The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/02/14
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, man.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
OK. So, when terrorist groups launch spectacular attacks, when
terrorist groups do things that get the world`s attention, that cannot only
unite previously disparate allies against them, it cannot only sort of
unify the world in horror, right? It can also sometimes break log jams or
settle internal disputes in countries that have been thinking about taking
action against said terrorist group. But they`ve not yet been able to
decide to do that.
So, for example, take al Shabaab. Al Shabaab operates in Somalia.
They were initially seen as the military wing of a radical religious
fundamentalist political movement called the Islamic Courts Union.
And as essentially the militia for the Islamic Courts Union, al
Shabaab starting in about 2006, they were doing all the things that we
associate with this group and with their ilk. They were stoning people to
death. They were cutting off hands and limbs, doing mass executions,
basically ruling by terror, declaring a fundamentalist terror state in the
parts of Somalia where they had control.
And it was not long before they got aspirations beyond Somalia. In
2010, al Shabaab launched all those attacks in Uganda against people who
had committed the grave sin of getting together to watch World Cup Soccer
matches. Those attacks killed more than 70 people.
In 2012, al Shabaab formally declared they were an affiliate of al
Qaeda central. Their leadership declared allegiance to the head of al
Qaeda, to Ayman al-Zawahiri, and although they claimed credit for bombings
and killings and mutilations and grenade attacks over and over and over
again throughout this whole time, it was this time last year, was September
2013, when an al Shabaab attack made front-page headlines around the world
and shocked the whole international community.
That attack happened not in Somalia, but in Kenya, in the cosmopolitan
capital Kenyan city of Nairobi. Al Shabaab militants over a period of
three days mounted a coordinated military assault on a purely civilian
target. They attacked the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi.
More than 170 people were wounded in that attack. At least 67 people
were killed. And an integral part of how terrorizing that attack was, was
not just the mayhem that it caused. Not just the softness and civilian-
ness of the target they chose for that attack, but a big part of the terror
that it caused was how long it went on.
I mean, it was like Mumbai, right? The authorities were not able to
bring this siege to a close in the first day or in the second day and all
through the third day. It just went on and on and on. These poor people
at the mercy of these terrorist attackers.
And before that point, it`s not as if the United States government had
been ignoring al Shabaab. There had been numerous U.S. airstrikes against
the group in Somalia, including an air strike that killed the group`s top
leader back in 2008.
But in 2012 – excuse me, sorry, just in 2013, it was just something
about that attack in Kenya, just the emotional force of that terrifying
attack on this very knowable, very cosmopolitan, frankly, very western
shopping mall in Nairobi.
When that news broke internationally, it was enough to not just
horrify the world, it was enough specifically to make U.S. decision-makers
scale up what they were willing to have the U.S. government and the U.S.
military do against this group, al Shabaab. Less than two weeks after that
attack on that mall in Nairobi, the U.S. launched its first direct boots on
the ground commando raid inside Somalia against al Shabaab.
Navy SEALs launched from ships off the Somali coast. They came ashore
to attack a Shabaab leadership compound in a seaside stronghold that had
effectively functioned as al Shabaab`s capital city in Somalia. And, yes,
as I said, the U.S. had targeted al Shabaab leadership before, but never
And the difference was that that mall attack was less than who weeks
before. That had apparently been enough to make U.S. decision makers think
differently about how much they were willing to do against that group. In
the words of “The New York Times,” quote, “that attack broke a deadlock
among officials in Washington over whether to conduct the commando raid
against al Shabaab.”
That`s why we decided to do it apparently, the horror over what they
did in that shopping mall.
The problem is that raid did not work. The Navy SEALs ended up
getting turned back by heavy gunfire when al Shabaab guards realized the
SEALs were coming ashore and were coming for them.
After the failed attack, al Shabaab held a news conference in that
town that they controlled basically bragging about their invincibility,
bragging about how they not only pulled off a three-day siege of the
Westgate Mall, killing dozens of civilians in a neighboring country, but
now, also their senior leadership had been protected by their own guards
against an attack by the best of the best military in the world, by the
best of the U.S. military.
At the news conference, they put on display this U.S. military gear
left behind by the SEALs, including bullets and a GPS device and what
appears to be a stun grenade.
There was nothing about that terrible and spectacular assault on that
westernized shopping mall in Kenya that made it more likely that a U.S.
commando raid against al Shabaab would be successful. But there is
something about that terrible and spectacular assault on that shopping mall
in Kenya that made it more likely that we, our government, the U.S.
government, would try to do something as aggressive and risky as that
commando raid. That ultimately did not work.
