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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 10, 2020

Guest: Peter Strzok


One-on-one with former FBI official, Peter Strzok.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

I know that it is not 2016 right now. I know that because, well, there's COVID, for example, and there's tens of millions of Americans unemployed. Over 800,000 Americans applied for unemployment again this week, which beats the worst record set back during the Great Recession.

But the economy is such a disaster right now that even that astonishing, record-breaking number for unemployment claims this week is seen as relative good news right now because we had more than 20 straight weeks of more than a million people claiming for unemployment per week.

So I know it's not 2016. We all know it's not 2016, in part because the economy is a catastrophe, which was not true in 2016. And now schools can't open, and also, like, there's not enough N95 masks.

Part of the reason I know this isn't 2016 is that in 2016, I didn't know what an N95 mask was. Like most Americans, I didn't need to know that.

So I know it's not 2016. But if you go by the news today, it kind of feels like it is. I mean, specifically, it kind of feels like the run-up to the 2016 presidential election and what went wrong in that election in terms of a foreign adversary trying to rig our presidential election for one particular candidate.

Today's news makes it feel like 2016 all over again, but worse.

Today, the U.S. Treasury announced sanctions against three Russians and a pro-Russian Ukrainian member of parliament for interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

The president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has been meeting with this pro-Russian Ukrainian guy. He's actually been making pro-Trump TV segments with him on a pro-Trump American TV network.

Mr. Giuliani has been funneling information from this guy to pro-Trump media figures in the United States and also to Republicans in the House and in the Senate.

Public warnings from a career counterintelligence chief at the office of the director of national intelligence about this guy apparently didn't make a dent in any of that, either for Republicans in Congress or for Mr. Giuliani. But now, today, the treasury has actually sanctioned that guy along with three Russian officials, spelling out clearly who he is and what he's doing.

Quote, Andriy Derkach has been an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian intelligence services. He has directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election. That's the Treasury sanctioning him today.

And, again, here's the president's lawyer, who Trump reportedly said he wanted to put on the U.S. Supreme Court. Here's the president's lawyer meeting with that Russian agent who is working for the Russian government to try to interfere in the U.S. election, meeting with him repeatedly.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, just a few weeks ago you'll remember according to the Senate Intel, in 2016, it was the president's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was working closely in that election with a Russian intelligence officer while Russia messed with that election to try to get Donald Trump into the White House in the first place.

Now four years later in 2020, it's not his campaign chairman as far as we know. It's his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, again, working closely with an active Russian agent while Russia is again messing with our election, this time to try to keep Trump in the White House.

And it's not -- it's not just that Russia wants to do this or that Russia wants to do this again. It's that, boy, do they seem to get a lot of help from those closest to this president whenever they try it.

And there's more. This from "The Wall Street Journal" today. Russian hackers have targeted 200 groups tied to U.S. election, Microsoft says. Quote, the Russian actor tracked by Microsoft is affiliated with a military intelligence unit and is the same group that hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential contest.

In addition to political consultants and state and national parties, its recent targets have included advocacy organizations and think tanks. Russia's tactics have evolved since 2016 to include new reconnaissance tools and methods to cloak its operations according to Microsoft while the hackers four years ago primarily relied on spear phishing, an attack that involves posing as another person to trick an email recipient into clicking into a malicious link to login credentials. They've more recently deployed so-called brute force attacks and password sprays, which target a wider net of people with automated attempts to essentially guess passwords. That's in "The Wall Street Journal" today.

"The Washington Post" in their reporting on this also highlights the fact that Microsoft detected these attacks from China and Iran, as well as from Russia. But, quote, according to current and former intelligence officials and industry analysts, Russia is the adversary with the intent and capability to cause the most significant potential disruption to the election, a possibility that Trump, whom Russia sought to help in 2016, has consistently downplayed.

Microsoft says it took time for the firm to tie this activity to Russia because the Russian hackers have become savvier, this time running their operations through more than a thousand different IP addresses to hide their tracks. The Russian hackers tried to compromise the email accounts of the staff at a consulting firm, which works with Joe Biden and other prominent Democrats, but they were not successful, according to new reporting from "Reuters".

