The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/05/13
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
So, Congress famously works at this very pretty building, the United
States Capitol Building, right? It is straight down the National Mall from
the Washington Monument. It`s around the corner from the White House. It
has that iconic dome.
This is where the floor of the House is. It`s where the floor of the
Senate is. It is where some of the work of the U.S. Congress gets done.
More of the work of the U.S. Congress gets done, though, not in that
building, but instead at the various House office buildings and Senate
office buildings. The Senate has three office buildings, and the most
well-known of them is this guy. It`s a really big building. It`s really
generic looking. It is right in the middle of all the action in downtown
D.C. and lots of the work of the United States senate gets done there.
And because the building is named after Senator Everett Dirksen of
Illinois who served in the 1950s and 1960s, his name is never far from
anybody`s mind in Washington even today. The Dirksen Senate Office
Building named for Everett Dirksen.
You ever seen Everett Dirksen? I have always thought he was kind of
amazing. Isn`t he? He`s kind of a cross, I`ve always thought, between
Fred Schneider from early B52s and my favorite Muppet. Hi, Beaker.
But in 1964, the amazing specimen of Republican Senator Everett
Dirksen, he was the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate.
Republicans were in the minority in the Senate. Democrats were the
majority there. Democrats also had the White House.
In 1964, of course, the president was Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson
had become president after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And although
LBJ had long been vocally opposed to the expansion of the Vietnam War, even
though he had campaigned for office saying he didn`t want to send American
boys thousands of miles away to fight a war that Asian boys ought to be
fighting for themselves. Even though he had campaigned that way and he had
believed the war in Vietnam was a mistake, by 1964, once he was president,
LBJ had become convinced despite everything he said before, the war in
Vietnam really needed to be expanded. It should have a much greater U.S.
And so, on August 4th, 1964, LBJ made that case to the public in the
most dramatic way possible. In a live late night urgent broadcast,
President Johnson told the country that the United States Navy had come
under attack, in the Gulf of Tonkin just off the coast of Vietnam.
President Johnson said there had been open aggression on the high seas
against the United States of America and that the United States of America
needed to respond to that aggression. It was a compelling case made in a
very serious way.
Now, in the long run it turned out we got snookered. It turns out the
whole Gulf of Tonkin thing didn`t happen the way LBJ said it happened at
all. When he said it back in August 1964, Congress fell in line. As soon
as the president gave that speech, his own party in the Senate rallied to
his side. The number two Democrat in the Senate came out almost
immediately after LBJ`s speech and said he supported the president and
supported what LBJ wanted to do in Vietnam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER SEN. HUBERT HUMPHREY (D), MINNESOTA: I, for one, want to say
that I don`t think you can be a great power and assume the responsibilities
that we do as a free nation for the cause of freedom and run every time
somebody starts to draw a bead on you. I think what President Johnson
demonstrated last night was the kind of calm, resolute, firmness and
decisiveness which will command respect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Hubert Humphrey, obviously, a Democrat. The
Democrats in the Senate lining up behind the president of their own party,
But President Johnson, a Democratic president, also got down the line
support from the Republican leadership in the Senate, most explicitly in
the case of Everett Dirksen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER SEN. EVERETT DIRKSEN (R), ILLINOIS: In the instances that are
immediately before us, I think it`s got to be conceded there has been firm
and decisive action. Now, who knows what lies ahead, what the dimensions
of attack might be and where we go from there and what we do with our
larger objectives in Southeast Asia?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Everett Dirksen for the Republicans, Democrats, the Senate as
well, everybody is full bore, no reservations, totally lined up, totally
supportive of President Johnson`s plan to essentially triple down on the
war in Vietnam.
When the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted on that Gulf of Tonkin
resolution, it was unanimous. It`s 29-0. In the Senate, they had two
committees meet together and take a vote. They put the Foreign Relations
Committee and the Armed Services Committee together to consider the Gulf of
Tonkin resolution. And again, there the vote was totally overwhelming. It
Wait a second. Not unanimous before those Senate committees.
Unanimous in the House. Not unanimous in the Senate. And then when they
took the next step, when the Gulf of Tonkin resolution got out of
committee, came up for a full vote on the Senate floor, again, that same
guy who voted no in committee voted no again. And for the full floor vote
he got a friend. One of the senators from Alaska joined him.
So, yes, over in the House, the vote was unanimous on the Gulf of
Tonkin resolution. It was 416-0. But in the Senate, it was not unanimous.
