Donald Trump has made crystal clear that he has a great affinity for strongmen and for unquestioned loyalty of those who work for him. This week on Intercepted: Trump’s besties in Saudi Arabia convinced him that Qatar, the host of U.S. Central Command, is the premiere Arab nation sponsoring terrorism. Amnesty International’s Sherine Tadros and Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan analyze the hypocrisy-laden, bizarre crisis. We also discuss the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy addresses the Justice Department’s allegations about The Intercept’s recent NSA story and the prosecution of the alleged leaker. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes talks Russia, Trump, the media and his new book, “A Colony in a Nation.” DJ Spooky joins the conversation and imagines a Trump-inspired mash-up of Dante’s Inferno and Disco Inferno.
Sean Hannity: And welcome back to Hannity. So, with the “Destroy Trump” media floating baseless Russia conspiracy theories, joining us now, with reaction, President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr. Sir, welcome.
SH: Executive vice president of the Trump Organization, Eric Trump. How are you?
Beavis: [Laughs] I am Cornholio.
SH: Just give me your general thoughts first.
B: [Laughs] The President of the United States pinching a loaf.
SH: I have seen where you used the term a piece of sh — all right.
B: When do we get the chicks? How does this work?
SH: Eric, I can totally understand the passion that you’re showing. Don, maybe you’re a bigger man than me.
BH: Everything I know, I learned from my dad.
B: Yeah, me too.
SH: I don’t know where this ends. This is now – we set a new low.
BH: That’d be cool.
B: I know what that feels like.
BH: Ask your dad.
SH: Journalism in America is dead.
BH: We should, like, go and like, hang out with Todd.
Male Speaker: It’s Meet the Press.
Chuck Todd: This is Meet the Press, with Chuck Todd.
BH: Whoa. It’s Todd.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and this is episode 19 of Intercepted.
President Donald J. Trump: Maybe start with Mike, and we’ll just go around, and just your name, your position. Mike?
Vice President Michael Pence: Greatest privilege of my life.
DJT: Thank you, Mike.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: To be able to serve you in that regard.
DJT: You’re right, Jeff. Thank you very much.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: Mr. President, an honor to be on the team.
DJT: Thank you, Rex. Thank you.
Betsy DeVos: I want to thank you.
DJT: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Reince Priebus: Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda.
DJT: Thank you very much.
Male Speaker: I want to congratulate you on the men and women you’ve placed around this table.
DJT: Thank you. Very good. Thank you all very much.
JS: Donald Trump has made crystal clear, in his brief time as the President of the United States, that he has a great affinity for strong men and for unquestioned loyalty of those who work for him. I was reflecting on all of this as I punished myself this week by watching the full 11-minute clip of Donald Trump presiding over the first official meeting of his cabinet. Each member of the Trump all-star team seemed intent on outdoing the others in the praise that they heaped on Trump. In a way, it sort of reminded me of watching state TV broadcasts in Iraq when I was reporting from Baghdad back when Saddam Hussein was in power. In that case, you had the images of the cabinet, Saddam’s council praising him, saluting him, and you almost never would hear any audio in the room. The announcers would say, oh, everyone praise Saddam Hussein for his brilliant strategic moves. And then there was this bizarre soothing elevator music that would play under the whole thing.
[Iraqi state television music]
JS: Actually, I have little doubt that Trump would have liked Saddam Hussein. He would have probably welcomed him to Mar-a-Lago. Eric and Don Jr., they surely would have enjoyed massacring animals with Uday and Qusay Hussein. A few weeks ago, when Trump was mixing and mingling with other despots, as well as unelected kings and princes in Saudi Arabia at his big summit, Trump fit in perfectly. And the Saudis emerged as the big winners of that little summit. And as Trump returned to the U.S., a major scandal hit the Gulf. And it centered around the strategically important nation of Qatar. This crisis began when Qatari media outlets reported on comments purportedly made by Qatar’s Emir, in which he criticized Donald Trump and praised Iran as a force for stability. Now, that is about as far off message as Trump and the Saudis would want their supposed allies to be.
For its part, Qatar claimed its websites were hacked, and that this was outside influence, and these were lies, and the emir never said those things. But all of that was called into doubt when it was pointed out that some of the comments that the emir made have been broadcast, and Qatar didn’t attempt to disown them then. And so, who knows? Saudi Arabia, ever the hypocritical opportunist, seizes the moment, and they cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar. The reason that the Saudis cited? Qatar supports terrorist groups. That’s very rich, coming from the Saudis. Egypt, then, with its dictator, el-Sisi, they quickly followed suit. And before long, country after country after country was jumping onboard the anti-Qatar bandwagon. Panic gripped many citizen of Qatar, and people began rushing to grocery stores, buying up food and other goods, fearing that the country could be isolated and sanctioned, particularly if the United States then aggressively backed the Saudi position.
What happened here was that the Saudis shaped a narrative that had at its center the idea that Qatar is the sole mastermind of support from the Gulf for terrorism and radical movements in a variety of countries. Now, that narrative is laughable on this front. It’s laughable to anyone who knows anything about the region and all of its players, and anything about Saudi Arabia, right? Well, at least one person seemed to have bought the Saudi line hook, line, and sinker.
DJT: The nation of Qatar unfortunately has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level. They have to end that funding, and its extremist ideology in terms of funding.
JS: Now, one factor in this whole situation with Qatar that’s sort of being debated right now, although I don’t really think it’s a debate, is whether Trump actually knew that U.S. Central Command and upwards of 10,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Qatar. It’s unclear if Trump knew what role U.S. Central Command plays in U.S. wars or the facility inside of Qatar. There’s a lot of evidence suggesting that Trump literally had no idea.
To make sense of this situation, I’m joined now by two very sharp students of this region. Sherine Tadros is a former war reporter and a long-time correspondent for Al Jazeera English. You may not remember her name, but if you watched Al Jazeera English during the fall of Hosni Mubarak, she was basically reporting 24/7 on TV about the events there, an incredibly brave journalist. Sherine is now the representative to the United Nations in New York of the human rights group Amnesty International. We are also joined by Mehdi Hasan, who is the host of the excellent show UpFront on Al Jazeera English, and he’s also a columnist for The Intercept. Qatar, of course, owns Al Jazeera. Mehdi Hasan, welcome to Intercepted.
Mehdi Hasan: Thanks for having me on.
JS: Sherine Tadros, welcome to Intercepted.
Sherine Tadros: Thanks, Jeremy.
JS: I want to ask both of you this question, but I want to begin with you, Sherine, because you’re directly working on this issue right now on behalf of Amnesty International. What the hell is going on between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and what is the U.S. role? I think a lot of even very well informed foreign policy observers and international relations observers are sort of baffled by what’s going on. So, what is going on right now with Qatar?
