The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/23/13
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour. Happy Monday.
Because the Republican Party controls the House, one of the practical
consequences of that is that on every committee in the House, there are
more Republicans than there are Democrats. So, say on that House Oversight
Committee, there are 17 Democrats, but there are 23 Republicans. There`s
more Republicans than Democrats.
Well, late last week, the chairman of that particular committee, the
Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa, he tweeted some pictures from a hearing
he had called for his committee on the issue of Benghazi. Darrell Issa is
one of the Republicans who believes that the attack that killed four
Americans in Benghazi two years ago was not a tragedy, not just a terrorist
attack, but rather, it was some sort of Democratic-controlled conspiracy
that you get the sense they hope involves Hillary Clinton in a way that
will make it hard for her to run for president.
So, Darrell Issa, sitting in his chairman position at that hearing, he
turned toward the Democratic side of the room, the side of the room where
the Democrats sit, and he took this picture from his vantage point. And
then he tweeted out that picture from his Twitter account. And the
caption, as you see here, says essentially, “Democrats have excused
themselves from the testimony of the Benghazi heroes` family members.” And
that PJNet, I`m assuming those are trying to highlight it for conservative
media, PJNet there.
Look at outrage, right? He`s saying – that not all the Democratic
seats are filled at this hearing. It is very, very important.
Well, Dave Weigel writing at Slate.com tested Darrell Issa`s outrage
for accuracy and noted that, yes, while there were some empty chairs on the
Democratic side of the room for that committee hearing, there were also
lots and lots of empty chairs on the Republican side of the room for that
committee hearing. Of the 23 Republicans on that committee, judging by all
the empty chairs, it looks like 17 of the 23 were absent, which does not
outrage Darrell Issa at all because they`re Republicans who are absent.
He`s only outraged by the missing Democrats.
And you know, maybe it`s just an honest mistake. Maybe he has a stiff
neck or something. How do you bother to turn the other way, he might have
been outraged by all of the missing people over there. But he only turned.
He was only outraged by the Democrats missing, not the Republicans.
The Benghazi attack happened in 2011. Excuse me, happened about a year
ago. But it was about four months ago, it was may of this year that
Republicans decided that they had a new partisan angle on it, that they
were going to use Darrell Issa`s committee and use the House to make the
Benghazi conspiracy the most important issue in the country.
And that month, back in May, the new Republican outrage over Benghazi
was one of three scandals that the Obama administration was sort of having
to deal with all at once. Remember back in May, it was scandal overdrive,
You had headlines like this one from the “A.P.” – “Obama`s second-
term agenda waylaid by controversies.” Do you remember this period in the
spring, right? The early summer? “A trio of controversies roiling
Washington, emboldening Republicans, revealing a Democratic establishment
willing to publicly second-guess the White House.”
So, one of those was Benghazi, which is still a tragedy and a terrible
terrorist attack, but it has never really caught fire as a partisan scandal
or as a Democratic conspiracy in the way Republicans really wanted it to.
Hence, you get Darrell Issa and his half the room photo desperation tactic
where he is only excited about missing Democrats and not at all excited
about missing Republicans. So, that was one of the three scandals.
The second one was the IRS, where it initially appeared like the IRS
was singling out Tea Party groups for special scrutiny on applications for
tax-exempt status. That one ended up falling apart as well, as the initial
hyperbolic inspector general`s report gave way to a wider investigation,
which turned up plenty of evidence that Tea Party groups were not, in fact,
being singled out in the technical sense of the world “singled”, meaning
they weren`t the only ones getting treated that way. It was pretty much
any group that had a mission or had affiliations that seemed overtly
political or that was closely tied to electoral politics.
And so, yes, it was Tea Party groups that got extra scrutiny, but it
was also a bunch of liberal groups that got extra scrutiny, and actually,
it was the liberal groups who did get denied tax-exempt status, while none
of the Tea Party groups ever did. So, that was the second one. That was
another so-called scandal that was going to destroy the Obama presidency,
waylay his whole second-term agenda, right? That kind of turned out to be,
just didn`t really happen.
The widely vilified IRS official at the center of that non-scandal, a
career official named Lois Lerner today sort of put the period on the long
petering out of this scandal when she announced today that she is retiring
from the agency.
So, there was supposed to be three scandals, right? There was
Benghazi. That didn`t work out the way the Republicans wanted it to.
There was IRS, that did not work out the way Republicans wanted it to.
The third scandal that broke simultaneously, right? They`re all
happening, they`re all bogging down the administration d dooming the Obama
second term starting in May of this year. The third one that broke at the
same time was always a little harder for Republicans to get partisan
And it arguably was the only one that didn`t seem like it was the
product of an overtuned agro political narrative. It just seemed like
something that the administration had actually done that they couldn`t
quite explain and that seemed out of keeping with not just precedent, but
what they said they believed as an administration.
