The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 1/6/2016
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: January 6, 2016
Guest: Paul Heintz, Joe Cirincione, Curt Guyette
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Chris, I have some late-breaking news right now
about that expected madness tomorrow in Burlington, Vermont. So, I know
you listen to the top of the show anyway but in this case it may affect
your travel plans.
CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: Exactly. I will be watching.
MADDOW: All right. Thanks, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
I should tell you that today is an auspicious day in American news about
politics because as of today, the presidential election of 2016 is
officially under way. That`s because as of today, South Carolina has
started sending out its ballots. They started sending out today their
ballots to military personnel and South Carolina residents who are
So, those folks can start voting now in the South Carolina primary. It`s
on! Voters have started the process of picking the presidential nominees
for the presidential race in the country this year. Woo-hoo!
South Carolina calls itself the first in the South primary for both the
Democrats and the Republicans.
For Democrats, it`s a particularly important state because non-white voters
are such an important part and such a big part of the Democratic Party`s
voting base and the other early states, New Hampshire and Iowa, they`re
pretty white. So, for Democrats, South Carolina is really important test
of the strength of their various candidates particularly among this very,
very important group that is African-American Democratic voters. That`s
true for the Democratic Party.
For the Republican Party, South Carolina has always represented a more
complex challenge because after Iowa and New Hampshire get their say, South
Carolina is the Republicans` first chance to measure which of their
candidates appeal to the hardest of the Republican hard core. South
Carolina Republicans are very, very conservative. They`re almost 100
percent white, they are hard line, southern Republican base voters.
And, you know, overall the challenge, right, for the Republican nominee,
right, is that they`ve got to play to the Republican base in order to get
the nomination but then they need to pivot to be more generally appealing
in the general election. South Carolina is the first stop in the
Republican primary process for the most difficult Republican base voters
when it comes to the general election, these southern white hardliner base
voters, South Carolina is where they get their first say in who the
Republican picks as their presidential nominee.
So, that`s how it`s been for more than a generation now, that`s how it`s
been for years. This year, though, things are a little bit different.
South Carolina is still technically first in the south, but this year
there`s a lot more of the south in the early process. Because this year
just a week and a half after South Carolina Republicans go, you know, show
themselves as the first in the south, a week and a half after that, all of
these other states are going to go vote all on the same day. All on March
1st, all these southern states, plus these other non-southern states, too.
The mega Tuesday primaries that are going to happen on March 1st this year,
they will have the effect this year of making the early nominating process
way more southern than it usually is.
So, yes, South Carolina is still first in the south, but right on its heels
is a lot more of the south. And for Democrats that means the concerns and
preferences of African-American voters in particular will be of even more
electoral importance than usual in this year`s Democratic primary. For
Republicans it means the party is foregrounding the concerns and
preferences of not just a very white part of their base but the most hard
core, most right wing, most pure live white part of their base.
What effect is this going to have on the nominating process overall? Don`t
know. The latest national polling still has Mr. Donald Trump absolutely
killing the rest of the field. That said, the nomination is not decided by
a national vote. The nomination is decided state by state. And the latest
early state poll, the first one of the New Year, in fact, came out today.
Turns out it`s fascinating. These are the results from the new New
Hampshire poll that just came out from Public Policy Polling.
This new PPP New Hampshire poll shows Donald Trump nearly lapping the rest
of the field. He`s near 29 percent in New Hampshire, his nearest
competitor is Marco Rubio at 15 percent. So, Donald Trump has a 14 percent
lead in the only New Hampshire polls that been taken so far this year, but
what`s fascinating here, what`s totally new is that the first time ever in
this race, for the first time in this poll or any other poll out of New
Hampshire, there are six different candidates who are in double digits.
The field could not be more split.
Yes, Donald Trump is still leading but look at the rest of the field. If
Donald Trump is sort of the non-establishment candidate and guys like Chris
Christie and Marco Rubio and John Kasich and George Bush – sorry, Jeb
Bush, if they`re the establishment candidates, the more mainstream choices,
right, well, New Hampshire`s support for the mainstream/establishment
choices, it just couldn`t be more evenly split.
It`s like a five-way car crash of candidates getting between 10 percent and
15 percent there. You see Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie,
Marco Rubio, they`re all bunched up there, all in double digits between 10
and 15 percent.
And as long as all those establishment guys and sitting senators and
governors keep splitting up all of that mainstream vote, then ta-da, Donald
Trump wins. Donald Trump is winning. Donald Trump is winning nationally.
