The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/25/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
There is a confession. We`re told there`s a written confession in the
mysterious and bizarre killings that happened in the Boston suburbs on the
10-year anniversary of 9/11. September 11th, 2011, in Waltham,
Massachusetts, these three young men were all found dead, all inside the
same apartment. They were all positioned the same way, all laying facing
the same direction. All with their throats slit.
And there was a significant quantity of marijuana that was thrown on
top of their bodies just strewn over them. Left untouched in the apartment
was a much greater quantity of high-end marijuana, as well as $5,000 in
cash. It was all just left there with the bodies in that heretofore
unsolved truly gruesome crime.
But, today, a state prosecutor in Florida has released what is said to
be the written confession of someone who admits to having been in on that
Do you want to see this written confession? We have a picture of it.
Here it is. Admittedly it`s kind of hard to read because of the giant
block of redacted whatever. But they tell us that this is the written
This confession which because of the redaction is basically just a
picture of a piece of lined paper, right? It`s part of a voluminous report
released today from a Florida state prosecutor investigating the shooting
death of this man.
He initially came to law enforcement`s attention because he was a
friend of the older of the two suspects in the Boston marathon bombing. It
was, of course, April 15th last year that the finish line of the Boston
marathon was bombed. In the ensuing manhunt after the bombing, two
brothers, two Russian immigrant brothers were identified as the suspects in
And the older of the two brothers was killed in a chaotic gun battle
on the streets of Watertown, Massachusetts, as he and his younger brother
sought to escape from the police that were pursuing them.
Three days later, three days after Tamerlan Tsarnaev died on the
streets of Watertown, law enforcement in Florida tracked down this man,
reportedly his friend. Ibragim Todashev, he had been a friend of Tamerlan
Tsarnaev, the older of the two Boston bombing suspects. He worked out at
the same gym with him in Boston before he moved down to Florida.
Starting on April 21st, remember the bombing was April 15th. So, this
is less than a week after the Boston marathon bombings. On April 21st, law
enforcement started interviewing him. They interviewed him multiple times
in conjunction with their investigation of the marathon bombing.
Now, it has still never been alleged that Ibragim Todashev had a
connection to the bombing other than knowing one of the suspects. But that
connection was enough to get him intense attention from the FBI, including
several of his friends being not just questioned but also being arrested
and being deported from this country on immigration charges, including
Ibragim Todashev`s girlfriend who he was living with at the time in
On May 21st, of last year, five weeks after the marathon bombings, a
month after they`d first started questioning Ibragim Todashev over his
connection to the Boston bombing, FBI agents and Massachusetts state
troopers again sought to question Mr. Todashev.
They had previously agreed – they had previously interviewed him
multiple times and he previously agreed to be interviewed at a local police
station. But this time on May 21st when they asked to interview him again,
this time he refused to go to the police station for the interview.
Law enforcement sources say that recognized that he was upset about
what had happened to his girlfriend. The last time he had talked with law
enforcement at the police station. So that`s why he refused to go with
Quoting from today`s report, “When asked why Mr. Todashev would not
agree to be interviewed at the police department again, trooper 2 advised,
yes, he was upset about the last interaction, the prior interaction at the
police department. His girlfriend, Tatiana was taken into custody by
immigration officials. Mr. Todashev felt that that was connected to the
fact that he came in voluntarily to speak with agents. Subsequently, she
was removed and placed in immigration custody. I think he felt slighted
So, this is how it worked out. Since the last time he went to the
police department to talk to agents, they arrested his girlfriend and put
her in immigration jail. Because that`s what happened the last time he
went to the police station with them, this time he said he wouldn`t do
that. He would not go with them to the police station. According to
today`s report, he initially proposed that he meet with the FBI officers to
talk to them at a hookah bar.
Now, the task force officer he was negotiating with told him the
hookah bar was not going to be a good plan for this next interview. They
asked him, what would make you more comfortable? Then, Mr. Todashev agreed
that the FBI officers and other law enforcement agents he was going to
speak to should meet him at his house. So, that is where they met.
This is the front door of his apartment in Orlando. This is the rear
view of the house. Kind of backs up on to a bit of a wetland like a swamp.