It was the story about the Justice Department, right? The Justice
Department, as the Justice Department related to a specific bomb plot, an
al Qaeda bomb plot in Yemen last year that did not happen. Really
interesting thing about it was that after the bomb plot did not happen,
bizarrely, the United States ended up with the bomb in our possession so we
could study it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: By all accounts, this is a remarkable
success for the intelligence agencies of the United States and its allies.
And here`s why – they managed to insert a critical informant into the very
heart of the terror group that`s considered the number one threat to the
United States, al Qaeda`s offshoot in Yemen.
(voice-over): Administration and intelligence officials say by the
time this most recent plot was in its final planning stages, the U.S. and
its allies were able to follow it in detail. What the terrorists in Yemen
did not know at the time, these officials say, is that the person they
chose to be the suicide bomber was actually an informant, someone who had
agreed to cooperate with an allied intelligence service. Members of
Congress declined to be specific but praised the CIA and its overseas
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: This was incredibly good intelligence
work. I mean, this is intelligence at its best.
WILLIAMS: After the al Qaeda operatives turned over the finished
bomb, the informant then drove it safely out of Yemen, where it was
eventually turned over to the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Just an incredibly dramatic story, right? The bomb plot is
going to happen, the bomb plot gets foiled, the United States ends up
getting the bomb once the plot is foiled and brings it here safely to the
United States where it can be studied.
So, that was May of last year. And while it is great news any time a
bomb attack gets foiled, what was truly remarkable news was this conclusion
that the United States must have infiltrated al Qaeda in order to foil that
particular bomb plot.
And you know what? That is something that we were apparently never
supposed to know. And while we, the public, may be impressed or even
comforted to know that the U.S. and its allies have a mole deep inside al
Qaeda in Yemen who is a trusted enough member of that organization to be
tapped as a suicide bomber and then only at the last minute that person
turns the device over and sends it to Quantico and the bomb doesn`t go off.
While that may be very exciting to learn in a spy movie kind of way,
it may be impressive that that has been done, but the fact that it was
publicly disclosed obviously ends that very valuable intelligence situation
for the United States forever. Whatever happened to that person inside al
Qaeda in Yemen who was thus outed as a Western intelligence mole, I don`t
know what happened to them. I don`t particularly want to imagine it, but
you can bet they are not still in al Qaeda.
And so, the U.S. and Western intelligence agencies no longer have that
amazing asset of somebody in a trusted position inside al Qaeda. And the
Justice Department investigation into who leaked that detail, who leaked to
the press that there was an informant inside al Qaeda, that investigation,
while obviously vital for intelligence reasons, for the fight against al
Qaeda, it also became a scandal, because the way the Justice Department
decided to investigate that leak was by secretly and without notice
obtaining the phone records for the main phone numbers for the “Associated
Press” bureau in New York City and in Washington, D.C., and in Hartford,
Connecticut, and in Congress at the House of Representatives, “The A.P.”
Additionally, the Justice Department got the phone records from the
work phone numbers and the personal phone numbers for five different “A.P.”
reporters and their editor. Why it was important to investigate this leak
is obvious once you understand what the leak is. Wow, that was never
supposed to be made public, that absolutely screwed up a great intelligence
asset that we had. Why it needed to be investigated is understandable.
But the way they went after the “Associated Press” with this
essentially a blanket dragnet on all East Coast news-gathering operations
for the biggest newswire service in the United States? That was a scandal,
in part because the Justice Department has guidelines for itself on how to
deal with journalists and their sources turning up in criminal and
And this, what they did in response to this leak just completely blew
their own internal guidelines out of the water. The White House denied any
knowledge of what the Justice Department had done. The Justice Department
initiated a review of its own actions. The attorney general established
yet new guidelines to further protect reporters from this kind of
But on the way, it turns out, apparently, they got what they wanted.
They figured out who the leaker was. They figured out who leaked that
detail, who leaked the story of the secret al Qaeda informant to the press.
And that news is the news that broke today. We learned today that the
source of the leak of that highly classified information is a former FBI
agent, a former bomb technician for the FBI named Donald Sachtleben. He`s
agreed to serve 45 months in prison now for the leaking charge.
Also, this news about him day, this news solving the mystery that
sparked that unprecedented Justice Department spying on reporters, that
news came with a bizarre and unsettling twist. The same man who has pled
guilty to being the leaker, the ex-FBI agent who apparently outed to the
press that the U.S. or Western intelligence agencies had a mole inside al
Qaeda, this same guy was also, it turns out, the subject of a totally
separate FBI investigation into distribution of child pornography.
