The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/05/14
STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour. Rachel has the night off.
This is the United States Military Academy. It`s probably better known for
the name of the town where it`s located, West Point, as in West Point, New
York. It`s at West Point where they train cadets to serve in the U.S.
Army. It`s an incredibly rigorous and it`s incredibly prestigious four-
year program to go through.
If you can make it through, if you can make it through those four years at
West Point, you really are the best of the best.
The United States was helping Afghanistan to design its own military
academy to train Afghan soldiers to fight in that country`s armed forces.
The obvious model for them was West Point. Afghan army officials actually
visited West Point when they were trying to create their own military
training program, what`s called the National Military Academy of
Afghanistan opened outside of Kabul back in 2005.
And today, it was at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan where a
man dressed in an Afghan military uniform, dressed as an Afghan soldier,
opened fire on people who were supposed to be his allies. That lone
shooter reportedly shot into a group of soldiers with an automatic weapon.
Numbers have been fluctuating throughout the day, but we know that at least
15 people were injured, some of them very seriously.
And we also know that one person was killed. The person was a major
general in the U.S. Army, Major General Harold Greene, who was in
Afghanistan helping to train Afghan soldiers, specifically training Afghan
soldiers for life after the United States fully withdraws from that
When Major General Greene was killed today, he became the highest ranking
officer killed in combat since the Vietnam War. Last officer of that rank
to die in combat was Major General John Albert Dillard Jr. He was killed
in Vietnam in May of 1970 when his helicopter was shot own.
The United States still has almost 33,000 troops serving in Afghanistan.
Current withdrawal plan is for that number to go down to roughly 10,000 by
the end of this year. But as of today, we still have tens of thousands of
American soldiers who are serving over in Afghanistan. And so, today was a
stark and painful reminder that we are very much still a nation at war.
In the past few months, we as a nation have been reckoning with what our
responsibilities are to the men and women who have fought in that war and
who continue to fight in that war even today. We have been reckoning with
our responsibilities to those men and women when they return home. After
all, this is the summer when there have been so many stories, story after
story about how the veterans health administration, the V.A., was faking
wait times, was delaying appointments for men and women back home from
combat, was lying, was covering up to hide the fact we as a country were
not making enough resources available to our men and women in uniform once
they got home from the wars that they have been fighting in our name.
We were failing to take care of our veterans. The president vowed to fix
the problem and it is a testament to the genuine nationwide urge to help.
It is testament to the bipartisan, really to the nonpartisan desire to keep
veterans issues and veterans needs above the divisive politics that plague
every policy issue in this country.
It`s a testament to all of that that Congress has now actual passed a bill
to address the V.A. backlog. It`s one of the last things they did, one of
the only things they did before they skipped town for their August recess
last week. And President Obama is set to sign that bill into law on
Thursday of this week.
We are currently at war, and as long as we are sending people to fight in
wars, there is a real palpable energy in this country, a genuine desire on
the part of the people of this country to find a way to help. To find a
way to support the people who volunteer to fight in our wars. As a
country, most of us, millions of us, tens of millions of us, want to help.
And today, investigative reporting site ProPublica published a bombshell
story about a group that purports to be a charity, a charity that helps
those soldiers that fight our wars, a charity according to this reporting
from ProPublica is taking that desire of everyday Americans to do right by
our men and women in uniform and cashing in on it. This group, the
supposed charity, is called Move America Forward.
They claim to do a lot of things to help the troops like send care packages
to service members overseas. Quote, “Move America Forward is a military
charity and the nation`s largest grassroots pro-troop organization.” For
just $24.99, you can buy the small pack care package for the troops. For
just under $1,000, you can send a care package to the whole battalion.
If you put your e-mail address and credit card information, you can join
the Move America Forward monthly smiles club. They`ll send a care package
for you every month. In that way, you don`t have to remember to do it.
You just give them your budget, give them your credit card information,
they`ll take care of the rest for you.
Well, today, ProPublica reported over the past five years of doing this,
Move America Forward has raised $8 million from well-meaning Americans.
And of that $8 million, $2.3 million of it, nearly 1/3 of every dollar
raised is going to pay one guy and his company. Nearly 1/3 has gone to pay
this charity`s chief strategist.
And about those $24.99 care packages, well, here`s an e-mail that according
to ProPublica went out to the Move America Forward e-mail list back in
April of last year, from someone named Lacey, Move America Forward`s
contact over in Afghanistan.
Quote, “I received 60 packages that you sent. We got them yesterday and
already got them on our Chinook today out to some dust-off guys who have
been eating MREs for a month now.” Accompanying Lacey`s e-mail was this
helpful picture of the care packages. Supposed to be a great thing, right?