And this, we now know, and it is very eerie to see it given what we
know happens next, this is a picture of Ibragim Todashev inside his
apartment that night talking with law enforcement agents while they are
interrogating him. This is a picture of him close up. There`s one other
picture they`ve released of him taken from further away inside the
Now, in terms of you`re looking at here, law enforcement says that
white table in the foreground there, they say that is where he started to
write out his confession to the Waltham triple murder back in Boston from
2011. In addition to those two still images, law enforcement also say
today that there were multiple audio and video recordings that were taken
in that apartment that night. There were two Massachusetts state troopers
in the apartment and an FBI special agent.
And between them, they took multiple recordings on their cell phones
and also on some sort of high-definition video recorder that they had with
them. The report released today says that in all, three recording devices
were used by the Massachusetts state police at various times during the
interview due to battery life.”
So they had to keep swapping them out. But the swapping of the
various recording devices resulted in a total of four video recordings with
audio and one audio-only recording. Quote, “The recordings captured the
majority of the interview and the confession of Todashev to that triple
murder back on September 11th 2011.”
Again, that`s what we are told. They haven`t – they tell us they`ve
got these recordings. They haven`t released any of these recordings. They
do, however, give us a description of what is on these recordings. From
those descriptions we`re told even at the culmination of this hours-long
interview in this hot, cramped Florida apartment, this interrogation that
went on for almost five hours that night, even at the culmination of it, as
Ibragim Todashev was writing out his handwritten confession to complicity
in the triple murder, according to the recording made at the time, quote,
“The situation appeared to be calm and non confrontational.”
So we`ve got this new report today and because of it we`ve got
pictures of this young man in his apartment while law enforcement is
interrogating him. We`ve got the picture of what they say is his written
confession, but we can`t see what`s on it because it`s all just a big
redacted block of text.
We`ve got descriptions of what they say are audio recordings and video
recordings of what happened in that room although they won`t let us see or
hear the recordings, themselves. What we`ve also got is text messages.
Remember, there was two Massachusetts state troopers and one FBI agent
One of the Massachusetts state troopers who was on scene for the
interrogation at 10:28 p.m. that night, trooper 1 sends the following text
message. “He signed Miranda.” Meaning he signed away his Miranda rights
so he will talk without an attorney present. “He signed Miranda. About to
tell us his involvement.”
Twenty seconds later, the same trooper texts again, “Standby to
standby.” Half an hour later he sends another text message, “He will be in
custody after the interviews.” Then 45 minutes after that, this is 11:53
p.m., the trooper says, “He is writing the statement now in his apartment.”
Two minutes after that, trooper 1 sends this message. “Who`s your
daddy?” Thirteen seconds later, he sends the same text message again.
“Who`s your daddy?” Thirty seconds after that, he receives a message in
reply. Multiple question marks.
Then he responds in less than 30 seconds. “Getting confession as we
Now, we don`t know who that trooper is texting with. Who he`s
taunting, “Who`s your daddy?” about the fact he`s getting what he says is a
confession. Whoever he`s texting with in that crucial moment sends him
this message back. “Shut the heck up. Thought that`s what you were doing.
Who`s doing the interview?”
A minute and a half later, trooper 1 responds, “Me, FBI guy” and
somebody whose name is redacted who`s presumably the other Massachusetts
“He is now writing the statement. Going to be a long night. Still in
his apartment in Orlando. Admitted his role.”
That was sent at one minute until midnight. Five minutes later,
Ibragim Todashev was dead in that apartment.
The Massachusetts state trooper who`s sending the “Who`s your daddy?”
text messages taunting and lording over someone, we don`t know who, that
he`s getting a confession from Ibragim Todashev, he was in the apartment
with Todashev while sending the text messages, last one sent at one minute
until midnight. Five minutes later at 12:04, the FBI agent also in that
apartment opened fire seven times and shot Ibragim Todashev to death.
I remember there were multiple recording devices making multiple audio
and video records of what was going over the course of that long night in
that apartment in Orlando. But amazing as it may seem, even as those
recordings were told, captured him writing out that confession, somehow
none of those recordings was rolling just moments later when they tell us
in the middle of writing out that confession, Mr. Todashev reportedly
snapped. They say he threw that white coffee table at the FBI agent,
hitting him in the head, leaving the FBI agent to shoot him, saying he
feared for his life and for the life of the other armed officer who was in
that room who was the Massachusetts state trooper who had been sending all
According to the report released by the Florida state prosecutor
today, the three recording devices used by the Massachusetts state police
at various times during the interview, those recording devices captured the
majority of what happened that night, captured the majority of the
interview and the confession by Ibragim Todashev but none of those
recording devices managed to capture what happened moments later which is
when they shot him.
