The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/26/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back, Chris. Great to have you
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
This is May Day 1960, May 1st, 1960. It`s a May Day parade in Moscow.
And the thing that is remarkable about this parade in 1960 in Moscow
is that the theme of the parade that year was all about peace. That year,
the Soviets decided not to parade around their artillery and rockets and
military equipment and stuff like usual, and instead the theme that year
was all about children and doves and peace – which is kind of a remarkable
thing if you think about it because 1960 was right in the middle of the
Cold War, right? This is the year before they built the Berlin wall. It`s
just two years before the Cuban missile crisis.
You would think that the Soviets in 1960 would be wanting to display
all of their biggest missiles, right, all of their finest weaponry as a
show of force against the dreaded United States. It was an incredibly
intense time for U.S./Soviet relations.
But there was this moment back in 1960 when the president of the
United States at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, and the leader of the Soviet
Union at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, they did in 1960, they did for a
while seem like they were trying to thaw relations between our two
countries. And to that end, those two leaders had planned to meet in Paris
for a one-on-one superpower summit in 1960 – a meeting to talk face to
face, man to man, about relations between our two countries, these two Cold
War enemies. That meeting was supposed to take place about two weeks after
that May Day parade. It was supposed to take place in May Day 1960.
And that summit meeting in Paris never happened. And the reason it
never happened is because on the same day as this peace-themed May Day
parade in Moscow, on May 1st, 1960, an American U2 spy plane on a
reconnaissance mission for the CIA was shot down over the Soviet Union.
An American plane went down in Russia. And the pilot, a 30-year-old
American named Gary Powers, he was captured alive by the Soviet Union.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev is shown as he told a
Soviet presidium says that pilot Gary Powers of the downed American
reconnaissance plane was alive, and Russia has seized five photographs made
1,400 miles inside the Soviet borders. The plane was brought down on May
Day. Less than two weeks before the summit talks and Mr. K. was quick to
play on the incident for propaganda advantage.
Out in the open came the story of the most sensational intelligence
operations yet revealed. America officially admits extensive flights over
and around Russia by unarmed planes during the last five years.
State Department spokesman Lincoln White used the reasons for the
LINCOLN WHITE, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: That given the state of the
world today, intelligence collection activities are practiced by all
countries, and post-war history certainly reveals that the Soviet Union has
not been lagging behind in this field.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “Soviet Union has not been lagging behind in this field.”
That`s what the United States said officially, right?
But there was no denying that this was a huge deal. For the world to
find out not just that the CIA was spying on the Soviet Union using secret
spy aircraft. But for the world to find out about it in this incredibly
shocking way, shooting down of his supposedly secret American spy plane,
with the capture of the American pilot alive.
Two weeks later, the plans for that Soviet/American summit in Paris,
those plans collapsed completely. We all know what happened between the
Soviet Union and the United States over the next few years.
The Soviet Union proudly displayed the captured American U2 spy plane
for the word to see. Khrushchev made sure the remnants of the planes,
photographed with the crashed plane parts. They played this up to maximum
And part of what made this story so sensational is that the U2 spy
plane was supposed to be virtually undetectable by radar. It was supposed
to fly at such a high altitude, roughly 70,000 feet, that they thought
radar wouldn`t be able to pick it up and nobody would know it was there.
But that U2 spy plane was shot down in the Soviet Union then Moscow decided
to put that American pilot, Gary Powers, on trial.
Gary Powers in his trial was convicted in that Soviet court. He got a
10-year sentence. They sentenced him to three years in prison and then
seven additional years at hard labor.
Gary Powers did not end up serving all that time. Ultimately, it was
President Kennedy who got him released in a prisoner exchange in 1962.
But that incident was hugely embarrassing for the United States, and
hugely upsetting to our very tenuous relations with the Soviet Union. I
mean, that was never supposed to have happened given the type of aircraft
involved and for that American pilot to have ended up a Soviet prisoner, it
was just almost unthinkable.
That was 1960. In 1995, a U.S. Air Force pilot named Scott O`Grady,
he was flying a much smaller plane. He was flying an F-16 fighter jet over
Bosnia. The United States was part of an international coalition that had
decided to intervene against the Serbs in the war that was being fought in
In June 1995, pilot Scott O`Grady`s F-16, it was shot down in hostile
territory in Bosnia. Mr. O`Grady disappeared for six days until U.S.
