The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/13/15
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this lawyer.
You know Al Sharpton? MSNBC`s Reverend Al Sharpton? He did not
always look like this.
This is Reverend Al hosting what until very recently was his weekday
show “POLITICS NATION.” Here`s Reverend Al hosting the new Sunday morning
version of “POLITICS NATION” here on MSNBC. This is him in his exclusive
interview with presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
So, this is the Reverend Al you`re used to seeing, right? This is
what Reverend Al looks like these days.
But Reverend Al didn`t always look like this. And that is not
usually a terribly relevant thing for somebody who has a big public persona
like Reverend Al Sharpton, right? A change in his look overtime wouldn`t
necessarily be a notable thing. I think you end up having to talk about
when you were talking about his political history.
But he looks so different now. The difference is incredibly striking
when you go back and you look at footage of him running for president in
2004. He ran in 2004 and that was a fascinating year. 2004 was the year
that John Kerry ended up getting the nomination on the Democratic side. He
picked another guy who had been running for president that year, John
Edwards to be his running mate, and Kerry and Edwards went on to lose the
general election to George W. Bush.
But the Democratic primary to pick a nominee that year was very
exciting. Wesley Clark ran, a retired four-star general.
Howard Dean from Vermont, he had all the Bernie Sanders energy that
year. He ran a very exciting, very liberal campaign. Lots of excitement
behind Howard Dean in `04.
There was a whole bunch of interesting people in the race. Carol
Moseley Braun was in the running for a while. Dick Gephardt ran for like
five minutes. Dennis Kucinich ran that year. Joe Lieberman ran that year.
It was an interesting bunch on the Democratic side in 2004. But none
of those people honestly were anywhere near as interesting as the Reverend
Al Sharpton. So, naturally, out of all of those who were running in 2004,
it was Al Sharpton who was the one who was invited during the presidential
primary that year to be the host of “Saturday Night Live.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL SHARPTON: Hit it.
(singing): I feel good, I knew that I would –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: While he was running for president, Al Sharpton hosted
“Saturday Night Live.” It was awesome. He did his James Brown impression
which turned out to be much better than any other James Brown impression
you have seen.
It was amazing. It was one of the more awesome political nights on
“Saturday Night Live”.
But it also led to the most boring thing that`s ever been put on
television in the history of the world. Because that night, with the
Reverend Al Sharpton hosting “Saturday Night Live” led to some poor NBC
local affiliates in Missouri and California having to play this. They had
no choice about it. They had to play this taped Joe Lieberman town hall
And honestly, I`m not even sure this is the specific one they had to
play. I think it is, but does it matter? I think this is the Joe
Lieberman town hall specifically that NBC affiliates were forced to play
because of that “Saturday Night Live”, but it could have been any number of
them. They all looked exactly like this.
And the reason the awesome Al Sharpton “Saturday Night Live” hosting
led to the saddest political broadcast in the history of politics, Joe
Lieberman droning on in a town hall meeting in New Hampshire about his tax.
The reason those two things both had to lap is because of the equal
time rule. The equal time rule only applies on broadcast television,
doesn`t apply on cable. Doesn`t apply if the television program is
featuring a candidate in a news cast or if the broadcast is doing interview
with the candidate or if they`re airing some sort of documentary about the
candidate or if you`re showing the candidate in a live news event. It
doesn`t apply in any of those circumstances.
But if you are a broadcast TV station and you are showing a candidate
while they`re actively running for office and it`s not one of those
categories that`s exempt because it`s news, then you kind of do have to
give the other candidates equal time. So, Joe Lieberman had a sharp eyed
lawyer who worked for his campaign back when both he and Al Sharpton were
running for president in the Democratic primary and the Lieberman campaign
saw Al Sharpton doing his James Brown impression and being in all these
skits on “Saturday Night Live” and they realized that was how they could
force NBC stations in at least two states to give Joe Lieberman the equal
opportunity, equal time to reach NBC viewers with what turned out to be the
most boring thing ever shown on television, equal time for Joe Lieberman.
And this comes up from time to time in big election cycles, and not
just at the federal level either. Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor
in California around that same time that Reverend Al was hosting “SNL”. TV
stations all over California stopped showing movies that had Arnold
Schwarzenegger in them while he was running for governor because they were
worried all the other candidates he was running against would come knocking
their door asking for their own equal time on those stations.
Same thing happened way back in the day to Ronald Reagan when he was
running for governor of California and later running for president of the
United States. If you were a “Bedtime for Bonzo” fan, Ronald Reagan
becoming a candidate resulted in that great achievement in American cinema
being pulled off broadcast TV so nobody could use it, to make an equal time
claim for the people he was running against.