That is just one of the reviews of this incident released today, in
very quick succession. Not only we get this report today from the
prosecutor from Florida, we also got the U.S. Department of Justice report
on the shooting, which also notes, “While there are audio and video
recordings of the interview of Todashev earlier that evening, there are no
recordings of the shooting, itself.”
“As midnight, Mr. Todashev agreed to write a statement to memorialize
his verbal confession because the interview discontinued when Mr. Todashev
began to write his statement, the Massachusetts state trooper shut off the
recording device on his cell phone and was sending a text message so other
law enforcement officers, thus no recorder was activated at the time of the
Department of Justice report continues, “The last segment of video
recording depicts Mr. Todashev sitting on the mattress next to sliding
glass doors. He`s beginning to write on a paper tablet using a coffee
table as a writing surface. As the recording ends, the Massachusetts state
trooper is moving toward the recording device and shutting it off.”
And then moments later with, they tell us no recording devices
running, Ibragim Todashev is shot seven times and is dead.
The state prosecutor`s report and department of justice report tell
similar but not exactly the same stories today about how Ibragim Todashev
allegedly picked up and threw this white coffee table at the FBI agent and
hit him in the head. The agent required nine staples in his head to close
the laceration. The pictures of those staples were included in the state
attorney`s report. That report also depicted the blood-soaked shirt that
reportedly was worn by the FBI agent that night.
After throwing the coffee table, Mr. Todashev reportedly ran into his
kitchen, it was just a few steps away, and grabbed what`s described as a
hollow five-foot-long metal utility pole. So maybe that`s like an aluminum
mop handle or metal broom stick or something? They describe him as
wielding that stick at the officers in a way that they felt threatened
them. And that is when the FBI officer opened fire, shooting first three
They say Mr. Todashev was still getting back up to his feet, still
trying to attack them after he had been shot three times and that`s why
they shot him four more times. One of the bullets went into the top of his
head. Another of the bullets went into his back.
But the report from the state attorney and from the Department of
Justice, they both explain that as him falling toward the FBI agent who was
shooting him while the agent continued to fire. They say even though he
was shot in the back, his injuries are not consistent with him having been
running away while he was shot. It`s just that he was falling down.
When the FBI kills someone, there is no other law enforcement
authority that has clear jurisdiction to investigate that killing. So
basically in almost every instance, the FBI investigates itself.
That`s why it was a big deal when the state prosecutor in Florida
agreed that he would also look into this shooting that happened by an FBI
agent in the Florida prosecutor`s jurisdiction. But that is the
prosecutor`s report today that came out early this morning, and utterly
exonerates the FBI of all wrongdoing. Says no criminal charges will be
filed against that FBI agent and the Florida prosecutor`s report says this
incident will no longer be reviewed, the investigation is complete.
At the same time, literally on the same morning, we got also the
Department of Justice report. Them releasing their own report on the same
incident and, again, it also completely exonerates the FBI for any
wrongdoing in this case. They said it`s a completely justifiable shoot.
In addition, also today, the FBI has told us that their own shooting
incident review group, “has met on this matter and found that, yes, the
shooting was consistent with the DOJ deadly force policy.”
That was all today. Bing, bing, bing. One, two, three. And it`s all
over, as far as law enforcement is concerned.
After ten months of there being no official information on this case
whatsoever, Mr. Todashev`s family outraged and bereft, holding press
conferences to show the photos of their son that his friend took in the
morgue showing the seven bullet holes in him, them trying to get some
explanation of what happened. With his girlfriend and his friends, at
least three of them deported and/or barred from re-entering this country
during the course of the investigation, all of a sudden today, bing, bing,
bing, all in one morning, the U.S. government at both the state and the
federal level and the FBI, itself, all declaring this matter to be over,
done, completely investigated and totally kosher. It`s done.
