tv The Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC February 17, 2018 4:00pm-5:00pm PST
the hour. rachel maddow starts now. >> much appreciated. thanks to you for joining us at this hour. i think the biggest thing we learned today is that this guy has quite a lot of rabbits stuffed into that hat. it's always a surprise with the special counsel. on day one, was not quite a surprise when the special counsel, robert mueller, turned in his first multicount felony indictment against paul manafort. wouldn't be crazy to pick paul manafort. he was a really high-profile figure in the campaign. had been campaign chairman, had left under suspicion in the former soviet union. and actually, we've got some paul manafort news tonight. mueller is making new criminal charges against paul manafort, just this evening on top of everything else that he is doing. but even on that first day, when the criminal charges were unsealed against paul manafort,
even that day, there was already a surprise from paul manafort. because in addition to the charges against paul manafort, hey, who is that guy? even now, months later, when we show file footage of this man, rick gates, people think we're just showing file footage of some random clip art model or maybe he's a cop or a body guard. rick gates. that was the surprise indictment, even on day one from robert mueller, back in october. but nobody knew who rick gates was. then the next time we heard from the special counsel, again, maybe nobody was all that surprised to see michael flynn turn up in court, since he too had been very high-profile and he too had to bow out under a cloud of suspicion and intrigue under his certain tissues contacts. but then even there was a surprise from the special counsel. flynn's guilty plea. flynn is pleading guilty and will be a witness for the
prosecution? that was definitely a surprise. and on that same day, surprise again. because hey, who is this guy? george papa dapa-who is pleading guilty? who on earth is george pap dap list. there have been surprises from the very beginning. so much attention, so much keen interest. so much on the details of the mueller investigation. and it turns out, they do not leak. and we really have no idea ever what the special counsel is about to do in this case next. and if you talk to anybody who tells you today that, oh, yeah, they saw today's indictment coming, they saw this indictment coming, they saw this new guilty plea and cooperation agreement coming, they could have told you
this was happening before it happened, you should break up with that person, because that person lies to you. there was nobody outside the special counsel's office who knew before today that we were about to get what we just got. that we were about to get a guilty plea and a cooperation agreement from richard pinato. he signs his name ricky. that's all we know. his guilty plea is for identity fraud. he's an american citizen. the statement of the offense in his case spells out that he basically bought and sold bank account numbers online. so people could set up fraudulent payment accounts online under fake identities. his lawyer later in the day put out a statement admitting the crime that his client had pled guilty to, but giving a sort of ungrammatical and apparently rushed explanation as to why his guilty plea really isn't as bad as it sounds in this context. he said, quote, mr. pin aido had no knowledge of the information
he provided. to the extent that his actions assisted any individuals, including foreign nationals, from interfering the american presidential election, was done completely without his knowledge or understanding. you know what he means, even though the statement is a little screwed up. lawyers basically saying, hey, listen, my guy -- he's pleading guilty. my guy just makes money online, trafficking and identity theft. but i swear, he didn't know he was helping the russians attack us. richard pinedo, pleading guilty and cooperating with the special counsel now. the major indictment unsealed today, though, against a whole bunch of russians makes it pretty clear how ricky pinedo's online trade and stolen identities in fact really did help the russians attack us. whether or not mr. pinedo knew that was what was going to happen with the information he was selling. the russians, according to the big indictment today, they used stolen credit card numbers, stolen bank account numbers,
stolen identities, including from real americans, to open online accounts, online payment accounts, to facilitate the financial part of their attack, the financial part of what mueller's team of prosecutors lay out today as a large, well-coordinated, expensive, thorough operation to try to swing the 2016 presidential election to donald trump. so why was this one american guy arrested and charged and flipped into a cooperating witness in conjunction with this case today? why did mueller bring these charges today against these 13 russian individuals and the internet research agency they worked for in russia, and two of the companies in russia that were used to fund the operations of that internet research agency? i don't know. i don't know why this all happened today. and frankly, neither do you. but there is a ton of new information that we just learned
