RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
I have to say, I`m sorry I took last night off. Honestly, given everything that is going on in the news right now, it was a crazy night to be away.
I will tell you, though, last night was the only night I`m going to take off from the show for my book tour which has now started. The first night of the book tour was last night. That`s why I took yesterday`s show off, but I`m here tonight live. I will be here next week even as I`m doing these other book store events.
Thank you to Nicolle Wallace for filling in last night, and, of course, the news gods have rewarded me for coming back to work by making today just as nuts as yesterday was and perhaps even beyond as nuts as yesterday was, in terms of what`s going on with this impeachment inquiry in particular.
So, I have to tell you, the former national security advisor Susan Rice is going to be here tonight. It is an excellent night to have her here. Susan Rice, of course, was the U.N. ambassador for President Obama`s first term.
She was national security advisor for President Obama`s second term. Given the way the national security infrastructure of the United States is rattling right now like a two-wheel-drive pickup truck with no shocks left going fast on a corduroy road, there is almost no one I would rather talk to right now about what`s going on in our country than Susan Rice. So, I`m very, very glad that she`s going to be here. She`s going to be here live in studio with me.
You might remember recently we had former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here on the show. She reminded me about something she said here about six months ago, which created a little bit of consternation particularly among her critics on right because Hillary Clinton in an interview with me said something, like laid something out as a hypothetical that she was laying out as something that was so crazy, it was so insane, that they criticized her for even raising that prospect. She was raising it as a hypothetical. She wasn`t saying this is something that`s going to turn out. This wasn`t a prediction.
But that thing that she raised on this show which the right criticized her for being outlandish, it has now turned out to have actually been a prophecy. It was not just an insane hypothetical. In the end, it turns out to be what we`re living through.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Imagine Rachel that you had one of the Democratic nominees for 2020 on your show, and that person said, you know, the only other adversary of ours who`s anywhere near as good as the Russians is China. So, why should Russia have all the fun and since Russia is clearly backing Republicans, why don`t we ask China to back us?
MADDOW: I hereby tonight ask China.
CLINTON: That`s right.
And not only that, China, if you`re listening, why don`t you get Trump`s tax returns? I`m sure our media would richly reward you.
So, if after this hypothetical Democratic candidate says this on your show, within hours, all of a sudden, the IRS offices are bombarded with incredibly sophisticated cyber tools looking for Trump`s tax returns, and then extracts them and then passes them to whatever the new WikiLeaks happens to be, and they start being unraveled and disclosed, nothing wrong with that.
I mean, if you`re going to let Russia get away with what they did and are still doing according to Christopher Wray, the current FBI director who said that last week, they`re in our election systems, we`re worried about 2020, he said. So, hey, let`s have a great power contest and let`s get the Chinese in on the side of somebody else. Just saying that shows how absurd the situation we find ourselves in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hillary Clinton on this show about six months ago, right? Laying out that crazy hypothetical to show how absurd it is for us to be, as a country, denying the importance of what Russia did in or not punishing Russia for what they did or not prosecuting anyone in the United States who helped Russia with what they did or who knew about it and didn`t report it to the FBI. I mean, she`s saying, you know look how absurd that is imagine if it was China being asked to get involved in our next election, if it was China being asked to get involved to help the Democrats this time win the next election.
I mean, to be clear, when Hillary Clinton laid that out here, that was a hypothetical. And, in fact, no Democratic candidate is trying to enlist China`s assistance for the 2020 campaign.
Now, however, we know that President Trump is. He apparently decided that absurd hypothetical is nowhere near too absurd for him and so, he had proclaimed on the White House South Lawn yesterday that he would like the Chinese government to give him some help in his re-election effort by taking unspecified action against Democratic candidate Joe Biden. That was followed by CNN reporting last night that the president wasn`t just idly wishing that out loud on the South Lawn or fantasizing about that. But, in fact, one of the presidential call records that has been secreted away into the code word protected super high security stand-alone computer server in the White House, along with the initial notes from the president`s call to the president of Ukraine and reportedly the notes from his calls with Vladimir Putin and his call with Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, another one of those calls secreted that super high security server is reportedly the record of President Trump, in fact, calling the president of China and asking the Chinese government to help him out versus Joe Biden and the Democrats for 2020, explicitly asking for some sort of investigation into Biden, right, one that he could use in his reelection effort.
Now, to their credit I guess, China today said "no" out loud in response to that request. We don`t know how the Chinese president responded on that call. Again, the records from that call have been secreted away in a code word protected server that nobody can look at. But at least out loud, the Chinese government is saying no. The Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said publicly today in response to questions about this new reporting, quote, China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the U.S. and we trust the American people will be able to sort out their own problems.
Oh, would that that were so. Little trouble sorting out our own problems. Even so, the last thing we need is any other country`s help, particularly China`s.