He is wining in New Hampshire. He is trading the lead or tie with Ted Cruz
even in Iowa, which is crazy. Iowa picked Rick Santorum the last time
Donald Trump is winning. And when that first started to become clear,
looking ahead to the weird southern-heavy calendar in the race this year,
it`s been kind of funny to imagine how a red tie, hair spray, limousine New
Yorker like Donald Trump might play in a place like Alabama.
But the earlying up of the southern influence in the Republican primary
this year is exactly why Donald Trump has been playing in a place like
Alabama, where he keeps having these big, rowdy, Wallace-esque rallies.
Last night, we covered the similarities and language and style and campaign
tactics between Mr. Trump this year and the 1968 presidential campaign of
George Wallace. Tonight, I should tell you that George Wallace`s family,
his daughter and two of his top former staffers have told “BuzzFeed`s
Andrew Kaczynski that they think Donald Trump indeed is squarely in the
tradition of George Wallace, he is running the same kind of campaign and he
is the same kind of politician.
So, welcome to your southern heavy world of Republican presidential
politics this year. New York real estate developer morphs into 1960s era
southern governor for the win.
Because he really is playing to win, though, front-runner Donald Trump is
not only going for it in these unlikely venues in the Deep South. This is
this nutty map of all the states voting on March 1st on super duper Tuesday
this year. Donald Trump has been working this map, which is why this week
was his third big rally in the otherwise unlikely venue of Massachusetts.
Donald Trump keeps doing big Massachusetts events, which is weird for a
Republican presidential contender unless that contender is making a Super
Tuesday play because Massachusetts is one of those states outside the South
that will also be voting on March 1st.
Another one of the states outside the South that will be voting at the same
time outside March 1 is the great state of Vermont.
And so, as I was just talking about with my friend, Chris Hayes, talking
about his travel plans for tomorrow – tomorrow, we will be treated to the
bizarre world spectacle of Donald Trump not on campaigning in the Bernie
Sanders` state of Vermont, but in Bernie Sander`s hometown of Burlington,
Vermont. Burlington, Vermont, the largest city in that whole state.
And I mean no offense to Burlington or Vermont when I say this, but being
the largest city in Vermont is not saying much in terms of your size. As
the most recent census, Burlington, the biggest city in the state, has a
population of only about 42,000 people.
Though small in size, the city of Burlington does have a lot of
attractions, including the University of Vermont, which is lovely. It`s
situated downtown, takes up a lot of the downtown area. There`s also the
site of the original Ben & Jerry`s, which I`ve been to, which is awesome.
Burlington also boasts the historic Flynn Theater, which has been around
since 1930, started as a motion picture venue before becoming a performing
art center back in the 1970s.
Well, later this month, if you are interested in going to the Flynn
Theater, I should tell you that if you go to the Flynn, you can catch the
Broadway national tour of “Rag Time” there. After that, Wilco is going to
be playing a show with the Flynn on January 26. It`s a great venue. It`s
Before all that, though, there is a huge act coming to the Flynn Theater in
Burlington, Vermont, tomorrow night, one night only – Donald Trump is
going to be there. Donald Trump is going to Bernie Sanders` hometown,
holding a Trump rally at the Flynn tomorrow night. And maybe that makes
sense because alongside all those Deep South states, Vermont and
Massachusetts will be voting in Republican primaries very early this year
on March 1st.
Here`s the thing about this Vermont trip. Burlington is now officially
freaking out about this Donald Trump tomorrow night, not necessarily
because it`s Donald Trump coming to their town, though I`m certain there`s
a little of that, too. It`s actually a very specific problem. The Donald
Trump campaign has distributed 20,000 tickets to this event tomorrow night
in Burlington, 20,000. That`s half the population of Burlington.
And the really specific problem is that the Flynn Theater is physically
incapable of holding half the population of Burlington. The Flynn Theater
holds only 1,400 people, including the balcony, but the Trump campaign has
given out 20,000 tickets to this event. Which means tomorrow night, if
those people who got tickets do try to show up to hear Trump speak, only
1,400 of them are going to get in. And actually, it will be less than that
because the 1,400 seating chart includes room for the press.
They gave out 20,000 tickets. They`re going to let 1,400 people in. That
means 18,000 people could be conceivably turning up and then doing what?
What are they going to do?