It was 88-2.
And the man who stood up and said no, twice, in the Senate, against
every prevailing wind in Washington, was an Oregon senator named Wayne
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER SEN. WAYNE MORSE (D), OREGON: Being in the minority never
proves that you`re wrong. In fact, history is going to record that Senator
Greening and I voted in the interest of the American people this morning
when we voted against this resolution. And I`ve held the American people
remember what this resolution really is. It`s a resolution which seeks to
give the president of the United States the power to make war without a
declaration of war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oregon Senator Wayne Morse. He was right about that. That
was, that vote, right, was 88-2 and he was one of the 2. That vote was the
closest that Congress ever got to a declaration of war in the Vietnam War,
which cost 50,000 American lives and lasted more than eight years.
And not for nothing – what the Senate was voting on there was
technically a response to this supposed incident in the Gulf of Tonkin,
which proved in the end to be bullpucky. It was not what the president
said it was. It did not happen the way they made up pretext.
All of Congress went along with it, but not Oregon Senator Wayne
Morse. And as Congress, again, today considers reports of a grave and
terrible provocation in a far away place, as a potential justification for
American military commitment, that otherwise would not take without that
provocation, today, there`s no reason to believe that the claims about
chemical weapons use in Syria are as shaky and even made up as reports from
the Gulf of Tonkin back in 1964.
But the point of the Wayne Morse place in history, the whole heroism
of the Wayne Morse story is not actually that he was right. He had not
magically disproved the Gulf of Tonkin thing when he said no. The heroism
of the Wayne Morse example in history is that he did say no.
And our history as a country shows despite the impression you might be
getting from reading the beltway media these days, our history as a country
shows that again and again, some people can say no even when everybody else
says yes. When the war drums beat in Washington, again and again, people
do say no. And sometimes they`re all alone when they say it. Sometimes it
is Wayne Morse and Senator Greening from Alaska acting alone in 1964.
Sometimes, it`s Barbara Lee, alone in 2001. Congresswoman Barbara Lee
from California was the one vote in either House of Congress in 2001 two
voted against what turned into our 13-year-long war in Afghanistan that we
are still in now.
In the first Iraq War, the Gulf War of 1991, we look back on now and
think of as an easy call, right? One of the good wars. It was super clear
what was going to happen there. This aggression will not stand, man.
Well, you know what turns out? That was actually a close vote. It
was close in the House and it was really close in the Senate. Among the
senators who are still around now, who voted no against that, voted no
against the first war in Iraq in 1991, were Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Carl
Levin. Another man you might have heard from recently named John Kerry,
then a senator from Massachusetts. Also a man who`s currently our vice
president, Joe Biden. They all voted no on the first gulf war, 47 senators
That does not mean they were always voting no on every use of force.
Eight years later in 1999, Bill Clinton was p and wanted to go to war to
stop the slaughter in Yugoslavia. Look at how those votes went. On March
23rd of that year, 1999, it was Joe Biden who introduced the resolution to
authorize President Clinton to go send those forces to Kosovo.
March 23rd, look at the timing here. March 23rd, the Senate votes
yes. It was nowhere near unanimous. That was a close vote, too. Joe
Biden put up the resolution. The Senate says yes.
The very next day, the air strikes start because President Clinton did
not wait around for the House to vote on it as well. By the time the House
finally did vote on it a month later, they voted n-yes or y-no, or neither
really. Look at the House vote which, again, was taken a month after the
air strikes already started. House vote was 213-213. It was a direct tie.
And that means that resolution did not pass in the House.
President Clinton got authorization from the Senate. He did not get
from the House. But by the time they took that vote not giving him
authorization, air strikes were already under way.
President Clinton`s State Department spokesman at the time wrote about
that in “The New York Times” this week. He says, when you look back on
that use of force, he would argue it`s a legitimate use of force even
though it was, quote, “not strictly legal.”
Of course, the vote that looms largest right now in Washington, even
though I think the administration would wish that it didn`t, the vote that
looms largest right now is the one that was taken in late 2002 to authorize
the second war in Iraq. And, yes, Congress did vote to authorize the use
of military force in that war.
But a lot of people voted no. Nearly 2/3 of the House Democrats said
no to the Iraq war. There were 133 no votes in the House. In the Senate,
there were 23 no votes, including a lot of senators who are still there now
– Senator Boxer, Senator Durbin, Leahy, Levin, Mikulski, Patti Murray,
Jack Reed, Debbie Stabenow, also the man who holds the seat that used to be
Wayne Morse`s seat, Ron Wyden of Oregon. He voted no on the Iraq war.
