The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/04/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us
I`m about to do something that`s controversial to cable news. It
shouldn`t be controversial but in this business it is. I have to start
with this warning. All right. Ready?
I`m about to praise a rival cable news network. I know. Shriek.
CNN today is not what it used to be. Once upon a time, CNN really was
the only cable news network. And they really did have a singular role in
keeping people informed about what was going on not only around the country
but around the world.
And at that time in CNN`s history, that reputation that they had for
keeping the world informed, it spurred one very controversial member of the
U.S. House of Representatives, a Democrat, to propose that we as a nation
should get rid of the CIA altogether and should replace the CIA with CNN.
This was an amazing moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES TRAFICANT (D), OHIO: Speaker, the Senate is about to
confirm another director of the CIA, even though America found out about
the collapse of the Soviet Union on CNN. America learned the fall of the
Berlin Wall on CNN. And America found out about Saddam Hussein`s invasion
of Kuwait on CNN.
But after all this, Congress keeps pouring billions of dollars into
that big sinkhole called the Central Intelligence Agency. I say with a
track record like that, Congress doesn`t need a budget committee, Congress
needs a proctologist.
I think the record`s real clear. Congress should fire the CIA and
hire CNN. Maybe, we`ll learn what`s happening in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I still don`t know what he meant by the proctologist thing,
but that`s kind of just the way he talked.
That was Congressman James Traficant, Democrat of Ohio. He sadly is
not even having one of his best hair days in that clip. James Traficant`s
toupee, itself, is a thing of legend.
James Traficant was ultimately expelled from congress after convicted
of bribery and false tax returns and racketeering and other corruption
charges. He ended up serving seven years in prison, some of it without the
hairdo. But back in 1997, when he was talking about firing the CIA and
hiring CNN, he was still a member in good standing of Congress. And
Congress at that time was considering whether or not to confirm as director
of the CIA this man, George Tenet, who was first appointed to the position
by President Bill Clinton and kept on at the agency when George W. Bush
And although James Traficant was right when he listed all of those
things that the CIA missed over time, things they did not see coming that
day learned about by watching CNN, just like the rest of us, once those
things had already happened, while, James Traficant was right about the CIA
not seeing any of that stuff coming. It was George Tenet whose nomination
James Traficant was opposing, it was George Tenet who ultimately
personified the CIA`s most famous modern failure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: When George Tenet sat in the
Oval Office and the president of the United States to ask him directly, he
said, “George, how good is the case against Saddam and weapons of mass
destruction?”, the director of the CIA said, “It`s a slam dunk, Mr.
President. It`s a slam dunk.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It was not a slam dunk. It was not a lay-up or free throw or
any other kind of shot in basketball that technically results in a scoring
of any points. There were in weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The Bush administration including vice president Cheney wanted the CIA
to say that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq so the CIA said
that, but it was complete bullpucky. They were completely wrong.
On the heels of that failure, the Iraq failure, the slam dunk failure,
an author named Tim Weiner published this seminal book about the history of
the CIA. As you can see, it`s titled “Legacy of Ashes.” Just a
devastating history because it turns out over time, it was not just the
slam dunk thing in Iraq, it was everything, going back to the beginning.
The CIA is the Central Intelligence Agency. What they`re supposed to
be is an intelligent service. They`re supposed to be America`s spy agency.
As spies, they`re supposed to find out secrets. They`re supposed to find
out what other countries are doing in secret so that the United States
government has some advance notice about what`s about to happen in the
This is technically the reason they and every other spy agency in the
world exists. They`re supposed to steal secrets and let policymakers know
when something is about to happen in the world. They`re supposed to let
U.S. policymakers know what is actually going on in the world despite what
other countries might say publicly.
But their track record on being able to do this, about the biggest
issues in international affairs is a terrible track record. When the
Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, the CIA really did learn
about it on CNN. They had no idea that was coming. They were taken by
When the Iranian revolution happened in 1979, the CIA again taken
totally by surprise. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979,
the CIA, again, taken by surprise.
Go all the way back to 1949, when the Soviet Union exploded their
first nuclear bomb, the American intelligence community had no idea that
was coming. They were taken by surprise.
Thirty years later when India set off their nuclear bomb, CIA totally
They did not foresee Iraq invading Kuwait in 1990.
They did not foresee the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
But, of course, after 9/11 happened, they were not part of getting at
the truth about Iraq. They were part of the pretext in Iraq. They were
part of the false story. They were part of what was not true about Iraq,
not what was actually happening there.