So, President Trump has made Hillary Clinton`s hyperbolic prediction/absurd story come true. He has asked China for help against the Democrats and Joe Biden for his re-election effort in 2020. China at least out loud is saying no. On top of that, we know that President Trump has also asked a different foreign country, Ukraine, for help against the Democrats and Joe Biden for his re-election effort in 2020.
Well, even though China out loud today said no to what the president is asking for, Ukraine today appears to have said yes. The Ukrainian government today announcing that under President Zelensky, they are about to launch a new audit of previous investigations including the one that Trump insisted the Ukrainians look into this accusation that they want to use to slime Joe Biden.
Now, it is possible this is not as bad as it looks. It`s possible this isn`t really the Ukrainian government delivering the trumped-up investigation that Trump wanted so he could use it against Biden in his reelection campaign. I mean, maybe it isn`t as bad as it looks. I think we should all be humble about how we interpret, you know, nuance and intention and the integrity of various figures in Ukrainian politics and Ukrainian law enforcement.
I mean, I think we should all be humble about that. It used to be we didn`t need to be experts on that kind of stuff in order to figure out which crimes our own government officials were committing. But the way this is going, in terms of the president making these demands on Ukraine and Ukraine appearing today to accede to those demands, I mean, this story is not getting better. This story is getting worse, both in terms of what the president has done, what he has apparently ordered the rest of the U.S. government to do for him, but also its impact.
And I say that not to bum you out, but because I know that the news is moving really fast right now, we`ve had like 10 straight days of almost insane news days in terms of the pace and in terms of the magnitude of the importance of these stories, right? It can be easy to get overwhelmed in this story.
At its heart though, this is still very simple. That may be why it`s moving so fast. I mean, there is at the center of this story, this un- rebuttable central claim here, for which the president of the United States is going to be impeached. It remains very simply that the president asked a foreign country and now it seems foreign countries, plural, for help against the Democrats for his reelection. That`s it.
That is potentially a crime. No American can solicit something of value for use in a federal election from a foreign source, whether or not the president himself can or can`t be prosecuted for such a crime, anybody else who participates in such a scheme can absolutely be prosecuted for such a crime, ask Michael Cohen.
But the president`s involvement in this scheme, his direction of this scheme, that`s what the House is going to impeach him for. And there isn`t any mystery there. I mean, it started with press reports about there being a whistleblower claim, and then we got the whistleblower claim, and then we got documents released by the White House, and then ultimately, we got the president`s own admission, and then we got the president doing it again on camera in front of everybody.
I mean, the factual basis of this accusation against the president that he`s asking foreign powers to intervene against his political rivals to help him in his reelection effort, it`s proven nine ways to Sunday, it is not in dispute. I mean, the White House and the president himself admit it they`ve done it out loud. I mean, that is done, right? That`s the top line. That`s impeachment. That`s the most important thing to understand.
But still, there`s so much movement and there`s so many developing stories below that, right? One level sort of below that top line is where we`re just having the tsunami of news, which is made every day for this past ten days start since the impeachment inquiry started, it`s just made them all so packed and frenetic.
So, let`s talk a little bit now about what happened today with this news and where we`re at. I think in the history books if this all goes where it looks like it`s going, today will go down in the history of the Trump impeachment as the day the core impeachment inquiry, the central issue of this impeachment inquiry and those proceedings against the president shifted to include not just the president himself but also Vice President Pence.
And I think we knew this was probably inevitable once "The Washington Post" reported a couple of days ago that sources close to the vice president basically conceded that Vice President Pence had, in fact, been briefed on the fact that President Trump was pressing Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. Vice President Pence received those briefing materials before he himself went to meet with the president of Ukraine whereupon Vice President Pence told the Ukrainians that their military aid was going to be held up until that investigation happened.
And that`s not good for the vice president, right? That`s exactly what the president`s being impeached for. It really looks like he did it too, and worse if he was the one who made it explicit but they wouldn`t get their military aid unless they did it.
Well, the three chairs of the committees who are handling the bulk of the impeachment proceedings have confirmed in this letter now that they are now investigating Vice President Mike Pence in conjunction with this matter. And again, this is the core issue of the impeachment -- approaching a foreign government for dirt on a political rival in order to help in the next election in this country. In Vice President Pence`s case, he appears to be the one who has made explicit the quid pro quo, they won`t get their military aid unless they do it.
So, they announced in this letter that they are investigating the vice president as part of their impeachment proceedings. This afternoon, those same chairmen followed up with an extensive document request to the vice president`s office. Now, the vice president`s office responded with the sort of brave face, a snarky scuffing at this demand for materials. I`m sure that plays well in the White House in the short run, but Vice President Pence and his advisers know that as a legal matter, there`s no reason to expect that he as a vice president is going to have all the same nooks and crannies to hide in in the law which a president can use when trying to evade congressional scrutiny and/or criminal prosecution.
