The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/18/14
CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Happy Friday, man.
HAYES: Have a good weekend.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
There is a Russian ship called the Nikolay Chiker which is cruising
around right off the eastern coast of Florida right now as we speak. It is
a Russian-flagged vessel. It was built in Finland apparently.
It`s a tough little ship. It`s an ocean-going tug. And for the last
few days, it seems, it has been cruising around just off the east coast of
Florida. And what it is doing there, it`s not illegal, but what it is
doing there is raising some eyebrows given the status of things between
Russia and the United States right now.
And, what it is doing there, at least what it seems to be doing there,
at least to me, it`s kind of a surprising thing. And I think it has
something to do with Ronald Reagan.
One of the underappreciated things about the weirdness of the Ronald
Reagan presidency is how much Ronald Reagan as president liked to talk
about space aliens. And not like just in casual conversation. I mean,
like he brought it up at the United Nations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: I occasionally think how quickly
our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat
from outside this world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Everybody in the United Nations is like, did he just say
that? I`m going to wait for the translation. I think he was just talking
about – and that wasn`t the only time he ever did that. That was the
United States in September 1987. President Reagan also really riffed on
the idea of a space alien invasion when he was speaking to a group of
students in Maryland in December 1985.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: I couldn`t help at one point in my discussions with privately
with General Secretary Gorbachev, when you stop to think, we`re all God`s
children wherever we may live in the world, I couldn`t help but say to him
– just think how easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we
held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species
from another planet outside in the universe. We`d forget all of the local
differences that we have between our countries. And we would find out once
and for all that we really are all human beings here on this earth
Well, I don`t suppose we can wait for some alien race to come down and
threaten us. But I think that between us, we can bring about that
realization. Thank you all. God bless you all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: High school kids are like, what`s he talking about?
Too bad we cannot wait for the alien invasion, much as we might all
long for the space invaders to actually get here.
Ronald Reagan was sometimes a little weird when he openly hoped for a
space invasion in multiple speeches. But sometimes, when President Ronald
Reagan talked about space, it was less weird. It was not only less weird
it was prescient, it was on point, and it may very well has led to that
creepy Russian tug sitting off the coast of Miami right now.
This was from Ronald Reagan`s State of the Union address in 1984.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: We can reach for greatness again. We can follow our dreams
to distant stars living and works in space for peaceful economic and
Tonight, I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space
station, and to do it within a decade. NASA will invite other countries to
participate so we can strengthen peace, build prosperity and expand freedom
for all who share our goals.
Just as the oceans opened up a new world for clipper ships and Yankee
traders, space holds enormous potential for commerce today. We`ll soon
implement a number of executive initiatives, develop proposals to ease
regulatory constraints, and with NASA`s help, promote private sector
investment in space.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Private sector investment in space. That time, in the State
of the Union, President Reagan was able to hold back from wishing that
space aliens would invade the earth.
But what he was describing, 30 years ago now, in that speech, it has
come to pass. There is a permanently or at least semi-permanently manned
space station orbiting the Earth right now. Just as Ronald Reagan said
there should be. It took more than a decade to get there but we did get
one. And it is international, like he said. It`s called the International
Now, it used to be that Russia and the United States, we would each do
our own versions of space stations. If you`re old enough to remember
Skylab, that was the American space station that they let crash back into
the atmosphere in 1979. NASA said they didn`t exactly know where it was
going to land. So, at the time, people like drew targets on stuff and they
wore t-shirts with targets on them. Somebody marketed aerosol cans in 1979
that were labeled Skylab repellent.
Ultimately, Skylab crashed down in remote Australia and there is
apparently still some sort of gray market in Skylab bits and bobs that made
it to earth that you can traffic in in the gray market.
The Russians last space station was called Mir. They let that one
crash to Earth in 2001. Everybody was worried it was going to land on a
shopping mall. Mir splashed down into the ocean before providing quite a
light show in the South Pacific.
But now, just like Ronald Reagan said in 1984 even though the Cold War
was still raging at the time, now the future that he predicted has come to
pass where there aren`t individual countries anymore maintaining stations
in space, there is now an International Space Station. And there are
astronauts up there, 200 or 300 miles up there right now, all of the time,
working on stuff.
Here`s the problem, though. If where you work is the International
Space Station, turns out you have a terrible, terrible commute. When we
still had the space shuttle program, that was one of the ways that we could
get astronauts and stuff to and from the International Space Station.