He pled guilty to the leak charge. He has also pled guilty to the
child pornography charges. He will serve a total of 140 months in prison
for the leaking charge and the child porn charges combined. This is a
very, very strange story and a very weird end to that trio of supposed
Joining us now is NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams.
Pete, thank you for being here.
MADDOW: Do we have any indication of a motive or a goal in why this
information was leaked?
WILLIAMS: No, I think it was the reason that a lot of people pass
along information. They want to tell reporters about things that they
know. The court documents say that the reporters from the “A.P.” had
actually struck up something of an e-mail relationship with this FBI agent
three years before, and working on some other unrelated stories.
In April of last year, another news organization just sort of
coincidentally did a story about how al Qaeda was planning to hide bombs
inside people`s bodies. Now, the bomb that this whole plot is about, that
you`ve talked about, did not involve that kind of device, but the “A.P.”
reporter saw that and sent an e-mail to the agent and said, hey, what`s up
And then according to the court documents, a couple of days later, the
agent goes to Quantico where the bomb was sent at the FBI bomb lab there,
and according to the court documents, he called the “A.P.” reporter and
told him a few things about it. The “A.P.” starts asking questions and
five days later, the story appears.
MADDOW: In terms of cracking this case and following that trail that
you just laid out, how important were those controversial, secret subpoenas
by the Justice Department of “A.P.” calling records in terms of figuring
out who this guy was?
WILLIAMS: Well, “The A.P.” – sorry, the Justice Department,
certainly not “The A.P.” – the Justice Department says they were
essential, that they were getting nowhere, that they got these phone
records and they began to line up who knew about the bomb with who the
“A.P.” was calling, and that`s what broke the case. They said they
interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people, didn`t get anywhere, and they
claim that the case wasn`t broken until they got the “A.P.`s” phone
records, that that was the key to the whole thing.
Now, strangely enough, as you noted, this guy was already under
investigation by the FBI for completely separate reasons. The FBI and many
law enforcement organizations to try to combat child pornography has people
who normally look at known sites where pedophiles trade pornographic
images, and they say that he popped up on that site and they began to
search his – they got search warrants, searched his house, took a lot of
his computers, his phone and other material, storage media.
Then, when they figure out he shows up on the “A.P.” call records and
they do some other searches, they figure out, hey, we`ve already got his
computer, let`s look in there some more. They get another search warrant
and they say that further developed the case.
MADDOW: That seems impossible. I mean, I really – I mean,
logically, it makes sense, but it seems impossible that these are totally
unrelated investigations that they had the computer anyway, and then
presumably had to get a new level of permission to go back and look for
something that would be part of a totally separate investigation. They
maintain that these things had nothing to do with each other?
WILLIAMS: Well, and the child pornography case was well along, even
before they were starting to figure out that he was the leaker. And what
the Justice Department basically says here, if they hadn`t gotten the phone
records, he would simply have been prosecuted for the child pornography
case and that would have been that.
Now, an interesting thing here, you had some graphics and you read
these numbers, but I think it`s worth looking at these again. So, the
sentence, or – now, remember, he hasn`t pleaded guilty. He`s agreed to
plead guilty, so he hasn`t been sentenced yet. A judge has to agree to
this, but he has agreed to serve for the leak 3 years and 7 months.
If that`s the sentence, by the way, that would be the longest sentence
ever for a leak. The child pornography case is eight years, one month.
And the Justice Department wants these served one after the other, so it`d
be a total sentence of 11 years, 8 months.
But that`s just interesting. It tells you a lot about the severity in
the law of leaking information that the U.S. has damaged national security.
MADDOW: Pete, just on that issue of it being the most severe sentence
ever for the leak, if the judge agrees to this three years and seven months
on that part of what he`s charged with, do you have reason to believe, or I
guess should we infer that the severity of that sentence has something to
do with his intention or the level of his known recklessness in letting
this information out? I mean, why would you get a more severe sentence for
this kind of leak than previous leaks?
WILLIAMS: Well, it just says, number one, that this is so seldom
prosecuted. And number two – successfully prosecuted, anyway, where they
actually get a conviction. And number two, the statute just doesn`t call
for that severe a sentence.
So, that`s – but in terms of the knowing part, I mean, that`s a key
part of the law, that you can`t be convicted of something unless you
knowingly did it. And here, the government says, you know, he had all
these top-secret security clearances, he knew he wasn`t supposed to release
this stuff and he did anyway.
So, they`ve got him dead to rights there, and of course, he has
confessed, in essence. He`s agreed to plead. He says in a statement
through his lawyer that he never intended to do any harm to the national
security and he`s greatly regrets this.
