tv All In With Chris Hayes MSNBC March 2, 2017 12:00am-1:01am PST
>> i didn't direct him but i would have directed him. the whole russian thing, that's a ruse. i have nothing to do with russia. how many times do i have to answer this question? >> good evening from headquarters in new york, i'm brian williams along with chris matthews, andrea mitchell, other assorted guests. rachel has this evening off, she'll be back tomorrow. tonight we wanted to bring you a special broadcast about donald trump and vladimir putin, the alleged connections between russia and this new administration and what they may mean and while much of the talk today admittedly has been surrounding the president's speech last night this remains an unprecedented moment in
american politics. never before have there been such widespread calls for investigations into such serious allegations so early in a presidential term. we are not yet six weeks into the trump presidency and the questions being raised could not be more unsettling. to what extent did the russian government meddle in america's presidential election? did anyone from the trump campaign know about or assist in that effort? does the president have financial ties to russia that he failed to disclose or that we weren't allowed to see in his tax returns? or, as some sources have darkly hinted, does the kremlin have any sort of leverage over the american president? this swirl of intrigue has already brought down one high-ranking member of the trump administration, national security adviser michael flynn, the retired army general, ousted after just 24 days on the job over his conversations with the russian ambassador, conversations that allegedly
started long before the election. general flynn's russian contacts reportedly being investigated by the fbi, the army, and the intel community. meanwhile, the house and senate intelligence committees are investigating russian interference in our election but congressional democrats and even some republicans are calling for an independent investigation into alleged contacts between members of the trump campaign and russia. yesterday former house speaker newt gingrich became the latest republican to join that chorus and yet last night house republicans voted down two attempts to demand more information about the president's potential russia connections. perhaps the largest unanswered question is why. why did russia seek to interfere in the u.s. presidential election? that is the subject of a definitive piece published in the "new yorker" this week which calls this the new cold war. we have an extensive conversation with one of the co-authors of that piece who happens to be the editor of the magazine, david remnick.
we are live in moscow with a closer look at the kgb background of one vladimir putin and we'll have the latest on what is happening on the investigative front in washington but first some breaking news on this front just in from the "new york times" this evening. new reporting tonight about what the obama administration learned in its final days about russian interference in the presidential election and the remarkable steps it took to protect the evidence from the incoming administration. this piece again just out in the last hour, the "new york times" reporting that as the obama administration learned more about these possible contacts between russia and close associates of donald trump during the campaign the white house tried to spread the investigation it was gathering to as many government agencies as possible in part to prevent the incoming trump administration from finding, covering up, or destroying the evidence.
joining us now, one of the reporters who broke the story tonight, it's a triple byline piece in the "times," matthew rosenberg is with us. matthew, to start with how does an administration go about spreading out and squirrelling away evidence they fear could get lost with the change of government? >> well, it's a few different things. a lot of this intel is coming in very late, they're recognizing november, december, january, the scope of the russian campaign and the suspicions about contacts, what these contacts between the trump associates and russians were and so they're rushing to take this raw intelligence, put it into finished reports and kind of do those reports at the lowest level classification that they could do so as many people in the government can read it and the idea is you don't want to be in a situation where so many people know it. it's easier to contain the
information so you spread it out. then you take the raw intel, and you take the sources, names, human intelligence names and put that into the biggest compartments you could find. into places where only people with intelligence clearances will get it. not political appointees looking at it, things like that. that was the bigger idea that you wanted to get this out there and leave a trail of bread crumbs such as it is for investigators, especially congressional investigators. one of the ways you can do that, and we were told people did, everyday there are intelligence briefings that go on, you ask the briefer specific questions, they have to come back with written answers, those written answers are archived and any senate investigator would know to look at them. >> your headline is grabbing enough and it came in as a "new york times" alert on a lot of people's devices. "obama administration rushed to preserve intelligence of russian election hacking." but it's your second graph that reads so stone cold that you realize this has to be seen as
at least a potential threat to this administration. "american allies, including the british and dutch, have provided information describing meetings in european cities between russian officials and others close to russia's president vladimir putin and associates of president-elect trump, according to three former american officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. separately, american intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of russian officials, some of them within the kremlin discussing contacts with mr. trump's associates." it goes on from there. what happens now? knowing about the bulk of what's there to be discovered, what is already known to some people with security clearances, how does this affect the ongoing investigations? >> i want to be fair to the people who were having these
