The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/15/11
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
At the federal level in this country, we have something called the
Freedom of Information Act. It was originally signed by President Lyndon
Johnson. It has evolved over time to be a robust and lasting thing. It
gives we the citizens of this country the right to all kinds of information
from federal officials – their schedules, their budgets, their e-mails.,
all kinds of stuff.
When President Johnson signed the law on July 4th, 1966, he said,
“Democracy works best when the people have all the information that the
security of the nation permits.” That`s at the federal level.
But the states have their own versions of that federal law, and
sometimes they have different names like the Sunshine Act or something like
In the state of South Carolina, though, it`s just got the same name as
the federal law. It`s called the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, same
name, same deal. You ask state officials for documents or records, and
with a few exceptions, the law requires them to turn them over.
Well, earlier this year, a local paper, the “Charleston Post and
Courier,” used the state FOIA law in South Carolina to ask that state`s
governor, Nikki Haley, for some documents. Governor Haley is a Republican.
She`s serving her first term in South Carolina.
And the “Charleston Post and Courier” asked the governor for records -
- records about how South Carolina was going to implement the federal
health reform law. Governor Haley`s office responded to the newspaper with
stuff that the “Post and Courier” describes as irrelevant. They gave them
some press releases and some public schedules but really not much.
The Charleston paper, though, also made the same request for the same
type of documents from another agency in South Carolina`s government. They
also asked a different agency. And that office did hand over a lot of
information. They in fact handed over information that Governor Haley had
And that is how we know something that Governor Haley wishes we didn`t
know. Now that we know what it is that that other agency was willing to
give up that the governor`s office wasn`t, we can see why she tried to
withhold it, why her office was probably hoping that that newspaper would
never know this thing existed.
Back on March 10th, Governor Nikki Haley set up a committee to study
how South Carolina would respond to health reform. The state got a
million-dollar federal grant for this committee to consider creating an
exchange where people could buy their health insurance. Governor Haley in
public ordered this commission to convene the stakeholders and build trust
and consensus. That was how Nikki Haley presented their work to the
But thanks to the tenacious bulldog reporting of the “Charleston Post
and Courier” and thanks to that state agency that did follow South Carolina
law and did release the requested records, unlike the governor herself,
thanks to all of that, we now know what Governor Haley was actually doing
about health reform not in public but behind closed doors. On March 31st,
she instructed her spokesmen, quote, “The whole point of this commission
should be to figure out how to opt out and how to avoid a federal takeover,
not,” all caps, “not create a state exchange.”
So in public, Nikki Haley is saying we`re taking that million dollars
in federal money to take a look at all the options. And in private she`s
saying, all caps, don`t you dare look at all the options, I`ll tell you
which options you can look at.
The Charleston paper noted the discrepancy between Governor Nikki
Haley`s public front and what she was doing behind closed doors. As you
can see here, they noted it with the word “dictated” in the headline.
Well, today, the newspaper`s reporter on the story, Renee Dudley, got
another chance to ask Governor Nikki Haley about this story including the
question of why she didn`t hand over all that e-mail when it was requested,
when she was required by law to hand it over. Watch what happened. Watch
This is from WACH FOX News in Columbia, South Carolina. This is one
of the all-time greats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: We`ll get availability of e-mails included in our FOIA
GOV. HALEY`S SPOKESMAN: OK. Ma`am, we`re not doing any interviews
right now, OK?
REPORTER: This was the one specific time that Rob Godfrey told me
that I could have an available interview with the governor.
GOV. HALEY`S SPOKESMAN: You`ll have to speak to Rob.
REPORTER: Governor, we need an answer to the question. Those e-mails
were specifically not included in our response.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is in regards to the article in the “Post and
REPORTER: Yes. And we still haven`t learned a response about why
there was a –
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Merry Christmas.
REPORTER: – governor`s response on the criticism that there was a
predetermined conclusion to the health planning committee meeting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Merry Christmas. Thud.
I don`t know if you can tell that was Governor Haley offering season`s
greetings before she gets on that elevator and the door slams shut. But
just in case it was, merry Christmas to you too, Governor.
We are understandably fixated this year on the presidential race, on
2012 politics, on who the Republican nominee will be to run against
President Obama, and a lot depends on the answer to that question. That
sort of politics is one of the ways we figure out where we are as a nation,
what at least one of the parties in our two-party system is thinking about
the important issues that our country faces.
But while we are waiting for the national answer to that question, a
rather red hot political dynamic in this country is playing out not
theoretically and not in debates but for real, every day, in the states.
