McConnell rejecting calls for new witnesses. TRANSCRIPT: 12/20/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests: Sean Patrick Maloney

RUTH GRAHAM, SLATE STAFF WRITER:  And so, it`s a big deal to break from that.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Yes.

GRAHAM:  But I do think there`s starting to be this kind of challenge where people are seeing something needs to change. 

HAYES:  Reverend Jim Wallis and Ruth Graham, thank you both for joining us. 

That is ALL IN for this evening.

"The Rachel Maddow Show" starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Have a spectacular weekend as we head into the holidays.

HAYES:  You too.

MADDOW:  I know you`re looking forward to splitting wood with your family as am I. 

HAYES:  Yes.  May you split many logs (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  You too, my friend.  Thanks a lot.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well.  Very happy to have you with us.  I do hope you have a great holiday season looking ahead.  It is the Friday before Christmas. 

That should mean that we no longer feel like we`re right in the middle of a news cycle, right, but the news gods scoff at such niceties these days.  They care not for our holidays.  I mean everything`s got to happen sometime, right?  Why not now? 

It was only two days ago that Nancy Pelosi impeached Donald Trump.  She used the gavel to note that the articles of impeachment against President Trump had passed.  It was two days ago.  Today, she invited him to deliver the State of the Union Address, which is awkward timing, but you know what, it`s also time for it. 

And while it is not unimaginable that there might be some sort of drama or some sort of gamesmanship about the scheduling of the State of the Union at a time like this, particularly given that the House of Representatives led by Nancy Pelosi just formally recommended to the Senate that the Senate should remove President Trump from office and make him no longer president.  I mean, you might imagine that the State of the Union and its scheduling could be a source of controversy at a time like this, at a fraught moment like this.  In fact, actually seems to have gone off without a hitch. 

Nancy Pelosi sent this brief letter to the White House today inviting President Trump to deliver his State of the Union on February 4th.  And what do you know, no muss, no fuss, the White House responded immediately, yes, the president will accept.  Ding.

  Now, there`s still the possibility that that means the president will be delivering his State of the Union address in the middle of his Senate impeachment trial.  We don`t know.  The uncertainty around the logistics of the Senate impeachment trial is one of the most interesting things going on in the news right now and will continue to be over the holidays.  We`re going to have more on that to come. 

But whether or not the State of the Union address is in the middle of the impeachment trial or not which again remains to be seen, that`s all still very much up and down, there`s no doubt that that State of the Union will definitely be the day after the Iowa caucuses.  The beginning of February this year is going to go Super Bowl Sunday on February 2nd, then the next day, Iowa caucuses, Monday, February 3rd.  And then the next day, State of the Union, Tuesday, February 4th.  Super Bowl Sunday, Iowa caucuses, State of the Union, three days in a row. 

And recognizing that now tonight, I find myself simultaneously tempted to write those things in my calendar for 2020, and also I am simultaneously reluctant to write anything on my calendar for anytime in the future because I do think it`s still worth being humble about projecting anything too far into the future right now, about how things are going to go in U.S. politics in particular.  In the wake of the impeachment of President Trump this week, I have realized now that I have basically four main outstanding questions in terms of what happens next and how this impeachment drama is all going to resolve. 

Got it winnowed down to about four questions now.  The first one is about the impeachment trial and what the Senate process is going to be like, now that the Senate has to take up their part of the constitutional responsibility of impeachment, which is to hold a trial at which U.S. senators should decide if this president should be removed from office.  This question of how the Senate impeachment trial should be run is very much an open question, right? 

Everybody I think agrees that the Senate does have to hold a trial.  It`s not optional.  But beyond that what that means, well, the fight over that is on.  And it looks like it may very well extend through any holiday break. 

I mean, there were bipartisan rules that were unanimously agreed to for the last Senate impeachment trial which was President Bill Clinton`s impeachment in the 1990s, rules that allowed for witnesses and documents and a certain number of hours of debate.  The vote to adopt those rules in the U.S. Senate for the Clinton impeachment was 100-0 because the Democrats and Republicans worked it out together.  Those rules for how the Senate trial was conducted, that was sort of the least controversial part of the whole Bill Clinton impeachment.  That`s not what it`s going to be like this time. 

Senator Mitch McConnell is not yet conceding that there should be any witnesses, any factual review whatsoever in this thing he nevertheless wants to call a trial.  His recalcitrant on that and so far his refusal to engage with the Democrats in terms of whether there might be any sort of bipartisan agreement about process for this trial -- I mean, at that point, that`s why we don`t know when the Senate is even going to receive the articles of impeachment from Nancy Pelosi and the House. 