meetings that that was going on in those meetings is still remarkably unclear and nobody knows for sure. those conversations, we're talking about these contacts, what we're doing with them is not clear and what the trump people knew. some trump people were business people meeting with other business people. unfortunately in russia there are blurry lines between who's in business and who's in intelligence. the bigger point is there are questions that need to be answered and this is going to push for more of those answers because right now the never happened didn't see it don't know anything about it that isn't lining up with what other people are telling us. >> matthew rosenberg, one of three authors of tonight's breaking news in the "new york times." matthew along with adam goldman, michael schmidt in washington, thank you so much for finding time to be with us at the top of our broadcast tonight. again the piece is on the "new york times" web site. let's bring in chris matthews and andrea mitchell. chris, starting with your
reaction to the conversation. >> well, the way i've listened and watched, i thought our video documentation was great. it showed the nature of this in public, the bromance, potential bromance between the president, president trump now, and vladimir putin. an obvious kind of i like this guy, i want to get to know him more, maybe we can be best friends and then of course all the information basically from the "new york times" we've gathered about the russian effort from the beginning, a lot of it documented by unnamed sources, of course. what i keep seeing, david and andrea in my head is when we grew up at my grandmother's house we were putting together puzzles and we'd start with the borders because you could look for the straight lines and what we have from that opening of the program tonight is the borders. we know about the relationship potentially between president trump and president putin. we know about some of the communications that have gone on but we haven't gotten half that picture in the middle of the puzzle, which was what was the
role of donald trump? what was the role of people working for him as agents of him? we don't have that but we have an awful lot about the circumstances around it. andrea, you want to start with that? as a reporter, that's where we're coming from. >> and today the house intelligence committee republican and democrat, put out their guidelines for what they'll be investigating. they said very specifically, certainly adam schiff, the ranking democrat said contacts, relationships between anyone connected or associated with donald trump and the russians. they didn't say russian intelligence, they just said the russians because as was pointed out, it is so difficult to define who is intelligence and who is not around that may have the problem with one of the pieces of the reporting the contacts were with russian associates. i met with top democratic leaders on the hill and they said they were going to be pressing with this. the key is their efforts to get the tax returns and they have ways going back to a teapot dome scandal era legislation to try to force the release by the irs
of the president's tax returns. they think that will show what kind of investments, what kind of money, what kind of real estate purchase, what kind of connections between them and associates the trump organization if not the president himself. they want to follow the money. they believe is real and they are claiming they think they can get someplace also. the notice from the white house council today to the staff to preserve documents, just today -- >> telling the trump white house. >> well, the committees told the trump white house general counsel, the general counsel today told everyone in the white house preserve your documents, preserve your e-mails. that is a red line. and when we just got a response from the white house, from a senior official saying well, that was proactively to protect us from false stories." >> okay. >> take that as you may. >> make of it what you will. we mentioned david remnick. we want to bring him in, editor
of the "new yorker" magazine by way of telling you before joining the "new yorker" david lived in russia for four years as the moscow correspondent for the "washington post." he's an expert on that country, so much so he wrote a book on it, "lenin's tomb, the last days of the soviet empire" won a pulitzer prize now he has co-bylined this exhaustive report in the "new yorker" about russia's relationship with our new president and david is here tonight to help us lay this out. >> exhaustive doesn't mean long. >> i joked i took the day off and read the article. >> magisterial. >> part of this conversation will be urging anyone watching to read it because of the way you chose to map out the relationship. in broad strokes, when i know we all grew up the cold war was about then the soviet union and our country in ways that had us hiding under our desks in grade school but with big ticket
items, missiles with -- measured in things like throw weights and it was visible, it was muscular. one of the subpoints of your article is how small ticket, how meek this may look to some people but how incredibly effective it's been. what kind of war are they waging? >> it's an extension of the cold war in terms of tactics and let me just start by saying this and i thought your posing of the questions in the beginning was a very intelligence and essential thing to do because it slows this down so we don't get hysterical or russo phobic. >> that's in the second hour. >> exactly. but it's important to remember what we don't know, as you pointed out. remember, the level -- the accusations, even of the hack itself, are on the level mainly of assertion. 17 intelligence agencies agree with a degree of confidence
ranging from high to mid-level confidence that this hack occurred and that vladimir putin did it with a purpose, which was to undermine hillary clinton. now, there are reasons for why that may be. but we should start that we want to know more. now, it's difficult to get the evidence for this because the intelligence community doesn't want to blow its human sources or its technological sources so as citizens and journalists we want to know more not just about assertion but evidence that can be told to the public about what happened. that's number one. why would vladimir putin want to do this at all? because he despised hillary clinton. i think putin probably assumed like the rest of us that donald trump was going to lose and the motivation was much more -- less to elect or try to elect donald trump than it was to destabilize right off the bat a hillary clinton presidency.