Republicans had a huge year in 2010, huge electoral victories in the
states. They took over state legislatures and governorships. They
transformed the political landscape in this country in that deep red 2010
They also started a fuse burning, essentially on accountability for
their own Republican governance. The country went so red, so Republican in
2010 in the states, that in the states now, we are essentially running a
live demonstration project on how Republicans govern. And on how Americans
feel about how Republicans govern.
In Wisconsin this year, progressives and Democrats and labor all set
out to recall Governor Scott Walker after he stripped union rights in
Wisconsin. Putting the governor up for recall in Wisconsin is not easy.
The recall campaign has only 60 days to collect 540,000 valid signatures.
Really, it`s more like 600,000 minimum if you want to make sure you`ve got
enough signatures that are found to be valid. So you`ve got to somehow
collect at least 10,000 signatures a day, every day, for 60 days in one
A lot of knowledgeable political observers said even with strong
sentiment against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the bar just might be
too high there, might be impossible to do it.
Well, today jubilant Wisconsin Democrats announced that with half the
time gone in the signature-gathering period, they are almost done already.
They`ve got 507,000 signatures. They are halfway to a million signatures
with half the time left to go. They`re almost done. They are going almost
twice as fast as they dared to dream they could.
Scott Walker and Nikki Haley were both elected in the huge Republican
wave in 2010. But in the 2011 elections, last month, the off-year voting,
that election actually brought mostly good news for Democrats. In just a
few places in the country, though, this past November was another big night
for Republicans, just like 2010 all over again.
One of those places was the commonwealth of Virginia, where
Republicans won a likely majority in the state Senate. That`s to go along
with the control Republicans already had of the state house and the
governorship and the lieutenant governor`s office and the attorney general.
Virginia has just gone all Republican.
Simultaneously, one of the strange things about Virginia right now is
that President Obama is leading there right now for the 2012 presidential
race. A new poll out today shows President Obama ahead of both the
Republican front-runners in Virginia. Sort of an unusual dynamic with
Virginia these days glowing a deep red in terms of who`s in control at the
Republican Governor Bob McDonnell very openly wanting to be considered
as a vice presidential candidate for the Republican nominee even.
So Republicans are doing very well in Virginia on one hand, but
President Obama`s doing very well there overall. It is a strange dynamic.
The president doing well, but Republicans totally in charge.
What happens in that circumstance, what happens in Virginia now, tells
us as much as any presidential candidate`s platform about what Republicans
are like, about what Republican governance means, what Republicans stand
for in 2011. Virginia Republicans` first act after last month`s election,
what they put at the top of their legislative agenda, once they took total
control of the state government, was this – House Bill number 1, banning
all abortion in Virginia and outlawing hormonal birth control, like for
example, the birth control pill. This is bill number 1 under complete
Republican rule in Virginia.
Also in Virginia this week, the state approved new rules that allow
adoption agencies to discriminate against couples for being gay and for a
lot more. Under the new Republican majority in Virginia, now that they
have total control, their new rules on adoption in the state reserve the
right to discriminate against you not just on the basis of your sexual
orientation but on the basis of your family status or your age or your
gender or your disability or your religion, or your political beliefs.
Now that the Republican Party has taken total control of government in
the state of Virginia, they have changed the rules to say that you can be
blocked from adopting a child in Virginia because you`re a registered
Democrat, or because you`re a Jew. Nice, right?
Politics happens on all sorts of different levels and all sorts of
different ways. Tonight in Washington, they`re apparently working out a
two-month mini extension of the payroll tax cut and of unemployment
benefits. Politics also happens all the way down at the ground level. At
not just the House of Representatives but just at your house.
This is Occupy Youngstown, Ohio. Remember them? You may remember our
earlier reporting on Occupy Youngstown in one of America`s most
impoverished cities, turning out with their senior citizens way few tents
outside of the bank in what`s left of downtown in Youngstown in one of
America`s most impoverished cities turning out with their senior citizens
and their few tents outside a bank and what`s left of the downtown in
Well, these are occupy Youngstown`s tents today, where they camped out
in the yard of a mother and her family facing eviction from their home just
in time for the holidays. This is politics too. If you want to take the
political temperature of our country, absolutely, look at the 2012 race.
But look too at Governor Nikki Haley`s 34 percent approval rating and
that hometown reporter chasing her into the elevator with no answer, no
explanation, merry Christmas.
Look at the sudden and unexpected half million signatures for
recalling Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
Look at how the Republican Party is wielding its power in trending
Look at Occupy Youngstown, saying this is their priority, that they
will stand up for this, that even if no other level of politics in this
country can stop this one foreclosure – maybe they can stop it in their
Joining us now is Chris Hayes, the host of “UP WITH CHRIS HAYES,”
which airs Saturday and Sunday mornings here on MSNBC. Chris is also
editor at large of “The Nation” magazine.
Chris, good to see you.