Marines went in on the ground in a rescue mission.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two-o-eight local time this morning, the mission
to rescue begins. NATO aircraft over Bosnia get a flash Morse code from
O`Grady deep in hostile Serb territory 20 miles south of Bihaj. Twelve
minutes later, O`Grady speaks into his high-tech hand held radio. His
voice instantly is recognized by a buddy from his squadron in an F-16
overhead. The radio pinpointing his position, positive identification.
Marines rescue specialists on the Kearsarge prepare for action. They
know they must fly over areas bristling with Serb anti-aircraft weapons.
Daylight makes them easy targets. Still at 5:50, two marine Cobra gunships
get the order to go and are launched from the Kearsarge.
Next two CH-53 assault choppers loaded with 41 of the highly trained
marines. They do have Harrier jump sets and F-16s and the A-10s as backup.
Electronic warfare planes jam Serb radar and they move in fast. O`Grady
popping a yellow smoke grenade, choppers landing. Marines forming a
security line. Two minutes on the ground.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: The Marines secured the area and Captain O`Grady
came running out of the tree line, jumped on the second 53, and they lifted
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Almost six days in the woods, hiding at day,
moving only at night, surviving on bugs, grass, and rainwater. Just 80
miles now back to the Kearsarge, they`re flying low, but halfway there, a
missile nearly hits them. They take rifle fire, too, and they shoot back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Miraculously, there were no casualties during that high-risk
mission to save fighter pilot Scott O`Grady after he was shot down in what
was supposed to been an air-only U.S. military mission over Bosnia, when
that resulted in him hiding out in the woods for six days hoping he would
be rescued before he was found by the enemy. It was never supposed to be
any boots on the ground in Bosnia in terms of U.S. forces, right? But air
wars have a way of not always just staying in the air. Sometimes stuff
Today, we learned that President Obama has authorized what the White
House is calling surveillance flights over the war-torn nation of Syria.
Unnamed Defense Department officials telling reporters today that some of
those surveillance flights would be unmanned aircraft, drones, but some of
them would be manned, U2 spy planes, the same model of plane flown by Gary
Powers over the Soviet Union. U2s are among the aircraft that they may use
or that the military already be using over Syria right now.
Throughout the three-year brutal Syria civil war, one of the
strategically important things to know about Syria is they have a strong
air defense system. They have a sophisticated national defense system to
shoot down what they see as enemy aircraft. And Syria, of course, did not
develop that system because of the civil war that they`re in. They`ve had
this system in place for a long time. Part of hardening themselves as a
target by to tension strikes by Israel or any other middle eastern
government that might decide they want a piece of the Assad regime.
And the Assad regime has not been cheapy when it comes to investing in
these sorts of weapon systems. They have a rock solid ally in Russia.
Russia has been more than happy to sell Syria any weapons that it wants and
prop them up on complex systems like air defense.
And that relatively sophisticated air defense system in Syria is one
of the reasons that those American Special Forces, that team of Marines and
Delta Force commandos that carried out that attempted secret rescue mission
last month to try to save American hostages held by is in Syria, their
awareness of Syrian air defense systems is apparently why that Special Ops
raid used the special secret modified kind of awkwardly shaped radar
evading Black Hawk helicopters that were also used in the 2011 mission to
find and kill Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan.
Now, of course, in Syria, you have not just the danger posed by the
official government still clinging to power in that country, and their air
defense systems, you also have the danger of various rebel groups fighting
in Syria, including, of course, ISIS, which was the target of that raid
back in July which ultimately did not find the hostages including American
journalist Jim Foley who was later killed.
One sure way to know you`re in chicken hawk territory when it comes to
debating these things is when you hear politicians, or talking heads, talk
about air strikes against some enemy or some other country as if airstrikes
are some kind of magic, right? They`re a risk-free military solution.
They`re easy peasy.
You go in safely, you drop a couple of bombs, you`re out. No American
boots on the ground. No American lives at risk.
You hear people talk about airstrikes like that all the time, like
they`re a free play somehow. Very recent history tells us that that is not
the case. And right now you have large swaths of Syria controlled by
forces that are hostile to the United States. There`s ISIS, of course.
There`s also the government in Syria who has said plainly that they
must approve any U.S. military action in that country, and if the U.S.
takes action outside of what they approve, well, that would be seen as an
act of aggression.