Here's "The New York Times." The Russian military intelligence unit that attacked the DNC four years ago is back with a series of new, more stealthy hacks aimed at campaign staff members, consultants and think tanks associated with both Democrats and Republicans. The findings come one day after a government whistle-blower claimed that officials at the White House and the Department of Homeland Security suppressed intelligence concerning Russia's continuing election interference because it, quote, made the president look bad. They instructed government analysts to instead focus on interference by China and Iran.

This is really interesting. Microsoft did find that Chinese and Iranian hackers have been active, but often not in the way President Trump and his aides have suggested. An assessment released by the administration last month said China preferred that Biden win the 2020 election. The Microsoft report complicates that finding because it found that Chinese hackers have attacked the private email accounts of Biden's campaign staff members.

The Microsoft investigation also concluded that hackers related to Russia's GRU, Russian military intelligence, the unit that oversaw the hack and leak efforts in 2016 that made Clinton campaign emails public, were going to new lengths to hide their tracks. They are routing some of their attacks through Tor, a service that conceals the attackers' whereabouts and identity, which has slowed the effort to identify the hackers.

So far, Microsoft says they found no evidence that the hacking efforts this year have been successful, but they noted that they do have limited vision into Russia's overall operations. They cannot say definitively that no materials were stolen or what Russia's motivations may be. That, they said, was the role of U.S. intelligence officials. The role of U.S. intelligence officials.

So here we go again, right? Except this time we're not blindsided, right? This time, we know what this is and what they're doing and why. I mean this time we can recognize it instead of being surprised and bewildered by it the way we were when it happened for the first time.

And this time, instead of the Obama administration being in charge while this is happening, trying to get their heads around this problem, trying to marshal resources to figure out what's happening and try and combat it, this time it's not the Obama administration trying to protect us. This time, it's the Trump administration in charge while all this is happening again and apparently at a much higher pitch.

When the Russian government attacked the 2016 election to benefit Trump, you will remember four years ago that the top U.S. intelligence official at the time leading the effort to recognize and then respond to the attack was the director of Central Intelligence, John Brennan. What's happened to John Brennan since?

He has been vilified relentlessly by the president, by Republicans in Congress, and especially by the conservative media for his role in the initiation of the Russia investigation four years ago to the point where the president performatively announced he would be stripping John Brennan's security clearance. The president still regularly demands that John Brennan be locked up, that he be prosecuted for something.

The top leadership at the FBI at the time of the Russia attack in 2016, the top leadership that was there for the start of the initial investigation into what Russia was doing and the efforts to combat what Russia was doing, both the director and the deputy director who became the acting director, they have both not only been fired from their jobs at the FBI but vilified by conservative media, by Republicans in Congress, by the president in an ongoing way. The president with both of them also regularly demanding that they be locked up, that they be prosecuted, that they be jailed.

Same goes for the top FBI agent on the Russia investigation, the top counterintelligence agent at the FBI, the top FBI agent on the Russia investigation, not only fired from the FBI and publicly vilified relentlessly, but threatened regularly by the president, not just with prosecuting him and jailing him. He's been regularly threatened with execution by the president, who calls him a traitor and says, you know what we ought to do to traitors.

And the president's supporters and the Republicans in Congress and the conservative media have roared that right alongside him. And it's not just that. It's basically all of the other officials who were involved in senior leadership roles in the effort to recognize and stop this stuff from Russia when it was happening the first time four years ago in 2016, right? It was the CIA director and the FBI director and the FBI deputy director and the top counterintelligence agent at the FBI, also the FBI general counsel and the top Justice Department expert on Russian organized crime, and all the prosecutors who worked on Mueller's team denounced as angry Democrats by the president and hounded and vilified.

I mean, that's how it worked out for the people who were trying to protect the country and figure out what was going on. This time four years ago, the last time we did this in 2016, when the Russians, just like now, were working overtime to install a Trump presidency.

So it's not just that we can recognize that Russia's doing it again. It's that we have to think, well, how are we changed as a country since then? To our advantage, we know to look for it. We know what they did the last time. We're not surprised. We know what this is.

To our disadvantage, look at what this president and his supporters and particularly conservative media and elected Republicans in Congress have done to the public servants who tried to protect us the last time this happened. How is that going to affect how we deal with it this time? How is that going to affect how we are dealing with it, fighting it or not, this time?

