The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 1/28/2016

Paul Rieckhoff

Date: January 28, 2016
Guest: Paul Rieckhoff

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.


MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

So, there`s a lot going on tonight in news and in politics in the wake of
our big town hall in Flint, Michigan, last night. There was big, stunning
and, in my opinion, fairly infuriating new news today, new revelation today
in Flint that broke in Michigan press late today. It`s about the state
government, the Rick Snyder administration, knowing that the water was bad
in Flint before they said anything publicly. And in fact, what was
revealed today was that the Snyder administration appears to have taken
action to protect its own employees from Flint`s water while they were
still telling the people of Flint that it was safe to drink.

As I said, it is my opinion but I find this fairly infuriating. And we`re
going to have that story ahead tonight. That`s just broken late today.

We`ve also got the latest polling out in the presidential race which shows
sort of a rather unsettled picture on the Democratic side. In the early
states, a much more settled picture on the Republican side, with
frontrunner Donald Trump holding a commanding lead not only nationally but
pretty much at all the early states, too. It does, of course, remain to be
seen what the effect will be of this curveball decision just made by Mr.
Trump to skip the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.

Now, this is not a totally unprecedented move by a presidential front-
runner. In previous election years, this sort of thing has happened. But
it`s only very rarely happened. This is an almost unprecedented event and
we don`t know how it`s going to affect his lead. We don`t yet know how
it`s gong to affect the overall course of the race.

But Mr. Trump, it should be noted, he`s not just opting out of last debate.
He is counter programming basically. That`s the event you`re looking at a
live shot of here now. We`re watching to see when this one will get

This event is just a couple of miles away from where the other Republican
candidates are debating tonight.

Mr. Trump is not going to the debate. Instead, he`s convening his own
event at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. And he`s calling this a
fund-raiser for veterans. Although given his past history of trying to
wrap himself up in veterans glory and purporting to raise money for
veterans when he doesn`t seem to have actually done that, that assertion
should be taken with a grain of salt, roughly the size of the rock of

So, we`re going to be talking live with Paul Rieckhoff, who`s the head of
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America. We`re going to be talking with
him about that event. We`re going to be talking about also the way that
veterans are being treated by Mr. Trump`s campaign and also by the campaign
in general.

Paul has had some choice words and some edgy things to say about the stunt
that Trump is pulling tonight in veterans` names. But that veterans event
is what we are waiting to get started right now at Drake University in Des

In terms of the opting out of the debate part of this. There`s been a
couple of instances in modern history where a front running candidate has
opted out of debate.

You can see Mike Huckabee entering the room. We`re expecting Mike Huckabee
and possibly one or maybe even two other Republican candidates to appear
tonight at this Donald Trump event.

They are not boycotting the other debate. The other candidates who are
expecting to appear at this event were people who are at the kids table,
people who are sort of at the undercard debate. So, their work is done.
And rather than just sit at home and watch the big stage debate, some of
the kids table debate kids have decided that they will come over to the
Trump event and do the boycott event and the boycotted event in the same

Why not? It`s only a few miles away. Cheap on Uber, right?

We just saw Mike Huckabee. I`m not sure if we`ve seen of the other kids
table candidate there yet. I also have to say, given who is at the kids`
table tonight, I`m not exactly sure I would recognize all of them, so I
might need some help from the control room on that.

In terms of the decision to boycott this debate, though, if you think about
it, in politics broadly, when you are a front-runner, when you are leading,
you do not necessarily want to do anything to change the trajectory that
you`re on, but it looks like you`re going to win, particularly if you`re
not a good debater or up against very good debaters.

If you`re a front-runner and you have the chance to opt-out of a debate,
it`s not out of the question that you might do that. That happened once in
1980. The interesting thing about the way it happened in 1980 is that was
going to be the first ever nationally televised Republican primary debate.
It was the night before the Iowa caucuses in 1980.

And Ronald Reagan thought he had Iowa wired. Thought he was going to win
and also thought that George H.W. Bush was a better debater than he was.
And so, Ronald Reagan made a decision the night before the Iowa caucuses in
1980 that he would sit out that debate. The next day in Iowa, George H.W.
Bush beat him in Iowa.

That was sort of widely viewed in Reagan campaign as having been a bad
decision that he didn`t participate. They do think it cost him Iowa even
if he did go onto win the nomination that year.

It didn`t really happen again in a high profile way until 20 years later,
the 2000 presidential election when George W. Bush was the prohibited front
runner. George W. Bush got in and basically raised so much money so fast
and locked up so many establishment endorsements that he clear cleared the
rest of the field that year.

And when George W. Bush was out ahead of the field in 1999 heading into the
2000 presidential race, he made a decision in the fall of 1999 that he
would start skipping debates in New Hampshire.

And again, he was way out ahead. He did not think he was going to be a
good debater. He thought if things keep going the way they are going, he
would win. George Bush skipped out of two debates right before the New
Hampshire primary and went on in the year 2000 in that Republican primary
to lose New Hampshire. So, again, like Reagan, he went onto win the
nomination again any way.

But it is a risky thing to opt out of a debate, particularly when it`s a
debate that is narrowly targeted to one of the early states or indeed comes
right before one of the early states. So, it`s been a good run I think for
the Republican candidates in terms of their debate schedule thus far.
They`ve had massive audiences for their debates.