More recently when Hillary Clinton appeared on “Saturday Night Live”
in that skit about Val the bartender last weekend, local NBC stations that
aired that episode of “Saturday Night Live” had to put out a public notice
explaining she appeared free of charge on that show in a way that might be
susceptible to equal times by the other Democratic primary candidates.
They explained that she was on for precisely 3 minutes and 12 seconds,
commencing at 11:53 p.m. on that Saturday night.
Well, now, I can report tonight, that Democratic presidential
candidate Lawrence Lessig has in fact filed an equal time claim with NBC
because of that “Saturday Night Live” appearance. Since Hillary Clinton
got her three minutes and 12 seconds on NBC affiliates, in plays where she
is an official candidate for president of the United States, Lawrence
Lessig`s campaign now says they would like him to get his three minutes and
12 seconds on NBC affiliates, in places where he is a candidate for
president of the United States.
Now, if he is successful with this equal time claim, it doesn`t
necessarily mean he`s going to get time on “Saturday Night Live” but he is
asking for a comparable amount of time on NBC affiliates at roughly the
same time that her appearance aired on those NBC affiliates and there is a
history of the strategy working out for some candidates. I mean, that`s
how the Joe Lieberman town hall event ended up getting aired on NBC in
And however you know big a deal this becomes for Lawrence Lessig,
trying to get his equal time because of that appearance by Hillary Clinton,
however big a deal that becomes this whole issue is conceivably about to
blow up. The Hillary Clinton, Lawrence Lessig equal time issue if that
comes to pass, that is going to be dwarfed by the fact that Donald Trump
was just announced today as the November 7th host of “Saturday Night Live”.
So, he`s not going to be doing three minutes and 1 seconds like
Hillary Clinton did in that one skit. He`s going to be doing what Al
Sharpton did back in the day. He`s going to be hosting all over the show
for a significant portion that have broadcast. That may very well give
rise to any or potentially all of the other Republican candidates for
president trying to make the equal time argument that are legally America
must see, George Pataki`s latest stem winder on NBC affiliates or Bobby
Jindal down home family fun time political picnic. Who knows?
This could be the way Jim Gilmore finally captivates America. Thanks
to a demand for equal time on NBC affiliates around the country.
So, Donald Trump`s going to host “Saturday Night Live” November 7th.
That is probably going to be amazing enough. But after that, it may create
a total broadcast television chaos round for all of the other 14 major
Republican candidates for the Republican nomination.
There has been a little bit of a circus around that issue in the
past. This year could potentially be a very, very big circus. Whoo-hoo!
Rand Paul, this is reason enough for you to not drop out yet. Get in on
But that was only one of the big surprises in Republican presidential
politics today. It was also today when the news broke that I have to tell
you – broke on an obscure conservative Web site, this news broke that the
man who is running second to Donald Trump in the Republican primary, Dr.
Ben Carson, he reportedly has only been a member of the Republican Party
for less than a year. This got prominent placement on conservative website
“The Drudge Report” today after it broke in this again, this – it broke on
an obscure website.
But “The Drudge Report” picked it up like injecting it directly into
the blood stream of conservative media. It got big pick up on “Drudge”
today. It`s apparently a Florida voter registration form from the Palm
Beach County board of elections which shows that Dr. Ben Carson only became
a Republican for the first time apparently last October. Last Halloween,
October 31st, 2014.
So, Ben Carson is doing great in the Republican presidential primary.
There`s a new FOX News national Republican poll that just came out today.
Ben Carson and Donald Trump are way out ahead of the rest of the field in
first and second place. In this new FOX poll, look, Ben Carson is only one
point behind Trump. Donald Trump is first with 24 percent, Ben Carson is
second with 23 percent.
The next closest candidate to them is Ted Cruz who has less than half
the support of either of them. Ted Cruz coming in at 10 percent. That`s
the FOX News poll today.
A CBS poll came out yesterday, again a national Republican poll. Ben
Carson in second place to Donald Trump. In that one, he`s at 21 percent.
Donald Trump is at 27 percent. And in that poll, no other Republican
candidate is even in double digits.
So Donald Trump and Ben Carson really are very clearly very far out
ahead of the rest of the field. And there has been this big long list of
things that Ben Carson has said or done which seemed outrageous or
scandalous to mainstream audiences. He very frequently compares the United
States to Nazi Germany. He has now started blaming the holocaust on the
Jews themselves not having enough guns.
