The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/16/13
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you at home for joining us this
You know, the numbers are in. It is official now. The congressional
election last week in Massachusetts appears to have been the lowest turnout
congressional election in Massachusetts history. Only 13 percent of people
turned out – 13 percent of voters in that district turned out to choose a
replacement for Ed Markey, when he got kicked upstairs to the U.S. senate
in a special election earlier this year.
So, yes, Massachusetts now has a new member of Congress, one of the
very few women that Massachusetts has ever elected to federal office, and
that is very exciting, except that nobody actually bothered to show up when
it came time to decide whether or not that would happen.
Do not despair, though. It turns out. This is not the new normal.
There is no reason to extrapolate from that result in Massachusetts and
say, ah, that`s the way it`s going to be now.
And we know that, because less than a week after that election, this
past weekend, on Saturday, Rhode Island proved them wrong. Saturday was a
terrible, terrible day on the East Coast in terms of weather. Just one of
those storms that, I don`t know, maybe looked pretty in retrospect on
Sunday when you could see all the snow that had fallen, but when it was
coming down on Saturday, it was freaking windy and icy and slushy, and it
just got worse and worse all day long, and it hurt to walk outside.
Saturday was like having a snow cone mashed in your face by somebody in a
And on Saturday, in the middle of that weather, in the little town of
Exeter, Rhode Island, they had huge voter turnout. Even in that storm,
even though it was a Saturday, even though all they were voting on was a
little town-specific, municipal matter. They nearly tripled the turnout.
They nearly tripled the voter turnout that Massachusetts had been able
to muster for a congressional race that was held just a few days earlier on
a normal Tuesday, like a normal election and everything. Exeter put them
to shame. Exeter, Rhode Island, has 5,000 registered voters, more or less,
more than 1,800 of them turned out in the storm on Saturday to vote in
their little, local election that may or may not have been about guns.
Rhode Island is really small, right? Rhode Island is so little that
if you are not from Rhode Island, you tend to think of it as just one big
place. But there are 39 cities and towns inside the great state of Rhode
Island. It`s not just one thing.
And of Rhode Island`s 39 municipalities, one of them, only one of
them, the town of Exeter, doesn`t have its own city or town police force.
So, in the town of Exeter, Rhode Island, if you call the police for
anything, there`s no local police to respond. It`s actually the state
troopers who respond in Exeter.
And because there is no local law enforcement infrastructure of any
kind, there`s no chief of police, there`s no police department, Exeter,
Rhode Island, alone has a bureaucratically awkward issue that its town
council has been trying to fix.
And the issue is this: when you want to get a concealed carry permit
for a gun, you`re supposed to get the okay for that, the permit and
everything, from your local police department. Exeter, Rhode Island,
doesn`t have a local police department. Practically speaking, that means
they do not have access to the databases and computer terminals and other
things that make it easy to issue the permit and do the background checks.
Police departments tend to have those things. Exeter doesn`t have a police
department, and so, they don`t have them. The town clerk and the town
council were trying to take on those responsibilities about those permits
themselves, but they just don`t have access to the information and
equipment to be able to do it.
So, the little town of Exeter made the decision that just as state
police handle police issues for the town, maybe the state attorney
general`s office could please handle this permit issue for the town. They
did not want to change anything materially about whether or not people get
okayed for permits or not. They just wanted somebody to do it who has the
ability to do it, because they don`t have the ability to do it.
And so, they made this request to change the permit paperwork part of
it to the attorney general`s office instead of being at the local level.
That`s the change they wanted to make. And then all hell broke loose.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really don`t understand why you guys are
interfering in this whatsoever. It`s, you know, if you don`t like it,
don`t be in office. If you don`t want to do this, don`t! If you`re
unwilling, unable to do a job, then go get a different job, but we`re not
going to let –
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
We seriously just need you to just do what it is you`re supposed to be
doing and quit making extra little hoops that we all have to jump through
just because you don`t like what you`re doing!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
We don`t need other people coming in and butting in to our business.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The town council in Exeter did not even think that they were
making a change that was about guns. They were literally just arranging
for somebody else to handle the paperwork, but pro-gun activists decided to
make an example out of this little town, they`re going to make an example
out of Exeter, Rhode Island. This was war.
And they decided that they would recall all the Democrats on the town
council who voted for this anti-Second Amendment tyranny in the form of a
small bureaucratic change that would not affect gun rights at all.
And so, cue the national attention from the gun lobby, cue the angry
petitions, cue the hundreds of people turning out for what previously had
been sleepy town hall meetings.
