tv Hardball With Chris Matthews MSNBC February 13, 2017 11:30pm-12:01am PST
stability, his intelligence. he gets up in the morning, from hearing from his national security adviser to tell him what everybody is telling him and distilling it from him. when those three people didn't trust him to distill from him to bring information to trump, he's dead. i'm still astounded by it tonight. when i talked to phil rutger at the post today, and the times and the post are in tremendous competition right now with all their resources. this is really a heavy-duty operation to get the story out every hour between those two great papers. the journal is also involved in it, the wall street journal. the help they're getting is incredible. it's not just the professional people on the nfc, it's the
political people in the nfc who are feeding the press with impunity of michael flynn who is supposed a leader. it's almost a free fire zone with everyone trying to bring him down from the top, state defense and cia, but all the people who are political people under him have been basically ratting him out. so this is an extraordinary crossfire, and michael flynn is down now. >> we're talking to chris matthews. we just passed the half hour mark. 11:31 eastern time. the news you see there on the screen. the national security adviser, michael flynn, a retired u.s. army three-star general. he served, as we've been saying, only four mondays into this new presidency. he has tendered his resignation to donald trump. chris matthews, two points. number one, about the nsa, the story yesterday in the "new york times" painting this bleak, dark picture of a largely abandoned shop in the white house, the leaks have been extraordinary
from the inside to journalists, some of them saying donald trump likes smart graphics and maps. so we put a lot of those in the documents we prepare for him. but secondly, chris, what about russia? because the question i asked of andrea mitchell early on in this broadcast is is going to come back, and that is, it doesn't have to be one of these two. did donald trump say "call the russians, tell them not to flinch when they see these new sanctions because we're going to make it okay"? or did flynn freelance, or is the answer likely somewhere in the middle. >> oh, my god, if it was trump, he would have carried it a bit further, i would think. i think it wasn't -- i don't know, i've never believed that the conversation to the extent it touched on the sanctions, the obama sanctions as a result of the fiddling by the russians in the campaign -- i don't know.
i don't know. i haven't seen the transcript, i don't know the extent to which they really got into it. we have no reason to believe that yet. we only have evidence that they talked about it. it came up, and for some reason flynn thought he could forget it and allow himself to forget it. everyone knows in terms of dealing with public truth, you have to tell the truth. if you don't remember, don't say you do and don't be black and white about saying, i never talked about that. that's how you get into perjury situations and in trouble politically. if he didn't have a dim memory of ior it was in passing conversation, he still had the responsibility to himself to say, i d it. along the lines of leaking, i don't understand when people who were political appointees in the nsa, this guy flynn doesn't know it requires congressional
approval for arms sales. why are we getting this information -- you mentioned about trump. why are people who are politically loyal being disloyal to the top man? i've never seen anything like this, brian. this lack of loyalty, even to a guy -- especially to a guy in trouble. he's no longer in trouble, he's gone. >> chris, we often talk about coming up in america in our general generation. what being the soviet union meant, what russia has meant, what various soviet and russian leaders have meant. the way most of the world views vladimir putin, the way most of the american people view vladimir putin and how interesting it has been, this campaign, to hear the one lone voice bending over backwards to give vladimir putin the benefit of the doubt. that's been donald trump.