The CIA may be good at a lot of things, but over time, they are an
agency that has built up a terrible record of letting American policymakers
know what`s really going on in the world and what is likely to happen next.
When Tim Weiner`s book “Legacy of Ashes” came out in 2007, became an
instant “New York Times” bestseller, it was a devastating critique of the
agency. That book came out in 2007.
The next year, in 2008, the CIA did it again. August 2008, Russian
troops rolled into the nation of Georgia to brush back the Western-minded
leaders of that state and to support pro-Russian separatists inside the
nation of Georgia. Again, in 2008, the CIA completely surprised. Had no
idea what was coming.
The National Security Council senior director for Europe at the time
told “The Daily Beast” today, that the analysts, quote, “missed it on
Georgia.” Quote, “We had plenty of warnings in 2008 Russia would provoke a
confrontation with Georgia and end up invading, but we still didn`t think
he`d actually do it.”
When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the CIA and therefore the U.S.
government had no idea it was coming.
And now in 2014, the CIA, once again, has done the exact same thing,
or rather not done the exact same thing. They`re surprised again. Crimea
Yes, this is “McClatchy” reporting from today. Look, “U.S.
intelligence officials also denied they made a mistake Thursday, this past
Thursday, when they advised Congress in classified briefings that they did
not expect Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops into Crimea,
although they acknowledged it was possible. The next day, Russian troops
took up positions around key facilities in Crimea.”
One U.S. official told McClatchy, quote, “This was not predicted.”
So, the CIA missed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the
Soviet Union, the Russians invasion of Afghanistan, 9/11, Iraq, the Soviets
go nuclear, the Indians go nuclear, the Russians invade Georgia, and now,
the Russians invade Crimea.
And there are maybe a couple of different lesson to take from this
track record. One is for all the things we are good at as a nation, the
United States is not very good at spying. We use what is supposed to be
our spy agency for all sorts of things other than stealing secrets about
other countries and maybe we`re good at all those other things – you know,
killing people with drones and all the rest of it, having a deniable
pretend pa paramilitary organization.
When it comes to intelligence of what`s going on in the world, our
record of that is terrible and it`s not getting better over time. So,
that`s one lesson.
There`s another lesson here, too, though, which is about the last time
the CIA was completely surprised by Russia invading somewhere, when they
invaded Georgia in 2008. That`s when George W. Bush was president. You`ll
remember John McCain running for president at the time said, “We are all
Georgians now.” John McCain is now saying, “We are all Ukrainians now.”
It`s kind of his thing. It`s just what he says.
But there was significant international and specifically American
upset when Russia invaded Georgia back in 2008. Russia not only sent
troops to cross the border into another sovereign country back in 2008,
they waged a war. They waged a weeklong war between Russian and Georgia
forces. It was a shooting war. This was not just some tense standoff.
There was much international outrage and bluster about that active
aggression by Russia in 2008, that projection of force, that illegal
incursion into another country that didn`t want them there. But that was
Now, it is six years later. Six years after Russia did that. And you
know what? The Russian troops are still there. They`re still in Georgia.
The pro-Russian pseudo-separatist enclaves inside Georgia that Vladimir
Putin decided he was going to bolster with Russian troops, those Russian
troops are still there.
Yes, John McCain has moved on from saying we`re all Georgians. The
world happily decamped to the Russian city of Sochi for the Olympics
without protests about those troops that Russia has left inside Georgia.
Countries including our own were outraged when Putin did what he did
toward Georgia in 2008, but then, over time we lost interest. And so their
world, their motivations, their internal logic of what Russia does, that is
foreign enough and unknowable enough to us that we consistently over the
decades are completely blindsided by the things that Russia does, even when
they do them on a very large scale.
Also, though, that world is different enough to us that it is, I
think, hard for us to sometimes stay focused on it. We lose interest.
They care about what they do a lot more than we care about what they do.
The Russian logic of invading Georgia was this. They knew they were
going to be getting some international opprobrium, right? They knew they
were going to upset people by invading Georgia back in 2008. But their
calculus was they could bear the international criticism for doing it.
That their desire to occupy parts of Georgia was stronger than the level of
interest and outrage that the world could maintain about that question.
Is that also the calculation with Russia having invaded part of
Ukraine? It worked for them in 2008. Is that the same calculation they`re
making now, that we can`t possibly care as much as they care about what
they`ve just done? They`ll stick it out and we`ll forget it.
