The Rachel Maddow Show, transcript 2/3/2017
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW>
Date: February 3, 2017
Guest: Laurence Tribe, Colin Kahl
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: What`s going to happen this weekend? Two
weekends ago this was Washington, D.C., right? One of the biggest protests
in D.C. history combined with the other simultaneous protests and all 50
states that same day. It may have been the single largest day of protest
in American history.
So that was two weekends ago. Then last weekend it was this. And at least
the White House had notice there was going to be a protest the day after
the inauguration but when this happened the following weekend as well, you
could tell they were taken aback. That outpouring of dissent, rejection of
the administration and support for immigrants and refugees last weekend,
that was a response to the refugee and Muslim ban that the president signed
last Friday, a week ago tonight, led to protests last weekend.
We had this weekend of chaos and confusion and protest and recrimination
and the White House walking parts of it back and not others and lawyers
flooding into airports all across the country to help people who were
stranded. You know, after all that, the White House tried to say, geez,
this is no big deal, geez, you people just calm down.
This was the White House response after last weekend. Quote, “Only 109
people were detained and held for questioning.” Yeah, why such a fuss?
That was the official line from the White House. There wasn`t that many
people, why did everybody make such a big deal out of this? Go home
people. Calm down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, remember, we`re talking
about a universe of 109 people. There were 325,000 people that came into
this country over 24-hour period from another country, 109 of them were
stopped for additional screening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Uh-uh. That was Monday, that was bullpucky. On Tuesday, badgered
by recorders, the press secretary said, OK, the 109 number was referring
only to people initially detained but he gave no more numbers of who else
got stopped or stranded thereafter. That`s the only number they`ve ever
copped to, 109 people temporarily slowed down. We`ve all had delays in
life. That`s 109 people.
So, you can imagine the shock in a federal court in Virginia when a lawyer
from the Trump Justice Department cleared up that actually it`s more like a
thousand times that number. The admission by the administration lawyer
today reportedly leading to an audible gasp in the courtroom.
Apparently, in addition to what we were told the president ordered on
Friday night, he also told the State Department on Friday night they needed
to revoke existing visas from people what had visas, those are people who
are already cleared to enter the country.
We didn`t know this at the time but they revoked 100,000 visas, 100,000
people. That order was issued Friday night. They didn`t let anybody know
that order had been issued until days later. For some reason, like a
You could hear the shock in the voice of one of the lawyers who is
challenging the president on this as he emerged from that Virginia
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMON SANDOVAL-MOSHENBERG, LEGAL AND JUSTICE CENTER: Reading the executive
order was horrific enough. Coming to learn this, that the secret order had
been signed two days later was even more shocking to me and today coming to
learn that there were over 100,000 visas canceled. Really, it`s just
something that I don`t even have words to express.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, not a hundred people, a hundred thousand people.
As this Muslim ban, this refugee ban continued to stumble through the
courts, we learned today that there are parts of it we didn`t even know
existed when the court cases started. And we know that the White House has
been low-balling its affects by roughly a factor of a thousand – at least,
right? Makes you wonder what else there is to know about it and makes you
wonder what else will happen in the courts in response.
Well, tonight there`s been a major ruling in a federal court in Washington.
A federal court in Washington state has placed a temporary restraining
order nationwide on this new policy from the administration.
Joining us now is Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at
Professor Tribe, it`s great to have you with us tonight. Thank you so much
for being here.
LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Great
to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: We`ve been watching as this executive order has been pinging
through various parts. At any time the judge has a crack on it, the judge
puts a halt to it or says something needs to be stalled or needs to be
reviewed. What`s your take on the legal status of this policy that the
president tried to introduce last week?
TRIBE: My take is that it`s under a very dark constitutional cloud just
take a 30,000 foot view for a moment. This is clearly a Muslim ban. Not
all Muslims, only Muslims from seven countries but then targeted Muslims
with a preference for Christians, clearly a violation of the Establishment
It`s done in the dark. It`s done without hearings. It`s done in a way
that is a violation of due process. There`s even reason to believe that
the picking of these seven countries that the Obama administration had
originally targeted for what might be called extreme vetting are the very
countries that didn`t need anything more because we`ve had no terrorist
attacks from those countries given how effective the Obama program is and
yet they picked those seven, perhaps coincidentally, but it`s hard to
believe. All of the countries that were responsible for attacking us on
9/11 are countries that were not targeted for this ban.