But Donald Trump hasn`t really shined in any of them. I think it`s fair to
say that Mr. Trump`s prohibitive lead as the Republican frontrunner is not
necessarily due to his performance in any of the debates. He hasn`t had
stand out moments that`s pushed his numbers up. It`s the rest of his
campaign that`s done well for him, candidates who have benefited from the
debates have been other people who pushed back at him or gotten in a sort
of zinger at his expense.

He hasn`t been winning at the debates. He`s just been holding firm.
Perhaps Mr. Trump has decided he did you wan doesn`t want the change the
trajectory that he`s on. Perhaps Mr. Trump has decided he`s tired.
Perhaps Mr. Trump has decided that this is not a cowardly thing to do,
rather a bold, brave thing to do to defy what everybody else is doing, to
defy the Republican Party and its schedule, and basically just sit out of
the race and counter-program and guess that everybody might cover him

If he were just doing this on his own terms, if he were just saying, hey,
look, I`m Donald Trump, I`m doing a campaign rally across town, instead of
doing the debate, I think that would be the level of analysis we would be

There is another element of this, which is that Mr. Trump is not just
opting out of tonight`s debate. He is doing a separate event, hastily
pulled together, which he`s calling a fund-raiser for veterans.

That has a long history just in this campaign. Mr. Trump has done there
before. We don`t exactly know what that will mean in terms of a political
matter. But it does matter to veterans.

And we know that because of some of the stances that have been taken
publicly by veterans groups. One of the strongest stances taken by a
veterans group in this country has been by the founder and CEO of Iraq and
Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Paul Rieckhoff is the founder and CEO of IAVA. And he made news this week
by saying that if IAVA were offered profits from this event tonight, IAVA
would not accept them.

Paul, it`s great to have you here. Thanks for being here.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IAVA FOUNDER AND CEO: Good to see you. Thanks for having

MADDOW: You`ve got a lot of attention for saying that. And I went through
the trouble of looking at all your Twitter responses on that, trying to
sort of twing the guitar strings there and see what the responses.

What has the response been?

RIECKHOFF: I think from the majority of the veterans community, it`s been
supportive. I think folks feel that veterans have been overly-politicized
by both parties and for decades. And I think there`s a bigger issue here.
I mean, the days of veterans issues being a place for nonpartisanship, for
being a place of unity, being kind of off-limits from the non-sense of
normal politics are gone. Those days are long gone.

I think, you know, Trump`s always been a populist. He knows what attracts
the huge swath of American people. Veterans are very popular.


RIECKHOFF: You know, we`ve said for years, it`s kind of like babies,
puppies and vets. Everybody loves veterans. So, to use veterans will
definitely appeal to a huge percentage of the population, but the veterans
groups don`t want to be used as pawns.

So, I think most of the veterans groups in America will decline donations.
It`s not just from Trump but every candidate. And that`s what we`ve said
as well. We`re not going to take money from any candidate.

We all need support. We definite need support. Rather than a couple
million dollars we would like to hear how will you transform, for example,
the V.A., which is $170 billion. If you really want to help veterans,
let`s hear your strong policies and specific policies on how you`re going
to address the issues that matter the most.

MADDOW: One thing that occurred to me about the specifics of this event
tonight, we`ll talk more about this detail later on. But we don`t exactly
know where the money is going.

He set up a website today where the money comes to him, comes to his Donald
J. Trump Foundation and then he says he will turn it around to veterans
organizations. Seems to me like if candidates, for good reasons or bad
reasons, right, for craven reasons or noble reasons, if they do want to
raise money for vets as part of their campaign, one of the ways to do that
is to say, I`m going to charge you, charge you to get into this event in
order to come here. You need to donate x amount of money to one of these
lists of veterans organizations.

RIECKHOFF: Right, right, right.

MADDOW: Right. Give people about information about how to contact
veterans groups and let them donate on their own terms. That would
presumably be less problematic for you.

RIECKHOFF: You know, if people want to donate, they can do it without
going through a political campaign.

MADDOW: Yes, exactly.

RIECKHOFF: That`s the bottom line. And there`s definitely a need. Every
veterans organization that`s on the front line has seen a spike in demand,
and the supply overall philanthropically has been declining. So, we need
support from people across America but we don`t need to be used as
political props. And this has happened again and again.

Trump has used this line effectively. It`s become the new applause line.
It`s becoming the new “I`m going to clean up Washington”, right? Instead
of I`m going to clean up the Washington, say, I`m going to clean up the

Sounds great. Everybody love it. But how are you going to do it? That`s
the hard part.

What are you going to do about the V.A. secretary? How are you going to
care for women`s veterans. How are you going to approach the suicide rate?
Those are the hard things. Fixing the V.A. may be the hardest thing for a

So, it could be a defining issue. As you`ve noted, it`s divided the
parties. They are very different perspectives on how they`re going to
attack that in particular.

MADDOW: And so, there is when you are using it as applause line, there`s
all the more moral requirement that you know what you`re talking about and
talking about it substantively.

RIECKHOFF: Now, it`s become arms race. It`s become “I love veterans more
than you” arms race.

MADDOW: Right.

RIECKHOFF: Right? And now, Cruz responded and Fiorina responded. I`m
sure others will do the same. Maybe in the end, there t will be a silver
lining that we`ll more attention on veterans issues, but we really need
debates on veterans issues. We need moderators to ask tough questions. We
need candidates to answer them.

In all the debate, there`s been almost no focus on veterans. No question
and no policy.

MADDOW: Again, applause lines and there`s substance.

RIECKHOFF: Paul, stand by. We`re going to bring you back in once we hear
what Mr. Trump has to say on this subject tonight.

I want to bring in NBC special correspondent Tom Brokaw.