ST: I mean, it is baffling, I think, because of the speed of things. To look back in history, there has always been — I mean, let’s say post the independence of Qatar in 1971 — there has always been this animosity, this really strong animosity between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And then there’s been this competition between them, with Saudi pretty much winning that competition most of the time, seeing as though Qatar is this tiny Gulf state that, you know, is the size of Connecticut.
JS: What are they competing over?
ST: They’re competing over influence, number one, more than anything else. You know, Qatar really wants to be relevant. And in a very similar way, I think, to how Iran has always felt, that it wants that sort of regional relevance. And I think that’s what had gravitated the two towards each other. But Saudi Arabia being bigger, being more strategic, having more oil, and being a stronger ally of the United States, always managed to get that little bit ahead until the Arab Spring. And then what we saw was Saudi Arabia was suddenly backing the horse that was drowning. And there was Qatar, the voice of the voiceless, championing this sort of underdog of the Muslim Brotherhood, whether it be in Tunisia or whether it be in Egypt and Syria, so on. And that, of course, as we all know how that story ended or is ending, blew up. And I think since then, there’s been a real problem in Qatar in trying to think, how do we move this forward?
So, I mean, what we saw happen was that the leader of Qatar started speaking about the closeness to Iran and the importance of Iran in the region. Various emails were hacked into, and there were leaks basically painting the Qatari leader as someone who was very close to these Iranian groups, and what others would consider terrorist organizations like Hamas. What really happened is that Saudi Arabia took advantage of that and decided very abruptly to cut ties. And then another eight countries followed suit. And what we found was this diplomatic but also economic ban, isolation, of Qatar, whereby all of these countries, be it Egypt, Bahrain, and even now Maldives and Mauritius have joined in, and of course Saudi Arabia, cutting ties with Qatar, not allowing their planes to fly over their air space, saying that their nationals have two weeks to get out of these nine countries and go back to Qatar. I mean, real serious effects. I mean, the world freaks out when someone recalls an ambassador from a country. And these people overnight sort of completely cut Qatar off. So, you know, it has huge economic and trade ramifications, and I think that the economists are still reeling from what this may mean. And but it really has consequences on people.
JS: Now, Mehdi, we should say that in fairness to our listeners, Mehdi does in fact work for Al Jazeera as well as The Intercept. But I want to ask you about this disconnect between the public statements of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and those then, literally a day later, of Donald Trump as he stood alongside the president of Romania, where you had Tillerson basically responding to this Qatar crisis —
RT: We call on Qatar to be responsive to the concerns of its neighbors. Qatar has a history of supporting groups that have spanned the spectrum of political expression, from activism to violence. We call on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar.
JS: And then the next day…
DJT: Nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior. So, we had a decision to make. Do we take the easy road, or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism.
JS: So, what’s going on there?
MH: Jeremy, Donald Trump doesn’t do de-escalation. Donald Trump does escalation. He doesn’t put out fires. He starts fires. And many would argue, just to add to Sherine’s excellent analysis, that a lot of this happened so quickly because of Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, where there’s a lot of talk that he signed Saudi Arabia’s blank check. They didn’t do this, Saudi Arabia. They didn’t make this major move against another U.S. ally, Qatar, without getting clearance from the President of the United States. And when Trump told the Saudis, “Yeah, fine, do what you want to Qatar,” maybe he didn’t know that CENTCOM is based in Qatar, that one of the biggest U.S. military bases in the world is in Qatar, that 10,000 U.S. troops are in Qatar. And then it turns out that MSNBC, reporting late last week, that yes, Trump was not aware that there are U.S. forces stationed in Qatar, which just goes to show how reckless and irresponsible a president he is. I mean, whatever your views of Saudi and Qatar, and many would say a plague on both their houses, I’m sure. Many of your listeners would say, well, why should we care about Gulf states getting into a spat with each other? The irony of a U.S. president who is leading, supposedly leading a war against ISIS, which is being coordinated and managed out of CENTCOM in Qatar, which is bizarre.
And as is so often the case, I kind of throw up my hands at the U.S. media, none of whom are asking the obvious question to Trump, which is if Qatar is a terrorist nation or a terrorist-funding nation, why are there 10,000 U.S. troops based in that terrorist nation, that terrorist-supporting nation? Do you see a contradiction, Mr. President? Because the rest of the world does.
JS: Sherine, on Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia — we’ve talked about this big arms deal that he is running around bragging about, he made this great deal to sell the Saudis weapons that are overwhelmingly going to be used in this campaign to destroy Yemen. I mean, let’s just be clear about what it is there. But as you work at the United Nations right now, and you’re representing Amnesty International, what are the premiere concerns about the Trump administration’s emerging policies, the message that’s being sent by the most powerful institution in the United States, the White House, to the Arab and Muslim world about U.S. priorities as it relates to Trump’s relationship with the Saudis, the situation with Qatar? What are the big things that Amnesty International’s concerned about right now?
ST: I mean, I tell you, from a practical point of view, once of the biggest problems we have is that there’s very little directives coming from the White House. I mean, it’s very ad hoc. So, you sit in a room with, you know, U.S. experts of the mission, and there are so many different subjects on which they don’t have any information or directive on, whether it be South Sudan or Burundi. And that’s a real problem because Trump has really shaken up the world order like that. The fact is that especially at the UN, within that community, people wait for what the U.S. position is before they make a move. And so, there’s a real paralysis right now in terms of many subjects.
But I think when it comes to Yemen, certainly, the U.S. support of Saudi has been staggering and really harmful — harmful for the people of Yemen directly. I mean, the idea that Donald Trump can stand in Saudi Arabia and sort of talk about Iran spreading terrorism, you know, on maybe the second day after they had elections in Iran. He doesn’t see the irony of what he’s saying, and sort of the hypocrisy of what he’s doing? And that’s what’s incredible about this whole thing. I mean, this is all about spreading terrorism and supporting terrorist organizations, and this is Saudi taking the sort of moral lead? And it’s just — it’s amazing to me that more isn’t made out of that deep hypocrisy.
JS: How did Qatar become the player that it is today, and what is the actual agenda of the rulers of Qatar?
ST: I mean, I’d really say — and this is really from living in Qatar for many years — it’s often very confusing, that Qatari leaders imagine themselves with a sort of a more secular Dubai-style country. And there was a big backlash against that when they tried to create that. So, one small example is the Pearl Islands. The Pearl Islands, they created in Doha. They were very proud of them. They sat, you know, we’re gonna allow alcohol on these islands. We’re gonna allow expats to buy property. They were really excited about it. I think that maybe, I don’t know, a few weeks after the opened up pubs and bars and whatever, someone got drunk, made a scene. They ended up just shutting the whole thing down. And it’ really sort of indicative to me about the schizophrenia of this country and the leaders, because there’s something that they want to be, which is seen as progressive world leaders, influential. But then there’s what the population is, which is deeply conservative and traditional. So, I think that its real influence came with Al Jazeera and with the Arab Spring.
