The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/25/13
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us
this hour. Happy Monday.
Whenever the president of the United States unexpectedly addresses the
nation and it`s about Iran, it`s usually not because the president is going
to deliver good news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: For the past three months, I have
been silent on the revelations about Iran, and you must have been thinking
– well, why doesn`t he tell us what`s happening? Why doesn`t he just
speak to us as he has in the past when we`ve faced troubles or tragedies?
A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for
hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that`s true. But
the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Ronald Reagan speaking in 1987, confessing,
essentially, to selling weapons to Iran, even though he says his heart just
still couldn`t believe that he did it.
Before that, it was President Jimmy Carter speaking in 1980. And
again, not good news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: Late yesterday, I canceled a
carefully planned operation which was under way in Iran to position our
rescue team for later withdrawal of American hostages who have been held
captive there since November 4th. Equipment failure and the rescue
helicopters made it necessary to end the mission. As our team was
withdrawing after my order to do so, two of our American aircraft collided
on the ground following a refueling operation in a remote desert location
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Jimmy Carter speaking in 1980 about “Operation
Eagle Claw,” a spectacularly and famously failed U.S. military operation in
Whenever U.S. presidents have to make unplanned, major addresses to
the nation, and they`re about Iran, nobody ever thinks it`s going to be for
some good reason.
But shortly before midnight this Saturday night, President Obama broke
the streak when he gave the full weight of his president at the podium
gravitas to the announcement that previously had just been made on Twitter,
which was that for the first time in more than a decade, Iran had agreed to
a historic deal to open up their nuclear program to international
inspections and to halt specific parts of their nuclear program temporarily
in exchange for some relief from sanctions, sanctions that have had such a
devastating effect not on just the government of Iran, but on everyday
Iranians` everyday lives.
Now, this is only a preliminary deal, it`s only for six months to
create space for more negotiations on, hopefully, a bigger picture
resolution on the nuclear question in Iran.
But in terms of assessing the deal, it`s probably a good sign that
hard-liners in both of our countries are absolutely enraged. That`s
Not down the line, actually, though, it should be noted, crucially,
the supreme leader in Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei is reportedly in favor
of both the negotiations and the announced deal. And of course, the
negotiations, let alone the deal, would not have happened if he was not on
board with them.
Over here, we don`t have an ayatollah, but “The Washington Post”
editorial page has been a pretty good reminder of how aggressively hawkish
toward Iran even the supposedly liberal press is here in the United States.
But check it out.
“The Washington Post” lead editorial on the agreement. Yes, it ticks
off a list of things that they dislike about it, but bottom line, they are
sort of kind of willing to embrace it, saying “it is a worthy interim
step,” saying it is “preferable to military action.” “For now,” they say.
“the prudent course is to give diplomacy its chance.”
So, the president got to announce that deal in the middle of the night
on a total surprise on a Saturday night, basically at midnight.
But then, wait! There`s more! Turns out that while the Iranian
foreign minister was in Geneva to work on the nuclear talks for the deal
that got announced in the middle of the night on Saturday, while he was
there in Geneva, he also had some time for negotiating on other stuff.
The U.N. envoy who`s in charge of trying to end the civil war in Syria
took advantage of the fact that Iran`s foreign minister was in Geneva, and
while he was there, he also found time to talk to him about maybe Iran
wanting to talk about ending the war in Syria. And so, yes, that is going
Iran has been an incredibly key part of the actual combat in Syria.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, the group that they support,
they have been crucial military allies and ground troops for Bashar al
Assad`s forces in that civil war in Syria, the government forces. Iran has
been supporting the government side in that war.
If Iran wants the Syrian civil war to end, the Syrian civil war will
end. And now, the discussion to try to make that happen has a planned
date, January 22nd. Meet you back in Geneva. Geneva 2, electric boogaloo.
And the U.N. envoy to end the Syrian war says he wants definitely Iran
to be part of those discussions. And so, that is under way as well.
And wait, there`s more! While that part of the new Cold War was
starting to end with this Iran agreement and peace talks were starting
again in the horrible three-year-long war in Syria, we also got news today
that Susan Rice, of all people, has unexpectedly and sort of secretly been
Susan Rice is not secretary of state, famously. She`s not one of
these people who does a million miles a year and has her own plane with an
air stream trailer in the middle of a cargo jet, right? That is not her
She`s national security adviser. That means you work at the White
House. You`re not a jet-setting international diplomat.
