The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/20/2016
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: December 20, 2016
Guest: Bryn Mickle, Rukmini Callimachi
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour. Welcome to the longest night of the year. You`re right. The nights
have been getting longer and longer and longer recently.
That is about to change. Tomorrow, the nights will finally stop getting
longer and the days will finally start to catch up. Things will literally
get brighter starting tomorrow. But in the meantime, there`s tonight, I`m
And in totally unrelated news, this is Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and
wine making and some other things I don`t feel like talking about on
television because my mom`s watching. In Greek mythology, one of the less
lurid, less scandalous things that ever happened around Dionysus, god of
wine, was that one day, he came home after a trip abroad with some of his
friends. One of the friends he`d been traveling with was his very, very
good friend, sometimes described as his mentor, sometimes described as his
father figure, sometime just described as his right-hand guy or his best
friend. But his name was Silenus.
Silenus was a satyr, half man, half goat. And because Silenus the satyr
had been out traveling with Dionysus, the god of wine, naturally by the
time Silenus came home, he was hammered, falling down drunk. And, in fact,
Silenus passed out. He passed out on the king`s lawn or in the king`s rose
garden or in the king`s vineyard, again, depending on which version of the
myth you are reading.
But, regardless, Silenus the satyr, he passed out. And the king`s minion,
the king`s staffers, found him. They found this half man/half goat lying
drunk, insensate, on the king`s property somewhere, they were very alarmed.
So, they tied him up, tied his little goat feet together and they brought
him to the king and the king recognized him.
The king did not think this was just some average, run-of-the-mill half
man/half goat off the streets, who was rampaging through his property. The
king recognized him as Silenus, best friend, right-hand man, right-hand
goat man of Dionysus, the almighty god of wine. He recognized him.
As such, he got Silenus untied, he treated him kindly. And in return,
Dionysus, got of wine, he told the king, he told King Midas that he would
grant him whatever he wanted and King Midas came up with a genius idea. He
was already a king, but he wanted to be really rich. So, the wish that he
asked to be granted in return for his kindness to the half man/half goat
friend of the god of wine, what he asked for in return was that everything
he touched, he wanted everything he touched to turn to gold.
And at first, it seems like a genius idea, right? I mean, you can make
anything turn to gold. It also means you can`t touch anything without it
turning to gold. I mean, I`m sure it`s great to like turn an apple into a
solid gold apple, unless are you really hungry and you wanted to eat that
apple. How can you eat something without touching it?
In the myth of King Midas, there is also a very tragic story of him
embracing his daughter after he had been granted this new power, and he
loved his daughter. He loved her a lot more before he accidentally turned
her into a solid chunk of gold.
But that`s the myth of Midas. It`s often I think misrembered. It`s like
an awesome thing. Turn everything to gold. You want the Midas.
The Midas story is not a good story. It`s a cautionary tale. If you want
money, you may fantasize about being able to turn everything into money,
but in reality, turning everything into money is deadly. So, that`s Midas.
MIDAS is also the name of a computer that the state of Michigan brought
online in the fall of 2013. Michigan elected a new governor. He had been
a computer executive in his previous life. He campaigned under the slogan,
“one tough nerd.” OK?
And one of the things Michigan`s top nerd governor decided to do in 2013
was to bring on board MIDAS. MIDAS stands for the Michigan Integrated Data
Automation System. Michigan integrated automated system. Yes.
If that sounds like a nonsense title, it`s a totally nonsense tile. I
think they really just wanted to spell Midas.
What MIDAS did was it kicked all of the human beings out of one particular
government process. It kicked all the human beings out of the process of
evaluating people`s applications for unemployment.
So, if you get laid off at Michigan, you go down to the unemployment
office. You fill out an application, to start receiving unemployment
benefits. But instead of a human being processing your application, MIDAS
would do it.
And MIDAS had a way of turning the problem of unemployed people in
Michigan, it had a way of turning that into money, because once MIDAS was
put in charge of processing everybody`s application for unemployment, all
of a sudden, everybody who applied for unemployment started getting treated
like a criminal.
MIDAS, when it took in makes, it flagged 93 percent of them as fraudulent
applications. So, 93 percent of the time, people applying for unemployment
not only wouldn`t get their unemployment check, but they`d have their
applications kicked back to them flagged as a fraudulent application. The
system was all automated. It didn`t make it clear that people could appeal
this finding. People who did sort of fight the system and figure out that
they could appeal, nine times out of ten, their appeals would succeed
because these applications weren`t fraudulent.