that's why russia as a subject matter is before us. >> well, there's two realities banging into each other. one is our history with the kgb all these years and stozzi in east germany and all of these in the east block that have been our enemies and vilified by us. the idea the top kgb agent could even be the head of the republic of russia. and trump's determination -- i don't know what's behind this, we'll find out at some point -- trump's determination to break with the crowd and break with history and say, i'm going to partner with russia in terms of dealing with the south. i've heard the theory for years that the east-west struggle was going to be resolved and we were going to have a north/south struggle. the russians and us and moscow and washington would be together in confronting the islamic
violence that's out there. it goes back to when it was created. are are they worried about the new underbelly? it would be this act of anmity. where trump got that idea i have no idea because he doesn't read. so i don't know where he got that from. he got the idea that he could somehow use putin to bring about a transition of some kind in damascus so we could no longer have that around our neck. we would no longer have to deal with assad's family and the other ones, and we would somehow take down isis and do it with a master stroke with putin. that's been his creed. we don't know what they have on him, if they do have something on him either from the mi-6 guy
in his dossier or something else, we just don't know. but i think people look at it, and they look at it as kind of spooky. why is this guy so loyal to russia in the face of the behavior of the russian republic the last 10 years or so? why is he so loyal and hopeful? i assume if he's no longer in the government -- >> he's free to testify, that's for sure. >> the reporting by the times and the journal not just the days. i assume we'll find out whether he was pushed or not. >> yeah. chris matthews calling in to washington tonight as we react to the resignation of general flynn. we go through traditional ways of thinking.
first the soviet union, modern day russia, but more than that, this leader, vladimir putin. >> it's worth noting that while conditions deteriorated between president obama and president putin, they shot down a russian jet over the syrian border. john kerry and sergei lavrov, the foreign leader of russia, they started all over again. that can be achieved with tough foreign policy. this idea that we have loose foreign policy because we're trying to make friends is sort of the idea is to be tough, and then say we'd like to feel better. the concept of the white one that he asked for.
then it got much more interesting because the white house, like the immigration ban, like the appeals bung he would its message. we watched this for the last 48 years. the president has brought somebody into this position. this is the national security adviser who is trusted all around. those leaks that christy was talking about. people who are trusted by the institutions, general petraeus is on that list. so there are two or three names floating around that could stem this leak. it could be whoever is briefing the president, is someone who is tried and trustworthy. >> someone in the white house virtually from the beginning of time, in their brief time in
office, has known about this. >> i think that's troubling certainly to the extent he had spoken about these sanctions. apparently there was a confrontation about it, and he was asked about it, and he obviously misled the staff and the vice president and the president. now there's repercussions on that. but that's problematic. i think russia is more comfortable with a tougher stance on russia. donald trump has never been shy to do things differently. democrats ask republicans and independents would have a stronger stance against russia.
we are back covering the breaking news tonight. there was speculation all day and into the early evening to the point of the politico report about replacements being picked out by the president's son-in-law, but then tonight we received the confirmation that this man, retired u.s. army three-star general and intelligence specialist, had resigned as national security adviser. andrea mitchell had read his letter aloud just after it broke. most of it is cursory, thanking the president for the opportunity to serve, talking about how donald trump has
forged already a new direction in foreign policy, and talking about how he, general flynn, had apologized to the vice president and the president who had accepted his apology. it may turn out to be the least of the wrongdoing here that he misled them. the crux of this is a question, did he knowingly give the russians a heads-up about sanctions that were coming from the americans while he was still a civilian before he was serving in a government post? does that explain why the russians just did not react to otherwise strong sanctions. rachel maddow is among those joining us by calling in. rachel, your reaction to the story. you kind of covered incrementally tonight as it was chugging along. >> yeah, and i did not know this was going to result, brian, in
him being out this evening. i mean, it's a remarkable event for three and a half weeks into this new administration. national security adviser is a very, very difficult job, and people deal with very sensitive matters, and there have been, you know, some presidents have gone through a lot of them. i was just looking back at the reagan era. bud mcfarland pled guilty to charges with regard to the iran contra affair in 1988. he was later pardoned. his successor was convicted in a scandal. national security adviser is a delicate, difficult job. but to lose one not even three and a half weeks into the new administration and without a real sense that we know whether other shoes might drop, whether this might end up being a criminal matter, it's just almost unbelievably dramatic, brian.
>> general flynn was an interesting case. our own barry mccaffery had,t various times, called general flynn perhaps the leading intelligence officer of his generation, but also retired four-star general barry mccaffery did admit that he hated seeing general flynn lead that "lock her up" chant at the gop convention. and to coin a phrase, his methods had perhaps become unsound. general flynn, rachel, was not like a lot of generals we've come to know who have been these kind of scholar warriors, the people who go on to great ivy league institutions and get graduate degrees perhaps after going to west point, after achieving their military rank. he was a specialist. he was an intel guy most of his adult life.
