The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/24/13
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for staying with us
for the hour.
Something really funny is happening in Washington right now. I think
it is in the category of unintentionally funny. But it is, nevertheless,
funny. And not funny like hmmm, funny, strange. But rather, ha, ha, I
can`t believe this is happening.
Here`s what is happening. I think we can put it in the corner of the
screen, like Chris had it up on the Cruz – oh, yes, there we go. So this
is what it looks like, what`s happening in Washington right now. Here`s
what it means.
Do you remember Wendy Davis? Wendy Davis is a Democratic state
senator from Ft. Worth, Texas. She is expected next month to announce she
is running for governor of Texas.
And, of course, it is an uphill battle for any Democrat to wage a
statewide political fight in Texas, even now as Texas is trending more
purple and Democrats are making strong efforts there. It`s going to be
tough for her to win that race.
But the reason that Wendy Davis is thought to have a better chance
than any other Democrat in Texas is in part because of her national
profile. And Wendy Davis` national profile was built, largely, on this.
These are her awesome pinkish Mizuno sneakers, which apparently started
selling very, very well in online retail sales after Wendy Davis wore them
for 13 hours, while she held court and filibustered in the Texas state
The rules in Texas for this kind of thing are really strict. Not only
can you not sit down and not stop talking, you can`t lean on anything. You
can`t touch your desk which you`re standing right next to. Nobody else can
touch you. You cannot have anything to eat. You cannot have anything to
drink, meaning you can`t have a sip of water.
But still, Senator Wendy Davis stood there for 13 hours and in so
doing, she won. What she did worked.
And she wasn`t just standing there talking for 13 straight hours,
because she had 13 hours of stuff she wanted to get off her chest. She was
doing a specific tactical thing. She was trying to run out the clock so
Texas Republicans couldn`t take the vote they wanted to take on their new
radical anti-abortion bill.
So, very specific tactical goal, and she was talking for a reason. If
the Republicans couldn`t come up with some procedural way to get her to
stop talking before the clock struck midnight, they wouldn`t get to take
their vote. And then that bill would not pass and it would not become law.
And she did it. She won. They tried to stop her from talking. They
pulled out of a hat every procedural rabbit that they had.
But in the end, the Texas lieutenant governor, Republican David
Dewhurst, seemingly got kind of confused, and disoriented, and it was loud
and he maybe wasn`t watching the clock and he didn`t maybe remember what
exactly had to be done.
And so, there was chaos, and there was very little time left, and by
the time anybody actually – oh, geez, it`s midnight! Whoa, it worked.
Wendy Davis talked long enough that they could not take that vote.
And so, Wendy Davis is not only famous in Texas. Wendy Davis is
famous across the country. And Wendy Davis is conceivably a viable
candidate as a Democrat for governor of the great state of Texas.
Now, in the long run, in the end, Texas Republicans spent a ton of
taxpayer money to call a whole new special session of the legislature, and
they reintroduced the anti-abortion bill, and they started the clock over
again. And finally, they were able to get it passed in a separate session.
But she stopped them in that instance. Her talking for 13 hours had a
practical effect. It had a point.
As opposed to what happened today in Washington – which actually is
kind of hilarious. We`ve got a live shot of what`s going on the Senate
floor. We have different senators who have been taking the floor. This is
actually Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.
Most of the night tonight, most of the day today, has been Republican
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who sometime between 2:00 and 3:00 this afternoon
took to the Senate floor and intoned with great somber, self importance
that he was taking over the floor of the United States Senate, that he
would speak until he could no longer stand, to block health reform.
Now, didn`t health reform already pass? Yes. Health reform passed in
Wasn`t it already signed into law? Yes, like roughly 30 seconds after
Didn`t it already pass at the Supreme Court after a big constitutional
challenge? Yes, it passed that challenge last summer.
Wasn`t there an election thereafter between one side, the Democrats,
who said they would – one side, the Republicans, who said they would
repeal it, and one side the Democrats, who said they would keep it, and the
side that said they would keep it, the Democrats, won that presidential
election by a lot? Yes. That side won by a lot.
And didn`t the Democrats also pick up seats in both houses of Congress
in that same election? Yes, the Democrats picked up seats.
So, will Ted Cruz talking end health reform today? No. Not in any
Not even in any tiny procedural sense. Not even a delaying sense.
Not even in “I`m going to shave some bits off” sense. It`s going to have
Here`s the thing about a filibuster. This is being described today as
a filibuster. It is not a filibuster. It is as much a filibuster as the
song 99 bottles of beer on the wall is a catchy disco tune. It is just a
If what Ted Cruz is doing was a real filibuster, then whether or not
there could be a vote in the Senate, whether or not there would be some
action in the Senate on this issue that he cares about would depend on
whether or not Ted Cruz is still talking.
