The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 4/18/17
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: April 18, 2017
Guest: John Archibald
CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You`re not going to wait up, waiting for that
response, are you, Chris?
HAYES: No, no, I don`t think I`ll be getting one, but I may be reading
about what happens.
MADDOW: You never know. You never know. Thank you, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Do you sleep too much or too well? Are you too relaxed? Do you have low
blood pressure, a lack of anxiety, not a care in the world?
If so, there`s a cure for that. “Foreign Affairs” is out with a new issue
today titled “Present at the Destruction? Trump in Practice.”
It`s illustrated with this handy sort of pictogram of – maybe that`s Air
Force One jetting directly into, I don`t know, volcanic eruption? Mushroom
cloud? Giant mountain? End of the world? You get the idea.
And that picture and that title set the tone for the content of this new
issue of “Foreign Affairs.” There`s a detailed look at the initial
behavior of this new president on foreign affairs. And how, if that
behavior continues, that could lead directly to three brand-new separate
wars with three different countries.
There`s also long piece about why the experts believe you probably don`t
have to worry about an immediate descent into full-on fascism any time
soon. But, yeah, we are maybe sliding into what the experts may call a
competitive authoritarianism. Oh.
The editor of “Foreign Affairs” is Gideon Rose. He opens this hair-raising
collection today with this question. It`s actually more of a game than a
The game is, “Stupid or nefarious?” Quote, “Every administration spins,
fights with the press and the bureaucracy, pushes its own agenda and tries
to evade intrusive oversight. But ordinary White Houses do not repeatedly
lie, or declare war on mainstream media institutions or pursue radical
goals while disdaining professional input, nor do they refuse to accept
How seriously you take these behaviors depends on how you assess the
motivations behind them, generating a game that some have taken to calling
`stupid or nefarious?`
Do slow appointments to the new administration signal poor management or a
deliberate attempt to deconstruct the administrative state? Is dismissing
experienced senior officials en masse just a clumsy way of handling a
presidential transition or is that a purge of potential obstacles and
whistleblowers? Are all the lies mere venting, or are they a deliberate
plot to distract critics and undermine reasoned discourse?
That`s your choice. Stupid or nefarious? Stupid or nefarious? I`d like
to take door three, please, if those were my options.
Tonight, we`ve got our eyes on a few developing stories. First, there is
the congressional election that happened today in a Republican district in
the great state of Georgia. The Republican incumbent there was Tom Price.
He left Congress to become health secretary in the new administration.
This is the special election to replace him.
And every special election is unique. They`re all, by definition, local
affairs. You should never extrapolate too much from any one special
election, but Democrats have felt like even though this has been a
Republican-held seat since the 1970s, Democrats feel this maybe could be
within reach for them.
And so, Democrats have been trying very hard to flip this district, to flip
this Georgia district as basically a pushback against Trump and against the
Republicans in Congress. So, we have been watching that special election.
We have been watching these returns come in. Watching – you see the
percentage of returns in is in the upper right-hand corner there, right?
Slow to come in yet.
We`ve been watching these numbers tonight, though, as they trickle in with
interest. We`ll have more on this over the course of the night,
particularly as we get in more data.
Even though this is a race for just one congressional seat, everybody
interested in U.S. politics has been watching this special election today
to the point where I think it may have driven the White House to
You probably heard today that the British prime minister has called a snap
election for June. British elections are scheduled to happen every five
years but the government can make a decision to call one sooner. Prime
Minister Theresa May has decided to do that. This is a moment in British
politics where the other parties seem particularly out of it and
disorganized and unpopular. So Theresa May is seizing the moment calling a
snap election right away in a matter of weeks.
Well, Prime Minister Theresa May apparently called the White House today to
talk about that decision. To talk about the fact that Britain is about to
have a national election. After that phone call, did you see this today?
The White House issued what`s called a readout about that call. That`s
what they call it when you get a description from your government in a
leader to leader phone call.