Mr. Brokaw, it is great to see you. Thanks for being with us tonight.


MADDOW: Is there important historical precedent? Is there good historical
analogy for seeing what Mr. Trump is doing here? A candidate of his
stature in the race, skipping out on the last big debate before voting

BROKAW: Well, I`m sure that whatever veterans group get whatever he raises
will be grateful for that. But as you have been discussing there, there
are over-arcing needs that the veterans need addressing. It`s not just a
one time or a one shot event.

Now, Mr. Trump has said that he`s supported veterans groups in the past all
across this country, Rachel, groups are supporting veterans. But they`re
doing it by and large below the radar, doing the best they can in their
communities and in wider ways and they`re not using it for their own

The veterans come first. I`ve dealt with a lot of them. People are
writing big checks. Sports organizations are doing what they can to help.

I was at Texas stadium earlier this year. Ands they had a group in Dallas
that raised money for service dogs. Jerry Jones wanted them to do that at
half time at a Cowboys game, so everybody could see what was going on.
Jerry Jones didn`t appear down on the field. It was really about the
veterans and the dogs and the help they could give.

So, I think that`s what the country has to stay focused on, quite honestly.
I wouldn`t want this to be the template for how you treat veterans or how
you raise money for them.

MADDOW: Tom, because it is – it`s very transparent what`s going on here.
Mr. Trump has a website he set up. It`s a website he registered today.
The money that he`s raising goes to his foundation. This is obviously an
ad hoc thing, out of politically salient moment for him. And as you, in
your words, he`s sort of doing this for his own advancement and not in a
transparently impure way.

Does that have potential to have political backlash? Do people see that
transparently enough that it ends up hurting him because it looks craven?

BROKAW: Well, it`s hard to speak for all the people, because obviously
he`s said some things this year that quite honestly we didn`t think he
could get away with. He said this on television, all those Muslims
celebrating in New Jersey that was patently not true, but it didn`t seem to
damage him at all, in fact, his ratings went up afterwards. So, it`s very
hard to forecast how all of this is going to impact Donald Trump and what
the country will respond to.

He is playing it seems to me a kind of a dangerous game when you bring in
the veterans, because they should have a sacred place in America. And I
think more people and more communities across America don`t need to be
looking at what we`re seeing here tonight. They need to find the veterans
in their town.

There`s a lot of them in small towns, Rachel, who came back wounded, got a
lot of attention at the beginning. Now they are home with their wives and
wives are having to carry the big struggle and so are the children. That`s
the way to get things done.

MADDOW: Do you think that the presidential election process, that the
primary process in either party is capable of moving the debate forward in
the kind of substance that Paul Rieckhoff was just talking about, actually
extracting from these candidates plans and promises that might meaningfully
move forward the issue about how to support veterans and reform the V.A.
and lall those things.

BROKAW: Well, I think one of the disappointing things not just at this
campaign but any primary campaign in the most recent cycles is there`s not
been a lot of details spelled out –

MADDOW: We`ve just lot Tom Brokaw`s audio.

Are we able to get that back? I could see he was still speaking but I
could hear him.

OK. We`ll go back to tom when we get that. That`s a drag.

What you`re looking at here on the left side on your screen is this event
that is due to start momentarily, being – hosted by Donald Trump. He is
calling it a veterans event. And that`s why we have Chyron out there,
that`s the line on the screen there.

We`re not sure exactly who Donald Trump is raising money for tonight nor do
we know how much money is expected to be raised.

But here comes Mr. Trump. We also don`t know how long he`s going to speak
or how substantive these remarks are going to be. Let`s see what he does.
This is his counter programming to the debate.


Thank you, man. There`s a vet. There`s vet. We love our vets.

Thank you, everybody. Sit down, please.

We had about 24 hours to put this together. It was very, very quick. And
we`re here for some very special people. We`re going to hear from some of

But this is an honor. This is a real honor. I didn`t want to be here. I
have to be honest. I wanted to be about five minutes away.

I`ve enjoyed that. I`ve enjoyed that. All the online polls said I`ve done
well with that, with the debates. And I`ve have a kick with it, but you
have to stick up for your rights. When you`re treated badly, you have to
stick up for your rights.


You have to do it. Whether we like it or not, whether it`s something we
want to do or not and that`s what our country has to do. I mean, as an
example around, Iran, the way they have been treating us with all of this
horrible, this deal is one of the worst deals I`ve ever seen negotiated
under any circumstances and we just take it. We have to stick up for
ourselves as people and we have to stick up for our country when we`re
being mistreated.

Remember that. I have to go a little step further and say that fox has
been extremely nice the last number of hours, actually. They`ve wanted me
there and they said how about now. They called a few minutes ago. How
about now, can you come over? I said hasn`t it started.

We actually thought we would let them start and we wanted to be about 15
minutes into that hour so that by now they`re all tuned in. Look at the
cameras like the Academy Awards. This is like the Academy Awards. This is
the Academy Awards.

We`re actually told we have more cameras than they do by quite a bit. So,
that`s –


And you know what? That`s really an honor of our vets. They have been
very nice. They wanted me to go and apologize. They did apologize. They
could not have been – once this started, there was nothing I could do.

I don`t know. And you know what? I don`t know. Is it for me, personally,
a good thing, a bad thing? Will I get more votes? Will I get less votes?
Nobody knows. Who the hell know?

But it`s for our vets. You`re going to like it because we raised over $5
million in one day, over $5 million.