today from this -- yet another surprise move from the special counsel. so we have been able to surmise, just a civilian watching this story. we have been able to surmise from the beginning that there were three prongs to the russian attack. there were three ways that they attacked us. number one, they attacked our actual election system. they hacked into the voting rolls in more than 20 states. two, they attacked the democratic party. they hacked into documents and e-mails from the clinton campaign and the dnc. and three, they attacked us. the public. or at least they targeted all of us. when they decided that they wouldn't just steal those democratic documents and use them for spying purposes. instead, they would turn them around and release them back into the u.s. in a weaponized way to try to hurt our perception of one side in the election. they targeted us with those documents that they stole. they targeted us with propaganda. they targeted us with considerable effort to manipulate the american social
media environment and all sorts of different online discussions about our election. to try to change our perception of our own politics and our own political figures. now, we have been able to see that from the outside. and in terms of that third prong of the russian effort, the part where they were targeting we, the public, there has been a lot of really good public reporting on how that last part of the russian attack played out. that's how we know about the russian spying online ads to try to influence the election. and the russian twitter bots and the russian fake facebook groups and russian fake online personas designed to look american. and that were designed to make our discourse more toxic and extreme and polarizing than it already is. and frankly, they were designed to boost donald trump's chances in the election and to weaken hillary clinton. there's been -- you've been hearing this story. details of the story for the past year. because there's been a bunk ch really good journalism about the russian efforts in the past year.
but that was just one prong of the three-prong attack. they attacked the russian system and targeted the public. against the other two prongs of that attack, they're breaking into the dnc, breaking into the voter rolls. who would have thought that the first part of this three-prong attack to actually result in real criminal charges against russians wouldn't be hacking into the democratic party. wouldn't be hacking into state voter rolls. it would be this third prong, the stuff they did to try to influence public opinion online. i at least would not have predicted if there were going to be russian criminal charges here. criminal charges against russian citizens. i would not have predicted that they would be for that part of the attack. but now they brought these criminal charges. and thanks to this very detailed indictment, we've got a ton of new information about exactly what the special counsel believes russia did. and why the special counsel believes it's not just an american -- not just america
being victimized by a russian intelligence operation. now we've got all this detail about why the special counsel thinks that what russia did in terms of targeting the u.s. public is an actual crime. now, i have no idea how mueller and his team got the kinds of documents they got to put together this indictment. but they've got a lot of primary source material. they've got direct quotes from internal reviews from inside this internet research agency from which the russians were running this campaign. this is a quote from the indictment. quote, on or about september 14th, 2016, in an internal review of an organization created and controlled facebook group called secured borders, the account specialists was criticized for having, a quote, low number of posts dedicated to criticizing hillary clinton. it was imperative to criticize hillary clinton in future posts. how did the mueller team get
those direct quotes from an internal review about one of these russian-created facebook groups? how did they get that? they quote from internal documents, saying the goal of the russian setting up these fake american online personas was to create leaders of public opinion in america. quoting from the internal documents at the internet research agency. how did they get direct quotes? how did they get documents like that out of this russian operation inside russia? how did they get the exact internal structure of the russian team that was working on the operation to attack the u.s. election? they've got them all listed by job title, by their full names, by their rank in the organization and who they reported to. they know the internal name that the russians were using for the u.s. election operation inside this organization. they called it the translator project. special counsel also appears to have obtained personal e-mails. personal e-mails from at least one individual russian who they are charging today.