In this case – no, that is not what`s happening. There is nothing
tactical about this. There is going to be a vote in the Senate tomorrow on
funding the government, including health reform. It`s going to happen
around lunch time, whether or not Ted Cruz is talking.
What he`s doing is just filling up the time between now and then with
his talking. In a way that has no legislative consequence whatsoever. No
matter what happens.
He says he`s going to speak until he cannot stand! Well, if he
couldn`t stand after another five minutes, or if he could still be standing
at dawn, or if he stops standing right now, it would have no effect on what
is going to happen next in the Senate. It is not a tactical thing he is
So, why is he doing it? You tell me – 99 bottles of beer on the
wall, 99 bottles beer. I mean, it`s fun, but – I think the idea is that
Ted Cruz thinks people will believe that what he`s doing is functional,
that he is putting himself through a great personal sacrifice, ala “Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington”, in order to accomplish something against health
But if that`s what he`s thinking, people might misunderstand about
what he`s doing, his own side is making sure that people actually know
what`s really going on here. One Republican leadership source in Congress
musing out loud to ABC News today that Ted Cruz should probably be expected
to only go on long enough today to reach the primetime audience on the FOX
A senior House Republican aide telling “Talking Points Memo”, quote,
“I don`t know how the senator makes it down a flight of stairs, because he
is completely incapable of thinking one step ahead.”
This comes on the heels of an unnamed adviser to Republican Senator
John McCain, telling “GQ” magazine that Senator McCain, quote, “f-ing hates
Ted Cruz,” although he fully spelled out the word that I am suggesting here
by saying f-ing.
Another House Republican aide telling “The National Review Online”
that, quote, “Nancy Pelosi is more well-liked around here than Ted Cruz is”
– meaning than Ted Cruz is among Republicans.
Beyond his own side, calling his bluff, and laughing at him openly and
essentially dumping their chamber pots out their windows on to his head as
he does this, his own side is also very subtly – very unsubtly, leaking
negative stories about him to the press.
Chris Wallace on “FOX News Sunday” admitting this weekend when it
became known he had had booked Ted Cruz, he was flooded with unsolicited
oppo, unsolicited opposition research from other Republicans who wanted him
to use those negative stories about Ted Cruz against Ted Cruz during the
interview on FOX.
Today, with Senator Cruz pretending to filibuster while having no
practical effect, except drawing more attention to himself, another
Republican – well, Republican sourced but theoretically anonymous tip to
the Washington newspaper “Roll Call” explained how at the Senate Campaign
Committee for the Republican Party, Ted Cruz technically has a knob to do
there, but he`s not bothering to do that job. Quote, “Senator Ted Cruz has
not been engaged in his role as vice chairman of the National Republican
Senatorial Committee, according to multiple sources familiar with GOP
So this is Republicans feeding the press negative Ted Cruz stories,
while also talking smack about him, more or less to his face.
Today, when Democratic and Republican senators met for their
respective caucus meetings on Capitol Hill, Senator Claire McCaskill
tweeted that she was, quote, “In our Democratic caucus meeting, but true
confession, I`d rather have a diet coke and some popcorn and watch the show
that must be going on in the Republicans` caucus today.”
Right, it is fascinating to watch. It is entertaining, sort of, to
see the way that Republicans are going after each other right now. But
what`s happening right now and tonight in Washington is also sort of
mystifying, because, again, technically, it has no point.
I mean, it does not change anything about what is going to happen. It
is not going to get them what they say they want. It is not going to lead
to anything different happening in the Senate that might otherwise be
happening in the Senate. It`s not going to lead to a temporary victory
that might be overturned later. It does not even stall for a second what
is going to happen anyway.
It is it OK if you`re not actually listening to what`s happening on
the Senate floor, because it doesn`t matter in the technical sense. But
there Ted Cruz has been anyway, in a way that is driving a huge, angry,
visible wedge down the middle of his party, disgusting and infuriating and
exasperating a lot of people on his own side, who are expressing that
publicly, whenever a microphone gets near them.
Republicans are just trashing each other any time a reporter asks.
And for what? Part of the explanation may be they`re getting so carried
away with it at this point that they cannot stop. One side of that today
was maybe early on in the self-aggrandizing but pointless floor speech from
Senator Cruz, when he started calling people who disagreed with him on this
subject Nazi appeasers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: You go to the 1940s. Nazi, Germany. Look, we saw in Britain,
Neville Chamberlain who told the British people except the Nazis, yes,
they`ll dominate the continent of Europe. But that`s not our problem.