So, that`s not so bad. You know, my whole theme is “Make America Great
Again”. And that`s what we`re going to do. And we wouldn`t have been here
if it weren`t for our vets. And our vets are being mistreated.

Illegal immigrants are being treated better in many cases than our vets.
It`s not going to happen anymore. Not going to happen anymore.

Once this ball started rolling, we couldn`t stop it. You see the house is
packed. And literally, this took place less than 24 hours. We had less
than 24 hours to do this. I said I`m not going to do the debate out of
respect for myself, I won`t do it, because it would just be wrong.

I love Iowa. I`m here. We got to do something. I didn`t know we were
going to raise $5 million. We actually raise close to $6 million to be
totally honestly.

But I have to say, a lot more to come. We set up a site, They raised almost $500,000 just today. I
think this money is going to continue to pour in. We have some incredible,
incredible people.

I do want to say, I do want to call out some of the folks that gave a lot
of the money. Ands then we`re going to have somebody come up to speak who
is an incredible speaker, but much more importantly it`s the subject.
Somebody, somebody that really, really understands what the best are going

We have to talk about people that made a lot of money. And they wouldn`t
have made a lot of money, they wouldn`t even be here if it weren`t for the
vets and our great military, because the military, right, Phil, has a lot
more guts than you do, is that right? We have different kind of guts,

So, Carl Icahn gave $500,000. One quick phone call, with $500,000.


Richard LeFrak, a great builder in New York, gave $100,000.


Donald Trump, another great builder in New York, now a politician – I
can`t stand this. A politician? I don`t want to be called a politician.
All talk, no action. I refuse to be called a politician.

Donald Trump gave $1 million, OK?


The Fisher family of New York gave $75,000.


Howard Lowenberg (ph), a great fan and friend of our family, $100,000.


A very, very rich man in New York, a very good friend of mine, a very good
person. He wants to be anonymous. All his life he was out there. I said
could you give me a million bucks. He said tell me. I said it`s for the
vets. He said you got it.

Is that good, right?


He wanted to be – he wanted to be anonymous. He`s changed. You know who
I`m talking about. Two years ago –


TRUMP: It really is too crazy. I tell the story, I love protests. I love
protests at my rallies. Here, this is a beautiful place. We have
thousands of people outside that weren`t as good as real estate.

We have thousands of people outside trying to get in. We set up cameras,
we set up screens. We have everything.

But I will tell you, you look at that. I love the protesters in the big
arenas because the cameras never move. They`re always on my face.

I say to my wife, Melania, honey, stand up. She has to suffer through it.
Seriously suffered through this. Now, I go home and it`s always broadcast.
You know, they can never like, the other politicians, nobody cares, nobody
covering them. No cameras.

Look at this. It`s like crazy. But I`d say, how did I do? She said, you
were great. Were there many people there? I said what do you mean, it was
21,000. It was in Mavericks Arena, it was, I remember, in Alabama, Mobile,
Alabama, we had 35,000 people.

We get the biggest crowds by far. Much bigger than Bernie, although I have
to say he is second. No other Republican. But we get the biggest crowds.

She`ll say they never show the crowd. I said, what do you mean they never
show the crowd? I realize they never turn the camera. I always say, you
know, I figured maybe they are fixed, these are new cameras they can`t

The only way you find out that they`re not fixed, they`re like pretzels the
way they turn them, is when you have a protester. You can have protesters
up in top and they are turned around sideways. They turn. But they don`t
want to show the crowd. It`s one of those things.

So, we have a rich man from New York, a good guy who has become a little
reclusive, obviously, $1 million. He`s a great guy.


We have another unbelievable man, Ike Perlmutter from Marvel. He did such
an unbelievable job. One of the great, great men of our country in terms
of business and talent. He`s giving Ike and Laurie Perlmutter, $1 million.


J.J. Cafaro from Florida and from Cleveland, he`s man who made a lot of
money in Cleveland, does a good job and a fantastic man, $50,000. J.J.,
thank you.


Another great friend of mine, one of the most brilliant men you`ll ever
meet, a phenomenal world class poker player, you wouldn`t even know it. He
doesn`t do that for a living. He makes money for a living in every way.

You cannot make a deal with this guy and come out on top. It`s impossible.
In fact, I`m thinking about him for China. How about him negotiating with
China, OK?


China, this year in trade will make over $500 billion in terms of our trade
deficit, $500 billion. That`s no partnership. I`m a free trader. But we
have to use our head.

And we use political hacks to negotiate with the Chinese, and they have the
smartest people. I deal with them all the time. I love the Chinese. They
buy my apartments to millions.

I have the largest bank in the world from China in one of my buildings. I
love them. I`m not blaming the Chinese. I`m not angry at them.

I`m angry at our politicians because we have people that are incompetent
running our country. Why should we be losing in trade deficits $500
billion a year? So, it`s not going to happen.

So, if I took a guy like this, put him this charge. His wife is so
incredible. Would you both come up? Mr. and Mrs. Phil Ruffin, come on up.
Come up. Come up.


He`s never had anything – it`s like everything he touches turns to gold.
Whatever deal he goes into, he bought a piece of land in Las Vegas, spent
$110 million. He sold it a few years later and made plenty of money in
between for $1.3 billion, right? Just about? One point three. I think he

Every single – so when he gives a million it`s like ten cents. But him,
very important.

Phil Ruffin, just say a couple of words.


PHIL RUFFIN, BUSINESSMAN: Thank you. I`d like to introduce my wife,

Donald and I have been friends for some 18 years and business partners and
about two years ago I said, Donald, if you ever run for president, I will
give you a million dollars. Well, he ran. I gave him a million dollars.
He sent it back.