one individual russian who they say was involved in the attack on our election. quote, defendants and their co conspirators destroyed evidence for the purpose of impeding the investigation. on or about september 13th, 2017, victor kaverzina wrote to a family member, the fbi busted our activity. not a joke. so i got preoccupied with covering tracks. together with the colleagues. he further wrote, i created all these pictures and posts and the americans believed that it was written by their people. how did mueller and his team get this kind of material? how did they even get just the real names of all the people working inside this organization in russia? these people who had created all these pictures and posts where the americans believed it was their own people? i mean, the whole part and parcel of this attack is they disguised their identities. they made themselves appear as if they were operating within the united states. they used false information and
false identities in order to cover their financial -- how did they track this all down and get these people's individual e-mails, names and work products from inside this russian organization? the indictment today claims that two of the named defendants, anna bogacheva and alexander krylova, traveled to the united states in person to collect intelligence for this operation. the president today -- president trump today ex claimed about that date because 2014 was before he was running for president. the implication of his tweet was that he should be seen as in the clear as he says at the end of his tweet there. no collusion, because the russians started this operation even before he was technically running. well, if the indictment is correct, the russians did start this operation before he was technically running. looked at from another angle, you could also say they started their operation right after he returned from his trip to moscow in november 2013 for the miss
universe pageant. i don't know -- i don't know if that's relevant. i don't know if this was pegged to when he was going to start running or anything else about his relationships with russia. if that's at all relevant. honestly, in this indictment, if that's what you're looking for, you're not going to find it. there is nothing in this indictment either way when it comes to the question of whether any americans knowingly colluded with this russian operation. the indictment doesn't make any allegations about that at all. what this indictment is, is a ton more information and serious criminal charges concerning what the russians did. and you can tell from the guilty plea of the one american guy they charged today, and you can tell from a lot of the specificity in the indictment that parts of how they were able to trace all of this was clearly money. i mean, the russian operation paid out a lot of money to do what they did. they paid out for online ads that were pro trump and anti clinton. the russian operation paid for
real live americans. they paid americans to set up pro-trump and anti-clinton rallies. they paid to buy supplies for protests and marches. they paid for -- well, on more than one occasion, this unusual thing. quote, on or about august 18th, 2016, defendants and their co conspirators sent money via interstate wire to a real u.s. person using one of their u.s. personas. they sent this money to a real u.s. person to, quote, build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting hillary clinton in a prison uniform. also in the indictment, quote, for example, defendants and their co conspirators asked one u.s. person to build a cage on a flat beg truck and another person to wear a costume portraying hillary clinton in a prison uniform. they paid these individuals to complete the requests. and it's an amazing thing to know that that kind of anti hillary clinton prop was a
kremlin-funded operation on an american street. but it also looks like the payment trail there is one that was found and followed by the special counsel and his prosecutors. and so now we've got these criminal charges against 13 different russians and the russian internet research agency, the troll farm, and two russian organizations that were used as funding sources for that op. and in addition to these charges, we've got chapter and verse. not just on the russian game plan. but how it can be charged as a criminal matter in u.s. federal court. by not reporting these expenditures to election authorities. by making illegal expenditures as foreigners trying to influence our election. by obtaining visas to visit the u.s. under false pretenses. those are crimes. those are alleged crimes in this indictment. so they're saying this isn't something the russians did which we should see in a spy versus spy context. what the russians did was a
criminal conspiracy that involved a number of chargeable criminal acts they believe they can prove in court. totally new advance in this special counsel investigation. and it brings me to some questions. question one. how did they get all this stuff? question two. i thought -- i mentioned this a moment ago. i thought, if they were going to bring criminal charges against any russians, it would be for hacking into the democrats' computers. or maybe for hacking into state voter rolls. given that those things are not in this indictment at all, should we expect those things won't be charged or should we expect that more russians will be criminally indicted for those hacking attacks, as well. third question. the indictment says a number of times that there are other people associated with conspiracy who aren't named in the indictment. like this. quote, from in or around 2014 to the present, defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other and
with persons known and unknown to the grand jury to defraud the united states by impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful government for the purpose of interfering with the u.s. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016. defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other and with persons known and unknown to the grand jury. who were these persons known and unknown? especially who are these persons known to the grand jury? who conspired with defendants? and if the grand jury knows who they are, and the government knows that they conspired with the defendants, why aren't those other people in the dimtd? indictment and are those people going to turn out to be russians or americans? and that brings me to my big question here. that brings me to the reason i cancelled my day off today. in the middle of my day off today, and veered off the highway and drove to this studio instead of taking susan away for a nice, long weekend, like i was planning to today.
