The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/24/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Have a great weekend.
Thanks to you at home for joining us as well.
Let`s put up on the map the great state of Delaware, now South Dakota,
now Montana, West Virginia, put up Vermont, Wyoming, put up Mississippi,
New Mexico and Oklahoma. OK, that`s nine states. Nine very different
states, right? Diverse, fairly far-flung. The smallest population among
these nine states is Wyoming, I believe, with about 575,000 people.
Largest population among these nine states I think is Oklahoma with roughly
4 million people.
One thing all of these very different nine American states have in
common, one thing they all have in common is that they all have a state
budget, a total state budget for everything the state pays for that is
smaller than the budget of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
That one agency, which is basically responsible for how people get
between New York and New Jersey has a bigger annual budget than at least
nine U.S. states. The very first time we covered the scandal around the
George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, which was back in early December,
we interviewed the Democratic assemblyman who`s the head of the
transportation – who`s the head of transportation issues in the New Jersey
He has since become a very famous guy. His name is John Wisniewski.
And now, he`s nationally known and he does the Sunday network shows and
everything, right? John Wisniewski is famous now because he`s running the
investigation in the legislature into Chris Christie`s administration and
what happened on that bridge connecting New York and New Jersey, the George
Washington Bridge, looking to the lane shutdowns on that bridge that
gridlocked the town of Fort Lee and other issues beyond that now.
But when we first contacted John Wisniewski as a source on this story,
he was very eager for us to understand that trying to oversee the Port
Authority was not like any other little transportation agency anywhere else
in the country. Finding a scandal at that particular agency is not like,
you know, busting up a card game on the corner. It`s like busting up Las
Vegas. The Port Authority is mega. It is rich. And it behaves like it.
The Port Authority has more than 7,000 employees. And the average
salary of those more than 7,000 employees, according to John Wisniewski is
over $140,000. That`s the average. And they have got 7,000 people.
And when you`ve got that much money and that many people on that big a
payroll, hey, you know what, there`s always room for one more, right? “The
New Yorker” posted an article this week citing a lawsuit brought by a
former employee of the Port Authority who sued over just how many
politically connected people were getting stuffed into that agency,
particularly by the Chris Christie administration in New Jersey.
According to this lawsuit, in the first two years that Chris Christie
was in office as New Jersey governor, he got nearly 50 people hired at the
Port Authority. By the end of 2012, it wasn`t 50 people he had shoved onto
the Port Authority payroll, it was more like 80 people.
He got 80 people hired as patronage hires. Political favors,
basically. Eighty people at an agency where the average salary is over
$140,000 a person. Good times, right?
One of the people who found themselves comfortably ensconced at the
Port Authority once Chris Christie got to be governor and once he had the
power to ensconce people there, one of the people who found himself at that
agency in the era of Chris Christie as governor of New Jersey was David
Wildstein. David Wildstein who is now famous as the man who arranged the
shutdown of those access lanes onto the George Washington Bridge and who
gridlocked Fort Lee, New Jersey.
When David Wildstein got hired in 2010, a few weeks after Chris
Christie got sworn in, though, he was just another guy who the Christie
people wanted to have a job at the Port Authority. Interestingly, though,
they invented the job they hired him for. There had never been a director
of interstate capital projects before they created that job and gave it to
David Wildstein. According to reporting from “The Newark Star Ledger”, no
job description was ever produced for that job that they created for David
And it doesn`t seem like he had to work particularly hard or fight off
a lot of competition in order to get that sweet gig. When his personnel
records were requested under New Jersey open government laws, unlike other
people who did, you know, like have to interview or otherwise prove they
were qualified for the job against competitors who might also be qualified
for the job, David Wildstein apparently never even had to submit a resume
to the Port Authority in order to get that $150,000-a-year job.
There was nothing in his personnel file. But he did get the job.
They did create it for him and he did get paid $150,000 a year, which
according to John Wisniewski`s account is slightly above average for that
mammoth slush fund – I mean agency.
David Wildstein had that job from May, 2010, when he was first
appointed a few weeks after Chris Christie became governor, he had that job
until this past December 6th when he submitted his resignation, saying that
the issue of the shutdown of those lanes on the George Washington Bridge
had become a distraction for the Christie administration and so he thought
he should step down. Governor Christie`s spokesman released a warm
statement praising David Wildstein on the occasion of his resignation,
calling him a, quote, “tireless advocate for New Jersey`s interests” and
saying, quote, “we are grateful for his commitment and his dedication to
the important work of the Port Authority and thank him for his service to
the people of New Jersey and the region.”
Even as the guy was quitting for causing the traffic jam or at least
for being a big distraction around the issue of the traffic jam, Chris
Christie still had nothing but praise for David Wildstein. That was then.