>> uh-huh. very unusual and interesting and distinguished career in terms of his time in uniform. as you know, brian, when general stanley crystal in iraq had such incredible military success with the way he really radically changed jsoc and the special operators in iraq and the way they were going after al qaeda in iraq, flynn was a big part of that. flynn was a big part of mcchrystal's endeavors in afghanistan after that came to a quick end with a scandal in rolling stone magazine. he's been involved in a lot of departmental victories and also some scandal. when his first job out of operational intelligence work in the feeder of war was running the defense intelligence agency, by all accounts, that was a
disaster. he really was pushed out, and out of concerns out of his leadership there, and thereafter his politics became very, very acrid. i choose that word because he took a very different approach to partisan politics than we've seen from most generals of his generation, especially someone so distinguished in his career. his role in this administration was always a little strange because he's so bombastic because he's so ungeneral-like in his partisanship because he showed willingness to flirt with the conspiratorial and radical edges of sort of outright politics during the campaign. and once he was tapped to be the national security adviser to the candidate. so he was an unusual guy from the beginning, but i can't stress enough how strange it is to have him out while we simultaneously have this news tonight from the "washington post" and now confirmed by the "new york times."
but the white house was advised last month that he had lied about his contacts with the russian government. apparently the white house was okay with that. they didn't seem to be taking any action about it. it wasn't until that advice that they got privately from the justice department and the intelligence agencies became publicly reported that they saw it as actionable. they were apparently okay with him serving as national security adviser knowing that he had lied about contacts with a foreign government, potentially illegal contacts. that just means that the scandal around flynn doesn't end with him leaving, it now becomes a question of who knew what about his behavior and his activities inside the administration. >> rachel maddow joining us by phone tonight. thank you for doing so. we saw, as i said, part of this ball of string during all the different hours in prime time on our schedule tonight. we did not know the story we
were walking up to. just before, just after 11:00 eastern time, we got confirmation of this resignation. andrea mitchell is one of our hands on deck tonight. looking at the list of -- finite list of names, andrea, we've already pointed out that on the president's schedule tomorrow we have petraeus and a previously scheduled lunch with chris and mary pat christie of new jersey. >> reporter: i'm told petraeus is on the list. i'm not sure of the timing of his meet, but i am tolvice admiral harwood, who is a former deputy at gicencom. he is a navy s.e.a.l., he is a navy s.e.a.l. 3, he is a protege of general mattis. i just talked to a senior official who said admiral harwood is very much at the top of this list, that petraeus would probably be the second person on this list, two of the
people they are really seriously looking at. they obviously know they have to do something rather quickly. this official said that this decision was agonizing for the president and the entire team, that they have been working on it for days, agonizing on it for days, but that this was not about russia having compromised mike flynn, it was -- what was unsustainable was that he had lied to the president and the vice president and let the vice president go out on january 15th -- and we know from our own reporting and from the "washington post" which first broke the story that it was on january 15th when mike pence went on the sunday talk show, went on cbs on "face the nation" and repeated what he had been told by mike flynn about that conversation, that they then knew they had a real problem.