I mean, House Democrats and speaker Pelosi are saying they`re going to wait until McConnell announces the Senate rules for this trial before they send over the articles and announce their impeachment managers who will act as prosecutors in that trial.  The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, here last night on this program said he and his fellow Democrats in the Senate really believed they can get a handful of Republican senators to side with them and against Mitch McConnell to form a majority that will vote in the Senate for more typical impeachment trial rules that look more like how the Senate proceeded in Bill Clinton`s case. 

So, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in the House are really in the catbird`s seat, right?  They can hold onto the articles of impeachment as long as they want.  There`s no time limit on that from the Constitution. 

President Trump is impeached and he remains impeached.  He basically refused to engage in the Senate impeachment process, and so -- excuse me, in the House impeachment process, and so he hasn`t mounted a defense in this process yet.  He has said he wants to mount a defense in the Senate.  If he wants to do so, there`s going to have to be some sort of trial.  Senate Democrats are affectively courting their Republican colleagues to try to join them to agree to bipartisan -- I mean, this is all a very open question. 

And in terms of a White House role in this, there`s conflicting reporting and now lots of speculation about what the president and what the White House more broadly might really want from the Senate.  Might they actually want witnesses and documents and a real trial where Trump gets to mount his defense?  Or would they prefer some sort of miniaturized process where Mitch McConnell essentially accepts the articles of impeachment and then makes the whole thing go away with a swift gavel and no discussion? 

All right, so this is very, very much open.  I mean, we sort of knew this was going to be an interesting question at the time the House passed the articles of impeachment.  We didn`t know it would still be a very open question two days after the impeachment.  That`s for me the very pressing first set of questions that we`ve got. 

We don`t know when it`ll be resolved.  We know it`s being fought out now.  Revelations, breakthroughs, announcement could pop at any time, which means none of us get to turn off our phones when we go home this weekend.  We all have to keep watching the news, which is sort of comfort and also sort of annoying at Christmastime, I know.  But that`s where we are. 

So, that`s question one.  Now there`s question two.  It`s about the substance of the allegations against President Trump, the substance of the articles of impeachment against him that were just passed in the House, right? 

The House has made clear even though they passed those articles of impeachment against the president, their investigation is ongoing.  For example, we`ve got the Intelligence Committee chasing Vice President Mike Pence`s office about a piece of classified evidence that apparently pertains to Mike Pence`s own communications with the Ukrainian government during the time period that`s at the center of a scrutiny in this scheme. 

There`s also, of course, still open sourced journalistic reporting that`s happening on the core issue at the heart of the impeachment scandal, including "The Washington Post" reporting last night that White House officials believe President Trump may have been advised directly by Russian President Vladimir Putin on this conspiracy theory President Trump has been pushing that it was Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 election and not Russia.  President Trump reportedly told at least one senior White House official that he believed the conspiracy theory about Ukraine because, quote, Putin told me.  Right?

And that`s just coming out now.  So that`s like the second big question following this impeachment Wednesday night.  What happens to salient new information and new evidence that turns up in this scandal?  How will that information get aired?  Is it just aired to the public and it affects public opinion? 

Is the Senate going to have any way to process any new important information and evidence that crops up between now and whatever they`re going to put -- whatever trial they`re going to put on for President Trump?  Does the prospect of additional news -- additional information and evidence affect these discussions and this fight about what the process will be in the Senate as they manage this part of their impeachment?  So number one, how`s the Senate impeachment going to be run.  Number two, what happens to additional evidence in the impeachment scandal? 

The third question about what happens next in the impeachment process has to do with the president himself.  And this is not very comfortable territory for me I will admit.  I don`t pay a lot of attention to the president`s, you know, apparent frame of mind. 

I don`t pay that much attention to his statements, and therefore, I`m not sort of, like, tracking his perceived well-being.  I know a lot of people do that.  It`s just not my bag. 

That said, he hasn`t seemed particularly even keeled or in control even for him in the lead up to this week`s impeachment.  It`d be stressful for anybody.  But given his history of behavior as president, one of the outstanding and potentially important questions now that he`s been impeached is how he personally might react to this punishment, to being held accountable for this behavior.  That`s not something that`s happened a lot in his life.  Do we know how he reacts to adversity like this? 

Last night, I interviewed Barbara Res.  She worked for years at the Trump Organization.  She has a lot of personal experience working alongside President Trump in his real estate before he even got involved in politics. 

I wanted to speak with Barbara Res last night because I wanted to ask her if based on all the years she spent working with Mr. Trump and all the different circumstances she`s seen him in, can she give us any advice?  Is there anything that we the country should watch out for in terms of how he might react being in trouble, how he might react to an accountability moment like this?