The United States says for its part, they have no intention of ever
coordinating anything with the Assad regime. And in that kind of
environment, the United States military is not going to get any help on the
ground in support of airstrikes if it turns out they need it. And if the
effectiveness of airstrikes is to some extent contingent on on-the-ground
intelligence and on-the-ground help with targeting, and the local presence
of any other supportive elements to maintain that air operation or to
respond if anything, God forbid, goes wrong – then if we start airstrikes
in Syria, we are heading into a very difficult and inarguably dangerous new
U.S. military operation in a country where we previously have not been
Should the United States be engaged in an aerial campaign against this
militant group, ISIS, inside Syria?
As a country, we`re going to have to make a decision about that one
way or the other. And even if you are very clear as to where you stand on
that question, yes or no, you`d admit that it`s a hard enough question,
right, that if our government really is seriously considering it, and these
surveillance flights make it seem like they really are seriously
considering it, it`s a hard enough question that it deserves a real debate.
Not one just on TV. Not one just in the op-ed pages. But a real
argument – a real debate like our founders envisioned. A debate followed
by a binding decision on whether or not we do it. A decision made publicly
for which our politicians will be known and accountable for how they vote.
That`s the way it`s designed in the Constitution, and it`s designed that
way on purpose.
And I know Congress is enjoying taking more than a month off right
now, but with each passing day, the news from Syria, and the news involving
the terrorist group is seems to get more and more horrifying and the White
House starts to talk about more and more operations targeting is including
those that they say will not respect geographic boundaries.
Today, part of the terrible news was learning that a 33-year-old
American man was apparently killed in Syria while fighting with ISIS. His
family in San Diego confirms today that the State Department has told them
that 33-year-old American Douglas McCain was killed last weekend in Syria
apparently while he was fighting with ISIS.
We`ve also learned today that one of the American hostages being held
by is in Syria is apparently an American woman. She`s 26 years old. She`s
been held for just over a year now. She was taken hostage in August of
She was apparently in Syria on some sort of humanitarian mission at
the time that she was captured. Her family does not want her name reported
in the media, but NBC News has also learned that ISIS is demanding a more
than $6 million ransom in order to free her.
As a matter of policy, the United States does not pay ransom for
hostages, ransom of any size.
This group, ISIS, is continuing to do everything it can to try to
provoke a military reaction from the United States. And a lot of people in
this country will argue that maybe we should have one. Maybe the threats
and provocations where ISIS warrant putting American military personnel
back into a new part of the Middle East in harm`s way.
But a lot of Americans will not agree with that contention. And
honestly, neither is a wrong or unpatriotic decision at this point. It`s
an argument that deserves a really vigorous debate.
Every side of that question deserves to be heard and heard again and
heard thoroughly and argued well and rebutted well, because even though
they`re only talking about airstrikes, you know what, there`s no such thing
as only airstrikes. Airstrikes really do put American military personnel
in harm`s way. They are not magic. They constitute a difficult decision
to deploy American troops – a decision that our elected representatives in
the U.S. Congress constitutionally are supposed to make. It`s their call.
It was almost exactly one year ago when President Obama said he had
decided as commander in chief that he wanted the U.S. military to mount
airstrikes in Syria. A year ago he said that. But not talking about
mounting them against ISIS, he said he wanted airstrikes against the Assad
regime itself because they used chemical weapons.
He walked into the Rose Garden and said he wanted airstrikes in Syria,
but he also said the Congress should take a vote on whether to authorize
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our military has
positioned assets in the region. The chairman of the joint chiefs has
informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. I`m
prepared to give that order.
But having made my decision as commander-in-chief based on what I am
convinced is our national security interests, I`m also mindful that I`m the
president of the world`s oldest constitutional democracy. I`ve long
believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in
our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the
people. That`s why I`ve made a second decision. I will seek authorization
for the use of force from the American people`s representatives in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was August 31st, last year, almost exactly a year ago,
President Obama asking Congress to approve military strikes in Syria.
Congress at the time was hinting that they would say no, but they never
actually said anything. They just sort of hinted to the media that they
would say no and then they never did anything.
Ultimately, the administration embarked instead of airstrikes on a
successful international mission to get rid of all the chemical weapons in
Syria. That went forward instead of airstrikes, but as to that request to
Congress to authorize airstrikes, it has been almost exactly a year and
Congress has still not gone on the record about the president`s request.