CHRIS HAYES, UP WITH CHRIS HAYES: Great to see you.
MADDOW: I have been waiting to see what`s going to happen in the
Republican race for president and in Congress, and in all of this, I keep
coming back, actually, to the Occupy movement, what`s happening in places
Do you think that is a result of political processes, or are we at the
point where what`s happening in the streets is sort of the cause of
political processes too?
HAYES: That`s fascinating. I do think it has caused a change in the
national political conversation. I do think there`s also a connection
between the degree to which people feel alienated from Washington, they
feel like the system is dysfunctional, they feel like it`s broken and the
degree to which they`re willing to invest in these local actions. I think
that we got very swept up in national politics, I think during the Bush
administration, particularly around the war, because that was the defining
political moment I think in the last 10 or 15 years in terms of when people
really got galvanized on the left.
And wars can only be stopped at the national level. And I think so
much of the infrastructure that was built and so much of people`s political
consciousness that came about in 2003 and 2002 in the run-up to that war
was so focused on national politics, it`s taken a very long time to get
people to sort of remember – or the people that became politicized during
that moment to get them to remember about local politics, about how much
effect you can have at a local level.
And I do think as people find Washington more and more sclerotic and
dysfunctional, there`s more of a hope in doing things like the folks at
Occupy Youngstown because it has this more immediate and palpable effect.
MADDOW: Do you think we`re starting to have a national – I keep
thinking of like taking temperature is the way to do it because what we`re
watching on the federal level is to understand where the country is going
and what we`re fighting about and what`s important to us. Is what`s
happening at the state level with Republican governance in so many states
that have gone all the way red is also informing what we think about as the
national political temperature?
HAYES: I think it should more than it is. And one of the things I
think is so interesting is who do people, when voters go to the polls, who
do they think of as the incumbent? Because I think what you see, both in -
- there`s polling out today that shows 2/3 of the people want to see their
congressperson voted out or against incumbents.
When people go to the polls, particularly a state like Florida, let`s
say, right, Florida`s getting destroyed by the housing bubble. It`s got
some of the highest foreclosure rates and underwater homes in the country.
It`s also got a Republican Governor Rick Scott who might be the most
unpopular governor in the country. He sort of bunched around.
It`s also got, you know, President Obama who is going to be at the top
of the ticket. And the question is when you go into that voting booth in -
MADDOW: And you`re mad.
HAYES: – in central Florida and you see subdivision after
subdivision after subdivision with foreclosure signs, who is responsible
for that? And that`s a really profound question because I think the
defining sentiment of the electorate in the last three successive elections
is they are ticked off at the people in power.
HAYES: And so, the question is who do think understand? Who do those
electorates, particularly in swing states, understand as the people in
power when they want to make some statement when he had head into the polls
MADDOW: And the pew polling that came out on this today, which was
captioned by Greg Sargent at the “Washington Post,” I think adequately
essentially holy cow, we`re a really populist country, the national
sentiment right now being expressed to pollsters is that the people at the
top are getting way too much of the spoils of both our economy and our
political system and I resent it, and I think that even if I`m a
HAYES: Majority of Republicans say that wealthy people –
corporations and people with money have too much power in this country, a
majority of Republicans – Republicans in the poll.
MADDOW: Are you seeing politicians behave in a way that reflects a
desire to meet that concern?
HAYES: What`s amazing to me is how unresponsive Republican state
level officials are and how much they`re responsive to all of their
ideological priors, all of the interest that they promised fealty to before
they got into office and how little trimming of the sails they`ve done.
I mean, Rick Scott just seems to be perfectly happy to plow along at
25 percent, doing all these things that are wildly unpopular. And I think
there`s a different set of incentive structures on the right, partly
because of the way the money works over there, partly because of the
ideological cohesiveness of the base.
But what we have not seen largely are course corrections.
HAYES: I mean, the closest we`ve seen is John Kasich, after being
voted out in Ohio issuing a somewhat humble and apologetic statement. But
that`s really the closest we`ve seen. What we have seen by and large are
Republican majorities and Republican governors pursuing a pretty hard right
ideological agenda and not trimming their sails in response to the backlash
that`s been precipitated.
MADDOW: Well, I know no way of making people calm down about
foreclosures that`s any better than banning birth control.
HAYES: That`s right. Or gay couples.
Chris Hayes hosts “UP WITH CHRIS HAYES” on Saturday and Sunday
mornings here on MSNBC. Thank you for being here.
HAYES: Thanks a lot, Rachel.
All right. Frank Rich will be joining us straight ahead. Stay with
MADDOW: There are certain things in our great wonderful world that
last precisely seven weeks. There are certain things that go for seven
weeks and then they come to an end.