And her advice on that front was kind of a showstopper.  I mean, I`ll tell you from my own purposes at that point, I kind of thought the interview was going to go on, but when she said that the only thing I could think to do was to say good night, let`s go to commercial, I have to think about this. 

Here`s what she told me. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Is there anything you would say to people who have never dealt with him personally but the country is all sort of dealing with him personally right now in terms of what to expect or how to mitigate any negative consequences in terms of how he might react in response? 

BARBARA RES, "ALL ALONE ON THE 68TH FLOOR" AUTHOR:  The days for mitigation seem to be gone, but I will say he will once he gets through this and he probably will -- he will exact revenge on a lot of people, a lot of people. 

MADDOW:  Barbara Res, former executive vice president at the Trump --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  He will exact revenge.  He will exact revenge on a lot of people.  I was like okay, good night.  I have to think about that. 

I mean, that seems like a potential consequence of impeachment that we should start thinking about.  We should at least be talking about, wondering about, starting to make plans for how the president might behave in the circumstances. 

But then here`s my last question about impeachment and what happens next.  Throughout the debate over whether or not to impeach Trump in the House, Democrats argued consistently that while it is unusual to bring impeachment proceedings against a president in his first term, right, a year away from his facing the voters at first potential re-election, Democrats argued there is good reason to do that in this case because of what they are impeaching him for, right?  What about foreign interference in 2020? 

What they caught him doing was trying to corrupt the next election.  No, not just inviting but trying to extort and force foreign interference in that next election on his behalf.  Democrats said because of that that`s got to be kind of the propulsive force for why this impeachment has to happen now, why it has to happen quickly, why we can`t just wait for the next election, because this is about the next election.  We need to act now to head off the damage that he got caught trying to cause the next presidential election in the United States. 

And I don`t know if that argument was more persuasive than any other argument, but the Democrats did impeach him.  He is now impeached.  Unless the Senate convicts him and votes to remove him from office, though, he will still be in office, and he will still be the Republican Party`s candidate in the next presidential election.  Having invited and even tried to extort and force foreign inter intervention in that next election to help him win. 

And so how does that dynamic change now?  I mean, do we know if impeaching him over him trying to get Ukraine involved in the next election on his side, do we know if that impeachment is going to have any impact on the threat of foreign intervention in the next election on his side or anybody`s side? 

I mean, to me those are the four main outstanding questions following the impeachment of President Trump last week.  How`s that Senate trial going to be run, what`s going to happen if there`s any new important evidence?  What`s Trump going to do, what`s his next move?  And also, what about this question of foreign interference? 

On that last point, we have some news tonight.  And for this news, let`s turn to Mr. Banana.  I said Mr. Banana.  Go ahead.  Mr. Banana, take it away. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MR. BANANA:  History of Russia like you`ve never heard it before.  Mr. Banana wants to know what you think about when you heard the word Russia.  Do you think of a bear with a bottle of vodka and a balalaika in his paw, or maybe you think about President Putin in the Red Square in Moscow?

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MADDOW:  Look how excited Mr. Banana is to see Mr. Putin.  Oh, my god, look at him he`s so dreamy.  And he`s right there in the YouTube frame with me, and Mr. Banana can barely contain himself.  He`s going to unpeel right in front of us. 

This slightly idiomatically incorrect but accent-free English video is not a very good history of Russia even though that`s what it says it is.  But it is sort of slickly produced, a slick YouTube production.  It is designed to seem like at least as far as you can trust Mr. Banana, you ought to be able to trust this telling of Russian history. 

It`s a 12-minute long video.  I`m not going to show you the whole thing, but just -- let me show you a little piece of it being not idiomatically correct as well as not good history.  Put the balalaika in your paw and come along with me. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MR. BANANA:  It`s also the time of the creation of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet by two brothers, Kirill and Methodius, who are Christian missionaries.  Yes, yes, it`s exactly the strange symbols you see in Russian cuisine menus. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Oh, those are the strange symbols you see in Russian cuisine menus.  Oh, yes, yes, it`s exactly the same symbols you see in Russian cuisine menus, comrade. 

Mr. Banana goes on for quite some time in somewhat painful detail, but it really picks up when we get to Joseph Stalin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MR. BANANA:  The second leader after Lenin`s death was Joseph Stalin.  He started to recover the country after the revolution.  Joseph reformed the country.  He took the wealth from rich people and property of the middle class and united all these people with poor ones in a collective farm and collective property.  Russian Robin Hood, bang, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  And then we`re onto World War II. 

Yes.  But, you know, that`s pretty much what Joseph Stalin is remembered for, being like Robin Hood, bang, right?  Yes, Joseph Stalin, he was known as a reformer who was kind to the poor.  I mean, it`s weird, right? 