So, the White House released this read-out of the call with Theresa May
today. And they screwed it up. I mean, you`d think they would be
particularly sensitive about not screwing stuff up related to her. They
put out that announcement when Theresa May was first visiting the White
House that misspelled her name three times. You`d think they`d be
sensitive about not screwing stuff up when it comes to her. But, no, they
apparently still screwing stuff up.
This is from the readout today. Quote, “President Donald j. Trump
receives a phone call from Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom
regarding her plans to call a special election in June.”
It`s not a special election. It`s just an election. It`s a snap election
if you want to add an adjective to it. But the special election, that`s
what`s happening today in Georgia today. That`s not what`s happening in
the U.K. It`s a different thing. They`re not having a special election in
Britain. We`re having a special election here.
It`s not like the readout was like a big complicated thing. There`s two
sentences. One of them was wrong.
The White House apparently also screwed up its readout of a call between
Trump and the president of Turkey yesterday. Turkey is a republic. It is
a parliamentary democracy, but President Erdogan in Turkey is doing his
best to end all that and turn the country into a dictatorship. The
referendum that they held in Turkey this weekend was conducted under a
state of emergency after Erdogan locked up tens of thousands of people who
he has labeled his political opponents.
The referendum will concentrate power in Erdogan`s hands. It gets rid of
that country`s prime minister. It gets rid of Turkey`s parliamentary
democracy. It consolidates all power basically in him.
And this referendum, it was an incredibly close result. International
observers say the election was not free and fair. The opposition is
rejecting the results of the referendum. The opposition says they`re not
conceding that this is how the vote went down.
Erdogan, of course, is triumphantly claiming victory. He immediately
declared another state of emergency. He`s claiming the vote is a
ratification of his efforts to basically become just an outright dictator
In the middle of that scary process in that big important country, we got
this readout from the White House yesterday, saying that President Trump
had called President Erdogan to congratulate him on his recent referendum
victory. And the rest of the world was like, do whoop, what? Really? To
congrat – to what?
Because no other Western leader in any other country in the world called
the Turkish president to congratulate him on his dictatorship referendum.
There`s a real question as to whether that referendum result should be seen
as final or legitimate.
And so, stupid or nefarious? Is the new stance of the United States
government to be congratulatory and welcoming to the world`s newest
dictatorship? In a formerly democratic country? Or was that just a screw-
That readout was yesterday. Since then we`ve had a whole day of
contradiction between the president`s reported congratulatory phone call
and the rest of the government, including the State Department not quite
knowing what to say about what just happened in Turkey.
Tonight, it finally culminated on Air Force One when a White House
spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to tell reporters that when
President Trump called to offer his congratulations on that referendum, he
did not mean to convey that the results of that referendum were a good
thing, or even that they were results. It was just the other meaning of
the word congratulations.
So, to be clear, the United States position on what just happened in Turkey
is that we as a government, we as a country do not necessarily accept the
results of that referendum. But the president has congratulated the
Turkish president on the results of that referendum. OK? Good.
This is a fraught time in the world in a lot of ways, right? A lot of the
very basic stuff about our fragile international order is changing or
straining or just flat-out falling apart, right?
Before our election in November, Europe lost a cornerstone. Britain voted
to leave the E.U., right? That was last summer before our presidential
election. Now, Britain is going to be facing a new national election in
very short order.
France, another cornerstone of Europe, they`ve got their elections this
weekend. Two of the top four candidates in the French presidential
election want to pull France not only out of the E.U. but out of NATO as
Oh. Turkey is in NATO. Turkey is the biggest military in NATO other than
us. If Turkey becomes a full-blown dictatorship, do they get to stay in
I mean, NATO is a military alliance, right? It`s a pact whereby we agree
to mutually defend our NATO allies as we would expect them to defend us.
But if they`re going to be a dictatorship now, how does that work out?
I mean, Erdogan locks up a few hundred thousand more people. And we still
plan to send the 82nd Airborne in to defend him in the event that he says
he needs help?
And then on top of all of that, there`s North Korea, right, which was
worrying enough on its own terms before we had to start playing stupid or
nefarious to figure out our own government`s behavior toward them.
I started off tonight by mentioning this new issue of “Foreign Affairs”
magazine. Here`s the lead article right now at “The Atlantic” magazine.