JS: Right. I mean, it’s basically a TV network and very convenient real estate for the most powerful military in the world with a flag.
ST: Yeah. The main thing is that, you know, their struggle for influence in the region has been a big thing. And I think that they made this decision, that we can compete with the U.S. and Saudi for the sort of influence — so, what we’ll do is we’ll back the other side. We’ll back the Muslim Brotherhood, you know, and these sort of group. And that paid off in 2011. It did not pay off shortly after.
JS: Sherine, you and I both as journalists spent quite a bit of time in Yemen. And my heart just bleeds when I see the lack of coverage or concern about what is happening to that nation right now. And you just have a horrifying, on the one hand, humanitarian crisis, and then on the other hand, a merciless military campaign, while there’s also ground fighting in the country. Why is this happening right now? What is the Saudi agenda, and why is the United States so aggressively supporting it under Mr. Transformative Constitutional Law Professor and Mr. Orange Reality TV Host?
ST: I think what I would like listeners to really take away from what’s going on in Yemen, at the end of the day, it’s the Arab world’s richest country, waging a devastating war on the Arab world’s poorest country. It is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe we have today. It’s even beyond what’s happening in Syria in terms of humanitarian consequences. The Saudis have blocked access of humanitarian aid. They don’t allow human rights organization or journalists on UN flights. That’s pretty much what the Saudi directive has been to the UN. So, there’s a dearth in actually being able to know what’s going on and record human rights violations on the ground. So, any sort of accountability is becoming less and less likely by the day. But the thing that troubles a lot of people is that this is a senseless war. War is always devastating and senseless, honestly. No one can look at Syria and say, you know, that makes sense. But there’s some sort of strategic analysis that you can do about how we got to that point, you know, with Iran and Syria and so on. I think when you look at Saudi, it’s really not — I struggle to really understand what Saudi’s agenda is there. And this is the case with a lot of people, and this is why it’s been so difficult to negotiate with the Saudis, because it’s not clear what their end game is.
And I’m not sure they know. And I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we have a Saudi defense minister who is running the show that isn’t completely logical in his decision-making. And a lot of it is about pride, and the fact that they got themselves into this war at a time when they were trying to show themselves as these new sort of Saudi rulers, asserting their authority. And now, I wonder whether they just don’t know how to get themselves out of this war.
JS: Mehdi Hasan, your analysis of the Saudi agenda, not just in Yemen, but on a global stage right now?
MH: Just to pick up on Sherine’s last point about Mohammed bin Salman and BS, the kind of rising star of the Saudi police elite who wants to be king as soon as possible. Clearly, his role in this can’t be overstated. I think he thought this would be a quick, easy war, and the Saudis would inflict a beating on an Iranian proxy in a very poor nearby country, and it hasn’t worked out that way. In fact, it’s been self-destructive in so many ways, because the Houthis are probably more powerful than they were before. The Iranian connection to the Houthis is probably more solid than it was before. And all of these extremist groups, al-Qaeda et al., are way more powerful in Yemen than they were before. In terms of global agenda — I think to go back to the start of the conversation and the mention of the Arab Spring — Saudi Arabia was on the wrong side of the Arab Spring, obviously, because it did not want to see its allies being toppled in this way. It did not want to see a democratic upsurge across the region, given it is the most undemocratic country in the region.
I interviewed the ambassador to the United Nation, Ambassador al-Mouallimi, the Saudi ambassador, about 18 months ago. And I asked him why he supported the uprising in Syria when they didn’t support the uprisings anywhere else, and they don’t support democracy in Saudi Arabia, even though they want to — they claim to want democracy in Syria. So, there’s a huge contradiction, obviously, at the heart of the Saudi regional agenda. I think in terms of global terms, in terms of the relationship with the U.S. Jeremy, you saw the trip that Trump made there. It’s a made match in heaven. These guys love each other. There’s a lot in common between the Trump family and the Saudi ruling family. There’s a reason why there was so much bling on display and huge photos of Trump and the King Salman all across Riyadh during that trip. They see in the U.S. president a natural ally, someone who thinks and behaves as they do, someone they can do business with in a way they thought they couldn’t with Obama, even though Obama sold them a fair amount of weapons. And therefore, they see an opportunity now to reassert themselves in perhaps a way they thought they couldn’t back in 2011-12.
JS: Before we wrap up, you both are from Britain, and I wanted to get your reaction to the results of last week’s elections there. Much of the world was stunned when Jeremy Corbyn led the Labour Party within inches of regaining power at 10 Downing Street, and forced Theresa May to scramble in an attempt to build a governing coalition of the heinous. Mehdi, you wrote an excellent column on this for The Intercept called “Jeremy Corbyn is leading the Left out of the Wilderness and Toward Power.” What’s the takeaway from this election?
MH: I think what’s hugely significant is that the result wasn’t what everyone thought it would be. Yes, Theresa May has returned to office, just about — has scraped back into office. As we speak, Jeremy, there are negotiations going on in London between her and a small northern Irish Protestant Unionist Party called the DUP, the Democratic Unionist Party, to try and stay in office because she doesn’t have a majority, Jeremy. She’s gonna be forming a minority government. And that was the real shock. She was supposed to come back with this landslide victory, this huge majority. She was supposed to be the second coming of Margaret Thatcher, the new Iron Lady on the right. She would destroy the Labour Party for a generation. She was up against the worst leader you could ever imagine, a far left, a bearded, 68-year-old guy who nobody liked, has no friends, his own party hate him. It would be a cakewalk.
And Jeremy, it wasn’t a cakewalk. In fact, she lost the majority, and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party — yes, they didn’t win the election. We must remember that, sadly, in the views of many. But they picked up votes. In fact, Jeremy, they won more votes — the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn won more votes than any Labour leader in almost 50 years, apart from Tony Blair in those famous landslides of 1997 and 2001. In fact, he put on more votes. He increased the Labour vote by more than any other leader since Clement Attlee in 1945. So, a huge achievement for a guy who was supposed to be a loser.
JS: Jeremy Corbyn has spoken very openly in his critique of the Saudis, of various U.S. wars that are backed by Gulf nations, in a way that you would never hear anything resembling a viable candidate in the United States.
Jeremy Corbyn: Our democratic values must be maintained. We must resist Islamophobia and division. And yes, we do need to have some difficult conversations, starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states who have funded and fueled extremist ideology — Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of extremist groups. We have to get serious about cutting off their funding to these terror networks, including ISIS here and in the Middle East. [Crowd clapping]
JS: What does that tell you about Britain’s relationship with these corrupt Gulf monarchies and with the United States, that someone like Corbyn has gotten so close to actually become prime minister, and may one day become prime minister?