The top counterintelligence agent at the FBI at the time of the first Russian attack, the one who was vilified and fired after the president demanded it, who the president has said he wants executed for treason, he grapples directly with this unsettling question in his new book.

Here's what he says. He says, quote: Every FBI agent and analyst I know is steadfastly dedicated to protecting and defending the Constitution and the United States, yet Trump has repeatedly brought his weight to bear against efforts of the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community to combat malign foreign influence on our upcoming elections. Since he first called for Russia to weaponize Hillary Clinton's stolen emails in the run-up to the 2016 election, he has continued in public and in private to solicit foreign interference in the most sacred mechanism of our democracy.

With Congress demonstrating daily that it has no appetite to address the threat and the president lying brazenly about those of us who handled the last investigation, ask yourself this question. And do so.

Take this to heart. Ask yourself this question. If you were an FBI agent today, would you be looking to stick your neck out to show that Russia aims to repeat in 2020 what they did in 2016, once again with Trump's explicit encouragement? Peter Strzok says, quote, I know that despite the fear, agents and analysts are nonetheless pursuing the truth, and I have nothing but the highest respect for their professionalism and courage. But I can only imagine how different their work might be in a different environment.

That's from Peter Strzok's new book, which is called "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

And I know -- I warned you this was coming a couple weeks ago. I know that I have talked about a bunch of books on the show recently, which is otherwise kind of not like me. The reason that we've talked about a bunch of books in the last few weeks on this show is honestly because everybody who has something that they think the public needs to know about this president before the election, everybody is basically getting it all off their chest at the same time. And so we have had this spree of really important books.

And so, yes, here on this show, I've talked with the president's niece, Mary Trump, with all that she had to share with what she knows about the president and his upbringing and his values.

Also, we've hosted the first lady's former best friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who was witness to what appears to have been the snorfling up of tens of millions of dollars out of the president's inaugural. She helped run the president's inaugural.

We've also talked in recent days with "New York Times" reporter Mike Schmidt, whose book drops the bombshell that Trump appointees may have succeeded in spiking altogether any counterintelligence investigation of the president's ties to Russia. We will talk more about that tonight.

Just two nights ago, I spoke with the president's former lawyer and fixer, who told us among other things that the president told him that the more than $50 million Trump made on an otherwise inexplicable Palm Beach real estate deal during the Obama administration, Trump told his attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, that he believed the 50 million plus dollars he made on that deal was a payment to him, Donald Trump, from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A lot of people have a lot to say right now, but this is the book that I have been waiting for. This is what I have been waiting for. Let me -- let me give you a little more here.

Quote: Early in 2017, shortly after the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, the top leadership of the FBI's counterintelligence division filed into a small room on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover building. A weak mid winter light shown through the wide plate glass windows overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. The room, tucked away off a corner of the bureau's counterintelligence front office, was reserved for high-level briefings and especially sensitive debates, meetings like the one that was about to start.

I took a seat opposite the door, facing a long whiteboard about eight feet wide and four feet wide. Across the broad surface, names were carefully written in erasable marker. At the top I read the initials "DJT" written in small blue letters. Below that were names familiar to all of us in the room.

All the names on the whiteboard belonged to people inside the Trump administration or connected to it. All had something in common. We had received credible counterintelligence allegations against each individual. We had already opened investigations into some of them.

On that day, we grappled with an especially troubling question, one that none of us could have anticipated in our wildest imaginations, whether to open a counterintelligence case against the president himself.

Over the course of the previous year's presidential campaign and in the aftermath of the 2016 election, concerns within the FBI's counterintelligence division about Trump and his advisers had grown steadily into outright alarm. In late December 2016, the director of national intelligence published a report confirming intel we'd been receiving throughout the campaign, that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government were interfering with our electoral system to undermine faith in the election, to hurt Hillary Clinton's prospects, and to help Trump get elected.

Those of us gathered in the room at FBI headquarters that day also knew that the Russians had pulled some of their punches. We had credible intelligence that Russia possessed the means to have done even more damage to our electoral system in 2016, but they held back. The knowledge they had something in reserve to use against us in the run-up to our next presidential election in 2020 only made the atmosphere in the small conference room that much tenser.