After the mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, recently, he blamed the
victims of that shooting for being shot. He has said that a Muslim could
not be president of the United States. He was asked on NPR last week what
he would do about the debt sealing. He clearly at least seemed to have no
idea what the debt ceiling was.
There`s all this stuff about Ben Carson that seems sort of
disqualifying to most mainstream audiences and certainly to the mainstream
media, but Republican voters over and over and over and over again are
showing they don`t mind. None of this stuff bugs them.
They also didn`t mind any of the Donald Trump supposed gaffes.
Republican voters don`t mind any of the Ben Carson supposed gaffes.
Nothing about either guy that seems crazy or ignorant or obscene to the
rest of the country bugs Republican voters about them at all.
Ben Carson and Donald Trump very clearly are winning. There is one
top tier in the Republican party and that`s it.
Now, interesting test. Now there`s a different type of scandal about
Ben Carson. Right now, there`s this reporting that Ben Carson might not
really be a Republican, or at least he wasn`t a Republican until less than
a year ago.
After all these other things that have broken about Carson, will be
interesting to see if that is the sort of scandal that does bother
So, it`s been an interesting day. One surprise today was is Donald
Trump hosting “Saturday Night Live”, what that might mean in terms of equal
time claims from all the other Republican candidates.
The other surprise today was this reporting about whether or not Ben
Carson was even a Republican this time last year.
For presidential candidate Jeb Bush today, the surprise about him
continues to be what we did not hear from Jeb. Thursday, the day after
tomorrow is the deadline by which the campaigns are supposed to announce
how much money they raised in this past quarter. Fund-raising numbers are
always an interesting snapshot of the let of the campaign.
This quarter for example, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders each turned
in surprisingly giant fund-raising numbers for this past quarter. Ted Cruz
turned in a surprisingly large fund-raising number. Marco Rubio turned in
a surprisingly small fund-raising number. Rand Paul turned in a shockingly
low fund-raising number.
So, the numbers can tell you something about the health of various
campaigns. But Jeb Bush, so far, no news. And we`re right up against the
deadline. I mean, part of what`s supposed to lock Jeb Bush in as a
permanent member of the top tier of candidates no matter how bad his
polling is, part of the reason we`re supposed to think of him as a top tier
guy no matter how badly he does is because of his money, right? The amount
of money he is supposed to be rolling in for this campaign is supposed to
trump, forgive me, trump all other concerns how his campaign is going.
Well, if that`s what`s supposed to make us think of him as top tier,
it makes it all the more interesting that his campaign has not said bupkis
about their numbers right now. They`ve got to say thing by Thursday.
Maybe it will be good news. Maybe it will be bad news. But right now, it
is no news which is weird news.
Speaking of old sad Rand Paul, even Rand Paul had a big day today in
presidential politicking. Rand Paul has been suffering lately as you know
with not great poll numbers. He is right on the cusp of making it or maybe
not making it into the next Republican presidential debate. His fund-
raising numbers were shockingly bad for this past quarter.
Republicans in his home state of Kentucky are getting increasingly
vocal in their criticisms of Rand Paul saying that he should quit his long
shot presidential bid and focus on trying to hold on to his Senate seat
because holding on that Senate seat is not going to be any sure bet and
they wish he would focus on that to the exclusion of there other fantasy
thing that`s not going to happen.
So, things have not been going great for Paul. But today was a
banner day in his presidential bid. It was a better day for him. It was
also I think a banner day for Iowa caucuses, for the first of the nation
contest for picking presidential nominees, because today was the start of
the criminal trial for two people who worked on Rand Paul`s dad`s
presidential campaign in 2012. Two people who were indicted by federal
prosecutors in conjunction with what is essentially a bribery story from
the Iowa caucuses.
The story told by prosecutors, the allegation in these indictments is
that the Ron Paul for president campaign basically paid tens of thousands
of dollars to an Iowa state senator in exchange for that state senator
endorsing Ron Paul for president in the Iowa caucuses in 2012. Rand Paul`s
dad, Ron Paul, is expected to personally testify in that criminal trial in
Iowa in the next few days.
One of the two people who is on trial in that case had to leave his
job running the Rand Paul super PAC this year in order to go face these
charges. But this is kind of a key moment for this one campaign but also
in some ways for this whole race for the presidency.
We already had the one candidate on the Republican side who was
himself under criminal indictment. We already had him drop out. That was
Rick Perry. We`re not going to get the Chris Christie administration
bridgegate trials until March at the earliest.