The major European leader who`s thought to be closest to Vladimir
Putin, at least the most able to talk to him leader to leader, is Angela
Merkel who you see here on your screen. Angela Merkel, the chancellor of
And nobody quite knew what to make of it when she reportedly finished
a long telephone call with Vladimir Putin a couple days ago and after that
call, she picked up the phone again to call President Obama because she
wanted to tell President Obama that having spent a whole lot of time on the
phone with Vladimir Putin, she wanted President Obama to know that in her
opinion, quote, “Vladimir Putin is in another world.” She said he didn`t
seem like he was in touch with reality, in another world.
Now, was that just how he seemed to Angela Merkel in that
conversation? Was he just being particularly weird or loopy to her for
some reason? Was she saying that strategically to try to influence
something about how the West was behaving toward Russia in this
international crisis? What did that mean for her to say that Putin sounded
like a space cadet when she talked to him on the phone about what he was
doing in Crimea?
Well, today, those questions were largely settled when Mr. Putin held
a long press conference in Moscow in front of the cameras and was a space
cadet to everybody. He showed the world the behavior and bizarre logic
that frankly freaked out the German chancellor enough that she had to call
President Obama to talk about it.
The headline from longtime Russia watcher and reporter Julia Ioffe in
“The New Republic” today was very much to the point, quote, “Putin`s press
conference proved Merkel right. He has lost his mind.”
“Putin squirmed and rambled. And rankled and rambled. He was a
rainbow of emotions. Flustered. Confused. So confused.”
Here she`s quoting or paraphrasing Mr. Putin. She says, “Viktor
Yanukovych is still the acting president of Ukraine, but Mr. Putin can`t
talk to Ukraine because Ukraine has no president. Ukraine needs elections,
but you can`t have elections because there`s already a president. And
also, no elections will be valid.” Huh?
He also suggested that the protesters who have been shot by police
snipers in Kiev had shot themselves. The opposition protesters arranged
those shootings, themselves, in order to make the government look bad.
He then also suggested that America had orchestrated the whole thing.
Quote, “Sometimes I get the feeling these people in America, they`re in
their laboratory doing experiments like on rats.”
“The Washington Post” today called this a strange and rambling press
conference. They quoted Mr. Putin claiming that no Russian troops have
actually invaded Crimea. No Russian troops have crossed the border. He
says, quote, “You can go to a store and buy a uniform. Were these Russian
soldiers? No, they`re just well trained local self-defense forces.”
President Obama responded to that claim today by saying of President
Putin, quote, “I don`t think that he`s fooling anybody.”
But whether or not President Putin is out to lunch, whether or not he
really is trying to fool anybody, whether he`s just saying patently,
obviously untrue things as kind of a one-finger salute to the rest of the
world and the world`s media, his world view, his bizarre explanation of
what he says he`s doing, of what he says is going on in Russia`s corner of
the world isn`t just a Rorschach test, isn`t just a psychological exercise
about how two different ends of the telescope make the world look like two
very different places.
These two totally different understandings of what`s going on in the
world, one from Vladimir Putin, and one from everybody else in the world,
these two different perspectives on what`s happening there are manifesting
on the ground in places like the Ukrainian airbase in Belbek.
When we signed off on this show last night, the live version of this
show at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time, at that moment at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, we
were hitting the deadline at which the Russian military had told some of
the Ukrainian military that they needed to surrender. They needed to
switch sides or else.
As that deadline to surrender approached while we were on the air last
night, Russian troops – which of course Vladimir Putin says aren`t Russian
troops at all – they entered that airfield in Ukraine and forced the
Ukrainian soldiers at that airfield away at gunpoint. So, it`s a Ukrainian
base called Belbek. But the Russians are holding it. And they kicked all
of the Ukrainians out of their own base.
Hours after that happened, Ukrainians decided day were going to go
back. Whereupon this man who you see on your screen here with the gun,
this guy there, see him firing into the air there? Pointing his gun at
them and firing his gun in the air. That man fired the first shots of this
conflict in Crimea.
Those are the first shots fired in this event. He fired them as
warning shots into the air as this column of unarmed Ukrainian soldiers
approached the Russians to try to get back into their own base.
The Ukrainians commander told “The Washington Post” that after they
have been forced out of their base, quote, “The men felt very bad. They
felt they abandoned their post. We swore an oath to serve.”