This is today. Because today, the Port Authority announced that David
Wildstein is not just no longer with that agency, he has been cut loose in
terms of his legal defense.
And this is a big deal. The Port Authority announcing that they will
not provide him direct legal assistance or financial help for his own legal
assistance as he contends with multiple subpoenas and multiple
investigations, including that one that got much more serious this week on
the part of the federal prosecutor, the U.S. attorney for the state of New
Jersey, this is a big deal.
I mean the day after the Super Bowl next weekend, the Super Bowl is
going to be held in New Jersey, conveniently enough, the day after the
Super Bowl, so a week from Monday, everybody who was subpoenaed by John
Wisniewski`s committee in the legislature is due to hand over all
communications of any kind, all correspondence, all notes, all documents,
e-mails, text messages, BlackBerry messenger messages, instant messages,
documents and records of any kind related to the shutdown of the lanes on
that bridge. In some cases, the legislature has demanded documentation
going back more than a year from those people and those entities.
In the case of guys like David Wildstein who are right at the heart of
this scandal, in addition to the notes and documents and call records that
everybody else is being asked to turn over, that Monday, that Monday after
the Super Bowl, David Wildstein and a few other people on that subpoena
list, they have also been told that they need to hand over any cell phone,
any smartphone, any BlackBerry, any tablet, any PDA, anything used like
that at any time in either business capacity or personal capacity or any
other capacity by them, any time since September 1st, 2012. Wow.
Two days after all that stuff has to be handed over to the
legislature, all that stuff has been demanded by those subpoenas from the
legislature, two days later, everybody is subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney,
by the federal prosecutor, also has to hand over what`s in those subpoenas,
what “The New York Times” describes as a broad range of records relating to
the lane closings, e-mail, text messages, other correspondents and
memorandums, calendar entries, spreadsheets, voice mail messages.
Other than the Chris Christie re-election campaign and the Republican
Party of New Jersey, we don`t know exactly who got those grand jury federal
subpoenas from federal prosecutors, from the U.S. attorney`s office.
But again, “The New York Times” cites a person, quote, briefed on the
matter who says that those federal grand jury subpoenas from the U.S.
attorney have also been issued to, quote, “some of the 20 people and
entities” who got subpoenas last week from the legislature as well. And
presumably that would mean guys like David Wildstein who are right in the
middle of this scandal.
So think about that. Two days apart. Two days apart, huge voluminous
quantities of information of a very similar description are demanded from
two different subpoenaing authorities. The legislature on Monday and then
on Wednesday federal prosecutors.
And we don`t exactly know how many people are in that boat, but a lot
of people are probably getting in the boat where they`re getting subpoenaed
by both institutions. And David Wildstein among them has just been told,
yes, you`re going to have to pay for any help you need with that yourself.
What do you think David Wildstein has incurred already in legal fees?
I mean, we know he`s got a lawyer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D-NJ), STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Could you state and
spell your last name for the record.
DAVID WILDSTEIN, FORMER PORT AUTHORITY OFFICIAL: David Wildstein. W-
WISNIEWSKI: And where do you currently reside?
WILDSTEIN: Montville, New Jersey.
WISNIEWSKI: OK. And are you currently employed?
WISNIEWSKI: Most recently where were you employed?
WILDSTEIN: On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully assert my
right to remain silent under the United States and New Jersey
WISNIEWSKI: Page 751 contains communications. My question is does
page 751 contain communications dated August 5th, 2013?
WILDSTEIN: On the advice of counsel, I again assert my right to
On the advice of counsel, I assert my right to remain silent.
WISNIEWSKI: The right to refuse to answer questions to this committee
is not permitted under those rules. The committee does have the right to
find your client`s failure to respond to validly asked questions to be in
contempt of this committee`s subpoena and to take a vote on that and that
matter may be referred to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. You
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is understood, sir.
If the attorneys general for New Jersey, New York and the United
States were all to agree to cloak Mr. Wildstein with immunity, I think
you`d find yourselves in a far different position with respect to
information he could provide.
WISNIEWSKI: That`s your job. We just want answers to questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Understood. I`m suggesting a way you can get
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: David Wildstein, who arranged the shutdown of those lanes and
gridlocked Fort Lee, New Jersey, back in September apparently on orders
from Chris Christie`s deputy chief of staff, he was a guy who was already
and understandably getting lots and lots of lawyering, right? We can see
that from his appearance thus far before the assembly committee
investigating the matter. He`s already getting lots of lawyering. And
lawyering is never cheap.