ST: I think what it shows is that there’s a real divide between what the British public think about the relationship and the closeness between the UK and Saudi Arabia, and what Number 10, what Downing Street thinks. Because there is this huge gulf. There is, on the one hand, we have these protests against Saudi Arabia, and there is an increasing sort of — like an anger on the streets of the UK because of what they see happening in Yemen. You see it on Channel 4 news. You see it on the BBC. But then on other side, I mean, I can tell you from negotiating at the UN, whenever you bring up this question of Yemen, it invokes the sort of deep state of the UK. So, even if you have politicians and diplomats around you that are British and are sympathetic to what’s happening in Yemen with the war and Saudi’s involvement there, whenever you try to actually shake them and get anything done, if you try and lobby for a resolution or anything strong on Saudi, it’s a completely — you know, you hit a brick wall.
So, there’s a real divide there between the people and what sort of Jeremy Corbyn is channeling, and what’s actually being done at Number 10. And especially, we’re talking post-Brexit, there’s this real feeling the trade, and especially trade with Saudi, is so important that that really Trumps anything else right now. So, let’s not get too carried away by what Jeremy Corbyn is saying, and that that might necessarily translate into a different policy.
JS: Sherine Tadros is a former war reporter and a longtime correspondent for Al Jazeera English. She’s currently Amnesty International’s representative to the United Nations in New York. And Mehdi Hasan is the host of UpFront on Al Jazeera English. He’s also a columnist for The Intercept.
JS: Coming up on the show, we’re gonna talk with MSNBC host Chris Hayes about Trump, Russia, and the police state tactics used in modern-day America. Chris is the author of an important new book, “A Colony in a Nation.” And we’re also gonna talk to Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky. He composes the music for this show, and his audio work is both legendary and subversive. This is Intercepted. Stay with us.
JS: Now, as regular listeners to this show know, last week, the Intercept published a leaked Top Secret intelligence assessment from the National Security Agency. And that assessment outlined alleged Russian cyberattack efforts late last year on companies that make software used in U.S. elections. That document was provided to The Intercept completely anonymously. Within moment of The Intercept publishing this story, the U.S. Justice Department announced that they had arrested a 25-year-old government contractor named Reality Leigh Winner for transmitting defense information under the Espionage Act. Almost instantly, the government moved to unseal all of the FBI affidavits and other government assertions in this case. It was clearly aimed at pushing a narrative. It was aimed at convicting the alleged source in the court of public opinion before she even appeared in court. And it was aimed at ramming through the Justice Department’s allegations as fact.
The government has continued to selectively release allegations against the alleged source, including alleged quotes from her journal, and the contents of her conversations in jail that she’s allegedly had with her family. She is currently being held without bond as the government attempts to destroy her in the media. This is absolutely horrid.
And thus far, the reporting on the alleged source of this document has come entirely from the assertions of the Trump Justice Department. Now, I know that many people have questions about what happened here and have questions that they want The Intercept to answer. And people have a right to know the answers to those questions.
I will say, though, that because the liberty and fate of the alleged source of this document, the person that the government is saying sent this document to The Intercept, because her fate is in the crosshairs of the Justice Department, The Intercept as an institution needs to proceed extremely carefully so as not to impact that case, a case in which the alleged leaker has entered a plea of not guilty. So, I want to be clear here. What I’m gonna say now represents the views of myself and my fellow co-founder of The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, and not the staff or the editor-in-chief of The Intercept.
Now, for those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that Glenn and I released a statement this week about this issue. And I just want to, in a conversational way, just explain sort of what the point of this statement was. And you can of course read it yourself by going to either Glenn or my Twitter feed.
What we said in the statement is that The Intercept is conducting an internal investigation into the publication of this article on June 5th. And that investigation is going to include a thorough review of all of the claims that are publicly being made about this episode, including the claims that are made in the Justice Department’s documents about this case. For that reason, and to ensure that nothing could possibly be used by the government in its prosecution of the alleged source of this, The Intercept itself has been institutionally constrained from stating much of anything publicly about the accusations made by the Trump Justice Department and the FBI.
Now, the problem with this is that this silence has allowed journalists, and of course many people on social media, but journalists and serious publications, to make all sorts of demonstrably false claims about this situation. And this deceit is compounded by the fact that the entire narrative that people are stating as the truth of what happened, it’s all coming from affidavits from the Justice Department and the FBI. And the person who is quoted in announcing this indictment of the alleged source is Rod Rosenstein, the guy who wrote the memo that Trump used to justify the firing of FBI director James Comey.
Now, Glenn Greenwald and I didn’t work directly on this story. Neither of us worked on this story. And for that reason, we can say a little bit more than our colleagues about this. The point I want to make to people here, and you can read the full statement for yourself, is that people on social media, including journalists, including some former Bush administration officials turned “resistance leaders,” like David Frum — they’re having a field day with this. And they’re saying, oh, this is proof of blah blah blah about The Intercept. Well, all that is out there in the public realm right now are assertions by Trump’s Justice Department and by an FBI whose chief was fired in a political act by the President of the United States.
And one of the egregious falsehoods that has been spread this week is that the alleged source of this document was listening to this podcast, and she heard Glenn Greenwald and I critically assessing what evidence is there and what evidence isn’t there to support the claims that Russia interfered and hacked the U.S. elections.
We’ve been very clear on this show from the beginning that we want to see evidence. And as developments take place, and as more concrete facts come out, we report on them — we address them.
So the narrative is, well, she was listening to this podcast, and then because Glenn Greenwald was expressing so much skepticism, she decided to send this top secret document to The Intercept. And the reason that people are saying this is because in the reporting that was done on this initially when the story was published by ABC News and other outlets, said that Reality Leigh Winner had emailed this podcast to request a transcript, or a request to be subscribed to a transcription service — which by the way, we don’t have a transcription service that you subscribe to. We just make our transcripts public.
And somehow, they zero in on the March 22nd episode of Intercepted, where Glenn and I, as we have before, were discussing the allegations about Russia hacking the elections. And then high profile people, including Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine, go online, and I’m gonna just directly quote what Jonathan Chait said. He says, “Wow, Reality Winner leaked to The Intercept to try to persuade Glenn Greenwald to stop dismissing the Russia scandal.” The only request that we got from the email that the government alleges was her Gmail account at this podcast was asking for a transcript of an entirely different episode — in fact, an episode where we didn’t even discuss Russia hacking and the elections. It was an episode featuring Naomi Klein talking about climate change, Josh Begley talking about Apple censoring an app that he created that tracks U.S. drone strikes, and Intercept reporter Murtaza Hussain talking about Trump’s intensification of the wars in Syria and Iraq. But this has now gone viral that somehow, this episode on March 22nd with Glenn Greenwald talking about this spurred her to do this. And the evidence of it is that the Justice Department said in an affidavit that she had written to the show requesting a transcript of a podcast. They then cherry-picked this one episode and say, well, this must have been it. Well, that’s just not true. That’s not the transcript that was requested.