But most people didn`t know they could appeal. And it`s an intimidating
system. They are being told that they made a fraudulent application and
they might go to jail. They are being threatened with fines. People got
threatened with fines up to $100,000.
And not only did most people not appeal and not get their unemployment, but
a lot of people were scared and just started paying the fines. People who
didn`t pay the fine, they`d get their taxes garnished. Their state taxes
and their federal taxes be garnished by this MIDAS system. You`d be
expecting a tax return? No, we took it. MIDAS says you were a fraud.
MIDAS was supposed to be handling their unemployment application, but
instead, it was doing this very different thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Anybody that`s lost a job knows what these folks were going
through, there is so much anxiety. What am I going to do for income? How
am I going to feed my family?
Now, imagine that you are in those straights and then the unemployment
insurance system that is supposed to support you in your time of need tells
you, you have been defrauding the state, starts garnishing your tax
refunds, your wages, and basically making your life miserable.
Carolyn Hayes was among the 27,000 Michigan unemployed accused of fraud
based on this automated system.
CAROLYN HAYES: It has put me through like just so much. They`ve taken all
of my income tax. I can`t file for unemployment.
REPORTER: When the computer system started, the number of fraud cases
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The workers from the beginning told management that
there were problems with the system.
REPORTER: Carolyn won her two appeals. In fact, a state auditor`s
generals shows of those who did appeal their cases, nine out of ten won.
That`s right, only 10 percent were found to be actually cheating the
HAYES: Me and my daughter are living together. We`re struggling.
REPORTER: Because they`re holding on to your money?
HAYES: Because they`re holding on to my money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: And this system held on to a lot of people`s money. I mean, you
wouldn`t think you could squeeze that much money out of mostly poor people
within they lost their jobs. But you know, it adds up, when you accuse 93
percent of them of committing fraud, and you start demanding that they pay
fines to avoid going to jail. People find a way to get you money when you
threaten them with that.
Before Michigan Governor Rick Snyder put this Midas thing in place, the pot
of money in state government that was made up of people paid in these kinds
of fines, before Midas was put in place, that pot of money was about $3
million. Then MIDAS was put in place three years ago, that $3 million pot
of money has now grown to $155 million. All money that was taken in from
people who have just been laid off and need help but instead they`re paying
these bullpucky fines for something they didn`t do.
But that`s MIDAS, right? It turns everything into money. Don`t hug your
Congressman Sander Levin, you saw him in that earlier news clip there, he
has been all over this. The state auditor in Michigan got involved in
this. There are at least two major lawsuits that have been filed in the
state of Michigan over this thing and all the attention to this Midas
disaster that Rick Snyder caused in Michigan, it has resulted in a limited
review thus far of what that computer system did to people.
Of the $155 million they took from people, they managed to pile up in this
pot of money, in state government using this insane scheme, out of the $155
million they took. So far, they paid back about $5 million to the people
from whom they basically stole it, because it`s Michigan, though.
And because Michigan Republicans, I believe, they continue to be among the
least appreciated and most radical Republicans in the whole country,
because it`s Michigan, yes, they passed a bill this past week to allow
themselves to take $10 million out of that pot of money, that that pot of
money MIDAS stole from all poor people, they`re going to – even while
these investigations are going on, they`re taking $10 million to balance
the state budget. My guess is they want to spend it pass before the
lawsuits go through and they`ll actually have to give it back to the poor
people they took it from. See, if it`s gone, you can`t get it back, right?
Michigan, the Midas touch. At the exact same time that Michigan`s tough
nerd was installing this genius computer system that systematically ripped
off and threatened people who are in the process of losing their jobs in
that state, at the exact same time, the fall of 2013, that same Michigan
government also appointed a new emergency manager, in one of Michigan`s
And the emergency manager doesn`t have a stupid acronym like Midas. But
it`s also basically a way of replacing the work of humans with a machine.
Emergency management is a democracy replacement machine. A few states
around the country have lighter, saner versions of this.
But in Michigan, they take their poor towns and cities, very often,
majority black, poor town and cities, and what the governor does with these
emergency managers is he abolishes democracy in those cities and towns. I
mean, people can go through the motions of pretending to elect their city
council or their mayor or their city manager or whatever, but those votes
don`t matter. Under the emergency management system, whoever people in
local communities elect, those elected officials aren`t allowed to have any
Instead, the governor just designates a city or town as broke enough to
need his benevolent help. He then abolishes their local, elected official,
takes all of their power away, and instead by his own vote of one, he just
picks one person who will then be in charge of that city. And that one
person answers only to him, only to the governor.