The space shuttle was a truly majestic and amazing aircraft, but
honestly some of its last missions involved the necessary but sort of
undignified task of just hauling dirty stuff and trash home from the
International Space Station. Those vehicles could go up. They could come
back. They brought people and cargo there and they brought people and
Now, though, we don`t have the space shuttle anymore. The space
shuttle program was retired in 2011 and so now, how does the United States
maintain our presence on this far away permanently manned International
Space Station if we`ve got no vehicle to get our people and our stuff on
and off of it?
It turns out, we depend on the Russians. We killed the space shuttle
here, but they did not kill the Soyuz. So for $71 million per seat, the
Russians agree to fly American astronauts, as well as cargo, back and forth
to the International Space Station, $71 million a seat. Russia is the only
country in the world that maintains that capacity right now to transport
stuff in and out of space. And we pay Russia to use that capacity which
only they have, except maybe now not for long.
What happened today in Florida is something else that Ronald Reagan
talked about in that State of the Union Address in 1984 where he announced
that he wanted to build this International Space Station program.
At the end of those remarks he said there would eventually not just be
countries, but companies doing private commerce, private business in space.
And today in Florida, a company called SpaceX sent up its own private
launch of a vehicle called Dragon, which is delivering cargo up to the
International Space Station, bringing up a whole bunch of stuff that the
astronauts on the space station are going to use for experimenting on
growing plants in space, and ways to communicate between the space station
and ground control back here on Earth.
They also on this trip, they`re bringing this guy some legs, I`m not
kidding. This is a robot that they use on the space station right now
called Robonaut 2, or R2 for short. Get it? R2?
But one of the things that went up on the SpaceX today is a pair of
legs for him. He`s up there light now and they just mounted him to a
pedestal. He`s just a little torso, and head and arms. But once this
payload that launched today out of Florida gets there they`re going to be
able to stick some legs onto him. They shipped his legs, and if this promo
shot is any indication his legs are going to be sticking out at weird
angles and they`re going to be a little too skinny, and it`s going to be
For now, though, at least, SpaceX and other private ventures, they can
be used to ferry cargo, such as for example robot legs, they can be used to
ferry cargo up to the space station. But these private companies can`t be
used to transport people to and from the space station. Not yet. They
can`t do that yet but it`s not going to be long.
And that brings us back to the mysterious Russian tugboat off the
coast of Florida today, because the Russians like, they really like that
they`ve got a monopoly on being able to transport people in and out of
space. They have a global monopoly on that. And that`s in part why they
can charge $71 million a seat if you want to catch a ride with them.
If somebody else develops that capability now, well, Russia will lose
that monopoly and they will lose all that money. So, NBC News space
analyst Jim Oberg reports today that the Russian interest in the SpaceX
program, the one that had its most recent launch today in Florida, he
reports that their interest in the SpaceX program is, quote, “intense”.
Mr. Oberg says they realize that this project threatens Russia`s rocket
Once the SpaceX Dragon goes operational with crew, with people on
board, there is no other Russian space flight service that anyone in the
world will have any commercial interest in. Russia could be left behind
and on the ground.
And so today, as SpaceX launched its Dragon thing there off the coast
of Florida, lurking in international waters but very close by, was this
ship, the Nikolay Chiker, that Russian ocean going tug. It turns that tug
specializes in, quote, “underwater search and rescue and salvage.”
Oh. So just in case something went wrong with this launch that the
Russians are so interested in, wouldn`t mind being here to pick up the
pieces and have a little look-see with whatever falls into the sea.
Now, nobody is explaining what exactly that Russian ship was doing off
the coast of Florida today. But what it feels like from all the evidence
is that they were basically there to sort of be a peeping Tom to be there
just in case something went wrong, especially for this next phase of
American space flight because they really don`t want this next phase of
American space flight to work. They want American astronauts to have to
trek out to Kazakhstan and get into a Russian vehicle and hand over a
suitcase full of $71 million every time we want to send an American into
It must be a particular delight to Russian President Vladimir Putin
right now that in the middle of the standoff that he`s having with the rest
of the world and the United States and the E.U., wielding sanctions against
Russian officials, Russian officials who are very close to him, a key
Russian bank that`s run by one of Vladimir Putin`s very close friends, with
all these threats from the west against the Russian economy and the toll
these sanctions have already taken on the Russian economy – it must be a
delight of galactic proportions to Vladimir Putin right now that in the
middle of all that going on right now, globally, NASA just had to send
Russia a check for $458 million, because we`re dependent on them to access
the space station.