One of those things is the gestation period of the cutest little
cuddly most adorable little creature on the whole entire planet. That
would be a baby red fox. Red foxes are amazing.
Do you know their hearing is so good they can locate a mouse squeaking
in the grass from an entire football field away? Yes. From red fox mating
to baby red fox being born, that`s about seven weeks.
Something else that exists for about seven weeks, your average worker
bee. They`re the ones that make the honey and generally do the stinging.
But it`s a quick, super-productive life for these guys. Seven weeks, and
One other thing that lasts about seven weeks in our world, which has
nothing at all to do with the animal kingdom, one other thing that lasts
seven weeks is the bubble candidacy of the Republican presidential front-
runner who is not named Mitt Romney. That candidacy lives on our green
earth for seven weeks, and then it dies.
Do you remember Herman Cain? The Herman Cain bubble began toward the
end of September, right around September 20th. We`d earlier calculated his
bubble at being about a five-week thing. But really he began to burst in a
big way around the second week of November. So, to be fair, I think it`s
more like about seven weeks, maybe a little less, and then splat.
Do you remember Rick Perry? The Rick Perry bubble really started to
inflate in mid to early August. And then by the end of September, that
bubble was officially no more. Again, roughly about seven weeks, maybe a
And now, we have Newt Gingrich. The Newt Gingrich bubble began around
October 27th. From that point on, Mr. Gingrich`s polling numbers just took
off. Seven weeks from October 27th would be today – which means that Newt
Gingrich would appear to have fully gestated, and right on cue, the polls
are beginning to reflect that.
Nate Silver at “The New York Times” reporting tonight, quote, “The
polling data I`ve seen over the last two or three days suggests that Newt
Gingrich`s momentum has stopped and has probably reversed itself.” Not
only has Newt Gingrich now lost his lead in Iowa to Mitt Romney according
to one new poll out today from Rasmussen, but look at this national Gallup
tracking poll between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich over the last few
Gingrich jumped out to an enormous lead as his bubble inflated. But
look at the very end there, Newt Gingrich crumbling and Mitt Romney
It appears to be baby red fox time for Newt Gingrich. He has fully
gestated as a non-Mitt Romney front-running candidate. And now it`s out
into the cold hard reality of life. Mom!
There are two things. One since there isn`t enough time for a full
seven-week gestation period for a new candidate before Iowa that maybe
Republicans just get Mitt Romney. Presumably that is as much a problem for
the Republican base right now as it has ever been in this race. They do
not appear to be falling more in love with Mitt Romney, they are just
running out of people to try who are not him.
A second thing that could happen is that even though there really
isn`t enough time between Iowa and New Hampshire we could just decide that
Iowa and New Hampshire really don`t matter all that much anymore. We could
start a new bubble right now.
In the “National Review`s” scathing right-wing editorial against Newt
Gingrich last night, they told conservative voters not to vote for Mr.
Gingrich but to consider only Mitt Romney and two other candidates. The
other two, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. I mean, Rick Santorum, sure.
But what about Jon Huntsman? New polling out of New Hampshire showing
that Jon Huntsman is now starting his own teeny tiny little mini-surge. So
maybe that`s possible.
Or how about a new entrant in the race altogether? Is it too late for
that? Technically it is too late for that.
But how else do you explain this going on in New Hampshire right now?
Dave Weigel at Slate.com reporting today that New Hampshire residents
are starting to receive phone calls asking them the following questions.
Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Mitt Romney? Do you have a
favorable or unfavorable view of Newt Gingrich? Do you have a favorable or
unfavorable view of Jeb Bush? Jeb Bush?
Somebody is paying for those calls to go out right now in New
Hampshire. What`s that all about?
Finally, there is one other option, which is that maybe the Newt
Gingrich bubble just won`t go away. I mean, it does seem to be ending. It
does seem to be getting to the end of its natural life span. Time for the
fox to be born.
But what if the Newt Gingrich bubble were artificially resuscitated?
What if it were artificially rebuilt with a lot of money?
Politico.com reporting today that one donor, one person, a man by the
name of Sheldon Adelson may be about to give Gingrich a lump sum payment of
$20 million. Not directly to Newt Gingrich but to a PAC supporting Newt
Gingrich, which is essentially the same as giving it right to him.
To put that in perspective, the total we know Newt Gingrich has raised
overall the whole time has been running is about $7 million. He`s about to
get $20 million in one check from one person.
They say that money can`t buy you love, money can`t buy you happiness.
But can it buy you another few weeks in the bubble?
Frank Rich joins us next.
MADDOW: Today, the war in Iraq officially ended. Operation New Dawn
is over. The U.S. military flag was lowered and packed up and retired in
Baghdad. Just a few hundred people, including Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta, were on hand to see it. There was a military band at the
ceremony, but there was no parade, no celebration.