And now one year later, the White House is openly mulling airstrikes
again, this time on different targets inside Syria, going so far as to
start surveillance flights already as of today and now, members of Congress
are apparently paying attention to what is happening from Syria, from
wherever they`re on vacation.
And if you care to listen to them while they`re on vacation and they
choose to speak instead of act, the sounds they`re pointlessly making seem
to indicate, particularly from the Republican side of the aisle, that they
think President Obama definitely should have done something in Syria by
But they also apparently think that he should have just done it
without asking them. They`d rather not make the decision themselves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: President Obama has to admit
to himself if no one else, that what he`s doing is not working. We`ve
talked about Iraq, but there`s no way you can solve the problem in Iraq
without hitting them in Syria.
We need to hit them in Syria. We need to help the Free Syrian Army
mobilize so they can fight them on the ground.
When it comes to ground troops, if our military commanders tell us
that we need ground forces to defeat ISIL, which is a threat to the United
States, so be it. We have got to win and stop these guys.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN (via telephone): We need to finish them
off because they – we will either fight them here or we will fight them
there. That in my mind is basically the choice.
INTERVIEWER: So, it sounds to me like you anticipate at some point
combat boots on the ground?
RYAN: I don`t know – I don`t know the answer to that, but you
certainly don`t take that off the table.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: We need to do everything we can to
repel ISIS. I don`t think we have the luxury of putting our heads in the
sand and saying, well, it`s over there and we`re not going to do it.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There`s no boundary between Syria and
Iraq. One of the key decisions the president is going to have to make is
air power in Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: One of the decisions the president is going to have to make?
Who has to make this decision?
I mean, these are all, you know, degrees of reasonable opinion.
Shared on TV by members of Congress recently.
But try to get them to put their votes where their mouths are, and
nothing. We`re still waiting to hear from Congress about what President
Obama proposed a year ago, on the same day that he announced the House
Republicans` lawsuit against President Obama for taking way too many
actions on his own.
You might remember House Speaker John Boehner was asked in that same
press conference if he had a role. If John Boehner had a role in deciding
what kind of action the United States should take in Iraq. Here`s how John
Boehner answered at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: You opened up with Iraq. I`m curious if you have any
suggestions for what the president should do there.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, what he should
do is have an overarching strategy to deal with the growing threat of
REPORTER: Don`t you feel, though, that you have some responsibility
here to say, here`s what I think that we should do? Here`s what the
president should be doing, to be giving counsel at that point?
BOEHNER: I called for more increased U.S. activity a year ago. In
January, when the ISIS forces came across the Iraq border and began to
gather territory, I called on the administration to act, and it`s not my
job to outline for the president what tools he should use or not use.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And when he says, what tools he should use or not use, what
he means is whether or not the president should use military force. John
Boehner thinks that is not his job, it`s not Congress` job, it`s the
president`s job somehow.
That was at the same time that he was suing the president for doing
too much without Congress.
Well, today, House Speaker John Boehner released this video about what
he thinks his job really is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER: This sits in my office on my coffee table because this is
me. That`s what I do all day. They wind me up about every 15 minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Again, again.
BOEHNER: No, no, I got to go to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I got to go to work. The people we elect to represent us in
Congress need to have a vigorous debate about deploying U.S. military
personnel to an incredibly dangerous country, to carry out an incredibly
dangerous mission where they would be risking their lives and where
American citizens and interests are at stake.
The monkey thing, admittedly, is awesome, but there`s this other job
they`re supposed to be doing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER: This sits in my office on my coffee table because this is
me. That`s what I do all day. They wind me up about every 15 minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Again, again.
BOEHNER: No, no, I got to go to work.
My staff gave it to me. Every 15, 30 minutes, they come in and wind
me up and I do my thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is what I do all day.
The video was put out by Speaker of the House John Boehner today. And
there`s no way around it. The toy monkey thing is very, very cute.
Also, there`s no way around it, making videos about toy monkeys
clanging cymbals together really does make up the sum total of what
Congress is doing right now.
They`re in the middle of a five-week vacation, and as such, what
they`re not doing emphatically is making any sort of decision about making
any sort of decision about maybe possibly having a debate about making a
decision to maybe talk about starting to take a vote someday about what is
starting to feel like a new U.S. war effort with troops in harm`s way and
everything, in a new country in the Middle East.
This is what they do all day. Wind him up, they clang cymbals
together, they fall off the table. Wind him up again.