And we`ve got astronauts up there. The U.S. just renewed a contract
to send six more U.S. astronauts to and from the space station on a Russian
vehicle at the cost of nearly $500 million. And so, while we are
sanctioning Russia in all of these other ways, we have also just sent them
And that makes for a very awkward headline today in “The Washington
Post”, on the same day that the U.S. national security adviser is in the
White House briefing room warning Russia that its economy is going to take
a big hit unless they stop what they`ve been doing in Ukraine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have been very clear
that we are ready, along with our partners, to impose additional costs. In
the event of a dramatic escalation or a significant escalation, including
as we`ve said repeatedly, the potential for Russia to move its own forces
on the border inside of Ukraine, that those costs and sanctions could even
include targeting very significant sectors of the Russian economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That phrase at the end there, “very significant sectors of
the Russian economy”, that`s actually just a nickname that diplomats use
when what they really mean to say is oil and gas. Oil and gas is what the
Russian economy is.
And as undercutting and weird as it is for the U.S. government to have
to hand Russia a check for $500 million for rides on its spaceships at the
same time that we`re sanctioning their top officials and telling them how
much we`re going to hurt them economically, as undercutting as that is to
be happening all at the same time, consider that also today on the same day
that the national security adviser to the president of the United States is
at the White House threatening that unless Russia backs off from Ukraine,
their oil and gas sector is going to get it, right around the time that she
was saying that today, do you want to know what Vladimir Putin was doing?
He was at home. He was hanging out at home with the head of Shell
Oil. The head of Royal Dutch Shell today went to Vladimir Putin`s house.
In the middle of the United States and the European Union threatening
sanctions against the Russian oil and gas sector, the head of Shell Oil
went to Vladimir Putin`s house today to promise Mr. Putin eye-to-eye and to
promise the world that Royal Dutch Shell is, quote, “committed to expansion
in Russia.” Quote, “We are very keen to grow our position in the Russian
Shell oil today announcing plans to expand Russia`s liquefied natural
gas plant with the Russian state-owned company Gazprom.
Within the last two weeks as the United States and European Union have
levied these sanctions against Russia, as President Obama has signed an
executive order giving himself the authority to at least theoretically lay
sanctions against the Russian energy sector, not only did we have this
action from Shell today at Vladimir Putin`s house, we also had ExxonMobil
announce that they were starting new joint work with the Russian state-
owned oil company Rosneft. They`re starting their geophysical surveys of
the sea floor that they want to drill with Rosneft in the eastern arctic.
The oil company BP has more than a third of all of its oil and gas
reserves in Russia, more than a third. BP`s chief executive hold
shareholders this month that BP`s investment in Russia is so large and so
important that the company thinks that maybe it, as a company, can be
important bridge between Russia and the West, in trying to iron out these
little difficulties with the Ukraine situation.
Hi, we`re BP. We`re here to help.
As of yesterday, the president of the United States has called the
tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed on the Ukrainian border a
gesture of intimidation. He`s insisted that they must go. Russian
President Vladimir Putin says that he has received permission from his own
parliament for those troops to, in fact, use force in Ukraine if Vladimir
Putin wants them to.
President Putin has also started calling parts of Ukraine
“Novorossiya”. Calling parts of Ukraine, New Russia.
And the diplomatic deal signed yesterday in Geneva which committed
pro-Russian militant groups to retreating from the government buildings
they`ve been occupying in Ukraine, that diplomatic agreement may have been
signed by Ukraine and by Russia and the United States, but the guy who says
he`s the head of those pro-Russian militants occupying those government
buildings in Ukraine, today he said, well, he doesn`t consider himself to
be bound by that agreement and his actions were kind of the most important
ones that it was about.
So, it felt like a hope for a diplomatic breakthrough, now it does not
necessarily feel like it is going to do much on the ground. The people who
you were most looking for action as a response to that agreement say they
don`t feel bound by it.
And with all of this going on, the supposed trump card for the rest of
the world in stopping Russia from annexing more territory of a sovereign
country, at least theoretically, the sword of Damocles is that the West is
supposed to be able to hang over Russia`s head is to cut off Russia`s oil
and gas sector from the rest of the world.
Is that even remotely a real threat, though? Honestly? Is the United
States government, the governments of the European Union nations, are any
institutions of governments capable of telling these giant multinational
oil companies what to do?