But as of today, the Port Authority, his employer when he did all this
stuff, says we are not helping with any of that. You are paying for all of
that yourself. And the Port Authority also indicated today that that may
also be the fate of Bill Baroni, the other Chris Christie ally at the Port
Authority, the deputy executive director of the agency who was appointed
directly by Chris Christie and who we now know lied to the state
legislature about the fake traffic study cover story for what they did to
The Port Authority also said today that they are just considering,
they have not decided, they are considering whether Bill Baroni will also
be cut off and left to fend for himself in the same way they did for David
Wildstein. No decision yet on that, but watch this space.
Meanwhile, though, Bill Baroni was the deputy executive director
there. That`s a high ranking appointee for Chris Christie at this rich,
lavishly appointed agency, right? Deputy executive director.
But Bill Baroni was not the highest ranking appointee for Chris
Christie at that agency. The top guy who Chris Christie appointed there is
the chairman of the agency, a former attorney general of the state of New
Jersey. His name is David Samson.
And as David Wildstein gets cut loose, as he gets his lifeline hacked
off the mother ship and he drifts into space, to not just be blamed for
what happened here but to be potentially bankrupted by this disaster that
he had this role in, and as Bill Baroni twists at the end of his line, not
knowing whether he`s going to get cut off too but it looks like he`s might,
he`s already been blamed, is he also going to be bankrupted and ruined too?
As those guys see their lives destroyed, as those guys not only get
blamed for this scandal but potentially destroyed by it, Chris Christie`s
other top guy at the agency, his top appointee at the agency, he`s
apparently still fine. Still has his job. He`s still running the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey, and its budget that`s bigger than
nine U.S. states and its 7,000 employees who get paid apparently an average
of well into the six figures.
David Samson is still in charge, but apparently he is worried. Over
the weekend, he hired former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff
to be his lawyer. On top of that, he`s hired a whole additional law firm
to also represent him, plus a public relations firm as well.
And looking at the known facts of this scandal so far, you can see why
this is a guy who probably is worried about how this is going to work out.
On the last day that that bridge was shut down, David Wildstein wrote to a
staffer in Chris Christie`s office expressing concern that officials on the
New York side of the Port Authority had realized what was going on and had
reopened those lanes and essentially come to the rescue of Fort Lee. David
Samson wrote that day, quote, “We are appropriately going nuts. Samson
helping us to retaliate.”
And then there`s Samson the next week blasting the official who
ordered those lanes to be opened back up. The official who ordered Fort
Lee to be saved, essentially. There`s David Samson accusing that official
are stirring up trouble. Quote, “He`s playing in traffic, he`s made a big
And again, this is not one of the guys who`s resigned from the Port
Authority over this scandal. This is not one of the guys who has been
fired, right? He`s still in his job running that agency.
And his role in the bridge scandal is not his only problem in New
Jersey. This week started with the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, making
explosive allegations here on MSNBC that the Chris Christie administration
told her that Hoboken would get more funding for relief efforts after
Hurricane Sandy if the mayor OK`d a private development deal in her town.
The Christie administration vehemently denies those allegations. We
now know that the FBI and prosecutors from the U.S. attorney`s office have
interviewed not only the mayor and taken documents from her that she says
support her claims, but they have also interviewed other people in Hoboken
who have said that they can corroborate the mayor`s side of the story.
But whether or not anybody else does corroborate that story, whether
or not it can be proven and the prosecutor`s and FBI`s inquiries into this
ever go anywhere, whether or not it goes any further than it has already
gone, there is, regardless, a real problem for David Samson specifically
with the Hoboken side of this story. That is that Hoboken Mayor Dawn
Zimmer has produced documents already which have not been contested by
anybody involved. Nobody is challenging their authenticity. And she`s
produced these documents that are about that private development project in
David Samson`s law firm represents the developer for that project.
David Samson is also the chairman of the Port Authority. And in his
capacity as chairman of the Port Authority, he may have been involved in
pressuring Hoboken to OK that development.
Think about those two things at once, right? I mean, his law firm is
getting paid by the developer, and it appears that his office is using
control of the Port Authority to try to get that developer what they want
out of Hoboken.
And this is not the part of the story that`s in dispute. This is not
what we`re waiting to see if it can be corroborated as hearsay, right? I
mean, for the record, the developer has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Here`s the e-mail, though, that is the worry. David Samson`s law firm
telling officials in Hoboken, hey, we want to put you on a teleconference
with the head of the Port Authority to talk about that development that we
want you to do. Head of the Port Authority, David Samson, also the head of
that law firm who represents the developer.
Here`s Hoboken`s lawyer complaining that he`s getting, quote, “the
full court press” from people, including David Samson`s law firm, that
Hoboken has to do this development. You can run a multi-billion dollar
public agency and you can work as a lawyer trying to get people land deals.