I mean, vice presidents have a little bit of that immunity, but asks Spiro Agnew, it doesn`t work out the same way when they try to shield themselves essentially with White House immunity from the kind of scrutiny that Pence is now going to come under.
So, that`s part of what we know is going on. The core impeachment proceedings over the undisputed allegations against the president, those proceedings have now expanded to include the vice president as well. The other thing that has really exploded over the past 24 hours is the amount of evidence that we`ve got about how this effort to enlist foreign countries against the president`s political opponents, it wasn`t just a whim of the president. It was not just a wish that he was stating out loud or something he was saying to be deliberately outrageous and punk the press.
It wasn`t even just another harebrained criminal campaign finance scheme being carried out by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani because his other personal lawyer Michael Cohen who used to do this kind of stuff for him, he`s unavailable for this next scheme because he`s still in prison for the last one. I mean, it is that.
But we`ve also now got tons of evidence that this isn`t just something the president tried to do on his own or just with a personal lawyer as an unofficial emissary. The thing that has led to this explosion of news over the past 24 hours is the fact that this was an order that the president gave out that was in fact carried out by multiple people inside the U.S. government, including a number of people at very high levels of the U.S. government.
So, I know you`ve heard about these texts that were released late last night. I`m not going to go through them one by one in part because I don`t think we need to. You can file all of this under government personnel carrying out Trump`s orders to do things for which he will -- do the thing for which he will be impeached.
Also, I should tell you part of the reason that I`m not super in the weeds on those text messages right now is because the committees that released those text messages have made clear that they haven`t released all of them and there`s going to be more of them even out down the road. So, there`s no reason I think to focus on them as kind of the whole universe of what we have so far. We`re going to get more in the future.
But even so, let me just pull out a couple of key things that I think explain part of why things are moving as fast as they are right now. For starters, there`s the thing that is going to be very uncomfortable for Republicans in Congress and for a bunch of the conservative media. There`s this Republican talking point and this conservative media talking point in this White House talking point that whatever the president did here, it might be unseemly or troubling, but it`s definitely not that bad, it`s definitely not impeachable or a crime because there was no quid pro quo, right? That`s the talking point you`ve heard all week.
In the first instance, that doesn`t matter. It doesn`t matter if there`s a quid pro quo. If you ask a foreign country for help in your reelection campaign, it doesn`t matter if you`re also offering them something in exchange. It doesn`t matter.
It`s just you asking them for help in your election that is if you`re president, what you`re going to be impeached for and if you`re not the president what you`re going to be prosecuted for. I mean, trading something doesn`t matter. It`s just you asking for it. That`s all that matters.
But still, if you are concerned about whether there was a quid pro quo, we now know from these text messages among Trump administration officials that there was in fact a quid pro quo. I mean, that phrase quid pro quo means I`ll give you something if you give me something, right? It`s a trade.
Well, Trump`s offer to Ukraine in this case is clear in these text messages. Quote: Heard from White House -- assuming President Zelensky convinces Trump he will investigate, we will nail down date for a visit to Washington.
I mean, that`s the definition of a quid pro quo. Yes, I mean, you know, you can almost do this is like a Johnnie Cochran courtroom sing-song thing. You want a date, you got to investigate, right? Like, you don`t get a date unless you agree to investigate, provided President Zelensky convinces President Trump he`s going to investigate, then we can nail down the date. It`s right there.
And for bonus points, we`ve also got the Ukrainian side confirming that, yes, in fact they understand that that is the trade, that is the quid pro quo that is being agreed to. I mean, here`s the Ukrainian side, OK, once we have a date we will announce that we are investigating, including among other things, Burisma, which is specifically the thing they`re trying to slime Joe Biden with.
So, the quid pro quo thing is beside the point. But if that`s going to be your sticking point, if that`s going to be the Republican and conservative media talking point, we now do have the verbatim back and forth between the Trump administration and Ukraine agreeing explicitly between the two sides, this is a quid pro quo. Hey, you know this is a quid pro quo, right? Yes, we understand it`s a good problem.
I mean -- it is also worth pointing out that that text from the Trump administration to Ukraine saying, hey, if you want a date, you got to investigate. Hey, you`re only getting that meeting if you investigate, the time stamp on that text shows that it immediately preceded Trump actually personally getting on the phone with the president of Ukraine and making that same ask out of his own personal presidential mouth.
When it comes to not just trading a meeting with the United States as part of this quid pro quo, when it comes to getting military assistance from the United States that part of the trade, that part of the quid pro quo really does seem specifically tied to Vice President Mike Pence and his trip over to Europe to go meet in person with the president of Ukraine. I mean, part of the reason Vice President Pence is now being investigated in these impeachment proceedings is because of this reporting that we`ve just recently had that he went over there. He didn`t just ask Ukraine for help with these investigations that would benefit him and President Trump in 2020, he specifically did threaten their military aid if they didn`t cough up those investigations.