I mean, while we`ve been rattling this supposed economic saber at
Russia, “don`t do it, we`ll cut off your oil and gas sector”, Shell Oil was
literally at Putin`s house today, cuddling, saying they couldn`t wait to do
more business with Russia.
Well, who`s going to tell them otherwise? And if the oil business, if
these companies, these oil and gas companies are honestly more powerful
than any one country or any group of countries trying to tell them what to
do, well then what?
By Russia creating a huge national oil company and a huge national gas
company, did Russia make themselves too big to fail in diplomatic terms?
Joining us now is P.J. Crowley, former U.S. assistant secretary of
state for public affairs.
Mr. Crowley, thank you very much for being with us.
P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC
AFFAIRS: Hello, Rachel.
MADDOW: On that diplomatic matter yesterday, the deal signed
yesterday and the militants on the ground essentially saying today they
don`t feel like they are bound by that agreement, I see that as a very
ominous statement about that agreement. Should I see it that way?
CROWLEY: Well, it is definitely raising risk. It`s one thing to come
up with a reasonable package in Geneva. It`s another thing to change facts
on the ground. This is going to take time. I think the White House is
right to say this is going to unfold over days, and perhaps weeks.
MADDOW: Everybody says that targeting Russia`s energy sector, because
their economy is so energy dependent, that that`s really the one way that
the rest of the world can truly wield influence over Russia. They don`t
worry about international embarrassment. They don`t worry about some of
the international standing issues that a lot of Western countries used to
think they worried about. Energy, oil and gas is really it, that`s really
the way that you can move them if you need to.
Is that a myth – is that a lever that`s not actually available to the
CROWLEY: Well, I think it is a lever that`s available but not
necessarily right away. Obviously, Russia does provide a great deal of
energy to Ukraine obviously, but also to Europe.
You know, so perhaps weaning Europe off of its reliance on Russian
energy is something that we can do, obviously the United States now has a
energy card that can it play as the leading energy exporter in the world,
but it`s going to take a decade to help with that transition.
So, the dilemma is that – yes, the sanctions can play a role. They
tend to do that over time not necessarily right away.
MADDOW: Thought experiment. Let`s say the United States and Germany
and all the E.U. nations were either because of something very bad that
Russia did, or because of some magic wand has been waved and Europe isn`t
all that dependent on Russian oil and gas anymore, we were able to come to
some agreement among all these different Western groups that Russia`s oil
and gas sector should be sanctioned. That Gazprom and Rosneft should be
How would Exxon, Shell, BP, the other giant multinational oil and gas
companies try to wield influence with the U.S. government about a policy
matter like that?
CROWLEY: I mean, even in the, two or three rounds of sanctions that
have gone on so far, you`ve sanctioned individuals that are from Rosneft,
and it makes it a complicated arrangement in terms of doing business with
ExxonMobil, doing business with BP. It doesn`t mean you can`t do it but
obviously that`s something that can become more difficult.
And, you know, I think for Shell, it has to think about its
reputational risk of, you know, being seen, you know, in Russia in the
middle of the crisis. And Shell has to be careful, because obviously, you
know, the president has said, “I`m prepared to do more” and as you do more,
the deeper that Shell gets in to this partnership, it could end up losing
money, leaving money on the table.
So, I think this can again play over time. Right now, people are
still doing business, you know, with Russia. But it has to be clear-eyed
in terms of what the prospects are and we`ll see in the coming days whether
Russia actually now asserts itself, you know, to try to de-escalate this.
They could. And they may not.
MADDOW: I had a – I had a different idea about what the companies
might think about their as you describe it their reputational risk here
before I saw Shell at Putin`s house today. He didn`t have to do it at his
house. You`re trying to distance yourself from what he`s doing as a leader
of Russia right now. I thought it was just a remarkable decision.
But let me ask you about one other unrelated element, which is that
this report in “The Washington Post” that the U.S. is going to be
announcing a deployment of new ground troops to Poland in response to
events in Ukraine.
What is the significance of that? Should we see that as an American
CROWLEY: I don`t think so. I mean, the president`s been clear that
he does not see a military dimension, you know, to this, has even been
reluctant to provide lethal assistance to Ukraine, providing some nonlethal
I think this is a clear and significant message to the NATO partners
in Central and Eastern Europe particularly Poland, and the Baltic States
that we are willing to put real resources on the ground, you know, to
reassure, and to protect NATO`s interests.
Obviously, it can send a signal to Putin that two can play this game.