But if the way you run your public agency is to use it to try to get people
land deals, that`s the kind of thing for which you end up hiring not just
the former homeland security secretary as your lawyer, but maybe some extra
lawyers on top of that as well and also a PR firm.
WNYC reports today that David Samson`s business at his law firm has
really taken off since he got that Port Authority gig from Chris Christie.
Here`s their lobbying business in 2007, 2008, 2009 and then the fourth bar
there, the slightly larger one, that is when Chris Christie gets elected,
right, gets sworn in. The end of 2010 is when Chris Christie dominates
David Samson to be chairman of the Port Authority.
And then look what happens to his law firm`s lobbying business once he
becomes chairman of the Port Authority. Yes. 2011 looks great, 2012 still
looking pretty good. It will be interesting to see when those numbers come
out for 2013.
David Samson is a former attorney general of the state of New Jersey.
He is very, very, very well-connected in that state. Not in a particularly
partisan way, none of this story is particularly partisan. There`s people
from both parties and no parties on all sides of this.
By all accounts, David Samson is well respected in the state. But he
is also the top Chris Christie related official, ally or appointee in this
scandal who is most implicated in this bridge disaster and more who has not
yet resigned or been fired or been blamed in any way. David Samson is cast
in the worst light of anyone who is still standing this far into this
And so far, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been totally,
almost unusually aggressive in asserting in unqualified terms that David
Samson is innocent of everything. In the governor`s brief interregnum of
apologizing for this scandal before he went back to just calling anybody
who cared about it a partisan, the governor did say that he met directly
with two people in his office, about this scandal. He said two people
directly reported to him, only his general counsel and chief of staff and
he met with them and questioned them about it and he trusts them to have
gotten the word out of the rest of the staff, general counsel, chief of
Beyond that the over person he talked to correctly about this was
David Samson who he says he met with for two hours on this matter. He said
he came out of that discussion convinced of David Samson`s utter and total
innocence. David Samson himself has put out a statement proclaiming as
much, saying he had no prior knowledge of the bridge shutdown before it
This week, when Governor Christie was sworn in for his second term,
there was obviously no Bill Baroni there, no David Wildstein there, no
Bridget Anne Kelly, no Bill Stepien who`s former campaign manager who just
recently he was calling the greatest political operative in the country,
but they`re on stage with him as he was being sworn in.
And again – there he is, still in his job as chairman of the Port
Authority is David Samson, who Chris Christie is apparently standing by,
even as the other people who are known to be has involved in this not only
get fired and blamed, but now they are starting to get cut off from any
And so, how do you think they`re going to testify when they testify?
As David Samson puts on retainer every lawyer in New Jersey who`s
thought nailed down, is the Port Authority going to pay David Samson`s
legal bills, too? Or is he going to cover that himself? Does he just stay
in this job indefinitely while responding to all of the subpoenas and all
the rest of it?
It`s one of the weirdest unanswered questions in all of this yet.
MADDOW: I don`t think this is a controversial statement. I believe
that we can all agree, left, right and center and neither. I think we can
all agree that 2012`s Republican presidential primary process was kind of a
It`s been almost two years, right? We can all admit that now. Do you
remember the Iowa caucuses? The night of the Iowa caucuses, we were told
by the Iowa Republican Party that Mitt Romney had won. It was really
close, but Mitt Romney won. Then the Iowa Republican Party changed their
mind. The chairman said first, OK, Mitt Romney didn`t win, it was a tie.
Then, he said, no – OK, it wasn`t actually a tie, nor did Mitt Romney
win. OK, actually Rick Santorum won. Then, by the time the Iowa state
convention rolled around and they actually had to do the thing that results
in helping nominate a presidential candidate, we found out that it wasn`t a
tie and it wasn`t Rick Santorum and it wasn`t Mitt Romney, it was actually
Ron Paul who won the most delegates in Iowa. That was in June, about five
months after the caucuses.
That was sort of a microcosm of the entire Republican primary
experience in 2012. You had states like Florida moving up their primary
trying to be first against the party`s wishes and then getting punished for
it. You had campaigns that could not get their paperwork together in order
to actually qualify for delegates, even in states where they were running.
You had states that could not figure out how many delegates each candidate
should get, even after the votes have been tallied.
Missouri held an entire primary with results they did not end up using
because they decided, maybe we`ll hold a caucus as well. And the debates,
oh, God, dear sweet Lord do I miss the debates. Best reality show that has
ever played on American television, even though this one had zero nudity
and very little drinking and drug abuse.
It took until May for Mitt Romney to clinch the party`s nomination
through that process. It took until August for him to officially be named
Well, now the Republican Party has decided that they do not want to do
that again. At least they don`t want to do something just like that again.