The Council on American Islamic Relations in Florida advocated for
Todashev and his family throughout this case. They said today that they
question the FBI`s narrative in the case. They say, “The only person who
can contradict the government`s narrative is now dead and the investigation
into his death relied on evidence gathered by agents of the same agency
involved in his death.”
The ACLU in Florida today, they praised the state prosecutor today for
what they said was “casting more light on what happened in that Orlando
apartment last May.” They described today`s report as an “important first
step for transparency.” But they also say that the report raises as many
questions as it answers.
According to the Florida ACLU, quote, “even in light of the new
information, seven bullets including to the head and the back, seem like an
unnecessary response to someone who reportedly assaulted an officer and was
wielding a broom stick. When a subject is threatening or assaulting an
officer, it is the job of law enforcement to subdue him and take him into
custody, not to execute him. The central question of whether officers were
justified in killing Mr. Todashev, why a man wielding a broom stick needed
seven bullets put into him remains frustratingly and disappointingly
Now, we asked the FBI if they would please make somebody from the
bureau available for this show tonight to talk about this case. We`ve
reported on this case more than anybody else in national media. We would
love to talk to the FBI directly instead of just talking about them all
They would not make somebody available to come on the show. They did,
however, give us this statement. They said, “Our agents are put in
dangerous situations every day, particularly while working on task forces
with other state, local and federal law enforcement partners fighting
violent crime in all major cities across the U.S. Those situations don`t
make the news. Dangerous situations get resolved peacefully, way more
often than not and they are not publicized. Our preference is to avoid
using force at all times. Many agents go their entire career without ever
In the interest of fairness, though, I have to tell you it should be
noted when FBI agents do use force, when they do shoot people in the line
of duty, every single time in the last 20 years that that has happened,
every single instance of that in the last 20 years, the FBI has exonerated
their own agents of any wrongdoing in those shootings.
“The New York Times” reported late last year that of the last 150
times that an FBI agent has shot someone and killed them, or shot someone
and wounded them in the line of duty, in every single one of those 150
instances, the internal shooting review at the FBI has found the shooting
to be justified, 150 times out of 150 times. That was the record heading
into today. As of today, make it 151 out of 151.
The FBI`s full statement to us today is posted on our Web site tonight
at Maddowblog.com. And let me say, I would still welcome the opportunity
to speak with anyone from the FBI ever if they would ever be willing to
talk about this live on television.
So far, I don`t have hope that they ever will, especially because this
has ended exactly the way they need it to end.
In the meantime, joining us now, David Boeri. He`s senior reporter
for WBUR in Boston. He`s been following this case very closely from
Mr. Boeri, thank you very much for being with us.
DAVID BOERI, WBUR: You`re welcome, Rachel.
MADDOW: The Florida state attorney`s office took a long time, months
and months preparing a report on this shooting. It`s a long detailed
report with some primary documents and photos we never saw before.
What did you find most important and interesting about this product?
BOERI: The biggest surprise in this case, and this case is a bizarre
case, but the biggest surprise for me today was to learn the focus of this
entire investigation which is whether or not that FBI agent was justified
at shooting Ibragim Todashev interviewed all kinds of people but the one
person it didn`t interview was the FBI agent. In fact, he didn`t want to
be interviewed and the FBI doesn`t record interviews, itself.
So not only was he not interviewed by the state attorney here, but
there was no recording for the state attorney to listen to, and the FBI
simply has a written statement. So go figure that.
MADDOW: The FBI has to have some sort of internal protocol. Some
sort of guidelines that they follow in terms of doing an interrogation like
the one that happened in that Orlando apartment that night.
From your reporting on what we learned today about these detailed
descriptions and transcripts we got about what happened in that apartment,
does it seem to you like the FBI followed their own protocols for
interviewing a potentially dangerous subject? They go into a lot of detail
about how dangerous they thought Ibragim Todashev was as a man.
BOERI: This is something the state attorney avoided. He said he
didn`t think it was his place to talk about whether or not there might have
been negligence or the actions of the officers. He accepts the fact that
they went to Todashev`s home, Todashev, as you said, didn`t want to go into
the FBI`s headquarters.