And so, yes, Congress usually votes overall to authorize force when
they get around to considering it, but people vote no. Voting no is a
thing that happens. Even against the strongest possible prevailing winds.
And right now in Washington, there are not the strongest prevailing
winds in favor of the U.S. military intervening in Syria. Quite the
contrary, lots of different places are doing sort of informal whip counts
now where they`re trying to canvass members of the House and members of the
Senate to get those members to say how they`re going to vote on Syria, when
the full House and Senate have to make decision on these things. People
are tracking the likely votes over the course of yesterday and today.
And, again, these are unofficial tallies being done by different news
organizations. And the debate is not done and there are briefings that are
yet to be had, but if you at all have been watching the whip counts, the
whip counts evolve over the last couple of days, shows that almost all of
the movement is in the direction of not going. All of the momentum is in
the direction of no. Most members of Congress say they are undecided, but
when they are getting themselves out of the undecided column and they are
deciding, they are deciding no by in large.
And, you know, none of those counts as official until they officially
count the official vote. But if you had to take a snap vote right now, if
you have guessed the way this was going to two, if you had to predict it
from here, it looks like Congress is going to vote it down. Congress is
going to turn down this request to authorize the use of military force –
maybe in the Senate and probably in the House.
And that will be added to the fascinating and pretty poorly remembered
history of members of Congress saying no to war when they got the chance to
say no. But it also becomes a totally unpredictable next chapter. Not for
Congress, but for the presidency. If Congress says no, and right now it
looks like Congress is going to say no, will those military strikes happen
President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry keep asserting over
and over again that they believe they have the right to go on their own
even if Congress says no. Are they right? What would that mean? And how
uncharted are those waters for us as a country?
Joining us is NBC News presidential historian, Michael Beschloss.
Mr. Beschloss, it`s great to see you. Thank you so much for being
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: My pleasure,
Can I add something else to the Wayne Morse tradition of members of
Congress saying no?
BESCHLOSS: There was a congressman from my home state of Illinois in
1847 who spoke out against the Mexican-American War named Abraham Lincoln.
And there had been as you well known and written about it was said by
President Polk, there was an unprovoked attack by Mexicans on American
territory. Lincoln said show me the spot where that happened. That`s how
Lincoln first came to the American public.
MADDOW: We – it`s interesting, we remember presidents as associated
with various wars. We don`t necessarily associate congressional action and
congressional votes with wars with some exceptions.
It seems to me from an originalist reading of the Constitution that
Congress has the power to declare war. We don`t usually declare war
anymore. Is there clarity, either in history or in law, about what it
means for the congress to not authorize the use of military force? If the
president asks them to and they say no, is that binding?
BESCHLOSS: The Founders would be horrified because when they were
writing the Constitution, one of the things they were worried most about
was that this new office of the presidency that they were creating, it
would become like the kings of Europe or the dictators where, you know, the
old European leaders would generate wars that were not necessary and take
the nation into these wars. Kill a lot of people. They didn`t want our
president to do that sort of thing. They very specifically said it`s the
Congress that should have the power to declare war.
Yet you look through American history, 200 years, only five wars have
been declared by Congress. I think we fought a few more than that.
MADDOW: When you look at the ways that presidents have dealt with
bulky Congresses, when they wanted to wage wars that Congress didn`t want
them to wage, the things that spring to mind are the Boland amendment
during the Reagan administration where Congress knew the president wanted
to go to war in Central America or at least join some existing wars in
Central America and the Congress wrote a law that would have prevented, at
least in law, President Reagan from doing that. He violated that law and
secretly got involved in Central America and the Iran/Contra affair.
Are there examples of ways presidents have legally or illegally defied
Congress` explicit views?
BESCHLOSS: Yes, and not only in wars that we would necessarily
disapprove of. You go back to 1941, Franklin Roosevelt was desperate to
get the United States in a position where we might have to fight against
Hitler and the imperial Japanese. This was an isolationist country, very
isolationist Congress. And he got into pretty dicey situations in the
North Atlantic where there were American vessels that were in pretty grave
danger of getting hit by a German sub which would have been terrible, but
Roosevelt would have known that would have provided a pretext to get the
kind of involvement in World War II that he felt was necessary.