Let`s appease them. Why? We can`t possibly stand against them.
And in Erica, there were voices that listened to that. I suspect
those same pundits who say it can`t be done, if it had been in the 1940s,
we would have been listening to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wouldn`t you have decided you are standing against the Nazis
and everybody else who is against you is with the Nazis, helping the Nazis
or maybe they`re a Nazi, too?
It`s very hard at that point once you`ve gone over sort of the Nazi
hurdle, hard to say oh, you know what, my bad, this doesn`t actually make
sense what I`m doing.
Now if the Nazis are not your thing, Ted Cruz`s friend in the Senate
on this, Mike Lee of Utah, decided he would go with not World War II as his
analogy, he would instead go with the war against the British, as in the
war by which we became a country. So, he and Ted Cruz, they`re like the
American colonists, and everybody who is against them is like King George
III. British, bad.
Can`t you see it? Can`t you see the parallel?
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: I would remind your listeners out there that
the Revolutionary War was fought and won with the support from what was
initially a minority within a minority of Americans. But a select few knew
that it was worth fighting. And eventually, they persuaded others to go
along, and eventually they won. This is one of those moments.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: the health insurance is coming, the health insurance is
And the direct mail fleeced the base fund-raising groups on the right,
they are just egging this whole thing on. The e-mail blast today from the
Senate Conservatives Fund had this bolded tag line, the ultimate betrayal.
Turns out the ultimate betrayal in world history is not about, like,
Jesus and Judas. It`s about Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, the ultimate
betrayal, because they do not stand with Ted Cruz in this thing he is doing
which is really not a filibuster, that won`t change anything at all. Mitch
McConnell is a turncoat. Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn are turn coats
who have surrendered to Barack Obama who is, like Caesar here, I guess,
When you have worked yourself up into such a froth that your enemies
are the Nazis and Judas and the British Empire circus 1776, that makes it I
think hard to admit that what you are doing makes no sense and that maybe
it is time to think about how you`re going to explain what you`re going to
do next. And so pointlessly, not only has today happened, but it is still
happening right now.
Do we just chock this up to these guys getting their ya-yas out or
does this have any substantive consequence at all?
Senator Ted Cruz lecturing his colleagues about how to achieve actual
change during his pretend filibuster today was witnessed in part by NBC
News political reporter and producer Kasie Hunt.
Kasie, thank you for being here.
KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, in terms of timing, what`s going on in the Senate, how
long has it been going on and what happens next?
HUNT: Well, this fight that Cruz has been waging has been going on
for months behind the scenes. And so, what you`re seeing now is sort of
the symbolic culmination of all of these efforts that he, along with
several other conservative groups, have been pushing.
As far as timing now this week, in the context of a government
shutdown, Cruz sort of has a decision to make about how long he`s going to
drag this out. You`re right in that he`s limited in the tactics he has.
He can only push this off so long. The votes are going to happen.
But if he avails himself of every procedural means necessary, the
votes won`t be until Sunday night here in the Senate. And that puts a real
squeeze on House Speaker John Boehner, who would then have to turn around
and on Monday, September 30th, pass a bill to keep the government from
shutting down, or face the consequences of all of that.
So, if Cruz decides to yield back or to be OK with yielding back some
of the time that Republicans will have to keep debating this, they could
potentially accelerate that time line and vote as early as Friday, saving
them a couple of extra days. And other Republicans, leadership, Mitch
McConnell has indicated he would go along with that strategy. They`re just
waiting on Cruz and anyone else who might also go along with his
MADDOW: When we have seen people take the floor today, we have seen
his allies, people like Mike Lee, some expected Republicans jumping up
there, that presumably gives Senator Cruz a little time to rest. We`re
also now seeing some Democratic Senators get up and address what they see
as the substantive positives of Obamacare and why he`s wrong.
Every time that happens, does that essentially elongate what`s going
on here, because it gives him a chance to rest his feet?
HUNT: In some ways, it gives him a chance to rest his feet. But
we`ve heard that, you know, he was going to plan to be on the floor for
potentially up to 20 hours. They`ve not given us a commitment one way or
the other. So, I think what you might be seeing is Democrats kind of
coming up and trying to take a little bit of the limelight away.
I mean, one of the things – one of the mistakes Democrats have made
in the course of this law is not communicating well enough what its
benefits might be. And you saw President Obama even today struggling to –
or starting to try to with the “explainer in chief”, quote/unquote, what
this health care law would do.