Now, this may seem like a minor point, but facts matter. And when you smear people — when you piece together innocuous bits of information and act as though they just exist in a straight line — it’s very damaging. People who are believing everything that the Trump Justice Department are saying in these affidavits, and saying, well, that must be the full story…that’s insane. That’s insane to just say, well, government assertion should just be treated as facts. So, I’m not speaking right now for The Intercept. And I believe in the integrity of the internal review that is being conducted right now at The Intercept, and I believe that in the end, we are going to be able to state clearly the facts as we understand them, and to be accountable to our readers and to be people who support our journalism.
The last point I’ll make about this is that there is a war against whistleblowers in this country, and it was being waged under Obama, and it’s clearly moving ahead under Trump. And at the end of the day, the whole point of this war on whistleblowers is to stop the American public from making their own assessments of what is right or wrong by having a complete picture of what’s being done in their name; on whether or not Syria’s allegations are backed up by facts. This war is about preventing accountability for a government that is drunk on secrecy, whether Democrats or Republicans occupy the White House. As we’re able to, we will keep you posted on this situation.
JS: As I said, Jeff Sessions testified at the Senate on Tuesday, and he actually had tried to get out of doing it in public. He wanted to just do it behind closed doors. And there were murmurs that Trump was maybe gonna try to intervene. But in the end, the good old boy, he ended up sitting there fielding questions and also getting a hearty defense from many Republican senators that did their best to sort of circle the wagons around him. At issue, of course, were Jeff Sessions’ contacts with Russian officials or representatives before Trump took office. Sessions, of course, has officially recused himself from the Russia investigation, though he also tried to fight that before finally agreeing to it. And at Sessions’ hearing, if you created a word cloud, the biggest phrase that would just jump out and dominate the page would definitely be, “I don’t recall.”
Jeff S: I don’t recall. I don’t recall. I don’t recall. I don’t recall. I don’t recall. I don’t recall. I do not recall. I don’t recall it.
JS: He said it a lot. And it kind of makes you wonder how someone with such a horrible short-term memory could be trusted to be the top law enforcement official in the United States. But Donald Trump is president right now, so that’s sort of the world that we live in. When Sessions was questioned by California Democrat Senator Kamala Harris, he got visibly uncomfortable.
Senator Kamala Harris: Did you have any communication with any Russian businessmen or any Russian nationals?
Jeff S: I don’t believe I had any conversation with Russian businessmen or Russian nationals.
KH: Are you aware of any communications —
Jeff S: Although a lot of people were at the convention. It’s conceivable that somebody came up to me.
KH: Sir, I have just a few —
Jeff S: Will you let me qualify it? I —
Jeff S: If I don’t qualify it, you’ll accuse me of lying, so I need to be correct as best I can.
KH: I do want you to be honest.
Jeff S: And I’m not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous.
JS: Well, this week is the Sessions show. Last week, it was fired FBI director James Comey. But at the end of the day, what does all of this mean? Last week, on the day Comey testified, I did a public interview with Chris Hayes, the host of MSNBC’s primetime show “All In with Chris Hayes.” Chris is also the author of two really great books. The most recent one, which was just released, is called “A Colony in a Nation.” And he also wrote a book that was published in 2012 called “Twilight After the Elites: America After Meritocracy.” I highly recommend both books. And after Chris and I talked for a bit, I then brought Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, into the conversation. And DJ Spooky is familiar to our listeners because he composed our theme and the music that you hear on this show, and he’s really a brilliant composer. And I first was turned on to his work when he did this just devastating remix of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent film “Birth of a Nation,” about the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s just a stunning piece that DJ Spooky did.
[“Birth of a Nation,” DJ Spooky remix]
JS: Well, here is an excerpt from that conversation at the Northside Festival in Brooklyn.
JS: Everyone please give a very warm welcome to Chris Hayes. [Applause] So, Chris, I want to get right to — well, first of all, welcome to Intercepted.
Chris Hayes: It’s great to be here.
JS: Before we came on, you and I were talking about the connection between your new book, “A Colony in a Nation,” and the kind of approach to Comey that we see in broader society. And my two cents on this is there is this almost lionization in some quarters, including on your network, that, oh, these people are saving us from Trump. The FBI is our friend now. The CIA is our friend now. And I’m wondering your take on that, and also your scholarship, and how that relates to Comey.
CH: Yeah, so it’s a great question, right? So, this question about sort of the deep state versus Trump, to sort of summarize it. And I guess I get uncomfortable on both sides, right? So, at one level, this is a sort of uncritical lionization of elements within the sort of security apparatus of the U.S. Look, the frustration — and I said this on the show — the frustration with leaks coming out of them that paint the president in a bad light, there is a kernel of legitimate grievance there on behalf of the president and his allies. There’s something a little troubling from a Democratic standpoint that that’s the case, right? This idea of this sort of power center that is opposed to the democratically elected president of the United States and sort of using that machinery. At the same time, I also think it’s really important to keep in mind again that the security apparatus in the deep state, or whatever you want to call it, is embedded in something larger, which is essentially the professional bureaucracy of the U.S. government. And we’ve seen this not just from the security parts. We’ve seen it from the Parks Department. We’ve seen it from the EPA. We’ve seen this from all — so, it’s not just that it’s limited to them, and it’s not just that it’s at play entirely about the security portions of the government. It has been largely a kind of quiet rebellion by the civil servants, the sort of permanent state, the bureaucracy — against their elected leader. It is important to keep in mind that like, yeah, there’s some tension here. But the instinct that we’re seeing from, I think, across the kind of federal bureaucracy, and that includes the sort of so-called deep state, a lot of it, I think, is this instinct towards essentially preservation of what they view as the kind of norms of operation of the government.
I do think, and Glenn obviously has pointed this out a ton of times, about leaks, particularly — you know, I’m really a legal realist, to almost the point of a kind of, I think my wife would argue, like nihilism. My wife’s a lawyer. Which is basically that, like, in many circumstances, the law just looks like the suit of armor that will to power wears. That when you talk about, oh, so-and-so broke the law — you see this in the immigration debate, like, well, they broke the law. It’s like, yeah, well, Jeff Sessions lied under oath. And how’s that going? Like, he’s the attorney general. Who here in the room has not broke the law? No hands go up. Everyone’s broken the law. Everyone sitting in this room has broken the law. Everyone sitting in this room has broken the law multiple times. I bet you that people in this room have committed felonies. Like, no question, that have never been investigated or interrogated. Like, lots of places, driving under the influence is a felony. Like, you want to tell me sitting in this room that you haven’t driven under the influence? Do you realize how common that is, right?