So, in the end when constitutional rulings are finally rendered on the
merits, this policy has no chance of standing but we`ve also learned that
they are making law in an invisible way. I mean, it`s truly shocking that
they came into court, made it look like all was hunky-dory as you say,
nothing to worry about, nothing to see here, move on. In the meantime,
they had secretly without informing the courts, arguably in contempt, they
had secretly eradicated all these visas and many of them were visas of
students who were going to return to school around the country, among other
places, in Minnesota and in the state of Washington, which is why Minnesota
and Washington were the states whose attorneys general prevailed in the
ruling that came down just this evening.
And the Department of Justice said again to the states, what do you care?
You have nothing at stake. You don`t have standing. That`s the standard
argument but they had very clear stakes.
So, what we have is a global crisis. A lot of business leaders believing
that the rule of law in the long run helps them and that law made in
invisible ink and in the dark in ways that violate our constitution and in
ways that are not remotely transparent hurts them, it hurts everybody.
So, I think that this cloud is one that`s going to rain a storm pop this
administration and it deserves it.
MADDOW: Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard – you
were the first person I wanted to call to get a grasp on this today as
we`ve been watching this court cases. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
TRIBE: Thank you for calling me, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Thank you.
We`ve got much more ahead tonight. Please stay with us.
MADDOW: This is what appears to be a delicious food blog. I`m always
hungry in winter. Instagram makes it way too easy to look at delicious
pictures of food, even while I`m sitting at my desk eating animal crackers
But on this particular food blog, you can`t really afford to just look at
the photo, you have to look at the caption, because that`s the important
part. For example, on this Instagram post, this appears to be just a
delicious and beautifully plated seafood entree. This is posted a couple
But if you look at the caption it proves it is so much more. Here`s the
caption, “We are oh-fish-ally hungry. This chef has prepared a brain-
healthy disk that may help prevent mood disorders.”
Wait, what? Mood disorders are, like, bipolar disorder and depression.
This dinner is going to fix that. That is some very fancy fish.
But that really is what they mean. Look at their next post. This one,
again, looks delicious. Looks totally delicious.
But there`s more than meets the eye. You have to read the caption. “A
dish that will surely warm your insides on a cold winter night. But it
also acts as antidepressants.”
What? This is not a normal food blog. This is the Instagram feed of
Neurocore centers. Neurocore was founded in Michigan years ago by a guy
with a masters degree in theology. He initially called the program Hope
139 which was named after Psalm 139 in the bible, and they marketed
themselves mostly to religious schools, mostly in Michigan, as a biblically
inspired way to cure problem behaviors in school kids.
The company has evolved over the years. They now operate what they call
brain performance centers. They`re still mostly in Michigan, but they`ve
also got a couple in Florida.
“The New York Times” profiled the program recently, including revelations
from former staff members at the program who confess that mostly what they
did in Neurocore sessions was show people movies and then interrupt them in
the middle of the movie. That was pretty much the therapeutic program.
Now, as with anything like this, there are definitely people who swear by
it. Honestly, I think my hair started to go gray the day Patriots traded
Vince Wilfork. I mean, we all have ideas about what affects our health and
But there is – even though there are definitely people who swear by it,
there is controversy around this Neurocore group because of their
unimaginable claims to effectiveness. They claim to be just unimaginably
effective at curing important things like attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder, ADHD, which lots of kids have, lots of adults have it, too.
Neurocore centers claim to have a 90 percent improvement rate when they do
their thing on kids with ADHD.
They actually claim a 76 percent – basically a cure rate of 76 percent.
They say 76 percent of kids with ADHD go into a non-clinical status after
going through the magic of Neurocore.
And, you know, this is a serious thing. If your kid`s got ADHD that might
sound like a miracle cure. A 76 percent cure rate, 90 percent improvement
rate. That sounds amazing and maybe if you`re desperate or if you tried
other things that haven`t worked or you feel like you`re up against the
wall maybe you won`t notice that Neurocore has never published anything
that backs up its miraculous claims in any peer reviewed medical journal
But you know what? They make up for that with great advertising. They`re
really well funded, they are really, really, really good at marketing
themselves, they`ve got multimillion dollar backers.
And if you think you might want to give this thing a try for your kid –
all you`ve got to do is fork over $2,000 and they will, you know, interrupt
your kid while he`s watching movies and who knows, maybe it will work. See
what happens. Or try the sea bass, may that will do it. We are oh-fish-
ally hungry. This will cure your mood disorders.