Joining us now is one U.S. senator who has repeatedly called for
Congress to debate and vote on potential U.S. military action in Iraq and
maybe in Syria. He chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that
is responsible for policy in that part of the world.
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, thank you so much for being with us, sir.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: You bet, Rachel. Glad to be with you.
MADDOW: So, it was almost a year ago to today that President Obama
said he wanted to mount U.S. airstrikes in Syria because of chemical
weapons. He said he wanted to do that but that Congress should authorize
it. Congress never acted on that one way or the other.
Do you think Congress will act now on this new proposal for airstrikes
KAINE: Well, Rachel, first I hope desperately that the president
brings this to Congress. I know the team is weighing whether to bring it
to Congress or not.
And, actually, let me walk through what happened last year because I
think what happened last year shows if you do it the way the constitutional
Framers intended, good things happen. The president had to come to
Congress, he had to define the mission. We need to use airstrikes in Syria
to deter the use of chemical weapons.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I sit on it, we voted 10-8 to
use military force for that limited purpose. As soon as we did, Russia and
Syria changed their calculation, came to the table, said hold on a second,
don`t start military action, we will give up our entire chemical weapons
So, the president by announcing the goal, coming to Congress, the
Foreign Relations Committee acting on the president`s request, even when it
was unclear the rest of Congress would go along, led to achievement of what
the president`s objective was, which was the complete destruction of the
chemical weapons stockpile in Syria which was very important.
My argument is the president did it right last year, and by doing it
right, he got the objective that he defined to Congress which was taking
the chemical weapons stockpile out of the equation.
And so, he needs to come to Congress again with respect to the threat
that ISIL poses and he needs to explain it and crisply define what a
military mission would be, and then as you indicate, let Congress debate it
and vote it up or down. That`s what the Framers of the Constitution
intended. It`s the right thing to do legally.
It`s the right thing to do morally because if you`re going to put
servicemen and women in harm`s way, you ought to try to get a political
consensus first that the mission is worth it, and it`s the most likely way
for things to work out well after that kind of considered debate.
MADDOW: Even if we put aside the question of whether or not
airstrikes should be expanded into Syria, it`s been about 2 1/2 weeks since
the president notified congress that he would start using airstrikes
against is in Iraq. So, under the War Powers resolution, after 60 days,
legally would that action need to stop if Congress doesn`t vote to
authorize that action inside Iraq, or is the president OK with continuing
to do that on his own even if Congress doesn`t say anything about it?
KAINE: Rachel, I don`t think the president can. I think there`s only
one circumstance where the president can really act unilaterally before
Congress, and that`s when American lives are imminently threatened, whether
it be an embassy or American troops. When American lives are imminently
threatened, the president as commander-in-chief has the ability to act
first and then hopefully get congressional approval later.
But when there`s no imminent threat to American life, the Framers of
the Constitution were very, very clear. James Madison of Virginia, OK, so
I`m biased about him, but they were very clear that we put the decisions
about declaration of war in the hands of Congress, the people`s elected
representatives, and what that forces is the president to be disciplined,
come explain a mission, to have that debate which educates the American
public, and then to make a decision knowing that once it`s made, if there`s
a decision made to go forward, you`ve got a political consensus and you`re
not asking servicemen and women to risk their lives with the political
class not having done the work to describe whether the mission is worth it
And so, I think the president – we are in a position where those 60
days really start to run right when we get back. For the next two weeks,
while Congress – and we`re not just vacating. We`re also doing all kinds
of work all around our states.
But the president should take the next two weeks to define what this
military mission is, because it`s clear by word and action that the
president, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense,
thinks we need to engage militarily to stop the momentum of ISIL, but they
ought to describe what the military mission is and what we would hope to
achieve so we can educate the American public and let the people`s
representatives cast a vote of approval or disapproval as the Framers
MADDOW: Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia – you`ve been outspoken on
this for a long time. I appreciate you walking us through your thoughts on
this. Thank you, sir.
MADDOW: I have to say, this is one of those things where I`ve spoken
with people in Washington, people in the administration who say when they
talk to members of Congress about this, they feel like most members of
Congress absolutely don`t want to be asked. They don`t want to handle this
That implicitly gives the administration the ability to do this
without them for as long as they can. Your member of Congress at home, if
they read the Constitution the way that Senator Kaine discuss, frankly the
way that I do, your member of Congress at home ought to be clamoring to get
this authorization vote happening. This shouldn`t be the White House
deciding whether or not they`re putting it to Congress. Congress ought to
be taking this responsibility and running with it, call themselves back
from vacation to deal with this right now.