When they were forced back into their barracks the Ukrainian soldiers
argued about what to do. Quote, “We decided we would return to work. Any
man who did not want to come, he would not be branded a traitor or a
coward,” the colonel said, “but every man came.”
And these 200 Ukrainian troops marched up the hill to tell the
Russians who had taken over their base that they wanted back in. They
wanted to return to their jobs, they wanted to return to service the
airplanes and guard the airfield there, which they had been doing before
the Russians kicked them out.
Again, the Ukrainian troops here were unarmed. They walked up to the
armed Russians in a column holding no weapons whatsoever. The Russians
obviously are very much armed. The Russians took up sniper positions
around the standoff, around this column of Ukrainian troops.
And ultimately no one was killed or wounded in that standoff at that
air base in Crimea yesterday. But this – excuse me, this morning.
But this is the kind of drama that going on there on the ground. This
is the kind of physical confrontation on the ground as Russia digs in
apparently to stay in this part of Ukraine. And the rest of the world
tries to figure out not only how to respond, but what the Russians might do
next. And, boy, are we bad at predicting what the Russians might do next.
We`re just a few days into this crisis. The U.S. hasn`t yet lost
interest in what`s happening there. Secretary of State John Kerry spent an
intense day on the ground today in Ukraine. He announced a billion dollars
in loan guarantees for the new Ukrainian government which Vladimir Putin
says doesn`t exist. Congress also says it will meet soon to prepare a
package of aid for that same contested new Ukrainian government.
At a very, very base level, there`s a real question here as to whether
or not our worlds are so different that the Russians are not going to care
what we do no matter what we do. There`s this big threat, right, that
we`re going to leave the G8 and not show up at the G8. Vladimir Putin said
today, I don`t care if they show up at the G8. Let them show up or let
them not show up, it doesn`t matter.
Are we in such different worlds there`s nothing we can do they would
care about no matter what we do? And are we in such different worlds that
we are always doomed to be purely reactive to an occasionally incoherent
and often belligerent Russia? If only because we have never understood
them? And the only consistency in our relationship with them is our
constant surprise at what they do which blindsides us every time?
More ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: There have been generations now of aggressive spy games
between the United States and Russia. From the American perspective, all
those decades of spying for whatever reason haven`t made us very good at
predicting what Russia`s going to do on the world stage. As recently as
Thursday of last week, the CIA reportedly told Congress that they didn`t
think Russia would invade Ukraine. Russia then invaded Ukraine the
Over the years, the CIA has also missed little things like the Soviets
invading Afghanistan, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the last time
the Russians invaded another country when they invaded in 2008.
But all that spying failure, all that intelligence failure doesn`t
mean the spying has slowed down between our countries.
This is an American named Ryan Fogle. This is his ID badge. He
worked at the U.S. embassy in Moscow until this past May when he was
arrested on a Moscow street and tackled to the ground while wearing this
sort of strangely colored backwards baseball hat and rather amazing blond
The Russians arrested Mr. Fogle for supposedly being a covert spy, a
CIA spy. Russian media released lots of still photos of him as well as
this video of his arrest complete with an elaborate perp walk that the FSB
made him do while still handcuffed and wearing the horrible wig and hat.
We eventually get to see him waiting to be questioned about his
alleged spying activities. Also photographed all the supposed spy gear
they caught him with which included some more bad wigs and a compass and a
knife and a walkie-talkie and a map and dark glasses. What, no trench
It was all odd, right? From the spy gear kit of sorts that was laid
out on the table, to this very highly choreographed performed for the
cameras arrest and the perp walk, right? It was all – it was like
rejected scenes from “Covert Affairs” or “Homeland” or something. It was
weird to begin with.
If that`s not enough weirdness for you, the visuals they put out to
the world, consider also the timing.
The guy with a terrible was arrested in Moscow on a Monday night. On
Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador, the Russian government never seemed too fond
of in the first place, the U.S. ambassador was scheduled the next day to do
a Twitter Q&A to the public. It was basically a question of ask the U.S.
He was scheduled to do that public Q&A on Twitter at 2:30 local time
on Tuesday. The ambassador kicked off the session by tweeting “I`m happy
to answer your questions.”
So, at 2:30 local time, the exact same time the Q&A was scheduled to
start, that is when the Russian government released at that very moment the
news that they had arrested this American spy, the guy in the terrible wig,
the exact same time. And that is not only the latest in a lifetime worth
of bizarre spy stories between Washington and Moscow. It`s also a pretty
good granular indicator of what it must be like to try to be the U.S.
ambassador in Russia these days under a man named Vladimir Putin.