I`m officially weirded out by the fact that this malarkey, which has been
aggressively marketed to schools, this thing on which lots of parents have
spent thousands of dollars, this is one of the major investments our new
education secretary is planning on keeping if she gets confirmed to the
cabinet to run education policy for this country.
And this is not a vestigial thing. This is not like some sideline thing
she forgot to address in her confirmation process. Betsy DeVos is a
billionaire. She was born into a billionaire family. She then married
into another billionaire family.
During the confirmation process she has promised to divest from a whole
bunch of things that would pose a conflict of interest if she gets put in
charge of U.S. education policy but even with that divestment plan, even
though she`s giving up other stuff, she`s explicitly planning on holding on
to her multimillion dollar investment stake in Neurocore, which promises to
cure your kid`s moods problems and depression problems and mood disorders
and all the rest of it. They`ll cure it with berries and movies and your
I mean, attention issues and behavior issues, treatment issues, therapeutic
issues, mental health issues in kids, really big deal in terms of education
policy. How can she possibly be involved in any policy around that issue
as education secretary if she`s also got $5 million to $25 million invested
in the “we`ll cure you with fish” place?
But this kind of stuff, these continuing revelations about Betsy DeVos and
what she has been involved in on the fringes of education policy, that
continues to drive what`s turned into a nationwide uproar over her
And last night – it`s interesting, last night, we got news that really
didn`t seem to make sense about how Republicans were going to try to get
her confirmed. You have probably heard by now her nomination is the most
endangered of all the Trump cabinet nominations thus far. She`s really on
the bubble. All Senate Democrats and two Senate Republicans have said they
will vote against her. That`s 48 Democrats and two Republicans. That puts
the vote on her nomination at 50-50.
Now, that has two practical consequences. One is that the Republicans
can`t confirm Alabama Jeff Sessions to be attorney general until this Betsy
DeVos thing is settled because they can`t afford to lose a Republican
senator. They need him to still be a Republican senator so he can cast a
vote for her or she will not be confirmed.
I mean, up until a few days ago, the White House was complaining about how
slow the confirmation process was going for Jeff Sessions. Notice how
they`re not claiming that anymore? It`s because they need to slow down the
confirmation of Jeff Sessions because they need them to stay a senator so
he can save Betsy DeVos.
And even if they can plain that three card Monty game with the Jeff
Sessions confirmation they`re also going to need Mike Pence. They`re also
going to need the vice president to go down the Senate in his role as
president of the Senate, they`re going to need him to break the tie in
favor of her nomination. I mean, it`s 50-50. Vice President Mike Pence
will have to cast the 51st vote in order to have her confirmed. If that
happens, that will be the first time a vice president has ever had to cast
a tie-breaking vote to confirm a member of the president`s cabinet, ever.
So, this is really fragile. This is barely going to happen if it does
happen. If anything goes wrong, it won`t work. And so, in a circumstance
like that, right, you`ve got to move fast. You don`t time to let anything
else happen, anything jostle loose. They have to get this through while
there`s this thin possibility they can get this through.
And that is why we haven`t been able to understand why the Republicans were
not voting on the Betsy DeVos nomination as soon as they can. By the
Senate calendar and the Senate rules, the first time they could take a vote
to get her confirmed would be tomorrow. Tomorrow morning in the United
States Senate and I know is it`s a Saturday, but honestly, last chance for
your billionaire Neurocore investor to get in and she might not get in.
Better act fast.
It`s weird, though, even though they could vote on her tomorrow and they
ought to be voting on her as soon as they can, they`re not doing that. So
interesting. It`s been a puzzle to us as to why that is. They really
can`t afford to let this fall apart any more than it already has. Why
aren`t they voting tomorrow?
Now we know, and the answer is – ka-ching. Republican senators are all
going to Palm Beach, Florida, today, where Mar-a-Lago is. They`re going to
be there today and tomorrow for a big fund-raising event with major donors.
So, yes, they want to get Betsy DeVos confirmed, yes, it`s very fragile,
yes, the soonest they could do it is tomorrow and they probably should do
it tomorrow, but you know what? There are donors to meet, there`s money to
be made and priorities are priorities.
Senior Republican staffers told “The Hill” today there will be a
“attendance issue” that will prevent the DeVos vote on Saturday. The
attendance issue is they`ll be attending a campaign donor soiree in South
Florida in Donald Trump`s neighborhood with rich people.
