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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 4, 2020

Guests: Karen Meredith, Paul Eaton, Max Seddon


Trump's reported "loser" comments about Americans who died in war is a real political crisis for the White House and for President Trump tonight. NATO, the military alliance of 30 Western countries that President Trump likes to denigrate at every turn, said that it agreed with Germany's conclusion that there is proof beyond a doubt that Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a military grade Russian nerve agent which basically cast no doubt on who might have poisoned him. U.S. coronavirus infections at 6 million as schools and business reopens and states having outbreaks with new cases averaging 40,000 daily. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff in her new book called "Melania and Me" recalls what she says was a 70-minute phone call she says she had with the first lady about that trip to the border.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Happy Friday. Thanks so much to you at home for joining us this hour. Really happy that you're here.

I want you to look at this photo. This is remarkable. It's from 1945.

It's a group of four American G.I.s. They're in Paris. They're all on leave in Paris. You can see they're all reading the same paper, that big headline "Hitler dead."

I think this would have been on roughly May 2nd, May 1st, 1945. Hitler, of course, killed himself April 30th, 1945. The news breaking in the paper that American G.I.s are reading. It would have been a day or two later.

But this shows four U.S. G.I.s reading all about it in "Stars and Stripes."

Here's another one. This one is from not very much later. This is from May 8th, 1945, the day after the successor to a very recently dead Adolf Hitler signed the unconditional surrender of the Nazis in northeastern France.

These three U.S. soldiers in this photo are in Beckham, Germany, here. You can see the reason they're holding what looks like pots and pans, they're holding their mess kits in one hand. They've got the "Nazis quit," front page of "Stars and Stripes" in the other hand. And all three of them are wearing an ear to ear grin.

Here's another shot from three months later. Japan surrenders as well. And the even larger headline that day was "Peace." we know from the caption on this one from Getty images that the woman on the left, her name is Johnnie Dexter. The woman on the right, her name is Lucille Brennaman. And the man in the middle, the G.I. is Robert Ingraham.

Peace. Japan has surrendered. The war is over.

Here's another great one. This is 1952. The caption here says "Circa 1952, an American soldier reads the 'Stars and Stripes' newspaper while eating possibly a biscuit with jam in the field during a lull in the fighting in Korea." And you see his mess kit next to him there.

Ten years after this photo -- again, that's 1952. Ten years later, of course we have the Cuban missile crisis, right? It breaks out in mid-October, 1962. The whole world thinks the U.S. and the Soviet Union are going to have a nuclear war. It ultimately resolves on October 28th. It resolves peacefully.

And this shot is from the day after it resolved. This is from October 29th, 1962. Four G.I.s you can see there reading "The Stars and Stripes." And you see the headline, "Will dismantle bases, Khrushchev tells U.S."

Just one more. His is -- I think this is an incredible shot just as photographic -- just as a photographic record. Look at that. This is a howitzer gun crew in Vietnam. This is August 1970. Those are two American soldiers manning that howitzer. You see them bare-chested, firing that huge gun. You see the shells for the gun in the right foreground.

But next to the shells there in foreground center, again, it's "The Stars and Stripes." If you zoom in, you can see the headline says "Nixon: no forced South Vietnam coalition." "The Stars and Stripes".

"The Stars and Stripes" is the newspaper by and for American service members. It's been founded sort of three different times. It was founded and then it stopped, and then it was founded again, and then it stopped. Then it was founded again.

The first brief one was 1861 during the civil war. Union soldiers fighting under the command of Ulysses S. Grant took over a printing press that had been abandoned in Missouri by a pro-Confederate owner. They took it over and printed the very first paper that was ever called "The Stars and Stripes." "The Union, it must and shall be preserved." 1861, a short run.

Then it came back in 1918. During World War I, General John J. Pershing said he wanted a newspaper written by servicemen for servicemen. And there's great stuff about this period at "The Stars and Stripes" online. The Library of Congress has a bunch of stuff online about those early editions from a century ago, from the First World War, including you see it says "a message from our chief" there on the front with a portrait of Pershing. It says, they've got the initial message that he put on that inaugural edition from World War I.

It says: In this initial number of "The Stars and Stripes" published by the men of the overseas command, the commander in chief of the American expeditionary forces extends his greetings to the readers from the first line trenches to the base ports.

These readers are the men who have been honored by being the first contingent of Americans to fight on European soil for the honor of their country.

The paper, written by the men in the service, should speak the thoughts of the new American army and the American people from whom the army has been drawn. It is your paper. Good luck to it. Signed John J. Pershing, commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force.

That is the newspaper "The Stars and Stripes" that President Donald Trump has been trying his best to kill. "The Stars and Stripes" had those initial starts in the civil war, and then it ran in 1918 in World War I. But then they started it back up in 1942 for the far-flung American soldiers fighting World War II. And it has continued in print ever since, by service members and for service members with support from the Defense Department, going all the way back to those initial well wishes from General Pershing before we even had something called the Defense Department.

"Stars and Stripes" is editorially independent. It is occasionally ill-tempered, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's pushy. It takes the G.I.s side against the brass which sometimes annoys the brass. "Stars and Stripes has birthed the careers of some great journalists and particularly some great American political cartoonists. It is an American institution, American military institution, and an institution that means a lot to the power and practice of the First Amendment in this country and to the idea of an army, a military that comes from the American people and enjoys the rights that that military fights to defend.

And did I mention that it's got editorial independence? And so, perhaps that's the -- that's the rub. Perhaps that's the problem. But the Trump administration has been trying to kill it. They have been trying to zero out funding for it during President Trump's first term.

Congress is happy to keep funding it. Actually, bipartisan, bicameral members of Congress are happy to keep funding it. The Democratic-controlled House actually restored funding for it recently. They said they wanted to keep funding it, but the Trump administration has nevertheless been hell-bent on killing it.

News emerged this week that they not only are planning to kill "The Stars and Stripes," they were in the process of doing so this month. A memorandum from the Trump administration just made public that tells "Stars and Stripes" that they needed to submit their plan, quote, for the dissolving of "The Stars and Stripes" by a week from Tuesday, by September 15th. Included in the plan had to be their plans for vacating any and all of their office space anywhere in the world. They were orders to have the "Stars and Stripes" as an organization completely dissolved by January, and their last edition to be published at the end of this month, September 30th, 2020. Orders from the Trump administration.

The ombudsman for the "Stars and Stripes" told the "A.P." today that the Trump administration's plan to kill stars and stripes would be fatal interference and permanent censorship of a unique organization that has served U.S. troops reliably for generations. Yeah, to say the least.

But President Trump, for whatever reason, has been hell-bent on killing it off, and he's been working on it all this year. But today, less than two weeks out from that mandated kill date, he finally relented and said, oh, no. I'm going to make sure that "Stars and Stripes" stays in business.

And the president apparently finally relented on this because honestly, they are just drowning in this mire now. They can't let this keep getting worse. This last 24 hours has been the biggest political crisis for them since the start of the COVID pandemic. I mean, it may be the biggest political crisis for the president since before then.

I very rarely show clips from the Fox News Channel here as part of our own news coverage, but this is some important news from the Fox News Channel today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "The Atlantic" magazine claiming President Trump called America's fallen service members suckers and losers. The president denying that report vehemently. Top Pentagon officials are weighing in.

National security correspondent Jennifer Griffin has more on that -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: John, I've spoken with two senior U.S. officials who were on the trip to France who confirmed to me key details in "The Atlantic" article and the quote attributed to the president. My source, a former Trump administration, told me when the president spoke about the Vietnam War, he said it was a stupid war. Anyone who went was a sucker.

The president would say about American veterans, what's in it for them? They don't make any money. The source said it was a character flaw of the president. He could not understand why someone would die for their country. Not worth it.

When asked if the president could have driven to the Aisne-Marne cemetery, this former official said confidently that there was not a security reason not to drive to the cemetery, which is about 40 miles from Paris. Quote, the president drives a lot. The other world leaders drove to the cemeteries. He just didn't want to go.