However, here you have, and the report indicates, the FBI agent, those
two state troopers from Massachusetts, rated him an 8 on a level of 10 in
terms of danger before they ever went there. They knew he`s a mixed
martial arts fighter, an ultimate fighter. He had a history of assaultive
behavior. He has a hair-trigger temper.
In addition to all that, as they`re going in, they see the stencil
outline of an assault weapon on the door. They walk in and there`s a
ceremonial samurai sword posted on the wall. They knew that this guy was
dangerous. And yet, some of their actions indicate that they had placed
themselves at great jeopardy being there.
And they did not take the opportunity, and they had the opportunity,
according to the report after 10:00, he had waived his Miranda rights. He
had made incriminating statements. He had said he thought it was – that
incident in Waltham that turned out to be a triple homicide was only going
to be a robbery. He said that, look, I was involved, I just didn`t know he
was going to kill them.
They had cause at the time to bring him in or they could have –
they`re very good at that – come up with a pretext for inviting him in or
invite him to a safe facility where they would have been safe and he would
have been safe.
Remember, this is an important guy to keep alive. He is a very
unsympathetic figure in many ways, but he knows, according to the police,
he`s the only eyewitness to that unsolved triple homicide in Waltham. He
knows that. He may know something about Tsarnaev and his terrorist ties.
But within the course of a couple of hours, they took someone, turned
him into the only eyewitness, known eyewitness of a triple homicide that
was unsolved, and then they shot him. That`s a catastrophe.
MADDOW: A catastrophe that apparently is not going to be investigated
any further and in which everybody has been cleared, at least as far as the
DOJ, the FBI and now the local prosecutors are concern.
David Boeri, senior reporter at WBUR Radio in Boston – thank you for
helping us understand this tonight. I really appreciate you being here.
BOERI: You`re welcome, Rachel.
MADDOW: It will be interesting. Think about who was there when the
shooting happened. One agent. He was the shooter who killed Ibragim
Todashev. But two Massachusetts state troopers. One outside the apartment
when the shooting happened, the other inside apartment texting “who`s your
daddy” presumably to his friends back in Massachusetts and having a great
old time having stopped his recording literally five minutes before the guy
Is the Massachusetts state police ever going to investigate its
troopers` role in this killing? Are they ever going to look into this in
Massachusetts or is Massachusetts going to continue to pretend like this is
somebody else`s scandal?
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In 2008, in Colorado, antiabortion activists decided they
were going to try to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in that
state. It was called the personhood initiative and it would have declared
that at the moment that sperm meets egg, that`s a person. Fertilized eggs
So, in Colorado, as soon as you had sex, you legally would be two
people. If a woman had unprotected sex or even protected sex where the
method of contraception didn`t work or even protected sex where the method
of contraception did work but not yet, in Colorado, as soon as you said,
hey, that was fun, congratulations, you`re two people. Wow.
The antiabortion activists pushing the personhood amendment did get
enough signatures to get the thing on the ballot for the `08 election and
then it failed spectacularly. It lost by more than 40 points.
Two years later in 2010, the same activists reintroduced the same,
hey, you`re two people now measure. They changed the exact language.
Instead of moment of fertilization, it became the beginning of biological
development, but it was exactly the same bill. And even with that year`s
conservative electorate in 2010, still, Colorado voters said no way to
personhood by more than 40 points.
The mainstream antiabortion movement actually opposed the Colorado
effort in part because they worry that if they bluntly tried to ban all
abortion in all circumstances, that might cause a backlash that would set
back their otherwise very successful strategy of incrementally chipping
away at abortion rights.
But there was also the issue of not just abortion, but contraception -
- banning birth control. The personhood initiative because of the way it
was worded would not just have made criminal all abortion in all
circumstances. It would also outlaw arguably hormonal forms of birth
control, the pill, the most popular form of birth control in the country.
So, no, even in a conservative year, Colorado said no to personhood by
huge, huge margins.
That did not stop the personhood folks, though. In 2011, the
following year, they got the same measure on to the ballot in Mississippi.
And there were national predictions that, wow, it`s Mississippi. In
Mississippi, any antiabortion ballot measure is going to pass, but even
with those predictions and even though the voting was in an off year, it
failed in Mississippi, too. Mississippi rejected personhood once after
Colorado rejected it twice.