But the Republicans – in craven opportunism lies other people`s
opportunity. The Republicans prioritizing meeting with donors and taking
that cash instead of voting on Betsy DeVos tomorrow, it does create this
opportunity for people all over the country who have been trying to push
this fragile nomination so hard that it falls apart.
And listen, anti-Trump folks have not psyched about anything this new
president and his new administration has done, but it`s clear the Betsy
DeVos nomination is special. It has a special place in people`s hearts.
It has fired a lot of people up. It has been motivating, to the point
where in complaining about the Betsy DeVos nomination, folks have basically
broken the phone system in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Senate office phone lines have been
shut down over the past week with so many callers weighing in against Betsy
DeVos. Every office is receiving tens of thousands of letters asking the
Senate to reject her. Almost 40,000 have come in to my office alone.
SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: There are 1 million people who live in
Montana. Over 3,000 people have contacted me opposing her, I`ve had 20
contacting me supporting her. The phones are ringing – in fact, the
phones are ringing to the tone of 12 to 15 calls a day. The phone system
has shut down. There are some senators who aren`t even answering their
phones because they don`t want to hear it.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: I`ve never seen folks in
Connecticut respond to a nominee like they did after that hearing. Since
the hearing, I`ve had 11,000 people from my tiny little state call or write
me to oppose her nomination. Almost no one has called to support the
nomination. That`s extraordinary.
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I know that my phone lines I assume
all of our phone lines have been bombarded by calls. Senator Burr, have
you got a call or two yet? Only Senator Burr can`t remember those calls.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: This is a strategy. Let`s face it.
That`s why Senator Scott got all the calls he did. That`s why I got all
the calls. That`s why my wife gets calls. My son gets calls on cell
phones, to deliver a message to me.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: On cell phones. Whether or not this is a strategy, Senator Burr,
it is a strategy that is working to inundate senators with the nationwide
opposition to Betsy DeVos.
Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii sent out this as – I think it was meant to
be an encouraging message. Quote, “The last three days have been the
busiest in capitol switchboard history by almost double. This is working,
keep it up.”
Local news stations across the country are running stories about the busy
signals at their senator`s offices and how constituents are getting
desperate to reach their senators. We titled this segment – where it?
There it is. Ham/pineapple democracy, because we call everything
We call this ham/pineapple/democracy because of one Utah woman who is a
constituent of Senator Orrin Hatch. She got tired of not being able to get
through to her senator, Orrin Hatch. Nobody can get through to their
senators. Always a busy signal, everyday all day all night long.
This one Utah woman rather than keep pounding her head against the wall she
came up with what I think is a delicious and excellent alternative
approach. She tried sending Orrin Hatch and his staff a delicious Hawaiian
pizza. And, crucially, she ordered that pizza from a delivery site where
you could attach a note to arrive with your order.
You can see it here. This is the special instructions which may result in
additional charges for the delivery. Quote, “From a Salt Lake constituent,
police deliver to Orrin Hatch`s office number 8402. From a Salt Lake
constituent.” She gives her zip code, 84105.
“Please vote know on Betsy DeVos. She is an inappropriate choice to lead
our public schools.” Please attach that to the pizza and deliver this
pizza to Orrin Hatch`s office. Yes, that cost $12.99 for a small ham and
pineapple pizza plus the delivery fee so not everybody will be able to do
that, it costs money. But appreciate the effort here.
Unfortunately for that creative Salt Lake City constituent, the security
guard at Orrin Hatch`s Salt Lake City office did not accept the
gift/message/play for his attention/pizza. The senator`s security guard
called it, quote, “a suspicious pizza. I have gotten a call about a
suspicious pizza” and the suspicious pizza was not allowed into the office
And I think it wouldn`t get much better than that, but it gets better. One
of the specific concerns about Betsy DeVos, of course, is not just that
she`s a multibillionaire who`s never had anything do with public schools in
her life, but it`s also that she`s a committed life long conservative
activist and a multimillion dollar Republican Party donor. Now, in most
administrations, being a multimillion dollar donor to your party, that kind
of thing gets you an ambassadorship and that`s embarrassing enough.
In this administration, they`re trying to give her the keys to every school
in the country. But as people opposed to Betsy DeVos have been scouring
the roster of Republican senators looking for just one more vote to peel
off, all they need is one more vote to end her nomination.