But of all these people screaming about it nationwide and signing
petitions and denouncing the town and packing those meetings, very few of
them apparently proved to actually be from Exeter, Rhode Island, because
when the actual voters of the actual turned out in the middle of that storm
on Saturday in really unexpectedly high numbers to vote on that recall
effort, they said no to the recall for all four of the town counselors who
the gun folks were trying to recall, Exeter, Rhode Island, said no. No,
that those town counselors will be allowed to keep their jobs, thank you
They not only said no, they said no loudly. Not only was it a big
turnout this weekend in Exeter, Rhode Island, the margin was big, too.
Exeter voted for keeping its councilors in their seats by a 2-1 margin.
So, that was Exeter. And that was Rhode Island, on Saturday. The
state digs out of a particularly cold and slushy winter storm, the town
joins the nation in marking the one-year anniversary of the mass killing of
first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
That anniversary was Saturday, which is the day Exeter voted.
And the little town of Exeter, when they voted, soundly rejected the
gun lobby`s effort to demonize its town council for trying to take the
smallest and least offensive step possible toward very minor reform of the
regulations surrounding gun ownership.
REPORTER: As the snow falls outside on a frigid Saturday night, the
heat is on inside Exeter town hall. Two sealed envelopes containing the
results are already in, and after the third one`s delivered, it`s a matter
of minutes before the fate of four council members is known.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, they will keep their seats.
REPORTER: The council members are relieved and excited to get back to
work. They say they will continue to champion their stance on weapons
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m sure if you asked each one of us if we would
like the legislature to continue to consider that change in the state
statute, I think every one of us would ask that, yes, they do that.
REPORTER: Now, the city council, complete with its original five
members, passes along a message of gratitude to the residents of the town.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Council members, the volunteers from around the
state and the citizens of Exeter who came out to vote, we appreciate it.
MADDOW: That little, snowy, failed recall effort in Rhode Island this
weekend is basically the opposite of what happened in the state of Colorado
this past September.
You might remember that after Newtown, Democrats in the Colorado state
legislature passed laws to limit access to high-capacity ammunition
magazines and also to require background checks for gun purchases.
Everywhere in the country, you already have to have a background check if
you buy a gun at a gun store. Colorado decided this year that you should
not be able to evade that background check by buying the gun on Craigslist
or at a gun show or something. For every gun sale in the state, not just
the ones in gun stores, but for every gun sale in the state, there ought to
be a background check.
And just like in Rhode Island, when those bills passed the Colorado
legislature and they were signed in to law by Governor John Hickenlooper,
again, all hell broke loose with the gun lobby calling it war and calling
it tyranny and launching recall efforts against state legislators who had
supported those bill they tried to go after a whole lot of Colorado
legislators. Most of the recall attempts did not get off the ground, but
in two cases, they were successful. For two state senators, their support
for those gun laws cost them their seats.
The Colorado gun lobby the next day posted these tombstones online,
bragging about how they had killed off those two senators. In November, a
third state senator quit, rather than face a recall herself. She quit so
her party could replace her and then that person could run next year
without having that gun vote on their record.
And you know, the Colorado recalls, especially if you ask anybody in
the Beltway, Colorado recalls have become the story about gun policy after
Newtown, right? What happened in Colorado, those two recalls, they have
become central to the understanding of the impossibility of getting any
real reform in this country.
Since those recalls, though, we have also learned something else
really important about what changed in Colorado, and that`s the actual data
on what Colorado`s change in the law did. So, it used to be that in a
private sale of a gun in Colorado, there`d be no background check. Since
the laws went into effect in July, there have been about 4,500 private
sales of guns in Colorado.
But now because of the new law, there has been a background check, and
98 percent of the time, whoever was buying the gun went through the
background check fine. They got okayed to buy the gun. Turns out, they`re
not a felon, they don`t have a domestic violence protection order against
them or something, they have a right to own a gun, and so, the transaction
went through, 98 percent of the time, fine.
But 2 percent of the time, since that law went into effect, the person
going through the background check to buy a gun in a private sale didn`t
clear that background check.
And so, that person should not have been able to buy that gun. And
because of this law, that person was not able to buy that gun. This means
people with domestic violence protection orders, people who are convicted
felons, people who have had their right to own a firearm legally stripped
away, and it turned up in the background check.
There have been 72 people in Colorado who have tried to buy a gun
illegally through a private sale since this law passed – 72 people who
were stopped from doing so because of this law.
Does that feel like tyranny? Do you need the convicted felon and the
guy with the domestic violence protection order against him to be able to
illegally get new guns?