they had already gone back after the 29th of december and were aware of that one conversation in particular which was focused almost entirely on the sanctions. it was not parenthetical, it had nothing to do with christmas, it had nod to do with anything else but sanctions. so that became the time where after the 15th, they then decided to actively deciding with sally yates, and brendan clapper still in office, what to do on the 19th, which was the day before inauguration. brandon clapper, yates and the president-elect wanted to act on it before the inauguration. it was comey, the fbi director, who said, no, he thought it would compromise the investigation. after january 23rd when sean spicer had his first press briefing and repeated the misinformation that he had been told by mike flynn and said that he had just gone back to flynn the night before that briefing
and that flynn had repeated to him that that conversation was all about airplanes and setting up the phone call and christmas greetings and the like, that's when, after january 23rd, that comey withdrew his objections to revealing this ongoing investigation, and sally yates was authorized to tell the white house counsel. so sometime after january 23rd, she informed the white house counsel, but it was january 30th that she was fired, and fired presumably, the statement was given to us, that it was because of her refusal to enforce the immigration ban. we don't know why it took so long after that period -- sometime after january 23rd -- for the white house to come to this conclusion. >> andrea, a couple points here. first of all, i'm getting the wave-off that petraeus is indeed not scheduled to visit the white house tomorrow. second, whatever was said with the russian ambassador, we're led to believe is knowable. it is on a transcript somewhere
in the city you're in right now. don't know that it will ever see the light of day. but third, the bigger question, is someone going to look into a television camera and try to convince people that mike flynn was freelancing, was working a deal on the side, doing this on his own with the russians? >> that is one of the big questions. did he do this at the direction of someone else, including the president? or did he freelance it and then brief them afterwards? it's inconceivable that he would have this conversation, such a substantive and sensitive conversation with ambassador kiziak and not tell someone else in the white house, whether it's steve bannon or someone else higher up, clearly not the vice president, clearly not the other people who were so misled about that conversation.
>> andrea, what makes people suspicious in the first place is this so-called effort to normalize the idea of the russians, normalize the idea of vladimir putin as anyone other than a stone cold killer, as a lifelong trained spy. >> well, other presidents have come into office, george w. bush and barack obama, trying to improve relations with vladimir putin. that is certainly a foreign policy goal of any incoming president. but improving relations is not the same as saying the things that president trump has said and candidate trump has said about vladimir putin. never a negative word, and from the readout we got from the white house from that first phone call he had when he took office, president trump and vladimir putin discussed everything but the russian hacking, the sanctions, and any of the problems. ukraine didn't come up. that was also a remarkable readout. maybe they did discuss those things but that's not what we
were told. >> andrea mitchell in our washington newsroom. andrea, thanks. we're approaching the top of the hour. as we do, we want to bring in yet another guest, someone who has joined us for coverage of similar stories in the past. joining us by telephone is former u.s. ambassador to russia, now an nbc analyst, ambassador mike mcfall, these days associated with stanford university. ambassador, what -- because you and i have talked about this new kind of attempt to normalize all things russian and certainly normalize vladimir putin somewhat in the american mind, what do you make of this increment, tonight's increment in the overall russia story? >> well, with respect to the russia story and trump's russia policy that is just being developed, this is a setback for those that want closer relations with russia.
there's no doubt about that. in the circle of people around the president, secretary mattis, national security adviser flynn was known as the one that was closest to the idea, closest to the idea of the president to have this special kind of relationship with vladimir putin. so in the policy area, this is going to be seen as a setback. i want to say one other thing, brian. this was also a setback for the president and a judgment about national security. i mean, i worked at the national security council for three years with president obama, for the first three years. this is the most important job that you appoint to run the national security council, to be your advice on national security affairs. long before this day, long before he was appointed had concerns, including me, about mr. flynn's judgment. so it's just a general setback for the president on national
security. >> michael, does this end anything or does it just bring a new round of questions? and do you think? do you think this retired general was freelansing? . our president was big into, of all things, our election. >> with respect to the foreign policy, i think this could be a good sign. i think a lot of people had concerns about the process, the disorder at the white house, and this is a chance to. for me it just adds more questions. it doesn't solve anything. he's the fall guy for that story and we need to move on. there's things we don't know
well beyond the phone calls i had, we don't know. what makes their visiting the so far i've seen no efd of that, but the fact the national security adviser. i think that's the first time ever that a national security adviser. after only three weeks he's been removed because of connections with russians. it makes me wonder, when did these connections start. >> when you went to russia to have to have lunch with vladimir putin, are there. there's a lot of questions about what role russia russia played during that campaign.