We were so horrified we were willing to do something we`d never done
before. That doesn`t mean that what we were willing to do was more likely
to be effective.
Terrorism is provocation. It is designed to provoke action by those
who are terrorized so that a fight can then happen between the terrorist
group and the opponent of their own choosing on the terrorist group`s own
terms and on their own timeframe.
And the United States is still taking action against al Shabaab. The
Pentagon announced today a new set of airstrikes again targeting senior
leadership of that group in Somalia. In fact, targeting them in the exact
same town that the Navy SEALs raided last year in that raid that was
approved because there had been a terrorist attack but did not succeed when
it was tried.
We know from our own history that terrorist provocations make us more
likely to act. They do not make our actions more likely to succeed.
That`s the beauty of terrorism, right? That`s the strategic beauty of it.
That`s what they want.
Today, for the second time in two weeks, the terrorist group ISIS has
released a videotape showing the execution of an American journalist. In
the first tape two weeks ago, two weekends ago, an ISIS militant with a
distinct London accent is seen killing an American journalist named Jim
Foley, then at the end of the tape the same man is seen threatening to kill
another American journalist named Steven Sotloff.
Well, today, the group posted a similar video apparently showing the
murder of Steven Sotloff and threatening to kill another hostage that the
group has in captivity who is reportedly a British citizen.
U.S. government officials are not confirming the authenticity of the
video and neither is NBC News. But the family of Steven Sotloff did
release a statement today saying they, quote, “know of this horrific
strategy and are grieving privately.” They say, “There will be no public
comment from family during this difficult time.”
So, for the second time in two weeks, the U.S. government is in the
position of deciding not just how it wants to respond to this terrorist
group that keeps killing Americans on videotape, but also what the U.S.
government thinks will be the most effective approach to targeting this
group. Because what we want to do, and what would be most effective
against them, are not necessarily the same things, right?
The group that just killed Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff and has taken
over big swaths of Iraq and also Syria, they were borne out of the U.S.
invasion of Iraq in 2003. There was no al Qaeda presence in Iraq when we
invaded in 2003. But in 2004, al Qaeda in Iraq was formed by this
Jordanian militant named Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
I mean, the roiling insurgency and the resistance to the U.S. invasion
of Iraq, Zarqawi made his group very high profile, not only by choosing to
become an affiliate of the great terror franchise of them all, al Qaeda,
right, but also by virtue of spectacular attacks and a penchant for
brutality that could, in particular, be filmed. He was the one who started
dressing prisoners in Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuits then cutting their
heads off on camera. He`s the one who started doing that.
That was how Abu Musab al Zarqawi put al Qaeda in Iraq on the map. A
U.S. airstrike killed Zarqawi in 2006 and was seen as a great victory by
U.S. forces. They wanted to get him more than anybody else. But that
victory did eliminate that one leader from the group but did not stop it
Al Qaeda in Iraq survived and eventually morphed into the Islamic
State of Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq, same group. They
continued to be known for their high-profile provocative brutality, mass
kidnappings, high profile political assassinations. They bombed the Iraqi
In 2007, they abducted and tortured and murdered three serving U.S.
soldiers. By 2009, their leader was replacing Zarqawi was a new mysterious
figure who called himself al Baghdadi. Nobody knows anything about him.
Al Baghdadi just means that he claims to be from Baghdad.
Al Qaeda had always been strongest in the Sunni part of Iraq, the
Sunni western part of Iraq in al Anbar province. At one point they had
declared the city of Ramadi in al Anbar province to be the capital of the
Islamic State of Iraq.
But, geographically speaking, if you`re in western Iraq, if you are in
al Anbar province, if you go further west from there, where you are after
you cross a desert border is in eastern Syria. When Syria`s civil war
started simmering and then boiling over in 2011, the leader of the al Qaeda
in Iraq, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq, this guy al Baghdadi, he
was very happy to send his fighters a little further west. Send his
fighters out of al Anbar province in western Iraq across the border, so
they`re operating not only in western Iraq but also in eastern Syria.
And that is the thumbnail history of this group. They since split
from al Qaeda central in what is essentially a middle management style turf
dispute. But where they come from is the same long-term strategic
terrorist mindset that is designed to so outrage us, to so provoke us by
their brutality and frankly by their evil that they cause us in anger to do
things that ultimately in the long run hurt us and help them.