If you scroll a couple more minutes into it, you get to a part where they explain that the way Alaska became a part of the United States was that Nikita Khrushchev gave Alaska to the United States in 1957 as a present, as a gift which a really weird take on Alaska, which the United States actually bought from Russia in the 1860s. 

But if you want to call it a gift from Khrushchev in the 1950s, then yes, you`ve been getting your history from Mr. Banana. 

So here`s the thing, the company that makes that Mr. Banana let me tell you how awesome Stalin was, oh, my god, it`s Putin, history of Russia, right?  The company that makes that turns out to be inexplicably massive online.  They`re called the Soul Publishing. 

They`re the subject of a fascinating report that came out at "Lawfare" by Lisa Kaplan where Kaplan reports, quote, measured in terms of views and subscribers, the Soul Publishing has the third largest reach of any group of entertainment channels on YouTube, outranked only by Disney and Warner Media.  It goes Disney, Warner Media and then the Mr. Banana people, this - - the Soul media company.  As of November this year, third largest on YouTube. 

Quote: It is run by Russian nationals based in and managed from Cyprus, funds itself from ad revenues from YouTube and Google worth tens of millions of dollars.  And last year in 2018, it purchased a small suite of Facebook advertisements targeting U.S. citizens on political issues, and it made those purchases in rubles. 

The weird revisionist Russian history Joseph Stalin was Robin Hood that they`re promoting online is a tiny little sliver of the space the company is taking up on YouTube.  The link online to the Smart Banana fake history videos are linked to other video producing entities like five-minute crafts and 7-second riddles and something called Bright Side and five minute magic.  It`s all this random click bait sort of highly optimized content on YouTube. 

So, like, at five-minute crafts girly which they say is the female version of their five minute crafts channel one of the things they teach you to do is pour in Pepsi and you don`t have to scrub, it`s clean.  What? 

Also, do you have terrible brown teeth like a Halloween mask?  Well, here`s a handy tip about smearing toothpaste on a paper and sticking the paper in your mouth and now look your teeth are perfect.  And while this sort of seems like stupid content -- it`s stupid content -- it`s become massive on YouTube.  Like click here for handy hints. 

That five minutes craft channel alone has had more than 16 billion views.  This the kind of thing people watch on YouTube. 

Bright Side, another one of their weird linked entities, has 44 million followers on Facebook.  By contrast, "The New York Times" Facebook has 16 million followers.  Bright Side, 44 million, "New York Times", 16 million. 

So this company has built this mammoth social media operation that is mostly pushing out nonsense content or click baity stupid content that is working to attract clicks.  But they`re now starting to integrate into the that content pro-Russian happy talk fake history material and some oddly sort of -- sort of subtle anti-U.S. stuff like this video which suggests the United States is one of the top ten countries in the world that`s most likely to not exist anymore within the next 20 years because the United States is going to disappear.  At least Alaska and Texas are definitely going to secede but that`s only the beginning. 

And they don`t portray this as some screed against the United States. It`s just tucked in among all the other countries that might no longer exist sometime soon. 

As Lisa Kaplan argues at "Lawfare" this week in this investigative piece, one of the things to watch here as this huge Russian social media presence has been developed in the United States, they`ve started doing this pro- Russia undermining the U.S. sort of subtle content.  And they`ve started poking around the edges of buying overtly political content about U.S. politics that in the future if it tests well they could presumably decide to ship to their gazillions of online followers. 

Again, in terms of taking up space on YouTube, it`s Disney and Warner Media and then these guys.  I mean, remember what we learned in the Russian social media operation in 2016 to target our election to benefit Trump, right?  We learned that both in the criminal indictments against the Russian military intelligence officers who were charged by Robert Mueller.  We learned it in the Senate report reviewing how that Russian information worked against us. 

One of their key plays is that they would build up seemingly nonpolitical content.  They have lots of different avatars, lots of different accounts on lots of different social media platforms, attracting U.S. viewership, attracting likes, attracting followers, all doing stuff that didn`t seem to be overtly political at all.  It was just designed to get people clicking there, just designed to get into people`s feeds. 

And when it came time to turn those things operational for the purposes of American political impact those seemingly nonpolitical channels started pushing out material designed to influence the election.  And a big part of the impact, you want to capture the maximum number of eyeballs -- well, you better have the maximum number of subscribers already looking at your content before you become a political operation.  Well, boy, are they doing that now. 

With the election of 2020 now bearing down upon us, I mean, the Iowa caucuses are six weeks away.  It`s Super Bowl Sunday, then the first Monday in February, the day after Super Bowl Sunday is the Iowa caucuses.  I mean, how prepped are we really? 