One of the things they`re running up against is that Betsy DeVos has given
thousands and in most cases tens of thousands of dollars to a very large
proportion of the Republican senators who are about to vote on her
nomination and how do you compete with that?
Well, literally, you could try competing with that. And that is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: So, it happened first in Pennsylvania where Senator Pat Toomey has
been absolutely inundated by, among other things, anti-Betsy DeVos
constituent messages. Local news stations in Pennsylvania have been
running stories about now no constituents can get through to Pat Toomey`s
Washington office. They can`t get through to any one of his constituent
offices anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania, either. Literally, this
local station interviewed constituents who haven`t been activists before
but they want to convey to Senator Toomey, “Please don`t vote for Betsy
DeVos and they have no way to do it.”
Pittsburgh “Post-Gazette” reports on a retro turn in efforts by Senator
Toomey`s constituents to meet with him. He won`t meet with them in person,
that`s why these Tuesdays with Toomey protesters have been complaining
outside his office every Tuesday for the last few Tuesdays now. Also,
every single one of his office is completely jammed in terms of phone
According to the Pittsburgh “Post-Gazette” that has led people to faxing
Pat Toomey. Did you know you can still fax people? Quote, “If the number
of messages sent through freefaxes.com is any gauge, Senator Toomey`s
office is busier than most according to that one online faxing service,
nearly 1,400 faxes were sent to Pat Toomey`s office in one 24-hour period
between noon Monday and noon Tuesday.”
On top of all that, check this out, this is what I wanted to show you.
This is a Go Fund Me page, sort of a real last-ditch effort to reach
Senator Pat Toomey through the only medium his constituents have not been
able to monopolize so far. They`re using money. They`re literally trying
to buy his vote.
Quote, “Betsy DeVos has donated more than $55,000 to the campaign of U.S.
Senator Pat Toomey. Incidentally, despite all evidence to the contrary,
Senator Toomey thinks Betsy DeVos would be a great choice to lead the
department of education. If Betsy DeVos can buy Senator Toomey`s vote,
then we should be allowed to do the same.”
In one day, more than 2,000 people offered to donate money to Pat Toomey to
try to compete with what Betsy DeVos has donated to him over time. They
set their goal for the fund-raising as the amount of money that Betsy DeVos
and her family spent on them so they could be heard just as loud.
If they reach their goal fast, who knows? Maybe they can get a last minute
invite to Palm Beach for the Republican donor summit. You imagine senators
being lined up by their staffers to meet their $50,000 donors, right,
hello, rich person, hello, rich person, hello lobbyist person, hello
cabinet secretary nominee, hello 2,000 of my own constituents.
How did you guys get in here?
After that Go Fund Me page was posted to buy Pat Toomey`s vote, a very
similar version of the same idea went up in Arkansas. You can see it here,
“Buy Senator Tom Cotton`s vote. So far, Betsy DeVos and her allies have
contributed $8,300 to Tom Cotton. I propose we try to raise $8,301 to
People who started that in Arkansas, the buy Tom Cotton`s vote Go Fund Me,
they tell us they honestly had no idea it was already happening in
Pennsylvania to buy Pat Toomey`s vote. They didn`t know when they set up
theirs but once they realized they had the same idea and somebody else was
doing this for a different Republican senator, they posted this teasing
update saying Pennsylvania folks are pitching in to help buy their
senator`s vote but ours is much cheaper.
MADDOW: In both of these cases, they say, they are not actually trying to
bribe their senator. They will donate the money that they raise if they
hit their target to worthy charities in their senator`s home states but
still, point made.
So, it will be interesting to see what happens here because, you know,
Republicans prioritize their meeting with major donors tonight and tomorrow
in South Florida. They gave up the chance to nail down the Betsy DeVos
nomination tomorrow morning. They`ve got no margin for error. They have
the thinnest possible pathway to nomination. You`d think they want to act
fast. They gave that up to meet with donors and what they`re facing is
this incredibly creative fast-evolving joyful mega source of pressure on
senators all across the country and what this pressure is trying to just
peel off one more vote.
Because they are meeting with donors instead of voting, people opposed to
Betsy DeVos get two and a half more dies to burn up phone lines and sent
pizzas and get their home state senators terrible press about how afraid
those senators are of their own constituents and how much money they took
from people they are voting for despite the express wishes of their
constituents in overwhelming numbers.