And then a sort of an amazing thing happened. The national Republican
Party decided after that track record in the polls, we should have it for
the whole country – the personhood initiative that was widely rejected
even by Mississippi voters, the banning of not only all abortion in all
circumstances, but also the most popular forms of birth control in the
country, the national Republican Party decided they wanted that as federal
In 2012, while running for president, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum
and Rick Perry all attended a candidates forum sponsored by Personhood USA,
and at that forum, they all signed a pledge to pursue this personhood thing
at the federal level.
The Republican Party`s eventual presidential candidate, Mitt Romney,
he didn`t attention that candidates forum, but when he was asked whether
he, too, supported the personhood initiative federally, he said,
Oh, but wait, there`s more. In 2012, while Mitt Romney was running
against President Obama, Congress at the time was debating something called
the Blunt Amendment. The Blunt Amendment wasn`t a potential ban on birth
control like the personhood initiative was. It was a bill to allow
employers to pick and choose what their employees get from health
It sprung out of Republicans` apparent desire that your boss should be
able to block you from getting contraception specifically but really would
apply to anything in health care. In the 2012 presidential debate,
President Obama just hammered Mitt Romney for supporting that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A major difference in
this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians
in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making. I
think that`s a mistake.
In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide
contraceptive coverage to everybody who`s insured. Governor Romney not
only opposed it, he suggested that, in fact, employers should be able to
make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through
her insurance coverage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mitt Romney, this is very interesting, he initially denied
that that was his position. He said, “I don`t believe employers should
tell someone whether they can have contraceptive care or not. Every woman
in America should have access to contraceptives.”
But, in fact, he did actually support the Blunt Amendment and the
Blunt Amendment really did say that women can`t get access to contraception
through their health insurance if their boss says so. Kind of does sound
terrible when you put it that way, right? That is what it does. And then
Mitt Romney had to walk it back.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn`t understand
his question. Of course, I support the Blunt Amendment. I thought he was
talking about some state law that prevented people from getting
contraception. So I was simply misunderstood the question and, of course,
I support the Blunt Amendment.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Letting your boss decide if you can have contraception or
not, seriously? That`s my position? OK. Yes. That`s what I`m for. Are
In 2012, the Blunt Amendment was defeated in the Senate. It got votes
from every single Republican senator in the senate except for one. Even
seemingly moderate Republicans like old Scott Brown got behind that effort
to allow employers to restrict access to contraception.
No abortion and no access to contraception has slowly become the party
line for Republicans. I mean, remember, Rick Santorum did pretty well in
his race for the Republican nomination in 2012 which he said he was waging
in part to make clear to America the evils of contraception.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the things I
will talk about that no president has talked about before is, I think, the
dangers of contraception in this country. The whole sexual libertine idea
– many in the Christian faith have said, well, that`s OK. I mean, you
know, contraception is OK. It`s not OK. It`s a license to do things in
the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He came in second to Mitt Romney in the Republican primary
campaign in 2012. The idea that contraception is a problem unexpectedly
has become Republican Party orthodoxy now. But it has also become a
general election problem for Republicans.
The Republican congressman who`s running for Senate in Colorado right
now against Mark Udall, his name is Cory Gardner. He has supported anti-
contraception like personhood at both the state level in Colorado and
federal level. He supported them for years. He bragged about supporting
personhood when he was first trying to win his seat in the House in 2012.
But now, he`s trying to run statewide in Colorado. And now he has
decided that he never really had that position at all. He says he didn`t
understand what he was advocating all those years.
The Republican position on contraception has become increasingly
doctrinaire, while also staying totally politically untenable except in
Republican primaries. And that fact and that issue boiled over today in a
bombshell case at the United States Supreme Court.
And we`ve got more on that ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, the lawyer who`s arguing the case that a corporation
should be able to deny its employees access to contraception on the basis
of their religious beliefs, the lawyer is arguing that case and he gets out
1 1/2 sentences of his argument when he is interrupted by Justice Sonia
Sotomayor. She says, “Is your claim limited to contraceptives or include
items like blood transfusions, vaccines? For some religions, products made
of pork. Could an employer preclude the use of those items as well?”
The lawyer gets out 2 1/2 sentences in response to Justice Sotomayor,
whereupon he gets interrupted again. This time by Justice Elena Kagan who
says this, “Just take one of the things that justice Sotomayor asked about
which is vaccinations, because there are many people who have religious
objections to vaccinations. Suppose an employer refused to fund
vaccinations for employees. What happens then?”