Town residents have no say. Local elected officials have no say. Local
elections have no function, and that`s sort of – I mean, forgive me,
that`s sort of dictatorial government, right, that sort of government by
fiat. That sort of government on the order of the governor alone, that`s
supposed to be magic in fixing the problems of these poor towns and poor
cities in Michigan.
But in the city of Flint, Michigan, this is how it works in most cities
that get targeted for this in the state, but in the city of Flint, you
know, the city was in financial distress when Rick Snyder`s emergency
manager got there. It was still in financial distress when he left there.
In fact, when he left there, he was just replaced by another emergency
manager who was also appointed by the state`s governor.
So, this is just what Michigan does. This is the magic. They override
democracy for the sake of efficiency. When that doesn`t work, they just
keep overriding democracy, anyway. That`s what we do.
By now, you know the story of what happened in Flint, Michigan. When its
local democracy was taken away, instead the city was run by fiat one orders
from the governor through one emergency manager, who he put in place, who
answered to nobody else except the governor. I mean, Flint for all of it
problems, they`ve previously gotten their drinking water from Lake Huron,
one of the greatest sources of clean, fresh drinking water on the face of
the earth, nearby Lake Huron.
In what appears to have been an effort to save money, Flint, under its
emergency manager, they made a decision or he made a decision that Flint,
instead, would get its water from the local Flint River and they made the
switch improperly. River water is more corrosive than lake water, even in
the best of circumstances. But they didn`t treat the water before they
pumped it into the city and the corrosive water basically destroyed the
pipes in the city`s water system, and that created a number of disgusting
consequences for the people of that city. None the least of which was a
legionnaire`s diseases outbreak, which is thought to have been caused by
the water switch, that outbreak killed at least 12 people.
And, of course, famously, there was the mass lead poisoning of the entire
city of Flint, including thousands of kids who will live for the rest of
their lives with the consequences of having been poisoned by lead, having
lead exposure in their drink water when they are kids. It is something you
don`t grow out of. It is something for which there is no magic anecdote.
Even before they knew about the lead poisoning, the people of the city of
Flint could tell instantly there was something wrong with the water. As
soon as it was switched, they besieged their local officials to the extent
they had local officials. They confronted the people who they thought
ought to be in charge of these things, immediately, as soon as the switch
was made. All right?
But that`s the beauty of being an emergency manager, right? Nobody answers
for you. You don`t have to answer to anybody in that town.
It`s not a democracy. You are appointed by one man, the governor. You
answer to one man, the governor. Let the peasants squawk about whatever it
is that`s bothering them. It doesn`t matter to you if you`re the emergency
manager. You can afford to be utterly impervious to their needs.
And so, it went on for a year-and-a-half, the people of that city being
poisoned every day before, finally, the activists and the angry moms and
the pediatricians and the outside researchers blew the lid off and Flint
went into a state of emergency. Before today, nine people have been
indicted on criminal charges in conjunction with the mass poisoning of the
people of Flint by the state of Michigan. That was before today, nine
Today, the first charges were filed by – against, the first charges were
filed against anybody who is even remotely up the food chain. That
emergency manager who Rick Snyder found for Flint, at the same he was
installing MIDAS in the unemployment office, that emergency manager today
was charged with four felony counts. As was the other emergency manager
who came after him, along with two of their appointees at the Department of
Public Works, the emergency managers are charged with felony false
pretences, false pretenses and conspiracy around those charges. The
combination of those charges can put them in jail for 40 years.
In addition, one of the emergency managers, the one on the right there, he
is charged with felony misconduct in office for making misleading
statements to the public the water in Flint was safe to drink. He is
accused of the Flint water plant to produce water for the city, even though
we knew the plant wasn`t ready for use. The other emergency manager is
charged with obstructing the health care investigation into the
Legionnaires` disease outbreak that killed 12 people.
Both of those emergency managers were not voted into office. They were not
elected officials. They were appointed by and were answerable to only one
person, Michigan`s governor. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was the only
person they answered to while they were committing these acts that now
could put them in jail for decades.
One of the other people charged today is named Howard Croft. He worked at
the Department of Public Works. He may end up having a very interesting
role to play on the witness stand in this case because of the trial.