MADDOW: How does the war in Iraq, in your view as a historian, how
does the Iraq War and the decisions about the Iraq War loom over these
decisions being debated by Congress right now? You can sort of see two
sides trying to draw different allusions. The people who are saying no
keep referencing Iraq. People saying yes keep referencing the Balkans and
other ones that maybe put a nicer shine –
BESCHLOSS: Don`t identify with the failure.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly.
BESCHLOSS: Yes, that`s exactly right. For people who can only
remember, who don`t know a lot of history, Iraq needless to say gives
people a lot of reason to be skeptical about what they`re told about the
reasons that we have to go to war, but you can find those all the way
through American history. Mexican War, I mentioned, Spanish-American War,
the sinking of the Maine. We were told we had to fight against Spain
because of this terrible attack which very likely was not an attack. And
you mentioned tonight Gulf of Tonkin resolution.
So, all through history, there is a tendency of presidents straining
to get a war from Congress that they want. Sometimes in retrospect for
good reasons, as I think we both would say about FDR in World War II, but
MADDOW: Do you think – I`m asking you to speculate here – do you
think if President Obama is told no by Congress and he decides to go ahead
anyway as he and John Kerry asserted they might, do you – can you foresee
what their historic allusion will be to say there`s precedent for that kind
of action? Do you think –
BESCHLOSS: I would be very surprised if they do not mention Kosovo,
Kosovo, Kosovo and say this was an effort where Congress did not approve
the Kosovo operation. There were 78 days of bombing as part of the NATO
operation. They finally won a peace treaty, ended the atrocities by the
Serbs in Kosovo.
So, that was a successful effort that they have every reason to try to
identify this venture with.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, it`s
always great to have you here. Thanks, Michael.
BESCHLOSS: Me, too. Thank you, Rachel. And happy fifth anniversary.
MADDOW: Oh, thank you. That`s very nice of you to say. I`m all
embarrassed. We`re almost five.
All right. Two very big gets for our MSNBC lineup happened today.
The really big one is that Secretary of State John Kerry made the case for
intervention in Syria to our own Chris Hayes today. It was just an epic
interview and really important.
Another one was that we got an opposing argument from one of Secretary
Kerry`s toughest critics who has something to say about this because he
knows from what he speaks. He was the chief U.N. weapons inspector leading
up to the Iraq war, Hans Blix. We`ve go that exclusively, next.
MADDOW: While President Obama made the case for military intervention
in Syria to world leaders at the G-20 meeting in Russia and he made that
case to American lawmakers on the telephone today. Today, it was Secretary
of State John Kerry who made that case to our own Chris Hayes here on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: You know, Senator Chuck Hagel, when
he was senator, Senator Chuck Hagel, now secretary of defense, and when I
was a senator, we opposed the president`s decision to go into Iraq, but we
know full well how that evidence was used to persuade all of us that
authority ought to be given.
I can guarantee you I`m not imprisoned by my memories of or experience
in Vietnam. I`m informed by it, and I`m not imprisoned by my memory of how
that evidence was used, I`m informed by it. And so is Chuck Hagel.
And we are informed sufficiently that we are absolutely committed to
not putting any evidence in front of the American people that isn`t
properly vetted, properly chased to grounds, and verified. From the moment
that I have been sworn into office, I have been working with our allies,
working with the opposition to define the ways in which we can guarantee
that weapons are not going to the worst actors out there. The ways in
which we can guarantee that the future of Syria will be a Democratic
future. But also to guarantee that we are not presenting to the American
people the same shoddy intelligence that was presented to the American
people back in Iraq, that we do not make that mistake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The same shoddy intelligence that was presented to the
American people back in Iraq.
The debate about attacking Syria is in some part a debate about
intelligence. What happened, who did it, and who says? The reason
everybody says we can`t have a real international response despite Syria
having violated a real international supposed norm, is because Russia and
to a lesser extent China won`t go along. They say they are not convinced
by the intelligence. At least by what has been presented thus far.
Could they be convinced by the intelligence? And if they could,
wouldn`t that change everything about the debate we`re having here now and
the debate that`s happening around the world?
We were able to interview an experienced hand in these matters today
to get his input into this debate and his response to some of the arguments
made by John Kerry. We asked former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix today
about his view of Secretary of State Kerry`s case for war, about what the
U.S. says about gathered intelligence. Watch this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HANS BLIX, U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: There`s always a suspicion that
reports from national intelligence will be colored by the particular
interests of the countries. And Secretary Kerry recognized this was
eminently so in the case of the Iraq affair.