Regarding the president's July 4th military parade planning, during a planning session at the White House after seeing the Bastille Day parade in 2017, President Trump said, regarding wounded guys, quote, that's not a good look. Americans don't like that.


MADDOW: That's not a good look. Americans don't like that.

To be clear, this is the Fox News Channel national security correspondent confirming the worst of this new reporting over the past 24 hours about the president's repeated denigration and scorn for Americans who serve in our military and specifically the allegation that he's expressed disgust and revulsion for wounded veterans and that he doesn't like to see them and he doesn't want them seen in public. Quote, that's not a good look. He's reported to have said.

Jeffrey Goldberg was the reporter at "The Atlantic" magazine who first published these comments from the president last night in a piece that cited multiple sources directly familiar with the president's remarks. And the White House initially seems to have thought they could brush this off with their usual bluster and saying it's all lies, it's all lies.

But within less than two hours of "The Atlantic" publishing Jeffrey Goldberg's piece, "A.P." investigative reporter and U.S. Marine Corps veteran James LaPorta was able to confirm for "The Associated Press" the entirety of "The Atlantic" story, and as he told us last night, he was able to confirm that with senior DOD sources from the U.S. Marine Corps. Beyond the confirmation from "The Associated Press", by late last night, "The Washington Post" has also confirmed the main points of the story, and then later yet, "The New York Times" today confirmed the main points of the story.

Each of those entities adding their own further detail to this very granular reporting, again, with multiple sources. So, what the White House woke up to today, along with its newly public plans to kill off the historic century-old G.I.s newspaper in this country for no reason, was reporting confirmed by multiple sources that the president has repeatedly called American service members who have been killed or captured losers and suckers. That the president has asked his staff to not include wounded veterans in military parades and events because he doesn't like to see people with injuries or amputations, and he thinks other Americans don't either.

That when he canceled a World War I centennial visit to an American veterans cemetery in France, the president reportedly told advisers, why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers.

In a separate conversation on the same trip, the president said that the 1,800 U.S. marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood were suckers because they got killed at Belleau Wood fighting for their country.

The White House today woke up to this news that the president is confirmed by multiple sources to have derided John McCain and his service as a prisoner of war, but also former President George H.W. Bush, calling him a loser for having been shot down in combat in World War II.

The president and the White House contending with news today, confirmed from multiple sources, that on Memorial Day 2017, his first year in office, he stood at the grave of the son of John Kelly, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan at age 29. The president said to him at the grave site, quote, I don't get it. What was in it for them?

And that particular anecdote about President Trump insulting General Kelly's dead son at his grave on Memorial Day, that reporting first advanced by "The Atlantic" last night has now specifically been confirmed by both "The Associated Press" and "The Washington Post." "The Post" also adding that the president, quote, frequently made disparaging comments about veterans and soldiers who were missing in action, referring to them at times as losers. "The Post" reporting that the president, quote, told advisers he didn't understand why the U.S. government placed such value on finding soldiers who were missing in action because they had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got.

"The Times" adding confirmation from multiple sources that the president, quote, long scorned those who served in Vietnam as being too dumb to have gotten out of it. And now of course tonight there's Fox News itself adding the detail, the quote that the president specifically said he did not want, quote, wounded guys in any military parade because, quote, that's not a good look. Americans don't like that.

I don't know who is going to contest if I just assert right here that that is not generally true about Americans. But it is apparently true about the president. He finds U.S. service members to be stupid for serving, losers, suckers. They deserve what they get. They don't deserve to be thought of as heroes. They don't even deserve to be looked for when they've been captured.

He doesn't want to be around them, especially if they shed blood for this country. He finds them and their injuries disgusting. He doesn't want to see it.

Since this story broke last night, I still can't believe this is real and I'm not asleep and screaming in my sleep in some nightmare. Since this broke open last night, the president and the White House have been furiously denying the initial report and all the confirming reporting, all of it. This is a legitimate political crisis for them.

And the fact that it is a political crisis for them may have saved "The Stars and Stripes" newspaper today as the president tweeted out, he's not going to kill it now. He's going to make sure it stays in business, right? Trying to find some way, anyway, to make the president seem like he's not really like the way he actually is.

But the problem for them here, the reason this is a political crisis that won't blow over like everything does for him, is that this one doesn't come out of nowhere, right? This stuff, as disgusting and raw as it is, it does -- admit it, you know it -- it fits with what we know of him and what we've seen of him.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.

TRUMP: He's a war hero --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five and a half years --

TRUMP: He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured.


MADDOW: The president's attacks on John McCain are well remembered, as are his attacks on the Gold Star family who lost their son, Captain Humayun Khan, in Iraq. But there's also the other ones that we noticed at the time and let pass, right? His attacks not just on Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council for his testimony in the impeachment inquiry, but specifically the president's attack on Colonel Vindman for his military service, the president mocking his army uniform. The president putting that wounded combat veteran's army rank in scare quotes in his tweets, as if Colonel Vindman wasn't really a lieutenant colonel in the Army.

There was also the time the president derided the former head of JSOC, Admiral Bill McRaven, deriding him specifically for the attack that he led that killed Osama bin Laden.

But there has also just been the rank callousness to the family members of service members who the president had no political reason to attack, no beef with, no reason to criticize. He just couldn't muster the decency to even interact with them in a kind or basically human way.


MYESHIA JOHNSON, SGT. LA DAVID JOHNSON'S WIDOW: I asked Master Sergeant Neal to put his phone on speaker so my aunt and uncle could hear as well. And he goes on to saying his statement as -- what he said was --


JOHNSON: Yes, the president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyways. And I was -- it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it.

He couldn't remember my husband's name. That's what hurt me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risks his life for our country, why can't you remember his name? And that's what made me upset and cry even more, because my husband was an awesome soldier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you say to the president?

JOHNSON: I didn't -- I didn't say anything. I just listened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you were upset when you got off the phone?

JOHNSON: Oh, very -- very upset and hurt. Very. It made me cry even worse.


MADDOW: Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger in late 2017.

You might remember that the president has also publicly derided the very idea, the very significance of what's emerged as the signature wound of the post-9/11 wars, which is traumatic brain injury.


REPORTER: Mr. President, a question on Iran. Initially you said repeatedly to Americans that after Iran retaliated for the Soleimani strike, no Americans were injured. We now know at least 11 U.S. service members airlifted to Iraq. Can you explain the discrepancy?

TRUMP: No. I heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things. But I would say -- and I can report it is not very serious.

REPORTER: So you don't think a potential traumatic brain injury is serious?

TRUMP: They told me about it numerous days later. You'd have to ask Department of Defense. No, I don't consider them very serious injuries.


MADDOW: This is how the president has talked about the U.S. military and service members, even those killed in action and those wounded in action since he has been president.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars asked for the president to apologize after he derided traumatic brain injury as headaches and something that's not very serious. The president never apologized.

And so we've seen that from him, and maybe some of those things have registered and lasted in the news for a while, and some have registered for a second and slid by. But because we have seen that in him, now it sticks that we have these reports of him calling U.S. service members losers and suckers and him being repulsed by the sight of them, right? It fits with what we have seen. It's also causing unimaginable pain for some of our fellow Americans, who have had way too much pain already.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My stepson was not a loser.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son is not a loser.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son Matthew is not a loser.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My stepson was not a sucker.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lance Corporal Alexander Scott Arredondo died in Iraq in 2004.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son, Sergeant James Anthony Ayube II gave his life in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2010.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honorably serving his country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is something Donald Trump will never know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's something that Donald Trump will never understand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My message to Donald Trump is this. You have no right being commander in chief.


MAJ. GENERAL PAUL EATON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Paul Eaton. I'm a retired major general, United States Army, and I just read Jeff Goldberg's article in "The Atlantic." I'm pretty unhappy with you, Mr. Trump, so I'm going to keep this short for your famous short attention span.