“How did the Trump administration lose an aircraft carrier?”
This story unraveling today is like nothing I`ve ever seen. I mean, this
thing started off wrong a week ago and it has gotten more and more wrong
We thought the last week was worrying when it came to North Korea. We had
no idea how worrying it was when it came to us. I mean, to the point where
tonight, this story is now the front page of every news site in America and
still nobody can believe this happened.
But apparently, this has just happened. Honestly, I need historical
perspective. I need to know if anything like this has happened because
this is absolutely bizarre. Started last Saturday, not this weekend, but
Saturday last, April 8th. That was the start of it.
An unnamed U.S. official told “Reuters” that the U.S. was diverting an
aircraft carrier. A whole carrier strike group. So, an aircraft carrier,
all of its support ships were going to go over to the Korean peninsula as a
show of force basically to intimidate North Korea.
First word of that was an unnamed government official speaking to “Reuters”
Saturday, April 8th. Last Saturday.
Following day on the FOX News Channel, Sunday morning, the National
Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was asked about it and he confirmed it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: I`m going to have to ask you sort of lightning
round quick questions, quick answers. Why the carrier strike force to the
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it`s prudent to do it,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s prudent to do it, isn`t it?
I don`t know if it`s prudent, but at least we got there, the national
security adviser confirming that we are doing it. That was last Sunday.
Then two days later on Tuesday, there`s a White House briefing and
naturally, the White House spokesman gets asked about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN CORKE, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The strike carrier group
in the Sea of Japan in that region, is that also a messaging circumstance,
or is that simply protective for our allies in Japan and Korea?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A carrier group is several
things. The forward deployment is deterrence, presence. It`s prudent, but
it does a lot of things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Prudent. There`s that word again. And it does a lot of things.
Carrier strike group going to the Korean peninsula.
So, told to a newspaper – to a wire service on Saturday, confirmed on a
Sunday, shows on Sunday morning, confirmed at the White House on Tuesday.
The same day at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis, the one
everyone is comforted by, the adult in the room, right? That same day,
Tuesday, he confirms at the Pentagon, that that aircraft carrier, that
strike group is on its way to the Korean peninsula.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: She`s just on her way up there because
that`s where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time.
There`s not a specific demand, signal or specific reason why we`re sending
her up there.
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: It`s just unusual for
us to know about a ship movement in advance. That was sort of what got
everyone`s attention. So why was that? I mean, why was it put out in
advance? Was it just to signal to North Korea that there would be a show
of presence there?
MATTIS: I believe it`s because she was originally headed in one direction
for an exercise and we canceled our role in that exercise and that`s what
became publicly explained why she wasn`t in that exercise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: None of that is true. No one was asking why the USS Carl Vinson
pulled out of a military exercise, which necessitated this further
explanation of what that ship was doing. Nobody was asking why she pulled
out of a military exercise because the USS Carl Vinson did not pull of a
military exercise. In fact, that carrier strike group is doing those
military exercises right now.
I mean, despite what the White House and the national security adviser and
the defense secretary all said, the USS Carl Vinson was not steaming toward
North Korea, was not steaming north toward the Korean peninsula. In fact,
while they were all saying that the USS Carl Vinson was steaming north
toward Korea, in fact, the USS Carl Vinson was 3,000 miles away steaming
south in the opposite direction to, in fact, go do those exercises with the
Australian navy that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said were being cancel
and required an explanation. Huh?
I mean, one of the things that`s been scary about the past week is not
knowing what North Korea is going to do. It`s also now scary to figure out
the behavior of our own government, particularly because we were all told
that our government just sent an aircraft carrier to loom over North Korea
when that, in fact, was not happening. It`s a whole different kind of
scary to realize now at the end of this week that just was that the whole
administration up to and including the White House spokesman, national
security adviser and the defense secretary were either all lying, or they
all apparently believed that the USS Carl Vinson and its support ships were
headed to the Sea of Japan and Korean peninsula when, in fact, they were
not. In fact, they were headed in no such direction and they were
thousands of miles away.