Yes, we killed the leader of al Shabaab in 2008. Today, literally
today, we`re still waiting on word about whether we killed the new leader
of al Shabaab. Any doubts whether there will be a new leader after him?
Another U.S. airstrike killed Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2006 in Iraq.
Now, we`re debating whether bombing Syria would be the way to kill the new
guy, al Baghdadi, who`s taken over since we killed the old guy.
In 2010, the targeted killing to end all targeted killings, Osama bin
Laden, himself. Now, the man in Osama bin Laden`s office is Ayman al
Zawahiri. And al Qaeda central still has groups competing to see who can
bet their official franchise in troubled states around the world.
Airstrikes are not magic.
President Obama left today for a European trip in part to try and
shore up international support for his strategy to try to contain and
isolate an increasingly aggressive Vladimir Putin in Russia. He`ll also be
working on the NATO side of an international coalition to try and stop
ISIS, to try to stop this Islamic state group – across not just NATO and
not just the western world, but across the whole world including the Muslim
world, even across the more radical-friendly Muslim state governments
around the world, ISIS has united the world in revulsion with their tactics
and their goals.
To them, that`s a feature, not a bug. That`s part of what they`re
trying to do.
Have we learned enough in past fights, have we learned enough in
fighting groups with those goals who use those kinds of tactics to get at
those goals, have we learned enough to fight them now in a way that might
actually work this time, in a way that isn`t just giving them exactly what
NBC`s Richard Engel joins us live from the Turkish/Syrian border in
just a moment. Stay with us.
MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is going to
be joining us live from the Turkish/Syrian border in just a moment. We`ll
be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, we`re trying to do a constructive thing here.
Constitutionally speaking, it`s Congress that is supposed to decide if we
are going to war or not. A president can deploy U.S. troops into
hostilities for 60 days on his own say so without Congress weighing, but
under the War Powers resolution, those troops are supposed to be brought
back in 60 days if the Congress doesn`t authorize them to participate in
those hostilities. Will Congress do that?
In an effort to keep track whether Congress may or may not do their
constitutional duty, vote, even debate the issue of military force in Iraq
and maybe in Syria, we have started a public whip count of all the members
of Congress who have publicly expressed the need for a vote on military
authorization of the use of force against ISIS.
Last week, we had five U.S. senators and over 80 members of the House
from both parties. Today we`re adding three more members of the House.
Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, Republican Congressman Tom
Cole of Oklahoma, and California Republican Congressman Ed Royce. We can
add one more U.S. senator, Democrat from Florida, Senator Bill Nelson who
says he`s going to be introducing to authorize airstrikes in Syria if
President Obama decides that is what he wants to do.
And in some breaking news, late this evening, we just got word from
the White House President Obama has ordered an additional 350 military
personnel to Iraq. The White House specified that those 350 people will
not be serving in a combat role but will be deployed to Baghdad to protect
U.S. diplomatic outposts there.
Joining us now from Antakya, Turkey, on the Syrian border, is NBC
chief correspondent, chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.
Richard, thanks very much for being there.
I have to ask you about how you see the overall U.S. approach to this
problem right now. We were just talking in New York last week, you said
you didn`t see what the overall rationale and design was from a U.S.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I`ve been
struggling to figure out what our foreign policy is as we have so many
conflicts around the world, so many conflicts in the Muslim world. Libya
is falling apart, is going back into civil war. The capital no longer in
control of any reasonable force. You have Syria and Iraq in a state of
collapse. And I`m not exactly sure what our objectives are.
I was listening, as I always do, to your introduction just a few
minutes ago, and you pointed out a couple of very important issues. There
is this terrorist dilemma. You don`t want to fall into the terrorist trap.
Terrorists want to do atrocious, horrible things in order to provoke an
And you talked about a few examples. Think about Osama bin Laden.
That`s perhaps the greatest example. He launched 9/11 in order to draw the
United States into a war in Afghanistan.
He watched. He participated in the conflict when the Soviet Union was
pulled into a war in Afghanistan. And it was pivotal to collapsing the
He said in repeated statements that the goal of 9/11 in part was to
draw the United States into a land war in Afghanistan which he thought
would be the end of the American empire. It proved not to be the end of
the United States, but it was, in fact, very costly.
So, you don`t want to allow the terrorists by doing something heinous
to pull you into a conflict where they choose at a timing of their own
But, now, you have a situation with ISIS on the move, with the state
where you can`t ignore it. You can`t close the door and forget about this
because things have advanced so far that it`s not going to resolve itself
without any kind of intervention.