You have shown disrespect to the military on countless occasions. I'm stunned that anybody in the United States military would consider you anything but a loser or a sucker. You're no patriot.

Let me tell you about a patriot. My father was killed in Vietnam. He was shot down over a Ho Chi Minh trail section just outside of Vietnam in Laos. He delivered ordnance to cut the trail and cut supplies, and then he delivered close air support to Special Forces troops on the ground, and his airplane blew up. He went down in 1969, 13 January 1969.

This dog tag was recovered at the crash site. My father was a patriot, well-educated. He was a wise man.

The best men and women in the United States of America are found in the Armed Forces of the United States military.

Mr. Trump, come 3 November, we're all voting for a real patriot, Joe Biden. And everybody who hears this, please take notice and please vote. Vote Democratic. Our country's honor depends on it. Thank you.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Quite frankly, if what is written in "The Atlantic" is true, it's disgusting. It affirms what most of us believe to be true, that Donald Trump is not fit to do the job of president, to be the commander in chief.

The president reportedly said -- and I emphasize reportedly said -- that those who sign up to serve instead of doing something more lucrative are suckers. Let me be real clear. When my son was an assistant U.S. attorney and he volunteered to go to Kosovo while the war was going on as a civilian, he wasn't a sucker. When my son volunteered and joined the United States military as the attorney general and went to Iraq for a year, won the Bronze Star and other commendations, he wasn't a sucker.

The service men and women he served with, particularly those who did not come home, were not losers. If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every Gold Star mother and father and every Blue Star family that he's denigrated and insulted. Who the heck does he think he is?

If I have the honor of being the next commander in chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know I'll have their backs, honor their sacrifice, and those who have been injured will be in military parades.

I'm always cautioned not to lose my temper. This may be as close as I've ome in this campaign. It's just a marker of how deeply president Trump and I disagree about the role of the president of the United States of America.


MADDOW: This is a real political crisis for the White House and for President Trump tonight. It is also sort of a reckoning for the country in terms of the extremes of Trumpism.

We're going to have much more on this coming up tonight, including with General Paul Eaton, who's going to join us live.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: In August 2012, California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo introduced this bill, which did not make national news, not the kind of bill that it's designed to, but for some people it meant the world. It was a bill to designate the facility of the United States postal service located at 212 Hope Street in Mountain View, California, as the Lieutenant Kenneth M. Ballard Memorial Post Office.

It passed and was signed into law by President Obama in 2013. Now when residents of Mountain View, California, go to mail a card or a payment or a ballot, it goes through the Lieutenant Kenneth M. Ballard Memorial Post Office.

Lieutenant Ballard led an army platoon in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. On the night of May 30th, 2004, he was killed in Iraq. At the time, he was just over a week from leaving Iraq. He was just shy of turning 27. His mother got the call just before 9:00 a.m. the next morning with the news that her only child wouldn't be coming home.

Lieutenant Kenneth Ballard was awarded a Purple Heart and three Bronze Stars, two with valor for his heroism. His mother has set up a website to keep the memory of her son and his sacrifice alive, and there's the post office in their town.

When the current president calls Americans who have died for their country losers and suckers, however broadly he might mean that, for some individual Americans like the family of Lieutenant Kenneth Ballard, it lands differently, which is why Lieutenant Ballard's mother chose to respond to the president directly in an ad that was released today by the group Vote Vets.


KAREN MEREDITH, GOLD STAR MOTHER: My son is not a loser. My message to Donald Trump is this. You have no right being the commander in chief.


MADDOW: Joining us now live is Gold Star mother Karen Meredith. She's the mother of Lieutenant Kenneth Ballard.

Ms. Meredith, thank you so much for joining us this evening. I know it's a really difficult time.

MEREDITH: It is. Good evening, Rachel.

MADDOW: When you first heard these reports a little bit more than 24 hours ago now about what the president has said about American troops and specifically about troops hurt or killed in battle, what was your reaction? How did that land with you?

MEREDITH: Well, I wasn't surprised because this does seem to be a pattern going back to even before Trump announced running for president. But it's always kind of a pin prick to the heart, that it's just trying to pull the scab off. And for me after 16 years, you'd think I'd be used to it.

But those are pretty harsh words coming from my son's commander in chief, that he was a sucker and/or a loser. And I don't feel that way, and none of the parents who did the video feel that way.

MADDOW: Karen, can I ask you how the video came together? There's been some sort of conspiracy theorizing on the right and with the Trump campaign today saying that there must have been collusion. There must have been advance planning with you and other Gold Star families because that ad was turned around and put out so quickly that you must have known in advance that "The Atlantic" was going to publish these allegations. Can you speak to that at all?

MEREDITH: Sure. Yesterday afternoon, I think it was right after it -- the story was published, I was notified by Vote Vets that the story was going to be pretty big, and so they asked if I could gather our group of Gold Star families that I work with. I've been working with Vote Vets for about five years, so we're all on standby, ready to support the organization. We're all progressive and support veterans organizations.

So, some of us worked on it all night last night, and that's why we were able to get it out as quickly as we did. So there was no collusion.

MADDOW: Sorry to interrupt you there.

Karen, I know that you have been willing to speak publicly about your son's death and about the Iraq war, and you've been public in your grief and in your feelings about the cause for which he lost his life. For a long time now, which means you have been willing to talk about your son and this grief through different presidencies. And I just wonder if you in working with other Gold Star families, if it is a different calculation or if it is a different sort of balance of risk and potential benefit that the president really has shown no compunction at all about attacking Gold Star parents, about attacking the family members of people who have died in service to this country and even attacking those who have died or been wounded themselves.

Does it change the way that you and your fellow Gold Star families think about whether or not it's safe to speak out?

MEREDITH: Well, as you mentioned earlier, Ken was my only child, so I've already had the worst day of my life, and nothing else can be -- nobody else can say anything as bad as what happened on May 30th, 2004. I know a lot of the other Gold Star families that I work with feel the same way.

Not all Gold Star families work with Vote Vets, so I am not speaking for all Gold Star families, just for some. But this presidency is different because he doesn't seem to have a concept of service. For instance, the Bush family, as much as I'm not a fan, at least their family served in politics, and they served in the military, and in the Obama administration, he has been serving starting out as a community organizer, so he knows what serving means and sacrificing because the military can get more pay on the outside, and being in government service generally you can get paid more too.

So I think that's the biggest difference is that they -- this administration, I'm not sure who in this administration really understands what service and sacrifice means.

MADDOW: Gold Star mother Karen Meredith joining us live tonight from California. Thank you so much for talking to us. I know you have the choice whether or not to do this, but it means a lot to our viewers that you're willing to be here. Thank you so much.

MEREDITH: I appreciate the opportunity.

MADDOW: All right.

From 2003 to 2004, while Karen's son was serving in Iraq, Major General Paul Eaton served as the commanding general of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, which means he was in charge of training Iraqi troops during the Iraq war.

General Eaton had followed his father into service, and we showed you moments ago in a video directly addressing the president, the now retired Major General Eaton held up his father's ID tag which was recovered from the site where his plane went down in the Vietnam War.

Joining us now is retired Major General Paul Eaton.

General, sir, thank you so much for joining us. It's a really honor to have you with us tonight.

EATON: Rachel, my privilege. Thank you very much for the invitation.

And I'd just like to say to everybody that Karen Meredith is a personal hero to me and to my wife, PJ. She is a brave, wonderful woman, and I thank her for coming on tonight as well.

MADDOW: Thank you for saying that.

Let me start by asking you the same question that I asked her, which is when you read or learned of the president's remarks that were first published a little bit more than 24 hours ago now, how did it land with you?

EATON: Rachel, it took me a couple of minutes to read the article. It took me a nanosecond to be truly angry. I shaved. I got in front of the camera, knocked out a 2:15 piece to get out on Twitter and just to make known just how awful the level of disrespect in thought, word, and deed that we get out of this president and how it detracts from his capacity to serve as a leader anywhere, but certainly as a commander-in-chief. He has no right to be there.