I think, I have a lot of respect for national intelligence. I also
found in the case of Iraq the question marks that they had added to their
reports were changed into exclamation marks by the politicians. So they
are somewhat cautious.
I think the best is to combine the two – the U.N. inspectors go there
into the place, and they are invited. They do it entirely legally. The
U.S. and other nations, they may use spies and they use bugging and
intercepting of telephone calls.
I remember well Colin Powell played an intercepted telephone call in
Iraq, and, of course, it was phony. And we now also hear about the
intercepted telephone calls, and I`ve seen the intelligence report as put
out to the public and they simply state that they can conclude with high
degree of confidence, et cetera, et cetera, but they don`t really go into
the – show the evidence because they don`t want to reveal anything about
I think the U.N. is much more transparent. The international spaces
are more transparent. So, the U.N. can go to places where spies cannot go.
The U.N. doesn`t have any satellites of its own and they don`t have any
interception. Both are needed. Both should be judged by the court which
is the Security Council.
I think that the world should await the report of the impartial and
professional U.N. inspectors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Should wait. The world should wait for the impartial and
international U.N. inspectors.
So, in other words, Hans Blix, without disrespecting American
intelligence says he sees value in combining and presenting everything that
can be known about the alleged chemical attack in Syria, and that is the
only hope for any action in Syria that is an international action.
Coming up, the idea of acting in Syria without the United States
military. Please stay tuned.
MADDOW: When the movie “Argo” won the Academy Award for best picture
this year, the surprise presenter, the person who announced to the world
that “Argo” had won was the first lady, Michelle Obama, dressed in her red
carpet best. A beautiful strapless silvery gown for the Oscars.
Now, memorize this picture. You can see her gown. You can see her
head. You can see that she has arms and shoulders. Memorize what that
looks like because when the news of Michelle Obama presenting this award
was reported in the country that “Argo” was about, this is not what
Michelle Obama looked like in that news coverage.
No. Yes, see, in the Iranian news coverage of Michelle Obama
presenting that best picture award, Iran drew sleeves on her. The
semiofficial – see – yes. The semiofficial Iranian media decided it was
not appropriate to show Michelle Obama`s arms so this picture is basically
Today, something else amazing happened involving Iran and computers
and what we might call the grasp on reality, except this time, it was
really good news. This time it might even have been the best new thing in
the world. And that very unexpected good news story is coming up in just a
Stay with us.
MADDOW: What President Obama is asking Congress now amounts to a
yes/no question. Should we use military force against Syria? Yes or no?
A cruise missile strike or no cruise missile strike, yes or no?
Part of the reason it is not at all clear that the White House is not
going to get a yes on this one is because parts of Congress do not see this
as a yes or no issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: One of the questions that I have asked
is whether we`re looking at this issue too narrowly. This is not a choice
between doing nothing and doing a military strike. There are other ways to
put pressure internationally on the Assad regime to isolate him that might
be more effective and would no involve the use of military action.
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: I think that what we heard today
made a compelling forensic case, one, that nerve gas was used. And number
two, that it was used by the Assad regime.
The next step has to be, then, what is the way to both deter and
degrade his ability to ever do it again? I have more questions about that.
Does a military strike do that? Are other things required?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I`m not sure that he`s going to be
deterred from using chemical weapons in the future in order to hold on to
power simply because he`s afraid of two or three days` worth of missile
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: I would urge the president to
continue to work diplomatically and step up our humanitarian efforts. I
just know that there`s always this need to find that lever that the United
States can press to try to make a situation better around the world, and I
just think we have to have some very sober conversation about the limits of
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: I realize that the idea of Barbara Mikulski and Marco Rubio
sharing the same video montage sounds like 2/3 of a bar joke. You can
finds threads of the resistance to using force in Syria in both parties and
across the political spectrum, in some cases articulated in the same ways.
So, on the left, there`s Congresswoman Barbara Lee in California
telling Greg Sargent, “They have been persuasive about the intelligence and
the fact he must do something. They have not been persuasive that the only
option right now is a military option.” That is Barbara Lee on the left.
On the right, there`s Congressman Randy Hultgren of Illinois on why he
is leaning toward a no vote on authorizing military force. He says, “This
is a tragedy that the international community must be fully engaged in and
we must pursue all options to determine whether other actions can be taken
to stop the bloodshed and pursue peace.”
In other words, just do it by some means other than military force.