What are the American lessons learned from our nearly nine-year, $800
billion war? A war that was started to rid Iraq of weapons of mass
destruction that they did not have. What have we as a country learned
about the price of pre-emptive war? What has the Republican Party
specifically learned from the Iraq war and our experience there?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are not going to
tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`d respond
with absolutely everything that the United States can put on the line. We
cannot abide a nuclear – an Iran with a nuclear weapon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you prevent them from obtaining a nuclear
weapon? Is it worth going to war to prevent that?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If all else fails, if after
all of the work we`ve done there`s nothing else we can do besides take
military action, then of course you take military action.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIALK CANDIDATE: There are lots of things
we can do to stop that program from moving forward, both from the
standpoint of covert operations as well as – and I`m talking about actual
operations within the country to make sure that that program does not
GINGRICH: Rick Santorum`s consistency and courage on Iran has been a
hallmark of why – if we do survive, it will be in part because of people
like Rick who`ve had the courage to tell the truth about the Iranians for a
ERIN BURNETT, CNN: When push comes to shove, if what was between them
and a nuclear weapon, there was an uncertainty, required troops` invasion,
you`d do it?
JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can`t live with the
implications of not doing it.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Whether it`s
diplomatic, whether it`s economic sanctions, whether it`s overt or covert
operations up to and including military action. We cannot afford to allow
that madman in Iran to get his hands on a nuclear weapon. Period.
JOHN KING, CNN: Even if is it started a war in the region?
PERRY: We cannot allow that madman to get his hands on a nuclear
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: With the exception of Ron Paul, every single Republican
running for president says that he or she would gladly consider starting
another pre-emptive war in the Middle East. No problemo.
Iraq`s wrapping up today. They are ready to start the next war next
door. This is the lesson learned for the Republican Party from the
presidency of George W. Bush.
Joining us now, “New York” magazine writer at large, Frank Rich.
Frank, thank you for being here.
FRANK RICH, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Nice to be with you as always.
MADDOW: How is the Republican Party different today than it was in
2002, when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were president and vice
RICH: As you said, except for Ron Paul, who was actually the same
then too –
RICH: Not at all. And they`re sort of picking up from where McCain
left off. Didn`t he do a joke once about bombing Iran, bomb, bomb –
MADDOW: That`s right.
RICH: And to me it`s just the most empty posturing.
First of all, half of them don`t know where Iran is. They`re all
listening to the same coterie of sort of neo-con advisers and Cheney
holdovers and they`re trying to posture just to show that they`re strong.
The one thing that – they`ve learned nothing. They don`t even care
whether they`ve learned anything.
And I think they`re all talking through their hat because one thing
they should have learned is the country did learn something. They don`t
want to pay for these, kind of, half-cocked misadventures that don`t have
any real basis or probably good outcome.
MADDOW: Chris Hayes was just here, and he said something that stuck
with me, which is that of the past decade, the Iraq war is probably the
most salient political event in American history of the past decade. And
9/11 may have been the most salient event, but Iraq was the most salient
Do Republicans not believe that? Do they think that it did not –
that what happened in Iraq doesn`t require any sort of change in worldview
or strategy? Did they not think it was important? Or do they just know
that voters this year aren`t going to be voting on foreign policy so it
doesn`t matter, so just say what the last guys were saying?
RICH: I think it`s more the latter. I think – I don`t think they
even really think about it. I think some Republican voters do think about
it, including some, for instance, supporting Paul.
But I think these candidates, they feel that war – and we`re still in
one, by the way – doesn`t even show up remotely near the top of concerns
So, they look at it as a free pass. They can talk as recklessly as
they want. And they`re not really going to be held accountable because
first of all most of them and possibly all of them are not going to end up
And secondly, it`s never going to happen because they`re never going
to get it through Congress and a press which has learned something since
its catastrophic failures before the Iraq war about vetting the evidence
MADDOW: I wonder – I hadn`t been thinking about it in these terms
until you just said that, but I wonder if with the horizon on Afghanistan
right now that doesn`t end this year or next year or the year after that,
but not until the end of the year after that, the end of 2014, that`s the
horizon for leaving Afghanistan right now. Obviously, I don`t think
they`re making decisions in Washington about the Iraq war mostly on what
the basis of the political impact domestically on decisions would be, I
just don`t hear that from Democrats in Washington when they talk about the
war. But I think right now, if they were calculating the domestic
political cost of ending the Afghanistan war, there would be none. I do
not think that the Republican Party has either the credibility or the
energy on foreign policy to resist Democratic White House if they wanted to
end the Afghanistan war sooner.
Do you think that`s true?