Of course, it goes without saying that the president got this one wrong,
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are sending an armada,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Whether it is a good idea or not to send an armada, an aircraft
carrier strike group to the Korean peninsula at a time like this, I think
everybody could agree that it`s a good idea for the United States
government to have some basic idea of where all our aircraft carriers are
at any given moment.
I mean, in this case, it`s more worrying, not less, to realize that this is
a problem that goes well beyond just the president screwing something up.
I mean, the president screws stuff up. I mean, at this point with this
president, it`s not even weird to realize that he might not even know who
the leader of North Korea is. In the middle of this supposed standoff with
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`m not like other administrations where they say we`re going to do
this in four weeks and that doesn`t work that way. We`ll see what happens.
I hope things work out well. I hope there`s going to be peace but they`ve
been talk with this gentleman for a long time.
You read Clinton`s book. He said, oh, we made such a great peace deal and
it`s a joke. You look at different things over the years with President
Obama. Everybody has been outplayed. They`ve all been outplayed by this
gentleman. And we`ll see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Bill Clinton`s book does talk about dealings with North Korea.
Talks about a 1994 deal that was initially negotiated with North Korea`s
founder Kim Il-sung. And then Kim Il-sung died in July of 1994. That 1994
deal was then finalized with Kim Jong-Il, Kim Il-sung`s son, who took over
after his father died. Kim Jong-il then died in 2011 and now there`s a
whole new guy, Kim Jong-un. All three of these men are apparently in our
president`s mind conflated as somebody who he calls this gentleman. It`s
three different people.
This guy hasn`t been doing anything for a long time. He`s only been there
since 2011. Not the same guy negotiating with Clinton. You realize that.
He was a baby.
I mean, it`s a remarkable thing to realize about your president. But when
the White House spokesman and the national security adviser and the defense
secretary back up the president`s crazy apparent ignorance about something
that is as big a deal and as physically large as a carrier strike group,
that is a – that`s a different level of weird. This is not the president
getting something wrong. This is the administration getting something
really, really, really wrong for days. And it`s a big deal. And it`s
close to the most hair-trigger place on earth in terms of the prospect of
an actual nuclear war.
And apparently, they were just going to, like, let this one slide? I mean,
I don`t – I don`t know what this is. I don`t know if this is stupid or
nefarious or neither or something in between.
But I do want to know if there is anything in U.S. history that helps us
understand what to do in a circumstance like this or what this kind of
thing might lead to.
Hold that thought. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT: My fellow citizens, let no one doubt
that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No
one can foresee precisely what course it will take or what course or
casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline
lie ahead – months in which both our patience and our will will be tested,
months in which many threats and enunciations will keep us aware of our
dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Kennedy addressing the nation about the Cuban missile
crisis in 1962. As it happened, that crisis did not take months. Ran its
course in 13 days – 13 days during which we now know the United States and
the Soviet Union repeatedly came very close to war, which very easily could
have been nuclear war.
Tonight, the current administration is struggling to explain whether it
lied on purpose or whether it just lost track of an aircraft carrier. A
carrier strike group that the administration said was on its way toward
North Korea this past week when that aircraft carrier definitely was not on
its way to North Korea this past week. Not just the president but the
White House spokesman, the national security adviser and defense secretary
all misleading the public on that very big fact just in the last few days.
We thought we had enough to worry about when it came to nuclear North
Joining us now for some much-needed perspective is Michael Beschloss, NBC
News presidential historian.
Michael, it`s great to see you tonight. Thanks for being with us.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thanks. Pleasure,
MADDOW: So, I want to put aside for the moment the prospect that the
administration has concocted a deliberate, elaborate lie that they had
spoken by the White House spokesman, the president himself, the national
security adviser and the defense secretary. I want to set aside that
possibility because that`s a different thing and just talk about this as, I
guess what would be a better scenario which is that they`re confused, and
they screwed this up and messed it up, and they really didn`t really know
where that aircraft carrier was.
If that is the case, is there any historical analogy that helps us
understand the gravity of that?