He said, I can`t take your money. I couldn`t believe it. In any case,
he`s a great man. I`m very happy. My wife and I will donate $1 million to
your charity. Thank you.


TRUMP: He actually – he actually sent me a million dollars. He said
there`s 10 or 20 more of them if you want it, if you need it. I just can`t
stand it. You know I`m self-funding my own campaign, right?


But all my life, I made money. I made money. I`ve always been good making
money. I think I have great imagination, but I made money. All my life, I
did well.

And my father always said, everything he touches turns to gold. That`s why
I use that same expression on him because there`s a guy, believe me, a
fantastic guy. But he always said, everything my boy touches turns to

What happens is I turn all this money down. They`re calling and calling.
They want to give me money because being number one, they all want the
control you. They want to give you money and now they call you. Remember
I gave you $5 million. I tell the story about the Ford plant, about the
Nabisco plant.

So, what happens is all my life and I`m turning down millions. I was in
Iowa in a different location. We had 4,000 people. I went to those
people, I said listen, I don`t feel good about turning down money, because
my whole life I`d been greedy, greedy, greedy. I grabbed all the money I
could get.

Now I want to be greedy for the United States. I want to grab all that
money. I want to be greedy for the United States.


It`s true. But I`ve always feel guilty, I`m in this beautiful place and
the crowd is lovely. We have the most incredible people in this country,
in Iowa, but in this country, it`s like a movement going on.

The cover of “Time Magazine” this week is a whole thing. It`s a cover
story. In fact, there it is. Hold that up.

They have the back of my head, they have the back of my head with the
massive crowd in front of me and they`re cover the story. I said, I didn`t
know they were doing the story. I said I didn`t know they were doing the
story. And it`s a cover of “Time”, they`re talking about a movement. It
is actually a movement.

But what`s happening is I said to the crowd, let me ask you this one thing,
supposing – and I promise you I won`t be influence influenced. Could I
take all this money? Because I`m turning away so much money, stand up,
please, could I take all this money?

And everybody went crazy, no, no. It was only one guy and he was in the
back corner of the room. He was a crooked looking guy. He was the only
guy. He looked like such a crook.

And he said it was OK to take it. And I look at that guy and I said, I
don`t want anything to do with that. He`s the only guy.

So, I feel a little bit – I feel a little bit foolish not taking the
money. But, you know, you`re looking at guy like Jeb Bush – he`s taking a
hundred – low energy, he`s taking a hundred and twenty – extremely low.

I shouldn`t say, he`s debating right now. Maybe he`s doing great. He`s
probably looking for me. He`s saying, has anyone seen Trump? Why –
where`s Trump? Where is he?


Jeb – he`s taken $128 million. People that I know, killers. Killers,
like him, killers. They put up $5 million, $2 million, $8 million.
They`re lobbyists, special interests, they`re not doing that for their

And whenever we have a problem, you know, a lot of times, I said the other
day, because I know most of the lobbyists, I mean, I`ve used them. I was
on the other side. Seven months ago, I was on the other side. I was a big

But I know these people and I said, believe me, when they put in $6
million, $5 million, $1 million, they`re not just doing it. They want
something for it.

When you see these horrible deals that are being made, and they are
horrible, the politicians aren`t that stupid. You think they`re horrible.
You say how is it possible that Iran just got $150 billion from this
country in one of the dumbest deals ever? And they just went out, and the
first purchase is 114 Airbus jets, not Boeing jets.

And then we have from France and from other countries in Europe, and think
of it, think of it, and then they go to Russia, they`re buying missiles.
And somebody said –

MADDOW: That`s front-runner speaking tonight in Des Moines, Iowa, and
turning into his standard stump speech.

He`s speaking here tonight just a couple of miles away from where the rest
of the Republican field has been holding the last Republican candidates
debate before the Iowa caucuses which are in four days.

Here`s what I want to say about what`s going on here. We can – goodbye.
It`s OK. Good-bye, Mr. Trump. Good-bye.

That felt great. I`m actually right now with my mind, I`m willing you that
power at home. Disappear. Poof. It`s like a mute button for your mind.

All right. Here`s what`s going on, and I think this is worth
understanding. Here`s why all the other Republican candidates right this
weekend are at their last debate before Iowa and Donald Trump is counter
programming and having his own event in the same town starting at the same
time competing for the same attention.

This is what is going on here. Do you remember last summer when Donald
Trump was fairly new candidate on the campaign trail? He had shocked
everybody basically by racing to the top of the polls as soon as he
announced his campaign for president, right?

And it was just, it was a few weeks into his new frontrunner status last
summer, when he said something absolutely terrible about an American hero
who spent five years being tortured and imprisoned in North Vietnam as a
prisoner of war and who behaved with such heroism and patriotism and
bravery under those circumstances that even people who cannot stand him as
a politician rightfully honor his service in the almost unimaginable
extraordinarily lengths that he went to to serve his country.

This is what Donald Trump said about him just a couple of weeks after
becoming the Republican frontrunner for president.


TRUMP: I supported him for president. I raised a million dollars for him.
I supported him.

He lost. He let us down. He lost. I never liked him much after that
because I don`t like loser. But, Frank, let me get to it.

FRANK LUNTZ: He`s a war hero.

TRUMP: He`s not a war hero. He`s a war hero –

LUNTZ: Five and a half years as –

TRUMP: He`s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that
weren`t captured, OK?