Except anyone could claimed to have delivered care packages to troops using
that photo because it was a stock photo. It was taken in 2004 of soldiers
unloading supplies during a resupply mission, more than a decade ago.
But Move America Forward used it, anyway, made it look like it was one of
their care packages that were being delivered. The care packages that all
those well-meaning Americans shelled out their own money to pay for.
ProPublica found example after example of Move America Forward doing this
exact kind of thing.
Also in 2013, the group sent this e-mail to supporters. They were going to
adopt a battalion of marines in the Fifth Regiment who were serving on the
front lines in Afghanistan, except the marines that Move America Forward
said they needed the fund-raising dollars to adopt actually weren`t in
Afghanistan at that time. They were in Okinawa, Japan.
ProPublica also revealed bizarre examples that went beyond Move America
Forward using the stock image and claiming it as their own. According to
ProPublica, the group also used images of other charities and tried to pass
off the charitable work in the photo as their own. They sent out an e-mail
including a picture of soldiers holding Double Stuffed Oreo cookies.
We think that was the picture in the e-mail from Move America Forward. But
the Oreos in the e-mail were actually sent by Operation Oreo. It`s a
project of a church in Georgia. Had nothing to do with Move America
Forward at all.
Move America Forward tried to raise money by saying in a partnership with
Walter Reed Army Medical Center. According to ProPublica, there was no
partnership with Walter Reed.
This group gets a lot of big names to raise money for them. They hold a
big event every year where people like the former vice president of the
United States and his daughter, governor of Texas, and a host of other
major Republican figures vouched for this group. They vouched for Move
America Forward. For the idea of everyday people who want to support our
troops doing so by giving money to this group.
There`s example after example after example in this ProPublica story today
of what seems to be very shady behavior on the part of this charity that if
these allegations are true is capitalizing on America`s genuine desire to
help our troops.
At the center of this, according to ProPublica, is Move America Forward`s
chief strategist, a guy who`s raked in roughly a third of all the money
they`ve raised over the last five years, and his name is Sal Russo. And if
what ProPublica is reporting is true, that Russo is taking a genuine
grassroots impulse to do good and twisting it into a scheme to bring in big
bucks – well, we`ve been down this road with him before.
The Tea Party movement, wherever you think of its politics, sprang from a
genuine raw grassroots energy building at the start of the Obama
presidency. A lot of it had to do with the simple fact we had a Democrat
in the White House. Some of it had something to do with the economy
collapsing, with all the anxiety that that produced.
There were a lot of reasons the Tea Party emerged back in 2009, but at its
core, it really was a ground-up phenomenon, a grassroots phenomenon. And
there were, and there still are, some crafty people on the right who saw in
that energy, in those feelings, in those emotions that conservatives were
experiencing, they saw in that an opportunity to cash in, an opportunity to
make money, to harness the Tea Party movement for their own gain, and for
their own glory.
One of the people who`s been most effective at making money off the Tea
Party brand has been Sal Russo. Russo`s a founder of the group Tea Party
Express. In 2012, they vowed to defeat President Obama. All they needed
was a small donation from Tea Party loyalists, from people who believed in
But, again, just like Move America Forward, one of the single largest
expenditures Russo`s PAC seems to have is Russo and his associates who keep
millions of the donations they raise in the name of defeating the president
or stopping socialism in America.
We keep looking at our current political system in this country and we keep
wondering why it`s broken. But in the story of the Tea Party Express, and
now the story of Move America Forward, we may have part of the answer.
Think about it.
We keep looking at the Republican Party. We keep wondering why it`s not
heeding the lessons of its 2012 defeat. Why after receiving just 29
percent of the Latino vote, why after party leaders actually started to
speak up and say that maybe it was time to address the issue of
immigration, to stop sending such a hostile message to such a large and
growing segment of the electorate. Why two years after that all happened,
why people were talking like that, why two years later, Republicans are
actually farther than ever from moving on immigration reform.
We keep wondering why in the face of an America that`s only growing more
diverse the Republican Party seems to be retrenching, seems to be looking
inward, seems to be becoming even more conservative. They keep hearing
that they`re in danger of losing again in 2016 and losing again and again
until they change, and yet the message of the last two years is that they
And we keep wondering why this is. And here, maybe, is part of the answer
– because look at a group like the Tea Party Express. Look at all that
money it`s raked in. Look at all the influence it`s accrued on the right.
Look at all the prominence its leaders have attained for themselves.
And it`s hardly like that`s the only group like this. It`s hardly like
that`s the only group of the Tea Party era that`s been – that`s emerged.
We`ve actually been in this era a whole new batch of conservative leaders,
a whole new batch of conservative authors and media personalities,
conservative celebrities I guess you could call them.
