom, same day. 

Joining us now is Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama. 

Joyce, thank you for being here tonight. 

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  I am often bring you in here on serious and totally disturbing stuff.  In this case, I`m just gobsmacked that this is somebody`s job. 

VANCE:  This is almost as good as playing in "My Cousin Vinnie" for a jury, right? 

MADDOW:  Well, so they`re fighting about whether or not the jury can see this clip, since Stone was referencing it when he was communicating with a witness.  I mean, it`s hilarious that this is all about "Godfather Part 2" and this is the way Roger Stone talks and this is the subject of all these multiple court filings, but is the government going to get what they want here, in terms of showing this to the jury? 

VANCE:  You know, I think the government does get what it wants here.  This is part of the core criminal conduct that Stone engaged in.  And all good that prosecutors put on is prejudicial, right?  It`s all intended to prove to the jury that the defendant did bad things. 

So the question is whether it`s unduly prejudicial.  Does the prejudice outweigh the probative value, the value it has to the jury in determining the truth.  And here Stone is the one who raised it.  And, in fact, it`s sort of protecting him in a funny way, because his argument is, if you talk about "The Godfather", the jury might think that I`m a mafioso, that I`m violent. 

And by playing this very limited clip, that makes it clear that they`re talking about intentional lying to a House Intelligence Committee holding a hearing, they sort of minimize any risk of prejudice. 

MADDOW:  So, the jury will know that Stone was referencing "The Godfather", because that`s in the indictment, right?  So, the jury will definitely know that.  If they don`t know, specifically what part of "The Godfather" he was referencing, they might think it`s about sawing off some horse`s head or something.  They wouldn`t know it`s just about lying to Congress.

VANCE:  They could think it`s worse, and, of course, the judge can give a limiting instruction saying you can only consider this evidence for the purpose of considering whether he was intimidating the witness.  You can`t use it to draw bad conclusions about Mr. Stone`s character. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the core of this allegation against Stone -- I mean, again, it`s so weird to engage with the plot of "The Godfather" in order to get there, but if he did direct a witness through this illusion of this movie that the witness should lie under oath, unexpectedly so as to keep his testimony congruent with what Roger Stone had already said.  So, Roger Stone`s testimony would be supported rather than contradicted under oath, is that witness tampering? 

VANCE:  That`s witness tampering. 

MADDOW:  OK.  Witness tampering is not only trying to intimidate somebody from not showing up or not telling the truth, it`s specifically trying to maneuver them into something that will help you and hurt them? 

VANCE:  Exactly, exactly.  It has a number of different possibilities.  The government has alleged a number of them here.  This is sort of the least possible bad conduct that Stone engaged in. 

MADDOW:  Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, I knew you were exactly the right person to ask about this today.  Much appreciated, my friend.

VANCE:  Thanks.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

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


MADDOW:  Yesterday marked one week since this mysterious explosion in Russia that we still have very little understanding about.  Other than to know it was something nuclear and to know that the Russian government isn`t being forthright about what happened.  On the night of the explosion which again was Thursday last week, according to "The New York Times", some Moscow TV broadcasts were mysteriously interrupted for as long as 53 minutes. 

A government broadcast agency later described the disruption as a malfunction of a storm warning system.  TV screens in Moscow went blue, but then also a text went out urging people to stay at home because of a storm with strong winds.  That said, no such storm ever arrived. 

That weirdness in Moscow which is like 250 miles away from the site of the blast still hasn`t been explained by the Russian government.  But that`s just one of the number of misleading and odd government statements that continue to surround this accident.  What exactly happened and how dangerous it might continually be. 

The initial reports for the public, remember, initially said this had been an explosion involving a liquid fueled rocket.  The government went out of its way to say in its initial reports there was definitely nothing toxic, definitely nothing radioactive.  They later admitted the explosion did have a nuclear component of some kind. 

Government`s initial statement also said the death toll from the explosion was two, and later admitted it was seven with multiple injuries as well.  The government also misled about whether there was release of radiation.  They initially explicitly said there was no release of radiation, even as local communities observed they were reporting radiation spikes. 

The Russian government took a few days to get there, but they ultimately conceded that, yes, OK, maybe radiation levels had spiked to up to 16 times normal levels. 

The government then made some sort of initial move to evacuate a town quite nearby to the blast site.  They even sent a special train designated to take the townspeople away.  After telling the townspeople they would have to evacuate and sending that train, the government then changed their mind and said they wouldn`t after all.  A local governor then insisted the evacuation hadn`t been planned at all and it was nonsense to say otherwise. 

I mean, that`s where we are on this story.  That`s the nonsense we`ve been getting from the Russian government.  Well, now, today, there`s more, and you will find it unsettling. 

That`s next. 


MADDOW:  New reporting today from Radio Free Europe.  Lots of reporters are now chasing the story of whatever it has that happened with this nuclear explosion in Russia last week. 

Doctors and other medical personnel who worked at the hospital where the injured were brought are now telling new sources that they themselves may be at risk.  Radio Free Europe says today, several medical staff from the regional hospital were sent to Moscow themselves for evaluation after coming into contact with people injured in the blast.  Multiple new sources also now reporting the staff from the hospital were told nothing about possible radiation exposure as they treated these injured people.  We`re also getting reports that those medical staff were told to sign nondisclosure agreements. 

Here`s the lead paragraph in today`s story from the "Moscow Times".  Quote: The three injured men arrived at the hospital around 4:30 p.m. naked and wrapped in translucent plastic bags.  The state of the patients made staff suspect they were dealing with something very serious but the only information they had at the time was there had been an explosion at a military site nearby. 

One of the surgeons told the "Moscow Times" by phone this week, quote, neither hospital directors nor health officials nor regional officials nor the governor notified staff that the patients were radioactive.  The hospital workers had their suspicions but nobody told them to protect themselves. 

"The Moscow Times" also has this detail according to three of the doctors at the regional hospital, one of the physicians who was flown to Moscow to be checked was found to have Caesium 137 in his or her muscle tissue.  They`re not saying whether it`s a male or female doctor, but Caesium 137 is a radioactive isotope that is a byproduct of nuclear fission. 

If this report in "Moscow Times" today is correct, doctors turning up with Caesium 137 in their bodies is a very bad sign of what happened last week in Russia.  What exactly happened in that explosion, how bad was it, how dangerous does it continue to be, have they cleaned up whatever it is that happened, have they cleaned up the blast site itself? 

We are over a week out now.  We still really have no idea.  I will tell you, though, that the nation of Norway is now saying they`ve detected radiation on their Russian border. 

This whole story is still unspooling.  We will keep you apprised as we learn more.  Watch this space. 

That`s going to do it for us tonight.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where Ari Melber is in for Lawrence tonight. 

Good evening, Ari.