You want to amass troops on this border we`ll mass troops on that border
but I think it`s primarily an ongoing effort to reassure NATO allies
closest to Ukraine, we have your back.
MADDOW: P.J. Crowley, former assistant secretary of state for public
affairs – thank you very much for your time tonight, P.J. It`s nice to
see you. Thank you.
CROWLEY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back, stay with us. We`ve got a
doozy for the interview tonight.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK, this is a story of forgiveness. This is an almost hard
to believe story of forgiveness.
Seven years ago, a young man, 18 years old, was taking a walk in a
bazaar in northern Iran, and he bumped in to this man, in the bazaar. A
man whose first name is Bilal (ph). One young man bumping into another
turned into a fight, then turned into a brawl and then Bilal pulled a knife
out of his sock and with that knife he killed the young man who he bumped
Bilal was caught, he was arrested, he was tried and convicted. He was
sentenced to death by public hanging.
Under some interpretations of Sharia law in that part of Iran, in a
case like this the victim`s family is allowed to participate in the public
execution. And I mean, literally participate in the execution. They`re
not just supposed to show up and watch.
Bilal was sentenced to be hanged out in public in front of a crowd.
Members of the victim`s family were supposed to kick the chair from under
his feet to hang him.
Executions are a fairly common occurrence in Iran. Iran is second
only to China in terms of the raw numbers of people reported to be put to
death by their own government. For a lot of countries though obviously
nobody really trusts the reported numbers.
Iran officially reported 369 executions last year. But Amnesty
International estimates that the number could probably be more like twice
that. That would have Iran killing its prisoners at a rate of about two
But it was this week, seven years after that encounter at the bazaar
that turned into a fight that turned into a fatal stabbing, it was this
week in northern Iran, when Bilal was due to be hanged for that crime.
According to multiple press accounts, most citing an Iranian student
news agency, Bilal was brought to the gallows, crying and screaming. And
the family members of the man who he killed, they were called up to
confront him and, of course, to participate in his punishment, to kick the
chair out from under his feet, and thereby hang him.
But then something sort of incredible happened. The victim`s mother
approached Bilal and he has the noose around his neck and a hood over his
face. The victim`s mother approaches him, she shouted at him about the
death of her son, and she slapped Bilal across the face. And she stopped
and she told the assembled crowd that that was what she needed to be able
to do and she forgave him.
And she along with her husband, they removed the noose from his neck
and thereby spared his life. Her husband said that just a few days before
the scheduled hanging this week she had had a dream in which her dead son
came to her and said to her in the dream that he is at peace and he asked
her not to retaliate.
This is the mother of the victim and the mother of her son`s killer,
who she just spared, crying together after this happened. Those incredible
pictures, and that story were featured in “The Washington Post” today, as
well as going “The Guardian” newspaper in London this week.
And that story of forgiveness is not just amazing on its own terms, it
is also very newly relevant to a decision that is happening right now in
this country, a decision that right now is an absolute 50/50 tie.
And that story and the interview tonight are next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: After Police Officer Michael Briggs was shot and killed in
the line of duty his fellow officers lined up in the rain for the chance to
honor him. Michael Briggs was 35 years old. He served on the force in
Manchester, New Hampshire. He had a wife and two kids. His 8-year-old son
told reporters at the time that their dad, quote, “tried to spend as much
time as he could with us. Even if he had a second left he`d spend it with
Officer Michael Briggs served on the bike patrol in Manchester, New
Hampshire. And just before 2:00 a.m. on October 16th, 2006, Officer Briggs
and his partner pedaled over to a call about a domestic disturbance,
possible gunshots fired. That turned into an alley off Lincoln Street in
Manchester, New Hampshire, and in the dark of that alley they confronted a
Officer Michael Briggs ordered the suspect to stop. Instead, the
suspect drew a gun and shot the officer at close range in the head.
Michael Briggs died at the hospital the next day.
Hundreds of police officers turned out from everywhere in dress
uniform for his funeral. His partner, Officer John Breckinridge, who had
been with him that night in the alley in Manchester, John Breckinridge gave
the eulogy for his partner at the funeral.
It`s a reliable standard among American law enforcement officers that
when a fellow officer is injured or killed that officer`s colleagues never
stop pushing for justice to be done. They show up. The suspect in this
case was captured in Massachusetts, which is just one state over from New
Hampshire when he was arraigned there in Massachusetts, officers from
Manchester, New Hampshire, filled the benches at the courthouse.