i'm sorry, honey. here's my question and why i'm here tonight. why bring charges like this against a bunch of russian people? who, frankly, you're not going to get into a courtroom. why do that? and why do it now? legally, if in the future you're going to charge other people -- you're maybe going to charge americans with being part of this operation as a criminal conspiracy, does it help the prosecutor to have initially charged the conspiracy as a crime? to be laying down a law that there was a crime here in the first place. if you're going to charge other people with conspiring in this crime later, does it help to have charged this as a crime in the first place? that is actually a question i think we can get answered here tonight, and that's why i cancelled my day off. but i will just say one other thing before we bring on the experts who can answer some of this stuff. there's been -- ask this is just my observation. i feel like there's been a bunch
of stern finger-wagging today that this indictment shows that we americans should really be more careful about who we pay attention to online. that we should take care to not be duped by foreign operations like this. what this indictment actually shows, if anything, was that this foreign operation wasn't some practical joke. this wasn't a crank call. this wasn't a lark. this was a russian intelligence operation. this was russian intelligence at its most ambitious. this was expensive. in the indictment today, they say the budget for this was more than $1 million a month. it was expensive, it was extensive, it was well thought out, it was run by professionals. and it was effective. and so, yeah, we need to harden ourselves as a target. yes. but we also need our own professionals. we need the full force of the u.s. government going after these guys to protect us against operations like this. to catch them when they do it,
to stop them when they mount operations like this that target the american public so aggressively. i mean, this -- indictment today was a surprise in so many ways. just like all the other indictment days have had their surprises. but the biggest surprise that i had after covering this story so closely for this whole freaking year now. the surprise for me personally was that hearing these charges and hearing what they were charging these russians for, it was the first time that i felt like finally, finally, for the first time since we realized all this was happening, finally, it feels like somebody is defending us. and going after them. and taking seriously what they did and showing not incidentally, showing what this adversary is designed for and capable of and still working on for our election this year. finally somebody is defending us and taking it seriously and doing something about it.
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our election in 2016, even as we are absorbing this big new indictment and the story that it tells, we've got new breaking news tonight. from one of the special counsel's other indictments. this has just happened. ever since former trump campaign chair, paul manafort, was indict indeed october on multiple charges including money laundering, his legal team and special counsel's office have been locked in ongoing wrangling about basically his release package. his bail package and the hermes ter terms of his house arrest. paul manafort has never been fully released from house arrest. the mueller team hasn't been satisfied with what manafort has offered to put up as security to be let out. they have gone back and forth on this for a while. i mean, the basic idea of the bond is, you have to put up $10 million so if you run to evade prosecution, to skip out on your
trial, we get to collect $10 million from your life here and from your loved ones and from your -- from everybody who knows you. so i mean, that's the basic idea. but honestly, the fighting over it, sometimes it's a little boring. it's kind of hard to follow what they're fighting about in terms of his bail and whether or not he can be released to go to the gym and, you know, whether he's wearing an ankle bracelet and all of the rest of it. it's all these details. it's been boring. there's been a lot of it. all of a sudden tonight it's not boring at all any more. because tonight the special counsel's team filed with the court what looked at first to be just their latest ping-pong response to manafort on that issue. they're laying out the reasons they find his latest bail offer insufficient. but on page 3 of what they filed tonight, something very new and surprising pops up. they're basically making new criminal charges against him, or at least describing them. quote, further, the proposed package is deficient in the government's view in light of additional criminal conduct that we have learned since the