And by letting Cruz go unanswered on the Senate floor, you`re
potentially giving Republicans another opportunity to explain to people why
they think this law is about idea, without actually answering those
MADDOW: Kasie, I was looking today at what needs to happen in order
to keep the government funded, keep the government going. It seems to me
like it`s kind of a choose your own adventure book, where you get to the
end of each little individual mini-chapter, right, and you`ve got a choice
to make, you`ve got a decision to make, something needs to happen at the
end of each one of those chapters.
And in about 99 out of 100 cases, we end up with a government shut
down. There is this one very narrow path of all of the different things
that need to happen by specific times, by unlikely protagonists, in order
to actually stay open, and I ended up – the closer I looked today, I ended
up feeling more and more like we are likely to have a government shutdown,
just because it`s unlikely they`ll be able to keep it going, with or
without Ted Cruz blowing hot air on the Senate floor.
Do you agree with that or do you think it`s unlikely?
HUNT: There is a sense here that it`s more likely to happen this time
than it has been in other recent times. But you have to remember that this
sort of shutdown to almost debacle has happened over and over again in
recent years. I mean, they keep going right up to this cliff and then
finding that one narrow path, and figuring out a way to pull us back from
And in this particular case, you`re starting to see particularly
Republicans in the House talk more about the upcoming fight over the debt
ceiling. And John Boehner has sort of talked about it that way all the way
along. He`s always viewed the debt ceiling as a better place to fight with
the Obama administration on fiscal priorities, as opposed to funding the
government, instead of threatening a government shutdown.
But at this point, it`s still anybody`s guess if they`re going to take
it right up to the brink. And to a certain extent, it still depends on
what Cruz does decide do because some of this depends on is Boehner going
to have one day or three days to decide how he`s going to handle it.
MADDOW: NBC News political reporter and producer Kasie Hunt, thank
you for helping us cover the non-filibuster. Appreciate your time.
HUNT: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. President Obama addressed the United Nations
today. Yes, engaging peacefully with the rest of the planet. Cue
That`s coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Do you have an uncle who has time on his hands, maybe doesn`t
have much to do during the day, so he spends all day, every day, watching
the conservative FOX News Channel? Do you have an uncle or somebody like
that in your family?
This might be a good night to just call and check up on him, just to
see if he`s OK, because today this happened. The State Department said
that Secretary of State John Kerry will tomorrow sign a treaty at the
Now, if that does not sound like it portends the apocalypse, that is
because you are not your uncle who watches FOX News all day. What your
uncle understands that you do not understand that this means the black
helicopters are coming for us and they`re coming to take our guns.
The treaty John Kerry is expected to sign tomorrow on behalf of the
U.S. government is called the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. The aim of the
treaty is to bring to an end the supply of weapons to countries where
they`d be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity,
war crimes or other serious human rights violations. In other words, if
you`re a country selling weapons to other countries, consider what those
weapons are going to be used for.
It aims to stop also the mass illegal sales of guns, which, of course,
feed a global black market in weapons, which, of course, is a very handy
thing for terrorist groups.
This treaty applies to battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large
caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships,
missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons. So, it`s
not weapons of mass destruction. It`s everything else up to and including
So the treaty is only about 17 pages long. It has this pretty direct
goal of trying to stop mass, international weapon sales to terrorists and
genocidal maniacs. It`s not considered to be a particularly controversial
When the U.N. voted on it earlier this year, only three countries
voted no. And they were kind of the usual suspects. It was Syria, Iran
and North Korea who voted no. The United States was a yes vote back in
But that yes vote was only the first step. The treaty also needs to
be signed by our president or our secretary of state. Then it needs to be
ratified by the Senate, and it needs a two-thirds majority to pass, 67
So, after Secretary of State John Kerry signs it tomorrow, it will
head to the Senate. And then what do you think will happen there? What do
you think specifically the reaction is going to be from the FOX News corner
of our Republican politics?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE KELLY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It`s an attack on our
constitutional rights. The second amendment is constantly under attack.
We`re looking for a global gun control limitations – are you kidding me?
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: This U.N. Arms Treaty is really raising some
eyebrows. Gun rights advocates are fearing that it is really going to
impinge on their Second Amendment rights.
This is kind of like the perfect storm for conservatives, gun control
and the United Nations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really is the moment when you wake up screaming
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: You wake up screaming in horror. Because of the treaty that
says countries shouldn`t sell armored vehicles to genocidal maniacs.
When the U.N. voted on the treaty in the spring, Senator Ted Cruz
tweeted that this treaty was an international gun regulation plan, plain
and simple. It must never be ratified.
Rand Paul sent out a fund raising e-mail. U.N. bureaucrats will stop
at nothing to register, ban and all caps confiscate firearms owned by
private citizens like you. You need to get involved. Also, send me money,
$250 or even just $35.