why would he do that? first of all, bill clinton is the man who moved nato eastward towards the borders of russia. we don't think about this much. to russians, especially someone like vladimir putin, that's a grave national security threat and it goes on and on toward ukraine and all the rest. they also saw hillary clinton as an interventionist in foreign policy in a way they did not see obama who they didn't like like very much either. so they were not enthusiastic about a clinton presidency. >> but i'm watching and hearing you carefully lay out that point and i say to myself, yeah, but what about the component of this story that we've all seen. the first presidential candidate in the modern era or any era, the first president certainly going out of his way to find charitable language and talk about vladimir putin. >> it's bizarre. it's bizarre. it's one thing to say it would be great to have a better relationship with russia because, by the way, it couldn't be worse.
it has been worse but it's been terrible since -- certainly since 2,000, this relationship has gotten in fits and starts. it's been terrible. so much so that we see kind of hybrid war-like activity on the borders. we see disputes over georgia, ukraine, the level -- the language between the two countries. the body language, the diplomacy is awful whether it's syria, ukraine and all the rest. so the predicate there is terrible. the relationship between the two countries is alarming and a lot of analysts and politicians and diplomats in the west feel what putin wants is to sow discord not just in the united states but in france, in holland, in germany so that institutions like nato and the european union become if note exploded then at
least less stable than they used to be, unsure so that the west experiences a crisis and leaves russia the hell alone. that's what russia wants. >> the end of the cold war was supposed to bring in an era of north against south rather than east against west. that after the cold war was over that we'd both see the threat from the south, tashkent, they would see the threat from islamic parts and their soft underbelly and have a common interest with us, whoever was running russia would have a common interest with the west in taking on the threat from islamic terrorism. why isn't putin driven by that? >> he is. >> clearly trump wants to cut a deal like that. >> he is. who was the first foreign leader to call george bush on 9/11? vladimir putin which putin advertises all the time. he feels an enormous sense of resentment towards the west. i don't want to be his lawyer by any stretch of the imagination. >> you write so clearly on that part of this story. >> this guy is an autocrat and he has shut down dissent and i
don't want to speak from a point of moral equivalence but it's important to understand what his motivations are in terms of diplomacy, in terms of his military moves. why did he take crimea? why did he take crimea? a lot of it was aimed at the west as well as the situation in ukraine. ukraine was the bridge too far for him. the idea that the west would establish a diplomatic and economic bridge head in a country that putin doesn't even consider a country, he considers it part of the russian heritage. that was a bridge too far. >> stalin was from crimea. >> he was from georgia. >> was he from georgia? somebody was from crimea. oh, the author. >> on that happy note, when we figure out where uncle joe was brought up we'll take our first break. when we come back, one of the reasons why for all the talk of fake news some people believe this administration equals the newspaper journalist full employment act of 2017.