Under the old law, they illegally could get new guns. Under the new
law, they can`t, and 72 of them have been stopped.
Is that tyranny?
On this background check issue, nothing new is illegal that was not
illegal before. It`s just that people are less able to get away with it.
It`s just that people now can get caught for trying to illegally purchase
weapons when they used to be able to get away with it without anybody
knowing and it`s working. It has worked 70-plus times since the law went
into effect in July.
And for that, two state senators had to lose their jobs. That law was
them tyrannically crossing the line.
The front page of “The New York Times” gives big national platform to
a group of sheriffs who say they not only oppose any new gun reforms, but
they will refuse to enforce them, presenting themselves as the other side
of the gun debate. Anybody who wants to reform gun laws is going to have
to answer to these sheriffs.
Now, this is not noted in “The New York Times” front-page profile of
these guys, being the gun reform opposition now, but it should be noted
that almost 2-1, almost every one of them mentioned in the article is also
The guy in the lead of the article is the sheriff of Weld County,
running as – he`s running for office right now as a Tea Party Republican
for state senate in Colorado. He would prefer to not join the Colorado
state senate. He would prefer to join a different state senate. He would
prefer that his county and other rural counties that he says aren`t served
by the Denver metropolitan area, he would prefer that they secede from
Colorado and form a new state of their own.
The next named sheriff in the article is also a secessionist. His
name is John Lopey. He`s the sheriff of Siskiyou County, in far northern
California. He, too, wants to have his county secede from California and
form a new state, a new state called Jefferson.
Here he is giving one of their Jefferson state talks. Independence
Day is coming.
Here`s the Siskiyou County secession Facebook page. This is them
casting their vote for what the new state bird should be for the new 51st
state of Jefferson that they want to form after they split off from
California. They seem partial – I think this is maybe an osprey? I think
maybe this is their county vote?
“The Times” today also gives a shout out to Richard Mack, who used to
be a sheriff but now runs a cottage industry, traveling the country telling
America to wake up from federal tyranny, advancing his theory that county
sheriffs are the highest law enforcement authorities in the country, that
Supreme Court rulings do not apply to county sheriffs and sheriffs can
decide for themselves what laws they want to enforce and which ones they do
not want to enforce based on their own personal views of what seems
constitutional to them.
This is the other side of the argument. One year after Newtown, this
is the state of the argument. If it seems like there is an imbalance
between the practical and the radical, there is. There is. That imbalance
exists on this really important issue.
And when that kind of imbalance exists on any policy issue, you
usually expect the pragmatic side to win, at least in the long term. But
in the now term, in terms of what`s happening right now, it`s the wild-eyed
secessionist guys who are getting quoted as authorities on this issue on
the front page of the “The New York Times” and they`re quoted in your town,
too, like in Plattsburg, New York. There`s that ex-sheriff with delusions
of grandeur, lecturing your local sheriff`s department that, you know what,
they answered to no one, that laws don`t apply to them. That you can just
enforce what you want to enforce, and the federal government is a tyranny.
These guys are a traveling road show. They`re wide-eyed, wild-eyed
secessionists who want to break up the country into more than 50 states so
they can get gun freedom that they`ve been demanding all this time and who
are telling local sheriffs that laws don`t apply to them. The Supreme
Court is meaningless. You just make it up at the county level.
That`s the gun rights side right now, right?
Two side of this argument are really, really mismatched and out of
balance, but it is the super unbalanced side that now, at least for now
seems to be winning. It`s amazing.
Joining us right now is Rhonda Field. She`s a Colorado state
representative. She represents parts of Aurora, where, of course, 12
people were killed in a movie theater last year. Her son was gunned down
in June 2005 before he was set to testify as a key witness in the murder
trial of his best friend.
Representative Field sponsored three gun reform bills that passed the
Colorado legislature this year.
Representative Fields, thank you very much for being with us tonight.
I really appreciate your time.
STATE REP. RHONDA FIELDS (D), COLORADO: Thank you, Rachel, for having
me. It`s an honor.
MADDOW: I`m trying to sort of take the temperature of this debate as
a country in terms of understanding not just what`s happened in terms of
policy but who`s winning the argument a year after Newtown. What do you
think about that writ large for the country? And what do you think
Colorado`s experience should tell the rest of the country?
FIELDS: You know, Colorado is on the right track, and we`re doing the
right thing to keep our community and our neighborhoods safe. We passed
gun legislation that I think that`s common sense, it`s very reasonable.