MADDOW: General Eaton, I wanted to ask you specifically about that moment where you held up your father's ID tag and talked about your father being killed in the Vietnam War.

I just wondered now that we have learned more, there's been supporting reporting both bolstering what Jeffrey Goldberg put in "The Atlantic", but also adding to it. And one of the things that was reported in "The Washington Post" was that, the president has told senior advisers he didn't understand why the U.S. government placed such value on finding soldiers missing in action because they had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got.

I have to ask your reaction to that given your connection with your father and his service and how he was lost in combat.

EATON: Rachel, we have an ethos in the U.S. military, and one of the reasons that the American soldier, marine, airman, sailor, coast guardsman will do amazing things is because they trust the chain of command to bring them back, that the chain of command will give the bullets and the food and the leadership they need in order to prosecute the mission.

So this dog tag, this dog tag was found by a member of the Joint Task Force Full Accounting Team, the team that goes to former war zones and brings back the remains of our fallen. You can see that it's mangled. What happens to a dog tag in an explosion when the aircraft goes down.

Our country, this great country, goes to great lengths to bring back our fallen. And, again, the reason that the American soldier does so well is he trusts the chain of command to do just that. Unfortunately after what we've heard about this particular president, that's a hard sell to every drill sergeant trying to soldierize, trying to build a soldier out of every young man and woman who comes through our doors.

MADDOW: Retired Major General Paul Eaton. Sir, it is a really honor to have you with us tonight. I know that, again, you have the choice whether or not to speak publicly on matters like this, and this was a big one. Thank you for helping us understand, and thank you for your service, sir.

EATON: Thank you for what you do, Rachel.

MADDOW: Kind of you to say.

All right. We've got a lot more coming up here this Friday night. In fact, I'm just going to stay on for two hours tonight. I have a lot to say.

We'll be right back.


MADDOW: Yesterday, we got word of another specific attempt by Russia to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. ABC News got the scoop. Russia is amplifying claims of mail-in voter fraud, intel bulletin warns. ABC obtained this four-page intelligence bulletin sent to federal and state law enforcement by the intelligence branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

Quote, Russian state media and proxy websites are denigrating vote by mail processes in the U.S., alleging they lack transparency and procedural oversight. We assess that Russia is likely to continue amplifying criticisms of vote by mail and shifting voting processes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process.

That warning from Homeland Security about what Russia is doing. Of course that message that Russia is sending, which Homeland Security says is explicitly designed to undermine Americans' faith in our own electoral process, weirdly that happens to be the exact same message our own president has been promoting about our voting processes, which is weird, right? It's the exact same thing that they're saying Russia is promoting. So strange.

That report about Russia denigrating mail-in voting, trying to cast doubts among Americans about mail-in voting, came just one day after ABC News was also first to report that the Trump administration had kyboshed a similar Homeland Security intelligence report which warned law enforcement of persistent Russian efforts to spread rumors about Joe Biden's unfitness for office, specifically his mental fitness for office.

And let's be clear, again, that is the exact same message our president has been spreading and continues to promote on a daily basis while Russian state propaganda does exactly the same thing. Now, at the same time this odd coincidental lockstep is happening between the White House and the Kremlin, between the president and Russian state media.

The president has said virtually nothing about other stuff about Russia, for example the continuing pro-democracy protests in the streets of Belarus and Russian efforts to prop up the Belarusian dictator and undermine the protesters there. Until today, Trump had not said a word about the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Today, NATO, the military alliance of 30 Western countries that President Trump likes to denigrate at every turn, said that it agreed with Germany's conclusion that there is proof beyond a doubt that Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a military grade Russian nerve agent which basically cast no doubt on who might have poisoned him.

Asked about that conclusion by reporters today, President Trump said this. He said, quote, we haven't had any proof, though. He said, it might very well be the case, but we haven't had any proof. He then went on to scold reporters for always bringing up Russia when they should be talking about China instead. He also told reporters, quote, I do get along with President Putin.

To be clear, he was being asked about President Putin allegedly poisoning one of his opposition figures. I do get along with him. Don't you think China's much worse?

That's where we are now. The president is actively in this campaign spreading lies that his own intelligence agencies say are Russian propaganda while he is casting doubt on the conclusions of the NATO alliance that we used to lead.

More ahead on this. Stay with us.


MADDOW: After NATO held its emergency meeting on the assassination attempt against Russia's main opposition leader Alexei Navalny today, President Trump was asked for his reaction.


TRUMP: We haven't had any proof yet, but I will take a look. It is interesting that everybody is always mentioning Russia. And I don't mind you mentioning Russia, but I think probably China at this point is a -- is a nation that you should be talking about much more so than Russia because the things that China is doing are far worse.


MADDOW: To be clear, nobody thinks that China tried to assassinate their main opposition in Russia, but -- joining us now from Moscow is Max Seddon. He's Moscow correspondent for "Financial Times".

Mr. Seddon, thank you very much very being up at all hours to join us tonight. I really appreciate it.


MADDOW: So, the president today said there's no proof that Navalny was poisoned with a Russian military grade agent which contradicts expressions from Germany, also today from NATO. I expect that the Kremlin must be very pleased by the president saying that today.

SEDDON: Well, I think it very much fits in with what the Kremlin has been saying, which is that the doctors in Siberia and the toxicology labs there didn't find any evidence of poisons, even though initially medics and cops actually told Navalny's family that he was poisoned before they changed their mind.

And their line appears to be shifting if you look at what the Kremlin said and the increasing lines on Russian TV that there was no sign of poisoning when he was moved to Germany. So the Germans may have somehow poisoned him with a Russian nerve agent in Germany to make Russia look bad.

MADDOW: So we saw this tonight, this -- what appears to be a fake recording released by Belarusian authorities. It appears to be a recording of Germany supposedly admitting that they faked Navalny's poisoning.

Is that something that is being greeted with as much ridicule in Russia as its is around the world? It seems quite cartoonish, at least from this perspective.

SEDDON: There have been a lot of ridiculous fake things on Russian TV to help them try to deflect blame for various crimes over the years, poisonings of spies, the MH-17 plane. This is the most ridiculous one I've ever seen. It's just completely absurd. And even Russian propaganda so far isn't really picking this up.

If anything, this is a kind of karmic payback. They're left with the likes of Lukashenko, who is someone even the Kremlin can't stand. You can see yesterday when he made this claim to the Russian prime minister, who is a smart guy, knows the West very well, isn't, you know, necessarily someone who is going to believe this nonsense.

Lukashenko is just talking complete gibberish, and he has to sit there completely stone faced trying not to react. This is really the bed they've dug for themselves when their credibility is this shot, there's nothing left toil do but to try and just really swallow completely patently absurd things like this.

MADDOW: Yeah. When your credibility is shot, you can shoot the moon when it comes to trying to talk anybody into anything because nobody's actually going to legitimately assess the veracity of what you're trying to sell.

Moscow correspondent for "Financial Times", Max Seddon, again, Max, thank you for being up at a crazy time of day to talk to us. We really appreciate your time tonight.

SEDDON: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: All right. As I mentioned earlier, normally this time, I would be ready to turn things over to Lawrence, but not tonight.

I'll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: This was the scene near Corpus Christi, Texas on Memorial Day weekend this year. As you can see from these images, the beaches were just packed. There was a sense this little strip of Texas on the coast there was somehow safe from coronavirus even as COVID was raging in other parts of the country.

Few, if any, cases had been reported in Corpus Christi and the days leading up to Memorial Day in May. Given that sense of security and given that the county didn't require masks, lots of out-of-towners just flocked to the area for Memorial Day.

The head of a local tourism bureau said that set around that time, "The entire city was completely sold out, every hotel, every short-term rental." And then very quickly the consequences arrived. Soon Corpus Christi had one of the fastest growing outbreaks in the state of Texas.