The Burlington police chief tonight says that around 6,500 people have
confirmed they`re going to attend. They not only have tickets, they`ve
confirmed that they`re planning on going. That is still way too many for
The police chief tells “The Burlington Free Press” today that if it were a
rock band that had given away 20,000 tickets for a venue that could only
seat a crowd 90 percent smaller than that, the police would of course
cancel that event in the interest of public safety. But this is a
political event. What are they going to do?
This is a recipe for chaos tomorrow in lovely Burlington, Vermont.
Honestly, we have no idea what`s going to happen. Chaos has been the best
way to describe the whole Republican race this season but tomorrow night,
it`s going to be chaos of a very specific kind.
As of right now, I can tell you the Trump campaign is still giving away
even more tickets online to this event as I speak. Again, they are over
20,000 tickets distributed already, and the venue only holds 1,400 people.
And right now, they are still handing out tickets. What could possibly go
Joining us from Burlington is Paul Heinz. He`s the political editor for
“Seven Days Newspaper”, which is an excellent alternative weekly in
Vermont. Mr. Heinz, thanks very much for being with us. I appreciate you
PAUL HEINTZ, SEVEN DAYS VERMONT POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, thanks for having
MADDOW: So, what happens if 20,000 people show up tomorrow night for an
event in downtown Burlington? Is downtown Burlington equipped to handle
that kind of crowd?
HEINTZ: It`s going to be a mess. The mayor and the police chief have said
that they`re going to close off several streets right around the Flynn
Theater and there are going to be just tons and tons of protests going on.
Being very resourceful people, Burlingtonians have scheduled every
conceivable type of protests for tomorrow. There`s going to be everything
from your traditional march and rallies to silent protests, to even a stand
up comedy improv show next door.
So, you asked what those people are going to be doing if they`re not inside
the Flynn Theater, they`re probably going to be outside making a lot of
noise, maybe being silent but certainly protesting Donald Trump`s visit
MADDOW: I want to share – I`ve just been given a statement from the mayor
of Burlington, Myra Weinberger is the name of the mayor. She just put out
this statement. It says, “Vermonters value the First Amendment and robust
political debate. In that spirit, I welcome Mr. Trump and his presidential
campaign to Burlington tomorrow. I am concerned however that the dramatic
overticketing of the rally could mar Mr. Trump`s visit since learning the
facts of the ticketing situation late Tuesday, we have repeatedly express
concern and encourage the campaign to take steps to better manage the
There`s still time for the campaign to communicate with the thousands of
ticket holders to reduce the possibility of inconvenience or public safety
risk for attendees tomorrow night. I urge the Trump campaign to take
appropriate steps to ensure the event proceeds smoothly and without
Paul, do we know anything about the auctions that local officials feel like
they have here. If anything else ever happened, can you predict at all
what they might do?
HEINTZ: I mean, nothing that I can remember certainly. You know, we
rarely get Republican presidential candidates around here. In fact, it`s
worth noting that throughout his eight years in office, George W. Bush
visited 49 states. The one state he did not visit was Vermont.
So, we don`t really have much experience with this sort of thing.
Certainly, President Obama visited a couple times. But to have someone
like Donald Trump who I would say it`s safe to say many Burlingtonians
disagree with, it`s just an unprecedented situation.
So, certainly, the Burlington police are going to be out in full force.
Certainly, the state police I`m sure and along with secret service. But,
you know, I don`t know exactly how they`re going to manage this. It`s
going to be definitely a mess downtown
MADDOW: Is it supposed to be wicked cold tomorrow night?
HEINTZ: It`s Vermont. So, it`s always cold this time of year.
MADDOW: Well, if you`re going, the police says do not expect to get in,
even if you have a ticket and that means even more than usual, dress warm.
Paul Heintz, political editor of “Seven Days” newspaper in Vermont, I got
to tell you, I really enjoy “Seven Days”. I checked it out all the time
whenever I`m looking at Vermont news.
HEINTZ: It`s great to hear that.
MADDOW: Appreciate it. Thanks, Paul.
HEINTZ: Yes, thanks for sure.
MADDOW: We have much more ahead tonight, including the surprising thing
Vice President Biden said tonight about the race for president this year
and his role in it.
We`ll be right back with that. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is something I did not expect to hear. I might have
suspected it was true, but I did not expect to hear it out loud.
Today, Vice President Joe Biden sat down for an interview with a local
station in Hartford, Connecticut. Vice President Biden you may recall very
publicly flirted with a presidential run this year. He ultimately after
along time mulling it over decided that he would not run after just months
of very public soul searching on that topic.