Joining us now for the interview tonight is Michael McFaul. He left
his post as U.S. ambassador to Russia last week. He`s now a professor of
political science at Stanford University.
Professor McFaul, thank you very much for being with us.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Thanks for having
me. You`ve done your homework about me.
MADDOW: Well, I`ve at least tried to. I will not ask you to talk
about the Ryan Fogle incident. I know you can`t.
But I do want to ask if it`s fair to characterize the sort of timing
and the way the Russian authorities handled that issues vis-a-vis you as
indicative of how hard it was to be a diplomat there. How hard it was to
deal with and predict the activities of the Russian federation?
MCFAUL: Yes, it was a hard time. Absolutely. It was a very tense
time after the demonstrations back in December of 2011 where hundreds of
thousands of people went out in the streets to protest falsified elections.
And the regime under Mr. Putin, then prime minister, and later President
Putin reacted to that by claiming that those demonstrators were controlled
by the West, controlled by the Obama administration and controlled by me.
Almost every day that accusation was made about me and the state-controlled
And therefore the intensity of the attention to myself and to the rest
of the people that worked with me at the embassy was profound and, you
know, up to allegedly thousands of agents were assigned to us to follow us,
to track us, in our day-to-day activities there. So, yes, it was a pretty
MADDOW: When the Russian president or when other Russian officials
blamed the United States for orchestrating anti-Russian events in the world
and most recently, of course, they`re blaming the entire situation on
Ukraine including their own invasion on some sort of American puppet master
operation there. Are they doing that simply for political effect because
they know it will play well domestically? Or do you think they believe it?
MCFAUL: You know, I`ve wrestled with that question for a long time.
As I left Moscow, we actually had this conversation with many of my
colleagues, including the chief of station of the CIA, by the way.
And in the beginning, when Putin was running for president, I always
just assumed it was part of the campaign, right? It`s a way to deter
people from meeting with the opposition, from engaging with the opposition.
And those that none of them actually were allowed to run as candidates.
Let`s be clear about that. The opposition was watching that election.
But it was a way for Putin to say, I`m the defender of Russia against
these western imperial powers. But over time, and I`ve had the opportunity
to discuss this with President Putin directly, myself, I actually do think
he believes it.
I think he believes that it`s part of American foreign policy to use
the CIA, and he focuses a lot on the CIA when he discusses these issues, to
undermine regimes that we don`t like. And by the we, it`s the United
States – Democrat/Republican, it doesn`t matter.
That`s his view of the world. He believes it in Ukraine. He believes
it in Egypt. He believes it in Syria. And he believes it in Russia.
MADDOW: Do you agree with the assessment that whatever they think of
the CIA over there, and whatever we think about the capabilities of our own
intelligence community, we have found it difficult over time to predict
Russian behavior and particularly to understand President Putin`s world
view and what he`s likely to do.
MCFAUL: Those are two very different things and I`m glad you used
both of them because what is Russian behavior?
I`ve never met Mr. Russia. In cables, my colleagues used to write
from Moscow, I would not allow them to say “Russia thinks that,” “Russia
behaves this way”, because there`s Putin, there`s the Russian government,
even the Russian government is not unitary actor, then there`s the Russian
people and societal forces.
So, it depends on which question you want to answer, whether we`re
good or bad at predicting Russian behavior. And I think both as an
academic who`s written about Russia for a long time, by the way, and
political change is what I focused my academic career on, and as a consumer
of information produced by the CIA, and other intelligence organizations
when I worked for three years at the National Security Council, and then as
ambassador, I would say we`re good at some things and we`re bad at other
So, we`re goods at kind of big behavioral societal stuff. I think we
have pretty good tools for that. We`re not as good as you rightly pointed
out in your earlier segment at predicting the individual behavior and
decision-making of one actor. That is president Putin.
We did have conversations, just so you know, when I was still in the
government, about the likelihood, probability, concerns of him going into
Crimea, into Ukraine. We had those discussions. But to predict that, to
say, oh, I know with certainty he`s going to go into Crimea on this date,
we`re not good at that. You`re right.
We`re not good at that because we don`t have, you know, a lot of
connectivity with president Putin personally. He`s a very isolated
individual. He meets with only a very small handful of American leaders
and the circle around him also, or not, people hanging out with the
ambassador drinking vodka talks about what Putin thinks.
Remember, all these guys are from the KGB. Let`s be clear about that.