How prepped are the Democratic candidates and the Democratic party for contending with a potentially major foreign-based social media operation that this time will be run under the auspices here of a federal government headed up by a president who was just impeached for inviting foreign intervention in the next election and who has implicitly stated he`s good with it.  It`s one thing to not be ready because you don`t see it coming.  This time we definitely see it coming. 

The question is, you know, how much help is the U.S. government going to be under the leadership of President Trump?  And how well are the Democrats and the Democratic Party preparing to do their own work on this particularly if they`re not going to get help from the Justice Department under William Barr and from the intelligence agencies under President Trump? 

I`ll tell you just as we are coming on the air we did get a statement from the spokesperson for the Soul Publishing, the company behind Mr. Banana and all those other videos.  They say, quote, the soul publishing is proud of the light and enjoyable content we create for our fans around the world including the highly popular five minute crafts.  We look forward to continued growth for entertaining audiences and sharing more about our international digital media company.  Oh, I bet.  I bet they`re sharing. 

Further down this road, you should also know that today, Facebook took down more than 600 accounts that are all linked to a different kind of operation that raises all these same red flags.  The excellent, long-standing debunking and fact checking website snopes.com has been trying to raise the alarm about this since last November.  Here`s one of their reports on the subject.  Quote, how a pro-Trump network is building a fake empire on Facebook and getting away with it?

After weeks of those kind of public warnings from Snopes and ultimately other researchers, Facebook today finally acted.  Here`s how NBC News` Ben Collins reported today at NBCNews.com.  Quote: Facebook took down more than 600 accounts today tied to the pro-Trump conspiracy website, The Epoch Times.  They took them down for using identities created by artificial intelligence to push stories about a variety of topics including impeachment and the elections.  The network was called "The BL" and was run by Vietnamese users posing as Americans using fake photos generated by algorithms to simulate real identities. 

The Epoch Media Group, which publishes a variety of pro-Trump conspiracy theories, spent $9.5 million on online ads to spread content through the now suspended pages and groups.  Quote: The network had over 55 million followers on Facebook, which is almost double the number of followers that Kim Kardashian has. 

Quote: The account pushed anti-impeachment and pro-Trump messages while otherwise posing as every day Americans.

So, yes, President Trump just got impeached for trying to use the power of the U.S. government and the presidency as leverage to force another country to get into the 2020 U.S. election on his side.  I mean, whether or not he was just impeached for that that`s going to be the 2020 election.  Can the Democratic candidates compete with each other in terms of who`s going to be the nominee on the basis of who is best situated to combat this threat and who has the best ideas about how to do so?  And will any of them be able to count on help from U.S. law enforcement and intelligence in a federal government that is run by Donald Trump, particularly after he`s just been impeached for this stuff? 

Reporter Ben Collins joins us next.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Take a good look at this photo I`m going to put up on the screen. 

It`s just the photo of a girl, looks nice, appears to be outside.  Here`s a woman who appears to be inside wearing make-up.  You can see it`s kind of a studio-style backdrop behind her.  Here`s a guy who appears to be outside on what looks like a sunny day.  Kind of has a weird hair hat thing going on there. 

Nothing too weird about any of these pictures.  But you should know none of these people are real humans.  They look real but there are some clues if you know what to look for there`s something weird, something artificially generated about them. 

The young girl`s sort of snuggle tooth is out of place.  It looks like maybe it`s from someone or something else.  The woman turns out to be kind of missing an ear given the way her hair falls and given the symmetry of her head. 

The hat on that guy`s head is kind of -- basically what`s going on there is there`s like a hat sitting on top his hair rather than staying on top of his actual head sort of.  These are the kinds of things you look for when you`re trying to figure out whether it`s generated images or pictures of real people. 

Those pictures you`re just looking at were created using the same artificial intelligence algorithms that were used to create fake identities for accounts link to the pro-Trump conspiracy website Epoch Times.  Facebook has suspended a whole bunch of these accounts, not for their pro- Trump and conspiracy content, because they`re fake and purport to represent the real accounts of what amount to fake people. 

And now, the real people behind these accounts are getting caught.  There was reporting on this by Snopes, groundbreaking reporting by Snopes this fall.  There was reporting on it as well by lead stories, really great Internet sleuths, now that Facebook has announced the discovery and removal of these phony accounts.

Social analysis firm Graphika has put out a report sort of tearing his scheme apart, including this, quote: Fake accounts were a major feature of this network.  The most massive collection of fake accounts in this set was concentrated in a cluster of over 80 groups and pages dedicated to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Almost all the accounts administering these assets were fakes.  These assets had strongly patriotic American names such as America Needs President Trump and Trump for America`s President and We Stand with Trump and Pence in all capital letters.  Quote, but transparency tools showed that the administrators for all of these pages were primarily based not in the United States but rather in Vietnam. 