So, the question then becomes, what’s the law, and then how is the law enforced, and to whom it is applied. And the question right now that sort of is at the top of this entire kind of conceptual pyramid is the question of: is the president subject to it? Does it get applied to him? Because there are people who are sitting in jail for obstruction of justice who have done things that look a lot like the fact pattern that now hangs around the neck of the president.
JS: You know, I always find it fascinating watching you navigate the airwaves of corporate television, because I think watching someone who truly is smart and well-read and is an actual journalist try to survive in that world is very complicated. But I want to appeal to the non-MSNBC employee in your when I ask this question.
JS: I watch MSNBC during this moment, and I know MSNBC is now number one. Congrats, Chris. But it’s Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia, particularly on Rachel Maddow’s show. She has gone all in on this, and I don’t think she would disagree with that —
JS: Characterization, because she believes that this is —
CH: A hundred percent. Underlying, she — yeah.
JS: Right, right. But many of the Russia, Russia, Russia things that are talked about in the narrative, particularly on MSNBC, are allegations. And the impression that one gets from watching it from hours on end is that all of this stuff is real. And to try to not make you answer for the network —
JS: Which you — I don’t think that would be fair to do. But answer this question. Do you think that what MSNBC is doing on many of the shows and by many high profile hosts — I think you’re one of the exceptions to that — is going to undermine how people perceive the actual truth if it comes out, because they’ve gone all in on the pee tape is gonna be real! And, you know, Russia was calling Trump up and telling him, and it’s like every piece of shit that could be flung at the Trump wall, it’s real. It has to stick.
CH: So, here’s what I would say to that. I’d say three things. One, I think we’ve somehow ended up at the collusion threshold, which is weird, in a way, because the facts short of collusion are quite damning. From the moment that Donald Trump descended the escalator, there has been both a sense among some and a hope among many that there will be a deus ex machina that finishes him. It is undeniable that huge amounts of people have an emotional investment in the idea that the Russia story will be said deus ex machina. And that is driving some of the reception on the part of the audience to it and part of the audience demand, unquestionably. I also think that like, what will undo him is normal politics. And by normal politics, I mean like, if you take peoples’ healthcare away. I think that the standard that’s been set of collusion is probably too high, and I think the facts alone are damning.
But I also — I have to be — I’ll be totally honest about where I am on this. Because I’ve actually come around a little bit. So, my operating — my own personal — and I basically share that concern, right? That like, I’ve been very careful. I don’t want to get too ahead of the facts of what we know. And it’s hard to report on a black box of classified info that you get anonymously, often with agendas.
My operating assumption from the beginning has been like, I don’t think there’s much there in terms of collusion because my Occam’s razor theorizing is that it’s not necessary to explain the facts given, which is to say this: Russia penetrated these computers, and that information was leaked. It was done in a way that was very damaging to one candidate, both in the timing and in the substance, and in whose it was released. That was all happening basically out in the open, while one of the candidates was super hawkish and sort of anti-Putin, and the other was saying really nice things about Putin. One of those candidates looked into a camera and said, “Russia, if you’re listening, please hack my opponent’s emails.” And then the most damaging group of the leaks, which is the Podesta stuff, came out afterwards, while said candidate continued to make official public repeated policy pronouncements that he would be nicer to Russia. What more do you need for all the oars to be moving in the same direction? Like, no one had to be like texting Vladimir to be like, “Hey, what’s up? Can you leak some more emails? We’ll be super cool to you.” It was like, we’ll be super cool to you. I’m telling everyone. And then they were like, “Okay, well, here’s more emails.” So, that was my operating assumption, was that there’s not this thing in the center because you don’t need any explanation to explain the facts.
Now, what has revised that is their conduct about this. Michael Flynn called the ambassador and lied about it. Why did he lie about it? That’s weird. He didn’t just lie about it to the vice president. He lied about it to FBI investigators under penalty of perjury. He’s not facing a criminal investigation. That’s weird. Jared Kushner snuck Sergey Kislyak in the back of Trump Tower and had a meeting he did not disclose on his FA-86 under penalty of perjury. Well, that’s super weird. Like, why do these people keep acting super guilty about their contacts with Russian officials if they have nothing to hide? And so, there’s some part of me that my Occam’s razor has like flipped over, from the Occam’s razor being, I don’t need some very elaborate Rube Goldberg theoretical edifice to explain the facts of why everyone’s working in concert to the Occam’s razor for people acting super sketchy and like they’re in the midst of a cover-up is that they’re in the midst of a cover-up, you know?
JS: And I mean, I agree a hundred percent with everything you’ve said about Flynn and others. And yes — you deserve applause. [Applause] I want to bring on Paul Miller, known popularly as DJ Spooky. He’s an incredible composer, a multimedia artist. We’re gonna talk a lot about his work right now. But the last thing I want to say specifically about him, he does all the music for the Intercepted podcast. Please welcome DJ Spooky. [Applause] I’m gonna hand over the stage to you here and let you take it and walk people through what you’re gonna be sharing today.
Paul Miller: Okay. So, Jeremy, just by way of kind of doing like a little bit of archaeology, today, we were talking about media earlier before we got — you know, backstage. And I remixed the film “Birth of a Nation.” For those of you who aren’t aware of it, it’s a sort of early DNA of American media landscape. And D.W. Griffith is generally considered to be the “father of Hollywood.” So, it was considered a true story when it came out. And President Woodrow Wilson had it played at the White House. And it’s similarly considered to be the first film to play at the White House. But there are some deeply problematic issues in it, and I think that’s what we’re gonna maybe unpack a little. But one, the idea of truth and the way that cinema portrayed truth at that time, and the way that it was used to demonize African Americans. And then two, it actually used mostly whites in blackface, so there was this whole idea of the minstrel show, which actually became, again, a foundation of pop culture. So, this idea of the imitation and the displacement of identity, and all these things that are eerily resonant in our current media landscape still go back to this early film.
So, with that said and done, the idea was to do a DJ mix applied to cinema. And my motto these days is that, you know, when Bob Dylan took his electric guitar, that transformed rock. But with the turntable, it’s transformed the media. So, to me, the fun part about the 21st century is we’re all DJs. Some of them, like Trump and his use of media, are a Divine Comedy mashup maybe of like, you know, Dante’s Inferno mixed with Disco Inferno or something. [Laughter] But so, I wanted to do a quick demo of another project that’s just coming up. And it’s — anybody out there remember ? this is, okay, 1967 to 2017, it’s the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, which was a big deal in pop culture as well. And the Beatles released an album called “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” So, I was commissioned to do a remix project around that. And I just want to show you guys a little of bits and pieces of the backdrop for a second. All right, so I’m gonna play something you guys all know, and then I’m gonna flip it around. So, say, for example, if I play a clip — and this is, again, applied to media, to sonic media, YouTube, you name it. So, I’m gonna play this.