MADDOW: He`s not war hero. I like people who weren`t captured. That was
last summer. Never an apology for that.

But, Donald Trump, at the time he said that, he was the new front-runner
for the presidential nomination. People were up in arms about this guy who
never served a day in the military, saying John McCain, five years a
prisoner of war was not a hero of war.

In any normal for any normal candidate, that would not be fatal political
error, that would be like a fatal public image error. I mean, that`s the
kind of thing you say and you shock people and offend people so much by it
that you`re sort of never heard from again, right?

With Donald Trump, it didn`t work out that way. One of the small side bar
stories that happened at the same time, which should have been our first
inkling that things weren`t going to work out as normal with Donald Trump
was that there was this weird sort of unexpected statement support for Mr.
Trump in what he said about John McCain. It was a further attack on John
McCain and it came from something called Veterans for a Strong America.

They put a statement at a time. Quote, “This feuding between Mr. Trump and
Senator McCain has nothing to do with Mr. Trump`s high regard for the
military or veterans as a whole. Mr. Trump is a supporter of the U.S.
military and of America`s veterans. It`s well-known that when Mr. Trump
attack by a detractor, he swings back. As veterans, we do not hide behind
military service to deflect criticism and when Senator McCain attacked Mr.
Trump, Mr. Trump hit back.”

It`s like, yes, McCain got what`s coming to him. Donald Trump was right to
call him not a war hero. Take it from us. We`re veterans.

It wasn`t the biggest story around that time but it was this interesting
side bar. This statement from a group, what do they call him, Veterans for
a Strong America. Side bar at the time. It ended up becoming a few weeks
later when things were really picking up steam for Mr. Trump`s candidacy.

In “The New York Times” scooped some of the juiciest quotes from a new,
rather lurid biography about Mr. Trump. Among the most stomach-churning
quotes and revelations in that book as described by “The New York Times”
were quotes by Mr. Trump characterizing his own time at a military themed
prep school when he was a teenager, characterizing that time at prep school
as being equivalent to him having served in the military.

Here`s how that article in “The New York Times” stated it on September 8.
This is the start of the article. Quote, “Donald J. Trump, who received
draft deferments throughout much of the Vietnam War told the author of an
upcoming biography that he nevertheless, quote, `always felt I was always
in the military` because of his education at a military themed boarding

“Despite sitting out the Vietnam War because of deferments followed by a
high draft lottery number, Mr. Trump says he endured the rigors of military

Again quote Mr. Trump, “My number was so incredible. It was a very high
draft number. Anyway, so I never had to do that, but I felt I was in the
military in the true sense because I dealt with those people.” And by
those people he means the other people he went to prep school with who were
not the military but who did wear fancy outfits that made them look like

Those revelations, embarrassing, those embarrassing revelations and quotes,
they were published by “The New York Times” September 8th. That same day,
September 8th, Mr. Trump decided that he was suddenly feeling a little shy
about showing up to the next Republican presidential primary debate.

That same day that “The New York Times” published the quotes about him not
being in military but thinking he was, that same day, Donald Trump wrote to
CNN and demanded if they wanted him to participate in the next debate, they
would have to pay him $5 million to do so. He also insisted that all
profits be donated to veterans organizations – a list of which he would
provide to CNN.

And that was outrageous and strange and weird, but it did – because it was
so weird, it kind of pushed the story about him at the military prep school
thinking he was in the real military sort of pushed that out of the
headlines for a day. Ultimately, I should tell you, we don`t have any
indication that Mr. Trump ever bothered to send the list of veterans
organizations to CNN nor did CNN ever pay him $5 million, as what, a
booking fee for him participating in the debate.

Ultimately, Mr. Trump decided to show up any way. But this is really it
got weird. I think this is what explains what happened tonight because the
night before that CNN debate in September, when Donald Trump suddenly
discovered this newfound ardor for veterans causes after being caught out
in his embarrassing effort to make it seem like he might be a veteran when
he wasn`t, Donald Trump, the night before that debate, did a fund-raiser,
and doing a fund-raiser is normal for any other presidential candidate but
not normal for him, right? Remember, he`s not doing fundraisers.

He`s self-funding his campaign. He said he`s not taking donations. No
fundraisers. But Donald Trump went to the USS Iowa, to a decommissioned
battleship in San Diego, he stood right into the guns and he did a fund-
raiser – not for himself but for Veterans for a Strong America. That
random thing which nobody had ever heard of before but which put out
statement after he attacks John McCain saying John McCain deserved it and
they Veterans for a Strong America, they were on Donald Trump`s side for
picking on the POW as not being a real war hero.

It was such a strange night. It`s the night before that debate. He`s
demanding that the proceeds of the debates, like the advertising revenue,
go to veterans, although he never follows through to even try to make it

He gets up there on a battleship. He does a presidential candidate
fundraiser for this previously totally unknown group with the tough guy
veterans name.


TRUMP: Boy, oh, boy. I didn`t expect that. You know, Joel and the group
called and said would you come over and speak. I`m here for a certain
reason. It`s called tomorrow night.

I got here and they ask a couple of days ago would it be possible to say a
few words – an endorsement from your group with so many veterans, hundreds
of thousands of veterans. I really appreciate that. I did not expect it.


MADDOW: Your group with so many veterans, hundreds of thousands of

Veterans for a Strong America is not a group made up of hundreds of
thousands of veterans. In fact, Veterans for a Strong America does not
appear to have any members other than Joel who you just heard Mr. Trump
refer to in a speech. As best as we can tell, he`s it. They are not a
membership organization.