RICH: I think that`s true. I think they`d be pushing open an open
door. I think that whole spirit has sort of leaked out of the Republican
And look, the prime movers of it have been disabled or – you know,
McCain is regarded as a crank. Lieberman is leaving. Lindsay graham is
not a major figure. Cheney is riding off more or less into the sunset.
And his daughter is proving to be a poor understudy.
So, there`s no one – there`s no there there to this Republican
And most of all, it isn`t there from the voters.
RICH: Voters have turned completely on this. The American public I
think has learned a lot, even if some politicians in the Republican Party
MADDOW: I think you`re right, too, that the media has learned a lot,
too. I think that the media would be significantly more skeptical and less
cheerleadery now than they were for any sort of new venture, than they
would have been in 2002-2003.
RICH: Well, yes, almost every major news organization, including most
major newspapers and television networks went along with the WMD barrage of
the Bush administration, fell for it, didn`t vet it, buried stories,
challenging it, or actually helped further the propaganda. It didn`t help
any of them. It led to major meltdowns in some of these organizations.
So, it`s in their best interests, not only their patriotic interests,
their own selfish interests, to not make that mistake again.
MADDOW: Before I let you go, Frank, I have to ask you if you see the
Newt Gingrich surge persisting. Are you looking forward to the Santorum
surge? Feels awful to even say. Or the Jon Huntsman surge?
What do you think is going to happen?
RICH: I think Gingrich may be a little harder to tamp down back into
the bottle. And if that Adelson money is for real –
MADDOW: Twenty million dollars.
RICH: That`s not chopped liver, as they say in Vegas, where I think
MADDOW: Frank Rich, it`s always really great to have you here. Thank
RICH: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Frank Rich, of course, is “New York” magazine`s editor at
All right. We will be right back.
MADDOW: Coming up tonight on “The Interview,” a man who has tried to
prevent what he says could be disaster at one of America`s biggest nuclear
sites. Stay tuned.
MADDOW: In 1943, what we used to call the War Department took over
two small towns in Washington state. Two towns called Hanford and White
Bluffs. Two farming communities on the banks of the Columbia River. The
people who lived in Hanford and white bluffs were given a month or so to
clear out completely.
They were told to leave their homes, abandon their crops. Some of the
farmers burned their fields in protest. The people did not want to go.
And that was not helped by the fact that the reason the government was
taking their land was classified.
But two years later on August 9th, 1945, the world learned the War
Department`s secrets at Hanford. The plutonium for the atomic bomb that
the United States dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, which killed more than 70,000
people in its immediate aftermath and tens of thousands more in the
following years. That plutonium for that bomb was made at Hanford.
This is a replica of that 10,000-pound bomb. Little Boy was the bomb
they dropped on Hiroshima. That was a uranium bomb. But the one they
dropped on Nagasaki, that one was called Fat Man, and it was plutonium. It
was plutonium from Hanford.
Hanford very quickly grew to become one of the largest nuclear
facilities in the world. It had nine reactors. It employed tens of
thousands of people. And it created plutonium for nuclear bombs throughout
the Cold War.
In 1988, the government shut down Hanford. The Department of Energy
switched from the nukes building business to the nukes cleaning up
business. There are billions of gallons of waste at Hanford. And cleaning
it up has not gone all that well.
As the “Seattle Times” put it earlier this year, “Some of the hottest
radioactive waste from Hanford was funneled into concrete and carbon-steel
tanks that today are decades past their projected life span. Some have
spontaneously heated up or burped explosive gases, 67 are suspected to have
leaked. At least a million gallons of radioactive goo has spilled into the
ground and is working its way to the Columbia River.”
Yes, what everybody agrees is the most contaminated site in North
America is right on the beautiful Columbia River, which among other things
is the lifeline for about 10,000 farmers and dozens of commercial
So, the Hanford cleanup in Washington state is a tough situation. The
Energy Department is in charge there. They hired the Bechtel Corporation
to do the work. It`s a multibillion-dollar project on a 600-square-mile
site that, again, is the most contaminated place on the continent.
And now a senior engineer on site, who works for a subcontractor to
Bechtel, said something is very wrong there. Last week, Hanford engineer
Dr. Walter Tamosaitis, who works for a subcontractor to Bechtel called URS,
Dr. Tamosaitis testified before a Senate committee. The doctor told
senators that after he raised concerns about the cleanup project being
dangerously rushed by Bechtel and URS in order to hit deadlines and get
bonuses, after he raised concerns that shortcuts being taken with Hanford`s
radioactive mess could lead to more radioactive leaks or explosions or
fires, he says he was taken off his job.
He wasn`t fired but in sort of classic fashion he was reassigned,
reassigned to a basement office that happened to house two working copying
Quote, “I`ve been sit nag basement office now for nearly 16 months,”
he told senators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: And I assume Bechtel is still in
DR. WALTER TAMOSAITIS, URS: Bechtel is still in charge of the
project. Yes, Senator.