BESCHLOSS: Nothing like this in a crisis this serious. And, you know,
part of American power is the impression that our government is competent
and we do things well. So, if at the beginning of a crisis like this, you
have the White House, the Defense Department, others saying that this ship,
this armada as the president said, is somewhere very different from where
it actually is, it doesn`t exactly help. This kind of thing never must
MADDOW: Michael, one of the contextual things that`s happened recently,
which is a small thing but also seems relevant as we try to sort this out
is on Friday night, we reported that a spokesman for CentCom had come out
and given a bunch of very inflammatory quotes to “The Hill” newspaper
saying in part the president said during the campaign he wants to bomb the
bleep out of is. That`s now what we`re doing. Like, very inflammatory
CentCom came out late on Friday night and said actually that wasn`t an
authorized – that wasn`t a person authorized to speak for CentCom. That`s
somebody who shouldn`t have been giving quotes in CentCom`s name and
essentially retracting those statements without ever saying how that
There is history of the White House, the administration, the government and
the military being on different pages in situations like this. But how
should we see that interplay between the military as a professional force
and decision-makers at a time like this?
BESCHLOSS: It shouldn`t happen this way. You so rightly showed JFK. When
Kennedy was dealing with a missile crisis, he thought the biggest danger
would be that crisis would escalate unnecessarily and it would be a nuclear
war with 50 million people dead. That didn`t have to happen.
So, Kennedy when he was at the beginning of the crisis he said, I want
everyone statement even from middle level officials, I want to clear it
personally. I want to know where every plane is. I want to know where
every ship is. I want to know about all these troop movements.
I don`t want to send a message accidentally to Nikita Khrushchev and the
Russians that may cause them to think that we`re going to do a first strike
or somehow cause a war that will cause this nuclear war to happen
unnecessarily. When you have something like this happen, it is so
different from the atmosphere that JFK set in that missile crisis.
MADDOW: And so, in that case, so I`m clear here, what JFK was essentially
doing with that directive was ensuring that there would never be a mixed
message where the president and the White House and the political side, the
elected government was asserting something about real life, but the Soviets
might be reading something different from the military or for some other
action at the government.
BESCHLOSS: He wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page, plus he
wanted to make sure that there might not be some Pentagon official who
thought that he was being too moderate and who wanted to escalate the war,
saying something that would get into the press and cause the Soviets to
think that perhaps we were being more war-like and cause them to retaliate.
MADDOW: On the other side of this, I guess the – asking about the
opposite scenario, one of the reasons that I`m concerned here by what
appears to be the role of H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and
the defense secretary, James Mattis, is that a lot of people have imbued
them with their hopes for this administration. That even if there are
parts of the elected government, including the presidency that may seem
unstable right now, those are two experienced national security
professionals who know what they`re doing. If they are involved in this
screw-up this carrier strike group, that shakes that a little bit.
Have there been scenarios, historical scenarios where the military,
national security apparatus was actually sort of a check when the
government was less stable?
BESCHLOSS: Oh, sure. Absolutely. In the last days of Richard Nixon`s
presidency, there was some talk, I don`t know how serious it really was,
but worry that Richard Nixon in order to stay in office at the time of
Watergate when he was about to be impeached might do something like roll
the 101st Airborne on to the White House lawn or commit some military
exercise to try and stay in power and consolidate power behind himself.
The secretary of defense, James Schlesinger, required that if there was any
order like that, it had to be countersigned by the secretary of defense to
make sure it didn`t happen.
MADDOW: Wow. The limits of – the limits of –
BESCHLOSS: Just to cheer you up tonight, Rachel.
MADDOW: Exactly. My narcolepsy is fine now. Thanks.
BESCHLOSS: Doing my best.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian – Michael,
thank you very much. Appreciate it.
BESCHLOSS: Thanks. Great to see you, as always.
MADDOW: As I mentioned, tonight we`re watching the unfolding story of the
Georgia congressional election. Democrats have been very excited about the
possibility of flipping this seat.
We`ve got fresh returns for you. Polls are closed there now. We`re
watching the returns come in. That`s straight ahead.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: If you headed out to vote today in Georgia`s 6th congressional
district, in that special election today, you may have been greeted by
this. The northern suburbs of Atlanta got pounded this afternoon by really
That`s a good reminder of two axioms of American politics. Number one,
special elections come down to turnout. And number two, rain on Election
Day depresses turnout, which everybody thinks helps Republicans.