But even though this Iowa criminal trial that opened today is about
the Ron Paul presidential campaign and not the Rand Paul presidential
campaign, at the heart of this trial is the conceded fact at least as
recently as the last time Iowa held its Republican caucuses, Republican
endorsements in that crucial presidential race where is literally for sale
to the highest bidder. You could buy endorsements, as recently as 2012 in
the Republican caucuses in Iowa.
Is bribery still part of the system in Iowa? Is this trial
potentially going to fix that or at least shock us about it?
Joining us now is Russ Choma. He`s a reporter from “Mother Jones”.
He`s been covering the legal troubles surrounding Paul campaign, in this
case the Ron Paul campaign.
Mr. Choma, thanks very much for being here. Good to have you here.
RUSS CHOMA, MOTHER JONES DC BUREAU REPORTER: Thank you for having
MADDOW: So, we had opening statements today in the trial. We had
jury selection yesterday and today. Do you have any sense of what`s going
to come out in this trial, what we`re going to hear about over the next
CHOMA: Well, it looks like the defense attorneys for Jesse Benton
and this other guy, Dmitri Kesari, are basically going to argue, yes, we
paid them, we paid this guy Kent Sorenson. It just wasn`t illegal.
They`re going to say on the federal level that`s not a crime. I don`t
think it is a crime to pay. That he very careful not to say it`s a bribe.
It is against Iowa rules but not a federal thing. And I think that`s their
And the prosecution is essentially arguing, well, that`s not the
issue. The issue is, did you lie about how you paid him? Did you fudge
the documents from your campaign? And that`s sort of what it comes down
to, is the way they paid this guy OK?
MADDOW: And I guess aside from the legalities in terms of whether or
not there`s likely to be a conviction in this case, there is sort of the
shocking political fact that bribery is, was both accepted and in some
cases not an illegal part, at least in some ways not a legal part of the
way the Republican caucuses has happened in Iowa.
CHOMA: Right. It raises that. And the – this case was
particularly brazen I think. But yes, it does make it seem like this is
not. I think Kent Sorenson along the way said I`m not the only person who
does this. Everyone makes money off the Iowa caucus. Why shouldn`t I,
So, yes, the question is where are the other ones? If this happens
so easily, where are the other payoffs?
MADDOW: Right, exactly. I mean the competing claims in this that is
part of the way this – part of the way this is laid out in the indictment
at least, he needed to make sure he was getting paid as much by the Ron
Paul campaign as he was getting paid by the other campaign paying him
MADDOW: Russ, let me just ask you in terms of Rand Paul. Obviously,
Dmitri Kesari does not seem to have a direct association with Rand Paul,
though he did with Rand Paul`s father. Jesse Benton had a long time
association with Rand Paul, including running the super PAC supporting his
Is this affecting Rand Paul at all in the way he campaigns in Iowa?
Is he keeping this at arm`s length successfully?
CHOMA: Well, I think he`s trying. I mean, he`s in Iowa right. And
tomorrow, he`ll be in Iowa as well. He`ll be just a few miles away from
What he`s been saying the whole time, you know, this is complicated
documents and who sign this had or who didn`t sign that. That`s sort of a
mischaracterization of what the charges are. But I think he`s been holding
I think part of the defense is to try to make this look like the
government is unfairly prosecuting these liberty people who you know, it`s
a political prosecution. I think he`s been sort of spinning it that way.
I think that`s what`s so interesting about Ron Paul coming to testify is I
think the prosecution is going to try to frame Ron Paul as the victim here,
saying Ron Paul is not the kind of candidate who buys endorsements. These
guys went behind him. They hid it from Ron Paul from Ron Paul, they hid
from the public, they hid from the press.
So, it`s going to be interesting about Ron Paul says when he comes to
MADDOW: And then what it does if you got Ron Paul as the portrayed
victim and the guy running Rand Paul`s super PAC as the portrayed
perpetrator, that`s going to be fascinating.
Russ Choma, reporter for “Mother Jones” – thanks very much for being
here, Russ. Nice to have you here.
CHOMA: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got lots ahead tonight. Including we
haven`t had one of these for a long time. We need one and we have one and
We`ve got a best new thing in the world tonight. Yes, we do.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: When you think Alabama and you think voting rights, you
probably don`t think cutting edge. But in this one specific way, Alabama
is cutting edge.
For members of the U.S. military, voting can sometimes be a hassle.
If you`re serving overseas, you have to request a paper ballot from back
home, you have to get it mailed to you internationally. You have to
receive it, you have to fill it out, you have to send it back and you have
to do all that in time, right? Sometimes under difficult conditions
dealing with international mail.