For many months before this moment, I'd also been immersed in another politically delicate case. Since August 2015, I had supervised the FBI investigation into whether Clinton had mishandled classified email during her tenure as secretary of state. Toward the end of that investigation, which culminated in a weekend interview with Secretary Clinton just before July 4th, 2016, I sat with a core group of our team to review our findings.

One by one I asked each member if he or she thought there were any remaining investigative threads that might change our fundamental understanding of the case. And then I asked them one by one whether they were comfortable with the decision not to recommend criminal charges. The answer was unanimous and unequivocal. We had done a complete and exhaustive investigation and the facts did not support bringing charges over the email.

But Trump was a totally different matter. By the time Trump was sworn in, the FBI had been investigating Russian election interference for almost six months, and what the bureau knew about the cases was far different from what the public did. The public knew that the FBI had investigated Clinton, but even within the bureau, very few people were aware of our investigations into Russian interference. And if the American people had known what we did at the time of the election, they would have been appalled.

And, of course, we the public didn't know at the time before the 2016 election because the FBI kept the investigation completely secret from the public, even from most people in the bureau, even as they kept making the comparatively small potatoes and ultimately bupkis Clinton email investigation front-page news.

Peter Strzok concedes in this remarkable new book that in so doing, it was not just the Russians but also the FBI that pushed the needle toward Trump winning in the 2016 election. He notes that with great regret. He also, from a unique perspective, laments the incredible firepower that was brought to bear on the Clinton email investigation in terms of the size of that investigation and the resources devoted to it, while simultaneously this huge, consequential national security disaster was unfolding around the other campaign.

And we get some remarkable and new details on that. For example, the fact that the Trump campaign chairman really was in frequent and close contact with somebody now identified as a Russian intelligence officer throughout his time running the Trump campaign.

This is something that I have followed closely. Peter Strzok gives us information on this that we did not have before. This is from page 128 of the book. Just kind of tells you why somebody like me has been excited to see this book.

Quote: As we made our way back to the embassy, my partner and I had no way of knowing that at almost precisely the same moment, 3,500 miles across the Atlantic, two Trump campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, were on their way to the Grand Havana Room, a lounge at the top of a Manhattan building owned at the time by Kushner properties, to deliver detailed campaign polling data. The recipient of that detailed campaign polling data was a man named Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian associate of Paul Manafort's with links to Russian intelligence services, who had just flown into the U.S. from Ukraine days after returning from Moscow.

There are few, if any, innocuous reasons for Kilimnik's interest in that polling data. It is far too detailed to serve as a simple display of the strength of the campaign. But it would provide a boon to someone who wanted to know where key voting blocs were, where winning over voters would provide the strongest benefit in the race for Electoral College delegates, someone like Russian government intelligence officers who were beginning to place advertisements and targeted posts in U.S. social media.

Knowing where to aim their efforts, knowing the issues most likely to appeal to swing voters would allow them to influence the outcome of our election, shaping it to Russia's advantage.

Oh, so that's what the Trump campaign was secretly giving to a Russian intelligence officer in 2016 and lying about it.

Peter Strzok is a lightning rod. He wrote personal text messages during the 2016 campaign that were leaked to the press while he was still serving at the FBI, text messages in which he expressed negative views about Donald Trump and disgust at the prospect of Trump winning the presidency.

To be complete about it, though, I think it's fair to note that Peter Strzok's texts also said things like -- I'm not going to swear here, but I'm going to reference some swear words here just so you know. He said things in his text messages in addition to things that he said about Donald Trump.

He said, quote, "F" the cheating mother F-ing Russians. Bastards. I hate them. I think they're the worst F-ing, conniving, cheating savages. On statecraft, athletics, you name it. I'm glad I'm on team USA.

Fair enough. Some of Peter Strzok's personal texts, which were somehow miraculously made public in the middle of everybody starting to get indicted in the Russia investigations, some of his texts were very critical of then presidential candidate Donald Trump. I should tell you, though, that his texts are also critical and profane and snarky toward Hillary Clinton and toward Bernie Sanders and toward then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former Attorney General Eric Holder and lots of other people besides, not to mention his swearing repeated tirades against the cheating mother F-ing Russians.