The lawyer gets out two more sentences and then Justice Kagan jumps in
again, interrupts him, asks, “Blood transfusions?” She says, “Blood
transfusions, could they refuse their employees getting blood transfusions
on religious grounds?”
The lawyer says at that point each of these would have to be evaluated
on its own. Then they struggled on through the first half of the argument.
This is a case at the Supreme Court today that has been championed by
conservatives and Republicans as a test of religious liberty. At its
factual core, though, it really is about the question of whether or not
your boss gets to decide on the basis of his or her religious beliefs
whether or not your health insurance covers your birth control.
Joining us for the interview tonight is Walter Dellinger. He`s a
former acting solicitor general and a presidential adviser on
constitutional issues. He was at the Supreme Court for today`s arguments.
Mr. Dellinger, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate your
WALTER DELLINGER, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: You`re welcome.
MADDOW: From what you saw and heard in court today and the way this
case was briefed, what is the key legal point that will decide this case?
And how broadly applicable is it beyond the initial facts of this
DELLINGER: Well, the key legal point that ought to decide the case is
whether companies can use their economic leverage to impose their own moral
views on their employees. No one doubts that the Green family has sincere
objections to contraception. They own a company that employs 13,000
people. And they want to impose their religious views on those 13,000
And if they succeed, as Justice Kagan pointed out later in the
argument, Rachel, if they succeed in this claim of imposing their burden of
their religious beliefs on their employees, they will both be denying the
essential moral agency of those women as individuals. They will also be
setting the stage for endless other claims as Justice Kagan said to come
out of the woodwork. Claims about – I don`t agree with the sex
discrimination laws, I don`t agree with the race discrimination laws, I
don`t agree with the Family Medical Leave Act all on religious grounds.
Therefore, I don`t want any of my employees to have the benefit of those.
I think it`s that notion that we let people impose a burden on third
parties which is really where their religious rights ought to stop, when
they subordinate the religious and moral views of other people.
MADDOW: So to be clear, there`s nothing about this case that would
limit the potential applicability of a ruling to just the Affordable Care
Act or just health care. At least the more liberal justices today were
making the case that this is something that could potentially give
corporations the opportunity to opt out of any statute, even ones that are
broadly seen as applicable to everyone.
DELLINGER: Absolutely. Justice Kagan said that any corporation is
going to be able to, or any commercial enterprise is going to be able to
say we have religious objections to complying with the law, whether it`s an
anti-discrimination law or a handicap law, we don`t want to comply with it.
And they would be entitled to win unless the government can meet some
exceedingly demanding test of showing an especially strict form of the
compelling governmental interest.
And here I think what is really telling is how they disparage and
diminish those who are seeking to uphold this religious exception,
disparage the rights of the women who want to be making their own moral
decisions and be responsible for their own moral choices. They also, I
think at times, spoke today as if this were some sort of gift for the women
from the employers that the employer wants to hold back.
It`s not a gift. This is part of an employment compensation package
that these women have earned. They have contributed part of the premium,
themselves, and they`ve earned the rest of it as part of their employment
compensation just like Social Security. This would be the first time in
American history that a for-profit company had successfully claimed that it
could be exempt from commercial regulations on religious grounds and
there`s no telling where that would stop.
MADDOW: I know it is folly to make predictions on the basis of oral
arguments, but you`ve seen a lot of them. You`ve argued before the court.
Having seen what happened today, did you have a sense of which way the
balance of the court might be leaning on this issue?
DELLINGER: Rachel, I did not. Clear, I can tell you how eight of the
justices are going to vote. Four on each side. Justice Kennedy at one
point indicated he understood that this was a burden on the employees, on
the women. At other times, he expressed concerns with the government`s
I really found it a case where it was not possible to read the
direction of it. So it`s going to be the last week in June we`re going to
It`s possible they may find some narrow ground to decide this on, but
it`s something that`s very important to – what people don`t realize is
that the most effective means of birth control are often the most
expensive. IUDs can cost a month`s salary for a minimum wage full-time
worker. If you take that outside of the insurance compensation package
which these women have earned, you`re really imposing a great burden on
these for the benefit of their employers.