court's initial bail determination. that criminal conduct includes a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies, including criminal conduct relating to the mortgage on manafort's property in virginia, which is part of the subject of the bail discussion. the government has secured substantial evidence that manafort secured this through false and fraudulent representations through the federal savings bank. for example, manafort provided the bank with doctored profit and loss statements, overstating its income by millions of dollars. at the next bail hearing, we can proffer additional evidence related to this, and the other bank frauds and conspiracies which the court may find relevant to the bail risk posed by manafort, as well as the risk the court may close to secure his release. respectfully submitted, robert s. mueller iii, special counsel. now, that's dramatic. it's not clear from this filing whether robert mueller intends to charge paul manafort in connection with these newly
discovered bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies or if he's just letting us know he knows about them but this is an unsealed filing just dropped tonight after the special indictment of the 13 russians. why are they unveiling new charges against paul manafort tonight. why is this all happening at once? joins us is joyce vance. this is a lot to absorb. thank you for helping us understand it. >> sure. happy to be here with you. >> i'm going to tell you right now that i'm going to ask you to stay after we take a break. because i want to talk to you more broadly about what we learned from the russia conspiracy indictment that we got today. there is so much in it. i first, though, want to ask you about this breaking news. i was not expecting to see we were getting -- not exactly new charges, but allegations of new criminal conduct against paul manafort from robert mueller tonight. what do you make of this, including the timing? >> it's awfully interesting. i think one possible conclusion is that this means that mueller
has concluded a plea deal with gates and that gates is giving them new information. but it's also really interesting, because it could be a prelude to mueller seeking permission from the court to no longer permit manafort on bond and instead requiring him to be held in custody pending trial. that could be very interesting. it would certainly mean that they meant business about the manafort trial at this point. >> now, they don't -- as far as i can tell, even though -- and, again, i'm not a lawyer. i look at this way this is described to the judge. this seems like a fairly detailed threat of charges from robert mueller. but this doesn't actually represent the government, the special counsel's office, bringing these charges. it's just sort of alerting the court they may be brought in the future? >> that's exactly right. and because it goes to whether or not manafort is honest about conditions that would secure his release, i think it suggests
they're thinking about asking the judge to take him into custody pending trial. >> wow. cnn had that bombshell report yesterday that gates was, in fact, pursuing a cooperation agreement and a plea deal. if what you say is correct, this may be a sign that has been fruitful already, if this means they're going to try to put paul manafort to change his life dramatically so he'll be held in jail instead of in house arrest, this is really turning the screws. joyce, as i promised, i would love to hold you over, if you don't mind. i have a lot to talk to you about with this russia indictment. thank you for being with us. can you stay with us? >> absolutely. >> we'll be right back with joyce vance. stay with us.
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have you had any assurances from the russians they will provide these individuals for prosecution? >> there have been no communication with the russians about this. we'll follow the ordinary process of seeking cooperation. and extradition. thank you. >> attorney general, rod rosenstein, talking about the normal process of seeking cooperation and extradition with the russians now that 13 citizens and three russian organizations have been charged. the normal process, ordinary process, means those russians will never, ever see the u.s. of a u.s. courtroom. raising the question of what the strategy is for bringing these criminal charges against them today in this time and in this way. joining us once again is joyce vance. let me get your top line reaction.