But watch this exchange with the NBC station in Hartford. It`s on the
subject of his decision not to run.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: Any regrets to not throwing your hat in the ring?
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sure, I regret it every
day but it was the right decision for my family and for me, and I plan on
staying deeply involved. It`s – we`ve got two good candidates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I`m not going to speculate as to who he means by two good
candidates, since there`s three of them still in the race. More newsworthy
is the vice president`s assertion “I regret it every day.”
There are no signs that vice president is going to ask for a do-over. I
think in fairness, it just too late in practical terms for him to reverse
course, but the vice president didn`t say explicitly in this interview
tonight that not running for president this year is a decision that he
regrets every single day.
More ahead. Stay with us tonight.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: Dramatic, right? That`s the animation that rolls before the
official state broadcast comes on in North Korea.
Last night, the drama of that music was more warranted by the news than
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR (through translator): The test of the hydrogen bomb of North
Korea is completely successful. A great event noteworthy in the 5,000-long
history of the nation has happened, shaking the world at the exciting time.
One`s destiny should be defended only with one`s own strength. Nothing
would be more stupid than laying down a hunting gun before a herd of fierce
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We, the United States, would be the fierce wolves in that
motivating little metaphor and the hunting gun that shouldn`t be laid down,
that would be the hydrogen bomb that North Korea claims to have just set
off. “Claims” being the operative word here.
If you`ve been at all confused by this North Korea nuclear story, I have
just the thing to make sense of it coming up. Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. In the 1952 presidential election, the Republican candidate
was Eisenhower, the Democratic candidate was Adlai Stevenson. The outgoing
incumbent president before that presidential election was, of course, Harry
Three days before the presidential election of 1952, President Harry Truman
decided to bequeath to his predecessor something absolutely terrifying that
the world had never seen before, and that the new president, whoever it was
going to be, had no idea was even possible.
And where Harry Truman decided to conjure this little gift was here. Head
southwest from the continental United States, you hit Hawaii, you keep
heading southwest, keep going, keep going, and when you`re about halfway to
Australia, what you come to out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is
Micronesia, specifically the Marshall Islands.
Marshall Islands is a country that is made up of 1,156 separate islands.
Up until three days before the 1952 U.S. presidential elections, though,
the Marshall Islands had one more island than that, because three days
before the 1952 presidential election, President Truman gave the order that
resulted in one of the islands of the Marshall Islands being vaporized.
They completely destroyed that island, literally wiped it off the face of
the map with one bomb, a bomb that was bigger than any bomb that had ever
been set off before on earth, bigger than any other bomb on earth by a huge
margin and that bomb`s name was “Mike”. Mike. Mike?
The bombs that had been set off seven years earlier at the end of World War
II in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those bombs were named “Fat Man” and “Little
Boy”. Those were atomic boys. One of them used uranium, one of them used
When those bombs were set off in 1945, they were almost unimaginably huge.
The bomb of Hiroshima was the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT. The bomb a
few days later in Nagasaki was even bigger. It was the equivalent of
21,000 tons of TNT.
Well, the bomb that Truman set off in Marshall Islands seven years later in
1952, that bomb named “Mike”, that wasn`t the equivalent of a few thousand
tons of TNT or even a few tens of thousands of tons of TNT. Mike, that
bomb that vaporized one of the Marshall Islands in 1952, it was the
equivalent of 10 million tons of TNT, 10 million tons. It was a
qualitatively different animal.
When they set off that bomb, that bomb named Mike in 1952 in the Marshall
Islands, the fire ball reached a height of nearly 60,000 feet.
For the context, the typical cruising altitude for a commercial airliner is
about 30,000 feet. Just the fire ball from just that one bomb was double
that height. The mushroom cloud that this one bomb created was a hundred
Every nuclear bomb is obviously a big deal but some a bigger deal than
others. In the early 1950s, starting with that first explosion in the
Marshall Islands, the United States graduated from the ones like we dropped
on Japan, that were fission bombs. They created explosions by splitting
atoms. We graduated that day in 1952 to fusion bombs, bombs that were at
least a thousand times more powerful than the kinds of nuclear bombs we`d
Fusion bombs worked not been splitting atoms but by fusing atoms together.
They are much, much, much more powerful. They are much harder to make.