I'll tell you if you're looking for signs of his bias and how that might have infected what he did, the only active political figure he expresses any positive feelings about appears to be John Kasich. So Kasich, he seems to like Kasich, OK? What does that do for you?

The inspector general found that his personal views didn't affect any of his work. But for his troubles and along with everybody else at the highest levels who fought the initial fight against what the Russians did to help install Trump as president four years ago, Peter Strzok, army artillery officer who served in the 101st Airborne, 22-year FBI veteran, chief counterintelligence agent in the United States, Pete Strzok is the one who has been drummed out of public service and vilified by the right and the president as if he was leading some sort of anti-Trump cabal.

And that's always been nonsense, but boy does he know what actually happened the last time the Russians did this to us in 2016. And per this book, per "Compromised," this new book that is just out from him, he says the bottom line is twofold. Number one, yes, he says -- and this is why the book is called "Compromised." he says, yes, the current president of the United States is compromised by Russia.

Strzok makes the case over the 400 pages of this book that Russia has leverage over him that causes him to act in Russia's interests and against our own country's interests, number one.

Number two, Russia is back doing it again to reinstall him as president. And today's headlines prove that. But his point about bringing it up is that we need to be better at fighting it this time since last time we blew it. Peter Strzok joins us live next.

I think you are going to want to see this. I've honestly been looking forward to this for months.


MADDOW: Joining us now for an interview, I have been looking forward to literally for months, is Peter Strzok. He spent decades as an FBI counterintelligence officer. He rose to the top of the FBI's counterintelligence division. His new book is called "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

Mr. Strzok, it's a real honor to have you. Thank you so much for being here. I know you could -- you could be anywhere to talk about this. I appreciate you being here.

PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI OFFICIAL: Rachel, thanks so much for having me.

MADDOW: So, I've talked a lot about you. I've never had the chance to talk to you before.

I see part of what's important about your story is that you were in a very, very key leadership role at the initial outset of the Russia investigation. And when I look back at that time, I see you and I see almost all the other people who were in senior leadership roles at the outside of that investigation fired, vilified, attacked, threatened with prosecution.

Do you see it that way? Do you feel like you are in a rarified and unfortunate group that has all been targeted by the president?

STRZOK: It seems that way. I sure do.

I mean, I look around at the magnificent group of folks that we had working that at the street level, all the way up through those of us who were managing it, but certainly at the top of the organization, it's -- it is not a coincidence that so many people were either fired or reassigned and resigned.

But it's is remarkable that to a person, everybody who was there at the time is now gone

MADDOW: Do you think that that materially affects or should affect our expectation as citizens as to what the FBI and what the intelligence community is going to be able to do or going to feel strong and brave enough to do as Russia attacks our election again, seemingly with the same goal in mind?

Are you worry that the example of you and your colleagues who have been run out on a rail is going to cow our law enforcement and intelligence agencies into fighting back this time?

STRZOK: Now, look, I think the FBI employees that I know, the women and men of the FBI, they're fearless and they're strong. And they're going to go out there day in and day out and do their job to get to the bottom of what's going on, be that intelligence, crime, whatever case they may have in front of them.

Having said that, there's no way that in this political environment, looking at what happened to those of us who work on cases before, looking at the same, instead of coming out right now from the attorney general, that all these cases had no basis in fact, were not merited, represented in an unprecedented attack in the presidency, things that are apparently and obviously wrong. There's no way that can have a chilling impact on the people who are working beneath that man.

So, I think the bureau is holding. I think that it's fearsome independence is serving it well. I think that the regulations and adherence to the rule of law are critical at this moment. But I'm deeply concerned of what's going to happen with another four years of a Trump presidency.

MADDOW: Because you mentioned William (AUDIO GAP) not a focus of the book but caught my eye, which is the prospect that then-attorney general, Jeff Sessions, the man who held the job then that Bill Barr holds now, might have committed forgery during his Senate confirmation hearings, lying about his own contacts and the Trump campaign with Russian officials.

And the implication, or at least the worry, there is that while perjury -- a perjury investigation, actually perjury charges might have been warranted against the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, essentially even, you know, in 2016, 2017, before we got to the Bill Barr era, the Justice Department might not be capable of making that kind of a judgment, of pursuing that kind of a case against somebody at the top of its own department.