NBC News has been following this story about the phony Facebook accounts in their links to foreign countries and their links to the pro-Trump conspiracy website, Epoch Times.  NBC in this reporting building on their own early groundbreaking work about the efforts by Epoch Times in support of President Trump. 

Joining me now is Ben Collins.  He`s tech and media reporter for NBC News.  He`s been working this beat.

Ben, thank you very much for being here.  I really appreciate it.

BEN COLLINS, TECH AND MEDIA REPORTER, NBC NEWS:  Absolutely, thank you. 

MADDOW:  First of all, I feel like the more I read on this subject and the more I come to understand on this subject, I gain increasing confidence in my ability to understand the stuff myself and become frightened by it. 

COLLINS:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  I do not have a lot of confidence in my ability to explain it in a way that`s going to convey these things to other people.  It`s hard to talk about in terms of its import. 

COLLINS:  Sure, I think the most important thing to note here is that it`s creating a simulated environment in the United States where people believe things they may not necessarily believe.  This is 55 million people or some of them were not people this whole time, but 55 million Facebook accounts followed these accounts that were pulled down today.  And they were saying uniformly one thing politically. 

The people who joined in these groups they weren`t there to talk about President Trump.  They were there to look at the teeth brushing videos that you were just talking about.  But over time what they do is they built-up confidence, hey, this is reliable person, this is real American, this guy is real photo as far as I can tell.  He`s from down the street.  He says he`s from Denver or whatever. 

So, they create these identities that look American and then they shift the tide politically with just subtly over the course of time. 

MADDOW:  And the thing that is insidious about it that I didn`t understand until the wake of the research stuff in Russia was that it makes sense operationally for these online presences, these avatars, these accounts, to build up in a non-political context.  And it can be, you know, that it is helpful hints for whitening your ogre teeth or how to tie your shoes faster or I love motorcycle or I love Texas or I sure hate the police.  You pick anything, any cause that might attract Americans, any stripe of Americans and you build up their interest and their following because you get them to trust you and then you become operational in the way that`s designed to influence the election after you`ve got them on the hook. 

COLLINS:  Right, I think it was important work by Snopes. It is important work by everybody who cover this stuff to get this now, to narrow this down now, because we don`t know what it would have looked like in a year.  They had already been banned from buying ads on Facebook.  They were the largest buyer of pro-Trump ads before this.  They got caught manipulating the platform. 

MADDOW:  But, wait, so, slow down for a second.

COLLINS:  Yes.

MADDOW:  So, when you reported on this in August, the largest online purchaser of pro-Trump ads was the Trump campaign.  The second largest purchaser of pro-Trump ads was Epoch Times when you got them shut down. 

COLLINS:  That`s correct.  Yes. 

MADDOW:  And now they`re back. 

COLLINS:  Yes, and now they`re back.  And, by the way, they weren`t shut down for their messages.  This is the thing that Facebook really wants to say over and over again.  This stuff was found in the data.  It was very easy for them to find these fake identities because they looked so weird over time.  And they all worked in packets, right?  They all worked in groups together. 

So, it wasn`t about the packets.  It`s about they were creating fake people over and over again and said, hey, we`re real people, we swear to god and also, we`re going to buy some ads.  So, this is the second time they pulled this off.  This is the larger time like just in sheer numbers.  I guess the most important thing is we don`t know if it`s still happening. 

This takes a lot of internal work from Facebook, a lot of work from reporters saying this looks very fishy.  So, their end game has never been pulled off.  They haven`t meddled in an election in the way that they want to yet. 

MADDOW:  But they keep building the machine.

COLLINS:  But they`re trying to build the machine.

MADDOW:  Facebook is calling this part official amplification which I think is a helpful way to think about it.  It`s one thing to compete in the marketplace of ideas.  I mean, that`s what elections are about, including political advertising. 

But to be creating foreign-based robot armies that are artificially amplifying, your message is a form of information welfare.  It feels like we don`t have defense for it at all. 

Ben Collins, tech and media reporter for NBC News, the best defense we have is to understand it and you`re doing great work. 

COLLINS:  Thanks so much.

MADDOW:  Thanks a lot.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We`ve been talking tonight about all this new news there is about the battle over public opinion, over impeachment, over the 2020 election, potential worries about foreign interference, false information, fake online avatars, the whole thing. 

While we`re talking about that, one more thing worth keeping an eye on when it comes to this online battle over public opinion, in addition to the pro- Trump outlets that are churning out fake or real contents in support of the president, Republicans have been waging a very expensive and concerting advertising effort these past few months, particularly online, to try to turn people against the impeachment effort against President Trump.  And they haven`t been particularly successful.  The public opinion numbers of impeachment have been pretty stable. 