MCCASKILL: And everyone sees you go to work in the basement with no
TAMOSAITIS: Yes. Yes, ma`am.
MCCASKILL: And knows that you are not allowed to work even though
you`re there on site and getting paid?
MCCASKILL: So everyone – so every day you are an example to all the
workers there, whether they`re federal employees or Bechtel employees,
don`t say anything or you too will be banished to the basement?
TAMOSAITIS: Yes, Senator. Very directly. It`s a very visible
example of what happens if you speak up.
MCCASKILL: It`s just unbelievable to me that we`ve allowed this to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
So, Dr. Tamosaitis works for URS. URS works for Bechtel. Bechtel
works for the Energy Department.
We called all three of those entities today to respond. URS told us
they fully support Dr. Tamosaitis` right to raise safety concerns but they
say they do not agree with his assertion that he suffered retaliation for
Bechtel told us too that safety and quality are Bechtel`s top
priorities and they do not tolerate retaliation or harassment in any form
against anyone who raises a concern. Bechtel said they strongly dispute
Dr. Tamosaitis` version of the facts.
The Department of Energy similarly told us that retribution for
raising safety concerns will not be tolerated. They said they are
committed to continuing to improve our approach to safety at Hanford.
All of those statements are available in full at MaddowBlog.com
tonight if you want to see them.
But I would just say two things here. Well, three things here.
First, did I mention this is the most contaminated site on the continent?
And it`s right on the Columbia River? All right. So that`s first.
But also, there`s also been an independent look-see into this
situation already. Your tax dollars pay for something called the Defense
Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. And, frankly, you`re psyched that your
tax dollars pay for that because it`s a board of nuclear scientists that`s
appointed by the White House and that is independent from anyone else.
It`s their job to look into safety issues at nuclear stuff that the Energy
Department is responsible for.
They looked into what`s going on at Hanford, and they said this –
“The investigative record demonstrates that both DOE and contractor project
management behaviors reinforce a subculture that deters the timely
reporting, acknowledgment, and ultimate resolution of technical safety
And at one point, I should say, if the name Bechtel is ringing a bell
for you, while we`ve been talking about this, it is probably because you
remember Bechtel as one of the giant contractors that got huge rebuilding
contracts in Iraq, billions of dollars` worth of Iraq rebuilding contracts.
How did Bechtel do there? Quote, “Bechtel National, met its original
objectives on fewer than half the projects it received as part of a $1.8
billion reconstruction contract, while most of the rest were canceled,
reduced in scope, or never completed as designed.”
When the inspector general looked into why that was, why Bechtel blew
it so badly in Iraq, the conclusion was that Bechtel needed oversight.
Bechtel needed strong, firm hand oversight – or those billions of taxpayer
dollars would find a way of just disappearing.
We kind of accepted that as one of the craven, disgusting costs of the
Iraq war. But do the same rules apply in Washington state?
Joining us tonight for the interview are Walt Tamosaitis and Tom
Carpenter, an attorney and executive director of a non-profit group called
Hanford Challenge, which has been a critic of conditions at the Hanford
Thank you both for being here tonight. I appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
MADDOW: Dr. Tamosaitis, can you describe your safety concerns at
Hanford for the non-nuclear engineers among us?
TAMOSAITIS: Yes, ma`am. The major concern is poor mixing in the
vessels, the tanks that process the hazardous nuclear waste. And if you
have poor mixing in the tank, you can build up solids, the solids can trap
hydrogen gas. You can have solids build up on the bottom of the tank which
can lead to a criticality.
So, trapping a hydrogen gas can lead to a fire or an explosion. And
the solids buildup could lead to a criticality.
MADDOW: Is that something that`s the inevitability of the difficulty
of this project or a way to handle that more safely if they were willing to
take more time or money?
TAMOSAITIS: It can be addressed. It`s a chemical plant, first of
all. It`s not a nuclear plant as people describe it.
It`s a chemical plant that processes a nuclear waste. The waste is
like a very thick ketchup with sand in it. And they have to improve the
mixing in the vessels. There`s a couple ways to do it. And they need to
address that in order to make the process safe.
MADDOW: Mr. Carpenter, let me ask you a question. I know the Dr.
Tamosaitis is not the only whistle-blower who has come forward from
Hanford. I know you have represented a couple of others.
What other concerns have you known to be raised by whistle-blowers at
TOM CARPENTER, HANFORD CHALLENGE EXEC. DIRECTOR: Well, there are
several other whistle-blowers.
One is the manager of nuclear safety at waste treatment plant there.