So, you have to split the difference. You can`t get sucked in, but
you can`t do nothing. And I think this problem, finding a middle ground,
has left the United States in paralysis.
MADDOW: Richard, join look at the history of not just groups like
this, but fighting groups like this, not just militias, not just would-be
sort of proto-states around the world but really terrorist groups using
terrorist strategy to get us to fight on their terms, to pick their own
enemies and pick their own turf and pick their own tactics of battle – are
there examples where these groups have been effectively either defeated or
sidelined or neutralized that we should see as models for ways to defeat
them in the long run rather than just sort of playing this game where every
once in a while, you`re able to use an airstrike or commando raid to take
out their leadership, but they just regrow?
ENGEL: There are quite a few historic examples. It usually takes a
long time. Seven to 10 years.
But the most effective way, it seems, is to carry out occasional
airstrikes when necessary, but really to have a local indigenous force that
does it for you. ISIS, the best thing about ISIS if there could be any
good thing about ISIS is it is to brutal that almost everywhere it goes
within a matter of months, it is hated by the people where it is governing.
So, there are plenty of people in Syria, in Iraq, who are very happy
to rise up and stand against ISIS. It just takes a great amount of
diplomatic skill, takes a lot of coalition building. It takes
determination, risk to engage these groups, to try and get them empowered
enough, financed enough, to get them the right kind of intelligence so that
they can get rid of ISIS, themselves, with the occasional help from above.
MADDOW: Richard, we`re just learning tonight that the president is
deploying another 350 U.S. troops to Iraq. He`s not saying that these
troops are for a combat role but rather that they`ll be protecting U.S.
diplomatic facilities inside Iraq.
I don`t – I can`t do the math in my head right now, but from what I
remember, I think that means we`re up over 1,000 troops deployed right now,
doing airstrikes, fighting ISIS, and also advising troops fighting ISIS,
and also protecting U.S. facilities there.
Are enough troops there in meaningful numbers that we should see this
as a start of a large-scale U.S. operation or do you see this as sort of
equivalent to the sort of things we don`t think of as war in the kind of
places around the world where we have people deployed all the time but
doesn`t rise to the level of something we ought to be debating as a war
back at home?
ENGEL: I think we are now at the level – and it is over 1,000 right
now – of the residual force.
You remember there was so much talk, and the Democrats, Republicans,
were beating themselves up whether there would be a residual force left in
Iraq after the U.S. pullout. Well, that residual force is now there. It
has been put there piecemeal. Not with the combat mission, but with an
advising combat mission.
And there`s a lot more than 1,000 people involved in this. There are
many aircraft flying over Iraq right now. There are drones flying over
This means that U.S. command centers, mostly special operations forces
command centers, are watching the terrain, advising the Iraqi government,
aiding and supplying Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who are in northern Iraq.
So, we are involved in this conflict, we`re just trying to do it by
remote control. And 1,000 is not an insignificant number. There is a
chance that some of them could get caught up in the fighting, but the idea
is that they are the stay-behind force that was never left behind in order
to prevent the Iraqi army from collapsing as it did collapse in Mosul.
I think something to watch right now is, will this force be enough to
allow the Iraqi army to take back the city of Mosul? The Iraqi government
is now making a lot of noises that it is going to launch an offensive
against Mosul and drive is out of the flagship city that it took where it
seized all the American Humvees and the American weapons from the Iraqi
army, where the Iraqi army suffered a humiliation when two divisions
dropped their weapons and ran.
If the Iraqi army can take over Mosul and hold it, then I think it
would be an achievement for this strategy of putting American advisers back
on the ground to help the Iraqi army reconstitute itself and reclaim some
of its territory including a major city. But it`s not at all clear that
the Iraqi forces are at a stage yet where they can take Mosul.
MADDOW: If they could, of course, it would be a huge psychological
shift in at least the perceived momentum there.
NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel staying up until the
dead of night to be with us from Antakya, Turkey, on the Syrian border –
Richard, thank you so much.
All right. The jury is out on former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell,
literally and metaphorically. We`ll have the latest straight ahead on
And also a trip to “Debunktion Junction”. There`s lots to come
tonight. Stay with us.
But, first, one more thing about our running tally of members of
Congress who have publicly said that Congress ought to take a vote on
military authorization for the U.S. of force in the Middle East. There are
still hundreds of members of the House and dozens of senators who might
weigh in one way or the other.
The list as it stands right now is up at MaddowBlog.com right now.