But first in the nation Alabama show us the map. Alabama of all
places has just made it possible for service members overseas to vote
electronically without all the snail mail hassle, first in the nation
Alabama doing this.
They started with a local runoff election last week in Montgomery
County last week. They had precisely two U.S. members who wanted to try
the new program. They had a nice soft launch for those two people to.
But it worked. Those twos voted electronically in overseas without
having to send a ballot home with a stamp on it.
So, congratulations, Alabama making it easier for one specific group
of people to vote. While at the same time, are you also shocking the
conscience of the whole nation by what else you are doing to voting rights
in a bad way. And that story is next.
MADDOW: And on the 14th day, the Republicans folded. Alabama
Republicans are crying uncle. They apparently would please like some way
out of the national embarrassment they created for themselves last month
when Republican Governor Robert Bentley announced he was closing a lot of
places where you get a driver`s license.
Losing your local DMV would be inconvenient in any case but what made
this potentially a federal case is that last year, Alabama started
requiring people to show new forms of ID at the polls they never had to
show before if you wanted to be allowed to vote. And a valid driver`s
license is at the top of the list for acceptable Alabama IDs. So, driver`s
license the most common way people are allowed to vote now in Alabama.
So, it had heavy and disturbing voting rights implications when the
Alabama governor decided last month that he was going to close the places
where you get that kind of ID in the Alabama counties that have the highest
proportion of voter who are African-American.
Republicans shut down the place with your get a driver`s license in
every single Alabama county where at least three-quarters of the voters are
black. It should be noted heavily black keens in Alabama tend to be
heavily Democratic counties. These are the ten Alabama counties that went
most strongly for Barack Obama in the last election. He had closed the DMV
in eight of those ten counties.
Intentionally or not, this they were blacking out voting rights
notice Alabama`s Black Belt, making it harder to vote in that Black Belt
region of former cotton plantations where African-Americans tend to
outnumber white people.
Regardless of what you meant to do, that is not the kind of decision
you can make in 2015 without having people notice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Wait a second. To vote in Alabama, you need
an ID and they`re closing the places where you get IDs?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seriously, Alabama?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Apparently yes. Seriously. Alabama, the reaction around
the country to what Alabama did was – it was swift around the country and
brutal around the country. It was swift and brutal at home in Alabama.
The Republicans state auditor of Alabama called the governor`s cuts
illegal. A Republican state senator said they were intentional pain
unleashed by the governor on districts that didn`t support the governor.
Governor Bentley was already unpopular with members of his own
Republican Party at home. In part, that is because Governor Bentley`s wife
filed for divorce this year after 50 years of marriage. And the rumors
about that sensitive matter have only recently left the headlines in that
state. In the uproar over that issue, Governor Bentley faced calls for him
to resign, faced calls for an investigation into potentially inappropriate
use of state troopers on the state plane.
This has not been a great year for Governor Robert Bentley in
Alabama, not a great year for him with his own party. But the past two
weeks a disaster. After the news broke about Mr. Bentley`s plan to close
all the DMVs in all those Black Belt counties he first tried to defend it.
He told reporters closing all of those offices in mostly black counties had
nothing to do with voting rights whatsoever. He tried to defend his
But in the end, he could not defend his decision – and today,
Alabama press is reporting those offices where you get that most common
form of voter ID, those offices could reopen because now, Governor Bentley
has decided to change course. He has a new plan. He`s quietly floating an
idea for an emergency loan to reopen those offices, to undo that thing he
did that so embarrassed him and the state of Alabama.
The governor`s going to need the state legislature to go along with
him on this new plan and maybe they will. But, honestly, they have been
pretty happy to see him take all the heat for this at home and nationwide.
So, maybe they`ll help him undo this but maybe they will leave him out
there at the edge of what you apparently can get away with in conservative
politics. Maybe they`ll just leave minimum on his own, continuing to try
to explain this away.
MADDOW: We`ve got a best new thing in the world on tap tonight.
Also, there`s new news ahead about a household name Republican who is
apparently now actively campaigning to become speaker of the House. All
the attention is still on the former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan
who says he`s not running. But now a former Republican presidential
candidate says not only could he do it, he really, really wants to do it.
He wants it bad.
And that unlikely story is ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: At the regular briefing at the Pentagon today, they beamed
in a U.S. Army colonel from Baghdad to brief reporters and answer questions
whether we are kind of at war with Russia right now, indirectly maybe, at
least. And at this briefing today, there was one of those moments you
really don`t forget.