Because he`s on record, he`s on tape telling the ACLU of Michigan last year
that the decisions about Flint`s water, those decisions weren`t just made
by those emergency managers operating independently and making up this
stuff on their own, he says he was the director of public work and he was
on the position to know and he says he knows that those decisions about
Flint`s water were made even higher up, way higher up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD CROFT, FLINT DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC UTILITIES: I think the valuation
has gone up all the way up to the state level, on what would the best
course of action would be for the city of Flint, and that was the
REPORTER: All the way to the governor`s office?
CROFT: All the way to the governor`s office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That man is now facing 40 years in prison for what happened to
Flint`s water. He says decision about Flint`s water came from the
governor`s office. Is the governor going to get criminally charged in this
case? We do not know.
In announcing these new charges today, there was no indication that the
investigation is done.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDY ARENA, CHIEF INVESTIGATOR: I think today, you see once again the
investigation has continued to go up and to go out. As the attorney
general said, this is – we are much closer to the end than the beginning,
but we`re not at the end. There is an investigation still continuing
There are some people out there right now who know that they done wrong and
they know we`re coming after them. They`re not going to have a very merry
Christmas. I don`t feel bad about that.
But we will continue to follow the evidence. We will continue to
investigate this. We owe it to the people of Michigan and we owe
particularly to the people of Flint.
BILL SCHUETTE (R), MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: We take them as we find them
t. Fact is this is a higher level of responsibility. These are governor-
appointed emergency managers that we are charging today with 20-year
felonies and it`s serious. And as Andy Arena said, it`s – we are going up
and we are going broader.
And again, I said this before, nobody is off the table. Nobody is off the
table. We are not out to nail anybody. Remind you, if you have done
something wrong, then you ought to be worried.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The people who answer directly and personally to the governor of
Michigan for what they did in the city of Flint, they have now been charged
with multiple felonies for what they did in the city of Flint. We do not
know if the governor is going to be charged. We do not know the answer to
But we are living in an era of crazy governance, right? I mean, what`s
going on right now at the presidential transition at the federal level,
it`s mind blowing on a day-to-day basis.
Even just what happened today with the president-elect`s sons, Chris Hayes
spoke about in the last hour. We`re going to get to that a little later on
this hour. Even just that today is impossible to believe.
At the state level, beyond Michigan, you know, we have all been watching
places like North Carolina. The outgoing Republican governor who just lost
the election, he just signed a bill that will attempt to make the incoming
governor keep a thousand people in state government who the Republican
governor gave jobs to. The new Democratic governor coming in will not be
allowed to fire a thousand people in state government who were hired as
political appointees by the previous guy who is a Republican.
What? I`m forcing to you keep a thousand of my appointees? Hmm, we`ll
I mean, we are in a moment where governance has gotten really radical and
really creative and craven. But even in that environment, still, I believe
Michigan is special.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHUETTE: It`s very evident during the course of this investigation has
been a fixation on finances and balance sheets. This fixation has cost
lives. This fixation came at the expense of protecting the health and
safety of Flint. It`s all about numbers over people, money over health.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Whatever this particular state government thought it was doing,
two and a half years into this American disaster, the Americans who live in
Flint still cannot drink their water. Thirteen people have now been
criminally charged. The state still has its unbelievable meteorologist
management law, and the two people who directly reported to the governor,
under that law, are each looking at 46 years in prison tonight for what
they did, the longest night of the year.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: I know it`s right before Christmas and everybody is supposedly
going on vacation. But there is lots going on in the news right now and
Today and into tonight, we got our drone back from the Chinese government.
We don`t know the condition that it`s in, but we did get it back.
Also, ISIS claimed responsible for two of the major terrorist attacks that
happened yesterday and Sunday. One of those claims is a surprise for a
specific reason. We`ll be talking about that later on this hour.
In terms of American politics, the transition just tried to pull off an
amazing, “oops, we didn`t really mean that”, involving two of the
president-elect`s adult children. That`s an incredible story.
And here on this show at this hour, we`ve got two really, really great
journalists. Both of them are going to be here tonight. Both of them were
on two very different beats. But the first one of those interviews is
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREN WEAVER (D), MAYOR OF FLINT, MI: Those were names we`ve been waiting
to hear because one of the things people have complained about was they
started at low and got low hanging fruit. But they said they were going to
continue. And those are some of the names people have been waiting to hear
because we know they played major roles in what happened here.
REPORTER: Do you think it`s going to go higher?
WEAVER: Yes, yes.