So, this is political science. We`re living a political science experiment
right now. It`s happening right now, it`s going to happen all this
In addition to all the Republican senators going to Palm Beach, Florida,
this weekend to go meet with their donors instead of voting on Betsy DeVos,
the president is also going to be in Palm Beach, Florida, this weekend,
he`s taking a weekend off. Whew, it`s been a tough two weeks, time for a
It`s expected that there will be protesters opposed to the new president
and opposed to his cabinet nominees and opposed to his refugee ban and
other executive orders. It`s expected there will be protests this weekend
in South Florida around the president`s visit. The fact that all the
Republican senators are there as well will make it a particularly rich
target for protest this is weekend and I`m sure authorities in South
Florida are expecting that.
It`s also probably safe to assume there will be protests this weekend at
the Super Bowl in Houston. Frankly, it`s probably safe to assume there
will be protests the day after the Super Bowl when the Senate reconvened in
Washington and they try to get that Betsy DeVos vote in and the other
remaining cabinet nominees. I mean, we are in a new era where two brand
new things are upon us as Americans. One, we have a new president and all
that entails, but, too an immediate instantaneous reaction to that first
one, we also have a huge new movement of people mobilized against that new
president and what he is trying to do.
Bloomberg News and the “L.A. Times” today both report on 10 states across
the country where Republican legislators have introduced legislation to
crack down on the right to protest in those states. It will be interesting
to watch what becomes of that, but clearly Republicans in those states are
“The Washington Post” today reports on an embarrassing incident this week
involving a planned visit by the president to Harley-Davidson plant in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “The Post” reports air travel had been booked, hotel
rooms were booked on the ground for security presence and other people who
would be traveling to Milwaukee in advance of and in support of this
presidential visit to Wisconsin.
Once word leaked, though, to Harley-Davidson factory workers and people in
Milwaukee that the president was going to visit on Thursday, Harley-
Davidson started getting, you guessed it, inundated with calls from people
who were hundred happy they were planning on hosting the president. And
protesters in Milwaukee made plans to protest that visit by the president.
And if there`s one thing Americans have shown in the last two weeks it`s
that we as a culture have not forgotten how to protest, even on short
notice, even in places where you wouldn`t expect to turn out a lot of
people. A lot of people can turn out if they have reason to.
And so, the White House tried to make it seem like they never planned that
trip to Wisconsin this week. There was no intention to have the president
That has been exposed as a lie. They were definitely planning on having
the president go there and as far as we can tell, the White House just
chickened out because as much as this president likes to deride people in
the streets in record numbers protesting against his every move, you can
call them professional anarchists like he did on Twitter today, whatever
that is. You can call them paid protesters, whatever. You can call them
anything you want. When it`s a million people in the street against you,
it doesn`t matter what you call them anymore.
So, it`s going to be an interesting weekend. I am officially excited to
see what happens. Also, I`m in a great mood ever since I had that sea bass
And we`ve got lots ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In April, 2011, then Secretary of Defense Bob Gates made a
surprise visit to Iraq. American troops were set to leave Iraq at the end
of that year. This was an important planning meeting around that
transition. He met with the deputy prime minister of Iraq. He met with
the prime minister of Iraq.
And in both of those meetings, both of those pictures, you may notice
someone he brought with him to the meeting. We will point this out. See
the red arrow? See that guy.
That`s the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East at the
time. His name is Colin Kahl. In 2014, three years later, Colin Kahl
became Vice President Joe Biden`s national security advisor. There he is
to the right of the vice president.
Now, because there`s a new vice president, Colin Kahl has moved on from his
time in the White House but now, from outside of government, he`s one of
the people who is loudly pushing back on what the Trump administration is
saying about their first military action. The disastrous raid in Yemen
that killed a U.S. Navy SEAL, that wounded three others and that the
Pentagon says killed multiple civilians including children.
That operation incidentally resulted in a $70 million Osprey aircraft being
abandoned on the ground in Yemen and later blown up.
With everything going so wrong about that operation, questions are being
raised about the process of how this thing was approved and why it was
approved. So far, the Trump administration is blaming President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On January 6th, there was an
interagency deputies meeting, the deputies recommended at that time that
they go ahead. It was so easily approved it was sent straight up. The
conclusion was at that time to hold for what they called a moonless night
which, by calendar, wouldn`t occur until then President-elect Trump was
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: January 6th an interagency deputies meeting, the deputies
recommended at that time they go ahead. It was so easily approved.