It happened when this one super serious question was posed to that
colonel sitting there in Baghdad, posed by a reporter from the FOX News
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: When was the last time that a pilot a Russian pilot
approached a U.S. warplane?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Serious question, right? I mean, just as a historical
matter. When was the last time our military and Russia`s military had air
to air confrontations. Our planes and their planes in the sky together,
our armed pilots going eyeball to eyeball.
When was the last time that happened between Russia and the U.S.?
Was that like 1985? Was that as late as 1991? Give us the historical
This was the answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COL. STEVE WARREN, OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE SPOKESMAN: I don`t
know the last exact time. I think it was probably Saturday is the last one
that I recall, where a couple of Russian aircraft came within visual
recognition distance of a couple of coalition aircraft. Visual
identification took place. All pilots conducted themselves appropriately
and everyone went about their business.
But this is – but it is dangerous, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is dangerous. Yes, it would be – it would seem like
that would be dangerous, right?
I mean, this is not an exercise. This is armed U.S. warplanes
bristling with firepower, live bombs, live ammunition, having a
happenstance meeting in the sky with Russian military aircraft, bristling
with firepower, live bombs, live ammunition.
This has now happened at least three times in the past week and since
Russia started shooting missiles into Syria and the Russian military
started acing as the Syrian air force basically, the U.S. military effort
in Syria has changed as well. The Pentagon said today they`re now dropping
pallets of guns and ammunition to Syrian rebel groups.
“The New York Times” reporting the U.S. has significantly upped the
heavier weaponry that it`s dropping into Syria including anti-tank missiles
and maybe some of those anti-tank missiles will be used against the Syrian
military. Maybe they`ll be used against rival rebel groups, maybe they`ll
be used against ISIS. Who knows what that stuff is going to be used for?
Maybe it`s going to be used to shoot at Russian military assets, which in a
way would sort of put the U.S. in kind of an indirect war with Russia in
And the really spooky thing is Putin seems awfully excited about
that. Today, in Moscow, President Putin made public comments at some sort
of investors conference which frankly seemed designed to try to provoke the
United States. He was responding to criticism that the Russian military
has basically been bombing the wrong people in Syria.
And in response to that criticism, President Putin said today
publicly, quote, “Recently, we have offered the Americans give us objects
that we should target. No answer,” he said. Quote, “It seems to me some
of our partners have mush for brains.” Mush for brains. Maybe it sounds
better in Cyrillic.
Really? Mush for brains? So says the president of Russia about the
United States. And it is a little unnerving to think of the president of
that giant nuclear armed nation as being that excitable on an issue like
this, right, behaving that childishly about something as serious as armed
conflict between the United States and Russia.
But Vladimir Putin apparently on this issue is very excitable. And
in this worryingly excitable moment, we sadly have the misfortune to be
going through presidential election cycle right now, which this year means
lots of Republican candidates for president have been busy saying publicly
that they think a war with Russia sounds kind of awesome. At least, saying
so maybe had makes them look tough and so, they`re willing to say it even
if they don`t mean it.
I don`t know if they mean this stuff. Jeb Bush told “Reuters” today
this, quote, “I wouldn`t worry about antagonizing the Russians. They
should worry about antagonizing us.”
“How to deal with him, how to deal with Vladimir Putin is to confront
him on his terms.” According to Jeb Bush, that means the United States
should say to Putin, quote, “There`s going to be a consequence.”
This is kind of how all the Republican candidates talk right now.
They`re all somewhere between blase about the prospect of a war with Russia
and seemingly kind of excited about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you`re going to
have a no-fly zone, it has to be against anyone who would dare intrude on
it. I am confident the United States air force can enforce that including
against the Russians. I believe the Russians would not test that. I don`t
think it`s in their interests.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think Putin would back off if he –
RUBIO: I don`t think he`s going to go into a safe zone. Absolutely.
I do not believe he would look for direct military conflict against the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if he was.
RUBIO: Well, then, you`re going to have a problem. That would be no
different than any other adversary.
BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would establish a no-fly
zone along the boarder with Turkey and in no way would I back off. I would
also face him in other parts of the world. You know, the whole Baltic
region, you know, and Eastern Europe. I re-establish the missile defense
system. I would have more than one or two armored brigades there. I would
face him down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, Putin is in Crimea, he`s in Ukraine, he`s
in Syria. And has assets at work in other countries, as well. What are
you going to do to Vladimir Putin?
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the first
thing you do is you set up a no fly zone in Syria and you call Putin and
say, listen, we`re enforcing a no-fly zone and that means we`re enforcing
against everyone and than includes you. So, don`t test me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then he flies there you your territory.