REPORTER: Is it going to go to the governor`s office?
WEAVER: Well, I think it`s going to go higher. I think they`re going to
do just what they said they`re going to do, they are going to continue to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is the mayor in Flint, Michigan, today, responding to the
multiple felony charges that were filed against two of the emergency
managers were put in charge of her city by Michigan`s Republican Governor
Rick Snyder. It was under their watch when the city`s water was poisoned.
One of the big looming questions in Michigan and in the country is whether
or not there may be criminal charges ahead for the governor, himself, those
two persons they reported to, while they committed these acts, for which
they have been charged with multiple felonies.
Joining us now is Bryn Mickle. He`s editor of the Flint Journal” and he`s
joined a few times here on the show to talk about this story.
Mr. Mickle, thanks for being with us tonight. It`s good to have you here.
BRYN MICKLE, THE FLINT JOURNAL EDITOR: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: So, obviously, I`m looking at this from the outside, and there is
a big looming political question as to whether or not this is going to
eventually go to the governor. Before we get to that, though, can you just
tell me about your reaction? What do you think about this additional four
people being charged today? This brings to 13 the number of people who
have been charged.
MICKLE: I mean, it`s amazing. I mean, the fact that we`re even here
talking about this that, you know, when the state puts dollars in front of
people and we see what happens – I mean, an entire city poisoned, I don`t
think anyone is taking glee in this. But I do think that this is
encouraging, that we are seeing this finally start moving up the chain and
start getting into the people that rally had the power in the state to make
MADDOW: When you look at the charging document, when you look at the
remarks made today by the attorney general and the other people involved in
this, explaining why they brought the charges they did against the people
who they are charging, do you get any sense of the kind of theory of the
case that they are pursuing and whether or not we should expect it to
ultimately knock on the door of statewide elected officials up to and
including the governor?
MICKLE: Well, again, I think today`s actions brings it right to the
governor`s door. Now, with what the attorney general has said as far as
pursuing this, you would hope to see this open that door and we can finally
get some answers. You know, just today, you had Elijah Cummings was
lamenting the fact the governor has responded the subpoenas. You know, in
the state of Michigan, the government is exempt from FOIA.
We need answers to these questions. And I hope the attorney general
continues this pursuit all the way up to the top, so that we can get the
answers the people of Flint deserve.
MADDOW: On the grounds in Flint, we have been following the progress in
terms of replacing lead service lines that go into people`s homes. We
follow the progress in Congress of the $170 million bill, which may have
relief for Flint in terms of trying to heal, trying to fix itself, trying
to get safe water to people now more than two years after this crisis
What`s the status of the door-to-door bottle of water delivery in the city
and what proportion of the city is able drink their water safely at this
MICKLE: Well, I don`t think any proportion of the city by any standard can
drink it safely, because you have to have a filler. And the idea that you
are putting the onus on the residents to make sure that that filter is
installed correctly is just incredible to me.
The state has fought efforts to deliver that water, that they just went to
court to try to get out of that responsibility. And yet you have these
charges today where the state is effectively being told that they were
putting money in front of people`s lives and yet they`re still fighting
tooth and nail to avoid doing even the most basic responsibility.
MADDOW: It is stunning just over this amount of time to know that people
still aren`t getting water delivered to them in Flint. Just that one basic
fact is almost impossible to absorb from outside city limits.
Bryn Mickle, the editor of “The Flint Journal”, really appreciate your
time. Stay in touch with us as this goes forward, Bryn. Thanks to be
MICKLE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. A lot more to get to. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Rukmini Callimachi is a correspondent for “The New York Times”.
She`s an expert on terrorism and specifically on ISIS.
Whenever there is a story that breaks on that beat, if you are a Twitter
user, you should look at Rukmini Callimachi`s Twitter feed. In our
newsroom here, Rukmini is famous for these bursts of information that she
publishes in real time as news stories are breaking related to her beat.
They`re basically step-by-step, real time, contextual guides for
understanding what we know about breaking news stories as they`re
And it`s one thing to be able do that if you are a business reporter or a
local politics reporter or a crime reporter, right? But she`s able to do
this real time, super accessible, understandable breakdown of breaking news
on her beat, where it`s almost impossible to do that, because her beat is
ISIS and al Qaeda. But Rukmini Callimachi honestly makes more sense out of
this area in the news and this quandary in the world. She makes more sense
out of it than any other reporter that I know.