If they really care about this, this is Congress` imperative. No
waiting on the White House on this. Congress ought to do it, in my
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: OK. True or false? For the low, low price of just $25, you
can own a wearable version of Rick Perry`s mugshot. Is that true or is
True. You have seen smiling, fashionable, no glasses, Rick Perry`s
mugshot already. See him trying to profit off that mugshot by charging $25
a pop for a limited edition of mugshot t-shirt, now being sold by Rick
Perry`s political action committee, handed out by Rick Perry aides as he
travels the country apparently running for president.
So, that is true. Wear Rick Perry`s mugshot on your chest. Because
you like Rick Perry, wear his mugshot.
Really? Really. But, oh, wait, there`s more.
MADDOW: This past March, March 2nd, two young men were walking down
the street on a Sunday night. Twenty-two-year-old Victor White and his
friend had just left a convenience store called Hop In in the town of New
Iberia, Louisiana. New Iberia is a town of about 30,000 people, a couple
hours west of New Orleans.
And as Victor White and his friend walked down that road in New
Iberia, about 11:30 p.m., a police cruiser pulled up alongside them.
According to a police report from that night, the officer was looking for a
couple people who might have been involved in a fistfight at the Hop In.
The report says Mr. White consented to a pat-down by the officer. That
officer found marijuana in Victor White`s front pants pocket.
The officer then reportedly ran the men`s names through the police
database and then he called for backup. Mr. White`s friend says that when
the second officer arrived, the backup officer arrived. Police handcuffed
Victor White and placed him in the back of the first car.
They read him his rights. They then searched him again. It was
during that second search that police say they found cigars on him and a
small amount of cocaine. He said apparently that he was going to use the
cigars to smoke marijuana. According to the police report, Mr. White said
both the cocaine and the marijuana belonged to him.
Police officers dismissed Mr. White`s friend. They said he could go
home. He walked back home, but they kept Victor White. They drove Victor
White to the sheriff`s office for furthering questioning and what happened
next is very unclear. Much of this story is unclear.
But the next series of events are particularly woolly, and then the
following day, on March 3rd, the Louisiana state police posted this press
release on Facebook. It says, quote, “Once at the sheriff`s office, Victor
White became uncooperative and refused to exit the deputy`s patrol vehicle.
As the deputy requested assistance from other deputies, Victor White
produced a handgun and fired one round striking himself in the back.
Victor White was then transported to a local hospital by ambulance where he
was pronounced dead by an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
An apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. After he`d been searched
twice, he miraculously still somehow had a fun on him gun on him or found
one in the police car and used that to shoot himself in the back while he
Victor White`s parents tell NBC News that when they arrived at the
police station, they did not know the circumstances of their son`s death.
Victor white`s father is a Baptist minister. He tells NBC when he was
finally led into the morgue, he performed last rights on his son. He also
says he was not allowed to view his son`s body below the chin.
Local headlines in Louisiana that week read, “Man kills himself in
back seat of Iberia Parish deputy`s car.” “State police investigate in-
custody death of Iberia Parish man.”
Two weeks ago, the Iberia Parish coroner`s office met with Victor
White`s family and told them the initial conclusion by police was correct,
that it was a self-inflicted wound. In fact, it was suicide by a .25
caliber weapon according to the coroner, which is important because it`s
not the .45 caliber weapons that are typically issued to these officers.
In a press release yesterday, the coroner said this, “The manner of
death is suicide.” The coroner says his office has a policy of not
releasing details on deaths by suicide to the public, so there`s been no
public release from his office of that full autopsy, but that full report
has now been obtained exclusively by NBCNews.com`s investigative unit.
Reporter Hannah Rappleye got that report by pictures taken by Victor
White`s family. They photographed it page by page and sent her these
photos. And it`s a complete report. NBC News can post it.
But the takeaway, some of this report directly contradicts what the
Louisiana state police said back in March. The autopsy states that
although the police said Victor White was shot in the back, while his hands
were cuffed behind his back, the autopsy says he was actually not shot in
the back. He was shot in the chest, while his hands were cuffed behind his
The autopsy says the bullet entered his right lateral chest and exited
under his left armpit. Think about that for a second. He`s handcuffed
with his hands behind his back and somehow he obtains a gun in the back
seat of that squad car even though he`s been frisked twice. And then
somehow with the gun, he`s able to shoot himself while handcuffs from
behind in the chest.