Well, now, we know that just after Vice President Pence had his meeting with Zelensky where he reportedly gave him that message, it was right after that, within hours, that Bill Taylor, the top U.S. official in Ukraine, sort of, incredulously sent this text back home to Washington. Quote: Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations? The Trump donor novice State Department official to whom Bill Taylor sent that text responded by saying, call me.
Within a week, Bill Taylor was still pressing the point. Quote: as I said on the phone, I think it is crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
Now, that Trump donor, State Department official whom he sent that text message responded hours later with a very officious sort of lawyerly statement about how President Trump had been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind. Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump`s intentions.
President Trump himself today seized on that particular text message in his remarks to reporters when he was talking about his impeachment woes. He said that text from Gordon Sondland, his donor guy at the State Department, totally exonerated him. The president has been crystal clear, nope, no quid pro quos.
Well, that shortly came to a crashing end very soon thereafter when Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson went to "The Wall Street Journal" with the story that I`m sure he thought was helping, in which the senator told "The Wall Street Journal" that that same guy at the State Department, that Trump donor guy Gordon Sondland actually told him he was a little worried because it seemed like there was a quid pro quo being demanded by President Trump when it came to Ukraine and military aid.
Quote: Senator Ron Johnson said that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had described to him a quid pro quo that the release of U.S. aid to Ukraine was contingent on an investigation desired by President Trump and his allies. Senator Johnson told "The Wall Street Journal" in detail that the conversation happened on the phone. It was definitely with Gordon Sondland, it was on a specific day that he`s willing to name, and it was specifically about only releasing military aid to Ukraine if Trump got the investigations that he wanted from the Ukrainian government.
Again, I think Ron Johnson thinks this is helping. The guy he says told him explicitly about the quid pro quo is Trump`s best defense that there wasn`t a quid pro quo. Senator Johnson issued another statement tonight completely disavowing everything he said earlier today to "The Wall Street Journal".
I mean, but again, while it is sort of entertaining to see that stuff, I don`t think you need to get too lost in the sauce here. I mean, the importance of all of this stuff is just that there were other people, there were a whole bunch of other people in the Trump administration who were involved in carrying out this scheme by President Trump to involve this other country, to help him against the Democrats in Joe Biden, up to and including Vice President Mike Pence, also including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was apparently now resigning his post as a Trump cabinet official.
I will mention that in the document request sent to Vice President Pence`s office by the impeachment committees tonight, one of the things they`re demanding records about are two meetings on the -- two meetings at the White House, one in May, one in July, that both involved Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
One was on May 23rd, that included Kurt Volker, the Ukraine envoy, who testified to the impeachment committees yesterday. Also, the quid pro quo ambassador guy, Gordon Sondland, who is testifying with the impeachment committees on Tuesday. The only other two people in that meeting according to this document request were President Trump and Rick Perry.
Then in July, another meeting involving those same two guys from the State Department and Rick Perry and some Ukrainian government officials. I should mention that Rick Perry is reportedly now resigning his post, just as he turns up right in the middle of all the stuff when we learn about all the meetings that he was involved in, including lots of meetings with people who have turned out to be key witnesses in the impeachment proceedings against the president.
Now, Rick Perry has said that his department, the Department of Energy, will comply with requests for information from the impeachment inquiry. The Department of Defense earlier this week announced that its top lawyer is collecting and preserving documents related to military aid to Ukraine because it`s now involved in the impeachment inquiry.
And so -- I mean, witnesses, documents, records of what happened, nobody`s going to have as much protection under the law as the president himself. But the number of other people who were involved in this, at least raises the prospect of lots and lots of witnesses and lots of documents and materials laying out and proving exactly what happened.
We expect that flow of information and documents to continue unabated. I mean, Volker, the envoy to Ukraine testified yesterday. Today, it was the inspector general of the intelligence committee. He testified for seven hours, largely about the handling of the initial whistleblower complaint that led to these impeachment proceedings. On Tuesday, it`s going to be the quid pro quo guy, the European Union ambassador, that Trump donor. He will be testifying on Tuesday morning.
A week from today, it`ll be Marie Yanukovych, who was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who "The Wall Street Journal" now reports was in fact fired by the Trump administration because she was perceived to be in the way of the administration`s efforts to extort Ukraine, to force Ukraine to give them assistance for 2020 against the Democrats.
So, again, there`s these core impeachment allegations, very simple. There`s who else was involved in carrying it out. Are they going to be witnesses now for the impeachment proceedings? What will they hand over in terms of materials?