But Susan Rice, as national security adviser, personally flew to
Afghanistan this weekend. The White House did not even admit she was there
until she had already been there for two days. She`s apparently there to
work on the American diplomatic deal in Afghanistan to establish the terms
for the end of the war.
Whatever you think of the war, the American diplomatic effort to
figure out how the war ends seems to have twisted Afghan President Hamid
Karzai into kind of an Afghan pretzel.
Whether or not he ever signs off on the deal that the U.S. government
wants him to sign off on, about the end of the war and a residual force and
ongoing security arrangements and all of that, whether or not Hamid Karzai
ever signs off on it, American diplomats unexpectedly this past week did
get the loya jirga to sign off on it, with or without Hamid Karzai.
The loya jirga is the 2,000-person, the 3,000-person, giant group of
tribal elders in Afghanistan who only meet when they`re called to.
Everybody expected that they were going to be a barrier to the U.S. getting
this deal that it wants in Afghanistan, but now they`ve turned out to be
the American ally in this case. They want the deal that America wants,
even if Hamid Karzai doesn`t.
And wait, there`s more. Carol Rosenberg at “The Miami Herald” doing
some intrepid reporting this weekend on President Obama closing Guantanamo
on his own, or at least taking steps in that direction. There, of course,
are still more than 160 men still being held at Guantanamo. Fully, half of
them have been cleared for release to their home countries. With Congress
still constraining the administration`s ability to just send these guys
home, or at least to prison in their own countries, the Obama
administration now, within the past few days, has started holding what are
effectively parole board hearings for Guantanamo prisoners.
The prisoners appear on a secured video feed to Washington and
representatives from the Pentagon and the director of National
Intelligence`s Office and the State Department, even representatives from
the Homeland Security Department and the Department of Justice can all sit
there on the other end of the video feed and directly ask questions of the
prisoner and his lawyer – essentially, as a parole board hearing, as a
step toward deciding whether these guys can finally get out.
None of these guys who are getting these hearings have been tried.
None of them are going to be tried. There`s no other way to get them out,
apparently, but this weird parole board idea that the Obama administration
invented is now rolling. It is now in place. They have had their first
The idea, I think, is to have every single one of these guys left at
the prison who`s not going to get charged go through one of these hearings
so they can go home so Guantanamo can finally close.
So, that is happening. And, wait, there`s more. The American
diplomatic international effort to get rid of the chemical weapons that are
in Syria has also just had an important new development with the
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, telling the “A.P.”
that they might have come up with a technologically feasible way to get rid
of Syria`s chemical weapons. Even if no individual country actually wants
to take responsibility for them, they think they might have found a way.
The U.N.`s chemical weapons scientists say there may be a way,
essentially, to create a mobile chemical weapons incineration facility at
sea. They think they can build one on a ship that they could then sail out
into international waters, and while the thing was out in international
waters, it could there destroy Syria`s chemical weapons so no individual
country can stop that process going forward by saying not in my backyard.
It could be done in international waters, so, it could be done, since no
country seems to want to let it be done in their backyard.
So, Syria`s chemical weapons, Syria`s war, the Afghanistan war, the
prison at Guantanamo, the Iranian nuclear program all right now. It`s kind
of a lot going on right now. There`s a lot of plates on the end of those
rods that somebody`s spinning right now.
When President Obama was first elected in 2008, his contest against
John McCain, you might remember, almost felt like the easy part after his
long fought and very hard-fought primary campaign against Hillary Clinton.
It was harder for Barack Obama to get the Democratic nomination for
president than it was for him to become president once he had the
And after that very, very, very hard-fought primary campaign, it was a
rather remarkable decision by a new, young president, that he would choose
his greatest intraparty rival, Hillary Clinton, to be the new American
secretary of state, the only person high-profile enough to actually share
the spotlight with him at the time that he was elected.
And that decision, that decision to put essentially the most famous
political figure in the world other than himself in post as secretary of
state, that decision and her super high-profile tenure as world-traveling
secretary of state seemed to indicate that the Obama presidency would be a
new age of diplomacy. That, particularly with the choice of Hillary
Clinton, that was the promise of Barack Obama`s first term as president of
the United States, but it is a promise that is being fulfilled in his
And for any president who`s having a hard time getting things through
Congress, foreign policy and diplomacy always have a certain special
appeal, right? Since Congress doesn`t have a State Department, Congress
doesn`t have a national security adviser to fly to Kabul. Congress doesn`t
have a team of negotiators jetting in and out of Geneva to get stuff done
that needs to be announced at midnight on a Saturday, right?