But once you`ve mastered how to make them, here`s one of the reasons they
are much more scary, not just because they can be so much more powerful,
but it`s because once you know how to make a hydrogen bomb, a fusion bomb,
one of these second generation nukes, they can be manufactured pretty
small. It can be made – fairly small physical devices.
And that means strategically that they don`t have to be bombs the size of
small houses that get pushed out of huge, slow moving airplanes. They can
be fairly small devices that can be packed on to missiles and shot all the
way across the world.
North Korea set off its first nuclear explosion during the George W. Bush
administration in 2006. They set off another one in 2009. They set off
another one in 2013. They have built nuclear bombs, they have caused
nuclear explosions, but the bombs they have built have not been
particularly good ones and the explosions they`ve set off have not been
particularly big ones.
All three of their nuclear explosions thus far were thought to be the
product of fission bombs, the old school kind, the kind that the U.S.
dropped on Japan in 1945. Last month, though, the ferocious little
dictator who inherited North Korea from his dad, he started bragging
publicly that under him, North Korea was ready to set off not just an old
school nuclear bomb like they`ve done before, but the new kind, a hydrogen
bomb, a thermonuclear device, a bomb that uses not fission, but fusion.
Last night, we reported this breaking news of a seismic event of some kind
that had been detected at a North Korean nuclear site. South Korea said
immediately that they thought it was another nuclear tests. North Korea
said within a matter of hours that, oh yes, not only was that a nuclear
test, they said it was a nuclear test of a fusion bomb, of the giant kind
of nuclear bomb, the kind that wiped the island off the map in 1952.
If that is what they did, then North Korea has not only developed a much
more powerful nuclear bomb than they did before, they developed the type of
nuclear bomb that could be miniaturized and put on a missile and sent
somewhere before far flung around the globe. That`s the bad news of what
North Korea is claiming it did when it caused that earthquake last night.
That`s the bad news.
Good news is that the people who really understand these things are utterly
convinced that North Korea is lying about it.
Joining us now is a real expert on the field who knows how to talk to those
of us who aren`t. My friend Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares
Joe, it`s great to see you. Thank you for being here.
JOE CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: First of all, let me ask you in my traditional way if I explained
that right in terms of the different kinds of nuclear weapons we`re talking
CIRINCIONE: That was exactly right and I`ve been trying to make this point
all day. People have lost touched with how powerful these hydrogen bombs
are. These are the weapons we have, enormously destructive devices. Most
people don`t understand the difference between atomic and a hydrogen bomb.
You just demonstrated it perfectly.
MADDOW: OK. Do you believe that North Korea is lying when they said they
set off a hydrogen bomb?
CIRINCIONE: Yes, I believe they are exaggerating their capabilities. I
believe they`re exaggerating the device. Kim Jong-un is the Donald Trump
of North Korea. He makes outlandish statements but that doesn`t
necessarily mean that they`re true.
We can tell that from the seismic signal that we`re picking up. Thanks to
the international monitoring system we have set up from the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty Organization, we can measure the earthquake that was
generated by this blast and we can make an estimate of its yield of the
device, which clocks in at something like 6,000 tons. That`s a pretty big
explosion, but it`s not like you would expect from a hydrogen bomb. And
even a failed hydrogen bomb would come in at 10.000, 20.000, 50,000 tons of
explosive force. That`s why most of us think this is not a true hydrogen
MADDOW: Let me just stop you there and just restate that for clarity, so I
make sure I get the scale here because sometimes it`s big numbers, it`s
hard to keep in mind their scale. But if say Hiroshima, that bomb was
about 15,000 tons of TNT, this was 6,000 tons of TNT. So, not even half
MADDOW: If it had been a hydrogen bomb, it would have been a hundreds if
not a thousand times bigger than Hiroshima, not half the size?
CIRINCIONE: Exactly. The hydrogen bombs we have in our minutemen missile,
for example, are 300,000, 400,000 tons of TNT. Even in a test, a scaled
down test, you would expect a much bigger signature and we didn`t get that.
That`s why you heard the White House come out today and say the data so far
is inconsistent with the claim that this is a hydrogen bomb.
MADDOW: Even if this wasn`t a hydrogen bomb, Joe, is there reason to
believe that they are moving toward that capability?
CIRINCIONE: That is the really bad – the good news is that they didn`t do
it. In fact, whatever they were trying to do, it probably didn`t succeed.
This was actually a little smaller than the test they had in 2013.
The bad news is they`re trying. This is their fourth test. And even in a
failed test, you learn something from your mistakes.