STRZOK: That certainly was as concern.

And, you know, to his credit, Attorney General Sessions recused himself in the investigations.

But you have to frame -- you have to put yourselves in our position at the time.

We had a president coming in who we had concerns about his connections to the government of Russia. We had a national security adviser that we were concerned about his connections of government of Russia. We had a senior foreign policy we had concerns about his connections to the government of Russia.

A campaign manager, a deputy campaign manager, all these folks who were sitting there with contacts with the government of Russia that not only were concerning but then as we began to confront them, one after another all began to lie or otherwise not tell us the truth about them.

So, in that context, the attorney general's lack -- or failure to tell the truth during his confirmation hearing about his contacts with Russia were deeply concerning when you look at it across this sort of tableau of activity.

MADDOW: If it turns out that Attorney General William Barr is doing something in cahoots with the president that's improper, that is -- and I'm speaking absolutely hypothetically here. But something that is, you know, designed to soften America as a target for foreign interference or otherwise obscure what law enforcement and intelligence officials know what's going on in order to allow those things to benefit the president's campaign, do you have faith that our government as it stands right now could correct for that? Could hold the attorney general to account for that, could potentially investigate him or pursue him for those things if he did put himself on the wrong side of the law?

STRZOK: Well, look, I don't know what he is or isn't doing with the White House. I think it's fair and accurate to say that he's engaged in a series of behavior that are deeply politicizing the Department of Justice, both the things that are going on right now, as well as seeking to unwind the prosecutions of General Flynn, the sentencing of Roger Stone and others.

I know that there are principled men and women within the Department of Justice and within the FBI who wouldn't tolerate an improper sort of influence like that. That if push came to shove, that there are lines within all those people that they would not allowed to be crossed, and I'm confident that they would speak out rather than submit to that sort of grave, grave, improper sort of action.

MADDOW: I am heartened by your -- I am heartened and amazed by your optimism given what you have gone through. I mean, it's faith. And the people who are your former colleagues in FBI in part, and I know that's hard earned.

Let me ask you about the central thesis of "Compromised". The book is called "Compromised."

You say -- you state bluntly that you think it's a fair assumption that President Trump has been compromised, is compromised by the government of Russia. You describe it as basically the most logical explanation for his actions and his policies toward Russia, which clearly run counter to the national interests.

I think it is still -- with everything that we've been through, I think it's still striking for the American public to hear from somebody who knows what you know, that you think Russia is exerting continual leverage over him.

Do you see it most likely as financial leverage? Is it -- are these unknown sources of leverage or these things that are known but classified and you can't discuss them?

STRZOK: I think it's probably financial in nature. I recruited spies and supervised counterintelligence investigations or for over 20 years. And what makes somebody decide to work for you and what you can use to get them to work for you varies.

On the one end, the most severe, a sort of Manchurian candidate or somebody like Albert James or Robert Hansen, somebody who knows that they're working for a foreign intelligence service, who's doing all the sort of formal things you do at a spy handling relationship, it's really bad but it's really rare. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who have no idea that they're actually working for either the United States or for a foreign government.

I think Trump falls in the middle. And when I say that, I think that the places that he has exposure, the places where somebody like Russia can place leverage over him, some of those examples, many are classified still, but some have become public and some of those things point to exactly the sort of financial coercion, things like his lies frankly on the campaign trail in '16 that he had no financial relationship with Russia, that clearly isn't the truth, clearly at the same time we now know that Michael Cohen was pursuing a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow.

The minute Trump says that he has no dealings with Russia, to all the American public, he knows he's lying. Vladimir Putin knows he's lying.

And so, to maintain that lie, to prevent being embarrassed, that gives Russia or anybody else that knows that lie, leverage over Trump. And when I think if you look at all the ways that Trump is fighting tooth and nail to avoid all kinds of his financial entanglements and the details of that from becoming public, it's clear that there's material in there that he doesn't want known.

So, if you're a foreign intel service, somebody like Russia, who can use all the elements of spy craft, intercepting emails, phone calls, placing assets in Trump's orbit, to get that information he's trying to get hidden, that gives you enormous leverage over him. And I think that is -- is the nature of the things that have compromised him.