9:22 eastern time. here we were with pre-existing plans to take on this topic for two hours tonight and here tonight we're presiding over a discussion featuring now two breaking newspaper stories, the papers battling over news in the trump era, the "new york times" and now the "washington post" is out with a headline that reads "sessions" the attorney general, "spoke twice with russian ambassador during trump's presidential campaign, justice officials say." so this is landing with a thud in inboxes and tomorrow morning on door stoops around washington and new york. adam entous, this is also a triple byline, one of the journalists with the "washington
post," has been able to join us by telephone. adam, as best you can, how do we know this happened? why didn't we know previous live that this has happened? after all, this is the attorney general, long time member of the u.s. senate prior to that who has just been through a confirmation process. >> right. so we had heard from sources that there was an encounter between kislyak, the russian ambassador, and sessions in july on the sidelines of the republican national convention and basically what we did was we asked the question, you know, did he have that meeting? did he have other meetings? and then we looked closely at his testimony and we realized that he had been asked about this both orally in his confirmation hearings with the
senate judiciary committee and also in response to written questions from -- you know, from members of the panel. and so those two things just did not mesh. and so as we saw with michael flynn, you know, the issue here for us is -- often is fact checkers just trying to verify that what is said publicly is actually the case. >> now, i know you know -- you do news and not analysis. but why -- one of the reasons this is going to be so important and so germane to the current conversation is can there be an investigation headquartered inside the justice department structure inside the trump administration? senator sessions was among the first elected officials in this country to come out in favor of donald trump, thick and thin. he's there now at the finish as attorney general or will this be fuel to that effort to get that investigation out from under the
umbrella of the administration, correct? >> yeah, i think that's obviously the next step here is the question. is there an issue here with sessions remaining the person in charge of this and/or should he look at recusing himself? he hasn't ruled out recusing himself. he's so far has not responded to calls that he do so. i think one needs to look at the context here. kislyak, the russian ambassador who u.s. officials are sort of divided about how involved he was, how much knowledge he had about the extent of the russian operation to try to influence the 2016 election, here he was obviously trying to get
information from a lot of american officials, flynn is one person and senator sessions is another, a person he reached out to and wanted to talk to and obviously wanted after those conversations much like what happened with flynn, kislyak, one would expect, sent reports to moscow detailing his discussions with sessions like he did in the case of flynn. so, you know, what's going on here is, you know, kislyak is trying to probably get information from sessions about what he knows about the posture of the trump campaign at that stage. >> i think this opens so many questions and you got to this question yourself when you reported this but al franken, the senator from minnesota, raised the question during, as you mentioned, during confirmation hearings with mr. sessions and he asked about did you know about any communication between members of the campaign and the russians and he went ahead in his answer beyond the
question he said "i'm not aware of any of those activities. i have been called a surrogate at a time or two in the campaign and i do not have communications with the russians." he answered a question that hadn't been put to him which is questionable given the fact that he didn't tell the truth there. the question that was raised again, adam, with michael flynn why would he deny having had conversations with the russians? that raises the big open question as to what was going on? >> just to answer that, after we posted the story we found another even more direct instance of this. on january 17, senator leahy asked is sessions in written questions, he asked him, he said "several of the president-elect's nominees or senior advisers have russian ties. have you, sessions, been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the russian government about the 2016 election either before or after election day" leahy wrote. sessions responded with one word "no." obviously that's not the case. so just -- you know, again, i
don't really understand the disconnect here why both in written and oral answers you don't have just an acknowledgment of the meeting i think jeff sessions has a good point to make that as a senator he meets with dozens of ambassadors whether they're the britts or the or indians, germans, ukrainians. obviously why not just answer the question accurately. >> adam entous of the "washington post," one of the three journalists on the byline for the "post." we have two competing breaking stories on arguably the two best web sites in the country, the "new york times" and the "washington post" with the story that the now attorney general spoke twice with the russian ambassador during the presidential campaign for donald trump, all of this will be fleshed out tonight and into tomorrow.