It`s tempting for presidents to focus in these areas where they can
move not unilaterally, but at least without dragging around more than 400
fighting members of opposing parties in the building they live in.
So, on a day like today, in the second term of the Obama presidency,
we just got this remarkable snapshot of kind of what it`s like to be
president, about what a president has realized he can do and what he cannot
do, what has appeal and what no longer has appeal. You see the appeal to
the president of actually being able to make things happen on the
international stage when you can`t do at home in Washington.
And so, you get remarkable moments like today in San Francisco. The
president was raising money for the Democratic Party, but also to keep
banging the drum for something everybody thought would be done by now on
the domestic stage, immigration reform. Everybody thought that would be
done by now, but it is totally stalled.
And as the president steps up to the microphone to make his remarks
that have been advance billed as a speech on immigration, as he steps up to
the mike to make that speech, he`s able to start his speech by saying, “You
know what, first, I`ve got to mention something else. I have to rattle off
this great list of accomplishment in terms of my agenda for America as a
player on the world stage,” and he gets too that at start of this speech in
San Francisco and it is just thing after thing after thing after thing
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Before I begin, I want
to say a few words about the news from the weekend. I`m here to talk about
immigration reform, but I`m also here in my capacity as commander-in-chief.
And this weekend, together with our allies and our partners, the
United States reached an agreement with Iran on a first step towards
resolving our concerns over its nuclear program.
Now, some of you may recall that when I first ran for president, I
said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the world. And as
president and as commander-in-chief, I`ve done what I said. We ended the
war in Iraq, we brought our troops home. Osama bin Laden met justice, the
war in Afghanistan will end next year.
And as the strongest, most powerful nation on the face of the Earth,
we`ve engaged in clear-eyed and principled diplomacy, even with our
adversaries, in order to begin to destroy Syria`s chemical weapons and to
place the first real constraints in a decade on Iran`s nuclear program.
None of that`s going to be easy. Huge challenges remain, but we cannot
close the door on diplomacy and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to
the world`s problems.
We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict. And tough
talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it`s not the
right thing for our security. It is not the right thing for our security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The president today was able to start the speech in San
Francisco not talking about the advertised topic of his speech, which is a
domestic matter, but instead, he gets to talk about all of this stuff that
he is getting done on the world stage and how much of the promise of his
presidency he has been able to deliver on when it comes to international
But after all, what he was there to talk about is a domestic matter,
the unfinished, and who knows when it will be finished business of
immigration reform. And he gets to that part of the speech and then the
frustration just rains down on him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Most importantly, we will –
HECKLER: My family is separating!
OBAMA: Most importantly, we will live up –
HECKLER: I cannot see my family –
OBAMA: – to our character as a nation –
HECKLER: Our families are separated. I need your help. There are
thousands of people, immigrants –
OBAMA: That`s exactly what we`re talking about here.
HECKLER: – every single day.
OBAMA: That`s why we`re here.
HECKLER: Mr. President, please, use your executive order to halt
deportation for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country
HECKLERS: Stop deportation!
OBAMA: Thank you. All right. You guys don`t need to go. Let me
No, no, no. Let – he can stay there. Let me – hold on a second.
Hold on a second. So, you know, I respect the passion of these young
people, because they feel deeply about the concerns for their families.
Now, what you need to know, when I`m speaking, as president of the
United States, and I come to this community, is that if, in fact, I could
solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do
so. And what I`m proposing is the harder path, which is to use our
democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve, but
it won`t be as easy as just shouting. It requires us lobbying and getting
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Lobbying and getting it done on something like immigration
reform means moving the U.S. Congress to do something.
And even when it`s something that they themselves say they want to do,
it apparently does not mean it is possible for them to do it.
So, that`s door number one in American politics right now and the
frustration that you can see on the presidents face there and in the gray
hair. That`s door number one.
But behind door number two is a world of politics that is apparently
completely opposite of that. This administration diplomatically and
through administrative action basically now running the table on a whole
list of issues that were all supposed to be impossible to fix, running
those down one after the other.
Joining us is Joe Cirincione. He`s president of the Ploughshares
Mr. Cirincione, thank you so much for being here. It`s nice to see
JOE CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: My pleasure, Rachel. Thank you
for having me.