The campaign of the leading Democrat in the race, Jon Ossoff, was
apparently ready for this weather today, though. One benefit of raising
over $8 million for this race, you literally have rainy day funds. So, you
can see the sign there. “Dry your Ossoff.”
Despite the thunderstorms this afternoon, Election Day turnout was reported
to be steady. That said, even before today, a big number voted early,
55,000 people cast ballots in early voting in this race. That could be
about one-third of the total number of votes cast, again, depending on what
the overall turnout is.
There are freaking 18 people who are running in this election. Eleven
Republicans, five Democrats, and two independents. Democrat Jon Ossoff is
favored. At least he`s got the most visible, best funded campaign.
But the question, as we start to get returns in tonight, is whether Jon
Ossoff or anybody can clear 50 percent tonight. If anybody clears 50
percent tonight, that person will go to Congress. That person will win the
But if nobody clears 50 percent tonight, there will be a run-off. There
will be another contest on June 20th between just the top two finishers.
So, now, polls have been closed for just over two hours. Oh, the election
music. Still very early. You can see there on the upper right corner,
that`s the percentage of precincts that have fully reports, 23 percent of
precincts have fully reported.
The results currently show Jon Ossoff in the lead and over the 50 percent
threshold. He`s at 55 percent. Behind him is Karen Handel, she`s a
Republican, former Georgia secretary of state. She`s at 16 percent. And
behind her are former state senator, Dan Moody, and a Trump supporting
business executive named Bob Gray.
Now in terms of what these mean, what these numbers mean, keep in mind,
these totals are early yet. It`s not even a quarter of the vote in. These
totals also include a lot of the early vote which was expected to benefit
These numbers also include a lot of the vote from Northern DeKalb County,
which was expected to be Jon Ossoff`s stronghold. So, he`s over 50 percent
right now. A lot of vote still needs to come in. It remains very early.
MSNBC will be following returns from Georgia`s sixth congressional district
all night long.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last week, the governor of Alabama was forced to resign in a plea
deal that allowed him to avoid being prosecuted on multiple felony charges
pursuant to a sex and ethics scandal in state government. He pled instead
to a couple of misdemeanors and agreed to leave the governorship.
Now, a few weeks before that happened, though, a few weeks before Robert
Bentley resigned as governor, he did something as governor that has
national importance. He picked a new U.S. senator. He picked somebody to
fill the Senate seat that had just been vacated by Jeff Sessions when Jeff
Sessions left the Senate to become attorney general of the United States.
Robert Bentley on his own say so decided to give that U.S. Senate seat to
this man. To the Alabama attorney general who was then in charge of
investigating Robert Bentley`s sex and ethics scandal. The governor handed
that U.S. Senate seat to Alabama`s top prosecutor, a man named Luther
At the time, Luther Strange would not confirm that there was an
investigation going on into the governor. He also delayed a second
investigation into Governor Bentley. He told the impeachment committee in
the state legislature that they should lay off their investigation and let
his office take care of it. And then after all that, he accepted from
Governor Bentley the kind offer of a seat in the United States Senate.
If you were thinking this whole thing looks a little sketchy and that
Senate seat is starting to smell a little bit, then you are picking up what
Alabama has been putting down. The Alabama reporter says that the Senate
appointment of Luther Strange prompted instant outrage among lawmakers.
One Alabama Republican says he tried to warn the governor that appointing
the attorney general who was investigating him would look terrible.
There`s been talk of asking the Alabama ethics commission to investigate
For the record, Senator Luther Strange says he did nothing wrong in
accepting the seat or lobbying for it. But here`s the thing: no matter how
much outrage or weirdness attended the appointment of Senator Luther
Strange, he is now the junior U.S. senator from Alabama. When Governor
Bentley made that appointment, he also set the special election to fill the
seat permanently. And he set that special election not for this year but
So, he not only appointed Luther Strange to that Senate seat. He gave
Luther Strange two years to sit in that Senate seat before Alabama voters
could even decide whether or not they liked the arrangements.