CHRISTIE: Then you take him down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You shoot him down?
CHRISTIE: Yes, do you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, you do, just like we do in New Jersey. You get the
sense if he didn`t have to stop for the dramatic pause, the next thing he
would say would be like, wouldn`t that be awesome?
It is always a little unnerving to having very sensitive subjects
addressed by active candidates for political office. Right? Subtlety in
stump speeches go together like chalk and cheese. But how sensitive is
this situation we are in right now? And is it so sensitive that our chest
beating, over excited, ignorant domestic politics on this subject could
potentially make it worse than it is out there in the big scary real world?
Joining us now is Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia,
professor of political science at Stanford University.
Mr. Ambassador, it`s nice to have you with us tonight. Thanks for
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Great to be back.
MADDOW: For people who especially detainee follow this stuff
closely, and who have been hearing vaguely worrying things about Putin and
his level of aggressiveness for a while, how would you explain how serious
this is right now that the U.S. military and the Russian military are
operating in the same space with quite a bit of overlap.
MCFAUL: Extremely serious in that the consequences of some kind of
accident are pretty dire. And the probability of that is pretty high.
I was just thinking about it listening to the interview when the last
time we actually did have forces in there kind of territory before, maybe
Vietnam. There`s allegedly there were some Russian pilots flying around in
Vietnam. But if you take that out, that`s not historically, it`s not been
proven. It never – it didn`t happen during the Cold War. The only time
it happened was whether he we were on the same side in World War II. It`s
a scary moment for the Pentagon as they try to run their operations
simultaneously with the Russians flying around in the same place.
MADDOW: In terms of the way this is being discussed back and forth
between our country and Russia, very striking and sort of insulting
comments – well, directly insulting comments from president Putin be today
saying in Moscow using the phrase as it was translated by “The New York
Times”, mush for brains to describe.
MCFAUL: I don`t know how to say that even in Russian. I was
thinking what is mush for brains? So, I`m going to have to look at the
MADDOW: I have to get a reverse translation and give you the
original. Give you another take on it.
But it was something that made “The New York Times” at least say it
that way. We`ve also had ash carter, we`ve had senior officials in the
U.S. government describing Russia`s behavior in Syria, not just as worrying
or inappropriate but describing it as unprofessional, essentially talking
about Russia as incompetent and insulting their military capacity even
while saying they disagree with it.
Is that par for the course or is that also ratcheted up to a new
MCFAUL: Well, I would say there`s two concerns. There`s the
accidental consequences of Russia not having been in a fight like this for
a long time. We don`t know their capabilities. We assume their
capabilities are not as good as ours. Both in terms of deconflicting what
our airplanes are doing but also in terms of what targets they`re hitting
with their bombs.
I had one Pentagon official joke “smart bombs” does not exist in the
Russian vernacular. It doesn`t exist in the Russian language. That`s
actually not true but that`s a sense of the way they talk about it.
There`s also a big policy thing here which is that Russia and Putin
wants to polarize this conflict into a fight between ISIS and Assad. So
that they can then say at the end of that, there`s nobody but Assad to deal
And that policy question, if you look at their campaign, if you look
at where they`re bombing, that`s what they`re trying to create. That I
think actually is a bigger challenge I think than the probability of an
accidental attack between our two countries.
MADDOW: In terms of that effort by them to make the world at least
frame the conflict that way, does the United States have an approach to
stop them from doing that?
MCFAUL: Not great options. Let`s just be clear about it. People
oftentimes say the United States is doing nothing in Syria.
Well, I just looked up the numbers. Operation Inherent Resolve
probably an operation that most of your viewers have never heard of has
already taken out 7,300 strikes in Syria with our coalition forces. $4
billion we`ve already spent in Syria. And we haven`t achieved the results
that we had hoped for.
So, the notion that there`s you know, an easy solution to this if we
just do X, Y, or Zed new policy I`m skeptical of. I think this fight,
unfortunately and tragically, is going to go on for a long time. At a
minimum, we can`t let those not part of ISIS or Assad being extinguished by
the Russians or their allies.
You already reported on it and already see the United States, the CIA
in particular dropping weapons to make sure that that doesn`t happen, to
make sure that those forces will continue to survive this latest campaign.
MADDOW: Mike McFaul, former ambassador to Russia, professor of
political science at Stanford – it`s great to have you here tonight.
Thanks for being here.
MCFAUL: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much more ahead tonight, including a
much, much needed new thing in the world. Please stay with us.