And to have our sheriffs say that they`re not going to uphold the law to me
As a citizen, I don`t get a chance to pick and choose what laws I want
to obey or comply with. They just need to do their job.
MADDOW: In terms of the ongoing political debate in Colorado,
obviously, there were two recalls of state senators that were successful, a
bunch of others that didn`t get off the ground, but two of them were
successful, and the third Democratic legislator decided to resign rather
than face the recall effort.
Does that mean that the momentum is still on that side of the argument
or do you feel like as they continue, that side continues to push that
tactic and those strategies that they`ll continue to rack up victories?
FIELDS: You know, what we have here in the state of Colorado is great
leadership. And with leadership sometimes there is consequences. It
breaks my heart that my two colleagues were recalled and one was resigned,
but I think that we`re on the right side of history, we`re doing what`s
right for our schools, we`re doing what`s right for our neighborhood.
And at this point, we`re not looking back. I mean, we`re going to
claim the future and we`re going to be continuing to look for solutions.
MADDOW: We`ve had as a country far, far, far too much experience with
mass violence, but Colorado and the Aurora area in particular has had an
excessive share of those incidents, including recently at Arapahoe high
school, obviously Columbine and the movie theater murders last year.
Does – I guess, does the political debate, the conversation about
this resonate differently in your district and where you`re from because of
that personal history, that personal connection of so many people in your
community to these almost unimaginable incidents?
FIELDS: Yes, I believe it does, you know. I`m all too familiar with
what it feels like to be a victim of gun violence. And what happened at
the Aurora theater shooting, when a gunman went into a theater and he shot
58 people, wounded them, killed 12 people because he had a high-capacity
We know that the only reason that those guns exist is for them to kill
as many people as possible in a short amount of time. And we have to do
something to address this type of violence.
MADDOW: Colorado State Representative Rhonda Fields, who represents
Aurora, Colorado – thank you very much for being with us tonight. It`s
nice to have you here.
FIELDS: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right, a big, big ruling about the NSA spying program came down
this afternoon. And the traffic jam that haunted Fort Lee, New Jersey,
still haunts New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a way that we could not
have foreseen even before today. That story is getting bigger and weirder
by the day.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Edward Snowden first let loose his huge leak of information
on the NSA and its previously secret surveillance methods back in June. In
the six months since then, it has felt like there have been further
revelations and some further political repercussions almost every week,
some of them based directly on Mr. Snowden`s information, some of them in
reaction to his leaked revelations.
But before today, there had been no legal consequences whatsoever of
those leaks and the additional information they turned up. Today, a
federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the
government`s secret gathering of data on U.S. phone calls is likely
In a preliminary injunction, the judge ordered the government to stop
collecting data, not on everybody, but at least on two plaintiffs who
brought the case.
This is not the only challenge on NSA surveillance methods that`s
working through the courts, but this is the first one that has, forgive me,
slapped the NSA aside its head and made them actually stop something that
they were otherwise doing.
Joining us to help us understand the significance of this ruling is
Charlie Savage, Washington reporter for “The New York Times”, who`s been
covering national security and wrote about this development today.
Charlie, Mr. Savage, thanks very much for being here.
: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, this is the first time that a judge in a regular court
has ruled against the NSA`s surveillance program. There have been rulings
before, though, or at least arguments on this subject before the FISA
court, before a secret court, right?
CHARLIE SAVAGE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That`s right. The secret
surveillance court, known as the FISA court or the FISC, has repeatedly
authorized this one secret program going back to the Bush administration.
That court looks very different than this one.
MADDOW: In terms of the way that those court proceedings would have
been differently – would have been different, what`s the difference, I
guess procedurally, between this regular U.S. district court ruling today
and what would have been argued before the secret court in the past?
SAVAGE: Well, both involve Article 3 judges, but the way the FISA
court works is only the Justice Department, only the government is allowed
to come before the court and make arguments. It all happens in secret, and
the court hears the government`s point of view, doesn`t hear the
adversarial point of view, and then rules.
And if it rules in favor of the government, there`s no one there to
appeal. So, it`s a very stacked procedure when you`re talking about these
large programmatic surveillance programs like this call log metadata
program we`re talking about.
MADDOW: Obviously, this is just a preliminary injunction from a
district court judge, the appeals court above him, and then the ruling on
the merits, the appeals court above him and, of course, the Supreme Court.
There`s lots more legal wrangling that could happen even over just this one
Do you think this is interesting just because it`s the first of its
kind, or could this be substantively significant in terms of what the NSA`s
allowed to do?