There`s no real way to join them. They don`t have hundreds of thousands of
anything. After we were first to report on the weirdness of this Donald
Trump supposed veterans fund-raiser in September, it quickly emerged that
the IRS revoked this group`s nonprofit status last year because they hadn`t
filed tax returns in three years.

This is actually a nice development in the story since. The group Veterans
for a Strong America has since dissolved themselves as an organization.
They recently reestablished themselves as an organization but with a
slightly different name. They`re are no longer Veterans for a Strong
America. They are now Vets for a Strong America.

And on their certificate of incorporation which we dug up, you can see
right there on their official documents, quote, “Checked off the
corporation will not have members.”

But at the time Donald Trump did this event for them, you couldn`t join
them. Not a membership organization. Their latest FEC filing said they
had $30 in the bank, they had approximately $300 in debts and obligations,
which appeared mostly to be owed to another group that was just this one
guy, Joel.

So, here`s this technically defunct one man organization that Donald Trump,
Republican presidential front-runner is doing a giant battleship fund-
raiser for. It was so weird.

We bugged the Trump campaign about it for days, trying to figure out what
happened there. What was, where was, money, where`s the money – the Trump
campaign ultimately gave us a statement about the event and what it

They told us this, quote, “Mr. Trump and the campaign had no knowledge of
any issues associated with the group or their chairman Joel Arends. Nor
does this campaign know what the group intends to do with the money raised
that night.”

We asked them specifically, do you know how much money you raised that
night? The campaign said, “No. Please ask Veterans for a Strong America.”

We asked them further, well, did veterans tell you what they would use the
money for once you give them the money? Answer for the Trump campaign,

So, they had no idea who this guy was or what the organization was. The
candidate said they had hundreds of thousands of members. They actually
have zero members. They have no idea how much money they raised, they have
no idea what the money was used for and arguably because the group had its
nonprofit status revoked by the IRS, it was arguably illegal for Donald
Trump to raise money for that group in that way in California in September
on the eve of that debate.

So, that`s what is going on here. Once again, we have Donald Trump, still
the Republican presidential front-runner, and lo these months, and lo these
months later, he apparently feels like he wants to squirrel out of the
debate again. For whatever reason, he doesn`t want to be with the other
Republican candidates this year, four days before Iowa.

But just like the last time he tried to squirrel out, this time he`s also
playing the veterans card as his way to do it as if him skipping this
debate is somehow noble and helps veterans. Mr. Trump`s event tonight at
Drake University in Des Moines was built as a special event to benefit
veterans organizations, the largest organization of our current generations
of veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff put out this tweet yesterday as soon as
the news emerged. Quote, “If offered, IAVA will decline donations from
Trump`s events. We need strong policies from candidates not to be used for
political stunts.”

We`re still not sure where any money raised tonight by Mr. Trump is
actually going to go. Let alone how much money he`s going to raise.

Today, his campaign did launch this website,, which
generally asks for donations, quote, ” to support our veterans.” Where is
that money going go that`s donated through that website? All we know is
that it`s going to the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

Who knows? Maybe the Donald J. Trump Foundation will turn it around and
all donations will go directly to veterans needs as it says very vaguely on
that website.

But if you`re trying to figure out what`s going on here, just consider
this: A, Donald Trump has done this before. B, the first time he did
something like this, we have no idea where the money went. And C, was registered as a website this morning. It was
registered in the cheapest possible way. That website URL expires in
exactly one year. It expires one year from today, at which point Mr. Trump
or President Trump will get to decide whether he wants to renew that
website and keep playing this particular trick or whether he let it fade

Meanwhile, all the real veterans organizations will keep slogging away day
after day doing really hard work that needs to be done, needing money for
that cause. And they`ll keep doing it whether or not anybody is using them
as a political stunt on any one particular day.



TRUMP: But once this started, it`s for our vets there`s nothing I could
do. I don`t know. You know what? I don`t know. Is it for me personally
a good thing, a bad thing? Will I get more votes, will I get less votes?
Nobody knows. Who the hell knows?

But it`s for our vets. You`re going to like it because we raised over $5
million in one day. So, $5 million. So, that`s not so bad.

You know, my whole theme is “Make America Great Again”. That`s what we`re
going to do. And we wouldn`t have even been here if it weren`t for our
vets. And our vets are being mistreated. Illegal immigrants are treated
better in many cases than our vets and it`s not going to happen any more.
It`s not going to happen any more.


MADDOW: Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump speaking tonight
hosting an event as a result of his manufactured spat with FOX News.
Instead of doing the last debate before Iowa, he`s doing this event that he
says will benefit veterans groups, although we don`t really know what he
means by that. One of the groups has come out and said they won`t take
money from this event if offered is Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of

Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA.

In some ways, even if candidates are being craven and exploitative in their
treatment of veterans, does it help – does it create a better climate for
you guys in terms of raising awareness and getting support that somebody`s
talking about vets at all?

RIECKHOFF: It doesn`t necessarily create a better climate, but I think it
creates an opportunity. I`m here talking to you tonight, right? And we
wouldn`t be if this wasn`t happening.

So, in some ways, thank you, Donald Trump.

But it`s creating a toxic environment. I mean, part of you answer is early
is yes we`ve gotten support, we`ve also gotten ferocious, nasty, nasty

MADDOW: From when we said we`re not going to take his money.


RIECKHOFF: We`re not endorsing anyone. We`re not taking a partisan
position. We wouldn`t take money from Bernie Sanders either.