MADDOW: You are an acute observer of processes, diplomatic and
otherwise, around the world regarding nuclear proliferation and nuclear
What did the Obama administration do that the Bush administration and
their predecessors weren`t able to do in order to get this deal?
CIRINCIONE: Well, as you pointed out, when the president came into
office, he had a mess on his hands. People were comparing the legacy that
he inherited to the legacy that Abraham Lincoln had to deal with, or
Franklin Delano Roosevelt had deal with, and it didn`t make it any easier
to fix all those problems when you had your political opponents fighting
you every day, every step of the way and you had some of your allies and
friends looking aside and not helping you.
But he was determined. And remember, in his inaugural speech, his
very first day in office, to extend the hand of friendship to Iran, to
break with the Bush administration approach that thought you could change
the regime, overthrow it, coerce it into surrender. That policy led Iran
from going from zero centrifuges at the beginning of the Bush
administration to 8,000 by the time they left.
Now, at first, it didn`t work, but he stayed with it and he coupled it
with a pressure tactic of sanctions, the most crushing sanctions regime
that has ever been put on any state in peace time. But the purpose wasn`t
to crush Iran, it was to get them to the table, and he set the table. And
what you saw this weekend was the fruition of that strategy of pressure
Yes, we`re going to hammer you if you keep going on with your program,
but if you want to give it up, let`s make a deal. We can reincorporate
you, we can manage our differences. Diplomacy works.
MADDOW: Joe, what do you make of both the substantive nature of the
complaint but also the political import of Israel`s stated, loud,
vociferous objections to this? Obviously, Israel is the most important
U.S. ally in the world, probably, in terms of matters of that part of the
world, certainly, and their concerns are taken very, very seriously across
the political spectrum here.
MADDOW: What do you make of those voiced objections?
CIRINCIONE: Well, very interesting. When I debated an Israeli
defense official, retired general this weekend in Halifax at a security
conference – in fact, Jackson Diehl, the man who wrote that “Washington
Post” editorial, was there, was a moderator. And I found that publicly, he
had a very strident position, much like you hear Prime Minister Netanyahu.
But privately, he was much more pragmatic, and I think you`re seeing
Netanyahu still play this role, still posture. I`m not sure it`s real, but
he`s the only leader in the world who is raising these strident objections
to the Iran deal. Even Saudi Arabia, which has deep differences with Iran,
issued a positive statement today.
And among national security analysts, the serious people in this town,
they`re coming out one after the other in favor of this deal because it`s
just, after a while, you just have to look at facts. This deal stops
Iran`s program in its tracks it starts to roll it back, it buys time and it
lays the groundwork for a comprehensive agreement that could eliminate it
It`s a remarkable success story. Many of the politicians you see
posturing today thought this was impossible to get. They`re still trying
to catch up with that.
But you`ve got to break that paradigm, you`ve got to realize that this
president, this team, these Americans are making the world safer, ending
the chemical threat in Syria, now trying to end the nuclear threat from
Iran. And as you say, get a stable peace in Afghanistan. It`s a
remarkable string of national security successes.
MADDOW: Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, Joe,
thanks very much to be – for being here tonight. It`s nice to see you.
CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: You know, one thing that`s going to be fascinating about this
one, is that theoretically, it could be possible for the Congress to screw
up this deal that was just announced this weekend. If both Democratic and
Republican senators follow up on their threat that they`re going to impose
sanctions, even that the White House doesn`t want, that the administration
doesn`t want, they`ll find a way to do it through Congress, that would
violate the terms of the deal, that would scrap the deal.
So, even on this matter of national security and executive action,
Congress still could find a way to screw it up. Think they will?
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: On the morning of October 2nd, 2006, just outside of
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a 32-year-old milk truck driver got in his pickup
and he drove to the front of a one-room Amish schoolhouse. The man was
armed with a rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic handgun. He entered the
schoolhouse and then immediately started barricading the front door so
nobody could get out the way that he had come in.
He separated the boys from the girls in the schoolhouse. Then he
ordered ten of the girls to line up in front of the school`s chalk board.
As police started to arrive on the scene, the man then shot each of the
girls one after the other before taking his own life.
Of the 10 girls who he shot that day, five of the 10 were killed.
They were between the ages of 7 and 13. The other five girls were not
killed, but were shot and seriously injured, all of them.
That was October 2006 in Pennsylvania.
About a year and a half after that, February of 2008, the scene was
Northern Illinois University. At around 3:00 in the afternoon, a former
grad student from the school returned to campus and burst into one of the
main lecture halls on campus. He was a 27-year-old man. He was armed with
three handguns and a shotgun that he had hidden in a guitar case.