SAVAGE: Well, you know, it`s an injunction, but the judge is not
enforcing it right now. He`s giving the government time to appeal, which
he thinks will take six months or so.
So, on the ground, nothing is really going to change immediately
because of this ruling, but I still think it`s a big deal for a couple of
reasons. It`s starting a conversation which will probably continue in
several other similar lawsuits in other courts around the country that`s
going to go wind its way towards the Supreme Court about whether in the
modern world, with smartphones, ubiquitous in our pockets, we really don`t
have any fourth amendment privacy rights over our calling data and
associated data, like locational data. That`s a principle that dates back
to a 1979 Supreme Court case that the government has relied on for this
program, really, the dark ages of communications technology, and this may
be cracking the door towards reconsidering that for the 21st century.
I also think that there`s been such a cascade of revelations about the
NSA is doing this, the NSA is doing that, it`s doing other things overseas,
it`s using cookies, whatever, that the original Snowden leak, which was
this program, that all Americans` phone calls, purely domestic phone calls,
records of them are being collected and stored by the government for five
years and analyzed, that really remains for an American privacy rights
perspective the most important revelation, and it`s been sort of buried
under this deluge of other revelations about other programs and other stuff
that`s happening overseas.
I think this very dramatic, long ruling today will serve to sort of
re-elevate the original leak at a time when Congress is debating whether to
keep it, to entrench it, to scrap it or overhaul it in some way.
MADDOW: Is there anything significant about the leaks, Mr. Snowden`s
leak about this program in particular, that made this court case possible,
the fact that some of these things were made public and things that the
government was doing were confirmed by the government for the first time
after his leaks, did that allow for some of this legal wrangling to happen,
or would this have happened whether or not these things had ever been
SAVAGE: This would not have happened if these things had not been
admitted to, but without the leak, we wouldn`t have known this was
happening. There was a “USA Today” article that hinted at this in 2006 and
then sort of got forgotten, and there was, in sort of what had happened to
this program after the Bush administration had gone under the water.
We had some senators in the intelligence committees who were warning
obliquely that something strange was happening with the Patriot Act with
the government and they weren`t allowed to talk it. I filed a FOIA lawsuit
and the judge read what was happening in a classified in-camera by himself
hearing and dismissed the case without them knowing what was going on.
It took the leak by Edward Snowden to really drive this into the
public consciousness and force the government, essentially, to acknowledge
what was going on, which created the opportunity for people to challenge it
as well as because the government itself has described it as comprehensive,
systemic, giving legal standing to various plaintiffs to say, well, if it`s
everyone`s call, it`s my call, therefore I have standing to put this before
a regular court.
MADDOW: That standing issue has been so fascinating to watch, the way
things got dismissed in the past, because nobody could prove what they
suspected the government was doing to them, that tipping over and changing
this year. It always seemed like it was going to have big implications.
Now we know.
Charlie Savage, Washington reporter for “The New York Times,” thanks
for helping us understand this tonight. Appreciate it.
SAVAGE: Thank you.
MADDOW: The George Washington Bridge traffic jam story that started
as the teeny, teeny, tiny, tiniest little political story in the entire
world has just gotten enormous.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: We reviewed our office expenses the other day – pens, paper,
mechanical pencils for me, remarkable number of highlighters, but also,
weirdly, a lot of Web sites. One of the things that we find hardest to
explain to the accountants on the 50-whateverish floor here in this
building is our show`s history of benevolent domain name squatting. Over
the years, we`ve had the occasion to acquire all of these different website
names, all of which redirect to our show website.
Like, for example, when Tennessee passed a law that banned the
condoning of gateway sexual activity, what was that all about? In the
thought that the state of Tennessee and maybe Governor Bill Haslam might
some day want to explain what they were thinking, we bought for them
gatewaytosexualactivity.com, which we publicly offered to the state of
Tennessee and its governor. We still have it for you guys, if you wit, but
they never called.
There was also that time when my friend, Michael Steele, was still
chairman of the National Republican Party, and he said this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: It`s crazy, nonsense, and
empathetic. I`ll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: And so began empathizerightonyourbehind.com. Michael Steele
even works here now at MSNBC, but he so far has not had use for
empathizerightonyourbehind.com. When he does, I will be keeping it safe
I still think the best one we ever bought was for former presidential
candidate, former senator, former actor – Fred Thompson.
When Fred Thompson started doing his very, very serious renew the Bush
tax cuts ads, that led naturally and obviously to
fredthompsonisinherentlyfunny.com, which would be a great thing to own if
you were Fred Thompson. Come and get it, sir! It`s yours for the taking.
So far, he has shown no interest.