These are not lawmakers saying, no way, no how, we want there to be no
response to Syria allegedly using chemical weapons. These are lawmakers
saying that they want the United States to do something here. They want
the U.S. to intervene, but not necessarily with something that explodes and
flies off a ship.
Isn`t there something else we can do besides bomb them? But what
exactly can the United States do if not the bombs, if not the missiles?
The list of concrete actual proposals is not all that long, but it is
growing, and it turns out it`s growing in a nonpartisan, non left/right
split kind of way. The ideas are coming from everywhere.
So, there`s Chris Smith of New Jersey. He`s a Republican congressman.
He says he will vote against the use of force. But his idea is instead
he`s introducing a bill to have the U.S. take the lead on organizing a
Syrian war crimes tribunal. Would a Syrian war crimes tribunal make the
Syrian regime cut out what they`re doing? Don`t know, but that`s his idea.
The former U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, says the world should
put pressure on all the countries shipping weapons to either side in the
Syrian civil war. He says the arm supplying countries have leverage with
Syria and we have some leverage with them and should use that leverage to
start essentially a multilateral arms embargo. That`s counsel from Hans
The folks at Ezra Klein`s “Wonk Blog” combed through the policies that
might affect the situation in Syria and suggested a series of steps for the
U.S. specifically, including us just deciding to accept for refugees from
the war. The countries that have already taken in nearly 2 million of
Syria`s refugees are, themselves, making an urgent appeal just for aid from
the rest of the world to help those other countries handle that millions of
people inflow that they are dealing with essentially all on their own.
The global think tank known as International Crisis Group is calling
for no military intervention but instead put forward a six-step peace plan
that starts with internationally brokered talks.
A group called Peace Action is urging people to tell the White House,
“I oppose military intervention and military support in Syria, but I
support massive efforts for a political solution and continued humanitarian
So, what if we got massively more involved in Syria but in a way that
was not military? The idea, the list of ideas for putting pressure on
Syria is growing. I think it will get longer still international
sanctions, freezing every last global asset of every member of the Syrian
regime. There are a lot of things that could be done other than missiles
and bombs. The question is whether any of it would work in any meaningful
Joining us now is Frank Jannuzi. He`s deputy executive director of
Amnesty International USA.
They`ve been tracking situation in Syria with a help of a researcher
on the ground in very difficult circumstances. And also with satellite
images which have helped show the devastation in this case in the Syrian
city of Aleppo. Their idea is that global attention might make the regime
think twice when they`re mounting these attacks on their own people in
their own country.
In addition to his current work for Amnesty International, I should
tell you that Mr. Jannuzi is a former policy adviser for Democrats on the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Jannuzi, thanks very much for being with us tonight. I appreciate
FRANK JANNUZI, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA: My pleasure. Good evening.
MADDOW: How much room do you see as a former policy staffer in this
field and as an advocate with amnesty, how much room to you see between
military force and nothing? Are there other meaningful choices for
intervening in Syria that aren`t military action?
JANNUZI: There are important options that are available both to
address the humanitarian crisis which is truly staggering in its scale.
It`s a third of the Syrian population which has been displaced, as if 100
million Americans had been driven from their homes.
But, also, options to pursue justice. And Amnesty International
believes there must be no impunity for the terrible war crimes that have
been committed not only in the most recent gas attack but really over the
course of two years of internal conflict. Violations perpetrated by all
MADDOW: Is it your position or Amnesty`s position that military
intervention would make humanitarian aims and the aims of justice that you
just described actually harder to achieve or do you just think that
military intervention is irrelevant to those aims?
JANNUZI: We haven`t taken a position. We won`t take a position for
or against military intervention. But we feel strongly the focus should be
on both addressing the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people and also on
bringing those responsible for war crimes to justice. And the tools that
are available include referral to the International Criminal Court.
Some people complain that Russia or China are blocking this. Well,
the U.S. could take it directly to the U.N. General Assembly, shine a
spotlight on Russia`s complicity in shielding those responsible for war
crimes from justice.
The U.S. could also work to build an international coalition to impose
targeted sanctions on the Syrian government, the folks who are most
directly responsible for many of the war crimes.
MADDOW: When you say sanctions, one thing – the first thing I think
is, well, that`s something that`s not military. We`re trying to open the
box wider in terms of what`s considered to be a potential tool here. That
On the other hand, I think of the suffering of the Syrian people 2 1/2
years into this difficult, terrible, widespread war, and I wonder about
whether or not sanctions can be targeted narrowly enough that they wouldn`t
hurt the Syrian people, instead of just people in the government you`re
JANNUZI: It`s a great observation. But to be very clear, I mean,
what we`re talking about here are strictly targeted sanctions at the
financial assets at the president of Syria and his clique, his family
members and the generals who are responsible for much of the violence.