Which means Alabama was kind of stuck with this unelected senator who had
been installed by their disgraced former governor, until today. Today,
that changed. Today, the new governor of Alabama, former Lieutenant
Governor Kay Ivey who moved up into the governorship when Bentley had to
resign, today, Kay Ivey said, no. We`re not going to have a special
election for this Senate seat in 2018. We`re going to move that up and
have it this year instead.
The primary happens in August. The election will be in December, which is,
frankly, great news for a small “d” democracy in Alabama and for Alabama
voters who would like to weigh in on this, please? It`s also bad news for
Senator Luther Strange who has to defend that seat a lot sooner than he
otherwise would have to.
In the words of the great Alabama columnist John Archibald, quote,
“Governor Kay Ivey takes a chainsaw to Luther Strange. Now what?”
Joining us now is John Archibald, columnist for the “Birmingham News.”
Mr. Archibald, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
JOHN ARCHIBALD, ALABAMA MEDIA GROUP COLUMNIST: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Obviously, Luther Strange gets to run as the incumbent senator no
matter when this special election happens. But now, that special election
will be a lot sooner than it was otherwise going to be. How significant is
this shift today?
ARCHIBALD: It`s huge. It`s very hard to imagine in this state right now
that Luther Strange survives that. That incumbency is going to be like an
anchor going forward because the outrage is far more than he ever would
MADDOW: I mentioned, John, that there was a state lawmaker who says that
he spoke with the governor around the time the governor made this
appointment. And according to the state lawmaker, the way the governor
explained was that the governor said Luther Strange is corrupt and I
essentially appointed him to the United States Senate in order to get him
out of Alabama, in order to get him out of state politics because we can`t
endure his corruption here anymore.
That`s been one of the strangest side bars to this story, at least looking
at it from a national perspective, from an outside perspective looking in.
What do you make of that whole line?
ARCHIBALD: Well, honestly, I disbelieve it. I think Governor Bentley has
done very stupid things, and I think Luther Strange has done the same, but
it`s hard for me to imagine both of them being stupid enough to hold that
conversation with each other who were at that time mortal enemies. So, it
stretches my credibility just a little bit to think that that happened.
But Ed Henry says it did.
MADDOW: There`s also been a little bit of noise that there may be an
inquiry or maybe that there ought to be an inquiry into Senator Strange`s
appointment to see if the appointment itself was improper in some way,
possibly the state ethics commission looking into that. Do you expect that
ARCHIBALD: I fully expect complaints to be made with the ethics commission
which we don`t have privy yet to and there have been bar complaints against
Luther Strange as well, or those are in the works. I think everybody that
can apply pressure in any way right now is applying pressure. And, of
course, everybody is lining up to fight him for that Senate seat as well.
MADDOW: In terms of how that election will go, obviously, it`s early days.
Kay Ivey`s first week in office. She makes this announcement today that
election is going to move.
What do you think is likely to happen in that election? It`s hard to
imagine Alabama not sending another Republican to the Senate, even if they
don`t send Luther Strange back.
ARCHIBALD: It`s hard to imagine somebody you won`t be calling about in a
year and a half. Roy Moore, the suspended chief justice is probably a
front-runner in that race, as are a couple of Republicans who are now
billing themselves as anti-corruption people, but who were also first and
foremost in the pep rally to support our former house speaker who was
indicted on serious ethics charges. So – anti-corruption means different
things on different days.
MADDOW: To be clear, Alabama has now lost its house speaker, which is
arguably one of the – probably the most powerful position in state
government. Indicted, convicted, sentenced. The chief justice to the
Supreme Court was taken off the bench, Roy Moore, as you say. The governor
was forced to resign in this scandal, pleading guilty to misdemeanors to
avoid trial on felony charges.
And now, the state`s sitting U.S. senator replacing the current attorney
general of the United States as the nation`s chief law enforcement office,
has always been roped into this ethics scandal and facing bar complaints
about potentially losing his own law license and potential ethics inquiries
in the state?