He ran on to the stage in the front of a lecture hall and he started
shooting at the students in the hall. By the time authorities arrived on
scene, only about two minutes later, five students had already been killed,
21 had already been injured and the gunman had shot and killed himself.
Written accounts of those two horrible, horrible mass shootings,
Northern Illinois University in `08, the Amish schoolhouse shooting in `06,
written accounts of those two shootings were among the items discovered in
the Newtown, Connecticut, home of the shooter in the Sandy Hook Elementary
At Adam Lanza`s home, investigators found and catalogued a “New York
Times” article from February 2008 about the shooting at Northern Illinois
University, also a book about the `06 Amish school shooting in
Pennsylvania. They also found some photocopied newspaper articles from
1891 but described a 19th-century shooting of schoolchildren.
It has been just less than a year since the shooting at Sandy Hook
that killed 20 first graders and six teachers and school staff. Today the
state`s attorney`s office in Connecticut, which has been investigating the
shooting, released what they are calling their final report on their
investigation. It`s a 44-page report. It includes evidence that, quote,
“the shooter had a preoccupation with mass shootings, in particular with
the Columbine high school shootings.”
Investigators say that they initially approached this case with an eye
toward finding out if anybody assisted the shooter or if anybody was aware
of his plans before he carried them out. They ultimately determined that
“none of the evidence developed to date demonstrates probable cause to
believe that any other people conspired with the shooter to commit these
crimes or aided and abetted him in doing so.”
There remains, of course, probably forever, the question of why? Why
target school children and educators? Why target Sandy Hook specifically?
Why did the killer at least think that he was doing this?
On that point, there appears to be no answer. From the report, quote,
“There is no clear indication why Sandy Hook Elementary School was
selected, other than perhaps its close proximity to the shooter`s home.”
The report goes into detail about the shooter`s obsession with mass
murders, his, frankly, not that unusual interest in violent video games,
his history of mental health issues over the years.
Investigators say that in the end they were unable to establish any
conclusive motive for the shooting or any conclusive explanation for it.
Yes, he was obsessed with violent imagery. Yes, he was steeped in firearms
and ammunition. Yes, he had mental health issues. And any one of those
factors may seem determinative in hindsight, let alone the combination of
But in life, in real time, as he lived his life, there do not seem to
have been overt warnings that that young man was going to become violent,
that he was going to be a threat to his own mother who he killed first on
the morning of the massacre before he went to the school. There was nobody
who saw it coming, at least that anybody can tell now.
With this report now being made public, the state`s attorney`s office
in Connecticut says their investigation into the shooting is now officially
closed. They say if anything else arises, they reserve the right to reopen
the investigation, but they do not expect that to happen.
But there is one other thing to note here. The state`s attorney makes
a specific point of saying in the report that due to Connecticut privacy
laws, quote, “This report will not list the names of the 20 children killed
in Sandy Hook Elementary School, nor will it recite 911 calls made from
within the school on that morning.”
And that point about the calls is really important, because one of the
ongoing issues around the shooting, this tragedy, is whether the 911 calls
made that day are going to be released to the public.
In September, a state board in Connecticut ordered that the 911 calls
have to be made public, but the state`s attorney, the same one who issued
this report today, appealed that ruling, which is why those calls have not
yet been released.
And today, a superior court justice said he is going to review the 911
calls himself, he, personally, the judge is going to listen to them and
then make a ruling on whether those tapes should be released to the public.
The decision from that judge could come as early as tomorrow, the day
before Thanksgiving. Two days before Thanksgiving.
It is almost impossible to believe that anybody in Connecticut
authorized by any means would release the audio of those calls to the
public. But I have to let you know, it may happen within the next 24
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Elections have consequences, we like to say, unless, of
course, election results are completely thrown out at the request of the
losing candidate, in which case, elections take a lot of time and a lot of
money, and sometimes they`re fun, but they can just be ignored.
I`m not making this up. This possibility that the apparent loser of
an election could make the argument that the whole result should just be
tossed out, that possibility is in play right now in one really important
election in one really important American state.
And that very hard-to-believe story is coming up next.
MADDOW: Ad the final tally is, 1,103,777 to 1,103,612, which means,
according to now state-certified results in the great commonwealth of
Virginia, which means that Democrats now control all five statewide elected
offices in Virginia.