MADDOW: NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams. This is
fascinating and totally unforeseen end to this. Thanks, Pete. Thanks for
helping us figure it out.
All right, the terrorist attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, this past
weekend and continuing today is apparently over as of tonight, maybe. It`s
fuzzy at this point. But who did it and why they did it and what the
world`s response is likely to be is part of what`s coming up. Stay with
MADDOW: There are only three Americans who have become arguably
famous as al Qaeda guys. The first is Anwar al Awlaki, who was born in New
Mexico. He, of course, was killed in the U.S. drone strike two years ago
The second is Adam Gadahn, who`s always been a built of a sad sack, I
thought. Raised on a goat farm in California, he decided the future of the
world was death metal, became an obsessive death metal fan, started his own
Adam on the goat farm death metal band. Eventually, he left that behind
and found his way to Islamic fundamentalist extremism and al Qaeda. As an
on again-off again al Qaeda spokesperson and propagandist, Mr. Gadahn was
indicted for treason and material support of terrorism, and now the U.S.
government says it will pay a $1 million reward for information leading to
So, Awlaki is dead, Adam the goat farm kid is in the wind with a $1
million price on his head.
The only other American who has become arguably famous, arguably well
known as an al Qaeda guy is this one from Alabama, Omar Hammami. He`s from
Daphne, Alabama, originally. He was a pretty successful student, a popular
kid growing up, president of his sophomore class in high school, but he
He eventually moved to Somalia in 2006. By 2007, he was starring in
cheesy recruitment videos, including ridiculous rapping recruitment videos
with him rapping songs like “make jihad with me” and “send me a cruise
The U.S. government ultimately also put a price on his head, $5
million for information leading to his capture or conviction, $5 million!
But it looks like that money will not be claimed, because his fellow
militants in the al Qaeda-linked group that he was part of in Somalia now
say that they killed him. His own side took him out a couple of weeks ago.
This is the same group, al Shabaab, that says it is responsible for
the brazen commando-style attack on a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, this weekend.
The attack started on Saturday and is only now apparently, maybe, starting
to come to an end.
Al Shabaab is not based in Kenya where the attack happened. They are
based next door in neighboring Somalia, but their attack on Kenyan
interests is not the first, and it is thought to be the group`s revenge for
Kenyan soldiers taking part in operations in Somalia against the Islamic
For a variety of reasons, al Shabaab has been losing ground in its
home base in Somalia, but it`s also been increasing its international
profile, in part using dramatic attacks like what we have seen unfold in
the bloody images from this upscale urban mall in Nairobi, but also with
some pretty brazen efforts at international recruitment.
And yes, Omar Hammami, the American recruiter guy from Alabama may
have fallen afoul of al Shabaab and, in fact, have been killed by them, but
he`s not the only one they`ve got.
This is local news video from Minneapolis, the local FOX station
reporting on the worried local reaction to an al Shabaab video that was
published last month praising three local boys from the twin cities, from
Minneapolis and St. Paul, who made their way to Somalia to al Shabaab and
who died there in various suicide attacks.
This video targets the twin cities here specifically for their large
Somali-American population, telling young Somali American men to make their
way to Somalia to join al Shabaab, and of course, to kill themselves in
In the early hours of the Nairobi assault in the mall there, the group
al Shabaab bragged on Twitter that the attackers at the mall included three
Americans and also a Canadian and also someone from Finland as well as
somebody from the U.K.
Should this be seen as a truly transnational group? Does the Nairobi
attack indicate a new level of operational ability we didn`t know this
group had? And what is the response to this attack likely to be?
Joining us is NBC News terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann. He`s a senior
partner at Flashpoint Global Partners.
Evan, thanks for being here.
EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: First of all, can you shed any light for us on whether or not
this attack at the Nairobi mall is, in fact, over?
KOHLMANN: You know, we`re still not clear. There have been tweets
that were coming out from a purported Shabaab account even as of early
today. So, you know, we`re not sure to the degree with which they were
still in contact with the individuals there, was this even really the voice
of Shabaab, and, of course, the Kenyan government, how reliable are they in
terms of saying it`s over when they`ve said it`s over, it`s over, it`s over
and it`s over and it`s still not over, so –
MADDOW: We`ve seeing Kenyan forces moving in for about 20 hours.
KOHLMANN: It`s over when the fat lady sings.
MADDOW: In terms of the abilities of al Shabaab, obviously, they have
been a high-profile group, not only because I think Americans keep an eye
on Somalia because of what happened there in the `90s and Black Hawk Down
and all those things, not only because of the large Somali American
population in this country, but also because of this big and sometimes
cheesy international recruiting effort that they`ve waged in this very
How operationally capable are they?