MADDOW: Right.

RIECKHOFF: And I go on your show, I go on FOX. We`re a nonpartisan
organization. Our members are very diverse.

We said we`re not going to take money and we`re going to stay out of that.
And they have descended on us on Twitter, on our phones, jamming up our
hotline that actually serves veterrns who are in crisis.

MADDOW: Really?

RIECKHOFF: And it`s a nasty tone. That`s actually a plea to him.

MADDOW: Is it an organized thing? Or it just – who is it?

RIECKHOFF: I don`t know if it`s organized or not. But you can see it on
Twitter. You know, it`s on our email account. And we`ve got social
workers who take calls from veterans in crisis and their phone lines are
being hit by these folks.

So, I hope that he can turn them in a different direction.

MADDOW: Because these are Trump supporters?

RIECKHOFF: Yes. All we did was say we`re not going to take your money.

And most veterans groups will not take their money. The VFW doesn`t seem
to be taking their money, the American Legion. We`ve said it publicly and
a lot of vets groups are saying it privately and we thought it was
important to say keep it out of this.

And if folks want to donate, they don`t have to do it through a political
campaign. They can donate to us or any other top veterans groups just by
finding us online.

But, take a bigger step back. There are 22 million veterans in this
country, 22 million. They are a diverse, strong, influential voting group.
And they`re jump off.

So, I think they are watching and they`re watching both parties. Many are
independent minded, our members in particular that are younger are very

So, o maybe everybody will now start to play them. Maybe they will talk to
us about specifics, they will get down to brass tacks, they`ll talk about
what they`re going to do in the V.A., and maybe now moderators will ask
them questions about it. And that can be a good thing in America in the

MADDOW: If there is an organized group of people or even a disorganized
group of people going after IAVA on this, you can give them my number.

RIECKHOFF: Yes. We`re pretty organize and we`re used to being attacked.
So, we can handle it, but I hope they send it in directional.

MADDOW: It makes me mad.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA, I`m mad on your behalf. Thank
you my friend.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you.

MADDOW: Good to see you. We`ll be right back.

Stay with us.



MADDOW: Are you fully staffed up in terms of school nurses, for example,
in terms of special ed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are – we are not. We are blessed enough to have
a health navigator that allows our parents to make connections with the
community, but we do not have a school nurse.

MADDOW: You do not have a school nurse?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do not. None of our schools do. Usually that
responsibility falls on our secretaries. I give medications. We`re
trained to do certain things. Again, we make do with the staff that we
have who are devoted with serving our children.

MADDOW: Flint community schools do not have nurses right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do not. We have one in our district level.

MADDOW: One for all the schools?



MADDOW: One for the entire district, 6,000 kids, nine elementary schools,
one nurse total in a community where all the kids in town need extra
support and medical monitoring and attention because they were all just
exposed to lead poisoned tap water.

That was a moments in Flint last night at our town hall where I could sort
feel the recoil, feel the whiplash from all of those in the room who
weren`t from Flint who didn`t know that and everybody in the room knew
that. It was just remarkable.

Today, though, there is some news that more school nurses may be coming to
Flint. Today, the Michigan legislature approved $28 million to help
address Flint`s water crisis and they did designate several thousand
dollars of that money to hire nine school nurses for Flint`s public
schools. So, there`s that and may it come to pass.

But there`s also some late breaking news about how the state of Michigan
responded to this disaster while it was under way and in the throes of it.
This has just been reported late today. It`s jaw-dropping story.

It`s something that happened basically a year ago. Flint residents were
still being told that the water was perfectly safe. January 21st of last
year, state officials came to Flint city hall to assure the people at a
public meeting that they were totally on top of any problems with Flint`s

Flint residents who came to that meeting and shouted complaints at state
officials. They held up jugs of brown water. One of the treatment experts
from the Snyder administration, told the people of Flint, told people in
that room that they should, quote, “hang in there”. Flint residents were
still being told at this time that it was fine for them to drink this

But what those Snyder administration officials did not say at that town
meeting was that two weeks earlier, the state government had started
shipping bottled water to the state office building in Flint. The Snyder
administration had started shipping coolers of purified water to the state
workers at the state office building in Flint so at least they wouldn`t
have to drink the tap water.

“The Detroit Free Press” first reported this day based on state government
e-mails released by the liberal group Progress Michigan. Quote, “DTMB,
which stands for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget,
that`s a state agency that oversees state office buildings, DTMB is in the
process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor position near
the water fountain so you can choice which water to drink. The coolers
will arrive today and will be provided as long as the public water does not
meet treatment requirements.”

January of last year, the Rick Snyder administration all last year was
telling the people of Flint that everything was fine, everything was under
control, there was no danger from their tap water, but the people who
actually worked for the Snyder administration at the state office building
in Flint, they were getting sent pure clean water to drink. Everybody else
in Flint hang in there. Amazing.

If you lived in Flint, would you trust the state government to fix the
problem there now, right, to tell you when it`s safe to give your child a
glass of water?

The folks I met in Flint at this town hall yesterday were incredibly warm,
incredibly open-hearted, but they were also very, very suspicious of
anybody telling them that things were OK, that they ought to relax. And
the more you learn about what they have been through over these past two
years when they`ve screaming bloody murder and they`ve been told everything
was fine when it was not, and in some cases being told that by people who
knew it was not fine, it is easy to see why they are so suspicious. It
doesn`t count as paranoia, it doesn`t count as conspiracy when you live
through what they have lived there.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.


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