And so, we just keep paying our 8 bucks a year, whatever it is for all
of those sites, which we have to explain at the end of the year every year.
And I mean no harm. We mean no harm by holding these things. At
worst, we`re just teasing, right?
But in the Chris Christie administration in New Jersey, when they do
that same kind of thing, turns out, they are not teasing – and the fact
that we know that means that the strangest political scandal in the country
right now just got stranger.
Hold on. That very, very New Jersey story is straight ahead. Stay
MADDOW: Bruce Springsteen, obviously, is the boss. He is the New
Jersey icon to end all New Jersey icons. Rutgers University in New Jersey
offers a freshman seminar on the biblical foundations of Bruce Springsteen
lyrics, I kid you not.
But if you want more information about Bruce Springsteen`s famousness
and you go to the obvious place to get that information, you go to
brucespringsteen.com, you will not find it there, because there is nothing
at brucespringsteen.com – because Mr. Springsteen does not own that web
address. He tried very hard to own it. When he found somebody else had
registered his name as a website, he fought the case up to the World
Intellectual Property Organization, Arbitration and Mediation Center, but
had a lost.
And now the official Bruce Springsteen Web site is dot-net, not
brucespringsteen.com, but rather, dot-net, which makes you feel like you`re
talking on a flip phone in the 1990s when you type it in.
When you don`t ask and register somebody else`s domain name, what
would be their address for their own Web site, that`s called cyber
squatting. Theoretically, you can cyber squat someone in a nice way, as
in, hey, I noticed you hadn`t bought the web address with your name in it,
I bought it for you, here it is.
Theoretically, you can cyber squat for that nice reason. More often,
people are doing it for the money, hoping the person who got their name
stolen will want to pay to get the use of their own name back. Even worse,
you can impersonate someone online if you bought a web address with their
name in it – or you can try to capitalize somehow on other people`s
interest in that person, or you can steal their name just to be annoying so
that person can never use their own name for their own Web site on the
And a political version of that particular kind of creepiness seems to
be the new and strange twist in the New Jersey political scandal that keeps
getting weirder by the day. This is the controversy about whether a small
city in New Jersey was being politically punished when an appointee of New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie, otherwise inexplicably, ordered the
shutdown of two of the entrance lanes on to the world`s busiest bridge,
thus backing up traffic so badly into the town of Fort Lee that the whole
town was essentially gridlocked for almost a whole week.
Although there were initial claims that maybe some sort of traffic
study was the explanation for what happened to Fort Lee that week back in
September, the executive director of the agency that runs the bridge says,
you know what, no, there was no traffic study.
Two weeks before the traffic Armageddon shutdown, the Democratic mayor
of Fort Lee, New Jersey, apparently had rejected requests to endorse Chris
Christie in his bid for re-election as New Jersey governor. Now, using the
busiest bridge in the world to gridlock a small city as political payback
to that city`s mayor? That seems insane, right?
But that explanation, as crazy as it sounds, is not going away,
because in the now weeks-long investigation of what happened to Fort Lee
back in September, nobody in the Chris Christie administration has come up
with a better explanation for why those lanes got closed on that bridge.
Even after the governor accepted the resignation of his top two appointees
to that agency, there has still been no explanation for why they had to
resign. What exactly happened there? What happened there, if it wasn`t
This is David Wildstein, a high school classmate of New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie. He was given a job at the port authority by
Governor Christie. He is the man who ordered the bridge closure, and he
was the first guy to quit as a result of this controversy. Interesting
guy, as it turns out.
Over the weekend, “The Star Ledger” in Newark reported that that job
Mr. Wildstein got as a political appointee at a salary of more than
$150,000 a year, that job that he got has no job description. Also, the
response to a public records request showed that in his hiring file, there
was never a resume.
There was never a resume on file for Mr. Wildstein, a man with no
resume, hired to do a six-figure job that has no job description. So, who
knows why Chris Christie hired him or what he hired him to do. We do not
exactly know what job this guy was supposed to be doing.
But now, we do know more about how exactly he did his work. This
weekend, “The Bergen County Record” reported that while David Wildstein was
working as a high-level political appointee at the port authority, he was
also buying a bunch of domain names on the side, Web site names, targeting
people and registering their names on the internet without their
permission. This seems to be kind of one of the ways he did business.
So, after “The Bergen County Record” published a profile of Mr.
Wildstein last year, Mr. Wildstein apparently showed them how much he
disliked that by going after the reporter who wrote the profile. The
reporter`s name was Shawn Boburg.