All of them tapping into that same grassroots sentiment, talking to those
everyday conservative Americans and telling them we`re the ones looking out
for you. You don`t like Obama, you can`t trust the GOP establishment, just
stand with us. We`re the voice of purity. We`re the voice of principle.
And when you`re playing that game, when your goal is to make money or to
sell books or become a media personality, or some kind of political
celebrity – well, if that`s your goal, it doesn`t matter if your party
wins or loses elections, whether the Republican Party is expanding and
adjust to the evolving realities of who or what America is.
In fact, if that`s your game, if that`s your goal, maybe you`re even better
off if your party loses. Maybe you`re even better off when Republicans
lose. Isn`t that how the Tea Party got started in the first place? Of
course, it`s one thing to profit off of people`s political rage. It`s not
thing altogether to profit off people`s genuine goodwill – their genuine
desire to help members of the military overseas.
We reached out to Move America Forward for comment tonight. We didn`t hear
The Tea Party Express told us the following, quote, “ProPublica creates a
false impression that there is an inappropriate relationship between Move
America Forward and Tea Party Express. It strings together unrelated facts
and then implies there is something wrong. We are quite careful of keeping
and complying with all appropriate state and federal election and tax
Joining us now is Kim Barker, reporter from “The New York Times” who wrote
about Move America Forward for ProPublica.
Kim, thanks for joining us.
It`s really an extraordinary story.
KIM BARKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, thank you.
KORNACKI: So, I`m just curious, take people through what the status is
right now. So you found the $2.3 million out of the $8 million or so –
BARKER: It wasn`t exactly hard to find. It was in their 990s, their tax
KORNACKI: So, it`s just sitting there. So, has anything happened now as a
BARKER: Not so far. I mean, regulatory agencies are pretty slow-moving
beasts. We`ve seen that with the IRS and A.G.`s offices across the country
that don`t exactly read a story in the newspaper or online and say, OK,
we`re going to go do something immediately.
I`ve gotten a lot of feedback from people saying that they found the story
very surprising and, in fact, Move America Forward did give out a much
longer, lengthier response to what was in the article to a conservative
online Web site, talking about how the fact that a lot of what we alleged
was true, but then trying to explain it away, saying it was small things,
saying that, you know, they did pay for the rent for the entire office,
covered PACs and various political consultancy firms. That`s because they
used more of the space. And then, you know, basically dismissing most of
the arguments we made.
KORNACKI: So, how – you mentioned it wasn`t that hard to dig this up. I
still give you great credit for doing this.
BARKER: I mean, that was addition. Journalists don`t do that very well,
but in terms of everything else – I mean, I had looked at the PACs last
year, so I`d done a story in March of 2013 just taking a look at the self-
dealing of the PACs. I was not the first journalist to do this.
KORNACKI: So, you were looking back at the Tea Party Express, the
explicitly political arm and –
BARKER: Yes, I wanted to look at the self-dealing. The idea of creating
PACs, spending money from the PACs on yourself.
I think whatever you want to say about the politics of the Tea Party, or of
any other political group, people who give to these groups really firmly
believe in it, and a lot of these folks are retired. A lot of them are on
fixed incomes and they`re very passionate about these causes.
And so, I talked to these people about giving money and how it was spent,
and they were fairly upset. And so then after I wrote that story, I got a
lot of feedback from people who knew Sal and suggested looking at Move
And I just sort of kept that in my back pocket. Of course, I was on all
their mailing lists.
And then, in late November, I saw the e-mail they sent out about Larry
Draughn who`s in my story. He`s a marine veteran. And he lost his legs
over in Afghanistan.
And they used a story about him referring to him as a double amputee and
saying that he was a hero in Ohio for rescuing some stranded motorists and
basically said, look, look at this hero, look what he`s done for this
country, now give money to Move America Forward.
So, then, at this point, I started slowly in my spare time looking at this
charity and asked my father to sign up with an e-mail account for, you
know, just Move America Forward. Do nothing else with it and to see what
happened with that e-mail address.
Fairly soon, you had the PACs using the e-mail address trying to raise
KORNACKI: So, there`s –
BARKER: Yes, which any non-profit expert will tell you is not allowed.
KORNACKI: So, what I`m curious about, too, your story last year, your
reporting on sort of how the Tea Party Express was making a lot of money
off of its sort of the membership.
KORNACKI: The Tea Party Express – tonight is primary night. The Tea
Party Express is playing an active role in some Republican primaries going
on tonight. It seems like your story last year surprised a lot of people
but they kept on kind of plowing ahead.
BARKER: Nobody does anything.
KORANCKI: Is there a sign when you look at all those conservative leaders,
they have gotten to vouch for them on this in terms of this military
charity? Do you think this is going to change things in a way that that
didn`t last year?