But it`s interesting.  Republicans sort of had a lot of that field to themselves.  Democrats really didn`t really to compete with them in that advertising space. 

But that will presumably change as we head towards 2020, and that`s what makes this next ad I`m about to show you so interesting.  Let me say at the outset this ad is false.  It is false.  It is giving you information that is not true. 

It was posted and promoted by a progressive activist named Adriel Hamilton.  In October Mr. Hamilton registered -- Hampton, excuse me.  Not Hamilton. 

Mr. Hampton registered as a California candidate for governor as a way to protest Facebook`s policy in which they say they will allow false political ads.  Somebody comes to them and says, hey, there`s a political ad running on Facebook that I know is based on false information.  Facebook is saying, we can`t help you, we`re not going to police the truth or falsehoods of political ads anymore. 

Now, Mr. Hampton is a registered politician, he is posting all the fake content he wants on Facebook because he can in order to make a point, right?  Facebook`s decided they`re not going to fact-check any ads as long as they`re political ads -- well, that means this guy Mr. Hampton of California can say whatever he wants. 

And that`s exactly what he`s done here with again this false ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  Deeply troubling crisis in our country.  This is crisis of confidence, of credibility and of integrity.  Our nation is indeed at a cross roads.  Will we pursue the search for truth, or will we dodge, weave, and evade the truth? 

I`m of course referring to the investigation and serious allegations of illegal conduct by the president of the United States. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You see the hashtag there.  #Thankmitchforimpeachment.  That ad goes on for another minute or so. 

The implication of the ad is false, right?  This is thank Mitch McConnell for supporting the impeachment of President Trump.  Mitch McConnell is not supporting the impeachment of President Trump, but the ad is pretty convincing in terms of the way it makes it seem he might be. 

Now, again, this ad is being run by a California activist to make a point you can run totally false political ads on Facebook.  And I don`t think we`re going to see Democrats use this strategy more widely, but it is technically a free-for-all at this point as long as that is Facebook`s approach.  And this is really weird new twist on what it means to fight partisan messaging on both sides particularly in this political climate. 

Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As I mentioned at the top of the show tonight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today, two days after impeachment officially invited President Trump to deliver his State of the Union Address on February 4th, which is two days after Super Bowl Sunday and one day after the Iowa caucuses.  Her letter invited the president, quote, in the spirit of respecting our Constitution. 

Today, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone expected to lead the president`s defense at his impeachment trial in the Senate. He was up on Capitol Hill.  He was seen meeting with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.  He also did a walk through on the Senate floor, trying to see what the courtroom is going to be like? 

At the same time, CNN reports that Democrats are privately preparing for a trial that may start as soon as January 6th, the week of January 6th.  CNN also reports that staffers for the key House committees in the impeachment are already working to prepare over the holiday break.  Prior to handing over the impeachment articles to the Senate, whatever that happens, Speaker Pelosi will also be mulling which of her member, which Democratic members of the House will serve as impeachment managers in that trial in the Senate. 

Among those who are reportedly under consideration is New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney who joins us here in the studio. 

Sir, thank you so much for making time. 

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY):  Good to see you.

MADDOW:  Can you give us any news what`s happening in terms of the process, the handing over the articles, the choice of impeachment managers, all of that? 

MALONEY:  No. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  I know you wouldn`t.

MALONEY:  If I ever wanted to be one, that would probably be a great way to not be.  Now, look, the speaker is very much in control of this process and she should be.  She`s done an outstanding job to date in leading this inquiry and staffing it.  She doesn`t need any help from me. 

I can tell you that I`m very proud of the work that the two committees have done, Intel and Judiciary.  Very proud of my colleagues on the house floor, particularly some of the very new members who are in tough districts who stood up for what`s right.  It was a historic week, and it was because of the hard work and dedication can principled decision making of really good public servants starting with our witness and the whistleblower, patriots and military officers who came forward, but also people in public office who still know right from wrong. 

MADDOW:  Because you were also on the Intelligence Committee, I wanted to ask you about something I sort of asked openly at the top of the show and have been talking about ever since which is the question of foreign interference in the election.  Obviously, there was a question of Russia in 2016 and the president`s attitude towards that.  He was just impeached for not just inviting but trying to extort another country into intervening on his behalf in 2020. 

And the argument a lot of your colleagues made about why we needed to act so quickly, why it wasn`t appropriate to just let the voters decide and pass judgment in 2020 is that what he got caught for doing with Ukraine was messing with that election, was undercutting the fairness of that election, corrupting it in effect.  Well, now, he`s impeached, it doesn`t seem like the risk of a corrupted 2020 election.  Is it all lessened by his impeachment? 