And she`s here with us in studio next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is a place called Kerak Castle. They started building it in
the 1140s. It took them about 20 years to build it. And from the 1160s
until World War I, this castle was in continuous use.
Now, it`s a big tourist attraction. It`s in Jordan. It`s in the city of
al-Karak, which is about 90 miles south of the capital of Jordan. This
castle was also the site of a big complex terrorist attack that happened on
Sunday. Four gunmen attacked the police station in Karak and then they
fled into Kerak Castle, which is full of tourists.
And it turned into a firefight with police. Ten people ended up getting
killed, including the head of Jordan`s military Special Forces, six other
Jordanian security officers, two civilians and a Canadian tourist. Four
attackers were also killed in that shootout.
After the assault on the castle, it was interesting, authorities were
worried maybe they had stumbled on a plot that was bigger than the one
unfolded on Sunday. They found more explosives and more weapons and
suicide vests in a house nearby where attack started.
Today, ISIS claimed responsible for that attack on Sunday in Jordan. But
then a couple of hours after ISIS took responsible for the Sunday attack,
it all started up again. Jordanian security forces got into another big
shootout. This is footage from that. It was like a war.
Jordanian security forces, they raided a house in Karak, where they said
they thought that more gunmen were hiding people who were linked to the
attackers who launched the attack on Sunday that ISIS claims. The men in
this house that they attacked barricaded themselves. Ultimately, there was
a heavy exchange of fire between them and the Jordanian authorities.
Four Jordanian policemen got killed in this huge firefight today and
tonight. At least one of the gunmen was also killed. Local papers are
reporting today that the raid resulted in the arrests of two men.
OK. So, that`s Jordan. Sunday big attack, thought it was over, ISIS
claims responsibility and then it starts up again. Not such a big deal.
Then today, ISIS also claimed responsibility for the Christmas market
attack that happened in Berlin yesterday. That attack left 12 people dead,
48 people injured. This big black semi truck carrying a load of steel
plowed into a crowded Christmas market in West Berlin.
Here`s an interesting though. We reported last night that there had been
an arrest in this case. German authorities say that the guy who they
arrested they think was the wrong guy. ISIS today took responsible for
this attack on the Berlin Christmas market. But there is nobody in custody
in conjunction with that attack. Again, the guy they arrested, they let
Is it significant? Is it strange? Is it important that ISIS has claimed
responsibility for this attack in Berlin before we know who the attacker
is, before we know he is dead or in custody or escaped? How do we make
sense of that?
Joining us now is Rukmini Callimachi. She`s a reporter for “The New York
Times” who covers ISIS, and al Qaeda and terrorism more broadly.
Rukmini, thank you for being here.
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, THE NEW YORK TIMES: My pleasure.
MADDOW: So, ISIS did not immediately claim Berlin. Now, they have.
CALLIMACHI: Right. It`s taken them about 24 hours, which is starting to
be on the long end of ISIS. They usually take a couple of hours to 12 to
claim an attack. So, 24 hours, especially when the news cycle is so heavy
with news of this event seems like a really long time.
MADDOW: Why is it taking longer? Do we know why it`s taking longer?
CALLIMACHI: We don`t know for sure. But in general, ISIS tends to take
credit for attacks where the attacker has already been killed, right, or
has been identified in some way.
It`s somewhat unusual they`ve taken credit for an attack who we don`t know
who the attacker is. There is one example of this. Before it was a
Hamburg attack also in Germany earlier this year, where the attacker
remains at large. But in general, if the attacker has been taken alive and
is in custody, they don`t claim it. And if he`s at large as well, then
they also don`t claim it.
MADDOW: I mean, I guess in terms of understanding why they would do that
if the attacker is in custody, they don`t want to – I`m speculating here,
right? But they don`t want to claim it as ISIS, because then, presumably,
that gives law enforcement a thread to pull in terms of tracing any links
back to ISIS through that person they`ve got in custody.
CALLIMACHI: Again, we don`t know for sure. But that`s certainly one
And the Paris attack is a perfect example of that. So, you had – ISIS
took credit for that obviously in the most grandiose fashion. They
released even a video. They identified all of the attackers, including the
video clips of them, except for one, Saleh Abdeslam, who was the one and
only one who was not killed during the Paris attack who got away and who
end up getting caught, you know, weeks later and is still in custody, in
custody, my sources say he has said absolutely nothing.