You can be part of this. If you notice your hometown lawmaker calling for
a vote or saying that Congress needs a vote, drop a link in the comments at
MaddowBlog.com and we will keep adding to that list as we learn more.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. In a hard-fought
governor`s race this year in the great state of Alaska, Alaska Democrats
have decided to win that race by quitting that race. And if you think
Alaska governor and quitting, you`re probably thinking about this person
who quit halfway through her first term as governor after coming in second
in the race for vice president of the United States, but that`s not who I`m
talking about. Because after she quit, her lieutenant governor, Sean
Parnell, he got the top job in Alaska and Republican Alaska Governor Sean
Parnell this year is up for re-election.
Sean Parnell does not have great approval ratings. Before today,
though, he did have the advantage of running in a split field. He was
running against not one opponent, but two. In this race against a popular
independent and also a Democratic candidate, Sean Parnell probably by
virtue of the split field was going to hold on to his seat.
Now, though, Alaska Democrats have decided to kibosh their own
candidate for governor and have him run instead as the lieutenant governor
running mate with the independent guy. Who`s going to be running for
governor. They formed a fusion campaign. The independents and the
Democrats have teamed up in a fusion campaign that is much more likely to
actually unseat the Republican incumbent.
Now, this whole scheme obviously involved lots of negotiations about
how they`re going to describe themselves and what their platform is and how
they get their existing lieutenant governor running mates to drop out,
But Alaska Democrats really have decided now that the best chance of
winning their partisan fight against Republicans is to blow up the two-
party system that created that partisan fight in the first place.
It`s not bunk. That really did happen today in Alaska. It`s true.
And that doesn`t mean there isn`t a lot of bunk you may have heard
masquerading as news about other stories today. And for that reason, right
at the end of the show today, there`s a “Debunktion Junction”. That`s
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Take a look at this. It`s called he said/he said. It`s a
chart the “Washington Post” put together comparing on the one hand things
that were said by former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and on the other
hand things that were said by the man who`s accused of bribing McDonnell
when he was governing to the tune of more than $160,000.
Take, for example, the Rolex, engraved Rolex that was purchased by
businessman Jonnie Williams then given to the governor by his wife.
Governor McDonnell says when his wife gave him that Rolex on Christmas Eve,
he assumed that his wife had bought the watch to give to him.
Jonnie Williams, though, he says the governor texted him a photo of
himself wearing the watch which led Jonnie Williams to leave that Bob
McDonnell knew where the watch was actually from.
Take the all-expenses-paid trip to a resort on Cape Cod which Jonnie
Williams also paid for. Governor McDonnell says that was very little
business discussed on that trip, it was just a chance for him to have some
time with his family – while another guy was paying for some strange
Jonnie Williams, however, billed that trip as an expense to his
company and said the whole point of the trip was to get Governor McDonnell
on board promoting his company. He told the jury, quote, “I was working
the entire weekend.”
Mr. Williams says that he had discussed with the governor a $50,000
loan Mr. Williams planned to make to First Lady Maureen McDonnell. He says
the governor even thanked him for that loan.
Governor McDonnell on the other hand contends he knew nothing of the
$50,000 loan until after his wife received it and then he was horrified to
find out what she had done. Not horrified enough, though, that he didn`t
then personally move to arrange himself $70,000 more in loans from the same
The discrepancies between the he said/he said worlds here, right, the
discrepancies between the world of lavish gifts and cash as told by Bob and
the world of lavish gifts and cash as told by Jonnie, discrepancies between
those two are now a key part of what the jury is weighing in the 14-count
federal corruption trial of Governor Bob McDonnell in Virginia.
Today, the jury finally got the case. The judge spent two hours going
through nearly 90 pages of jury instructions with them in the morning.
Judge James Spencer told the jurors they should examine and weigh with
greater care than usual any testimony from witnesses who have been granted
immunity in exchange for their testimony like, say, Jonnie Williams, the
star witness of the prosecution case.
Judge Spencer also told the jury that governor McDonnell`s wife,
Maureen, she can`t be on the hook for the public corruption charges she`s
facing unless her husband, Bob, is convicted of them, too. If he hasn`t
committed a public corruption crime, then she cannot have conspired with
him to commit that crime and so she`ll be off the hook, too, basically by
Well, after these jury instructions today, after jury instructions so
long and complicated that they actually required a 15-minute intermission
halfway through, the jury did start deliberating today. They ruminated on
this case for roughly 5 1/2 hours today, but at the end of the day, they
still had no verdict. They`re due to be back at it first thing tomorrow
morning. Tomorrow is day two of jury deliberations.