obviously, we had two things happen today in the courtroom. we had an american citizen plead guilty and announce cooperation with the special counsel after apparently having marketed bank account numbers and other false identity documents online used by the russians. then we've got this big indictment of all these russians who presumably will never, ever face u.s. justice. >> that seems like a safe assumption here. it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get them to the united states for trial. and as you say, this indictment is more of a novel than it is the usual spartan indictment we have come to expect. so that makes you ask the question, who is it intended for? and that i think is an interesting question here. it certainly will socialize the american public to the idea that there was, in fact, russian interference in the election. >> and that that russian interference was a crime. was a criminal matter. it wasn't just some sort of strategic standoff between
adversaries and as a form of international relations. defining this as criminal conduct to me was a surprise. i thought if any russians were going to get charged here, it might be for some of the hacking sort of digital breaking and entering that we have had described, both towards the democrats and towards state election rolls. but then i started wondering if as a legal matter -- as a legal strategy, if it makes sense to define this as a crime so overtly, in part because you plan down the road to charge other people with conspiracy for having participated in this criminal conspiracy. maybe it helps. it's seen as laying down a predicate in terms of preparing people for the fact this was a criminal act and anybody involved in it also participated in a crime? >> you know, i guess that's a possibility. but i would think that that would be more a byproduct of this indictment than intent. because the core crime is that it's illegal for a foreigner to
influence an american election. i had always thought we might see some russians indicted, but i really expected we would see them indicted along with american counterparts. so this is a little bit of a curiosity. it does have this impact of clarifying for us that mueller believes that this is an election-based crime. although there is also a wire fraud and banking fraud charge in here. we've also got this aggravated i.d. theft charge that comes to light. but it does definitely hint that there could be americans down the road. we know that deputy attorney general rod rosen stein was awfully careful today in the press conference to see that the indictment as of today does not involve americans of the and we also know that there are unindicted co conspirators who were included in what the grand jury considered. >> and is that normal, to say that there werin -- there was -- defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other and with persons known and unknown to the grand jury. if they knowingly conspired with
persons known to the grand jury, why aren't those persons named in the indictment and also charged? >> so that's pretty typical language that prosecutors use. sometimes it means that for whatever reason, those co conspirators will never be indicted. perhaps there's a failure of evidence. perhaps they're cooperating with the investigation and they'll be charged by information down the road. but one thing that's really clear is that even though we don't know who those unindicted co conspirators are, they know exactly who they are. and this could be mueller signalling to them it's time to come in and cooperate if they ever intend to. . >> joyce vance, former u.s. attorney from the great state of alabama. joyce, clear and chilling, as always. thank you. really good to have you here. >> thanks. all right. lots more questions and apparently news that continues to develop over the course of this evening. stay with us. we'll be right back. let's begin.
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the former u.s. ambassador to russia, michael mcfaul, right now is at the munich security conference, the big annual security conference, like davos for security. we asked him to join us on the sidelines of the conference, even though hr mcmaster is speaking tomorrow. we asked him to join us live in the middle of the night. because we're absorbing the fact that the special counsel has just brought criminal charges against 13 russians today. we're trying to figure out exactly what the strategy was, criminally and politically, behind that. but the only person i know to ask about how russia might react to 13 of their citizens being charged today in the special counsel's investigation, the only person i know to ask who i would absolutely trust his answer is mike mcfaul. and so he joins us now live from munich. mr. ambassador, it is really, really, really beyond the call of duty for you to be doing this for us. but thank you for joining us tonight. >> glad to be here.
rachel, i just got here yesterday, so i'm still on california time. >> absolutely. good. we'll keep you up for a few hours then. how do you think that russia -- >> all right -- >> -- will react to this indictment today? 13 russian citizens indicted. nobody believes the u.s. will have an easy time getting them into any american courtroom maybe ever. how do you think russia will respond to this? >> well, yeah. it's going to be hard to get them to get putin to send them to america. but i think this is a pretty big deterrent effect for a couple of reasons. number one, they're not going to be sent by the russian government. if they show up in london, if they're on the french rivera, if they're anywhere we want to go where we have closer ties with those countries, they're going to have real problems. so that's a big deterrent. their lives have just changed as a result of this. and number two, what's, in my opinion, very important that this document does is it criminalizes this behavior in
terms of interaction on -- in our elections, right? with bots, with buying ads, all these things that are somewhat ambiguous in terms of our laws. mr. mueller has made it clear these are breaking a law. and i think that will deter russia from doing this in the future. >> now, there aren't people charged here who appear to be direct employees of the russian government. or at least it's not clear. there's an agency that is charged, this sort of internet research agency, which is run by a close ally of vladimir putin. there are two other organizations charged, which are business interests, which appear to be funding sources for this agency, ask then all these people charged, both that oligarch who runs that agency and a number of other people who appear to have been directly involved in the operation. does this -- when you look at this indictment, does it look like a russian government, russian intelligence operation, or is this something -- something hybrid, something particularly russian? how should we see this?