MADDOW: I have basically infinite questions to ask you on this subject. If you could just hold on for us in just one moment, we're going to take a quick break here.

We'll be right back from my guest. He's former top FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok. His new book is called "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

We'll be right back.


MADDOW: We are back with Peter Strzok.

He spent decades as an FBI counterintelligence expert, before being forced out and vilified by the Trump administration. His new book is called "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

Again, Mr. Strzok, thank you very much for being here.

You were talking a moment ago about financial leverage over the president and your concerns that the president might be subject to ongoing coercion by Russia because of financial ties.

There's this remarkable spread on page 270-271 of the book, which I have marked up to the point that it's illegible now, about...


MADDOW: ... the hiring that you helped the Mueller team do, setting up FBI resources to work with the Mueller investigation, including forensic accountants and people who had ex -- who were experts in tracking transnational organized crime with -- of Russian oligarchs and accountants who are great at taking registration documents from offshore shell companies and following the thread of the flow of illicit money.

There has been recent reporting from Michael Schmidt at "The New York Times" in particular that that follow-the-money counterintelligence investigation about the president's ties to Russia didn't happen, that how -- whatever you set up there didn't come to fruition, and that investigation was never followed.

Does that reporting comport with your understanding?

STRZOK: It does in -- to some extent.

I don't know what happened after I left, after I returned to the FBI. What I do know at the time was that special counsel Mueller was not going to do a counterintelligence look.

The special counsel regs, his appointment orders, the way that we structured, he structured the teams were very much focused on criminal violations of particular individuals, attorneys, with agents and all kinds of analysts and forensic experts working on that.

There was always, having said that, an understanding that we needed to do a broader counterintelligence look. And Director Mueller, speaking with him, speaking with the senior team, as well as back at the FBI with acting Director McCabe, we all had agreed that the FBI personnel on his team that I was leading, that we would do that counterintelligence look, which would include that into the president.

Now, that's a really, really difficult thing to do. And I was struggling up until the day I left to try and figure out how to do it, because, if you think about it, that's a massive undertaking.

The Senate Intel report was almost 1,000 pages. And to do something that broad, not only for Trump, but the entirety of the campaign and what we were looking at, I mean, that's probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest counterintelligence investigations in the FBI's history.

So, that may be going on now. It may be at the FBI, with the full resources of the U.S. intelligence community, and nobody's heard from it, which is good, because people shouldn't have heard about it.

But what I worry about is that, given the way that Trump has responded to all these attempts to get information, particularly about his finances, that had people begun to try to do that, we would have heard about it publicly, because he would have fought, screaming and kicking, to prevent that from happening.

So, my deep concern is that it didn't happen, that, somehow, at -- the FBI assumed that folks on the Mueller team were doing it, Director Mueller thought that these leads were getting sent back to the FBI, and that somehow that constituted the C.I. work, and that this robust look of the nature that the SSCI did didn't happen.

But I don't know that. It might well be going on. But I would have expected to hear more about it if that were the case.

MADDOW: You mentioned the Senate Intelligence report, which, as you said, is almost 1,000 pages.

The very end of that report, you get complaints from Democratic senators, including Ron Wyden, that that was not a follow-the-money investigation, that, for all the things they looked into, they didn't do the nitty-gritty of that financial trail.

And I share your suspicion, or your worry, at least, that it may be that nobody has ever done it.

One of the things that Intelligence Committee report did say bluntly, though, is that the Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was regularly communicating with a guy who was a Russian intelligence officer, this guy Konstantin Kilimnik, and giving him detailed internal campaign documents.

Did Manafort know that Kilimnik was a Russian intelligence officer when he was giving him all of this internal stuff from the Trump Organization, all this strategically sensitive stuff?

STRZOK: I -- whether he knew or not, he is a savvy enough man, having traveled the world and in the circles that he frequented, he darn well knew somehow that that information could make its way to the Russian intelligence services.

And that's a really interesting point. I don't -- at the time, my understanding of Kilimnik was very much in alignment with how the Mueller report describes him.

SSCI went further. I mean, they called him an intelligence officer. And that's a much more certain description. I don't know what caused that change and what additional intelligence might have come to light.