MADDOW: So, tonight`s first Democratic presidential debate does not
include Vice President Biden. Vice President Biden has not yet said
whether or not he is going to run for president this year.
Well, last week, the Draft Biden group, which wants him to run,
produced this ad, focusing on the vice president`s family tragedies. The
vice president is not associated with Draft Biden, but he reportedly asked
them not to run the ad. He asked that they not tread on sacred ground and
politicize that sad part of his life.
Today, the group has produced a new ad, one that does not thread that
same ground and instead urges Vice President Biden to run using his
nominating speech from the 2012 Democratic convention. The Draft Biden
group says they want to run this on national cable. They say they want to
spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to run this new ad.
But so far, that appears to be more aspiration than commitment. And
there`s no word yet from anybody close to the vice president himself about
whether or not he likes this ad, urging him to run, more than he like the
last one. And, of course, bottom line, there`s no word on whether or not
Vice President Biden will run.
But he is the target audience for these ads. An audience of one.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Allow me to introduce you to Ryan Zinke, possible next
speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Congressman Zinke
is from Montana. He`s been in the House since January of this year. But
today, he announced he`s considering a bid for speaker. He said his phones
have been ringing off the hook.
So, you can add Ryan Zinke to the list, along with these other
Republicans whose names have been put forward by themselves or other people
as the potential next speaker of the House.
Paul Ryan, of course, is the guy who everybody is waiting on off the
giant list. He says he`s not interested in the gig. Unless watching C-
Span is your unhealthy addiction, Paul Ryan is probably the only one who
you could pick out of a lineup, other than Ryan Zinke, of course.
But there is one other person who has the real-life experience, who
knows how to deal with difficult Republicans and desperately wants you to
know that he is totally available if you want to pick him. He is totally
ready. Pick me.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: You want to say to me, 218 guys
called you up and have given you their pledge? Obviously, no citizen, I
mean, could ever turn down that kind of challenge. This is why George
Washington came out of retirement. There are moments you can`t avoid.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: George Washington, me, me, George Washington.
That was last week. Now, as of today, it seems like Mr. Gingrich
would not just accept the offer. It seems like he`s full on campaigning
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GINGRICH: It`s almost impossible for an outsider to lead the House,
but I am very prepared and I have been talking with a number of members
individually. I`m very prepared to try to help the House Republicans think
through what they are doing, but they ought to find a leader among, you
know, a very talented group of people.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Newt Gingrich, very prepared, actively speaking to members
of the house about this possibility. It should be noted that when he
actually was house speaker, things didn`t necessarily end well. He was
fined by the House after an ethics investigation. He sort of resigned in
disgrace in 1999.
But who knows? Maybe time heals all wounds. Maybe this Republican
fight needs to be fixed by Newt Gingrich.
One thing is for sure, he`s at least waiting for their call. Never
MADDOW: Best new thing in the world. Last month, Richard Engel is
reporting from Hungary. One of those boarding crossings where refugees
have been pouring in from Syria. The police that day met the refugees with
force and Richard was in the process of reporting on that when this
happened, a very pregnant woman literally collapsed at his feet during his
That woman was carried to a makeshift infirmary nearby. Volunteers
had to move her again when a cloud of tear gas from the police, tear gas
wafted into the area where she was being cared for.
It turns her name is Zainab (ph). She was 19 years old. She was
giantly pregnant. She was due to give birth in a matter of weeks. She
just fled Syria.
And right in the middle of Richard taping this report from that
border crossing, she just dropped. It was unforgettable.
Since we saw that report from Richard, we have been wondering and
worrying about what happened to that pregnant young woman, trying to find
somewhere safe. Well, today, we got an answer. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS: Her name was Zainab. She was 19 from Syria
and pregnant. She recovered and, with her husband, covered her journey.
We have been trying to find her ever since.
And we have some good news. Zainab made it all the way to Germany,
where she just had a baby boy.
I am so happy to see you here.
ZAINAB (through translator): Me, too. I`m very happy to see you.
ENGEL: She named the boy the Azad, the Kurdish word for freedom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today, Richard posted these photos on Instagram of baby Azad
and his mother, both healthy and safe in Germany. The Syrian war and the
refugee crisis it`s created continues to be the most devastating story in
But it`s not one monolithic giant story. It`s human story, survival
and tragedy, one by one by one.
Well, Zainab and her family are now seeking asylum in Germany. But
they did make it to Germany, and Baby Azad is in great health. If you`re
looking for a best new thing in the world today, I`ll take that one.
That does it for us. We will see you tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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