When the trial began, Michael Briggs` partner, Officer John
Breckinridge, he took the stand, and he went through the painful story of
riding up to that alley, and seeing his partner shot and killed at such
The trial ended with a conviction for capital murder and a sentence of
death. And with that sentence New Hampshire`s death row population went
from zero to one.
Across the years of legal wrangling that inevitably following the
guilt of New Hampshire`s lone death row inmate has not seriously been in
doubt. But some of the people of New Hampshire have begun to doubt what
the state should do in response to his crime.
Regardless of what any criminal does in any crime, should it be one of
the jobs of state government to take prisoners out of their cells, and kill
them on purpose?
Eighteen states have repealed their death penalty. Six of those
states have repealed it in just the past six years. The death penalty is
not as popular as it used to be.
The trend in the states right now is to get rid of it. Even before
that shocking murder of that police officer in that New Hampshire alley in
2006 lawmakers in New Hampshire were already periodically voting on whether
or not New Hampshire should repeal its death penalty.
In 2000, both houses of the legislature voted for repeal. But the
governor at the time, Jeanne Shaheen, vetoed it, left the death penalty in
place. In 2009, the House voted for repeal but the senate wouldn`t go
along with it.
By that time the man who killed Michael Briggs was on death row in New
Hampshire. And Officer Briggs` partner, John Breckinridge, would soon
testify to a state panel against getting rid of capital punishment.
A few months ago, activists in New Hampshire started again trying to
push for a repeal. The fight was led by a state lawmakers whose own father
and brother-in-law had both been murdered. Last month, the giant New
Hampshire House voted to repeal the death penalty by more than two to one,
Democrats control that chamber but the vote in the House was very
bipartisan with support from lawmakers who have talked openly about having
changed their minds on this issue.
Explaining how they evolved from supporting the death penalty in the
past to now just being unable to justify it any longer. That vote in the
House in New Hampshire was two to one, never sentenced – never to sentence
anybody to death in New Hampshire ever again. That was the House. It`s a
very big body in New Hampshire.
The Senate is much smaller. And yesterday the much smaller New
Hampshire State Senate also considered the issue. Manchester`s police
chief and assistant police chief looked on from the tiny balcony in the
state Senate, you can find lawmakers from each party on each side of the
The chamber was divided and in the end, they were divided evenly. The
vote was 12-12 in the Senate on the bill to repeal the death penalty. And
in New Hampshire, if you can only get to a tie, the bill fails. So
repealing the death penalty failed in New Hampshire this week for lack of
one vote. It was 12-12.
For the activists in New Hampshire, this marks their third oh, so
close attempt at ending capital punishment in that state, third attempt in
not that many years. They got really close in 2000. They got really close
in 2009. And they just got really close again.
But this time, it is also different, because just as some lawmakers
have changed their minds over time and gone from supporting the death
penalty to wanting it repealed this time. So did someone very unexpected
this time. This former Manchester police officer, John Breckinridge, who
was Michael Briggs` partner, and who was with him in that alley the night
that Officer Briggs was killed. John Breckinridge, the same officer who
had so passionately testified for the death penalty in part because of what
he had seen happened to his partner, he now says he has changed his mind.
Officer Breckinridge has explained for him the decision to support
repealing the death penalty is a rooted in a return to religious faith,
he`s Catholic. He says it`s rooted in trying to recover from his grief and
his rage and part of that recovery, he says, meant giving up the idea that
the man who murdered his partner should also be killed.
He says, quote, “That`s where my journey brought me. Do I want to
visit Michael Addison or invite him into my home? I do not. Do I
occasionally pray for him and his family? I do.”
The interview tonight is John Breckinridge. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRECKINRIDGE, POLICE OFFICER: All the way up to 2006, my partner
was murdered in front of me. After that happens, the anger I had very
naturally I think spilled out to I wanted to see his killer die. I was mad
at myself I hadn`t killed him that night. I wanted to see this guy pay and
that`s the way it was going to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s John Breckinridge, now retired police officer who saw
his partner Officer Michael Briggs killed in the line of duty in
Manchester, New Hampshire.
Since the murder, Mr. Breckinridge has gone from being a confirmed
supporter of the death penalty to being an outspoken opponent. Six states
have repealed the death penalty in the past six years. New Hampshire this
week very nearly became the seventh. In New Hampshire this week, the
repeal effort for that state`s death penalty failed for lack of one vote in
the state Senate. There`s word that they may try again before this
legislative session is out.