So, the lesson for us is if we leave them alone and just continue doing
nothing and don`t engage North Korea and don`t do something different from
what we`re doing, these guys one day are going to get a hydrogen bomb and
that`s what sent shockwaves around the world today. Even for the 12 or 20
hours when we thought they might have a hydrogen bomb, people were freaked
that North Korea might have a weapon that two or three of which could
destroy South Korea. Two or three of which could destroy central Japan.
That`s the fear that that test set. That`s why the U.N. Security Council
is meeting in emergency session tomorrow.
MADDOW: Now the fear is not just that they have those weapons but they`re
aiming at it, which is also caused for real fear, of a different kind.
Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund – clear and direct as
always, Joe, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, I have something I think is truly amazing to show you, a
stunning document from the story we`ve been covering about the lead
poisoning of Flint, Michigan`s water supply. This is now, I should say,
become a truly national story. It`s not just for the awesome local press
in Michigan and this cable network news show anymore. The national network
news media has started really digging into this story now, which is great.
At the same time though, the story of Flint`s poisoned water, the story of
emergency managers working for Governor Rick Snyder who switched that town
over to a new drinking water source, a switch that the state okayed without
treating that water to make it safe, that story, so far, has obviously been
a story of anger and outrage and at some level a story of hijacked
democracy in Michigan.
It is also now becoming a whodunit. Who is responsible for poisoning the
children of Flint?
And so on that part of the story, here`s this really interesting document.
Newly obtained by Virginia Tech professor Mark Edwards, who did his own
blockbuster study of the water in Flint, which is how we all know what a
disaster this all was. Professor Edwards obtained this document this week
and tonight, “NBC Nightly News” confirmed the text of this e-mail was
written by Governor Rick Snyder`s chief of staff, a man named Dennis
This is July 22nd of last year. He says, quote, “I`m frustrated by the
water issue in Flint. I really don`t think people are getting the benefit
of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully show about the lead
level studies they are receiving from the state samples. These folks are
scared and worried about the health impacts and they`re basically getting
blown off by us. As a state, we`re simply not sympathizing with their
plight.” They are basically getting blown off by us.
Again, “NBC Nightly News” confirming today these are the words of Governor
Rick Snyder`s chief of staff, put down in an e-mail forwarded to several
people at the Michigan state Health Department back in July.
By that point, Michigan state government had been getting data and evidence
and increasingly alarming warnings since at least February that they had
done something terrible in Flint. I mean, there was this e-mail on
February 26th from the EPA to two Michigan state officials with the subject
line “High lead, Flint water testing results.”
Quote, “The main purpose of my email is to alert you to the high lead
levels reported to a citizen yesterday by Flint water department. This
goes back to what you and I were talking about yesterday that the different
chemistry water is leaching out contaminants.”
That was February. The EPA telling the state of Michigan, telling the Rick
Snyder administration, high levels of lead are being reported or being
found in Flint. The water is corrosive, it is leaching lead out of the
That was the state being told what was wrong by the EPA last February. And
still, the Snyder administration told the people of Flint to relax, keep
drinking the water. Then there was the memo from the EPA in June, “high
lead levels in Flint, Michigan.” Copied on that memo, four different
officials on the state agency.
There was also the email from a Michigan State health department official
to four of her colleagues in that agency in July. Quote, “There does
appear to be a higher proportion of elevated blood lead levels last summer
There was an e-mail in September from another state health official to
three of his state colleagues, “It sounds like there might be more to this
than what we learned previously. Yikes.” That`s literally written in the
e-mail, the word yikes.
And now, we have this new email from July. Right in the middle of all of
this, from the governor`s office, from the governor`s chief of staff saying
people in Flint are concerned and rightfully so about their water. They`re
getting blown off by the state of Michigan.
But all the while, for months after that, the Snyder administration kept
saying publicly, relax, drink the water, drink up, serve it to your kids,
go on – while this was what was going on internally in the Snyder
And this is just a sampling of the information we`ve got that proves that
the Snyder administration knew what was going on while they were saying
publicly otherwise and the kids in Flint were still drinking that water.
So, yes, the U.S. attorney`s office is now investigating. Federal
prosecutors confirm they are actively working on this issue. Yes, right.
And the day that investigation became publicly known, yes, right, Governor
Snyder signed for the first time a disaster declaration for Flint. Yes.
But even with the disaster declaration, the state is still say they go can
handle this themselves. The governor is not asking for any kind of federal
help or involvement.