[“This is a Journey into Sound,” Eric B. and Rakim]
[Beatles and “This is a Journey into Sound” remix]
PM: So, I’m remixing it with Eric B. and Rakim, just because they’re cool, right?
[Beatles and “This is a Journey into Sound” remix]
PM: All right, so you guys got a little life remix. [Applause] So, it’s not every day you hear the Beatles remixed with Eric B. and Rakim, but hey, it’s The Intercept, right? There you go.
JS: You can do it. You were mentioning earlier that you see some analogue to that kind of a project, and then our opportunity for cultural commentary and expression on political figures, political moments.
PM: Sure. I mean, the eerie thing about DJ-ing is it’s about selection. I’m a huge fan of the writer William S. Burroughs and the Beat poets in the ‘50s and ‘60s who did what you call sort of tape cutups. And what they would do to critique the political context at that time — if anyone’s ever read William S. Burroughs “The Ticket that Exploded” or any of his novels were all cutup text. And so, there was this early impulse in the arts to think about political critique by appropriation of media. So, he would take all sorts of bits and pieces. The same thing happened during the early Weimar Republic when artists were going against Hitler. He would be infuriated to see himself mashed up, where there was an artist named John Heartfield, who would cut Hitler’s head off of newspapers and then put it over an ape, and then put posters around Berlin of like, you know, Hitler as an ape — which at that time was shocking, you know? So, artists have always used the tools of the era to do political critique, whether it be graffiti, whether it be tagging and so on. If you were in the Soviet era, you know, you’d have Alexander Solzhenitsyn talking about, you know, they called it the Samizdat, underground newspapers, things like that. So, mix tapes, collage, secret files, torrent. There’s a lot of people who are using the Internet to also critique our contemporary political landscape.
JS: You know, one of the things I didn’t know about your work, I learned fairly recently, was you did this whole project with National Geographic that is so devastatingly beautiful. On this show, we have said we have a standing commitment to feature the work of artists because fascist movements, authoritarian forces don’t want creation. They don’t want free expression. And that’s part of the reason why we wanted to work with you in shaping how this show would sound. But I wanted you to share with people some of what you’ve been doing with National Geographic about our environment.
PM: So, I want to connect a couple dots, which is that we’re talking about a critique of media. And by the way, I’m a huge fan of Chris, by the way. I view you as a voice of reason in this insane media landscape we call the American press. But the funny thing about the 20th versus the 19th century was the consolidation of media. So, you have this idea that multiple zillions of newspapers in the 19th century consolidated into smaller and smaller amounts of media. And now, of course, with someone like Rupert Murdoch — I always chuckle that his son, the one that was involved with the phone hacking, used to own a really good hip-hop record label, and signed Mos Def and Talib Kwali. Hey, you know? He missed his calling.
JS: Martin Shkreli still, I think, has the hidden Wu Tang album there or something.
PM: That’s right. So, you know, I mean, who could have guessed? But the funny thing about when you’re looking at National Geographic — basically, I went to Antarctica, and I took a studio to several of the main ice fields. And the idea was to do what I call acoustic portraits of ice. And I made hip-hop and electronic music out of the data. And I worked with a group of scientists at Dartmouth’s Cold Regions Research Labs and mathematicians looking at climate data, which is usually not the most, you know, funky-sounding beats. I’ll just leave it at that. But the problem right now is that science needs to update how it talks to the contemporary culture landscape. So, I worked with scientists and then did a series of events, and make music out of the data that they had collected. And then we had a series of large-scale concerts throughout the U.S. But I’m gonna be — I also co-hosted the after events for the March for Science as well. I think it’s so important.
We took over an underground abandoned station underneath Dupont Circle in D.C. and had a great crowd of scientists in dialogue with musicians and artists, and it was a really beautiful evening. So, I think that was the largest gathering of scientists in human history, you know? So, these things are more important than ever. And then you still realize Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord anyway. So, it’s almost like –
CH: Just ‘cause he didn’t hear your ice recording.
PM: Yeah. [Laughs] You know, Ivanka Trump’s not — you know, these kind of people, as much as they’re supposedly part of a cultural rightwing — Ted Nugent is not that funky either, so. They have a very bad arsenal, you know. I’d rather have Jay Z than Ted Nugent any day.
JS: Chris, I wanted to ask you, ‘cause you’ve obviously followed these campaigns over the course of your adult lifetime very, very closely. What’s wrong with the Democrats right now?
JS: You know, because it really — I mean, it really does seem like they are just masters of kicking own goals left and right. I mean, this very severe battle that took place for the chairmanship of the DNC. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’ tenure at the head of the DNC, the dirty tricks against Bernie Sanders that were revealed in those hacked emails. But it just seems like they don’t know what they’re doing. And I’m wondering if you share that, or if you have a more nuanced take.
CH: I think the nature of this sort of pendulum of American polarization at this moment is that governing sort of saps capital, and opposition builds it up. So, you know, in terms of activation, in terms of how much people are plugged in, whether that’s volunteers, donors, how much they’re paying attention, like, being in opposition is energizing. And you saw that with the Tea Party. You saw that with the Republican Party, which was eviscerated and moribund after eight years of Bush, right? So, there’s a sort of — a little bit of this pendulum nature to it. The broader thing, I think, is that the Democratic Party shares the problem of center left parties across the OECD world, which is broadly, I would say, the kind of ideological exhaustion of the neoliberal project. There is this kind of degree to which it is, from a class perspective, very much sort of winners of the meritocracy, very much tied to the professional class, and are increasingly untethered from the locus of working class power as particularly represented in the labor as labor has shrunk. At its top, in terms of the people that staff these offices, it is a party of the professional class, and a certain kind of urbane cosmopolitan professional class that is attenuated from particularly the white working class. I think less attenuated, actually, ironically, from the working class of black and Latino folks. And that has to do with the nature of the political coalitions in the country. So, there’s that problem as a sort of class problem.
But that to me is just embedded in the larger architecture of what the kind of vision of equality and justice in the country is, which is a problem that sort of stretches the Western world, which is like, what is the sort of comprehensive vision for like, a just, humane, and equitable society in the 21st century? What does that look like? And there was a very long period of time in which all of the center left parties of the Western world sort of arrived at this kind of neoliberal vision, some of which actually had some really genuinely strong ideological points, some of which was underwritten by really insidious interests. I mean, it was a sort of interesting collage.