Today, the Republican National Committee announced that they are changing
the presidential nominating calendar rather dramatically in a way that will
certainly avoid at least a structural repeat of 2012. The Republican
National Committee announced today that they are going to shrinky dink the
whole primary process.
On the front end, the RNC is protecting the traditional early states
like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, by putting their
primaries and caucuses in February, which is later than they have been.
They`re levying harsh penalties against any state that wants to jump the
line and go ahead of them slashing their delegates to nine or one-third
their original total, whichever is smaller, wow, which essentially makes
your primary irrelevant if you try to hold it any earlier than February.
For those states that run them after that first four, anywhere between
March 1st and March 15th, the new rules mandate that their delegates will
be awarded proportionally instead of winner takes all.
But if you`re holding your nominating contest after March 15th, you
better get it done fast because the other major change is that Republicans
are moving their convention from August to June or early July. What? Yes.
Everybody change your vacation plans now. They say that this change is
meant to give the eventual candidate, the Republican nominee, an extra
month or two of general election fund-raising.
So they have shortened it way up. It`s going to start way later in
the winter and it`s going to end at the Republican National Convention way
earlier, in the middle of the summer instead of right up until Labor Day
and beyond where it`s been in the past. They have made the Republican
primary process fairly small.
The Republican Party did suffer through a drawn-out messy process in
2012. They have decided now that the way to fix that is to shrink the
process this time around. They are closing it at both ends, not allowing
it to start earlier on the front end and not allowing it to get later on
the general election on the back end.
Let`s try to get this wrapped up real quickly and maybe let`s make
sure that most Americans can`t watch it in some way. Can we make this 3-D
or some other way people don`t have on their televisions? Is there any
other way we can do this in private?
It`s amazing. I did see that they`re going to be doing this.
Joining us now is NBC News political reporter and producer Kasie Hunt.
She reported on the Republican National Committee`s winter meeting this
week in Washington.
Kasie, thanks for being here.
KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: Thanks for having me. It`s
great to be here.
MADDOW: The Republican primary process is one of my favorite things.
I mean, getting to cover it is spectacular and it was no secret that the
Republicans thought that the primary process unfolded in a way that did not
make their party look good.
Am I right to see this as a change that will just make America see
less of the Republican primary process?
HUNT: Well, the idea is to make less of the messiness that comprised
at least the last election cycle play out in public in such a way that
requires whoever the eventual nominee is to spend so much time moving to
the right to appeal to the voters that they need to win over, especially in
these smaller states, that they`re unable to pivot to the general election.
MADDOW: But isn`t that the diagnosis of the entire primary process?
I mean, Democrats – it`s a mirror image on the Democratic side. They
think they have to get left of each other during the primary process and
then scoot back to the center for the general.
Is there anything specific about the primary process that they think
is making them look too right wing or just the process itself?
HUNT: Well, in the case of 2012, and to a certain extent this is them
learning the lessons of 2012. And obviously, every cycle is different.
So, we`re not sure come 2016, these changes are actually going to look like
a bad idea simply because the circumstances have changed.
HUNT: But if you think about the lessons the party learned in 2012,
Mitt Romney was fighting it out with Rick Santorum through these states
that were awarding these delegates proportionally.
So, Santorum was getting a few here and a few there but it kept the
race going through April. If you remember in March of that year, Sandra
Fluke – excuse me, Rush Limbaugh made some controversial comments about
Sandra Fluke and Romney didn`t have very much to say, wasn`t able to
respond. He took a lot of criticism from Democrats.
At the time, there was a lot of suggestion that while he`s running
against Rick Santorum who is a social conservative and he was sort of boxed
into what he was able to say because he was so concerned about winning the
nomination. So, because the party is so fractured right now and even that
was on display at this RNC winter meeting on a wide variety of subjects
from the NSA and Rand Paul wing, to some of the social conservatives,
abortion, appealing to women – I mean, it`s very splintered.
At this point their focus is on trying to at least project a semblance
of unity. This is one way they think they can do it.
MADDOW: Strategically, my thought about this in a generic way, in a
way that`s not necessarily specific to Republicans, is that a shortened
primary process, a condensed process like this, and even the change around
proportional allocation versus winner-take-all tend – will tend to reward
whoever looks good before the whole process starts.
MADDOW: There`s not going to be – there`s not going to be any dark
horse candidate that comes from behind and wins in a shortened primary
process. Whoever has got it together from the beginning and looks
inevitable is more likely to be the nominee.
HUNT: I think you`re right about that point. The one caveat I would
say is that we still have these early states stacked up. So, you`re still
going to start in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina.
MADDOW: Key points, yes.