BARKER: You know, that`s a really good question and I don`t know. I think
it goes back to what you were saying earlier in that everybody wants to
support the troops. I mean, I was over in Afghanistan on and off for years
as a reporter. I embedded with them. I know to a certain extent what it`s
like to be over there, although nothing like what they went through.
And I think there`s this instinct in America to want to support people over
there. I can see politicians saying, oh, here`s this charity that wants to
support the troops. Why not help?
Hopefully, this will make them think maybe twice about it. I hope it makes
everybody think twice about giving to any charity, to take a look at it, to
see how exactly they`re spending their money, because this charity is
certainly not alone.
KORNACKI: Right. Great reporting, really.
BARKER: Thank you.
KORNACKI: It`s an incredible piece. If people haven`t read it, I
encourage them to find that ProPublica.
Kim Barker, reporter with “The New York Times” who wrote this piece for
ProPublica, thanks for being with us tonight.
Lots more ahead, including the annoying facts that have gotten in the way
of Republicans favorite Obama conspiracy theory, and they are facts that
are delivered by other Republicans.
Stay with us.
KORNACKI: So you might have heard that Congress is off on vacation and
they`re going to stay on vacation for the next five weeks. When they
finally come back in September, it will only be for ten days of work then
they`ll two on break again for the rest of the midterm election campaign.
But when they cam come back for the short ten-day session in September,
House Republicans have one thing they definitely plan on taking up,
Benghazi. Trey Gowdy, he is the head of the newly formed House Select
Committee on Benghazi. He said the first public hearing will with sometime
in September and it`s going to feature more witnesses than ever before.
When that select committee was announced this past spring, there was a lot
of criticism, especially from Democrats. One reason was there had already
been a lot of hearings and investigations on this same issue. There had
already, in fact, been seven separate congressional probes into the attack
on the diplomatic mission at Benghazi, an attack that killed four
There have been seven investigations. There actually have been eight if
you include the State Department`s independent accountability review board.
And in terms of Benghazi being a major political scandal, all these
investigations have found that there`s just no there, there. They did find
fault with the State Department`s inadequate security, but in terms of the
Obama administration trying to cover it all up or bungling it in some
glaring, obvious way, there`s just no evidence for any of that.
So, that`s why when House Speaker John Boehner announced the formation of
yet another investigation into Benghazi, a lot of people asked why. And
now comes this, after two years of investigation, another committee, the
House Intelligence Committee, has now apparently also found, quote, “no
deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration.”
Speaking to the “San Francisco Chronicle,” one of the committee`s
Democratic members, Congressman Mike Thompson, said a forthcoming report,
quote, “confirms that no one was deliberately misled. No military assets
were withheld. No stand-down order of U.S. forces was given.”
Another Democrat on the intelligence committee, the ranking member, backed
up that report with a press release to announce the findings. That
committee, the intelligence committee, voted unanimously last week,
Democrats and Republicans voting together, they voted unanimously to
declassify and release that report.
Now, we`re still waiting for the release, but so far, Republicans on the
committee haven`t mentioned the report or its pending declassification.
Not a word on a report that took two years to put together and that they`ve
joined Democrats in voting last week to declassify.
There was no mention on the House Republicans` home page for all things
Benghazi. No mention of this at all. This is a site where they have
linked every report and scrap of information about the Benghazi
investigation so far. But there is nothing there about this new House
Intelligence report that apparently is coming out soon. Nothing from the
committee`s Republican chairman, Mike Rogers.
And over at FOX News, which has exhaustively detailed every hint of
Benghazi trouble for the administration, we haven`t heard a peep from them
on this new report, either.
This is not the first time that a Republican-backed finding on Benghazi has
found, well, nothing. Just a few weeks ago – a few months ago, excuse me,
the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee came out and
said he was satisfied that nothing more could have been done by the
military to protect the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
So, now, we apparently have yet another report set to conclude that there`s
just no big scandal when it comes to Benghazi. But Republicans aren`t
talking about that. They are talking about going full steam ahead be their
new select committee on Benghazi when Congress comes back in September,
investigation they earmarked $3.3 million for.
So, when are we going to get to see this report, and will it? Will
anything ever be enough to put a stop to all of the conspiracy theories
Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He`s a member of
the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Select
Committee on Benghazi.
Congressman, thanks for joining us tonight.
So, the bottom-line question to start with, when are we going to get to see
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I hope soon. It will depend on
how quickly the CIA can declassify it. I have to say, though, that this is
much in the CIA`s interest to declassify because it largely concludes the
CIA had adequate security, acted properly during the events, that there
were conflicting intelligence reports and threat streams coming in, but no
advanced notice of a particular tack and certainly no intent to deceive
people in its initial and flawed assessment of how that protest or non-
So, I think it`s in the agency`s interest to see that the classified
probably unlike the Senate report, so they may act on with it some speed.