It was seeing more cases per capita than Houston. The city went from reporting barely any new cases a day to tallying over 400 new cases in one 24-hour period. And this wasn't just a one off. It wasn't just Corpus Christi.

For a bunch of cities and states all over the country, Memorial Day weekend was when things really started to spiral out of control. Memorial Day is the end of May, right? By June 11th of this summer, roughly two weeks after Memorial Day weekend, cases were rising in nearly half the states in the country.

In Texas alone, that rise in cases meant that hospitals very quickly became inundated as well. There was a 42 percent uptick in patient numbers in hospitals in the two weeks following Memorial Day weekend in Texas.

In Arizona, it was a similar story. New case totals increased nearly every day following the Memorial Day weekend and then hospitalizations followed. Hospitalizations shot up 49 percent in that two-week span.

Even in places like Arkansas that maybe got less front-page national attention this summer. Hospitalizations in Arkansas went up 88 percent in the weeks following Memorial Day weekend.

And, you know, it would be one thing if this was a one-time natural experiment, right? If the country saw what happened on Memorial Day weekend and then we decided that I don't want to do that again, and prepared ourselves for the next summer holiday. That's not how we do things in this country anymore.

Instead, Memorial Day just functioned as a warm-up act for July 4th. This is a graphic from the COVID Tracking Project showing daily coronavirus cases reported across the United States. And as you can see, things really took off in the days and weeks following Memorial Day weekend.

But take a look at what happened on July 4th. July 4th, the country was reporting 54,000 cases a day. And then like clockwork, look at what was happening two weeks later, July 17th, daily infections had shot up to nearly 77,000 cases a day.

Two weeks after July 4th weekend, 20,000 more Americans per day were being diagnosed with COVID. If cases skyrocketed that much after July 4th, well, after Memorial Day weekend and then after July 4th, what do we expect from this weekend, Labor Day weekend?

We're looking at a very different landscape, actually, from where we were at those earlier holidays earlier in the summer. For one thing, lots more things are actually open now.

Businesses are ramping back up and opening back up. Schools are opening back up, as are colleges. Many of which have been holding classes for weeks now.

And while that might feel great in some ways, it's not happening because COVID numbers are down. COVID numbers are still really high. We're still up around 40,000 cases a day. And we've got a lot of COVID in the country. And this many more things being open means there is more opportunity for the virus to spread now than it did back in July when we had that big spike after July 4th.

And there is just more virus to spread now. As a country, we now have topped six million cases. There is a lot of COVID out there in our country. We're not only closing in on 190,000 deaths. We're over six million cases with lots of stuff more open.

This is the landscape we are looking at heading into this final holiday weekend of the summer. And all of this is happening at a time when the school numbers show us what happens when people come together in large numbers in places where they haven't figured out how to stop the spread of the virus while people are in the same place.

For example, more than 1,100 students at the University of Iowa have already been infected. Keep in mind, the semester began last week. Up until just a few days ago, that school had planned to hold its football home opener before 25,000 fans. Thankfully, that's been called off. Fans will no longer be allowed at that game.

But it's not just colleges in Iowa. These college outbreaks are massive and they're happening all across the country. More than 1,000 student cases at the University of South Carolina. North Carolina, more than 3,000 college students have been infected since colleges in that state reopened.

The governor of Missouri said yesterday that more than 7,000 college-age people in Missouri have tested positive since mid-August. The recent positivity rates in some Missouri college towns have been staggering like 45 percent positivity rates in college towns in Missouri now.

At the same time that the virus really seems to be spreading unabated in college towns and in schools across the country, we are learning more about what may be happening in terms of a national strategy in dealing with this problem.

We talked for a long time about the fact there didn't seem to be a national strategy. Now, it seems like there is one, but it's one that we have to discern, and it's a little disturbing.

Earlier this week on the show, you might remember us talking about how the president appeared to have fallen under the sort of Svengali spell of a new coronavirus adviser at the White House. He is a doctor named Scott Atlas. He is not an epidemiologist. He does not have an infectious disease background at all.

He is a radiologist. His specialty is doing MRIs of the spine and brain, which is super cool and I definitely don't know how to do that, but it also has nothing to do with COVID at all.

Even so, the president appears to have put him in charge and signed on to his contrarian thinking, which appears to entail, basically, letting the virus spread mostly unchecked throughout the country because he believes it doesn't matter how many people get it as long as they are low-risk individuals.

Eventually, that will allow us to build up what he calls population immunity or herd immunity, no matter the staggering cost of life along the way. The country does appear to be on track to follow this as a new federal response, a new federal approach to the epidemic wherein we just let it run rampant and try to protect the old people somehow.

This is from this week who -- which front page this new apparent national strategy that hasn't received much debate since it's apparently been sort of slow rolled out by the president and this new adviser.

"Just eight weeks from election day, the White House has stopped trying to contain the coronavirus. Shifting instead to shielding the nation's most vulnerable groups and restoring a sense of normalcy. The change is part of a concerted effort by the White House to increase public approval of President Trump's pandemic response and bolster his reelection chances by sharply reducing COVID case counts and the number of deaths and hospitalizations attributed to the virus.

This is according to five people familiar with the strategy. They're not trying to reduce the number of cases or reduce the number of hospitalizations or deaths. They're just trying to reduce the number of them that are called COVID."

According to a Republican close to the administration who has advised elements of the response, "This has to do with the president wanting to shift the attention away from testing. The challenge is that they didn't want to find more cases. They don't want the numbers to keep going up."

Not getting people tested, not having the numbers go up doesn't mean there aren't more cases. It just means you don't know about those cases and those people can't take action to prevent themselves from giving it to other people.

But this apparently is the new strategy. Don't try to contain it. Don't even test for it. Reduce the number of tests. And if a lot more people have to die while we pursue this, then let's not talk about this as our strategy. Let's just do it.

Whether or not they're ever going to confirm that hoping lots of people get COVID is the new national strategy, we are seeing the president himself starting to act this out at his public events.

Earlier this week, the president held an event at Wilmington, North Carolina to honor World War II veterans. Some of those World War II veterans were actually in attendance, but they didn't do any social distancing. Some of the attendees were quite elderly. Almost no masks to be seen.

Yesterday at another presidential event, thousands of people gathered packed shoulder to shoulder at a presidential campaign stop in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Again, nearly no masks and no distance.

The president actually opened a community meeting in Kenosha, Wisconsin earlier this week by encouraging those present to please take off their face coverings. Sure. Why not? I mean, we have seen this from the president before and we have said this is a form of sort of modeling bad behavior, creating potentially super spreader events himself whenever he does this congregate events for his campaign.

But the president is also making this part of his messaging. Just this week explicitly mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask and also for talking too much about COVID-19. Because what sort of a leader would do that?

The amount of COVID in the country right now, how open the country is right now, what's happened after previous holiday weekends and the presidential leadership on this, which is apparently that the more people who get it the better, heading into this holiday weekend it sort of feels like a perfect storm.

Joining us now is somebody who understands these things better than the rest of us. Dr. Ashish Jha is dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University and newly so. Dr. Jha, congratulations on your big new job, and thanks for being here tonight.

ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Thank you, Rachel, for having me on and thanks for the warm remarks.

MADDOW: I have laid this out in layman's terms, in terms of what I'm worried about with this holiday weekend, what we've seen with previous summer holidays and what seems like a sort of worst circumstance than previous summer holidays heading into this one. Do you think that's an appropriate way to look at it or have I got any of this the wrong way around?

JHA: No. I think you've got it exactly right, Rachel. We went into Memorial Day with about 20,000 new cases a day and opened up a lot, but we didn't have schools open. We didn't have colleges open. And we saw those very large spikes that you laid out in your graphs.

Again, we saw a big bump after July 4th. And part of it as we approach each holiday we keep assort of thinking that the pandemic is behind us. And if we just go back to normal, it will be fine. Of course, the pandemic is not behind us. It won't be fine. And so I am deeply worried about what happens in the days and weeks ahead.