HUNT: And so, you know, candidates with win in Iowa if they spend,
like Rick Santorum did, months and months on the ground going to all 99
counties. The other thing that`s going to be interesting that we should
watch and that conservatives are already sort of starting to discuss is
this is going set off a lot of back end sort of back room lobbying by both
candidates and states for how to position themselves.
So, if you think about it, part of awarding these delegates
proportionally means that if a candidate goes in and fights a race there,
they`re not rewarded as much. So, for a candidate like Rick Santorum, they
want to see states like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, be winner-take-all
states because conservatives like that –
MADDOW: It makes it worth their while to spend time there.
HUNT: Precisely, maybe Rick Perry would want to see Texas move their
primary into the winner-take-all period. There`s also a waiver for some
states so states that are controlled by Democrats, for example, New Jersey.
So, Bill Palatucci, close confidant of Chris Christie`s, was actually at
the RNC meeting this weekend, and one of the things they were looking at
doing is making sure this waiver went through because there`s another rule
that requires the delegates to be assigned about a month before the
convention. So he doesn`t want New Jersey, which could pick Chris
Christie, to loose its clout at the convention.
MADDOW: It`s so great because like what you want is you want these
decisions to be made under a veil of ignorance where you`re not making any
decisions that are going to benefit any candidates, that you don`t know
what`s going to happen to him. Chris Christie might look like the front
runner now but might be the bridgegate guy by the time this thing rolls
around. But they`re all making these decisions on the basis of their guy,
not on what is going to be right in a generic way.
MADDOW: I love this stuff. Kasie Hunt, NBC News political reporter,
thank you very much for being here.
HUNT: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: I love this stuff. All right, we`ll be right back. Stay
MADDOW: Happy Friday.
For your Friday night pleasure, we`ve got a Friday night horror double
feature here on the show. First, we`ve got allegations of on-the-job drug
taking and cheating that could end everything as we know it. And later,
three words to ponder before tucking yourself into bed tonight – cannibal,
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Thirty minutes outside Knoxville in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in
a valley between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cumberland Mountains in
the eastern part of that state, you will find the Y-12 National Security
It is the only government facility in our country for processing and
storing weapons grade uranium. Weapons grade as in this is the place we
store uranium for our nuclear warheads.
The Y-12 Complex in Tennessee was originally built in the `40s, in the
midst of the Second World War. That`s where they made the material for the
nuclear bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Today, Y-12 is still there and they call it the Fort Knox of uranium.
It`s always been seen as a secure storage facility for our nation`s
enriched uranium nuclear material. But after 9/11, they upgraded Y-12
They added a whole bunch of new security features. Still, though, in
2012, somebody broke into Y-12. It was July 28th, 2012, around 4:00 in the
morning. Three people hiked through the woods on the outskirts of the Y-12
facility, they were carrying only bolt cutters and some other rudimentary
hardware. They cut through three separate perimeter fences and they walked
right in. They walked up to the interior storage facilities holding the
They got so far inside the complex that they were able to lay hands on
the nuclear material storage facility inside there. And once they were
inside, they were there for an hour before anybody came to arrest them.
They did not resist.
Josh Harkinson has been doing some great reporting about this at
Mother Jones among other things but Josh wrote about the roots of what
specifically happened at Y-12, about those roots going back to 1967.
Apparently, the first known use of human blood in an American anti-war
protest was in 1967. An anti-Vietnam War protest when four men poured some
of their own blood on draft files that were at the Baltimore Customs House.
“The Washington Post” wrote last year about how Tom Lewis, one of
those protesters, before he died in 2008, he asked that some of his blood
be removed from his body before he was cremated and he asked that his blood
be frozen and saved so that anti-war protesters could use his blood in
further anti-war protests the way he had done back in the `60s.
Well, when those protesters got into y-12 in the summer of 2012, when
they had that hour to kill before anybody came and got them once they were
inside the facility, they spent some of that time spray painting anti-war
slogans on the uranium storage facility. They also splashed Tom Lewis`s
And then they didn`t try to get away, they just waited to be found out
and waited to be arrested. Eventually they were found out and they were
arrested. And what was supposed to be the Fort Knox of weapons grade
uranium in the United States was there by found to instead be spectacularly
permeable, to even a trio of senior citizen anti-war protesters armed with
only a pair of bolt cutters.
The inspector general from the Department of Energy did a report on
security at the facility after this breach. The report described, quote,
“troubling displays of ineptitude, described multiple security cameras that
just didn`t work at the facilities. There were motion sensors installed,
but the guards ignored them because they were set in such a way that
animals were tripping them off all the time, setting them off as false
Well, in May, those three senior citizens who broke into Y-12 and
thereby exposed the security flaws, they were convicted. They were
convicted of sabotage and of depredation of government property. On
Tuesday, they`re due to be sentenced. The most senior of the senior
citizens is this woman. Her name is Sister Meghan Rice (ph), she`s a
Catholic nun from the Order of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus.