we also happen to be joined tonight by david remnick who has written so extensively for years and more precisely this week on the subject of russia. david, how do you hold these stories up to a bright light to your knowledge and what you've written in your magazine. >> in evidence keeps accumulating more and more and you have to thank god there's now a newspaper war between the "post" and the "times." >> isn't that something? >> it's like the '70s. jeff bezos has helped to fuel it, the president may call it fake news but this is real journalism and it's advancing the story everyday. i should say in moscow, my colleague, one of the co-authors of this piece, tells us the attitude is changing rapidly about donald trump as a result of all this publicity. if the early motivation was to destabilize a potential clinton
presidency or throw her off her horse in some way or -- now they have the person they thought they wanted. >> but now constantine von eggert, the brian williams of russian television -- >> let's not hurt him, we don't even know him. >> -- heard that the order is this from the kremlin "enough with trump." enough on television, enough about the celebratory stories, enough with ripping obama, calling him a eunuch as he was called on news of the week by the inimitable dimitry kisilyov. the attitude has changed and there's nervousness in the russian political elite now because they fear trump is going to be so cornered on this issue that any potential of improving relations will go out the window. >> and they're looking out for number one. >> as any nation does. >> as any nation does.
>> and one footnote about this piece in the "washington post," session says "i meet with ambassadors, i'm a member of the arms services committee." they could not find others on the arms services committee, the 16 members they talk to, who met with ambassador kislyak. but their first contact was at a heritage meeting, heritage being the think tank, heritage foundation, at the republican national convention. 50 ambassadors meeting with people involved with the republican campaign and that was the meeting with kislyak that then led to the follow-up meeting in september in washington. so it was clear that his initial contacts with him were in the context of as a surrogate, a trump campaign -- >> i have to say, brian, i empathize with whoever is listening out there because there's so much -- there's so many threats to this story, the hack, the potential of collusion, financial deals, financial interests all having to do with russia and it goes to
the point of why fair hearings and investigation are necessary, not ruled over by people who have a direct interest in and not players in the whole drama itself. and if that doesn't happen, the level of suspicion will never be entirely lifted. it just seems self-evident. >> jeff sessions, richard, would get the honor of picking an independent prosecutor. >> yeah. that's why this is so -- >> this is going to affect any talk -- >> who would have to descend to someone else in justice to make that call? this is already pretty tricky. >> and hence why you're hearing calls for a special prosecutor as well in advance. >> we have discovered along the way that apparently they have a print edition of the "new yorker" web site. who knew? but it's handy. you can carry it around during the day. we have a lot coming up after this next break, number one, we're going to go to moscow to hear from our chief foreign correspondent richard engel. we have one of the principals in
the aforementioned new yorker article, a person quoted by one david remnick has also joined our conversation. so a lot of this topic that is also part of our breaking news this evening when we come back. this is the silverado special edition. this is one gorgeous truck. oh, did i say there's only one special edition? because, actually there's five. ooohh!! aaaahh!! uh! hooooly mackerel. wow. nice. strength and style. it's truck month. get 0% financing for 60 months plus find your tag and get $5500 on select chevy silverado pick-ups when you finance with gm financial. find new roads at your local chevy dealer.
>> if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the trump campaign communicated with the russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do? >> senator franken, i'm not aware of any of those activities. i have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and i do not have communications with the russians. and i'm unable to comment on it. >> that was january 10 as part of the confirmation process for the long-time senator and now attorney general jeff sessions. the problem with that exchange for now attorney general sessions is the "washington post" story that published tonight reading "sessions spoke twice with russian ambassador during trump's presidential campaign, justice officials say." one of two stories that dropped tonight about these ties between the trump circle writ large and the putin circle writ large, the united states and russia. our own chief foreign correspondent richard engel is standing by for us in moscow where i guess day is about to break in the morning and, richard, we thought we would take a closer look since he is a
part of this conversation at vladimir putin, what is known about him and what we should know about him that is germane to all this. >> so good morning from moscow, it's just after 5:30 in the morning here. i wanted to go back to what david remnick was saying. the public discussion about trump has effectively ended. i was in moscow during president trump's inauguration and all you could see on russian televisions were documentaries about trump, how great this was going to be for russia. people were hosting private parties. there was a band called the trump band playing rock and roll music. so this country caught something of a trump fever. there have been reports in russia that the kremlin has
issued this direct tort to back off. you noticed the kremlin denied it issued that direct tort but you see a change. the question is why. is it because david remnick because russia is worried about what trump might do if he's forced in the corner or is it because they don't want to talk about it so much and add more heat to this fire that seems to be increasing. a lot of this comes down to intentions and those will be the intentions of president vladimir putin. who is he and what does september in he's been described as a man without a face. his expression revealing little. his identity hidden behind what is now a full-blown cult of personality in russia -- putin the sportsman, the animal lover, the national strong man.