And she was raising concerns about the risk of hydrogen explosion, and the
fact that it could catch on fire. And the reducing of safety margins at
the site. And this manager recently filed a whistle-blower retaliation
claim with the Department of Labor.
Another engineer, scientist, was working for the Department of Energy.
He still works there. And he`s been raising concerns about how mixing in
the tanks could lead to corrosion, an erosion in the tanks and actually
wear a hole through the tanks, which is not good for the nuclear process.
That could lead to a leak or a release of radioactive material which could
harm the public.
Both of these individuals have said, like the Dr. Tamosaitis here,
that their concerns have been suppressed. They felt harassment.
MADDOW: In terms of – Dr. Tamosaitis, let me go back to you. In
terms of your safety concerns and, again, speaking to a public that may not
be, including myself, all that familiar with the processes you`re
describing there, what is the greatest risk that you think is possible here
based on corners that you`ve seen cut? Are we looking at something that
could be more than the kind of leaks that Hanford has already experienced?
Are we talking about something that could be a larger release of
TAMOSAITIS: Yes, ma`am. Yes, Rachel, we are. If we have poor
mixing, we could trap hydrogen gas, we could end up with a fire or
explosion, as we saw on the TV at Fukushima in Japan.
MADDOW: You have more than 40 years` experience in this field,
Doctor, as a highly skilled nuclear engineer. Since you have raised these
concerns on site, what have you been spending your days doing for the past
16 months? What has your job been since you started raising concerns?
TAMOSAITIS: I was assigned to a basement office. And in the basement
I keep myself busy by reading technical papers and trying to stay abreast
of the technologies.
MADDOW: Mr. Carpenter, one last question for you. The Department of
Energy owns this site and is responsible for meeting deadlines and trying
to keep costs under control. They are also in charge of overseeing that
work, overseeing the work to do the cleaning – to do the clean-up at
That is the hardest for me to understand, as somebody who is just
concerns about this in terms of safety and good government. Is the
Department of Energy effectively overseeing themselves here?
CARPENTER: I would say no. Others agree with me. It`s hard to be an
owner as well as a regulator. And I think most people understand that.
The commercial side of the nuclear industry has a separation between
the owner, which is the owner of the nuclear reactor, for instance, and
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which doesn`t own anything, right? They`re
just there to protect the health and safety of the public. So, there`s a
separation that we`d expect to happen.
But that`s not true at Department of Energy facilities and it`s
something the taxpayer should demand as well as Congress, that there be a
separation, so that there isn`t a conflict with owning the site and
MADDOW: Tom Carpenter, executive director of nonprofit group Hanford
Challenge and Walt Tamosaitis, an employee at URS and a whistle-blower on
this site, and who has paid for it – thank you for being here tonight.
I will tell our viewers, the response from your employer, Doctor, from
Bechtel and the Department of Energy are at our site if they would like to
compare stories. But this is pretty damning stuff you brought to the
public`s attention. Thank you for your bravery in doing it, sir.
TAMOSAITIS: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. We got the best new thing in the world coming up, just in
time. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Best new thing in the world today is obviously the end of the
Iraq war. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying today in Baghdad that Iraq
is now fully responsible for directing its own path.
The war ending as it should. Iraq now becoming its own sovereign
country without our flag flying over it anywhere, without our troops
anywhere in it. That`s easily the best new thing in the world, maybe this
But there`s another Iraq story that is ending as it should. It
doesn`t beat the end of the war, but it`s pretty good. This fall, a
Chicago-based artist got together with a New York arts group and a
restaurant. They put together an ambitious, big thinking art project.
They found on eBay dinner plates believed to have been looted from
Saddam Hussein`s palaces after the U.S. invasion. They bought the plates
and as an interactive art installation, they served on Saddam Hussein`s
flatware and plates venison, with tahini and date syrup and pomegranates.
The project was called “Spoils.”
The artist said he wanted diners to think about how the plates got to
their table. Quote, “This is about symbols of power in that regime that
have come into the ownership of the populist that we`re living under
He told “The New York Times” last month, but you can`t just buy
Saddam`s dinner plates on eBay. Not legally anyway.
When the art group was formally notified that the plates really
belonged to the Iraqi people and needed to be returned, they agreed to give
So, earlier this week, what “The New York Times” says was a strange
but cordial visit, the artist helped the U.S. Marshals packed up the plates
so they could be delivered to the Iraqi mission at U.N. By Tuesday
afternoon, the plates made their way to D.C. where Iraqi Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki was in town to meet with President Obama, and the plates
were then scheduled to flight back with Maliki on his private plane on
Wednesday, which is to say this big thinking art project ended as it should
The Iraq war is over. Iraq is a sovereign nation. One of the very
small things that means is that they get their stuff back, too.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a
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