Beyond that, there`s also the investigation into the cover-up, the attempted cover-up of what happened here. That may end up being a whole separate article of impeachment in terms of obstruction of justice. To that end, NBC News reporting tonight that was yet another criminal referral to the Justice Department about the president`s behavior toward Ukraine.
NBC News reporting that just as the formal whistleblower complaint was being filed with the intelligence community`s inspector general, the top lawyer at the CIA herself made a criminal referral of President Trump`s behavior to the Justice Department which of course the justice department under Bill Barr did nothing about and this may be CYA by the CIA, forgive me, trying to make it seem like they did the right thing here.
But regardless, if there was yet another criminal referral over the president`s behavior to the justice department, it puts an even hotter spotlight on the fact that Bill Barr`s Justice Department, despite multiple criminal referrals about the president`s behavior in this matter, the Justice Department not only declined to pursue charges against anybody involved here, they flat-out refused to eat it to even open an investigation.
Late tonight, the news continues to break. The impeachment committees have now subpoenaed the White House directly. We learned that earlier this evening.
And this is new, this is actually just in the last few minutes as I sat down to start the show from "The New York Times". If you have this -- as a full screen, do we have it built? Yes, thank you.
Second official is weighing whether to blow the whistle on Trump`s Ukraine dealings. This is by Michael Schmidt and Adam Goldman at "The New York Times".
Quote: A second intelligence official who was alarmed by President Trump`s dealings with Ukraine is weighing whether to file his own formal whistleblower complaint and testified to Congress. The official has more direct information about the events than the first whistleblower whose complaint that Mr. Trump was using his power to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals touched off an impeachment inquiry. This second official is among those interviewed by the intelligence community`s inspector general to corroborate the allegations of the original whistleblower.
The inspector general briefed lawmakers today about how he substantiated the initial whistleblowers account. It`s not clear whether he told lawmakers that the second official is also considering now filing a complaint. Because the second official has met with Atkinson`s office, the inspector general`s office, it`s unclear whether he needs to file a complaint to gain the legal protections offered to intelligence community whistleblowers. The ICIG, Michael Atkinson, did briefed lawmakers again behind closed doors today.
So, this again is just breaking tonight. I expect that as this story continues to develop, honestly, this weekend should be nuts. Republican senators are basically volunteering to put themselves under general anesthetic now, at least until the Sunday shows are over.
Senator Marco Rubio was cornered about his thoughts on the matter today, at a press availability in Florida. His response was to say that as far as he could tell, none of this is real. It`s all an elaborate joke.
This is not really happening. You press are falling right into it. This isn`t real.
I`ve been trying that trick for years now. This isn`t happening, this isn`t happening. It feels awesome in the moment if you can convince yourself, but then you open your eyes and you`re still here and this stuff is still unfolding.
Former national security adviser, former U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, is here to join us for the interview. That`s next.
MADDOW: Very few people on earth could describe something like this for you from firsthand experience, but this person can. And I quote: There is no such thing as a short phone call with Vladimir Putin. In the almost three years following Russia`s illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014, and it`s invasion of Eastern Ukraine, President Obama and the Russian president spoke over a dozen times by secure phone. A typical phone call lasted 90 minutes, prolonged by Putin`s tedious monologues, and the necessity of translation. The conversations typically began with a comical game of chicken in which each side`s communications staff tried to ensure that their leader was the last one to get on the line to start the call.
Quote: It was a game that Obama found ironic but not important and he would simply busy himself with desk work or scrabble on his iPad if Putin was slow to come to the phone.
Hello, Vladimir, Obama began. Putin responded: Hello, Barack. How are you?
Their conversations while sometimes pointed and often unsatisfactory in substance were always civil and mostly respectful. Quote: Despite the number of times the two engaged, they were unable to resolve our stark differences over Ukraine.
That fly-on-the-wall perspective comes from a new book called "Tough Love" by Susan Rice. She served as national security adviser to President Obama, before that, U.N. ambassador. In her role as national security advisor, she was on those calls, and in addition to this being an legitimately inspiring and fascinating new book, there`s nobody in the world I would rather talk to about what`s going on in our world right now than her.
Joining us now for the interview is Susan Rice.
Ambassador Rice, thank you so much for being here.
SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: It`s great to be with you, Rachel. Thanks.
MADDOW: I want to talk to you about a million things. I do want to tell you at the outset that I found your book unexpectedly moving and inspiring, and it made me think harder about the way I work.
RICE: Thank you.
RICE: I really appreciate that.
MADDOW: I mean, you`ve done a lot of --
RICE: Coming from you.
MADDOW: Well --
RICE: Congratulations on your book.
MADDOW: Thank you very much. Mine is darker. Yours is more optimistic.
RICE: Well, that`s an interesting contrast given our respective roles.