KOHLMANN: Look, they`re not the most sophisticated group of people.
These are not guys that are out to develop the next atom bomb. These are
guys that are looking for very simple techniques, suicide bombings,
assassinations, roadside bombings, and they`re looking to achieve them in
the most dramatic ways possible.
The last major attack that al Shabaab carried out beyond its own
borders was in Uganda. They carried out suicide bombings targeting World
Cup soccer celebrations taking place there.
Now, was this a terribly sophisticated operation? Not really. The
reason it was successful was because I don`t think anyone is able to
protect a random bar in Kampala, Uganda, from a suicide bomber stepping in
there with a bomb strapped to him.
And unfortunately, despite the fact that it didn`t require a genius to
come up with this plan, they got a tremendous amount of publicity about it.
And certainly, that`s one of their goals with what`s going on in Nairobi.
MADDOW: Well, if there are effectively low-tech, high-impact, soft-
target oriented, then it seems like the thing you have to worry about them
is how many of there are and what their ambitions are.
MADDOW: Have these high-profile recruiting efforts been effective?
Are they big?
KOHLMANN: Look, it`s effective to a point. If you look at, say, al
Qaeda recruitment in the United States, and you compare the number of
Americans who have tried joining al Qaeda actually going there versus the
number of people who have actually gone to Somalia, the numbers are pretty
striking. I mean, Shabaab appears to have much more success, particularly
in certain communities, and I think this goes to the heart of it.
Al Qaeda is a genuinely transnational organization with a genuinely
transnational ideology, right? Shabaab is really not. Shabaab is an
organization that considers itself to be part of this global jihadi
phenomenon, but in charge of their little fiefdom in Somalia. They are
most interested in that, and their agenda mostly has to do with fighting
the occupation forces of neighboring countries that have gone in there and
tried to stabilize there – Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda.
These are the countries they`re most interested in targeting.
However, they love to target the United States in their propaganda, and
they love to talk about how they`re also going to send out their cells from
the Horn of Africa to attack the United States in its own home. The
question always has been how much of this is fluff? How much of is this is
just big talk because these guys like to talk a lot. And how much of this
are they really going to put their money where their mouth is?
Because look, they have recruited Americans. They`ve recruited
Americans in a variety of U.S. cities. They`ve recruited not just Somalis
but others, people like Omar Hammami or Jihad Mustafa from out in San
Diego, people who have no connection to the Somali community, and yet, have
been drawn and have become major players in there.
And I think the question is, are those people then capable of coming
back here or recruiting people here to do something? That`s what we`re
really worried about. And we don`t really know what the answer to that
MADDOW: If they have created an attractant and the barriers to entry
are low, if they can with, even if it`s just with talk, make you want to be
part of them and they make it easy to become part of them, then you`ve got
a cycle that`s hard to interrupt.
MADDOW: Evan Kohlmann, NBC News terrorism analyst, senior partner at
Flashpoint Global Partners – Evan, thank you very much.
KOHLMANN: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Good to have you here.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Sometimes, watching members of one political party call each
other names and snipe at each other and insult each other`s mothers,
sometimes when that happens, it is highly entertaining. Honey, milk duds,
popcorn, they`re at it again.
But at what point does the fighting in the Republican Party start to
feel less like pro wrestling, fighting designed to be entertaining, and
more like a hockey that is spilling into the stands or maybe a NASCAR
wreck, where the car parts and the tires are being sprayed everywhere?
It is less entertaining when there is a good chance of people getting
As the Republicans in Congress continue to scream at each other and
trash each other in the press, are we getting close to the point where this
ought to be worrying now instead of just fun?
That`s next for somebody who knows. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: This has been one of the strangest weeks
I`ve ever had in Washington, and I say that because as soon as we listed
Ted Cruz as our featured guest this week, I got unsolicited research and
questions, not from Democrats but from top Republicans who – to hammer
Cruz. Why are Republicans so angry at Ted Cruz?
KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR: Well, because this was a
strategy laid out by Mike Lee and Ted Cruz without any consultation with
their colleagues. Mike Lee of Utah lays it out on July 9th without having
ever brought it up at the Thursday meeting of the senators to say we`ve got
I would suspect today, with all due respect to my junior senator from
Texas, I suspect this is the first time that the end game was described to
any Republican senator. They had to tune in to listen to you to find out
what Ted`s next step was in the strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Does this happen with Democratic senators? When Democratic
senators get booked on Sunday morning news shows, do other top Democrats in
Washington send unsolicited research and questions to the host of that TV
show to advise the show on how to destroy their fellow Democrat?