MADDOW: I thought about that today reading Justice Scalia`s remarks
about how this doesn`t really cost anything. This surely can`t be anything
His lack of familiarity with the factual basis of the claim was
striking today. Something that you wrote about in advance of hearing
Walter Dellinger, former assistant attorney general, former acting
solicitor general – thank you so much for being with us. I really
appreciate your time, sir.
DELLINGER: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Last night, we reported on the worst possible way to
celebrate the 25-year anniversary of Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. We
reported last night on a new really big oil spill near Galveston, Texas.
Now, this is a choke point for the American oil economy and therefore
for the American economy. It`s also a crucial environmental setting along
the Texas shore.
The spill was caused by a collision between a ship and a barge that
was carrying bunker fuel oil, which is a really heavy form of marine fuel
oil. The barge partially sunk after the collision and leaked ability
170,000 gallons of this really heavy oil into the water after of Galveston
Well, the Coast Guard responded by closing the Houston ship channel.
That`s one of the busiest shipping channels in the country. They had to
close down the shipping channel in order to start clean-up operations.
This caused over 100 vessels, oil tankers, cargo ship, boats of all
different kinds, caused over 100 vessels who were attempting to leave or
enter that whole seaport area, caused them all to come to a full stop and
drop anchor. And that is a huge deal for the U.S. economically.
The Houston ship channel is basically like the Suez Canal of Texas.
So if it is shut down, depending on how long it goes on, that could be a
really big economic deal for the country.
Well, today, the Coast Guard partially reopened the shipping channel.
They authorized some limited traffic in and out of the area. But they do
say it still could be days for the ship traffic in and around Galveston Bay
and the Houston ship channel to get back to normal. They say it will be
almost a week after the collision at least before ship channel is anything
approaching what it used to be.
In the meantime, clean up are still trying to both rescue wildlife and
to harness all of that spilled very gunky oil.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Currents in the Gulf of Mexico are pushing the oil down the
coast towards the southwest. That means agencies involved in the clean-up
are actively monitoring the movement of that oil. They plan on putting
equipment and personnel on Matagorda Island in anticipation of the oil
making landfall. That could happen in the next few days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “Houston Chronicle” is reporting tonight that a lawsuit has
been filed against the company who is in charge of towing the barge.
Lawsuit filed by about a dozen of local businesses and individuals who say
this massive oil spill in Texas has already hurt them economically. One of
the factors everybody is watching here is that that company that was
operating the barge, or the tow vessel which was towing the barge, that
company has been involved in, in fact, that tow boat the one specific boat
involved in this has been involved in more than 20 incidents reported to
the Coast Guard over the last dozen years, including several other
But a lawsuit filed today and we`ll keep you updated as we learn more
about this spill in Texas. Watch this space.
MADDOW: We have some breaking news tonight from western Washington
state, Snohomish County. That, of course, is where recovery operations are
still ongoing after the giant mudslide there over the weekend.
Just in the last few minutes, authorities in Snohomish County have
announced a new death toll in this disaster. They`re announcing a new
death toll and some bad news about what they expect to happen to that death
toll in coming days. This is new information from just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF TRAVIS HOSTS, SNOHOMISH COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We continued
our search and recovery operation on the entire slide area. Unfortunately,
we didn`t find any signs of life. We didn`t locate anybody alive. And so,
that`s the disappointing part.
Our condolences go out to the families who have lost people here. I
say that on behalf of every single person that is working this scene and
putting in a tremendous amount of time and effort and hours and they`re
doing a great job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was moments ago from Snohomish County in western
Washington. Before this announcement today, the death toll was 14. They
say they covered to more bodies which brings the total death toll to 16.
The true terrible news, though, is that they`re announcing in
Snohomish County that they believe they have located an additional eight
bodies, eight additional bodies that have not yet been recovered so they
have not been added to the confirmed death toll. If those eight additional
bodies are recovered and confirmed as dead, that would bring the total
number of deaths in this terrible mudslide to 24.
Again, though, the confirmed total right now 16, expected to raise to
24 in western Washington state from that mudslide that happened Saturday
morning about 55 miles north of Seattle. As we learn more, we will let you
Thanks for being with us tonight.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>