After the profile came out, David Wildstein went online and bought
shawnboberg.com. Now, if you go to shawnboberg.com, it redirects you not
to anything about Shawn Boberg or the newspaper where he works, but instead
directs you to the Web site of the newspaper that is the chief rival to
Shawn Boberg`s paper.
Apparently, David Wildstein does this kind of thing all the time.
This past April, about a week after the port authority came to a settlement
with the FAA, a settlement that Mr. Wildstein apparently did not like, Mr.
Wildstein again purchased domain names using other people`s names.
The vice chairman of the Port Authority was involved in that
settlement. His name is Scott Rechler. Same goes with his adviser, David
Garten. But now, davidgarten.com and scottrechler.com, now those names are
owned by David Wildstein.
The Port Authority executive director whose named is Pat Foye.
PatFoye.com was purchased by David Wildstein. He even bought up the name
of the FAA`s associate administrator of airports. ChristaFornarotto.com.
Do you think anybody needs that name for any reason if your name isn`t
Christa Fornarotto? Really, this David Wildstein guy needs that Web site?
I mean, Christa Fornarotto is kind of a unique name. It`s not a
famous person`s name. It`s not the name of a company. It`s not Bruce
You only buy that to specifically annoy one person and one person
only. The site with her name as the web address takes you to the Web site
for the New York Yankees, who apparently are David Wildstein`s favorite
Neener-neener! Hope you never wanted to set up a website. I`ve got
Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of New Jersey this year
was a woman who also has a unique name, Milly Silva. Millysilva.com now
also takes you to the Yankees home page because Chris Christie appointee
David Wildstein is squatting on her site and he took it.
Also, Democratic strategist in New Jersey, Bob Sommer, somebody who
used to write for David Wildstein`s politics blog site, his name is being
squatted by Wildstein as well. Bob Sommer was asked if he had any idea
this bobsommer.com thing was going on. His response was, quote, “Wow! I
am shocked that someone who I worked with very closely has taken my domain
name without my knowledge.”
A spokesperson for Governor Christie said today that the campaign for
re-election for Governor Christie and the governor himself, they all had no
idea this was going on, no knowledge of it at all.
As this Chris Christie administration story gets weirder by the day,
the big picture here, the reason the story is still around to get weirder
and weirder by the day is that there is still no explanation forthcoming
from anyone, for why two lanes on the busiest bridge in the world had to be
randomly closed, causing traffic mayhem for a week, if it wasn`t just a
neener-neener, vindictive political move.
Governor Christie has been insistent from the beginning that the idea
this was political retribution is a ludicrous idea. I mean, can you
imagine somebody in the Chris Christie administration being so petty, just
over politics? Can you imagine that kind of a petty, vindictive, nasty
little abuse of power? Can you imagine it?
It`s getting easier to imagine now, because this is not Shawn Boburg`s
Web site, and this is not the Web site of the executive director of the
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Something rotten and petty and
vindictive has been going on in New Jersey. How long until we get an
explanation that everyone believes?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I worked the cones actually on
that. Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was
in overalls and the hat, so I wasn`t – but I actually the guy working the
cones out there.
You really are not serious with that question?
What happened? No, I haven`t.
STATE REP. JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: My question to you is, is
the reason you chose not to exercise that discretion is because you feared
for your employment?
ROBERT DURANDO, GWB GENERAL MANAGER: I was concerned what the
reaction would be if I did not follow his directive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the general manager of the George Washington Bridge,
the busiest bridge in the world, saying he feared for his job essentially
if he didn`t follow orders that were given by a long time Chris Christie
ally, to close down those lanes of traffic heading toward the bridge,
closing down those two lanes essentially gridlocked the city of Fort Lee,
New Jersey for almost a week.
Why did it happen and was it a political decision?
Joining us now is New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg. She
represents Fort Lee and she says that she will be asking the U.S. Congress
to investigate whether these closures were politically motivated.
State Senator Weinberg, thank you very much for being here.
STATE SEN. LORETTA WEINBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Why ask Congress? Why would that be the right investigatory
body? There has been a lot of questions asked in New Jersey already.
WEINBERG: Well, I think there are several bodies. But Congress is
the body that created the legislation that created the Port Authority.
WEINBERG: So what we will ask Congress to do is take a look at this
legislation, which is probably 80 years old today, along with the fact that
Congress` GAO issued a report in the late summer, maybe a week or two
before the infamous bridge-gate took place. They issued a report in which
they criticized the Port Authority for their lack of transparency, for the
fact that tolls were increased.