President Putin, that`s where he worked. A lot of his senior closest
advisers came from that institution and therefore were not as good at
understanding his individual decision-making.
MADDOW: It`s fascinating. It`s fascinating both in terms of
understanding what we have understood and what we did or didn`t predict
about how we got to where we are, but also in terms of thinking about how
we might predict how he`ll respond to any action we tame now and what
stimulus he`ll respond to and how. Fascinating stuff.
Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, now professor of
political science at Stanford University – you`re absolutely the best
person in the world to talk to about these matters tonight short of
Vladimir Putin. I appreciate you being here. Thank you very, very much.
MCFAUL: Yes. Thanks for having me.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: After the news broke earlier this year about a connection
between the George Washington bridge lane closures and members of Governors
Chris Christie`s own office, Governor Christie announced publicly he had
cut ties with two of his very senior staffers. His deputy chief of staff
Bridget Anne Kelly who sent an e-mail that said, “Time for traffic problems
in Fort Lee,” he fired her and he also fired his campaign manager.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I was disturbed by the tone and
behavior and attitude of callous indifference that was displayed in the e-
mails by my former campaign manager Bill Stepien and reading that, it made
me lose my confidence in Bill`s judgment. And you cannot have someone at
the top of your political operation who you do not have confidence in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Governor Chris Christie announcing he had fired the man who
he twice put in charge of electing him governor of New Jersey, who he just
put forward to run the Republican Party of the state of New Jersey and who
is widely expected if not to run entirely at least take part in managing
the governor`s own run for president of the United States in 2016.
Governor Christie fired Bill Stepien the first day that the governor
apologized about that bridge scandal. He said at the time that Bill
Stepien`s tone was offensive to him, offensive to the governor so he no
longer had confidence in Mr. Stepien.
Now, Governor Christie is not known for having the most genial tone,
himself. So, it never made that much sense that Bill Stepien`s tone is the
reason he was fired so quickly.
But that question of why Chris Christie fired his top political aide,
that question came at a sharper focus today, as we learned that not only is
the governor`s fired campaign manager not cooperating with the legislative
investigation into the bridge scandal, he apparently also is not
cooperating with the FBI and federal prosecutors. Wow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: This morning, I`ve terminated the employment of Bridget
Kelly effective immediately. I terminated her employment because she lied
to me. I was this disturbed by the tone and behavior and attitude of
callous indifference that was displayed in the e-mails by my former
campaign manager Bill Stepien. You cannot have someone at the top of your
political operation who you do not have confidence in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie explaining why two members
of his inner circle, his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly and his
former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, were losing their jobs. That was
the governor speaking in January.
The reason behind Bridget Kelly`s firing was obvious. She was
publicly exposed as having written an e-mail that said, “Time for some
traffic problems in Fort Lee.” And according to Governor Christie, she
lied and said she had nothing to do with those traffic problems in Fort Lee
when she was questioned about it. Lying to Chris Christie, well, that`s
the sort of thing that gets you fired apparently.
But the reasoning around Bill Stepien being fired has been less clear.
Literally two days before Chris Christie`s press conference, the one we
played that clip from, just two days before that, where he announced he was
firing Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien, two days ahead of that, Chris
Christie put Bill Stepien forward to take over as the head of the New
Jersey Republican Party. The governor called him, quote, “The best
Republican operative in the country” and said New Jersey Republicans would
be fortunate to have him leading their party.
Mr. Stepien had twice run the campaigns that elected Chris Christie
governor of New Jersey. He was tapped to lead the New Jersey state party.
He was expected to help run if not running Governor Christie`s campaign for
president if he ran in 2016.
Bill Stepien is barely into his mid 30s but he`d been racing up the
Republican ladder to national prominence. Now his political career is
almost certainly over. And it`s because Chris Christie didn`t like the
tone he took in an e-mail?
In the e-mails that were released by the legislature, the day before
Governor Christie fired him, Bill Stepien does turn up in those e-mails
calling the mayor of Fort Lee, quote, “an idiot.” Mr. Stepien is looped in
on other communication. He turns up here and there as being consulted on
media strategy, in dealing with the fallout from the bridge.
But there`s really nothing in the documents released by the
legislature that makes Bill Stepien seem like he was a prime mover in the
bridge scandal. But Governor Christie fired him and fired him straight
away saying that the tone Bill Stepien took in the documents was so
terribly offensive that it would not allow Governor Christie to allow him
to keep his job and his career.