You know, one of the people who was in on that January 6th meeting was
Colin Kahl. He says he was there. He says that particular raid was never
discussed in that meeting. He says the Trump administration`s claim that
the Obama administration cleared the Yemen raid that`s just gone so
disastrously wrong, he says that is false.
He says the decision was deferred to Trump, quote, “so he could run a
deliberate process.” Instead, he hosted a dinner. That refers to news
that President Trump made the call to green light this Yemen operation over
dinner with, among other people, his 35-year-old son-in-law who is a former
real estate executive who none of us knew was even cleared to discuss the
existence of JSOC, let alone green light operations like this.
Today, the military also distributed explosives training videos they said
had been collected as part of this Yemen raid, basically to brag about the
dangerous and valuable information they collected on this raid. After
questions from some baffled reporters, CentCom later admitted those videos
were actually over a decade old and they had nothing to do with this raid
at all and they retracted the announcement.
Simple mistake, maybe. But one of a string of disturbing turns in this
strange, apparently botched and indisputably fatal first military action by
this new president. And Colin Kahl joins us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: On January 6th, there was an interagency deputies meeting, the
deputies recommended at that time that they go ahead. It was so easily
approved it was sent straight up. The conclusion was at that time to hold
for what they called a moonless night which, by calendar, wouldn`t occur
until then President-elect Trump was President Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is what the Trump administration is describing as the process
that led to this disastrous ground raid in Yemen that led to the death of a
U.S. navy seal, the injuries to three others and the killing of multiple
civilians, including children. When he talks about that meeting on January
6th, he`s talking about real people who are still around and can answer for
them themselves and one of the people who says he was in that January 6th
meeting says the administration is characterizing in the a way that is
Joining us now is Colin Kahl. He`s a professor of Georgetown, a former
deputy assistant to President Obama and he was national security advisor to
Vice President Biden.
Professor Kahl, thanks for joining us. I really appreciate your time
COLIN KAHL, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO VP BIDEN: Great to be with
MADDOW: I recognize and appreciate a lot around this discussion is
sensitive and/or classified and you can`t give us all the details. But
within those parameters, can you tell us what`s different about your
understanding of the green-lighting of this operation? What`s different
about your understand of that compared to the way the White House is
KAHL: Yes, I think it would help for your viewers to understand that the
United States has been engaged in counterterrorism against this group,
AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is a deadly al Qaeda
affiliate for years. We`ve mostly been doing that through drones and air
strikes. We`ve had a very a very small number of special operations forces
at times on the ground in an advisory role not at all in a combat role.
And so, you know, some time before Christmas the Pentagon came to the White
House and basically asked for expanded authorities to allow other special
operations forces to take more direct action that is to do raids against al
Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula in support of our coalition partners engage
in that fight. So, we had a discussion about the deputies level can which
is the subcabinet level which make recommendations up the president. We
had that discussion on January 6th as Sean Spicer noted.
The Pentagon basically outlined their request for a general set of
authorities that would allow them to do this and also to put some
additional forces into the field. But they did not brief a single specific
raid. They did not brief a target, a compound or what we call a con op, a
concept of operations. And the deputies made no decision.
Basically, since we were so close to the end of the Obama administration,
the recommendations by the deputies was to simply provide the information
to the Trump team so that they could run a deliberate process. And that
recommendation went forward to President Trump who agreed that he wasn`t
going to jam Trump in the last week of his presidency, with a major
escalation in Yemen, that this is something the new president had to own
and run a process for.
MADDOW: When you say the recommendation was to provide information to the
incoming administration so they could run a deliberate process, is that a
term of art? What do you mean by deliberate process?
KAHL: Yes. So, we ran a very careful process where basically in a
Situation Room, senior officials from all different departments and
agencies, the Department of State, Department of Defense; the CIA, the
director of national intelligence, USAID, United States representative at
the U.N., we all sat around and discussed pressing issues of national
security. When our militaries involved in combat operations, or
counterterrorism operations, if they request an expansion of authority so
that they can do more, put more boots on the ground, take a more active
role in a combat situation, that`s precisely what we debate around the
The deputies then make a set of recommendations basically to the cabinet
who then make a set of recommendations to the president who oftentimes
convenes a national security council meeting to discuss it. That`s how we
ran the process. That`s now how Trump ran this process.
MADDOW: In terms of how President Trump did run this process, we don`t
know very much about it. We`re told in terms of the timeline that his
national security advisor briefed him on the plans for the operation one
day, the next day at dinner, with his senior strategist Steve Bannon and
with his son-in-law Jared Kushner and with secretary of defense and some of
other principal level personnel, he made a decision around the dinner table
that it would happen, and then it was launched immediately.