So, he has maintained complete silence and with ISIS not claiming him as an
attacker, even though, of course, we know he is there, CCTV footage puts
him at the scene, it makes it a little bit muddier. You know, he can – if
ISIS claimed him in Dabiq, then it adds one more piece of information for
the police to go after him.
MADDOW: In terms of the multiple attacks that we have seen, this has been
a terrible few days. We have this attack in Yemen, which killed 50 people.
We had the attack in Jordan, which happened on Sunday and then appears to
have started back up with this fight. Today with security forces, we`ve
also had this attack in Berlin. We had the assassination in Ankara.
The assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara is something I think
people are immediately looking for an affiliation for that assassin. Do
you expect that that will be claimed? Is there a discussion about that
attack in ISIS channels now?
CALLIMACHI: I actually think that`s not ISIS, and the reason for that is
it`s the number one sources I am speaking to. But secondly, if you look at
the speech that the shooter made right after – right after he pulled the
trigger, he said he is doing this for Aleppo. He pledged allegiance to the
Prophet Muhammad. That`s not the language that ISIS uses.
ISIS recruits always pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader
of ISIS. Secondly, Aleppo, although it`s obviously extremely important in
the news and a symbol of Muslim suffering, that`s a place where al Qaeda
has a foothold, not so much ISIS.
MADDOW: As we head into the holiday season, one of the things that was
striking about the Berlin attack, is that it seems like this is maybe the
third in a series of attacks in Germany that were mostly thwarted attacks.
But yesterday, it happened, specifically happened on Christmas market.
MADDOW: A couple of other attacks that have apparently been targeting
Christmas markets were caught by authorities. Is that the sort of thing
where that`s just happenstance or those are targets of opportunity picked
by locally radicalized folks, or is that the same sort of thing that
indicated some sort of direction from above?
CALLIMACHI: When you see three back-to-back, you start to pose the
question, is there some planning? So, the first one was the Strasburg
cell, which was dismantled a couple of weeks ago. That was seven men in
the cities of Strasburg and Marseilles who are planning according to the
French prosecutor an imminent attack.
And that was ISIS central. Those people were getting weapons and training,
et cetera from – directly from ISIS.
MADDOW: And they were going to attack a major Christmas market in
CALLIMACHI: That`s the speculation. We don`t know for sure. But
Strasburg has a major Christmas market there that draws millions of people.
And so, that seemed like a logical conclusion.
In Germany, you have just a couple weeks ago in November a 12-year-old boy
was taken into custody and was arrested for having placed a bomb at a
Christmas market in his small town, and according to German media, he was
being coached by an ISIS handler through message at Telegram. And through
that messaging app, they taught him how to make this explosive. Pretty
incredibility. Again, a 12-year-old, again thwarted.
And now, have you what happened in Berlin this week.
So, three attacks on this particular kind of target. You start to wonder,
is there some larger plan?
MADDOW: Right. You don`t – you can`t connect the dots without a reason
to check them. But there`s no reasoning to be ignoring about the fact that
they are there.
MADDOW: Rukmini Callimachi, reporter for “The New York Times”, as always,
uncommonly clear on a very scary subject. Thanks, Rukmini.
CALLIMACHI: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. Quick programming note, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
is going to be here tomorrow night. He`s doing an exclusive interview with
us here in studio tomorrow, who is another person who is uncommonly clear
on this subject, which is kind of a remarkable thing given his job.
Jeh Johnson here tomorrow night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. Schrodinger`s cat. It`s a hypothetical cat used to explain
things. In the rarified world of quantum mechanics, Schrodinger`s cat is
somehow both alive and dead at the same time. It`s complicated. It`s
But that`s Schrodinger`s cat. There`s also the Schrodinger`s crossword
puzzle. In a Schrodinger crossword puzzle like the alive and dead cat,
alive and death at the same time, in the Schrodinger crossword puzzle,
there are two correct answers for the same clue in the puzzle. Whichever
answer you pick, it will fit in the puzzle just fine.
Schrodinger puzzles are very rare. “New York Times” has published only ten
of them ever, including the most recent one this summer. But the most
famous one they ever did was on Election Day in 1996.
People were heading out to vote for either Bill Clinton or Bob Dole. And
this was the clue for 39 Across on Election Day. Lead story in tomorrow`s
newspaper. Now, obviously the lead story in every paper was going to be
the results of the election. That wouldn`t be known for hours so how can
anybody possibly – ah, this is the genius thing.