In his press release, the coroner offered an explanation for this. He
said it was possible for Victor White to pull that off because of his
physical build. Quote, “Due to his body habitus, he would have been able
to manipulate the weapon to point where the contact entrance wound was
As Hannah Rappleye reports today for NBCNews.com, Victor White`s
family says they`re not convinced. His father tells NBC, quote, “You can`t
make me understand how my son took his left hand when he was handcuffed
behind the back and shot himself. I don`t believe a thing they`re saying
at this point.”
The family is still awaiting a final report from the Louisiana state
police investigation which is separate from the coroner`s investigation.
But they say, quote, “The only thing we want back is our son.”
Joining us now is Hannah Rappleye, the NBC News investigative reporter
who`s been covering this story since the shooting. And she`s the one who
obtained exclusive access to the full coroner`s report.
Congratulations on the scoop, Hannah. Thanks for being with us.
HANNAH RAPPLEYE, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE REPOTER: Thanks for having
MADDOW: So, first, let me just ask you, I am new to this story
because of your reporting. Did I get anything wrong in describing it
RAPPLEYE: No, you pretty much told the whole story, and when it first
happened very few outlets covered it. There were – as you noted, there
were a few blotter-like items in the local press.
But – and I started reporting it the same month, but because there
were so many questions and so few documents available, I had to spend the
last six months, now, trying to get as many documents as possible and speak
to as many people that knew him as possible.
MADDOW: Can you explain the term the coroner is using her and what
that argument means? Body habitus – the idea that Victor White`s body
habitus somehow enabled him to fire a bullet into his chest while his hands
were cuffed behind his back? From the coroner`s perspective, what does
RAPPLEYE: Well, I`m not quite sure because I was never able to get an
interview with the coroner`s office. He does say in the report and the
press release that based on all the information that the investigators and
pathologist, the forensic pathologist gathered, that he deemed the death of
Victor White a suicide.
One thing that particularly struck me about the report was that the
coroner noted that Victor White had lacerations on the left side of his
face. Early on in my reporting, the Iberia Parish police department told
me that he had not been involved in an altercation with police that night.
And the friend that I interviewed that was with him the night that he was
stopped also said that Victor didn`t have marks on his face.
So, that seemed to imply to me that maybe there was some type of
altercation, but it`s not clear.
The other thing that really was important in that report was that the
coroner noted that investigators told him that Victor White had somehow
said something along the lines of, “I`m gone”, before officers heard the
gunshot, which indicated that it was a self-inflicted wound, that it was
suicide to him.
MADDOW: If the police and now the coroner contend that it was a self-
inflicted wound, that he, himself, fired a gun into himself to end his
life, why is it, or do we have any understanding, in fact, that the coroner
didn`t actually test his hands for gunshot residue?
RAPPLEYE: According to the documents that I received, his hands were
not tested for gunshot residue.
RAPPLEYE: There was residue in the wound, itself. And when I went
back to the coroner`s office to confirm whether I misread or, you know,
missed something, they referred me to the state police and the state police
were unable to confirm whether his hands were or were not tested for
MADDOW: Hannah Rappleye, investigative reporter for NBC News, who
turned up previously unknown information about this case, which is now
getting, we should admit it, national attention of a kind it probably would
not have before, both because of this new information and because of the
Ferguson, Missouri, upset over Michael Brown`s death – I want to thank you
for walking us through this, Hannah. Thank you.
RAPPLEYE: Absolutely. Thank you.
MADDOW: We`ve got links to all that detail in those reports at
OK. “Debunktion Junction”, a really good one is coming up next. Stay
MADDOW: Programming note: in the 11:00 p.m. hour Eastern Time
tonight, I will be on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Different shirt, same jacket and also glasses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST: Keep this in mind, you`re talking to a dumb
guy. So I`m going to ask you dumb guy questions.
LETTERMAN: What happened to al Qaeda and why does ISIS seem to hate
us more than al Qaeda? And why does al Qaeda hate us in the first place?
MADDOW: OK. Al Qaeda`s still there. They hate us as much as ever,
but they also hate ISIS.
LETTERMAN: They hate ISIS?