KORNACKI: You, obviously you know your colleagues on this committee,
Democratic and Republican, very well. You guys have been looking at this
for two years. You guys voted, as we said, unanimously, to declassify this
Obviously, we know in the air, sort of in the conservative talk radio,
whatever, you hear lots of conspiracy theories about Benghazi. But do you
think the Republicans on this committee, your colleagues who you work with,
do you think when this report comes out they will speak up and say, you
know what, guys, we looked at it, there`s nothing to this. Do you expect
them to say that based on your conversations with them?
SCHIFF: No, I don`t expect them to say that. GOP members of the select
committee still think there`s more to be found here, there are some hidden
facts, or that if they served on the Government Reform Committee, didn`t
have access to what another committee learned that maybe there`s
information that they can collate a different way.
But as you pointed out, Steve, what we found out after a pretty exhaustive
investigation in the Intelligence Committee, is that in terms of all the
conspiracy theories about there being a stand-down order, the state
department interfering with the military rescue or military assets not used
or deliberate intent to deceive on talking points. Basically this report
says, no, no, no, no, no.
KORNACKI: So, what –
SCHIFF: And – yes?
KORNACKI: You say they don`t expect they`re going to be satisfied.
They`re going to be – have they given you a sense of what they might find,
some kind of unifying theory at the end of this?
SCHIFF: No, there isn`t. And that is why the formation of this select
committee was so controversial, because there have been multiple reports,
bipartisan reports, nonpartisan reports like the State Department when you
mentioned. So, they have I think in large part the select committee is
still in search of a mission.
You know, one hearing we are going to have in September is something I
recommended the chair if we`re looking for something constructive to do and
not retread the same old ground, let`s look into how we are a couple years
later in implementing recommendations of that accountability review board
in making our facilities around the world safer. That`s something that
requires continual monitoring to see how we`re progressing.
We are going to do that. I think that`s constructive. But once we get
beyond that, Steve, I`m not really sure where we can add value. And I`m
concerned that I think the chairman of the committee is going to be under
enormous pressure to produce something. To warrant the creation of the
select committee, to warrant the millions they`re spending on it, and that
may be very hard to do without simply spinning whatever results we come up
with like crazy.
KORNACKI: And do you – just to give us a preview of how you think those
committee hearings are going to go, what role do you see yourself playing
as a Democrat on that committee, given what you`ve just said?
SCHIFF: Well, look, I didn`t think the committee was formed. I wasn`t in
favor of participating on it. Now, we made the decision, which I respect,
to do that. So, I view my role as trying to make something constructive
out of this, trying to not only allay the concerns that some have about
what may have gone on by things like the publication and declassification
of the intelligence report, but also looking at things that haven`t been
examined already or at least haven`t been recently examined, like, how are
we doing in making our securities more secure?
Now, the two most important questions, you know, I think for people are,
where are we in the hunt for those who are responsible? And how are we
doing in protecting our people going forward?
On the first question, we want to make sure we`re not interfering with the
criminal investigation. So there`s a limited amount we can do there.
But on that latter question, I think there`s room for us to be productive.
But I think we have to resist the effort to politicize this by simply
dragging in high-profile witnesses that really can`t necessarily contribute
in an effort to either sway the midterms or motivate the base or those
KORNACKI: All right. Congressman Adam Schiff of California, thanks for
your time tonight. Appreciate that.
SCHIFF: You bet.
KORNACKI: Despite calls from the back benches of Congress, including one
just today, it`s still extremely unlikely that President Obama will be
impeached, but he will be sued.
Tonight, we mark the anniversary of something truly historic – the
original smoking gun in political scandals which tells us all about today`s
president, today`s Congress, and how far we`ve come probably in the wrong
Stay with us.
KORNACKI: They say that being president ages you faster than anything
else. People who entered the office with a full head of dark hair go gray
after one term – in the case of Bill Clinton, go white after the second.
It`s true across party lines. It`s true throughout history. Just look at
Dwight Eisenhower on day one and then in his last days. Presidents Reagan
and Bush too.
Two terms takes a toll on our nation`s leaders. Their neophyte, naivety,
and youthful good looks are quickly exchanged for lower expectations and
visible signs of stress.
But there is one leader who has defied the ravages of leadership. One
leader in Minnesota who maintains his hope and his youthful optimism even
after two full terms in a shocking defeat in his bid for a third. And now
for him, it`s on to the first grade.
The best story in American politics is coming up.