putin grew up poor in st. petersburg where he dreamt of becoming a secret agent. just out of college, he joined the kgb. he was an up and coming agent posted in communist east germany when the wall came down. the eastern bloc and ultimately the soviet union unravelled. putin was never a communist hard-liner but for him this was a humiliation on a national scale. he's called the collapse of the soviet union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. nato expanded, it left its mark on putin who was rising through the ranks. in 1998 he became head of the fsb which replaced the kgb. the russian economy was collapsing. boris yeltsin the first democratically elected and
allegedly corrupt president of the new russia was running out of time. he decided to anoint a trusted successor someone who will protect him from prosecution, he turned to his spy master, the quiet man without a face. putin seemed loyal and capable. one of his first act was to grant yeltsin full immunity. putin had his own goals, he was going to reclaim russia's lost glory. for 17 years, he's ruled russia with an iron hand and projected russian power all over the world, suppressing muslim separatists with a bloody war in chechnya, invading georgia, annexing crimea and supporting rebels in eastern ukraine. multiple fronts but one objective -- putin wants to regain what russians call the old soviet sphere of influence. so while they're not talking about president trump on the
airwaves anymore, instead they're talking about president putin. a year from this month russia will go to the polls and although he hasn't announced his candidacy, many people expect in this country that vladimir putin will run again for another six-year term. >> 5:42 a.m. in moscow, richard. we'll look for you later on in this broadcast. i think you're on to a phrase there, i see hats in your future. david remnick, this jives with everything you've always said about vladimir putin and americans. can't imagine such a top-down leadership when the kremlin says, hey, no more of the trump coverage everybody stops the trump coverage. >> yeah, so far so good. our institutions are quite a bit different despite what rhetoric we hear about enemies of the people from the white house and the rest. the press is active, the courts are active as we saw in the immigration situation and
congress, one hopes, will be active when it comes to this situation. >> we're going to widen our conversation by two people first of whom is michael mcfaul, former ambassador to russia, now at stamford university. ambassador, i'm guessing you have read the "new yorker" article we've been discussing with david and i'm guessing you have something to add to this portrait we've painted of vladimir putin and where this relationship stands right now. >> well, the relationship feels like the cold war. that's most certainly true. the level of confrontation has increased over the last two years. there was enthusiasm in moscow for president-elect donald trump. he said a lot of things during the campaign that was music to vladimir putin's ears. he said he might look into recognizing crimea. he said we might lift the sanctions and talk about spheres of influence. but having just spoken to
several senior officials in munich just last week, they see the opportunity for that breakthrough is fading fast. they blame it on the cia and the fbi, what they call the deep state. this is the revenge of those people, because they run american foreign policy. that's putin's theory of america. i've sat across the table and listened to him do it but it feels like that's faded away and we'll go back to the more confrontational period from before. >> ambassador. to put a broader line under this, in many conversations you and i have had you have correctly said we should have been more forceful in our wording to describe what was going on in terms of russian intervention in our election process.