But you know what, if this is the way we got here, if this is what happened
to the kids in Flint and why, if this is what the state government did it
and how they behaved once they knew what they had done, would you want that
same state government in charge of fixing this?
The way we got this trail of evidence was by local researchers and local
journalists prying this stuff out. It was the work of people like this
guy, Curt Guyette, he spent a life time working as a journalist and then he
joined the Michigan chapter of the ACLU, with the title of investigative
journalist. He got the memo from an EPA whistleblower warning the state
that Flint water was showing high levels of lead. He posted that memo. He
interviewed the whistleblower.
And in this high breed role that he had at the ACLU, he has continued
collecting documents in this case and publishing those documents, and
working with Mark Edwards` team from Virginia Tech, which did its own
analysis of the lead in Flint`s water. It`s an unusual combination of
talents and expertise and passion and doggedness in pursuit of one of the
most astonishing American governance stories that I have ever heard.
Curt Guyette is here next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MILDRED LARKIN, FLINT, MICHIGAN: I`m here to get free water because the
water in Flint is poisoned with lead and all kind of chemicals in it. You
know, it`s just a disgrace, you know, for somebody to do actually a mass
poisoning. I mean, this is a whole community. We`re talking about 50,000,
100,000 people. You wouldn`t tell them that the water was no good. Even
when they showed it to you, you kept telling us that we could drink this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s a local Flint, Michigan resident named Mildred Larkin. She
was picking up donated water this weekend because the water at her home
town has toxic levels of lead and other contaminants in it. It`s the
problem that the state government created and then ignored until it was too
The reason we know that the state government created and then ignored this
problem while Flint`s population got poisoned is in large part because of
the work of some really dogged activists and journalists working this in
Joining us now is one of them, Curt Guyette, who`s an investigative
reporter, who`s been working the story for the Michigan chapter of the
Mr. Guyette, thank you very much for joining us and thank up for your work
on this story.
CURT GUYETTE, MICHIGAN ACLU INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, thanks for
having me on.
MADDOW: What do you consider to be some of the most important still
unanswered questions here?
GUYETTE: Well, one of the big unanswered questions is what role Governor
Rick Snyder`s office had in all this. A couple months ago, back in
September actually, I interviewed Howard Croft, the former director of
public works for the city of Flint, and at that time they were still
telling the lie that Flint was forced to use the river because Detroit
kicked them off. And Mr. Croft in an interview tried to reiterate that.
I had a document from a former emergency manager showing that he rejected
an offer from Detroit that would have kept Flint getting clean, safe water,
and when confronted with that, he caved in, told the truth and said, well,
we looked at the situation, an evaluation was made by the state to use the
river because it was cheaper. And I said, did it go all the way up to the
governor`s office? And he said yes.
And then subsequent to that, I interviewed Sara Wurfel, who was the
governor`s spokesperson at the time, she`s since resigned and asked her
about Mr. Croft`s assertion and she said she couldn`t address it and she
said it couldn`t have come from the governor because, in fact, Detroit
kicked Flint off the system.
And so, the question of did the governor`s office have a direct role in
deciding to use the river is one of the big unanswered questions in this.
Another big unanswered question – I`m sorry, go ahead.
MADDOW: On that point, it`s been interesting to me to find out that
Michigan`s only one of I think two states in the country where you can`t
FOIA documents, you can`t use the Freedom of Information Act to get
documents out of the government directly. Without that power, do you feel
the federal investigation and potentially subpoena power, is how that`s
going to happen. What`s the trail to get to what the governor himself did?
GUYETTE: Well, one of the things we`ve been doing it filing Freedom of
Information Act requests with the Department of Treasury, the MDEQ, and the
city of Flint to try to see if – because if they`re communicating with the
governor`s office, then you can see it on that end. So we`ve been trying
to go through that route. And haven`t gotten anything substantial yet but
we are continuing to file FOIAs.
I just filed a new one today with the city trying to get information there
to determine that. But I don`t see why Mr. Croft would have lied about it
at that point.
MADDOW: I interrupted you a moment ago when you said there`s one other
important unanswered question that you think needs pulling on right now.
What were you going to say there?
GUYETTE: That it`s sort of mystifying but in all the FOIA documents that I
reviewed that Mark Edward has got, there`s no discussion of the corrosivity
of the river before making the decision to switch. So, either they didn`t
do due diligence and look at the chemical make-up of the river to determine
whether it was safe, which would seem to be gross intelligence not to have
done that, and or they did do it and decided to use the river anyhow.