KORNACKI: I want to show you two front pages. Two front pages from the
same newspaper, “The New York Times”, the paper of record. Two front pages
from the paper of record that were published about 40 years apart, each one
from the day after the same thing happened.
Take a look at the one on the right. It`s from last week. It`s from last
Thursday. You can see what the paper of record thought the biggest most
important stories happening in the world were that day last Thursday.
There`s one about a terrorist who spent a lot of time in the U.S. before
launching an attack in Syria. There`s one about Arab leaders grappling
with Hamas. There`s even one about thrill seekers performing acrobatics
off of giant rock formations in the Utah desert that posed a question, are
they spoiling the pristine beauty of a national park?
And then, if you look all the way down at the bottom of the front page last
Thursday, where they preview some of the much less important stories that
are inside the paper that day, the stories that were not deemed front page-
worthy, if you look all the way down there and you squint really hard, you
can make this out. “House votes to sue Obama.”
Quote, “In a party line vote, the House of Representatives approved a
measure to sue President Obama for overstepping the powers of the
presidency.” And then if you want to know more, it tells you to turn to
page A-15, where the story ran in the newspaper of record last week when
the house sued the president of the United States. Page A-15.
And it made sense. I mean, after all, the lawsuit is about Obama`s
decision to delay implementation of the employer mandate portion of the
Affordable Care Act. It`s not exactly something that has the masses all
fired up. And in fact, it`s not something that has even – has even had
Republicans that fired up. They`re, after all, strongly against the
Affordable Care Act, the employer mandate.
But they voted to sue the president anyway. The reason isn`t a mystery.
To make their base happy, and more to the point, it`s to keep their base
from demanding something that party leaders absolutely don`t want to do –
impeach the president.
We should be clear, House Speaker John Boehner has clearly said he has no
plans to pursue impeachment. None. We should also say that Democrats have
been somewhat mischievously pushing the idea that he will, anyway. They`ve
been raising a lot of money by doing this.
But the reason Democrats have been able to push this idea is that
Republicans keep speaking up and talking about it. Just yesterday, Walter
Jones of North Carolina became the latest Republican congressman to call
for the president`s impeachment.
What Jones said was revealing. He said he`s actually against the lawsuit.
He voted against sawing Obama last week because it`s going to spend
millions of dollars. Why spend that kind of money, he asked, when
impeachment is an option? Use the Constitution, Jones said. That`s what
it`s there for.
Again, Walter Jones is not about to get his way on this, but that`s the
point. That`s why Boehner came up with this lawsuit idea in first place.
It`s a political instrument. It`s a piece of red meat for the right. It`s
something to give them that`s not as politically risky, that`s not as
politically damaging to the Republicans as impeachment would be.
And most Republicans aren`t like Walter Jones. Most Republicans are going
along with it. That`s why when that vote to sue Obama was held last week,
it only made page A-15 of “The New York Times.” That`s why it wasn`t
treated as a defining constitutional showdown. Everyone got what it was.
What it is. It`s a political stunt.
So, now, let`s take a look at that other front page, because it`s about the
same basic story, Congress suing the president of the United States. But
holy potatoes, look at that headline – top of the page, giant print, all
the way across the page, all capital letters, a huge deal – easily the
most important thing happening anywhere that day.
As you can see, it`s dated July 27th, 1973. And right at the top of the
story, the Senate Watergate Committee, quote, “In an unprecedented action
voted to go to court next week to secure the recordings.” This was a
congressional committee voting to sue President Richard Nixon.
Again, same basic story as last week, a lawsuit from the legislative branch
against the president. But just a world of difference in what it meant. A
world of difference in what it really was.
Today is actually the 40th anniversary of what that lawsuit helped pave the
way for. It was this same day, this exact day, August 5th of 1974, when
one of those recordings mentioned in that article came to light. And it
smothered out the final flickering embers of the Nixon presidency. It`s
known as the smoking gun tape.
It`s the tape that had Nixon plotting to cover up the Watergate break-in
three days after it happened, the tape that finally, definitively,
irrefutably answered that famous question that was at the heart of
Watergate – What did the president know and when did he know it? That
tape, the smoking gun came out 40 years ago today. And it is why Nixon
became the first and only president to resign the office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: This was the final blow, the final nail
in the coffin, although you don`t need another nail if you`re already in
the coffin, which we were.
Resigning now was the option I didn`t want to do, above everything else,
personally. I`m a fighter. I just didn`t want to quit.
Also, I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which, of course, it
was. And also I felt that it would set a terribly bad precedent for the
future. I hope no other president ever resigns under any circumstances.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That is from an interview that Richard Nixon did with a former
aide back in 1983. It was nine years after leaving the White House. It`s
an interview that`s being released this week by the Nixon Library.