I`m sure it has happened among Democrats at some point, but not any
time in recent memory. Why is it happening now among Republicans?
The Republican Party is embarking on another shut down the government
adventure with the promise at they may also make the country default on its
national debt as well, and this is not the first time they have done this.
Since losing the White House back in 2008. But it is the first time
they`re doing it while also publicly tearing each other apart like they`re
a bag of blindfolded hungry weasels who someone dosed with PCP. Why is
The party`s unsuccessful candidate for vice president in 2008 is
demanding today that Chris Wallace of “FOX News Sunday” reveal his sources!
These dastardly Republicans who told him to hammer Ted Cruz!
Senator Ted Cruz, of course, wants to be a Republican hero for
mounting a filibuster in the Senate, but the bill he wants to filibuster is
one that was just passed by the one body that the Republicans do control in
The leadership of his own party in the Senate says they will not
support a filibuster, but the base of the party, the fund-raising marks, if
you will, they`ve been getting fired up for months now, sending their
checks, hitting the big donate button on the Web site, sending their
automated fax messages to Congress for just $9.95 plus shipping and
handling. They have had their fire stoked for months now that you are only
a real Republican, you are only a real conservative if you are willing to
go all the way, to burn Washington down unless you get your way.
So, the immediate question is, how does this end, right? Does the
government get shut down? Is the credit rating of the country at risk
forever because of whatever this fight is among Republicans? That`s the
The bigger question is, why is this happening right now and with such
ferocity? I mean, Democrats are essentially not involved in this at all.
This is all happening among Republicans. Is the country, the whole
economy, the whole government at risk of becoming collateral damage here
for a proxy fight that really is just Republicans trying to finally decide
among themselves who their leader is, who calls the shots in their party?
Is this a war that is about what it means to be a Republican in the post-
George Bush, post-John McCain, post-Mitt Romney era?
And if so, what are the rest of us supposed to do to limit the
collateral damage to the rest of us while they sort this out among
Joining us now is my friend, Nicolle Wallace, former communications
director for George W. Bush, former senior adviser for the McCain/Palin
Nicolle, thank you for being here.
NICOLLE WALLACE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR GEORGE W. BUSH:
Well, I wish it were under better circumstances for my party.
MADDOW: It never is.
WALLACE: It never is.
MADDOW: I never want to talk about that stuff, you notice? Hey,
things are going great!
WALLACE: We weren`t here when Obama was, you know, sucking wind on
Syria, but –
MADDOW: Hey, you have to admit, Syria came out in a way that is
better than either the war or it was before the confrontation.
WALLACE: Republican Senator Corker said it`s hard to deny that Obama
didn`t land on some solid ground, but I think that what we would be talking
about this week, if Republicans weren`t acting like they are acting, is
whether this week we`re going to see in any of the body language with Iran
any tangible signs of our credibility on the issue of a nuclearized Iran
having been weakened. That`s what we would be talking about.
MADDOW: Our credibility being weakened?
WALLACE: Well, we had the red line in Syria. It ended up not being
quite a serious red line. We have red line now – I think we would be – I
think that on the right and the left, we would be talking about and we
would be asking the question, the question might have been or incredibly
hasn`t been damaged, but I think the conversation we would be having this
week would be America in the world post the Syria debate.
WALLACE: But we are not talking about that.
MADDOW: Because instead, these guys.
WALLACE: These guys.
So, I think that the damage to the Republican Party is on many levels.
It`s off-leading, because I think, as I said just watching your show,
events and news can overtake any story. So, this will go away. This will
go away, I hope.
But what this has replaced was a series of stories, a series of events
that had I think brought about legitimate questions about President Obama`s
MADDOW: And that`s about news cycle to news cycle momentum, and I
hear you on that and I think that`s right, but I think there is this
broader issue of what this fight is really about, because you know what –
MADDOW: – they hated Obamacare for a long time, enjoyed threatening
to shut down the government and defaulting on the country`s debt now.
But we are having it in this agro, over the top, extended way that`s
getting worse with each passing day. Is it proxy war for a control of the
party, or is there just something going on right now that they`ve got stuck
in their craft?
WALLACE: Well, look, you know, everything can be drawn to the movie
“The American President” in some Aaron Sorkin fantasy where Michael J. Fox
walks in and says, “You know, Mr. President, people are so hungry for
leadership, they`ll crawl through the sand and when they realize it`s a
mirage, they will eat the sand.” Ted Cruz would have Republican activists
eating sand because what he sold them wasn`t real. It was a mirage.
There is no possible way in the words of Charles Krauthammer of having
this happen. Obama is not going to sign a law that defunds his signature
MADDOW: So, then why did Ted Cruz sell it?