MADDOW: Which is –
MADDOW: They hate ISIS. They think that ISIS is too extreme. And
when that message is coming from al Qaeda, you know it`s time to listen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I`ll be on “The Late Show with David Letterman” tonight, just
so you know.
And I will be on “Debunktion Junction” train to Texas, next, right
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Hoot, hoot. “Debunktion Junction”, what`s my function?
This is a special edition of “Debunktion Junction” tonight, to honor
the fact that one of the biggest politics stories in the country is also a
story about which there is a lot of bunk in circulation. So, here we go.
Earlier this month, Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted by a grand
jury on two felony counts of basically abuse of power, after a Texas county
district attorney was convicted of drunk driving. He demanded that she
resign. He said he would veto state funds that went to her office if she
did not resign.
Specifically, the governor said he`d veto funding for the unit in her
office that investigates public corruption by Texas state officials, a unit
that Texas Republicans had long hated and have tried many times to defund.
Well, the D.A. did apologize after her arrest, she said she would not
run for re-election but she also refused to resign and Rick Perry did zero
out the funding for the ethnics investigation unit in her office.
Now, Rick Perry has contended since he was indicted for that that the
reason he pushed for district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, to resign is
because she lost the public`s confidence with that drunk driving scandal.
Her drunk driving conviction ruined her reputation in office. She lost the
public trust, and therefore she had to go.
It`s kind of a reasonable contention, right? Rick Perry has
standards. Any district attorney in Texas who gets busted for DWI, unfit
If you`re a Texas D.A. and you get busted for drunk driving, Governor
Rick Perry is going to demand that you resign. Is that true or is that
False. “The Dallas Morning News” reports at least two other examples
during Rick Perry`s administration when a county district attorney was
busted for DWI and Rick Perry didn`t give a hoot. Didn`t say a word.
In 2003, it was the D.A. from Swisher County, Texas, guilty of
aggravated DWI, sentenced to jail, not a word from the governor.
2009, the D.A. from Kaufman County, Texas, was convicted on DWI charge
after driving the wrong way on the street and hitting another car, and it
was a second offense. Again, no word from Rick Perry.
But those two guys were Republicans, and the Democrat who did say had
to resign because of her DWI – well, she did also head up the office that
investigates public corruption among state officials, so her DWI is a
reason to force her out of office. But the other guys, nah.
Next stop, true or false? Back in May before he was indicted, “The
Dallas Morning News” asked Rick Perry what he did, what his personal
involvement was in this plan to force the D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg out of
office and replace her as Travis County D.A.
Quote, “Asked if he personally had made any phone calls about the quit
or lose funding deal, Governor Perry said no. Asked if he initiated any
deal, the governor also said no, before the elevator arrived and he left.”
So, before the elevator arrived, Rick Perry says he made absolutely no
phone calls associated with this plan to force that Democratic D.A. out of
office. Is that true or false?
False. At least if you believe new reporting in “The Austin American-
Statesman” and a claim by this woman, an Austin defense attorney, named
Mindy Montford, who has now said that actually in the days after Rosemary
Lehmberg`s arrest for drunk driving last year, Mindy Montford says Governor
Rick Perry personally obtained her cell phone number from a mutual
acquaintance and called her up himself one on one to tell her that he
intended to veto money from the Public Integrity Unit unless Rosemary
Governor Perry then reportedly asked this woman, Mindy Montford, if
she wanted Rosemary Lehmberg`s job. If he succeeded in his plan to get her
to quit, would you she take the job?
Quote, “I think I told him of course, it would be an amazing
opportunity and I thanked him for considering me. I told him I would think
about it and thanked him.”
Of course, the offer became moot once Rosemary Lehmberg made it clear
that she would not resign. But it shows that Rick Perry himself, at least
according to this defense attorney in Austin, personally got on the phone
one on one to discuss these plans to try to oust Rosemary Lehmberg from
office, contrary to what he`s been telling the press it was just his staff
handling the whole thing and he was never personally involved.
Rick Perry is already running for president in 2016. Rick Perry is,
in his own mind, at least a top tier contender for president in 2016.
This is one of the biggest politics stories in the country. He`s had
a multiple felony indictment for abuse of power while he is simultaneously
running for president.
Has anybody else under felony indictment ever run for president?
But the basic details of this fact – of this case have been
misconstrued in the national press over and over and over again. And I
think we`re going the keep debunking it night after night until that stops.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
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