Send Rand Paul $35 and he will make sure the U.N. does not fly to your
house in black helicopters to put micro chips in your molars and steal your
Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe introduced an amendment preventing the
United States from entering into this treaty. That amendment passed back
in March with overwhelming Republican support.
Today, after “Reuters” broke the story that Secretary of State John
Kerry would, in fact, sign this treaty over the objections of Rand Paul`s
fund-raising letter, Senator Inhofe wrote a letter to the secretary of
state, vowing he will personally guarantee the failure of this treaty about
not selling guns to people who commit genocide.
The NRA basically has a beat reporter who is assigned specifically to
the U.N. is stealing your guns story. Today, the NRA tweeted about the
treaty as soon as the State Department put out word about it, which means
that very, very, very soon your uncle, who watches FOX News all day, is
probably going to start getting e-mails telling him that the United Nations
has commenced their plan to come for him to take his guns, and therefore he
should send Rand Paul money.
For the record, the treaty will not require any changes in U.S. law or
policy – but whatever. You know, if you have this uncle who watches FOX
News all day, just call tonight. Tell him you love him. He is going to be
really upset soon if he isn`t already.
MADDOW: It`s not a tough competition. But the funniest moment in
history of political action committees has maybe just been achieved in
today`s news. It guest stars an unwitting Senator Rand Paul.
I think he was unwitting in this. I`m sure he hopes we all believe he
was unwitting in this.
That story is coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So President Obama`s speech today at the U.N. was the second
speech of the day. The first one was given by the country that by
tradition goes first at these things, which is Brazil.
This year, that was a little awkward, because Brazil and the United
States right now are having a fight. There was supposed to be a big
official state dinner in Washington next month with President Obama hosting
the president of the Brazil. State dinners are a rare thing. It`s the
biggest country that our country offers any other visiting head of state.
But last week Brazil called to say they didn`t want it anymore. No,
we`re not coming to the state dinner, thank you very much. They haven`t
even rescheduled or anything. It is just cancelled.
The reason Brazil is mad at us is because of recent disclosures that
we are close allies and friends with Brazil, our intelligence agencies have
been spying on them. And not just spying on Brazil in general, but even
specifically spying on their president`s e-mails.
So, yes, Brazil is mad at us. And this morning, it was Brazil`s
president giving her speech upgrading the United States for this totally
unacceptable affront to the principles that should govern relations between
countries, and that speech was followed immediately by the speech from
So that was an awkward start to the day. It`s also a reminder,
though, of the breadth of stuff that was leaked by Edward Snowden, the
former NSA contractor who`s now holed up in Russia after having delivered
thousands of classified documents about various forms of American spying to
Barton Gellman at “The Washington Post” and Glenn Greenwald at “The
He leaked about the U.S. spying on Brazil. He leaked about the U.S.
spying on China. He leaked about the U.S. spying on you and me, and how
the whole architecture of American telecom is essentially tapped or at
least tappable by U.S. intelligence agencies.
And whatever you think about those leaks and the guy who did the
leaking, it is kind of amazing that this guy who is not particularly
accomplished in the intelligence world, this guy who didn`t have any title
of any consequence, hadn`t really risen through the ranks very far at all,
skipped around from job to job and contractor to contractor, this guy who
did all of this while he was still in his 20s, he nevertheless had access
to that huge breadth, that huge array of really sensitive material.
Part of the reason he had access to that level of material was because
he had a top-secret security clearance. And you know what? Now, in
retrospect maybe it seems like maybe he shouldn`t have had that clearance.
One of the things he admitted to after he started leaking was that he
took his last job at the government contractor Booz Allen specifically to
get access to more classified information, which he planned to hoard and
then leak. So, he`s getting jobs in order to violate security and leak
The idea of a background check, a top-secret security clearance
background check is not just to figure out who you are and if your resume
checks out. It`s to find out if you a trustworthy, if you`re going to pose
any kind of security risk with this information you`re about to be trusted
Well, when he was being checked out for his clearance, were there any
signs of his background, did anything pop up among his character references
that might suggests there was going to be a security problem there?
We will never know that, because that check did not happen. The top
secret security clearance background check that happened on Edward Snowden
failed to talk to any of his co-workers at the CIA, failed to check with
even one of the references, that he listed on his questioner, failed to
interview any of his neighbors from the time when he lived abroad, failed
to look into a trip he took to India, which he did not report at all.
NBC`s Michael Isikoff obtained a official review of his background
check, and it appears that basically the only people they talked to in
checking out his background beyond him himself for his own top-secret
security clearance background check, the only people they talk to besides
him were his mom and his girlfriend. And wouldn`t you know, they think
he`s awesome. No problems. He`s dreamy.