Joining us now is Ryan Nobles. He`s political reporter covering the
story for NBC 12 in Richmond.
Mr. Nobles, thanks very much for being here.
RYAN NOBLES, NBC 12: My pleasure, Rachel. Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: So, 85 to 90 pages of instructions for the jury. They had to
take an intermission in getting all those instructions from the judge.
Did it seem like the jurors were sort of OK with the instructions they
received or just such an overwhelming amount of information you think they
might have trouble?
NOBLES: Rachel, I think that`s a question you could ask about the
entire trial. I mean, we`ve had five weeks of testimony and arguments from
the attorneys from both sides and a lot has been knee deep in legalese.
And these are just average folks sitting on the jury and a lot of us in the
press corps wonder at certain points if they seem overwhelmed by everything
Judge Spencer has taken care to make sure each and every one of them
are prepared for what they`re facing in this deliberation. And that is a
big question as we go into it, and I can`t imagine that any of them
understand the very specificity of this law that they`re dealing with and
then when you pile on top of it all of these in-depth instructions, it
certainly is a momentous task that they have in front of them and I think
that`s why most of us think it`s going to be quite a while before they come
back with a verdict.
MADDOW: Specifically, in terms of how hard it might be for them to
understand their remit and what they`re being asked to decide, do they have
option in terms of getting more guidance on these instructions now that
they started deliberation? Can they actually ask the judge for help if
they need it?
NOBLES: Yes, they can ask the judge questions about the instructions,
but Judge Spencer was very specific with him that the rules of the
courtroom allow him very little latitude in providing guidance. They
basically have to take all of these instructions and that is their bible.
That is what they have to use to make this ultimate decision.
He can clarify. He can kind of emphasize certain points that stay
within the bounds of the law. But for the most part, all they have is
their recollection, what they heard over these past five weeks, and then
that lengthy set of instructions to come up a final decision.
MADDOW: Ryan, in terms of the broader view here, I`m wondering if you
as a reporter can give us your sense of the effect that this trial is
having on the political atmosphere in Virginia. Obviously, he`s a former
governor. He`s the first Virginia governor indicted for acts while in
office ever in Virginia history. He was indicted just a few days after he
left office. He`s a legend in the state in terms of his political profile.
Is this trial being seen as a very big deal in the state? How is it
being viewed in Virginia?
NOBLES: Well, I don`t think there`s any question that most political
observers have never seen anything like the spectacle that we`ve seen over
the past five weeks. All the television cameras, all the excitement and
interest every time the former governor and his wife come in the courtroom
separately every year – every morning.
But there`s no real indication there`s been any sort of movement or
impetus on behalf of the general assembly to make any changes as related to
Virginia`s really lax gift laws. They put forth some real meager
legislation in this past general assembly session, but yet even though the
eyes of the world and the eyes of the United States are focused on
Virginia, there`s been no calls for stricter gift laws. There`s been no
legislators that have put forward plans to make something happen.
They do have a special session coming up in the next month where
they`re going to deal with Medicaid expansion, but there`s been no one
who`s taken a strong stand about increasing the gift laws. Of course, the
current governor, Terry McAuliffe, imposed a gift ban on himself, but he`s
a multimillionaire and nothing in this sense he would necessarily be
someone who could become a victim of a situation like this.
So, yes, everybody agrees that this is a historic month that we faced
here in Virginia, but whether or not it turns into something substantive
over the long term so that these politicians could maybe protect themselves
from their selves, at this point we haven`t seen anything like that.
MADDOW: Ryan Nobles is political reporter for NBC 12 in Richmond –
Ryan, thank you very much. Good to have you here. Appreciate it.
NOBLES: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: On the last point Ryan was making, it`s amazing, $160,000 in
cash and prizes, enough to get the attention of federal prosecutors.
Nobody ever contended it might have broken Virginia law. That kind of
thing doesn`t look that illegal under state law. Maybe that`s a problem
for state law.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Cardinal rule of political crisis management: if you have
some kind of bad news to put out, the only thing better than putting it out
6:00 on a Friday night is putting it out 6:00 on a Friday night before a
long holiday weekend. And so it was this past Friday night, right as the
Labor Day weekend was upon us, that news really did break out of Kentucky.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: News tonight of a huge shakeup in Kentucky`s
Senate race. Mitch McConnell`s right hand man, his campaign manager,
resigns as questions swirl.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know how this works – bad news right before a
long holiday weekend. Jesse Benton will resign effective Saturday, what he
knew in an endorsement for pay scandal involving a 2012 campaign he was in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The patented Friday night, right before the Labor Day
weekend, late night news dump. Ta-da!