perhaps we should have started the conversation with a phrase like "electronic warfare" and the american people would have risen to that occasion and treated it as such. >> well, yeah, i feel like i've been a broken record with you, brian, for months now, not just the last couple of weeks. in my view having read the intelligence reporting, having lots of friends in the u.s. government before january 20, knowing personally the company crowdstrike that investigated what happened last summer, there's no question that the russians stole information from the dnc and from john podesta and then published it with the intent to influence the outcome of our presidential election. that is a big deal. that is a big crazy deal that i wish more people would have been focused on before november. i'm delighted that we have this reporting now. i think it's fantastic. i know all the reporters working on these stories and, you know, it's fantastic that we're getting these stories.
i wish we would have been paying more attention before the presidential election. >> david remnick? >> well, one point is that the obama administration was tortured about this. they had constant conversations in the national security council and with president obama about what to do and they were terrified about being seen as politicizing the election. >> affecting the election. >> and, in fact, at one point secretary kerry suggested that there be a 9/11-like commission on the hack, a bipartisan commission, that was found out in our report, and they finally decided no, let's not do that because we might be seen as tipping the scales in some way. and it all goes back to the fact that people not only in the general public and in the polls but inside the obama administration expected that hillary clinton would win and they'd get to it later. and then something else happened.
i'm not suggesting for a moment this that the reason that hillary clinton lost is this episode. there are many factors in that. we all know the factors. social, political, the comey letter, all the rest, errors from the campaign and so on. but this was important and the obama administration decided to do the things it did and to play it pretty cool, the outcome is the outcome. >> and there's a lot of anger about that from clinton world towards obama world. >> i read that in your piece. >> to our viewers and my colleagues, we're going to squeeze in another break here. because of the nature of the breaking news we have covered on this topic in the last hour we have a number of guests who have been patiently waiting to talk to us. among them evelyn farkas, former assistant secretary of defense for this part of the world, she is here patiently waiting, another break, our conversation resumes when we come back.
welcome back to what has become a quasi breaking news coverage. two planned hours of a broadcast tonight on these connections are real or being investigated between the trump circle and the putin circle. but in the middle of this, we've had two exclusive newspaper stories drop tonight. more on that in a moment. but we want to welcome back to our set here in new york the editor of the new yorker, david remnick and the former u.s. ambassador to russia, mike mcfaul. also joining us evelyn ficus, serving as deputy assistant secretary of defense for russia, ukraine and eurasia. she also happens to be an msnbc national security analyst. evelyn, welcome first of all. >> hello. >> second, we have these two concurring and breaking stories. "the washington post" account of these alleged conversations, now attorney general sessions have with the ambassador. the first is largely been the waning days of the obama administration and an effort to squirrel away -- forgive the complex technical term -- intel
they knew about and they feared would either be ignored or fall into the wrong hands. you speak to that latter issue. >> yeah. there was a lot going on in the administration. first of all, they had watched hillary clinton lose. and they being the high officials, mainly in the white house, they were told you can't do anything political. but while they watched something, we don't know all the details of what they were watching. and they couldn't talk about it. hillary clinton lost. and then they knew that they had all this intelligence about contacts between the trump advisers and high-ranking russians, some of them maybe russian official, some of them maybe just close to the kremlin. and they became worried, and frankly speak i became worried. i was outside of the government. i had advised hillary clinton on her campaign. and over the summer as the story
they can request information from the executive branch and then they can hold that information and investigate actually. so that's what was going on behind the scenes, this frantic desire -- now i don't know about how they classified or declassified. it does stand to reason that you would try to, you know, comment the information at the lowest classification level so that more people could see it. but quite frankly, the most sensitive information is in very closely held compartments. >> i've asked all our guests one question, and that is true or false, these investigations, all things russia will at best distract. and at worst, dominate this new presidency. what do you think? >> i think that's true. i think that's why i've been urging all along he needs to answer the questions. he needs to speak to this truthfully. now i don't know, we don't know whether he is actually involved in these contacts with the russian officials that occurred during the campaign and up to