MADDOW: Well, and our respective experience.
I want to ask you about some of that experience given what we are going through right now, because I think it`s important for people to hear from you as a sort of grounding in normal governance, in terms of how these things are supposed to be going. I know that you`ve said that you believe these impeachment proceedings are warranted given the gravity of the accusations against the president. I also want to ask if you felt any differently about that over these past couple of days as the president has started openly confessing to doing this, has openly confessed that he`s doing it not only with Ukraine but with China, and he`s essentially daring people to hold him to account for it by saying that there`s nothing wrong with what he`s doing?
RICE: Well, personally, Rachel, I was not swift to come to the conclusion that an impeachment inquiry was justified. I had various reservations.
But as more and more information has come to light, and in particular what we learned in the last couple of weeks about Ukraine and now China, I don`t see any alternative but to follow the inquiry and the facts where they go, and then make a judgment.
What we learned yesterday when the president stood on the South Lawn and said to the Chinese government that he wants them to give him dirt on Joe Biden, which, by the way, to my knowledge doesn`t exist, it was even more extraordinary than what we witnessed with respect to Ukraine in my judgment, because China is our most formidable and committed adversary. And we are in the middle of a hot trade war and a very fraught security relationship where we`re competing over the cyber realm in the South China Sea over things like Huawei and the future of technology.
And what President Trump in effect said before the whole world was, China, if you give me bogus dirt on Joe Biden, then by implication, I`m prepared to consider what kind of deal we can cut that you might be satisfied with, with respect to the trade war and our security concerns. He juxtaposed those things.
And the Chinese aren`t stupid. You know, yes, Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, said piously today, we wouldn`t interfere in the American political process and you poor people go sort yourself out.
RICE: The codicil to that is you better not say a damn about Hong Kong, because we consider that our internal matter. So there`s some leverage already, or Taiwan, which they in opposition to U.S. policy view is theirs as well.
But the real concern in my judgment is that the Chinese understand two things. One, we`ve got a president who is incredibly unstable, unpredictable, and not on his game if he ever was, and that this might be a moment from their point of view to try to steal second base from us, whether that`s again in one of these conflict zones where our forces are potentially arrayed against each other or in the economic realm or this or the cyber realm. But it is also the case that the Chinese might conclude that here`s an opportunity to give Trump what he wants provided we end this trade war on terms favorable to China.
And so, essentially, what the president is doing is proposing not very subtly to sell out our farmers sell out our manufacturing sectors sell out the American taxpayers who`ve been paying for this stupid trade war with higher tariffs and do it for his own personal political benefit.
MADDOW: When China said today as you say, sort of piously, oh no, you need to sort this out amongst yourselves, of course, we`ve never do that. I saw that`s skeptically as well. It made me wonder though about whether or not essentially, there is already operative, not hypothetically, but out there an open invitation from the president that any government around the world that wants something in terms of U.S. policy or wants to take a bite out of America`s hide in some way may see that a way to get that is by freelancing this, is by offering something to the president that he can use against his political opponents whoever they are, whether it`s made up whether it`s based in reality that he`s essentially opened a market for this stuff and has said that U.S. policy is on the line.
Will other countries respond to that?
RICE: It`s exactly what he`s doing. He`s putting out a "open for business" sign on the Oval Office, and he`s in the business of China traffic in bogus dirt on his opponents, at the expense of our national security and our national interest.
MADDOW: So, if he is going to be impeached by that, very few people believe that he will be removed from office for that. So, which means that he`ll essentially be censured and helping one of only three American presidents who`s ever been impeached. But if he continues to do it and if Republicans in the Senate continue to believe that he should stay in office while he does that sort of thing, what I want to know is -- is there a way that we the public, we the people can harden ourselves as a target so that whatever the president is willing to do to our democracy and do to our country, inviting other countries to do what he`s inviting them to do, is there a way that we can be resilient against that?
RICE: Yes. I mean, first of all, we have to vote. We have to participate in this process with all of our energy and all of our conviction, because it`s not just an election that`s at stake. I deeply truly believe that the future and stability of our democracy is at stake.
If we have four more years of a president that`s basically putting us on the auction block for the highest bidder, you know, who`s prepared to do what he wants for his personal political or financial gain, then that`s not a country we`re going to recognize.
MADDOW: Well, voting out elected officials, you don`t hold them to account is a good idea. I`m worried, given the electoral map of the country, that it won`t work, that the Republican-controlled Senate will still be the Republican-controlled Senate. I think I`m worried about the way that we the public were targeted in 2016, you know?
Like I worry about what our government did or didn`t do. But I worry about the way that we the people were targeted and we`re soft targets and we`re swayed.