It turns out the same company that was responsible for doing that
brilliant background check was also responsible for this guy`s background
check. The fact that Aaron Alexis had a secret level security clearance,
the fact that he had passed his background checks to get that clearance is
absolutely critical to how he had a job with the Navy contractor, and
thereby got access to the Washington Navy Yard where he killed 12 people
And now, over the last 24 hours, we are learning that Aaron Alexis
passed that background check and got that security clearance in a way that
is starting to look super, super sketchy. And thinking about this kind of
background check, this kind of security clearance issue, what are the kinds
of things you would think trip that process, that would send up a red flag,
might interfere with you getting that clearance?
Well, we know he had fairly serious mental health issues. He was
getting treatment for mental health problems at the V.A. He admitted to
police when they arrested him in Seattle that he had been in a rage-fueled
blackout. His family corroborated his problems with anger also to the
Seattle police, that ended up in the police report, them describing his
struggles with mental illness.
So, maybe that would pop up in a background check? It is in the
police report. Apparently not.
We also know specifically he was having paranoid delusions in and
hearing voices. And it`s one thing if that`s your own private Idaho and
you`re keeping that to yourself. But in this case, again, he disclosed
that to police and it ended up in another police report. This one in Rhode
Island, where police officers in their written and duly filed report on him
described in great deal the paranoid delusions and voices that he was
He described himself to those same police officers as a Navy
contractor. And the police not only wrote that down, too, they turned that
whole police report over to the Navy, to let the Navy know this hearing
voices thing was going on with their contractor, who had access to Navy
Did that ping anything for the background check? Apparently not.
If you`re being checked out for a security clearance and you`re
getting an official background check, even if they check nothing else, you
think they`re going to check your criminal record, right, your arrest
record? Well, yes, it turns out in a way.
After the shootings at the navy yard last week, turns out the Navy
looked into what had happened in the case of Aaron Alexis. And the
background checks that cleared him for security clearance. This apparently
insane shooter who got a security clearance, how did that happen?
The Navy released the results of that review late yesterday and in
what they released, we learned that the shooter`s fingerprints pinged in
the databases to at least show one of the times he was arrested. It was
the first of two times he was arrested on gun charges, as it turns out.
This is the time he used a handgun to shoot out the tires of a car that
belonged to a construction worker who he says he argued with.
He did not report that arrest or that incident on his background check
form, which, itself, is lying on your background check, which, itself,
should be a red flag and should raise a problem, but apparently that was
not seen as a problem. That arrest pinged anyway just because of his
fingerprints, and when the people doing the background check found out
about it, they decided they would put a shine on it for him, so it wouldn`t
cause any problems with his security clearance – the security clearance
that got him into the Navy Yard where he killed 12 people.
The background check, which was reported to the Navy, quote, “left out
the gun and its description of that incident” where he shot out that guy`s
tires, saying instead that Aaron Alexis had just deflated the man`s tires.
Yes, he did technically deflate them. But he deflated them by
shooting them out with a handgun.
The people doing the background check knew that. But they did not
Why would you excise that from this guy`s record? Why would you drop
the gun part of that, if you are doing a background check on somebody for a
security clearance? Why is the “him shooting something” part of this worth
excluding from his background check, especially if you`re also going to
miss his mental health issues and him hearing voices and all of his other
arrests and his Navy misconduct?
They upgraded him shooting out the dude`s tires to him deflating the
tires, which, yes, does sound better. And so, yes, he passed his
background check, and yes, he got his security clearance and, yes, we know
how that ended last week.
There`s no reason to believe that the company doing the background
check had any idea what Aaron Alexis was going to go on to do. There is no
reason to believe they were in cahoots with him in pulling off this
massacre at the Navy Yard.
There is, however, reason to believe that the company who did his
background check did a terrible job. And on Edward Snowden`s background
check, also a terrible job. And it was the same company.
When it became clear that both of those background checks were done by
the same company, “The Washington Post” went out and found some former
employees of that company who wanted to talk about what it was like to work
there. Quote, “Some former employees describe an environment where people
went weeks without seeing their bosses and handled sensitive documents with
no supervision in their home offices and occasionally at Starbucks. The
goal at all times: volume.”
Former employees say, “Bosses simply trusted the employees to do the
work in the right way with little oversight.”
Quote, “I could go weeks and weeks and not see a single co-worker so
there`s no way they could see what you`re doing,” said one former
In terms of this highly sensitive, confidential information they`re
dealing with for people`s security clearances, quote, “people were leaving
their laptops at Starbucks,” said one former investigator. “People were
leaving cases on top of their cars, information blowing off in the wind.