She was 82 years old when she trudged through the woods in the middle
of the night and climbed through those cut fences. She was 82 then. She
is 84 right now.
And the sentencing guidelines in her case suggest somewhere between 5
1/2 to 7 1/2 years in prison, which might not sound like that much time in
prison unless you are already 84 years old when you are starting your 7 1/2
years in prison, and you are thinking about what your natural life span
might be. That might be the rest of your life.
When the nuclear threat initiative did their most recent ranking of
the safe keeping of the world`s nuclear material and nuclear weapons, we
slipped a bit. The United States slipped a ranking. One of the troubling
recent incidents that was cited in the report was the ease with which our
supposedly super secure uranium facility in Tennessee was broken into by
those senior citizen citizens.
But that wasn`t the only troubling recent incident that earned us our
slipped rating. Nuclear threat initiative also cited some of the recent
trouble at the U.S. military`s strategic command, StratCom. That`s the
part that the president calls if and when he decides he wants to use a
nuclear weapon. They`d be the ones to wage nuclear war.
The number two commander in StratCom was hired after alleged to be
involved with gambling at casinos with counterfeit chips. Who cares,
right? Unless you`re the number two guy in charge of waging nuclear war on
behalf of the United States of America and, suddenly, some enterprising
Chinese spy has found a way to blackmail you over your counterfeit gambling
chips thing. And then, yes, we`ve all got a very, very big problem.
The downgrading of America`s nuclear security ranking did not even
account for what came to light soon thereafter, involving the Air Force
general who`s in charge of all nuclear missiles. He too was fired recently
for in his case, quote, “personal misbehavior on an official trip to
The report on his incident describes the general in charge of all of
America`s nuclear missiles going on basically a four-day drinking binge
that started during the layover before the air force delegation even got to
The Air Force`s own investigation said the drunk general then spent
lots of time with suspicion foreign women who always just seemed to be
around, including his long talks about physics with a woman who worked at a
cigar store. Seriously? Yes, cigar store. All the while publicly
boasting about his command over the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
And that was him boasting. That was him bragging. But it`s also
true. In fact he was the Air Force commander of the 20th division which is
responsible for maintaining all the country`s nuclear intercontinental
ballistic missiles. He was in charge when he was drunkenly bragging about
But he`s not in charge anymore. That boozy trip was in July. The
report came out in December. He was fired in October.
And, of course, all of that precedes the recent reporting, including
here on this show, about the wide investigation into alleged drug use by
nuclear weapons launch officers in the Air Force. That probe then widened
further into an investigation into nuclear weapons launch officers cheating
on their proficiency exams that they have to pass to show that they`re
still capable of dealing with nuclear weapons. That has led to revelations
in the “L.A. Times” and “New York Times” about how widespread the cheating
is on those exams in the Air Force and apparently has been so for years.
It is against this backdrop now, the drunken trip to Russia, the
counterfeit gambling trips, the break-ins at Y-12, the cheating ring, the
alleged drug ring and everything else that happened before that – it`s
against this backdrop now that two important things are happening. One of
them got a lot of press and one of them hasn`t.
The first thing that didn`t get a lot of press is that the defense
secretary, Chuck Hagel, has now ordered an immediate independent top-down
review of the nation`s nuclear weapons forces.
The second thing, though, is that Congress and the Pentagon have
started their wrangling over whether we`re about to invest in a whole new
generation of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles – new
ones, a whole new generation of them. Because we`re doing such a great job
with the ones that we have already.
Joining us now is Joe Cirincione. He`s president of the Ploughshares
Fund, which focuses on nuclear weapons policy and he`s author of the
excellent book, “Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too
Joe Cirincione, thank you so much for being here.
JOE CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you first about this review that`s been ordered by
Secretary Hagel. You tend to be a clear-eyed, not just critic, but a
clear-eyed observer of people`s actions on policy in this area. Do you
think this review is important?
CIRINCIONE: I do, and I commend the secretary for ordering it.
The problem, however, is that if it focuses solely as it seems to be
on the personnel and the policies and procedures for training these forces,
I think it`s going to be little more than a Band-Aid on the problem. It`s
not the personnel that are the problem here, it`s the mission itself.
For example, we have 500 highly trained air force officers in the ICBM
force. We put them in steel cocoons where they work around the clock
underground, under the prairies of America, practicing to push a button
they know they`re never going to push. And if they did push that button,
they would be condemning millions of innocent civilians to a horrible
What kind of a job is that? What kind of a mission is that? We have
a Cold War nuclear command with obsolete weapons on a meaningless mission.