WALLACE: Well, Ted Cruz I think is far less interesting than anybody
else thinks he is. He`s just a guy who is in the Senate and wants everyone
to talk about him. I mean, he`s not –
MADDOW: The opposite of love is not hate. It`s indifference. And
you are indifferent to him. You are bored by him.
WALLACE: I am bored by him.
I mean, there is a really serious philosophical fight over policy on
the right, and it`s going to play out in the campaign, but it`s not – Ted
Cruz isn`t going to be holding up any flag on either side. It`s going to
be Rand Paul running as sort of a libertarian Republican who on national
security issues favors far more isolated America.
I mean, you`ve paid a lot of attention to Rand Paul, because I think
unlike some Republicans, you realize that he really is going to be a viable
– can be a viable choice in the Republican primary.
MADDOW: He is a policy choice, whether or not personally he`s the
WALLACE: And I don`t – I`m more with a McCain or a Christie. I
believe in more of an activist foreign policy, an interventionalist foreign
policy, and there are strange alliances going on in both these wings.
And this is a really big policy fight that`s going to happen in the
Republican Party. The fight we`re having now is a big water balloon fight.
It`s no more serious than that, although it`s going to do some serious harm
over a tactic, because the Republican Party actually stands with a whole
lot of independent Americans in its dislike or disapproval of Obamacare.
But this fight about tactics has totally crowded out what was a legitimate
disapproval of a policy that even the White House seems to be struggling
MADDOW: I don`t think it`s about tactics, though. I think it`s about
– it`s not purity, it`s about extremism, I guess. It`s about whether or
not extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, right? Whether or not
this is actually – whether your threat to shut down the government to do
real harm to the country is something that is noble or whether that is
something that is not noble and –
WALLACE: So, it`s a fight about nobility, but not even political
purity or policy purity, because you`ve got some of the most conservative
members in both – you`ve got Paul Ryan, you`ve got Charles Krauthammer,
you`ve got Todd Coburn, all on the side of not doing the Cruz proposal,
which was – I don`t even really from an intricate –
MADDOW: A shutdown proposal, which the House Republicans just voted
WALLACE: Right, but now in the Senate, there`s actually no way for
him to do anything.
I mean, some of the House Republicans, like Congressman Tim Griffin
last week who was a former colleague of mine and really does sort of tell
it like it is, put out a tweet saying, you know, what are you going to do?
Stop talking, do something.
WALLACE: And the truth is, Ted Cruz has spent a lot of time talking
to the media. His strategy is sort of to enjoy being vilified by the left
so that he can go on the media in the right and say, I`m a victim of the
mainstream media. He sort of sees the Palin victim mantle in the media and
he`s run with it and has done it successfully, and I give him credit for
But his ideas and tactics for the Republican Party are losers, and I
hope we move past them quickly and get back to a policy opposition to this
giant health care law where do stand with all Republicans and some
independents in this country, and big and more important conversations,
like America`s role in the world.
MADDOW: I hear you on this and I know why Ted Cruz has to be boxed
out. I will just point out that every Republican in the House except for
two voted with crazy Ted Cruz to do this.
WALLACE: No, he`s not crazy. I mean, you know, crazy like a fox.
MADDOW: But the whole Republican Party`s with him, so trying to box
him out is not going to work unless they start voting against him.
Nicolle Wallace, former communications director for George W. Bush,
former adviser with the McCain/Palin and good sport.
WALLACE: And sushi restaurant connoisseur.
MADDOW: Yes. Has given me some questionable adviser on sushi.
WALLACE: Think of that.
MADDOW: We`ll be fighting that out in the break.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: President Ronald Reagan in 1987 said something that towed the
line between deeply prophetic and deeply weird, and he said it at the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: Perhaps we need some outside
universal threat to make us recognize this common bound. I occasionally
think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing
an alien threat from outside of this world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)(
MADDOW: Ronald Reagan wishing an alien invasion because of the
kumbaya effect it would have on relations among nations. One of the truly
weirdest things he has ever said in public.
Also, it`s kind of coming true. That story is next.
MADDOW: October 12th, 2002, bombs ripped through a pair of nightclubs
along the beach in Bali, in Indonesia. The clubs were packed with people
on vacation out for a drink, out dancing. Two hundred and two people died
in that terrorist attack, most of them Westerners, including seven
March 11th, 2004, in Spain, bombs hit four commuter trains on lines
outside Madrid. A hundred ninety-one people, ordinary commuters are
July 7th, 2005, in the U.K., terrorists bomb three subway stations on
a bus in London that killed 52 civilians.