RICE: Well, we`re absolutely soft targets, and one of the very important messages I`m trying to convey in "Tough Love" is that our domestic political divisions are, in fact, at the moment our greatest national security vulnerability. The Russians figure that out. They figured out that if they can pit people against each other on both sides of every divisive issue, whether it`s race or immigration or guns or gay rights, if they can exploit those fissures which already exists and exacerbate them and cause us to question one another`s loyalty and decency as Americans, then they don`t have to fire a bullet to take us down. That`s the risk we face.
And so, when you ask about resiliency, it`s not just about voting. It`s about being informed and educated. It`s first and foremost about the American people understanding that our adversaries are trying to exploit these divisions, and that we -- because we created these divisions amongst ourselves -- have the ability to rectify them.
The only good news about this is it`s a problem of our own making, and therefore, it`s a problem we can solve, if we`re willing to listen to one another, to understand one another, and to change our system in ways that that isolates the extremes and empowers the more moderates among us.
MADDOW: We`re willing to grow up a little bit as a democracy. I mean --
RICE: Well, grow up as not just as a democracy but as consumers of our political process. So, right now, it`s very easy if you want to just get your news off of Breitbart or you want to just get your news off of "BuzzFeed" to not listen to anything else, and not talk to anybody who may have a different perspective, and not question the veracity of the information that you`re consuming. We`ve got to teach ourselves as voters, but even as young people and students, how to evaluate the truth of information, how to argue and debate and be open to alternative opinions. I mean, this is deep, and the remedies aren`t going to be swift.
And I even proposed some pretty dramatic steps, like mandatory national service for Americans between the ages of 18 and 21, spend six months or a year, every single one of us working on something that serves the country, but that requires us to know and work alongside with and cooperate with people who come from vastly different backgrounds than we do. That`s the kind of thing we need to be thinking about if we recognize that these divisions which we are suffering from, which our adversaries are exploiting, are our potential death knell if we don`t get it together.
But, Rachel, after having said all that which some people may find depressing, I do think it`s worth recalling that as dark as this moment may seem to some people and including to you and me I imagine, we`re old enough and we`ve studied enough history to recall that we`ve been through a whole lot worse than that in this country. We`ve been through a civil war. We`ve been through reconstruction.
We`ve been through the McCarthy era. We`ve been through Vietnam and the civil rights era where our cities were literally burning down, and students were being shot on campuses. We`ve been through much worse and come out arguably stronger, and that`s what this moment calls for.
MADDOW: Susan Rice is our guest. Her new book is called "Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For". We`ll be right back with her right after this.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The chapter title here has a curse word in it, so I`m not going to give you the chapter title, but it`s 22.
It begins, quote: Like most in the Obama administration, I was hopeful that Secretary Clinton would win the election. I just wasn`t as sure as some that she would. I first ventured this argument in August 2015 during a small dinner with President Obama and a couple of his senior political aides in his hotel room during a visit to Alaska. This discussion preceded any primaries but came after Trump had declared his candidacy.
As we bantered about the coming primary season, I said that I could see a way for Trump to gain the Republican nomination. No way, all caps. No way, the others said. That will never happen.
For a short while I persisted, saying, there`s a lot of hate out there. You know, some people just can`t get over where we are now. I was sufficiently ridiculed that I dropped the argument, comforted that the political experts thought I was crazy.
Back with us now is Susan Rice. She was national security adviser and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration. She`s just out with this new book which is called "Tough Love", about her time working in public service.
So, you weren`t crazy.
RICE: I wish I was. Wish I was.
MADDOW: You saw that coming.
But when you said that there`s a lot of hate out there, you know, some people just can`t get over where we are now, what you mean by where we are now?
RICE: I meant that there are some -- I hope a relatively small minority of us -- who never really could reconcile themselves to having a second term successful African-American president who basically ran a scandal-free administration, who was happily married, a good father. You know, all of those things that are very normal and very uncomfortable for some.
RICE: So that`s what I meant, and I didn`t have to be more explicit than that in that setting. But I think it`s more than that. Obviously, there are many aspects to what resulted in the 2016 election, but -- and I -- and I say in the book. I mean, I really don`t think we can afford to discount or disparage the perspectives of our fellow Americans with whom we differ. I talk about how I have to deal with that challenge in my own household, with my 22-year-old son who is a traditional conservative, in contrast to his parents, and even more in contrast to his leftist sister.
So, you know, in my household, we have a microcosm of our national political spectrum, with my husband and I in the middle trying to, you know, keep the dinner table from becoming a food fight.
MADDOW: And that microcosmic empathy sort of gives you a clearer view in terms of where we`re going.
You know, I do feel like one of the things that is coming home to us now in a way that -- I don`t think we necessarily appreciate at the time so one story line among many at the time, but now, given these impeachment proceedings against President Trump and now seems like it`s really coming home, is the effort that was waged under your tenure in the Obama administration to try to help other democracies fledgling democracies, nascent democracy stand up to try to help other countries stop corruption, to try to help other countries stand up against aggression from Russia.