Last week on this show, we reported extensively on the chickens coming
home to roost from a bribery scandal involving the Ron Paul for president
campaign back in 2012. A former Republican state senator from Iowa pled
guilty in federal court last week on two counts related to a secret deal
that he`d worked out with the Ron Paul campaign in which they`d given more
than $70,000 for him to endorse Ron Paul.
The guy who was running the Ron Paul campaign back then, when they
were bribing a guy for his endorsement, was a longtime Paul family
political aide named Jesse Benton. Jesse Benton then went on to become the
campaign manager for the top Republican in the U.S. Senate. He`s the
campaign manager for Mitch McConnell of Kentucky now that McConnell is
running for re-election.
Last week, as that bribery scandal was resulting in that guilty plea
in Iowa, sealed documents and word the guy pleading guilty was cooperating
with prosecutors, last week as that news was breaking, the Mitch McConnell
campaign refused to respond to our phone calls and e-mails about their
campaign manager`s role in that bribery scandal. They refused comment for
And then, bam, right before the holiday weekend, Jesse Benton quit.
Stepped down as Mitch McConnell`s campaign manager after close of business
on the Friday before a holiday weekend. And incidentally, two months
before Election Day.
That, in itself, is big political news, but there`s also a criminal
investigation here that`s still under way. “The Washington Post” reporting
late last week that the federal investigation into that Ron Paul campaign
bribery scheme is ongoing and that the focus of federal prosecutors at this
point is on the people who were running the Ron Paul campaign back then.
So, that part of the story, the criminal part of it, may not be over
yet. Stick a pin in that for now, right?
In terms of the political part of this scandal, though, there is also
this. This is Jesse Benton standing alongside Kentucky`s other Republican
senator, Rand Paul. The thing that Jesse Benton did right before running
the Ron Paul presidential campaign in 2012, bribery and all, was that he
ran the 2010 campaign that got Rand Paul elected to the United States
Senate. So, he did son Rand`s Senate campaign in 2010, then he did dad,
Ron`s, presidential campaign in 2012, and yes, Jesse Benton was believed to
run son Rand`s presidential campaign in 2016 – was being the operative
If Rand Paul is going to run for president, why else would he be
spending all this time these days in – all his time these days in Iowa,
New Hampshire, and South Carolina, if he`s going to run for president, Rand
Paul has had an awful few days. I mean, on Friday, his presidential
campaign manager in waiting was forced to quit his current job and is still
mired in what is reportedly an ongoing federal criminal investigation into
And then today, this was the front page of rand page of Rand Paul`s
home state newspaper, “The Lexington Herald Leader”. “Voters offer mixed
signals for Rand Paul in 2016.” The headline refers to a new poll that
shows 22 percent of Kentucky voters want Rand Paul to run for president.
But look at the sub-headline there. They don`t want season law
changed to allow Senate and White House bids. Oh, right. It`s the law of
the land in Kentucky that you can`t run for two federal offices on the same
ballot. In 2016, Ron Paul is not only contemplating a presidential run.
He`s also up for re-election in the Senate. Under Kentucky law, you can`t
do both at once. They`ve had to change the law in the state to let him do
So this is sort of one of those crystalline moments in politics. This
calls the question as to whether Rand Paul is a real candidate and a real
Republican or whether, like his dad, he`s a perennial protest candidate, a
candidate running not the win, but running to run, because running is good
for the cause and good for the family business.
The Ron Paul protest candidacies for decades now have been the Paul
family business. A protest candidacy is one that can`t win an election.
Nobody is under any illusion you`re going to be the last man standing, but
your running can build an ideological movement at which you`re the center.
Luckily, though, you`ll never have significant governing responsibilities,
that might sully your purist appeal to the college sophomores of the world.
I mean, that`s what the Ron Paul backwards e-revolution has been
about, protest candidacy as family business. I mean, Rand Paul`s claim for
why he should have been elected to the Senate in 2010 was that he was Ron
Paul`s son, and therefore, a junior level icon of the movement. I mean, he
didn`t run as being an excellent ophthalmologist. He ran and he won on
being the younger, maybe second coming of Ron Paul the movement.
So, now, here`s the question: Is Rand Paul just a protest candidate as
the Pauls have been for a very long time? Or is he an actual Republican
candidate who`s trying to win the presidency and not just further market
the family brand?