November 26th, 2008, in India, terrorists descend on Mumbai. They
shot up a train station, and a restaurant. They opened fire in fancy
hotels and at Jewish community center over the course of three interminable
days in Mumbai. They kill 164 people.
July 11th, 2010 in Uganda, suicide bombers blow themselves up in a
crowd gathered to watch the World Cup final. Seventy-four people are
killed, and the terrorist group from Somalia called al-Shabaab claimed
And then Saturday, this Saturday, September 21st, terrorists from al-
Shabaab strike again, this time in Kenya. They open fire in a shopping
mall in Nairobi, reportedly with military grade rifles and with hand
grenades before barricading themselves on an upper floor with many
This evening, security forces in Kenya say they have regained control
of that mall. They say at least 62 civilians died in the terrorist attack,
along with another dozen or so of the attackers, members of al-Shabaab.
Conflict in this young bloody 21st century of ours is still sometimes
about militaries fighting militaries. And that is still the way we measure
the martial strength of nations. Our army versus their army, our air force
versus their air defense or vice versa. Missiles versus missiles, tanks
But much more frequently, when the attacks are on nightclubs and malls
and commuter trains and office buildings, there is no second army in the
fight. It`s just the use of military grade force or paramilitary grade
force against people. It`s mass casualty strikes against civilian targets
as a way of targeting nations, as a way of trying to get nations to change
their behavior, through terrorizing their civilian population.
And that threat of non-state actors attacking countries, attacking
civilians simply because they are citizens, or they`re physically in a
specifically targeted country, that is the international challenge that has
chased the world from 9/11 to Madrid to London to Mumbai to Uganda, to now,
Nairobi and dozens of others in between. Nation versus nation fights are
starting to seem downright quaint, downright solvable compared to nations
versus amorphous non-state actors.
I mean, the United States and Russia for nearly two generations were
enemies at the level of comic book villains. And now, yes, we carp and
moon at each other, and we still spy on each other with relish. But
substantively, right now, us and Russia are together brokering a deal to
get rid of Syria`s chemical weapons.
With Iran, supposedly our most intractable nation to nation conflict.
The new president of Iran is in New York tonight. He`ll be at the U.N.
tomorrow, with our president. And who knows? He might sit down and have a
chat if they happen to run into each other.
He has, so far, signaled new moderation on political dissent in Iran,
and even a ray of sunshine on the possibility of moderation on Iran`s
Who knows if Iran really will be led out of isolation and brought back
into the community of nations? But it does not seem impossible. Honestly,
it seems like a matter of timing. Will it be this generation, will it be
this decade or will it be the next decade? When will it happen?
At this moment in history, the threats are rising from rivalries
between countries pail in comparison to the threats coming to countries
from non-state actors.
Yesterday in Pakistan, suicide bombers attacked a church killing 78
people as they left the Sunday services – 78 dead in a single attack.
In southern Afghanistan, the Taliban ambushed a border check post that
killed 11 police officers in the latest of a deadly series of massacres of
local police. A suicide car bomb and a double suicide bombing both at
funerals in Iraq this weekend take more than 100 lives in a single weekend.
The news of these attacks just in the last 48, 72 hours getting all
but lost amid the carnage unfolding in that Nairobi shopping mall.
Whatever is going on between us and Iran, between us and North Korea
even, between any one country and any country, sometimes seems down right
solvable, resolvable at least, compared with the fight being waged against
countries by groups that threaten them all.
The U.N. General Assembly is now open in New York, the annual round of
talks, with all the heavies there. And tomorrow is the big day that
President Obama is scheduled to speak just after 10:00 a.m. Eastern. The
new Iranian president is due up in the afternoon.
It is possible that they will even shake hands, which might not sound
like much, but would really be something. Heck, after all those years of
Ahmadinejad, it would be exciting to just not see people storm in protest
in the middle of the Iranian speech.
But right now, the U.N. is not just a place for showmanship and
stunts. Right now, the U.N. is at the center of our world we`re at least
between countries, we are trying to work things out without going to war.
The U.N. weapons inspectors and experts that the world is counting on to
get rid of Syria`s chemical weapons.
The visit to the U.N. by the new Iranian president is the occasion for
him releasing political prisoners and writing to the American president in
hope of a fresh start at talking out our problems. Even the Israeli and
Palestinian negotiators are starting to meet again, to talk again.
The nations of the world have enough trouble with terrorists right now
far and wide. As they meet here now to talk about their relations as
nations, the U.N. seems vital. Diplomacy seems vital right now and
impossible. Sometimes it seems like the world`s best idea overall.
Tomorrow is a big, big day at the U.N. Here`s hoping it goes well.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”. Have a
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