We had a lady who left her files at Chuck E. Cheese with her kids.”
The firm is called USIS. And they are now under federal criminal
investigation into whether or not they have been lying about the
thoroughness of their work on people`s background checks.
According to NBC`s Michael Isikoff, the grand jury in this case is
specifically looking into allegations that the company pressured its
employees to submit bogus reports in order to keep up with the volume of
Overall, more than investigators have pled guilty or have been
convicted of falsifying background check reports since 2006. In one case,
an investigator claimed to have interviewed a person who had been dead for
more than a decade.
Oh, yes, I definitely talked to that guy, said everything was fine.
That guy has been dead for over a decade.
These contractors are the ones who do all the legwork, all the
background checks, to see if you get granted a security clearance by the
U.S. government. The specific contractor company who did the background
checks for Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter doesn`t have a monopoly
doing this work, but almost. They did over $300 million worth of this type
of business for the federal government last year. And I`m sure that is
great business for them.
They`re owned by a private equity firm now. Do you remember Bain
private equity? It`s not Bain, but it`s another firm like Bain. It`s
called Providence, is the private equity firm that owns them.
But basically, this firm is guaranteed a huge revenue stream, because
they are handling 45 percent of all contracted background checks for the
federal government. This one firm, which appears to be terrible at what
The idea that core government functions like, say, figuring out who
should get access to top-secret information. The idea that core government
functions can be done better for profit by the lowest bidder, that has been
kind of a bipartisan mania in Washington for the last couple of decades.
Contracting stuff out that you think would be done by the government or by
the military itself, it did get very famous during the Iraq war with
Halliburton and the no-bid contracts and all that.
But this stuff was not born in the Iraq war. This stuff was the
hallmark of the Clinton administration before that, and the George H.W.
Bush administration before that. USIS, this background checks company, it
was created in 1996, during the Clinton administration, specifically so
somebody could make a profit doing work that before then had been done by
the government itself.
And I`m sure the profit part of it has been a lot of fun. But the
core government function there supposedly taking responsibility for is
apparently not really happening. This idea that contractors are always
better turns out to be one of those bipartisan bad ideas. Does this mean
we should start to grow out of it?
Joining us now is a man who helped piece together this story, Michael
Isikoff, NBC News investigative correspondent.
Mr. Isikoff, thanks for being here.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Good to be
with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, we have run through these instances where it seems like
there are all these red flags about Aaron Alexis that were overlooked or
minimized by USIS or the Navy. Are these the sort of red flags that only
look red in retrospect or are they the kinds of things that ought to have
been a problem for his background check?
ISIKOFF: Well, look, it`s very easy in hindsight to look back at
Aaron Alexis and say, why didn`t you catch this, why wasn`t that spotted or
identified early? And clearly you got to sympathize with the Navy to some
extent and perhaps even USIS.
But that said, look at the details in this case. He`s going for a –
he`s getting a secret clearance. An arrest record pops up. The company –
USIS doing the background check doesn`t pull the police report, which had
all those really alarming details –
ISIKOFF: – about the anger management problems that his father told
the police about, suffering from PTSD. Him telling the cops that he shot
out the tires out of – during a blackout which he didn`t remember, because
he was fueled by anger.
All of that was in the public police report and none of it was pulled
by the background investigators for USIS. What they did was go ask him,
hey, what about this. And how do you explain we see that there is an
arrest here. All it said in the arrest record was malicious mischief and
he says, “Oh, I deflated the tires,” and that`s what they write down.
It`s kind of like basic reporting, you go out and get an account from
somebody, and then you sort of pull the record to check and see if that
matches up. And here, it clearly didn`t. But none of that got reported to
And, by the way, leave aside the security clearance issue. Somebody
with that background with a firearms offense who says he is suffering from
PTSD and anger management and all that, you can raise basic questions
whether they ought to be in the military in the first place. And that`s –
this is – this is a background check going on when he has enlisted in the
So there clearly – you know, from the public record we see the red
flags there. And then you piece it together with all these other accounts,
and some of those cases that I was looking through the court files last
week, you see investigators for USIS and in some cases, other companies who
were filing as many as a thousand fraudulent reports with the Office of
Personnel Management claiming to have done interviews they never did,
claiming to have checked records that were never checked.
And, you know, that`s why you have people on Capitol Hill right now
raising some serious questions about accountability.
MADDOW: That`s right. The Senate in particular it looking into I
think its overall issue of contracting here and this contractor in
particular, these red flags, are stunning and very worrying.
Michael Isikoff, NBC News investigative correspondent – Michael,
thank you for your reporting on this. Appreciate it.