MADDOW: Are we doing more testing now as a country or are we doing less testing? Part of the reason that people focus on positivity rates is because in order to know what your positive rate, you have to know how many tests you are giving and how many of them are positive.

A low positivity rate means you are doing a lot of tests and not too many people who are getting tested turn up with a positive result. I know that positive rates, especially in some parts of the country now are scary high. But what about the overall number of tests that we're doing? Are we getting more people tested in this country?

JHA: So we're better than we were on Memorial Day, and so that's good news. But if you compare us to about a month ago, we have actually started heading down. And this is puzzling and really disappointing because there is no good reason we should be doing less testing. We need a lot more testing.

And I often point to states like New York, which is doing an extraordinary number of tests. And they are finding very few cases. Their positivity rate is very low. That's the model. That's what we want to get to.

We want to be able to test a broad swath of people, find everybody who is infected. And that's how you contain the virus, and that's how you make life safer for people to kind of get back to schools and get back to work.

MADDOW: Is there any particular part of the country or are there regions in the country or types of communities in the country that you are particularly worried about, either for this holiday weekend or just for the stretch of days and weeks immediately ahead of us?

JHA: Yes. So the south is doing, again, better than, let's say, mid-July when the country really peaked. Places like Arizona, Texas and Florida are clearly down. That's good news. But they still have a lot of cases. If you just look across the south, about 20,000 cases per day.

And then a few states I think are doing very, very badly. And you mentioned some of them in your earlier segment. Iowa is seeing this very large outbreak, the Dakotas are, Missouri, Kansas. So a whole set of states that are, I think, in a lot of trouble as we go into Labor Day weekend.

And of course, as we go into the fall, we will have people spending more time indoors. Cases will rise. So, we have a lot of difficult days and weeks ahead unless we get our act together. And I'm worried that we're not going to get our act together. We're just going to sort of try to, you know, waive the white flag and try to get our way through this.

MADDOW: Are you concerned that the White House has pivoted to a new national strategy that, in effect, if whether or not they're willing to articulate it this way, is aimed at infecting lots of people so as to try to build up immunity in the population.

I know that mathematically, frankly, it's insane. We're talking about millions of people dead under this kind of a strategy. But do you see signs that that's actually what they're pursuing.

JHA: We certainly hear it from Dr. Atlas and he won't call it herd immunity, but when he says as the term they use is, is protecting the vulnerable. The idea is let's just let everybody else get infected. It sounds totally reasonable until you think about it.

The problem is moment you think about it you realize a couple of things. First of all, a lot of people are vulnerable. Anybody with high blood pressure, diabetes, anybody who is older, almost half the population out of the adult population is potentially vulnerable.

The second, it turns out older people live around and interact with younger people. Like they don't live off on an island somewhere that we can just protect them. And so what we know is that when you see large outbreaks in the community, even among young folks it seeps in because we're all part of the same community.

We live in the same households. We live in -- we visit the same grocery stores. So, this strategy of let everybody get infected except the elderly, I think it has no chance of working. Lots of countries have thought about it. No one has actually tried to do it. I don't want America to be the country that actually tries to do this.

MADDOW: Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University. And they're lucky to have you, sir. Good luck with your new endeavor there and thanks for being here with us tonight. I really appreciate it.

JHA: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. It's been a big and busy news week already. Significant news maker interviews here on the show. Some of what they told us coming up next, more ahead. Stay with us.


MADDOW: This is from page 111 of Stephanie Winston Wolkoff's new book, Melania and Me." This is 35 days before the inaugural. She says, "Back in New York, I attended a meeting with president-elect Trump in his office. The space was packed with boxes, trinkets and piles of paper, and I thought I was a hoarder. His office looked like a garage sale."

"Stephanie, Donald said, tell me what's going on with the inauguration planning. Ivanka joined Donald and me for the meeting. I presented to the two of them. I grabbed my binder, went over to Donald's side of the desk and sat with my knees on the floor. He sat in his red leather chair, leaning back, clasping his hands, ready for me to proceed. Ivanka hovered over me.

I went through hundreds of pages covering all 18 events. Ivanka made comments and asked questions. Will there be a red carpet? Where do we walk during the parade? What about seating at the swearing in, after-party?"

After the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue Donald said, "I don't want floats." I said okay. The president continued, "I want tanks and choppers. Make it look like North Korea." There was no way. He really wanted goose stepping troops and armored tanks? That would break tradition and terrify half the country.

When Ivanka heard North Korea, she didn't bat an eye. I walked out of the meeting ruffled and worried. I texted a close friend and colleague, "North Korea style military parade. Bad idea?" That's just one of the anecdotes written in the new book by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former friend and adviser to First Lady Melania Trump.

Ms. Wolkoff, of course, also played a key role in organizing the Trump inauguration in 2017 that has led to so much consternation and so much legal trouble ever since. She has written the most detailed account of all of this. In her new book which is called "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady."

Joining us now for the interview is Stephanie Winston Wallkoff. Ms. Wolkoff, I really appreciate the trust it takes to be here. I know you could be anywhere talking about this. Thank you for being here.

STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF, AUTHOR: Thank you for having me so much, Rachel, really. I wouldn't rather be anywhere else.

MADDOW: It's nice of you to say that. Obviously, there is a lot here. There is a lot that's very raw here, particularly about the distress about the dissolution of your friendship with the First Lady, the circumstances under which you left the White House.

I want to talk first of all thought, about some of what you described about the inaugural which is really never been publicly described by anybody involved in it before. You're pretty frank about the idea that there is a lot of missing money, unaccounted for money in terms of what was raised for the inaugural versus what was spent.

Do you feel like you have a general grasp with how much money that might be and do you have a theory or any knowledge of where it might have gone?

WOLKOFF: Well, I do know at the time that I questioned where the money was going or how much everything cost, I was asked to not attend anymore budget meetings. So, it took me a few years to figure everything out, but it's just, you know, people need to just follow the money.

MADDOW: In terms of who is following the money, it is remarkable that you describe the difficulty and the decision that you made to cooperate with these multiple ongoing investigations, including the D.C. attorney general and having received a subpoena from the Southern District of New York.

I know that those are ongoing proceedings and you are limited in what you can say, but do you feel like the people who are investigating this at various levels know what happened to the money? Do you feel like the investigations are on the right track in terms of them figuring out what happened to these tens of millions of unaccounted for dollars?

WOLKOFF: Rachel, unfortunately with our Justice Department right now, I don't really know entirely what's going on with some of these investigations, and that's a really sad and challenging place to be, especially since this election is right around the corner.

I do know that Attorney General Karl Racine is still investigating. It is still open. But as far as the Southern District, I don't know where that stands, as well as the Intelligence Committee.

MADDOW: Have you been -- has the White House contacted you since your book was on track to publish and since people started to realize what was going to be in this book? Has either the Justice Department or the White House, anybody else in the Trump administration contacted you?

WOLKOFF: I have actually been contacted by both, the White House and the Justice Department.

MADDOW: Can you tell us anything about either of those communications starting with the White House in terms of what they wanted to communicate to you or what they asked of you?

WOLKOFF: A couple of months ago, I had a cease and desist, as well as, you know, again, the last thing that any of these people want is for the truth to be told. I have lived with this on my shoulders for the last several years trying to make sense of it all, trying to understand what happened while I was working at the inauguration, but also what happened while the pressure was building and mounting around the, you know, the 990 and the releasing of where $107 million was spent.

This is, you know, it's like Donald Trump, you know, his best game is three-card Monte, right. It's like everything is a shell and everything is going in different directions. Chaos is just part of the game. And as you said earlier, and I love it, you know, only the best. And quite a bit -- quite a bit of the best.

MADDOW: You describe in the book how -- sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt. Please carry on.

WOLKOFF: No, no. I apologize.