If we`re going by what was in those documents, then we`re supposed to
believe governor Christie was so offended by Mr. Stepien`s use of the word
“idiot” that that`s why he had to be fired.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
CHRISTIE: And let me tell you something – after you graduate from
law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end is
going to get thrown in jail, idiot.
You know, I tried to be patient with the guy. Every time I tried to
answer he started yelling over me again and everything. Damn, man, I`m
governor, could you just shut up for a second?
REPORTER: Governor, on Monday are you going to be addressing the
CHRISTIE: Did I stay on topic? Are you stupid? On topic. On topic.
REPORTER: How many days will you have them come back?
CHRISTIE: Thank you, thank you all very much. I`m sorry for the
idiot over there.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie calls people idiot all the
time to their face, particularly if there are cameras rolling. Now, we`re
supposed to think that kind of language is a firing offense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Secondly, I was disturbed by the tone and behavior and
attitude of callous indifference that was displayed in the e-mails by my
former campaign manager Bill Stepien. And reading that, it made me lose my
confidence in Bill`s judgment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: As far as what`s out there in the public record on Bill
Stepien`s role in the bridge scandal, really there isn`t much. You see it
on a few e-mails. He does call the mayor an idiot. That`s pretty much it.
Firing Bill Stepien for that because the governor said he was so
bothered by that tone, that case for firing Bill Stepien has always seemed
sketchy. Now, though, the sketch is being filled. What we knew as of last
night, is that neither Bridget Kelly nor Mr. Stepien is cooperating with
the New Jersey legislature investigating the bridge lane closings.
Now, though, today, thanks to documents filed by Bridget Kelly`s
lawyer and Bill Stepien`s lawyer, we now know the reason Mr. Stepien is
refusing to turn over documents from the New Jersey legislature is because
his lawyer says he appears to be the subject of a federal criminal
investigation, by federal prosecutors and the FBI. Quoting today`s court
filing, “As a matter of fact, Mr. Stepien is under investigation by the FBI
and U.S. Department of Justice as evidenced by the government`s telephone
calls to him and his lawyer, and the federal agent`s recent visit to his
Mr. Stepien`s lawyer says a special agent called Mr. Stepien on the
phone January 17th. Shortly thereafter, two assistant U.S. attorneys
followed up with him, with him, the lawyer, hoping to speak with Mr.
Stepien. In mid-February, apparently, an FBI agent and investigator from
the DOJ paid a visit to Mr. Stepien`s home, asked his landlord about his
conduct and character.
And every instance, Mr. Stepien and his lawyer declined to talk with
federal agents or the federal prosecutors who were trying to talk to him.
And according to Bridget Kelly`s lawyer, same goes for her. Not only are
Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien invoking the Fifth Amendment and refusing to
hand over documents to the legislature while the legislature investigates
this issue, Bill Stepien and Bridget Kelly appear to be refusing to
cooperate with federal prosecutors.
And that`s one thing if your case for why you`re not complying is
because you dislike the legislature, you dislike the legislators who are
leading or you suspect their motives somehow, but if you`re refusing to
cooperate with the FBI and federal prosecutors? There is something that
needs explaining there beyond the subjective tone of the word idiot used
once in a New Jersey e-mail.
Joining us now, Shawn Boburg, “Bergen Record” reporter, consistently
out in front of coverage on the bridge scandal.
Shawn, it`s great to have you here again. Thank you for being here.
SHAWN BOBURG, BERGEN RECORD: Thank you.
MADDOW: So, you know, New Jersey politics very well and a lot of
these players. Is it plausible to you that the use of the word “idiot” is
what caused Chris Christie to lose his – to lose confidence in his
campaign manager, Bill Stepien?
BOBURG: Well, what`s clear is Christie`s used harsh language in the
past. The exact reasons for that firing, we don`t know. We can take
Christie for his word, at his word, that this had something to do with this
tone. You pointed out the inconsistencies.
Now, we overlay the recent developments, the FBI focusing on Bill
Stepien, clearly visiting his house, questioning his landlord. And the
question arises, is there something more? Question we don`t know the
answer to yet.
MADDOW: Is there anything that has turned up in other documents that
have surfaced since that initial tranche of documents in early January
which you were first to publish? Is there anything that points attention
more directly to Bill Stepien has having played a more operational role in
this than was initially apparent?