ISIKOFF: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. So, coming up, the funniest thing ever about a
political action committee. I know, it`s a low bar. But it is actually
That`s coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: If you are born in the United States, you are an American
citizen. Even if you are not born in the United States, but your parents
are American, you`re an American citizen.
So like for example, John McCain – totally eligible to run for
president, because he is a U.S. citizen, even though he was born in Panama.
He was born outside the United States. But his parents were Americans.
And that is enough to make you a natural born citizen. Simple, right?
Here is a puzzler though. What if you`re born outside the United
States, and only one of your parents is American? What do you do if you
were born say in Mexico to a Mexican mom but your dad was American?
Well, for decades now, since the 1970s, the United States has been
saying, in that case, you`re not an American citizen. Not unless your
parents were married.
Why does it matter if your parents were married? Because the courts
say in part they say the Mexican constitution is very specific in the way
it addresses the legal particulars of kids born to unmarried parents.
Because the Mexican constitution is so specific about it, because of
article 314 of the Mexican constitution, U.S. courts have been saying, in
this case, you`re not a citizen.
That is what U.S. courts have been citing for decades now about kids
born to one American parent in Mexico. Sorry, we`re constrained. We
cannot call you a citizen. See for reference, article 314 of the Mexican
It turns out there is no article 314 of the Mexican constitution. It
doesn`t exist. U.S. courts have been citing that specific article of the
Mexican constitution to deny people citizenship since 1978. But that
article does not exist.
A new federal court ruling finally now has gone beyond all the other
courts just citing each other. Citing that supposed part of the
Constitution, finally, a federal court has gone to look it up in the
original and see what it said. They found that the original text does not
exist. There is not an article 314. In fact, in the Mexican constitution,
there are 136 articles altogether. So, how would we get up over 300?
Ah, well, then, sorry about the last 35 years of totally made up court
rulings based on nothing. It`s all been a big misunderstanding since 1978.
Glad, we could finally sort this out.
Don`t you see, Mr. Roper, Jack Tripper is not really gay after all.
It`s all been a big misunderstanding.
That was one of two big misunderstandings in today`s politic news.
The other is about Rand Paul. And that`s next.
MADDOW: Very weird story broke in “The Washington Post” today.
Everyone knows what a PAC is, right? For example, the Senate Conservatives
Fund, which sent out an e-mail blast today, saying that Mitch McConnell had
committed the ultimate betrayal by not doing anything about Cruz.
Yes, the Senate Conservative Fund is a PAC, a political action
committee, the thing that collects money from donors and spent on
campaigns. There are as many PACs in politics as there are ideas in
politics and then some.
So, there`s group in Ohio dumping over $1 million into a Connecticut
race against Newtown Democrat Elizabeth Esty, who are they? Why don`t they
care? I don`t know. Government Integrity Fund Action Network is their
name, whatever that means. They`re a PAC.
Who is running odd new anti-abortion ads in the Virginia governor`s
race now? It`s the same random not from here PAC that spent hand over fist
to try to elect Art Robinson to Congress a couple years ago, the guy who
said we should sprinkle the United States with radioactive material.
PACs are opaque, sometimes weird, but they are ubiquitous in politics
now. And although there are almost no rules for money in our politics
anymore, there is this rule about PACs, that says if you put the name of a
politician in the name of your PAC in such a way that makes it seem you
like maybe you are officially associated with the politician, then you have
to be officially associated with the politician.
So, for example, there is the Stand with Rand PAC. They love Rand
Paul. They have T-shirts that show Rand Paul in silhouette. Everything
they do is about Rand Paul.
Rand Paul, we support Rand Paul. Here`s an article about us being
pro-Rand Paul. Here`s a picture of Rand Paul. Here`s a quote from Rand
We stand with Rand. Rand who? Rand Paul.
So, the federal government because of the rule, they wrote to the
Stand with Rand PAC. And they said you cannot use his name unless you are
officially associated with him. If you`re not officially associated with
him you, you have to take Rand out of your name – to which the group has
now responded. And they have responded by saying – Rand who? We have
nothing to do with Rand Paul.
Look at that headline in “The Washington Post.” “We don`t stand with
Rand Paul at all. The whole Stand with Rand thing is just a big
misunderstanding. What actually stand with is – Ayn Rand who is author of
those books, beloved by college sophomores wherever literature classes are
There is actually no mention of Ayn Rand, the fiction author who wrote
“Atlas Shrugged” anywhere on the Stand with Rand Web site, anywhere. It`s
all about Rand Paul.
But their case to the feds is that they have nothing to do with Rand
I give them 10 stars out of 10 on cojones, not so much on I believe a
word you say. It`s nice try, though.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.” Have a
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