Both United States senators from Virginia are Democrats. The new
governor-elect is a Democrat. The new lieutenant governor-elect is a
Democrat. And as of today, the attorney general-elect of Virginia is
slated to be a Democrat by a margin of 0.007 percent, which really makes
that state certification of the vote total today feel like it`s not
necessarily on the most solid ground, who knows, but, wow, squeak.
In Virginia, the challenger is entitled to demand a taxpayer-funded
recount whenever the margin in the race is below half a percentage point
and even if you are bad at decimals, you can tell that`s a lot closer than
half a percentage point.
So, Republican Mark Obenshain has 10 days now to decide whether he
wants to insist on a taxpayer-funded recount.
Two really interesting things about this, though, first, a potential
recount, any of these post-election wrangling takes money, right?
Throughout the campaign, Mr. Obenshain had a spending advantage over the
Democrat in this race, Mark Herring. They both have a lot of money, but
Obenshain had more.
Since the election, though, and this is interesting, the Republican
Party in the state of Virginia, according to public records, does not seem
to have contributed anything to Mark Obenshain to help him with his
potential recount effort here. He did, however, get two big freaking fat
donations, both which came after the election, both dwarfing everything
else he received from this group, which floats on a sea of Koch brothers
This group is apparently setting up the Republican attorney general
candidate in Virginia for his recount effort. This group, funded by Koch
brothers, is setting him up, not the Republican Party officially. Really
Also, whether or not Mark Obenshain demands a recount in the next ten
days in Virginia, he also has another option, even beyond the recount, and
this is where my mind is blown. This is where things become almost hard to
Beyond the recount, which you can demand if your race is close enough,
in Virginia, a losing candidate also has t option of taking his or her case
directly to the legislature. So, the loser of a statewide race can file
what`s known as a contest of the election. And in contesting the election,
the loser has to make some sort of case about the election having not been
The loser has to say that they object to the way the election was
conducted, quote, “accompanied by specific allegations,” as the “Richmond
Times-Dispatch” explained this weekend, an official challenge to the
election results, an official contest of the election, it`s not another
type of recount. It`s claiming that the election was improper, it was
improperly run. And so, forget counting. The results, such as they are,
do not matter. The election results should be seen as tainted and they
should be thrown out altogether and the winner instead should just be
chosen by the legislature.
Sort of a radical prospect, right? But that exists in Virginia state
law. The legislature would essentially become a court to hear the case and
pass judgment and install a winner in that position by majority vote. And
yes, all or most of the statewide offices in Virginia are going to be held
by Democrats starting in January, but the legislature in Virginia is still
really, really Republican, and that`s where the contest would be heard.
Out of 140 seats in the legislature, between the two bodies who would
sit together for something like this, out of 140 seats, Republicans hold 87
of the 140. They hold a big, clear majority in the Virginia legislature.
So, if the Republican candidate who`s thus far been losing this race,
if he decides to contest the result, it is the Republican majority in the
state house that will decide his fate, that will pick the attorney general
of the state.
As plum crazy as this challenge system sounds, the leader of the
Fairfax County electoral board, which is by far the largest county in the
state by population, he has been trying to raise the alarm about this
prospect for a long time now. He is the one who`s been saying for days and
days and weeks now – you guys, watch this in Virginia state law, this
could get, in his words, very interesting.
Joining us now is Brian Schoeneman. He`s secretary of the Fairfax
County electoral board. He`s a Republican.
Mr. Schoeneman, thanks very much for being here tonight. It`s a real
pleasure to have you here.
BRIAN SCHOENEMAN (R), FAIRFAX COUNTY ELECTORAL BOARD SECRETARY:
Thanks, Rachel, for letting me be on the show tonight.
MADDOW: So, the share of the state elections board today, when they
certified the results, raised questions about the results even as the
certification was happening. He singled out your county by name as the one
he was most concerned about.
Are there reasons that the state ought to be concerned about the count
and the way it went in Fairfax?
SCHOENEMAN: I don`t think so. I mean, the reality is, Fairfax County
always is under more scrutiny than any other jurisdiction in Virginia,
simply by virtue of the fact that we`re the largest. We have 238
precincts. I have over 700,000 registered voters in Fairfax County.
The next largest jurisdiction in Virginia is Virginia Beach with 94
precincts and about 300,000 registered voters.
So, any changes, any issues, any errors that we have to correct in
Fairfax County have a big impact on any of the statewide races.