The United States could also do something that perhaps we should have
done already which is to look at our arms relationship with Russia. We
actually do business with the same Russian arm firms which are, themselves,
helping to fuel the conflict in Syria by continuing to provide weapons and
support to the Syrian government.
Perhaps the United States military itself should not be doing business
with Russian military firms helping to fuel the violence.
MADDOW: Can I ask you in a meta sense, these types of things you are
proposing, have advocates and people concerned about the situation in Syria
been asking the U.S. government to do these things and have been getting
ignored or told no? Or has nobody been trying to advance an idea object
American intervention here that wasn`t something military?
JANNUZI: You know, I worked on Capitol Hill for 15 years and I think
there`s a reluctance sometimes to focus on something that it becomes so
large that you can`t ignore it. This is what happened with the chemical
weapons attack. It`s focusing a congressional debate that really shouldn`t
have happened two years ago. But now that we`re there, it`s not too late
to make a difference.
So these kinds of options, sanctions, International Criminal Court
referral, these are ways that the international community can rally to the
defense of the Syrian people and try to address their humanitarian needs.
There also needs to be a much more robust response at the refugee
camps. You know, there`s a refugee camp in Jordan. So many folks who are
in desperate need of assistance.
MADDOW: Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director of Amnesty
International USA –thank you for helping us understand your take on this.
I really appreciate it.
JANNUZI: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right.
Coming up, we have a visit to the Department of Corrections. It`s not
what you think.
And also, a best new thing in the world. Sorely need, right? Best
new thing in the world coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, MSNBC announced today there`s going to be a new show on
this network on Friday nights at 10:00 Eastern, hosted by the actor Alec
Baldwin. This is very exciting news here for lots of reasons. We are very
much looking forward to Mr. Baldwin`s new show.
But for anybody who watches this show on Friday nights, the most
immediate change here will be that I will no longer be able to count down
at the end of the Friday night show to the moment when I send you to
prison, because the show “Lockup” is starting right after me with no
commercial break and no barrier at all between dorky old me at my desk and
some very intense footage from a correctional system somewhere.
So, there will be no more “three, two, one, prison” on Friday night
shows once Alec Baldwin`s new show starts.
However, that does not mean that we don`t still sometimes have to
visit the Department of Corrections ourselves.
Here`s something I screwed up. Couple nights ago, I was cataloging
the latest accounting that we have of the various cash and prizes that
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his family have accepted from a
Virginia businessman, a business whose company the governor and his wife
seems to have gone out of their way to help with arranged meetings with
state officials and product endorsements and appearances at their events,
Did the governor take official actions as a public official in
exchange for money and expensive gifts? Federal prosecutors are now
deciding whether charges to that effect should be brought against Governor
Bob McDonnell so that case could be decided in court.
Now, as you know the pile of stuff that the governor and his family
have taken from this businessman since Bob McDonnell has been the governor
of Virginia, includes this list, right? An engraved Rolex watch, and
$15,000 chicken dinner, and a lake house vacation, a loan of a $190,000
Ferrari, and ton of cash, and all of this stuff.
Well, two days ago, thanks to new reporting from “The Washington
Post,” we were able to add to the list of gifts, to Mr. McDonnell and his
family, a happy graduation trip to Florida last Labor Day weekend for the
governor`s daughter and a friend. Also that same weekend, a private flight
and five nights of accommodation at a super swanky Cape Cod hotel for the
governor and his wife. Also, $7,000 worth of golf and golf gear from elite
Richmond area country clubs enjoyed by the governor and his sons and some
All of this additional stuff, yes, from the same guy who made rain
chicken dinners and Ferrari rides and engraved watches for Bob McDonnell.
It turns out, though, that I must correct the record, because there
is, it turns, still more. We already knew about gifts to Mr. McDonnell`s
wife, included a $10,000 suede jacket and a Louis Vuitton hand bag and a
couple of pairs of designer and designer dress. That multi-thousand dollar
New York City shopping spree that produced all of those gifts, that was
given to the governor`s wife in the spring of 2011.