>> well, everything in russia is hybrid, right? and they're cutouts and ways they can deny it, and, of course, mr. putin and the kremlin are going to deny they had anything to do with this. but to me, i know this organization very well. i know the leader of it very well. he is a very close confidante to vladimir putin. he is in the inner circle. and there is just no way they would undertake such an audacious operation inside the united states of america without getting approval from the kremlin and without getting approval from vladimir putin. i mean, think about it even in our democratic society. that's highly decentralized. can you imagine some american entity doing this inside russia? without talking to the white house? it's just inconceivable to me that this was not green lighted by the kremlin. >> were you surprised by the scale of what they did by the -- the number of different types of operations that were described, the way in which they were
organized, the amount of money that was spent, the sort of way they adapted their tactics, depending on how they thought they were doing? were you surprised at the extent of it? >> i was, to be honest with you. you and i followed this for a long time. remember, rachel, last week you said, is anybody else really thinking about this russia thing any more? i think a lot of people are t g thinking about it today. even for me, the scale of what they did and the various ways that they did it, i think were quite incredible. but it's also quite incredible that we discovered it all. and i think we should give a nod to mr. mueller and to the intelligence agencies, because i'm sure there was multiple, that discovered what was going on. that is a really good sign for our intelligence community. >> mike mcfaul, former u.s. ambassador to russia. munich night owl for us tonight. against our -- sorry to disturb your sleep your first night there. thank you for joining us on short notice. really appreciate it. >> thanks for having me.
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that it's covert. you can hack stuff and be covert but you can't influence and be covert, you have to show your hand. that's why we've been able to discovery it online. >> that was a year ago. march 2017, they held won of the only open hearings on russia's attack on our election. one expert spoke so bluntly and so presciently on what the attacks likely were, got us wondering how clint watts saw this so clearly before the rest of us did, particularly before we got this indictment spelling out a scenario for the russian attack that almost exactly matches up to what he said happened a year ago.
joining us now clint watts. thank you for being with us and trying to let us know earlier than anybody else did. >> it's been an interesting journey. it was hard to convince people four years ago when we got started on this. >> when you read the indictment today and there were so many things that matched up with basically what you had described, what you'd seen trails of online, what you surmised about how they might be being controlled or coordinated within russia, did you see anything in the indictment that was truly a surprise or that made you think this was bigger or different than you expected? >> there was only one thing. it was highly consistent with what we saw. we started tracking them in 2014 and the reason we knew it was connected to russia is because they initially came to us in
dialogue about syria. so they would troll me about syria. we would watch them overtime. and they kept shifting to pro-russian positions until they descended on the u.s. debate. and the end of 2014 they started talking about social issues like you saw in the indictment. the only real surprise in the indictment that i didn't know about was the level of technical signature building they were doing to mask themselves as looking like americans. it's one thing to make fake accounts to look and talk like americans but it's different to set up a virtual network in the u.s. so if you did just rudimentary tracking it would still look american. that's one thing that's key they sent people to do recon sense in america and set up apparatus to make it look authentic. that was a key revelation today. >> the visits in 2014, there's one spelled out in a lot of detail, we get the two named russian defendants described as coming here in about a three to four week period in the summer of 2014, there's also a reference to another unnamed person in the indictment. and that's described as collecting intelligence. we had a list of states those
defendants supposedly visited. do you have any sense of what kind of intelligence gathering that might have been? >> what i imagine they were trying to do was a couple different things which i think is important to note in the indictment. one they took personally identifiable information, which they used to make actual credit cards and accounts and set up payment systems. they wanted to pay people on do things. to do that you would think you can do that online but it's a lot easier if you do indepth recon sense inside the states or purchases that way. the other thing is setting up the infrastructure of where do we have our servers at so it looks real. and the third step would be a landscape of what the election was going to look like in 2014, going into 2015. so what does it feel like on the ground. that's what we would do in intelligence operations.