MADDOW: This delay is very awkward. The satellite delay has made all the worse by all the COVID-driven gremlins in terms of remote studio. So that was my fault. I'm sorry. Let me just ask you, first of all, go back and say whatever you wanted to finish in terms of your thought there and I'll just ask another question.

Which is if the White House was telling the truth when they put out public statements denying that First Lady Melania Trump and the president had no role in planning the inaugural and that when the White House said they didn't know about any concerns about budgeting or how much things would cost or how things would be carried out during the inaugural, your book would seem to give lie to those statements and make clear that when the White House said those things that those weren't accurate.

WOLKOFF: The machine of the false narrative that gets created by the White House is so overwhelming and so powerful, and the fact that people really believe when you look around of the people that were actually involved in planning the inauguration that they're going to pin it on me because I was Melanie's friend, it worked, right?

It's a shiny object. Right in the corner, Melania's friend, the only person willing to help her. And, you know, that spotlight shown right on me without even calling me and asking me if it was the truth. So, my integrity, my reputation, everything was destroyed in a matter of seconds. And it was as if no big deal, just flick it off and move on. And I wasn't prepared to do that. But I didn't -- sorry.

MADDOW: Having the opportunity to tell your side of the story and to explain what happened during the inaugural, to explain even what you could tell was happening with the financials of the inaugural and being able to put it in this book, does it make you feel not -- I guess not protected in any way, but at least does it make you feel like you are in a stronger position because at least now you can articulate what you saw where you came from and what your side of it? It feels like a lot of the frustration that led to this book is feeling that you weren't able to defend yourself.

WOLKOFF: And I'm still relying on first, you know, First Amendment counsel. I'm still not allowed to say everything. So, I am saying as much as I can within the law. I think that being muzzled with an NDA for all these years, it has been claustrophobic to say the least.

I mean, I stopped living a regular life. I have three incredible children, a husband. I really -- I sort of locked myself in. And it's amazing to me that, you know, I'm part of three different investigations, yet, I'm a witness to all of them.

And it really is a charade of shenanigans, and I feel that the Trump presidency is just leasing (ph) our country. And I had no choice to not tell this story. I had to be here. Do I feel protected? I actually do feel more protected because now everyone knows the truth and I have been able to share my life story with what happened because it took over my life. And am I, you know -- it's complicated.

MADDOW: It is complicated. If you don't mind staying with us while we take one quick break, there is one element of your book that struck me. A long quote that you attribute to the First Lady that I think is potentially really important news story. I'd just like to ask you about that specific part of your book if you could hold on with us more one more minute.

WOLKOFF: Absolutely. Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Her book is out today. It's called "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My friendship with the First Lady." We'll be right back.


MADDOW: One of the indelible images we have of Melania Trump's time as first lady was the day when she boarded a plane to go visit immigrant kids who had been separated from their parents at the Texas border and she wore this green jacket that said on the back, "I really don't care. Do you?"

After that visit, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff in her new book recalls what she says was a 70-minute phone call she says she had with the first lady about that trip to the border.

And I just want to read you from that part of the book, Miss Winston Wolkoff says, quoting the first lady here, "They all went crazy about the zero tolerance policy at the border. But they don't know what's going on. The kids I met were brought in by coyotes, the bad people who are trafficking. And that's why the kids were put in shelters. They're not with their parents and it's sad.

But the patrols told me the kids say, wow, I get a bed? I will have a cabinet for my clothes? It is more than they have in their own country where they sleep on the floor. They are taken care nicely there."

And the mothers, they teach their kids to say, I'm going to be killed by gangs so they are allowed to stay. They're using that line and it's not true."

Reading that quote from the first lady aloud is a gut punch all of its own. But Stephanie Winston Wolkoff quotes this directly and says these are the words of the first lady.

Back with us once more for "The Interview" is Stephanie Wolkoff. She's a former senior adviser to first lady Melania Trump. Her new book is called "Melania and Me". It's about her friendship with the first lady and her involvement in the Trump inauguration.

Miss Winston Wolkoff, thanks again for being here. I just have to ask you if should we understand this to be a verbatim -- verbatim quote from the first lady? These are seemingly pretty insensitive comments she made about the kids she met at the border.

STEPHANIE WINSTON WOLKOFF, FORMER ADVISER TO MELANIA TRUMP: Rachel, there is no way to fabricate any of my story. And the only way to tell the story is to say it exactly as it was. The fact that the White House is trying to disparage me and claim my character is anything but what I know -- again, I was a respectful person. It's only going to have me discuss more and more the truth, the facts and they're all either in some type of, you know, semblance that has 100 percent backing. I would never do that otherwise.

MADDOW: There's been some reporting, public source reporting around your book that says that part of the way that you can back up some of these verbatim quotes and some of these extensive detailed anecdotes is that you do have some recordings of some of these conversations. Can you comment on that at all?

WINSTON WOLKOFF: So Rachel, I haven't commented on the past. And one of the reasons why I'm going to share this with you this evening is because I have been accused of taping my friend, as the White House said, and how horrible of a human being I am for doing that.

And they're right. If she was my friend, that would be horrible. But Melania and the White House had accused me of criminal activity, had publicly shamed and fired me and made me their scapegoat. At that moment in time, that's when I pressed record.

She was no longer my friend. And she was willing to let them take me down, and she told me herself, this is the way it has to be. She was advised by the attorneys at the White House that there was no other choice because there was a possible investigation into the presidential inauguration committee.

And that's not how you treat a friend. So I was going to do anything in my power to make sure that I was protected. At first I really did think maybe she would come to my aid. Maybe she would tell the truth. She turned her back. She did. She folded like a deck of cards, and I was shocked when she did it.

MADDOW: Are you saying Miss Wolkoff, that at this point you decided in order to protect yourself that you -- that you would make recordings of some of your conversations with the first lady or that you did?

WINSTON WOLKOFF: I did, Rachel. I did. And again, to have to admit that is really disgraceful in any other context. But who would believe any of this otherwise? You can't make this up. But again, I need the evidence. I needed the evidence.

MADDOW: If the White House continues to call you a liar and say that you have made up these conversations and that these things that you are attributing to the first lady or the president are things that didn't happen, do you have plans to release those tapes to the public or to show them -- play them for reporters so that other people can validate what you are saying?

WINSTON WOLKOFF: There is a report coming out. Again, full disclosure, I'm not going to lie about it. I just can't Rachel, so I'm going to tell you. I have admitted there is a report coming out that I did play it privately because -- to justify that I actually did have it and what it did say in her own voice.

Again, the more they continue to come after me and again, the more they continue to lie about what they have said and done and do, the more I will continue to, you know, prove their claims false.

The last thing they should be doing is coming after me. I wanted to just write this book and move on. I didn't actually expect them to say -- I mean, of course they're going to -- I expected them to just say, oh, she's a this and she's a that. But they have gone on way too long and I'm not going to let them take my integrity away anymore.

MADDOW: Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, former senior adviser to first lady Melania Trump, key figure in the Trump inaugural. The new book is called "Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady". Miss Wolkoff, I know this is hard stuff to talk about, and I know this book was hard to write. I know because I read every word of it. I was very moved by your take of it.

Thanks for the trust for being here tonight. And good luck to you. Come back any time. We'd be happy to have you here anytime you want to talk.

WINSTON WOLKOFF: Thank you. I'm honored. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. We've got more ahead here tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: "The New York Times" was the first news organization to break the news that President Trump had asked FBI director James Comey to go easy on national security adviser Mike Flynn. They also revealed that Comey had written contemporaneous memos documenting that interaction that he'd had with the president. That came out under the byline of "New York Times" reporter Mike Schmidt.

Days after that bombshell "The Times" dropped another. That Trump had also called Jim Comey pressuring him to put out public word that he was not under -- that the president was not under investigation. That was also reported by Mike Schmidt.

Then "The Times" broke the news that the president had asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go back and retake control of the Mueller investigation after Attorney General Sessions had already recused himself. That again was reporter Mike Schmidt.