But here is the thing we did not know before, that at least $15,000
shopping spree in New York for the governor`s wife turns out to be separate
and different from another $15,000 shopping trip in New York, also
purchased for the governor`s wife by the same guy. What the diligent and
detailed reporting that “The Washington Post” found that in addition to the
multi-thousand dollar high fashion shopping spree in New York that produced
the jacket and all the rest of it, the same very generous guy also bought
at a charity auction a second high-fashion New York trip for the first lady
that fall of that same year.
There doesn`t seem to be any indication that the first lady took that
trip, but it was purchased for her, for $15,000 at an auction, while her
husband, the governor was reportedly in the room looking on, which makes it
kind of hard for Governor McDonnell to argue that he had no idea that he
and his family were raking in all of this largesse from this one guy, whose
company he then later helped up.
But again, I regret the error. It was not one, but two $15,000 high
fashion New York City shopping trips purchased for the governor`s wife.
It`s hard to keep track, right? The file of loot that Governor McDonnell
and his family have raked since he has been governor is a high enough pile
that it is hard to get to the top. It is getting hard to sort out exactly
how many multiples of everything are in the pile. But still, I regret the
And I will try to stay on top of every new revelation about every new
thing it turns out Governor McDonnell took for himself and his family
during his governorship. But hey, it`s lot. And they have never come
clean about it all, even now. So who knows what will turn up next.
MADDOW: OK, best new thing in the world today, Rosh Hashanah is the
Jewish New Year. It lands on a different day of the Gregorian calendar
every year. This year, it is now. It started at sundown and lasted for a
couple of days.
Because it is such an important holiday, Rosh Hashanah is the sort of
holiday in which leaders tend to wish each other good tidings. Like
President Obama, a good and sweet happy new year. Same goes from the
British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen
Harper, same deal, happy new year. This is the kind of thing you do as a
world leader at Rosh Hashanah every year, almost everybody does it.
With a few expected exceptions, for example, this time last year, it
was Iran`s then-president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who used this occasion of
this happy New Year to deny the Holocaust. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was famous
for that. He publicly denied that the Holocaust happened, again and again,
including last year, publicly, about a week after the Jewish New Year. You
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the Holocaust denier, he probably still is.
But he is no longer president of Iran, his term ended last month. And he
was replaced by a new guy who was chosen by the Iranian people in their
elections this past June, Hassan Rouhani, different guy, different
president, very different guy, very different president, maybe.
Look at this tweet yesterday from the new Iranian president who
replaced Ahmadinejad. It is a happy Rosh Hashanah message, quote, “I wish
all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.” Really?
The semi-official Iranian news agency Fars ran a story denying that
Iran`s new president could have said something like that on Twitter because
they say he actually doesn`t have a Twitter account. Actually, they say he
doesn`t have a tweeter account, but you know what they mean. I don`t know
if they`re right about, that is the same news agency, of course, that drew
sleeves unto First Lady Michelle Obama at the Oscars – so do we believe
them when they say their new president doesn`t tweet and so couldn`t have
tweeted that nice thing to Jewish people? I am not inclined to believe the
Fars news agency on anything.
But here is the something unequivocal – the big beef between Iran and
the rest of world is the nuclear program, right? The new president says
international talks about Iran`s nuclear program are going to be handled by
this guy, the country`s new foreign minister. And the country`s new
foreign minister really did definitively did send this tweet today, look,
“Happy Rosh Hashanah, happy Jewish New Year”, from the foreign minister of
And here`s the part where this gets truly off the hook, the Iranian
president seems to have said happy Jewish New York to the world. That may
or may not be the real thing, right? Then the Iranian foreign minister
says it, too.
And you know who writes back to him once he says it? Nancy Pelosi`s
daughter – what? Yes, I know. Small world.
Christine Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi`s daughter, writes back to the foreign
minister and says, “Thanks, the new year would be even sweeter if you would
end Iran`s holocaust denial, sir.” And then he writes back to her, this
was his reply to Christine Pelosi. He says, “Iran never denied it. The
man who did is now gone. Happy New York.” He then later tweet this quote
to call Ahmadinejad, the man who was perceived to be denying it.
But still, two veteran journalists today said they confirm with the
foreign minister that, yes, that really is his Twitter account and that
really was him.
So, this time last year, the president of Iran was denying the
Holocaust for the Jewish New Year. This time this year, the government of
Iran is sending their best happy Rosh Hashanah wishes.
It is a big bad world out there, in which still sometimes, in small
ways and unexpected places, you find green shoots, with best wishes for
happy New Year than you were expecting – the best new thing in the world
That does it for us tonight. Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH
Have a great night.
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