>> do you think some of the financial building that you described is how it was unravelled by the fbi and other intelligence agencies that fed into this indictment today? >> it's the key. you can see it with the fake social media accounts, but it's difficult to verify this comes from the troll farm but what does allow that is when they make purchases. and that's why when facebook came forward and said we tracked these back to the research agency, that's essential because it nails it down to who the identities are behind it. it's always why it's more difficult to track to twitter because you're not making purchases and you don't have to register the same way to prove you're an actual person with the accounts. so the financial backbone is probably what brought this down and makes it so definitive. >> makes it all -- i think it gives us a clearer sense, even
at a gut level, of how additional charges or clarification can come to us when they can follow the financial trails. >> yes. it makes me think they have interviewed someone who's been there, they have someone on the inside or someone who's gotten them technical information or some sort of manuscript that allowed them to understand how the place was operating because it was a detailed indictment. >> knowing their budget was remarkable. clint watts, a former special agent. thank you for joining us and thanks from your service. i want to bring into the conversation my friend michael beschloss. i feel like i don't just want to talk to you tonight but i need to. >> thank you, rachel.
pleasure to be with you always. >> what we got today from this indictment is a very detailed, sort of lurid description at length with lots of details of a foreign intelligence operation that targeted the u.s. public on a large scale with large stakes. has there ever been a foreign intelligence operation that affected the u.s. public and u.s. politics in this way? >> well, i think what we saw today, rachel, really took a step toward the possibility that this is the biggest covert action operation against american interests that we may have ever seen.
it's going to take a while to find out. this is something that under mined faith in our democracy, pitted groups against each other, and maybe, we may know soon, may have decided who was the president of the united states. when you've got an election that was decided by 77,000 voters in three states almost anything can affect it. >> you talked in the past how previous presidents have worried about whether or not russia or other adversary nations were taking covert action because you -- i've heard you talk about presidents worrying about that, not just because of the direct effect of a foreign covert action against us, but because of the expectation that the united states government, united states military would have to hit back so hard against something like that that it might bring us to the brink of a real war. >> that's true. the biggest case of that was 1963 when john kennedy was assassinated and a lot of people said maybe the russians were behind this. oswald the accused assassin had been to russia, defected, came back, married the niece of a soviet intelligence official. and the person most worried was lyndon johnson, the new president.
because he knew if americans thought the russians were behind the killing of our president and a change of power there might be a huge demand among americans to retaliate against the soviet union in a way that might lead to nuclear war. that's one of the reasons lbj did the warn commission. he went to the chief justice and said i hope you find a verdict that will resolve suspicions like this. >> even in the narrative it explains the seriousness of the attack. how the united states would have reacted to something targeting the u.s. public like this. this kind of major covert action. the contrast of what's happening now is counter historical. >> you have president trump today, didn't respond, didn't say how he would protect us. >> that's why i wanted to talk to you my friend, michael beschloss, thank you for being here. it was a remarkable day from the special counsel's office. i will underscore the breaking news that happened during our hour, the government appears to be signaling new criminal charges or new criminal
allegations against trump campaign chairman, paul manafort, we don't know what to make of it but it happened tonight. see you on monday. now it's time for the "last word with lawrence o'donnell." >> i'm so glad you had michael on tonight. that's the thing i was thinking about the most today is the presidential response to what was revealed today. >> and honestly, the -- i mean, if in any other circumstance in the world you had unsealed by the government, by the special counsel's office, this kind of a detailed indictment, detailed narrative of a covert action targeting the united states, including russian operatives being here in the united states to carry it out, this vast criminal conspiracy that is described here, and the special counsel saying that he and his prosecutors would have enough evidence on these matt