Schmidt was then first to report that Trump had ordered special counsel Robert Mueller to be fired. Only backing off when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit.

We later learned that McGahn, the White House counsel had cooperated extensively with Mueller's investigation. That too was reporting by Mike Schmidt.

Schmidt was first to report that in the days after James Comey was fired, the FBI had opened an inquiry into whether or not President Trump was secretly working as a Russian agent. That was a Michael Schmidt byline, too.

Schmidt was first to obtain the questions that special counsel Robert Mueller wanted to ask of President Trump. He was first to break the news that Trump had wanted his Justice Department to prosecute political adversaries, including Hillary Clinton and James Comey.

On top of story after story after story on the Russia investigation, Michael Schmidt was also first to report that President Trump had overruled national security officials in order to give son-in-law Jared Kushner top secret security clearance.

Hide your secrets, hide your ice cream. "The New York Times' Michael Schmidt has been a fearsome scoop machine during the Trump era. And now with this new book that he's got out tomorrow, he's breaking even more news.

Among the book's many revelations is the fact that no element of the U.S. government, including the Mueller investigation, including the FBI, has ever examined President Trump's ties to Russia including his financial ties. It is not that anybody looked into that and found out all was fine and that's why we never heard anything about it. Literally no one has ever looked -- not the FBI, not Mueller, not the intelligence committees, no one.

Joining us now for "The Interview" is Pulitzer prize-winning Washington correspondent for "The New York Times", the aforementioned Michael Schmidt. The new book is called "Donald Trump versus the United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President".

Mr. Schmidt, congratulations on this. Thanks for being here tonight for the first interview.


MADDOW: So I have read enough of this stuff that I know that you are thinking now nobody is going to read the book because Rachel has read so much of it.

But I want to zoom in on what feels to me like the very heavy revelation you land on by the end of the book about there not being any counterintelligence investigation of the president. How does this -- how should people understand the importance of that and how different is this from what we previously understood about what had been looked into and what hadn't?

SCHMIDT: I think that the media and a lot of folks in the country assumed that Robert Mueller was doing something that he wasn't. And then that he was going to be coming down from the hills and he's going to get to the bottom of all these questions.

In the midst of the Mueller investigation, we reported that that counterintelligence investigation had been opened. But when the Mueller report comes out, there is nothing there. It's not there. There is all this stuff on obstruction, but there is nothing about Trump's long-standing ties to Russia.

If you look at the questions that Mueller wanted to ask the president, it's all stuff related to 2016. It's not stuff about his history. So you looked at this, and I said, well, we wrote this story about this counterintelligence investigation and we learned that McCabe thought that Mueller was absorbing it. So where did it go?

So then I thought maybe it was in the redacted sections of the report. So I talked to people who had seen the unredacted sections of the report, and they said that it was not there either.

And I just thought that, given all of the attention that Russia has received during the Trump presidency, that it was important to try and make it clear to the public that these questions were not answered by Mueller.

Mueller said this in his testimony on Capitol Hill. He answered these questions. But it never got the attention for the whole public to sort of digest it and understand it.

And I went back and I looked at that testimony and I said, I need to try and tell as much of that story as possible because I don't think people understood what the Russia investigation was. And I think that they thought it was something that maybe it wasn't.

MADDOW: Mike, why did Rod Rosenstein not tell Andrew McCabe who had approved the opening of this investigation, why did he not tell the FBI leadership that he had kiboshed this investigation? It seems like the FBI was under the impression that Mueller had taken it over. Mueller, the way that he wrote about it in his report, seemed to indicate that he thought he was feeding that stuff back to the FBI.

You report that it ended up in neither of those camps. The investigation just wasn't done. Why did Rosenstein keep this from the FBI when he made this call?

SCHMIDT: Rosenstein felt that McCabe and the FBI were out of control. McCabe had taken this decision to open the -- open the two-pronged investigation on his own, and Rosenstein felt that McCabe may have conflicts of interest.

The president had been attacking McCabe. The bureau was grieving over the firing of Comey. And here was the FBI opening up the most extraordinary investigation you can ever open on a president. Is the president compromised by our chief foreign adversary?

And Rosenstein did not want this all to turn into a fishing expedition. He did not want this thing to go on for years and for there to be this examination of every little thing in Donald Trump's life to figure out what his ties were to Russia. Rosenstein thought that it was not a secret that the president had an affinity toward Russia. He had essentially run on that, and that this was not something that should be undertaken.

He says to Mueller, if you guys want to do more, you can come back and ask for that. But he tells Mueller to focus on the 2016 election. Focus on whether crimes were committed as part of that.

MADDOW: Clearly though, at the leadership levels of the FBI, they weren't under the same -- they didn't have the same understanding about this as Rosenstein did. I want to play you a real quick clip from Andy McCabe on "60 Minutes", talking about what he thought happened to that counterintelligence investigation and why he thought it was safe.

To control room, this is clip number two if you could just play this in a way that Mike can hear it, and so can our viewers. Thanks.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I met with the team investigating the Russia cases and I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine where we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward?

I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS HOST: You wanted a documentary record.

MCCABE: That's right.

PELLEY: That those investigations had begun because you feared that they would be made to go away.

MCCABE: That's exactly right.


MADDOW: Andrew McCabe thought that he had made sure that the counterintelligence case couldn't vanish in the night without a trace, that it couldn't be made to go away, at least without people knowing that it had been made to go away. It seems like that's exactly what happened, though.

SCHMIDT: Well, this is about these eight days in May between the firing of Comey and the appointment of Mueller. Comey is fired. The White House relies on a document created by Rosenstein as the White House's rationale for the dismissal.

The president comes out afterwards. He says a lot of unusual things. McCabe and these investigators eventually sit down in this period of time and open up this investigation, and they believe -- McCabe believes by opening it, he will be protecting it, that he will be creating a paper trail, and he's pushing Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel.

He's saying, we need a special counsel. If we had had one in the Clinton email case, we would be on much different footing. This needs to happen. And Rosenstein goes ahead, and he appoints Mueller. And McCabe thinks it's one of the greatest accomplishments of his life.

Here he has opened up these investigations and Bob Mueller, one of the great heroes of the post-9/11 era, is going to take these over and he will be a safe steward for these investigations. And McCabe goes and he briefs Mueller on these investigations, and he assumes for the remainder of his time as the deputy FBI director, which lasts for several more months, that Mueller has taken these over and will do them.

McCabe then, two years later, picks up the Mueller report and looks at it and says, it's not there.

MADDOW: Remarkable stuff. Michael Schmidt, "New York Times" Washington correspondent. The author of "Donald Trump v. The United States: Inside the Struggle to stop a President" which comes out tomorrow and is chock-full of craziness.

Michael, congratulations. Good luck on the book tour. Thanks for being here first. I really appreciate you making the time.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: All right. We've got much more ahead here tonight.

Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Barack Obama was elected, I could see what he meant to the African-American community.

This five-year-old kid asked Obama, is my haircut just like yours? President Obama bent over and let that kid touch his head in his hand.

That image stands for how kids will see themselves differently forever.

I thought, who is this man? How does he deal with crisis? Leadership, character, and empathy -- don't you wish we had that now?

MADDOW: Programming note. That is a clip from the excellent new documentary that's called "The Way I See It", which is about former chief White House photographer Pete Souza. Pete Souza, you know, worked in the Obama administration. Did you know that he also worked in the Reagan White House?

He is now viewing life at the Trump White House with considerable dismay.

MSNBC and Focus Features announced this week that this new doc, "The Way I See It", is going to be released in theaters September 18th, but then it is going to make its TV debut here on MSNBC, which is very cool. We're going to show that on TV for the first time ever Friday, October 9th, at 10:00 p.m. which is awesome. Put it in your calendar now. Friday, October 9th.

All right. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Tuesday when I will be interviewing a man named Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney.

Have an excellent Labor Day Weekend. Good night.


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