MADDOW: Now, at one point in our coverage of the post-election
closeness of this race, I made fun of you on TV for insisting at first that
there were zero, zero, zero missing votes, when, in fact there were several
hundred, in fact, more than 3,000 absentee ballots that hadn`t initially
been included in county total.
What was going on there and is that resolved to everybody`s
satisfaction on beneath sides of the aisle and both campaigns?
SCHOENEMAN: That is resolved to everybody`s satisfaction at this
point, as far as I can tell. What happened, and I want to make clear, we
did not have any missing votes in Fairfax. Everything was counted on
What happened was basically the perfect storm of errors in Fairfax
County, where we had a machine breakdown that resulted in a tabulation
error that resulted in another arithmetic error where we ended up
miscounting the ballots on election night to the tune of about 3,000 votes.
And fortunately, thanks to the help of folks like David Wasserman with
the “Cook Political Report, Ben Tribbett, and Larry Sabato, and others, we
were able to figure this out. We would have figured it out in our canvas,
but we were able to figure it out immediately and get on it, and I think we
were able to resolve that to everybody`s satisfaction.
The numbers look right now and we`re looking forward to having –
assuming there is a recount – that the recount will confirm that we got
the numbers correct.
MADDOW: Do you think there is going to be a recount? And whether or
not there is a recount, do you think there`s a real prospect that the
election would be contested in the way that I described, where it would go
essentially to the legislature to decide who wins the race, regardless of
what the count is?
SCHOENEMAN: I do think that it`s likely we`re going to see a recount.
Think about it this way, we have about 165 votes right now, according to
the certified numbers from state board today that separated Senator
Obenshain from Senator Herring, Attorney General-elect Herring. All it
would take in a recount, where there`s 134 total jurisdictions in Virginia,
it would take two votes shifting in each county, in each independent city
in Virginia from Herring to Obenshain to flip this to 100-vote lead for
So in a recount, that`s entirely possible. And this is the first time
we will be doing a real recount where we are running through over 712,000,
estimated over 712,000 physical ballots through the optical scan machines a
second time. And who`s to say what`s going to happen at the end of that
And I think it`s probably a little farfetched at this point to be
talking about contests, because at that point, we really need to figure out
who`s going to be the final winner. But in the event that there`s a
recount, I think everybody really needs to pay close attention to Virginia
because you never know what`s going to happen.
MADDOW: And part of the reason that I am paying attention to the
contest probability or possibility is because you raised it and I feel like
you`ve been raising things all along that have proven to be interesting
fields of inquiry, at least for reporting on this ongoing thing. I mean,
it`s not common that this happens, but it has happened in the past in
And I have to ask you, I mean, the recount, whether or not it happens
– and I`m with you in thinking that it probably will – the recount result
is unpredictable by anybody. The contest result is pretty predictable. If
you`ve got 87 out of 140 people in the legislature who are one party and
they`re deciding between two potential candidates of one party – I don`t
like to think that people would decide on partisan grounds, but history and
common sense sort of shows that the Republican candidate would have an
Why does Virginia have this system that seems so screwy? I know
you`re not alone having it, but why do you think it`s there?
SCHOENEMAN: I think it`s there because we want to make sure we get
things right, and in the event of major issues that come to light in an
election – as I recall, last time we had a contest in Virginia was 1979.
I was 2 years old. And it was a state Senate race down in Norfolk. And
there were allegations of major errors, machine breakdowns and all sorts of
things that could really have had an impact on the result of that race, and
you can`t rerun a race. You really can`t have another Election Day because
everything has changed in the last two weeks or so since the election.
So, at that point, what do you do? You`ve got to get it right. So,
the best thing to do, and I think the most rational thing to do is kick it
to the general assembly where you have a body made up of folks who have
been elected by the voters of the commonwealth and let them sit as a trial
court and decide what happens.
And I know it`s common sense and I know there`s a lot of cynicism in
terms of partisanship, but I know folks in the general assembly, I ran for
the assembly myself in 2011, I trust that the people in the general
assembly would do their best to be as non-partisan and as realistic as
possible, recognizing that the fundamental legitimacy of whoever gets
elected to that office is at stake and if they make a mistake, or if they
appear overly partisan, it`s going to handicap that person doing their job
the next four years.
MADDOW: See, I believe what you`re saying in principle, and my
cynicism rises to the floor when I remember in that race in 1979,
ultimately, what happened was the party that controlled the majority in the
general assembly picked the guy from their own party. And so, yes, your
belief in this actually makes me feel good and I`m glad you`re an elections
official, but I don`t have the same faith.