Joining us now for the interview tonight is retired Manchester Police
Officer John Breckinridge.
Mr. Breckinridge, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I
really appreciate your being willing to talk with us about the subject.
BRECKINRIDGE: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Can you tell me a little bit more, tell us a little bit more
about you changing your mind, the transformation that you – that you had
from your initial views on the death penalty after your partner was killed
to how you feel about it now?
BRECKENRIDGE: It`s really a simple answer, actually. As a Christian
I have to respect the dignity and the value of human life. And that counts
even for people who do horrible things.
I just – I can`t be part of when this person is going to be executed
years after the event. It`s not in the heat of the moment. Like I said,
as a Christian I have to respect life. I have to stand up for it. And as
I said I just can`t do what I see is not revenge and support the death
MADDOW: The vote to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire this
week, it came really, really close. The repeal vote was very strong in the
House and then in the Senate, it ended up dying on a 12-12 vote, because it
was so close.
And part of that, there`s some word that they might try again which
doesn`t make sense unless you think that people are continuing to evolve on
the subject, that people continue to change on the subject, that people are
susceptible to hearing new arguments.
Do you – do you think that`s true that people do – I mean, not just
yourself, but that you`ve seen other people evolve and that you think other
people could change their mind on this?
BRECKINRIDGE: I really think so. I think it`s an issue a lot of
people don`t spend a lot of time considering. For me, I never really did
until it became very personal. And prior to that I hadn`t given it much
thought. I had a knee-jerk response.
So, yes, I`m for it, I suppose. Initially there was lots of anger and
naturally as you`d expect and I was very much for it. But, once I was able
to let go of the anger and calm down and give it the thought it deserved, I
was able to change my opinion.
I know a lot of people that haven`t changed and probably won`t. But I
mean, my personal journey, that`s what it was.
MADDOW: Has it been hard for you because you were obviously such a
figure of public interest in this case because of what happened with your
partner, because you had spoken in favor of the death penalty, earlier, has
it been hard for you to have publicly changed your mind on this? Have you
had trouble with your former colleagues or has it been difficult?
BRECKINRIDGE: Most people have been very respectful. A lot of my
former coworkers, they`ve actually told me, hey, I`m on the same side as
you. Most of the ones that we disagree with, they`ll tell me, you know, we
can disagree, I still respect your opinion, you have a right to think the
way you do think. And you know, it`s been a very respectful sort of
contact with my former coworkers.
MADDOW: When you –
BRECKINRIDGE: So it`s been good.
MADDOW: When you`ve talked about it publicly, when you – you`ve
obviously you`ve advocated that New Hampshire does get rid of the death
penalty, what do you find is an effective argument? What do you think
moves people on this subject?
BRECKINRIDGE: That`s just the thing about this. There`s everyone
kind of has a different push button for them. A lot of people look at the
cost, like for example Addison`s case, is expected to cost around $8
million. It would be less than a million typically if it was a life in
prison without parole case. Other people look at things like deterrence.
There`s numerous studies that say it`s not a deterrent. There`s some that
say it is. Personally, I don`t believe it is.
And a lot of people just look at the moral side of it. Is to kill
someone, in the heat of the moment is one thing and years later,
premeditated by the state is something else.
Another personal one for me was I met a man who was cleared by DNA, it
wasn`t just that the court didn`t follow the procedure. This man actually
was innocent and was on death row, and that was Kirk Bloodsworth, very
interesting man. I met him probably a year, year and a half ago but that
was clearly a wrongful conviction. A man who would have been executed for
a crime he was innocent of.
MADDOW: John Breckinridge, retired Manchester police officer who has
been your personal transition on this story I think has been a lot of the
story of how people have understood how New Hampshire has come so close to
changing its own mind as a state on this issue – thanks for helping us
understand your state of mind on this, sir. Thanks for being here.
BRECKINRIDGE: Great. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Thank you.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us tonight.
MADDOW: Do you remember the creepy guy who leaned over me fake-voting
in Wisconsin? Remember that from a couple of weeks ago? OK. Same guy,
same Nick Tots (ph). Except this time, he`s not creepy. I know you can
tell this from his acting. But he`s not creepy this time.
Imagine you are the park, you`re single, it`s a nice day. It`s
Friendly person to whom you`re possibly attracted shows up at the park
and strikes a conversation. There is, how do you say, flirting. There is
maybe even a proposition.