the inauguration. what we do know, though, he had some relationship with russians going back into the '90s, and there were business dealings. his son has spoken to that on the record. and we know that he was in debt, and somehow he is not in debt, perhaps. again, there are a lot of questions. because he hasn't given us his tax records, we don't know whether he received some money from russian oligarchs. and that in and of itself may not be illegal, but certainly we want to understand his motivation. you guys talked about it earlier. why does donald trump bend over backwards to be not just tolerant, but kind to vladimir putin, a man who has murdered journalists in his country, has invaded and occupied two of his neighboring countries, has bombed civilians deliberately in syria, hospitals, the u.n. convoy. i mean, the list goes on. if we have time, i can go on. >> let me go back there, ambassador mcfaul. let me ask you about your hunch about trump. so often you go to russia, you're saying at a nice hotel, there is a call, a young woman
down there wants to come up and meet you, and there is a lot of opportunities to get in trouble. you're dealing in a very complex world where they're out to get stuff on you. is it possible, not particular to the mi-6 report dossier, but this whole experience, brief as it was for trump in russia, starting with the miss universe contest, that he might have been taken, that he might have been not sophisticated enough to know? talking about putin a guy he is going to have a bromance with seems so naive. it is possible he was a child in the woods here from the beginning? just guessing. >> well, let's be clear. russia has tremendous capabilities to gather that kind of intelligence on people like mr. trump, including at the ritz carlton. that's just a fact. what we don't know, of course, is what happens while he was there. but i got to tell you, i've been thinking about these different hypotheses and theorys for a long time, including with you guys from time to time. i don't believe that. i don't believe that because of
some tape, he is saying all these nice things about putin. i just don't believe that about the president. i think the president believes what he says about putin. he's come to those conclusions independent of his business contacts, or independent of some kind of kompromat, as they say in russia that they might have there. i think we should debate that on his foreign policy terms. but what we really need to know in my opinion, and what we don't know, and is still mysterious illusions to it, but it's leakers. we need to turn those leakers into witnesses in an independent commission and know for a fact whether or not there was any coordination or collusion between what the russians did in terms of stealing data and publicizing it and what lower level campaign officials did in the trump administration. to me, that's really where this
becomes just goes from being interesting and weird to being something very serious. >> and david remnick, because we have to lose you from our conversation, i'll ask this in the form of a last word from you. going back to the soviet union, we always marvelled at the percentage of their gdp they were willing to spend to collect stuff. and we now know their hotels were full of mics and cameras. and it's still a part of the dna, even though the soviet union is gone. >> hang on. of ours too. our article is named active measures. and active measures were taking place on both sides. again, this is not about moral equivalence. this is just about history and fact, that both countries were trying to do the other dirty for reasons of cold war. well tried to influence elections in any number of countries to say nothing about regime change. and vladimir putin brings up this history all the time in his debates with people like mike mcfaul, barack obama, and soon to be donald trump.
when we point out syria and crimea, you can be sure it was preceded by the assertion about the invasion of iraq and all the rest. so this is something that from putin's point of view is something that has a history. and we should understand that history as part of the context of the way we're going about this. >> are our ritz carltons wired like tv studios? >> i couldn't say. >> i guess i just wanted to localize the issue a little bit. as we might have mentioned in the first hour, david remnick's work. he is one of the bylines. but also happens to be the editor of the magazine, is in the new new yorker. a very interesting play on the english language on the cover there. and the artwork. but it's well worth, that's my right arm, well worth reading. take your time because it does frame all the issues we've been discussing tonight. good to see you as always. thank you very much for coming by. we're bridging the 10:00 p.m. eastern hour on what was
supposed to be a two-hour block on the entire question of russia and the united states, but we have been interrupted. if you've been watching, by the two breaking news stories tonight. one, the first one by "the new york times." the second by "the washington post." the first one alleging that officials in the waning days of the obama administration were working to, as we inartfully put it, squirrel away or protect certain intelligence by spreading it around into safe places lest it fall into the wrong hands or disinterested hands of the new incoming administration. second story that breaks in the last hour, in "the washington post", the attorney general spoke device with the russian ambassador during trump's presidential campaign. justice officials say. all of this leads us to bring in our next guest. we are joined tonight by connecticut democratic member of congress jim himes who is second in line among the democrats on