Remember, this is the busiest bridge in the world. And we pay among
the highest tolls in the country for the privilege of driving over the
busiest bridge in the world. And the fact that anybody would use this
bridge, this infrastructure for some petty political payback is almost so
bizarre it is a little difficult to believe.
MADDOW: It has seemed difficult to believe. I did not believe it and
chose not to put this story on the air for the first couple of days I was
reading about it because the implication, the political implication was so
The reason we did start to talk about it is because no competing
explanation has emerged.
Is there an explanation that explains why this happened that isn`t
about political retribution?
WEINBERG: No. There`s no explanation that has come forth.
I attended four meetings of the Port Authority of New York and New
Jersey. Three commission meetings and one subcommittee meeting, beginning
in October I went. October, November and December. I stood up and
questioned what is going on here? Can you tell me?
Each month, it was from Pat Foye, this is under internal review.
Those are all commissioners that I voted for. My responsibility with
advice and consent, as member of the judiciary committee of the state
senate, and each of those people, well before this – I know the impact of
the bridge on the area I represent. Not just Fort Lee but Teaneck and
Englewood and all the towns that back up to the bridge.
Each of those commissioners I pointed out before I voted for them –
please be aware of the issues that are created by having the bridge in Fort
Lee. And the idea that they tried to spin this story somehow that it was
an issue of fairness –
MADDOW: Right. That Fort Lee ought not to have access lanes on the
WEINBERG: Yes. Well, the bridge is in Fort Lee so everybody drives
through Fort Lee in order to get there.
MADDOW: New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg, please stay in
touch with us as this moves forward. I feel like – the story is
fascinating. It started off as something hard to take seriously and now
it`s become something hard to avoid. I think it is a big story.
Thank you for helping us understand.
WEINBERG: Thank you for helping us understand, too.
MADDOW: I appreciate it. Thank you.
WEINBERG: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Today, two – count them – two of President Obama`s nominees
were confirmed. Two in one day. Sky remains in place. Cats still refuse
to live in peace with dogs. Everybody`s OK.
Senate Republicans have been making it impossible to confirm even the
least controversial nominees from this president. But because of the rules
change that Democrats passed about three weeks ago, over vociferous
Republican opposition, now, some folks are getting through.
Today, the Senate voted to confirm Anne Patterson as assistant
secretary of state for the Middle East, obviously a very important job. Up
until today, Anne Patterson has been the U.S. ambassador to Egypt. Before
then she used to be the ambassador to Pakistan. Now she is moving up to
one of the top positions in the State Department.
After that vote today, the Senate moved on to the high-profile
nomination of Jeh Johnson to be the secretary of homeland security.
Republicans had made a half-hearted effort to make his nomination seem
mildly controversial. One Texas congressman went so far and kept it so
classy as to call Jeh Johnson a political hack. Unlike actual political
hacks, Jeh Johnson was a federal prosecutor, and a general counsel of the
Air Force, and the general counsel of the Pentagon, the top lawyer for the
whole Defense Department. He is President Obama`s pick to succeed Janet
Napolitano as head of the Department of Homeland Security.
And today, Jeh Johnson was confirmed, becoming that mega Godzilla-
sized agency`s fourth leader ever with an overwhelming vote of 78-16.
We thought the Senate was not coming back until tomorrow but they came
back late today to do those five minutes of work basically.
Now, before the end of the week, they need to confirm at least one
more federal judge. They need to confirm the new chair of the Federal
Reserve, Janet Yellen. And there`s the giant farm bill and the giant
defense bill and the small matter of a national budget.
If they do all of that this week and they say they are going to do it
all, that might be more than they have done the rest of the year combined.
This is the time of the year that is called cramming. This is
supposedly the world`s greatest deliberative body. But right now, they are
Watch this space.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: So, guess who is saying the worst
things that have ever been said about John Boehner? That`s right,
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: We saw the specter of two possible
government shutdowns in 2014.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Bad for the economy, bad for
the middle class.
RYAN: I don`t think that`s good for anybody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As for that whole strategy of taking the country
to the brink –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To raise the debt ceiling.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: – over the raising of the nation`s debt
RYAN: We don`t want nothing out of this debt limit.
UNIDNETIFIED FEMALE: Still on the table.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some kind of concessions for raising the debt
RYAN: We don`t want nothing out of this debt limit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t see a real soul-searching going on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn`t want to fight over the debt limit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We almost defaulted on our debt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s what got us out of the government shut
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It wasn`t exactly the
strategy that I have in mind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This time, it`s John Boehner that`s bucking the
BOEHNER: They have lost all credibility.
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