Brian Schoeneman, secretary of the Fairfax County Electoral Board,
who`s handled this stressful situation with good cheer from the instance,
thank you for your time tonight. I appreciate it.
SCHOENEMAN: I appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right, what do you do with a drunken sailor, seriously?
Not a rhetorical question. And the story involves men in balaclavas in
very, very, very cold water in the Olympics.
MADDOW: Lest Canada`s largest city hogged all the notoriety, spare a
thought for little Monticello, New York, west of Poughkeepsie, population
7,000 on a good day. The mayor of little Monticello, New York, earlier this
month was charged with driving while intoxicated, and resisting arrest, and
declining a breathalyzer test. Police then took him into custody where he
was additionally charged with doing this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is at the desk? Who is at the desk? Who`s at
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Who is at the desk? For the record, the mayor of Monticello
has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, including one about
But at least America is now doing our part to remind public officials
of the perils of drinking to excess while in very visible public positions
Canada, check. Upstate New York, check. Next up, Russian guys in
balaclavas. Hold on, that`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR: Investigators this morning say the explosion that ripped
through a Greenpeace protest ship was sabotaged. The ship sunk while still
in its berth in New Zealand. Navy divers say a detonated bomb attached to
the outside of the hull caused the explosion. The Rainbow Warrior was set
to sail to the Pacific in protest of France`s nuclear testing there. One
crew member was killed. 12 others escaped.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We soon learned that it was in fact two bombs that ripped
apart the ship in 1985 and sunk it in a matter of four minutes. Initially
there was suspicion surrounding the French and their potential involvement
in the attack, because that Greenpeace ship that got sunk was preparing at
the time to protest a French nuclear test site. France initially denied
the charges vehemently.
But then two months after the explosion, the French prime minister
admitted two of the country`s intelligence agency actually did plant the
bombs. The French defense minister got canned in the resulting scandal.
The captain of that Greenpeace ship that got bombed back in 1985 was
this man, Captain Peter Wilcox. At the time of that bombing he was just 32
But all of those years later he has stuck with it. About two months
ago, the same captain, Peter Wilcox, was at the helm of this ship in the
Arctic, also a Greenpeace ship, also on a save the Earth kind of mission,
this time concerning oil drilling in the sea above the Arctic circle when
this happened. A handful of green peace activists tried to board a new
Russian oil platform above the Arctic. The Russians turned fire hoses on
the protesters to try to knock them off the rig.
And then the Russian coast guard arrived and they opened fire. They
shot at the protesters. Nobody was killed or injured but the Russians
fired shots. They held everybody at gun point. They started taking the
activists into custody.
This is the Russian coast guard officers. They`re in military
uniforms and balaclavas. You can see that they are holding guns, at one
point holding a knife.
That all happened at the scene of the oil rig. The following day, the
Russian coast guard then boarded the Greenpeace ship. From a helicopter
they repelled down on to the Greenpeace boat. They were wearing their
balaclavas, guns in hand. The Russians arrested all 30 people onboard the
ship, including the captain, they threw them all in jail in Russia,
threatening with charges that could lead to 15 years in prison or later
seven years in prison.
It has taken the 30 activists spending weeks in jail, that as of now,
all but one of them have been let out on bail, including as of this
weekend, Captain Peter Wilcox.
This is interesting, his first interview after released from Russian
prison he was able to explain what happened after these moments when the
Russian coast guard repelled down on their ship. He said the Russians
weren`t wearing insignia of any organization. They didn`t have any idea
who they were. He says they held machine guns at the activists.
And according to the Greenpeace folks and the captain, each crew
member on the ship was locked in their room on the ship while the Russians
started searching everywhere, all the rooms, including the personal cabins
and everywhere else on board.
And then, according to a Greenpeace guys, who got all locked away in
their quarters, the next thing that happened is the Russians got super
hammered. Right there on board the ship. First thing they did is search
the ship and everybody`s cabins and steal all the liquor and proceeded to
drink it. Said Captain Wilcox, they were, quote, “quite drunk.” Another
activist said the next day they still just stink of alcohol.
So, this is apparently how Russia rolls. And starting in about 10
weeks, they`re going to be hosting the entire world for the Winter Olympic
Do you think the final Greenpeace guy whose booze they stole will
still be in jail on the night the opening ceremony start?
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O`Donnell.
Have a great night.
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