Your new pal asks if you would look to go home with him. You say yes.
I would. Let`s go.
Now, that may not be your style. You may prefer to take it slow. You
may not dig Nick Tots.
But imagine this. Is that interaction that you just had in the park
illegal? Is it illegal to flirt with somebody and agree to go home with
them? Is that illegal?
It turns out it depends on what part of Louisiana you`re in. And that
story is coming up next and you won`t believe it.
Stay with us.
Thank you, Nick.
MADDOW: Some times the arc of the moral universe bends towards
justice. But you know what? Some times the arc of the world universe runs
around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Consider these two stories, both simultaneously in the news. And both
from the same country, from our beloved country.
The first one is from Louisiana. Last year, there was this weird
story that emerged out of east Baton Rouge, where the local sheriff had
sent deputies to arrest people. A dozen people overall, basically for the
crime of flirting with the intention to have sex.
Now, to be clear this was not people getting arrested for arranging to
have sex for money. There wasn`t a prostitution sting. There was no money
involved. This was not people trying to have sex in public somewhere, like
in a park or a public bathroom or something.
What was happening in east Baton Rouge was essentially a cute
undercover cop saying to a guy, hey, do you want to go home with me? And
the guy responding, yes. I would like to go home with you. And then boom,
handcuffs. It`s not part of the date. It`s off to jail.
And the crime, the reason the sheriff`s office gave for arresting
people in the circumstance was that Louisiana has a state sodomy law. It`s
illegal to be gay, or at least to act gay in that particular way.
The sheriff in east Baton Rouge said that under Louisiana state law,
anything other than heterosexual genital contact only intercourse was
illegal. So, a guy agreeing to fool around with another guy with a cute
deputy, that would constitute a violation of the sodomy law. Agreeing to
have sex was being charged as a crime in east Baton Rouge.
Of course, the problem there is that sodomy laws themselves are
illegal. Really famous Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, decided more
than a decade ago, it`s a really clear thing. States cannot have sodomy
laws. You can`t make it illegal to be gay.
That word apparently took a long time to reach east Baton Rouge.
Ultimately, after some national attention to what was going on there last
year with all these arrests, the charges did get dropped, against the dozen
or so people who got sheriff arrested. He did agree reluctantly he would
expunge their records.
But the amazing thing about that story right now is that that state
sodomy law in Louisiana is still on the books. Even they can`t enforce it,
it`s totally, clearly unconstitutional. This week, there was a bill to
repeal the law finally, to take it off the books in Louisiana.
But the Louisiana legislature voted not to. They voted to keep their
sodomy law. They did so in emphatic fashion. Only 27 votes to repeal it,
and 67 votes to keep it on the books. That`s the actual news in this 21st
century, America, happy 21st century.
But consider also, consider also this other story. In the same
country, on the same day, there was also this story in our national news.
The man in this picture is Charles J. Cooper. He goes by Chuck Cooper.
He`s one of the most famous accomplished ultraconservative lawyers in the
country. He, in fact, is the lawyer who did oral arguments in front of the
Supreme Court defending California`s anti-gay proposition 8.
Mr. Cooper was the lawyer tasked with arguing against marriage
equality to the Supreme Court. And he is a really good lawyer, and he did
the best he could. But, of course, we all know that he lost that case, and
California`s anti-gay Prop 8 got struck down.
Well, now after the loss, some of the last remaining marriage bans in
the country continue to wind their way through the other courts, one of the
things that Chuck Cooper is doing now. He is planning his own daughter`s
wedding – his own daughter`s wedding to a girl.
It has been reported to day that in an upcoming book, Chuck Cooper
says his own views are evolving on gay marriage. He says he learned for
the first time that his own daughter was gay during the legal battle over
He loves his daughter. He supports her decision to get married. He
is helping her plan her marriage. This time last year, he was planning the
oral arguments against gay marriage rights in the highest court in the
I love this country. On the same day in the same news, we have the
lawyer who argued against gay marriage in a landmark gay marriage case
himself deciding, yes, I think I might be OK with it now. Salud, mazel
tov, I`m so proud of you, darling – on the same day the state legislature
in Louisiana voting anew to retain the state`s long, since overruled and
totally unenforceable law to make it illegal to be gay. Just to make a
point, they`re keeping the law in the books.
What a country! One big, lovely, confused country.
And one of the things we look to do in our big, lovely confused
country on Friday nights is we like to all go to prison together. Three,
two, one, prison.
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