I mean, President Biden`s interventions in Ukraine to try to stand them up as a democracy and stand them up against corruption have now been weaponized and boomeranged against him as if he was the corrupt one, and he was the problem there.
I wonder having lived through that and seeing how it`s being put in a funhouse mirror now, how that feels to you and what do you think the American people should understand about that time.
RICE: Well, look, we can talk about the time but let`s for a second talk about the tactic. What President Trump is doing, we`ve seen him do time and time again, and it`s actually a brilliant if really devious tactic. And that is he takes whatever is his greatest weakness, his greatest weakness being that all America views him practically as corrupt. They see him as dealing financially to his own benefit and using the presidency for that. They see his kids running around getting sweetheart deals for the Trump empire, or their clothing line or whatever it is from countries like China issuing licenses for Ivanka`s, you know, latest line of whatever.
And he tries to turn that weakness into his perceived opponents` weakness. Nobody ever in the many years Joe Biden has worked in Washington tried to label him corrupt. He`s anything but. You know, he was one of the poorest members of the Senate throughout his tenure.
But this is Trump`s effort to jujitsu and to deny, deflect, lie, and what he has now is the backing of a Republican Party that seems to have lost its way completely. You said, what was it, comatose and that`s the tides (ph) --
MADDOW: They were volunteered for general anesthesia until after the Sunday shows.
RICE: Well, I`m afraid it`s going to be long after the Sunday shows.
RICE: But with respect to Ukraine, this was a case where the vice president United States was acting on behalf of U.S. government policy transparently articulated at the request of the president, consistent with bipartisan policy emanating from Congress, consistent with the agreements we had with our European partners in the IMF that were together with us in trying to root out corruption in Ukraine, at the same time as we were trying to provide the new Ukrainian government with the economic support it needed to stabilize, so we`re given them this money, we, the Europeans, the United States through the international financial institutions. And we want to be sure that it`s not going down a rat hole, that`s U.S. government policy, that`s what Joe Biden was pursuing.
In contrast to Donald Trump, who was pursuing his own personal political interests and trying to leverage our military assistance almost $400 million, and a White House visit to a brand-new president of Ukraine who`s got Russian troops on his territory five years in and a hot shooting war, and we`re using that to undermine this guy unless he manufactures some bogus dirt on Joe Biden. There`s a huge difference there and this is another effort by Trump to try to create some absolutely false equivalency.
You know, Trump hides the records of his conversations. Biden`s were out in the open and he talked about him publicly, and they were part of U.S. government policy. There`s absolutely nothing similar here and what we need to be worried about is that we have frighteningly, a president of the United States who is not pursuing America`s national security interest, in fact, taking steps contrary to our interests in order to benefit himself and his reelection.
And he`s inviting countries like Ukraine but adversaries like China, as he did Russia in 2016, to get involved on his side in our election campaign. And then he`s sending folks like Bill Barr around the world to our closest allies --
MADDOW: To try to exonerate Russia for what they did in 2016.
RICE: Well, to try to exonerate Russia, but more importantly, to convey to them that they have to play ball with Donald Trump`s effort to extort information for his political purposes if they want to remain in our good graces. So, we`re extorting both our adversary -- excuse me -- our allies and, you know, we`re getting or soliciting help from our adversaries. It`s crazy and it`s dangerous.
MADDOW: Susan Rice is the author of "Tough Love: My Story of Things Worth Fighting", she`s former U.N. ambassador, former national security adviser - - it`s real honor to have you here.
RICE: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
RICE: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
RICE: Madam --
MADDOW: Madam Ambassador.
MADDOW: There`s some good news tonight about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. At a campaign event in Nevada on Tuesday, he experienced chest pain, went to a local hospital, was treated for a blocked coronary artery. His campaign said he had two stents put in at that hospital to open the clogged artery.
Senator Sanders had been in the hospital since then. But today, he emerged, smiling and waving. The campaign says he was diagnosed with a myocardial infarction, which is more commonly known as a heart attack.
But he`s out. He`s doing well. He put out a video message today thanking his well-wishers for their support and their prayers. It is good to see Senator Sanders back on his feet, heading out of the hospital today. The senator`s campaign say that he will be back out on the campaign trail soon, we think, later on this week.
Godspeed, Senator Sanders. Get well soon.
That`s going to do it for us tonight. I will see you live -- I will see you again on Monday, but I`m going to be live from Los Angeles, which is one of the stops on my book tour.
I will also tell you that weirdly, on Sunday night, there is a new TV show on the CW called "Batwoman" and I have a voice role in the new Batwoman TV show, isn`t that crazy? I know. Anyway, it`s very fun.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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