BOBURG: No, there`s nothing documented. But remember the context
here. We`re talking about lane closures that as far as we can tell had a
BOBURG: The theory that`s been proposed is that this was about an
endorsement, or a lack of an endorsement by the Fort Lee mayor. A campaign
manager would probably be in a position to know and to control any
operation that seeks endorsements.
So, there could be interests just based on speculation, but certainly
the public record so far hasn`t indicated that Bill Stepien had any
previous knowledge or any hand in directing the lane closures.
MADDOW: It seems to me like a matter of some seriousness for Bridget
Kelly and also Bill Stepien to not just be trying to hold the legislature
at arm`s length, resisting those subpoenas, invoking their Fifth Amendment
rights. But apparently now as you point out in your reporting today for
“The Record” apparently now also refusing to communicate with, refusing to
cooperate with FBI agents and assistant U.S. attorneys, federal prosecutors
who are looking into this.
I don`t know how frequently people do that in federal criminal
investigations. Do we know of anybody else who`s in that boat in this one?
BOBURG: No, we don`t. This goes without saying. But listen – this
is a serious investigation. Any time you have federal prosecutors looking
into a matter that your name has been attached to, I think any good defense
attorney is going to counsel that these people take very methodical,
deliberative steps and that they actually challenge prosecutors to build a
Remember, we don`t know what prosecutors, what crime they`re pursuing,
what kind of case they might be building. So, I think the defense
attorneys are probably going to counsel the conservative approach here and
that`s why you might not be seeing cooperation.
MADDOW: Shawn Boburg, reporter for “The Bergen Record” – thank you
for helping us understand this. This has taken some dramatic turns as of
late. Appreciate it, Shawn. Thanks.
BOBURG: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead. We`ll with right back.
MADDOW: So you may have heard they were premiering a brand-new
documentary on this show in a couple of days, on Thursday night of this
week. This is something we have been working on for a long time here at
MSNBC. And all of us – I think me, especially – we are all very excited
to finally be able to air this documentary publicly.
It`s already generating some upset and some controversy. But we`re
getting it out there on Thursday night of this week at last.
And I have been allowed to give you an exclusive sneak preview of what
we`re doing with this.
And that`s coming up next. Please stay right there.
MADDOW: At this time last night, this very moment, in fact, President
Obama was just wrapping up a high-stakes meeting in the White House
Situation Room. President Obama assembled his national security team to
weigh his options about what to do in Ukraine. That meeting lasted
reportedly for more than two hours.
That room, the Situation Room, is sort of the nerve center for the
U.S. government when it comes to national security policy and urgent
decision making. It`s that room where some of the most consequential
decisions are made in terms of when and where to use U.S. military force
around the world. And it was in that room eight months before 9/11 where
one of the most confounding decisions about U.S. national security was
It was a meeting that had consequences that we are still living with
today. And even at the time, it stunned some of the people who were
involved in it. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC`S “TRMS” HOST (voice-over): Eleven days into
office, Bush assembles his national security team for the first time.
Along with the vice president and national security adviser Condoleezza
Rice, the principals include Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Treasury Secretary Paul O`Neill.
RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR: Paul O`Neill opened up everything for the book I
wrote about him in the Bush administration, including 19,000 documents.
And in the first National Security Council meeting of the Bush presidency,
January 30th of 2001, O`Neill arrives with Colin Powell.
MADDOW: According to Suskind, the central focus of the National
Security Council`s meeting that day is the Middle East, Iraq.
SUSKIND: Immediately, there is talk of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
And then Bush says, “Well, you know, I don`t think much is going to be done
over there.” And then Bush says, “Well, what do you think the big issue in
the region is, Condi?” to Condi Rice.
At which point, she says, “I think Iraq is the big issue, the
destabilizing force and that`s going to be our focus.”
The reaction of both O`Neill and Powell is startled. O`Neill sort of
summed it up. Bush basically saying, “I want to overthrow Saddam, find me
a way to do it. Not if, how?”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The very first weeks of the Bush presidency was when the
decision was made apparently to take out Saddam Hussein, months before
Why was that decision made? It wasn`t why they said, right? The
public case for that war was a lie. So why did we really go?
That has been an elusive question for much of the last decade. But
now, we think we had an answer.
“Why We Did It”, our new documentary on this subject, premiers this
Thursday at 9:00 Eastern. I`m going to be talking about the documentary on
“The Daily Show” as well, because I really would like as many people as
possible to tune in. I think what we found is really important.
And I hope you`ll watch. Again, Thursday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONELL.”
Have a great night.
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