And maybe I`m just being cynical or sort of shortsighted about that, but do you feel that risk is any less or affected by he`s being impeached for what he did? 

MALONEY:  Well, I guess two points.  The first one is that sunshine is the best disinfectant.  And so, revealing did course of conduct did explode whatever scheme in Ukraine.  I think that`s fair to say. 

MADDOW:  That`s fair. 

MALONEY:  But be fact is there`s a whole other side to the United States government.  And I`m privileged to work with these folks in my role in the Intel Committee.  And they are very dedicated to their jobs.  I`m talking about people at the National Security Agency, CIA and others.  They take the threat of foreign interference in our elections very seriously. 

And so, I want people out there to know there are dedicated people working in the government who still know who the good guys are and bad guys are.  You hear a lot of flippant and dangerous stuff from the White House, of course, and that should concern all of us.  And we need to watch it like a hawk, but there are real professionals in our agencies who care about these things. 

MADDOW:  So, what I was talking about in terms of his sort of online surprisingly massive online operations that are foreign-based, that in some cases are using fake identities to push pro-Trump content or seems to be sort of insinuating themselves into large numbers of American followers in what looks like non-political content but starting to become pro-Russian, anti-U.S., they`re testing political messages.  I feel like every time I learn about that stuff is because enterprising reporters and internet safety researchers are shaking the bars and trying to make the companies do something about it, trying to make Twitter respond, trying to make Facebook respond. 

I feel like I never hear about the government not shutting down but the government taking action or bringing charges or doing anything else that might head that stuff off. 

MALONEY:  You make a terrific point, and what I can tell you is that I`m a lot more worried about what Facebook than I am about what`s going on at the national security agencies.  In other words, I have great confidence in the professionals who are dedicated to protecting our country in the government, maybe not in the White House but in the agencies.  I have no confidence that Facebook has any compass for what`s right and wrong here. 

I think they have talked themselves into this nonsense about protecting the First Amendment when they`re making money off of that business model, when they literally profit from viral nature of this click bait crap that is going to destroy anybody`s ability to know what`s real and what`s not and to just shoo any responsibility and to act like some global company that`s above it all when in fact they like the rest of us depend on our system of freedom and rule of law and accountability for their success and for their long term well being. 

And they should act like Americans once in a while or just be responsible, how about that?  And I do think -- I do think they should fix it and the industry should get its act together before a bunch of politician whose don`t understand the Internet, don`t understand technology, who are going to do it wrong, I mean the best thing to happen would be a code of conduct where they at a minimum throttle fake contents. 

And I don`t mean to go on and on about this but it`s really important because we`re about to be inundated by deep fake videos that nobody`s ever really encountered before.  There`s only something new in all of human history that you can watch something live and it will be totally synthetic, it will be fake.  We as human beings, I think we`ll have a lot of trouble processing that and distinguishing what`s real and what`s not.

And so, we`ve got to educate our people about that.  We`ve got to be proactive about identifying that kind of malicious content.  The companies have to throttle before it spreads and we need to have a partnership on this, and that is what concerns me most about going into the next election. 

MADDOW:  New York congressman and Intelligence Committee member, Sean Patrick Maloney -- sir, it`s great to have you here.  Thanks a lot.

MALONEY:  Good to be with you.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It`s Friday, it`s a holiday season, there`s snow in the yard.  I ate lots of delicious homemade cookies today and no other food at all, which is fine.  But my favorite thing about today still to come it`s an old-fashioned black and white, and it is the best new thing in the world.  That`s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Best new thing in the world, "The Queen`s Daily Eagle" is a daily newspaper covering the New York City borough of Queens.  And today, "The Queens Daily Eagle" is the best exemplar I have ever seen how all news is local because on the front page of "The Queens Daily Eagle" today, it`s like oh, five more Queens subway stations will become wheelchair accessible and turns out there was a pipe failure there not cooking grease that caused.

But we also get their main headline on what amounts to a national news story, which is here -- can we see this here if I put it up like this?  See that?  Queens man impeached. 

(LAUGHTER)

Quote: former Jamaica Estates resident Donald Trump was impeached Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives.  He`s the third president to be impeached in United States history, dash, and the first from Queens. 

And the president`s impeachment did not make the first page of his hometown paper.  It did not even make the first 15 pages.  It is tucked into the bottom of page 16 below two other articles about the New York City subway.  Hey, look, the station at Estoria Boulevard is back open, neat.  Below that, Queens man impeached.

So, subscribe to your local paper.  Do it right now.  You will get news that looks different from anywhere else even when everybody has to cover the impeachment.  Local reporters know their beat, right?  They know their constituents.  The best new thing in the world. 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again on Monday. 

Now, it`s time for "The Last Word" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.

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