But I would note, that report was signed off by every single Republican on the committee. It's a bipartisan report. So, my sense is, if there were any doubt about Kilimnik's affiliation, that would have been something that the Republicans would have dug in on and said, no, we need to dial back that description.

MADDOW: My guest is Peter Strzok, former counterintelligence agent from the FBI. His new book is called "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

I'm not going to let you go yet, if you don't mind sticking with us for one more segment.


MADDOW: We will be right back.


MADDOW: We are joined once again by Peter Strzok, former top FBI counterintelligence agent, and now the author of "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

Mr. Strzok, I want to ask you a little bit about Michael Flynn.

At the end of this month, on September 29, the date of the first presidential debate, a court in Washington is going to hear arguments from the Justice Department as to why they want to drop their charges against Flynn. And this has been very hard-fought.

But what he pled guilty to was lying to you about his contacts with the Russian government.

And one of the things that you lay out in the book that I find eye-opening, but also mystifying, is that he had been the head of the DIA. He'd been the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He must have known that the Russian ambassador's calls would be monitored, and that you would know what was actually said on those calls.

And yet he repeatedly lied to you about what he said on those calls. Do you think that he was lying knowingly to cover up for somebody else? Do you know why he was lying? Do you have any insight into what happened there, given how weirdly this has gone in the months since?

STRZOK: Well, that's the key question that we had.

It wasn't so much why General Flynn wasn't telling us the truth. It was whether or not he was doing that because of somebody, particularly the president, having told him or directed him to do that.

We now know that, prior to our being -- prior to our interview with him, he'd spoken to the president, who told him to kill the story that was in "The Washington Post," a David Ignatius column, talking about these conversations.

He had had a conversation with his deputy, K.T. McFarland, about them. So, this wasn't a surprise when we walked in.

I can't explain why he didn't tell us the truth. And, obviously, he pled guilty to not one, but two different judges, orally and in writing.

And so I don't understand why now the Department of Justice is seeking to withdraw this plea. I'm glad that the court is going to get to the bottom of it, to get an explanation of what's going on with the various conflicting filings.

But our concern was always and remains not so much about General Flynn and that call, but why he did it, and specifically whether or not there were others in the White House, including, specifically, the president, who had asked him or otherwise directed or influenced him to have that conversation.

MADDOW: Because the president talked about General Flynn today, and because his case has become such a cause celeb and such a source of an anger, sort of a touch point on the right, I have to ask about what you write about in the book regarding briefing the Gang of Eight, so briefing the congressional leaders from both parties and from the Intelligence Committees in both houses, on these investigations.

You write that: "The Gang of Eight were briefed on what we were doing within hours of the decision to investigate Trump, within minutes of the appointment of the special counsel, and previously about investigations of Page, Manafort, Papadopoulos, and Flynn."

When you briefed those -- those congressional officials, did the Republicans complain? Because they have -- they have made it seem like it was an -- it was an absolute disgrace that you ever opened any of those investigations in the first place.

Did they object when you told them, when you opened them?

STRZOK: Not at all.

Look, it was the acting director, Andy McCabe, as well as the DAG, or acting A.G., Rod Rosenstein. But no one at that meeting, not Senator McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and not the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, not the chairman of the House Intel Committee, Devin Nunes, nobody objected.

Nobody said we had insufficient predication. Nobody said we should not move forward. Every question they had, they asked and was answered. And they were satisfied. Or, if they weren't, they certainly -- they certainly didn't object.

So, I would argue that, to the extent people have concerns, they first need to look at the Republican leadership of the House, and the Senate, obviously.

MADDOW: The book is "Compromised," "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump." Peter Strzok is its author.

Mr. Strzok, I am honored to have you here tonight. And I am sorry for what you have gone through. And I am moved by your faith in your colleagues, given what you have been through and the way you talk about serving this country.

Thank you for what you have done.

STRZOK: Thank you. It was great to be here.

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


MADDOW: That is going to do it for us tonight.

And that, basically, concludes this run of bombshell books that we have featured on this show over the last couple of weeks. I mean, I'm sure there will be another in the future, but we have a couple of weeks of just bombshell after bombshell in these books.

I'm grateful again to Peter Strzok for his service to the country and for him being here tonight to talk about his new book "Compromised".

All right. That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.


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