Is that – does that seem like a remarkably informal, small, quick process?
Is that totally out of keeping with the kinds of processes that you`re
seeing around potentially deadly raids like this in the past?
KAHL: Well, it is unusual, especially in the context where a raid like
this represents a significant escalation in the nature of our actions in
Yemen. So, it`s not just the raid itself. It`s that there`s a broader set
of authorities that are behind that that deserve deliberation. And what I
mean by that is, you need to have not just the Defense Department around
the table. You also need your intelligence professionals so that they can
vet the intelligence, to make sure that they agree with the risk assessment
the Pentagon is making. You also need the State Department at the table,
so they can go through the political implications, what happens if
civilians die, what are the implications for tribal relations in Yemen, or
the diplomatic relations.
You need the communicators in our room, so that you know that you`re on
message, and you can coordinate with your allies. You also need your
legislators in the room so you can notify Congress.
This is a deliberate process that you owe the president a holistic
assessment. And the problem is, even if you`ve got a bunch smart capable
people around a table at dinner, like Secretary Mattis who I think the
world of and Joe Dunford, our chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who`s an
amazing man, you need a fuller picture than those two gentlemen can provide
for the president to make a decision of this gravity.
MADDOW: Colin Kahl, a professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign
Service, former deputy assistant to President Obama, national security
adviser to Vice President Biden, and somebody who has provided us a window
into this process, that bothers me about the way the White House is
characterizing it, if it`s that at odds with the reality that you live.
Thanks for helping us understand this, sir. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Behold, today in Republican governance. This is not satire. In
South Dakota, Republicans in the state legislature took the unusual step of
declaring a state of emergency, so they could repeal an ethics law that was
passed by South Dakota voters this November. The ethics law restricted
gifts from lobbyists, establish an ethics commission, kind of the standard
But it`s stuff that South Dakota maybe needs right now. The state has had
a few ethics scandals, recently, including a legislator resigning last
month because he got sex – well, actually, he caught having sex with
interns. We`re talking more than one intern.
After that scandal came to light, Republican legislators distinguished
themselves in South Dakota by blocking legislation that literally said,
legislators should not have sex with interns, they blocked that. And now,
they`d just gone whole hog. They just repealed the whole entire new ethics
law that again was just passed by a majority of South Dakota voters.
Republican legislators came back in an emergency session to kill the ethics
rules and the Republican governor signed off on it last night. Also in
Republican governance today, on the day that the CEO of Exxon, started work
as America`s new secretary of state, Republicans in the House of
Representatives decided that would be the day that the largest oil
companies in the world should get a little something extra from the U.S.
government. They needed another hug.
So, now, the Republicans on a 98 percent party line vote, voted to make
sure that oil companies don`t have to disclose their payments that they
make to foreign governments.
Republicans in the House took overt action to make sure oil companies don`t
have to publicly disclose when they pay foreign governments because America
was clamoring for oil companies to be free of that. And just one last one,
because I feel like it`s worth sticking a flag in these things when they
happen, because someday nobody will believe this.
Here`s my favorite, today in less than governance, ready? President Obama
put in place a rule to help keep guns out of the hands of people with
severe mental health problems, yesterday Republicans in the House of
Representatives have voted overwhelmingly to get rid of that rule.
Because if there`s one thing that everybody campaigned on in November, is
that the seriously mentally ill need easier access to firearms. Seriously,
House Republicans last night voted to green-light gun ownership for people
who are classified as seriously mentally disabled by the Social Security
This is not hyperbole. This is not spin. This actually happened. It was
largely party line vote, 97 percent of House Republicans said it was a good
idea to let people who are so mentally impaired that they tell the Social
Security Administration they cannot handle their own affairs, including
like cashing their own checks.
It should be easier for those people who are too mentally impaired to cash
a check to get guns. It`s up to the Senate now. They will decide in an
up-or-down vote whether they too want to act to make it overtly easier for
the severely mentally ill to get their hands on firearms. There are 52
Republicans in the Senate, what do you think will happen. How do you think
That`s today in Republican governance, because just someday we will have to
prove that stuff like this actually happened, sometimes it happened all at
That does it for us to tonight. We will see you again on Monday. Have an
excellent weekend. Go Pats!
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
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