And in a really specific way, that question is now being called,
because that new poll in Kentucky on the front page of his newspaper shows
that 66 percent of Kentucky voters don`t want to change that state law in
Kentucky that would allow Rand Paul to run for president and run for his
seat in the Senate at the same time, 2/3 of the state agrees that if Rand
Paul really wants to run for president, he would have to give up the Senate
seat in order to do that.
And giving up the Senate seat is not the kind of thing that you do, if
you`re not actually expecting to win your race for president, if you`re
just running because you`re looking forward to running.
So, this calls the question, right? I mean, if Kentucky calls the
question for Rand Paul, will he give up his Senate seat and really run for
president because he thinks he can win?
I`ll believe it when I see it. But watch this space.
MADDOW: Hoot, hoot, “Debunktion Junction”, what`s my function?
OK. President Vladimir Putin of Russia is none too pleased about the
West and the U.S. pressuring him about the war he`s waging against Eastern
Ukraine. But in advance of President Obama`s provocative trip tonight to
Russia`s border, to the tiny nation of Estonia on the Russian border, there
are reports that President Putin has dramatically increased the
belligerence of his stance toward Ukraine.
Did Vladimir Putin really just say, quote, “If I wanted to, I could
take Kiev in two weeks”? Vladimir Putin now says I could take the capital
of Ukraine, I could take all of Ukraine in two weeks if I wanted to.
Did that really happen? Is that true or false?
True. It was first reported by the Italian paper “La Republica” after
the president of the European commission told the paper that`s what Putin
said to him. “If I wanted to, I could take that whole country in two
Confusion about this might have come when the Kremlin tried to muddy
the waters about the quote, saying it was unprofessional and unserious for
this European diplomat to have told newspapers what President Putin said to
him. They said, really, if you heard the comment in context, it didn`t
sound so bad.
But is the Kremlin denying that Putin said this thing? No. They are
not denying that he said it.
So, it`s true that on the eve of President Obama arriving on Russia`s
border in part to pressure Russia to back off its war in Ukraine, Russian
President Vladimir Putin really is bragging that if he wants to, he can
take that whole huge country in two weeks. That one`s true. Ek!
Next up, the last time a U.S. president visited the Balkans was when
George W. Bush visited Albania in 2007. The thing that most people
remember about that last trip is it resulted in this 9 1/2 foot statue
being erected by the Albanian government to honor President Bush. It shows
George W. Bush over nine feet tall with pleated pants and a teeny tiny
But beyond the giant statue that they built of him in Albania, is it
true or false that the last trip by a U.S. trip to the Balkans also
included him having his watch stolen while he was there? You might have
seen the headlines. Theft mystery over George Bush`s vanishing timepiece.
ABC News, “Was Bush`s Watch Stolen in Albania?”
Well, here`s the video. President Bush shaking hands in an Albanian
crowd in 2007. And here`s basically when the moment the watch disappears.
I`ll show a close up from the beginning where you can see the dark strap on
his left wrist. And then about 10 seconds later, the same left wrist but
no watch strap visible.
Here`s some still shots. This one shows before – hold on, we have
before. See the bottom part of the screen there the watch? You can see
the watch there at the bottom center?
And this is during, here he is shaking hands. People sort of grabbing
his wrists. And then after, same event. Here`s the president – wait,
look at his left wrist. Tan line, no watch.
Is that true or is that false, that the last time a U.S. president
went to the Balkans, the president had the watch stolen off his wrist in a
crowd of Albanians, is that true or is that false?
False. Although he did start that handshaking with a watch on his
left wrist, and he did finish the handshaking with no watch on his left
wrist, the White House clarified that president bush didn`t lose the watch,
so much as he took it off himself and maybe stuffed it in his own pocket or
gave it to a bodyguard to hold. Anyway, they say he didn`t get it stolen.
It is basically the only thing you will find if you try to Google
about the last time a U.S. president went to the Balkans. But it is not
apparently true that President Bush had his watch stolen while he was
Presumably, this White House is hoping to replace headlines like
those, with something more memorable in its own terms. The president will
be wheels down in Estonia very shortly. It`s about 10:00 Eastern Time
tomorrow morning that he`s going to be addressing U.S. troops who are
stationed in Estonia. Now, in part to remind Russia that the full force of
NATO is really on their doorstep.
The speech is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Eastern hour tomorrow. It will
be worth watching if you have been curious to see what it looks like when
this president rattles his saber.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.” Thanks
for being with us tonight.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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