So, that`s what suing the president helped lead to 41 years ago. Think of
what prompted that lawsuit back in 1973, the headline in “The New York
Times.” The Senate committee had heard gripping testimony from John Dean,
Nixon`s White House counsel, and who testified before the committee that
the president, himself, had been personally involved in trying to cover up
the break-in, in orchestrating a plot to pay off participants for their
silence and to on instruct an investigation of the FBI.
The committee had also heard testimony about illegal wiretapping, about
money laundering, about illegal dirty trick schemes being drawn up in the
office of the attorney general.
And then, with the president denying all of it, they found out that it was
probably all on tape. They heard from a White House aide who had helped to
set up a system that recorded basically every conversation that Nixon had.
That aide was named Alexander Butterfield.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of
any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?
ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE AIDE: I was aware of
listening devices, yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you aware of the installation of any devices on any
of the telephones, first of all, the Oval Office?
BUTTERFIELD: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the executive office building of the
BUTTERFIELD: Yes, sir. The president`s business telephone at his desk in
the executive office building.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the Lincoln Room?
BUTTERFIELD: Yes, sir, the telephone in the Lincoln Sitting Room and the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That was a reason to sue the president of the United States.
Here was a committee that had heard all sorts of serious, criminal
allegations leveled against Richard Nixon and his administration by a
former top aide. But it was that aide`s word against Nixon`s. There was
no way to prove what anything he was saying was true, unless those tapes
Since Nixon had no interest in releasing them, the Senate Watergate
Committee sued him, sued to get those tapes out. And that was the start of
the drama that played out for the next year, that committee. Then, a
special prosecutor and a federal judge, all demanding that Nixon turn over
the tapes. And finally, Supreme Court demanded that, too, which is how the
smoking gun tape finally surfaced 40 years ago today. And three days after
that, Nixon was gone as president.
There`s a new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll out tonight that puts
Congress` approval rating at 14 percent. And we`re using to seeing numbers
like that now. For years now, the public has been almost unanimous in its
hatred of Congress.
And maybe this is part of the reason why. Look at those two front pages
again. Look at the front pages about the same thing happening, about the
Congress suing the president.
In one of them, it`s a hugely important, ultra serious event. It has
gravity, it has meaning. There are real stakes. When the Senate Watergate
Committee sued Richard Nixon, it mattered.
In the other one, the one from last week, it`s just an afterthought. It`s
the fine print at the bottom of the front page. Just another empty,
meaningless stunt from the House of Representatives using a tool that used
to mean something as a chief stunt to keep the GOP base from doing
something really crazy.
There are a lot of reasons why no one likes Congress these days, but those
two front pages explain one of them perfectly. Congress has diminished
Joining us now is Allan Lichtman. He`s presidential historian at American
Professor Lichtman, thanks for being here tonight.
So, I`m curious for your thoughts on where Congress has sort of come and
where the meaning of impeachment or suing the president has gone – how
it`s evolved – because when you look back at Watergate, what strikes me so
much is Democrat and Republican, the people on this committee, the people
in Congress, were agonizing over this. The every decision they made seemed
like the most serious thing in the world to them, and then I look last week
at this House vote to sue the president, seemed like just a routine thing.
ALLAN LICHTMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Look, Watergate was really
serious. I`ll say that twice. Why did Richard Nixon so desperately want
to cover up the break-in? The break-in, itself, wasn`t all that
But that was the tip of the iceberg. He didn`t want the Congress, he
didn`t want prosecutors delving into all the other corrupt actions of the
Nixon administration, some of which you outlined – illegal wiretaps, other
illegal break-ins, the use of the IRS against political enemies, illegal
cash contributions, quid quo pros with corporations, and illegal war in
Cambodia that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.
This was the sordid underbelly that Richard Nixon was trying to protect.
Watergate was a serious attempt to corrupt our government. Let`s also
remember the dirty tricks designed to fix our political system.
And we need to keep this legacy in mind because on the one hand, we don`t
want to take seriously frivolous lawsuits like John Boehner is pressing
which the courts are going to quickly dismiss and the public sees it for
what it is.
But on the other hand, there are serious threats to our government today –
the quashing of whistleblowers, the enormously extended surveillance
program over American citizens that we need to be careful about.
KORNACKI: But I guess I wonder, has the concept – for instance, you know,
we talked about Democrats right now. They`re sort of stoking the
impeachment fires within the Republican Party. They`re raising money off
of it, almost saying bring it on because they don`t see it as a threat.
I just wonder, when you look at what the idea of impeachment meant, it was
the most serious undertaking that any Congress could ever start to move
into back during Watergate. Has impeachment lost its meaning because of
how casually lawsuits and impeachment talks are thrown around these days?