What do you expect people are going to do?
That`s the root of the problem. We have an outdated force and we
insist on sticking some of our most capable trained officers with this job.
MADDOW: When we saw Secretary Hagel pay his recent visits to the
missileers up on the High Plains, we saw him dispatch the secretary of the
Air Force to visit those sites, the kinds of comments they make are about
morale and incentives and – they are personnel that they`re discussing.
And that seems to be the way that the Air Force and the military more
broadly is defining it.
When they do talk about the mission, all they talk about is how
important the mission is, how vital it is and how much everybody supports
it and how that`s not at risk.
What you`re talking about is completely the opposite of the way the
military seems to be approaching it.
CIRINCIONE: Well, I think they have it wrong, and I understand that
when you go to a missile base – you`ve dealt with the military and you
know the pride they have in their job and they try to demonstrate that
pride and esprit de corps to keep morale going. But even before these
recent crises, even during the colder war when this was seen as the leading
edge, the front line of defense of America, you know, we counted on our
nuclear deterrent, we had scores of accidents that brought us this close to
nuclear catastrophe in this country.
As the forces dropped after the Cold War, the accidents decreased, but
now we still maintain a Cold War level. We have 5,000 nuclear weapons,
many of them on hair trigger alert, ready to launch in 15 minutes. For
what? For what mission?
You talk to these missileers and they say that after 9/11. They say
these weapons didn`t protect us. They had no role. Nuclear weapons played
no role in a hunt for al Qaeda or the war in Afghanistan or the war in
Iraq. It`s time to get rid of these weapons and focus on the weapons we
really need to counter the real threats we face.
MADDOW: I will tell you, Joe, you and I have had conversations about
this over the years and with each successive incident than has been so
scary and so worrying about the nuclear missile and nuclear weapons force
more broadly, and I feel like, and I might be making it up, but I feel like
we`re getting to the tipping point where the concern and the attention to
these issues is going to stop pretending like it`s a personnel problem and
people are going to start talking about the mission. It feels like it.
CIRINCIONE: We maybe – particularly as we approach these decision
points as you mentioned in Congress. We`re going to spend $1 trillion on
nuclear weapons over the next 30 years, $1 trillion. Is that where you
want your money to go for these Cold War weapons that serve no meaningful
MADDOW: Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, author of
the book, “Nuclear Nightmares” – Joe, thank you for talking to us. Have a
good weekend. Thanks, man.
CIRINCIONE: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Programming note because Tuesday night is State of the Union
night, you have to spend all day with us here. NBC is going to have all
day coverage on Tuesday leading up to the State of the Union at 9:00
Eastern on Tuesday.
For our special coverage of the address itself, I will be joined by
the great Chris Matthews here in New York, along with Chris Hayes, Reverend
Al Sharpton, Steve Schmidt and Ed Schultz is going to be reporting live
from the capital.
Afterwards this year, the Republicans have decided to do three
competing responses to the president, which should itself be an amazing
thing. But again, Tuesday, State of the Union, which we celebrate, like
Christmas, all day long here at MSNBC. So, you need to mark your calendar
for Tuesday. Call in sick.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Forgive my Russian, but I think her name is pronounced Lubov
Orlova, Russian actress who was big in the `30s. She was the inspiration
and namesake for a fancy cruise ship built in Yugoslavia in 1976.
Ultimately, the ship fell on hard times. It turned up in St. Johns
Harbor in Newfoundland with a crew of about 50 people who hadn`t been paid
and the ship itself in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt.
After being parked at St. John`s Harbor for two years, ultimately, the
Canadians were able to sell it for scrap to a buyer in the Dominican
Unluckily, they chose to get it there in winter out of Newfoundland,
which meant harsh conditions and high seas and the tow ropes snapped. What
do we do? Knackered old ship with no crew other than the rats it picked up
while parked in St. John. Middle of winter, already snapped on tow line,
what are we going to do?
Canada decided to let it go. They let it drift away once it snapped
that tow rope, and it drifted into international waters. No functioning
GPS locator, no way to know where it still is. And if it still is afloat
as drifting, decrepit delivery device for untold swarms of foreign sea-
going rats, nobody wants that to come crashing on to its shores,
particularly because it wouldn`t give you much notice.
So here`s what we`re going to do. Our cocktail moment tonight is
Irish whiskey, because the place it is most likely to land is off a coast
to Ireland. So, this is a cheers cocktail moment for luck of the Irish.
What you do is you pour Irish whiskey in glass and you wish yourself as an
Irish island as a place that`s not going to see the embarkation of a ghost
ship from Yugoslavia named after a Russian actress in 1930s, now full of
rats that have nothing to eat except themselves.
Happy cocktail moment. Have a great weekend.
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