But what I think you’ve seen is a kind of bankrupting of that ideological vision. And I think the reason that you see, in Bernie Sanders and in Jeremy Corbyn, that they both have this fascinating thing that’s happening, which is that old people view Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn very poorly, right? The crosstabs of the approval is that the older you are, the less inclined you are to like them. And part of the reason is, if you’re old, they both sound like throwbacks. If you’re young, they sound totally fresh and revolutionary. Because what they’re saying are ideas and ways of talking about justice, about the commons, about collective ownership, even, that have been completely erased from the political vocabulary of mainstream center left parties for 40 years. They have them from back before that. And so, when Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders talk in those terms to 25-year-olds, it’s like, “This dude is blowing my mind!” It’s like, right, yeah, that’s socialism. Like, there’s like — the whole Labour Party was built on it, dude. They used to own coalmines, like the government did.
JS: Yeah, go ahead, Paul.
PM: And Chris, I just want to jump in as well, because I think what’s fascinating is that you have mainly white older voters voting against their own interest. And the eerie thing about seeing Republican demagoguery and the way that they manipulate use — basically a lot of older people have a very — they’re not as circumspect when they’re reading or getting this kind of computational propaganda on Facebook or whatever. The eerie and sad thing is that younger people have a better sense of literacy, but are not voting as much. So, the right wing marches in lockstep. They will make sure that their people show up. I mean, elections matter. The problem may be — with the last election, as well — was the turnout was low, enthusiasm was low. But meanwhile, the right wing, with Trump’s energized kind of rabble of all sorts of — you know, the deplorables, as we all call them — they went and made sure to show up. To me, the sad thing right now is we have this eerie sense of the way the law’s written and the way we live of parted ways. And meanwhile, the thing that’s filling the gap is this kind of radioactive cloud of just people with no sense of their own stakeholdership in this society, or the fabric of society.
JS: We should be clear here that the Obama administration was no friend of journalism or a free press in this country, or around the world. And because Trump is so cartoonishly villainous and bad, it’s easy to forget that, because under Obama, you had this incredibly brilliant, articulate president who had a firm grasp of the English language, unlike the president that came before him or the president that came after him. So, you know, just on that basis alone, it’s easy to think, “Oh my god, we’re in this hellhole.” But isn’t part of this, you know, Trump saying to James Comey, “Can’t we put journalists in jail who publish leaked information?” Trump really talking about the enemy of the press, and adopting terms that were popularized by Joseph Goebbels and others in Nazi Germany, the idea of the lying press, the fake press. And of course, Goebbels wrote about once you undermine public trust in the media, then the rest will sort of fall into place. Is there a broader lesson that we can learn from what we’re experiencing right now with Trump that will strengthen core institutions that seek to preserve the democratic aspects of our society, like a free press? You want to take that one first?
CH: I would say my short version of this is that the big lesson to me of this era so far is that the actual most foundational pillars of a free society are outside the state. They’re a civil society. And that has been a real reminder that the sort of institutional vibrancy of a free society is — ultimately does rest in civil society, and that in some ways, that’s a very empowering feeling. The state can do a lot of terrible things, and I don’t want to downplay the importance of state power. The state can pollute us into a cooked planet. It can bomb people. It does both of those things. But the sort of checks and the most important ones do — are ultimately with we the people, and the way that we order civil society, the amount of courage we’re willing to have, the degree to which we do or do not tolerate breaches of certain norms. And to me, that’s a kind of empowering lesson of where we are right.
PM: And Chris, you know, just to follow on that note, one of my favorite theoreticians is Antonio Gramsci, and he has a great quote where he says, you know, “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” And to me, the fabric of democracy is truly about having an informed citizenry. And if people don’t have a certain degree of skepticism about what they’re actually being, you know, kind of exposed to, then we need to upgrade peoples’ sense of literacy. And the funny thing is, literacy as we know it is evolving — so, hip-hop, techno, dubstep. On the other hand, where your average kid is going to YouTube, and all these different platforms that — of course, your podcast as well. People have to really think about the layers and layers and layers of this kind of new media archaeology. And I think the problem with the 21st century is we have one foot in the dead media of the 20th century, and one foot in the sort of entropic landscape that, for better or for worse, people like Robert Mercer and, of course, Peter Thiel with Palantir, and Cambridge Analytics, those guys are definitely like, demons of data. They’re totally, all puns intended, just awful.
PM: So, the good news here is that digital media and other kinds of very “democratized” culture has this new kind of literacy. And your average kid is growing up in Western — as you say, OECD country, with a cell phone. And we’ve seen when that causes revolutions, for better or for worse, in the Middle East, for example. As more people who access new kinds of ways of communicating, they change their societies. But in the U.S., I think we have a degree of complacency, and we also have a degree of people expecting, you know, oh, they wouldn’t do that. But you know what? They would. [Laughs]
JS: Chris, last thing. Does Trump make it through one term as president?
CH: I tell everyone this, that the expectation everyone should have is that the president of the United States serves a four-year term, and then he’s up for reelection. And if people don’t like the president of the United States, then they should think about how they will defeat him politically.
JS: So, he doesn’t quit? He doesn’t have a heart attack? He doesn’t get impeached?
CH: I mean, I can’t say who and who isn’t gonna have a heart attack.
JS: Okay. No, no. [Laughs]
CH: I mean, I just mean that as like — that’s a sort of bolt from above.
JS: Yeah, yeah.
CH: But in terms of — I think people tell themselves, he’s gonna get impeached, he’s gonna quit. Like, I went through 18 months — 16 months of a campaign where it was like, he’s gonna drop out. He’s not gonna — like, I’ve been through that. Like, your default assumption is that the president of the United States is elected to a four-year term that he will serve.
PM: Well, Pence is worse, so.
JS: You think Pence is worse, but does Trump make it, you think, for — through the whole term?
PM: I think, you know, he fired Comey. You know, the funny thing about the — firing the director of the FBI, he’s got a lot of layers going on here. And it’s all —
JS: Sure does.
PM: And it’s all — lots of other little secrets that pop out. And so, I think it’s — I’m intrigued to see how that’s going to accelerate what’s probably going to be a deeply unstable situation.
JS: All right, let’s give a big round of applause to DJ Spooky, Paul Miller, Chris Hayes. [Applause] Paul Miller is popularly known as DJ Spooky. He’s an artist, a composer, and an all around musical phenomenon. He also, of course, created the music on this show, the Intercepted podcast. Chris Hayes is the host of “All In with Chris Hayes” on MSNBC, and his latest book is called “A Colony in a Nation.”
JS: That does it for this week’s show. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Rick Kwan the chef is back on the job, and he mixed this week’s show again. He was off-duty because he has a new baby boy named Hugo. From all of us here at Intercepted, we want to congratulate Rick Kwan and his family on their newest member. We look forward to little Hugo mixing our show next year. We also had production assistance from Elise Swain. Special thanks to Noriko Okabe for recording the session at the Northside Festival. And our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.