Regardless of which name you filled in there, Clinton elected or Bob Dole
elected, they both worked. With either answer, you could successfully
finish the puzzle. It`s genius. A Schrodinger`s puzzle, having two
opposite answers and both of them are right.
Well, tonight that`s happening in politics because tonight, the
presidential transition team is trying to feed us two opposite sides of the
same argument at the same time. It would be genius if it worked for them,
it`s not genius and it`s not working but it is really funny. And that
story is straight ahead.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: On a Tuesday, the president-elect picked this hedge fund mortgage
mogul guy to run the United States Treasury. The hedge fund guy got
announced for treasury secretary on a Tuesday, that was November 29th. The
very next day, Wednesday, November 30th, that same hedge fund guy went on
TV and said what he thought should happen with a really big portion of the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: Would you move to change Fannie and Freddie at this point?
Would you move to have these privatized?
STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY NOMINEE: Absolutely, we`ve got to get
Fannie and Freddie out of government ownership. It makes no sense that
these are owned by the government and had been controlled by the government
for as long as they have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. So, Tuesday, that guy gets picked for treasury secretary.
Wednesday, he goes on TV and says the government should privatize Fannie
and Freddie. The government should release those two government-run
mortgage companies back into the wild.
And then look what happened after he said that. Boing. One of the big
jest jumps in stock prices those companies have seen since the crash, since
the government took them over in the crash of 2008. Look at that.
You know, when you`re the nominee to be treasury secretary, though, your
words can have an effect like that. It`s a remarkable thing. One person
says something, and the stock just takes off like a rocket.
You know, if you can imagine, right? If you`re president or president-
elect, you could make a lot of money if you sent your people out to make
pronouncements like that while you held investments that could benefit from
the impact of their words. You could make a ton of money. You see where
this is going?
Because we don`t have the president-elect`s tax returns but he did file a
financial disclosure while he was running for president. In that
disclosure, he said he had between $3 million and $15 million invested in a
hedge fund that has bet heavily on the expected privatization of Fannie and
Freddie, on the expected privatization of those two companies whose stocks
just took a giant leap.
And remarkably, now that we know he may be got a huge personal boost from
what his treasury nominee said about those companies, now that we know
that, the president-elect is not commenting on whether or not he still
holds that investment. “The New York Times” asked transition about it.
The spokesman just said in response, quote, “We`re not sharing any
additional information at this time.”
Maybe the president-elect sold all that stuff months ago. Or maybe he made
a ton of money when his treasury nominee said that. Maybe we are in a
situation where the president-elect`s appointee is making announcements,
proclamations that are massively boosting the president-elect`s personal
financial portfolio. We don`t know. We`re not allowed to know.
This isn`t theoretical. This isn`t a potential conflict of interest.
There is what is already happening.
MADDOW: Until last week, the daughter of the president-elect had been
auctioning off the opportunity to have coffee with her. Hmm. Just a
casual get together, a little face time with the daughter. Bidding was up
to nearly $60,000 before they called it off. Sometime between launching
that thing and people finding out about it, it apparently became
embarrassing to be literally selling access to an influential member of the
president`s family and his inner circle of advisors.
Maybe got embarrassing. Maybe. Maybe. Because also last week, six days
ago, somebody created a new non-profit in the state of Texas. It listed
the president-elect`s sons as members of the board for this new non-profit.
Then this invitation started circulating. “Opening day is your opportunity
to play a significant role as our family commemorates the inauguration of
our father and friend, President Donald J. Trump.” It`s advertising a
hunting and fishing Trump extravaganza, starting the day after the
For a million bucks you can get did the bald eagle package. That one comes
with access to a VIP lounge and private reception and a photo-op with the
president of the United States for you and 15 of your friends on the day
after the new president is inaugurated. Or there`s the elite hunter`s
package, a four-day hunting and/or fishing trip with at least one or maybe
both of the adult presidential sons. Access to the president or his sons
for a million bucks.
Today, after that news starred making the rounds, the Trump transition
released a statement saying these prizes listed on there invitation were
just, quote, “initial concepts.” They also said the Trump brothers are,
quote, “not involved in any capacity.”
But this is the registration for the non-profit. Donald Trump Jr., Eric
Trump, they`re there registered. How is that not involved in any capacity?
The transition says that was a mistake. They`re going to try to get the
Trump sons` names taken off the application that was already filed in Texas
just last week.
Raise your hand if you think this stuff is going to stop once Trump is
inaugurated. Anybody think this is going to stop? Anybody?
That does it for us. 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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