LICHTMAN: I think it has lost its meaning a bit. As you point out,
Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee agonized over
impeaching the president, despite having strong evidence of multiple,
impeachable offenses – certainly the impeachment of Bill Clinton. That
did not, unlike Watergate, involve the corruption of our government, but
was seen as a political maneuver, has cheapened impeachment.
That word should not be thrown around by either party. Obama has done
nothing that approaches a high crimes and misdemeanors that would merit
You know, they talk about executive orders. Obama has been modest in his
issuing of executive orders, per year issuing far fewer executive orders
than Presidents George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, or Bill Clinton. He`s
issued fewer than 200. Franklin Roosevelt issued more than 3,000. And the
same Republicans who are criticizing the imperial presidency are also
shouting why isn`t the president taking unilateral action on border
It`s all just a lot of political hypocrisy.
KORNACKI: Yes, delaying the employer mandate and fire bombing the
Brookings Institution seem like not quite on the same level.
Anyway, Professor Allan Lichtman, presidential historian at American
University – thanks for your time tonight. I really appreciate it.
LICHTMAN: My pleasure.
KORNACKI: It`s election night in some of the countries. Some of the
results will not surprise you. But one of the results probably be your
favorite story of the day. That`s coming up.
KORNACKI: The most watched primary election conscious tonight is in
Kansas. It`s where Republican Senator Pat Roberts faced fairly stern
competition from a 41-year-old radiologist named Milton Wolf for the
Republican nomination for Senate.
Roberts went to Washington back in 1981 as a congressman. He`s currently
seeking his fourth term in the Senate. He`s come under heavy criticism in
this campaign for not actually spending a lot of time in Kansas anymore.
Polls closed at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time in Kansas.
The vote counting appears to be going slowly, but with 14.2 percent vote
reporting, Roberts is surviving, although not impressively, but just around
50 percent so far.
Another significant Republican primary tonight is in the third
congressional district in Michigan where incumbent Tea Party favorite
Justin Amash is trying to hold his place in the November ballot. He`s
being challenged by Republican establishment-backed candidate named Brian
At this hour, with 29 percent of the precincts reporting, Amash is ahead
with 56 percent of the vote.
And meanwhile, in Michigan`s 11th district, first term Republican
Congressman Kerry Bentivolio has been officially defeated. His loss to
seat in Congress with 63 percent of precincts reporting. His Republican
challenger Dave Trott is 32 points ahead.
Congressman Bentivolio, you`ll recall that Bentivolio was voted into office
in 2012 shortly after Congressman Thaddeus McCotter abruptly resigned from
office. Bentivolio was the only other Republican left on the primary
ballot back then. It`s a Republican district, he won the primary, won the
general election. But tonight, he has lost his seat.
Stay tuned for final results, assuming they are settled tonight.
In the meantime, stay tuned for a much less celebrated election result, but
inarguably the best in the country this year. That story, next.
KORNACKI: Yes, it is another election night in America, which is why we
get to use that theme music. And tonight, there are results from a special
election in Minnesota that may cure what bothers you about American
politics. The town of Dorset, Minnesota. The population: somewhere in the
25 range. It has just thrown out its two-term mayor.
That`s right. Incumbent Mayor Bobby Tuft has lost his seat to challenger
Eric Miller. It was a landslide. Miller won 100 percent of the vote,
something about 100 percent of the vote may seem fishy. And fishier than
that, Dorset`s mayoral election is openly bought and sold every year.
Here`s how it works. On the first Sunday of August, thousands of people
descend on Dorset, Minnesota, in order to sample its restaurant. And while
they`re in town, they`re allowed to vote in the mayoral election. It cost
$1, you write in the name of the person you want elected on the ticket.
You can buy as many tickets or votes as you want to and they draw a name
out of the bucket and that person becomes Dorset`s new mayor.
That`s right. They endorse – they elect a new mayor in Dorset by raffle.
And for the last two terms, they elected Robert Tufts. He loves fishing
and eating ice cream and like any seasoned politician, he doesn`t get
pinned down on specifics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLPK)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s your favorite flavor?
ROBERT TUFTS: Chocolate and vanilla strawberry, cotton candy kind, and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Bobby Tufts was 3 years old when he first ran for office. And
still, his obvious appeal was not enough to defeat new mayor, Eric Miller,
who is 16 years old. Miller now assumes all of the strictly ceremonial
duties of the top elected official in town. And every dollar spent to
elect him will go to the Ronald McDonald Foundation.
And so tonight, we salute the end of the political career of Bobby Tufts,
and we wish him well in his career after politics, which unlike politicians
who leave office for the riches of the private sector, will begin with
Anyway, that does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Lawrence, good evening.
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.>