Mark Edwards said that anybody with even rudimentary understanding of
chemistry could have looked at the situation and in five minutes determined
that the disaster that occurred could have been totally predictable. So,
how the state could have allowed, actually forced the people of Flint to
begin using this dangerously corrosive river without knowing what it would
do beforehand is unconscionable.
MADDOW: Curt Guyette, investigative reporter for the Michigan chapter of
the ACLU, whose work has just been absolutely invaluable, not just locally,
but in terms of helping us all nationally understand this, congratulations
on your work thus far and good luck. Thank you.
GUYETTE: Thank you.
MADDOW: We`ve got some breaking news that could be big news here tomorrow.
We`ve also got a best new thing in the world coming up. A very well
So, we`ve got so much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Some breaking news which may affect what happens financially in
this country tomorrow. Do you remember a little built of the shock to
start the New Year`s this week? On Monday this week, the first day of
stock market trading in 2016, the U.S. stock market absolutely collapsed at
one point on Monday. Wall Street was on track for its worst opening day of
the year in 84 years.
Well, the terrible mark, the crash on Monday this week had to do mainly
with China. China, in fact, had to shut down its stock market on Monday
because it plunged so far. It wasn`t just like a normal bad trading day in
China. They literally used circuit breakers to stop trading on the mark
because the market there was crashing so fast.
That crash in China on Monday, that`s what caused the major drop here that
same day. Well now tonight, thanks to the magic of time differences, the
stock market has just within this hour opened for Thursday in China and it
has happened again. Just within the last few moments, China has had to
halt trading in its stock market again because of a massive selloff that
plunged that market down all at once.
The stock market was reportedly only opened for about 15 minutes before
Chinese officials basically pulled the circuit breakers and shut it down.
This, again, just developing now, and markets do things fasts, but this is
an ominous sign for what could happen here in the U.S. markets tomorrow.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Best new thing in the world. I love this one. I love it.
All right. There are a zillion different types of ships used for the U.S.
Navy. Aircraft carriers are the largest warships ever put to see. Home to
as many as 5,000 personnel, as many as 90 planes that can be used in combat
missions. The Navy also has cruisers which are essentially platforms for
guided missile systems. They are super versatile. They can take out
targets both in the air and underwater.
There`s also U.S. Navy destroyers. They were designed to escort larger
vessels to help depend them against submarine-borne attacks. Destroyers
are nimble enough to launch quick, counter assaults. Big, tough nimble
Those are few of the Navy`s various combat ships. But there`s also
different kinds of ships that sensually act as support systems for those
kinds of Navy vessels like, for example, replenishment oilers. They
provide supplies to fleet units while they`re far out from port. They
carry hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel and jet fuel to resupply
warships while they`re out at sea. Unlike most other Navy vessels,
replenishment oilers operate with a mostly civilian crew.
Well, today, the U.S. navy announced a new fleet of these guys, these
replenishment oilers. The next generation of these ships about to be
built. Want know what the first one is going to be called?
It`s the U.S. naval ship John Lewis. It`s going to be named for Georgia
congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis. Not only that, the entire
class of these new ships is going to be designated as the John Lewis class.
Long before he became a congressman, John Lewis fought for civil rights for
nonviolence, organizing sit-ins and freedom rides and peaceful marches. He
did so even though he himself was attacked brutally as an activist. He was
beaten so badly by Alabama State troopers on bloody Sunday that his skull
was fractured and he nearly died.
Throughout John Lewis` life, he has been this world class devotee and
practitioner and teacher of nonviolence. So, on one hand, it`s a little
weird to name a military ship after him. On the other hand, sort of
fitting if you are going to do that, you would emblazon his name not on the
side of his destroyer, but on the side of a support ship, that`s in
existence to serve others.
Congressman Lewis said about this honor today, quote, “when Secretary Mabus
came to my office and share the idea with me that he would like to name a
ship for me, we both teared up a bit and I almost lost it.” He said,
quote, “This is such a magnificent vessel. It is a great honor. It is my
hope the USNS John Lewis and the entire class of ships commemorating civil
rights heroes will inspire future generations to do all they can to serve
humanity and this country.”
The U.S. Naval Ship John Lewis, a whole new class of U.S. naval ships
called the John Lewis class, all of which will be named after civil rights
heroes. Come on. Best new thing in the world today.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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