ARCHIBALD: That about sums it up.
MADDOW: John, if this is a full employment program for political
columnists, it is a nefarious one. Thank you, John. Appreciate you being
ARCHIBALD: Thank you.
MADDOW: John Archibald, columnist for the “Birmingham News” and Alabama is
lucky to have him, even if they`re not lucky in politicians.
All right, coming up, Tax Day. This particular Tax Day today was unlike
any other Tax Day we have ever had in this country for one very specific
reason, and that`s ahead.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: I`m not going to ask you for your favorite curse word.
Actually, I am. Do you have a favorite curse word?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Poop.
INTERVIEWER: Poop? Oh, that`s a good two-shoes favorite curse word that
if I ever heard one.
WARREN: No, it`s not. No. Are you kidding? Have you ever seen a woman
like me look you straight in the face after you`ve finished some long
explanation of something and then just said “poop”? Right?
INTERVIEWER: And you said on the Senate floor?
INTERVIEWER: No. But that day could be coming.
WARREN: It could be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don`t know whether she was warned, but she persisted. Poop.
The not at all profane senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, has
remained a leading firebrand for her Democratic Party in this new
administration. She`s become a favorite target of the Republican Party and
particularly of the oppo groups. The professional oppo groups on the right
that, that make money by inventing new liberal boogie man every so often
and then scaring conservative people around the country with news that said
boogie man is hiding under the bed and coming to get them.
The fear of Elizabeth Warren is very strong on the right, which has made
the professional right very excited to try to clip her wing wings for her
reelection bid in 2018. They also, I think, are thinking ahead about
another bigger election that will come two years later.
Whether she likes it or not right now, Elizabeth Warren shoulders a lot of
the weight of the Democratic Party. She really is the right`s favorite
target. And as her party, as the minority party gears up to fight the
Trump administration, gets up to fight the Republicans in Congress, a lot
of eyes are going to be on her. Not just from the right but from every
direction – what she does, what she says, what fights she chooses to
Tomorrow night, some of those eyes will be here because Senator Elizabeth
Warren is going to join us tomorrow for an extended interview. We will
talk about the state of the country. We will talk about the state of her
party. I will probably get her to say “poop” in some context that will
make you laugh and me as well, and then they`ll have to end the segment and
go to commercial because I`ll be blushing. I`ll also ask her if she`s
running for president and all that other stuff. It`s going to be fun.
Elizabeth Warren here tomorrow night. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In October 1973, an employee of the IRS leaked information about
the president`s tax returns. And this was October 1973. So, other stuff
was going on.
This is a leak that was, in history now has been obscured by the unfolding
Watergate scandal. But still, at the time, it was a big deal. Leaking tax
information like this it was, it is something you`re really not supposed to
do. And it really doesn`t usually happen.
But someone in the fall of 1973, someone apparently with the help of a
photocopy machine at an IRS office in Martinsburg, West Virginia, somebody
sent President Nixon`s tax information to a reporter, a reporter at the
“Providence Journal Bulletin” in Rhode Island. And that reporter then
published a story on it.
And what we learned from that leak and that publication was over the course
of two years, President Nixon had paid next to nothing in federal income
taxes. He was earning $200,000 a year as president of the United States,
but he was paying the government in taxes basically the same amount as if
he was, quote, “a wage earner with one exemption in the $7,000 income
So, he faced an onslaught of public pressure after that leak. And that
revelation about how little he was paying in taxes and why was that anyway,
right? President Nixon after that happened, he eventually released five
years of his tax returns. He released those tax returns to Congress.
He then promptly got socked with the bill for $470,000 in unpaid back taxes
because it turns out he was not actually paying all of his taxes.
And even though President Nixon`s financial situation, his tax situation
was now dire straits for all the world to see, some Americans to supported
him decided they actually felt quite charitable toward him on that whole
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s Tax Day for most people today, but because of his
tax problems, President Nixon has been given an extra 60 days to file his
return. The White House said today that about 5,000 people have sent the
president over $40,000 to help pay his huge bill for back taxes, but that
although the gesture is appreciated, the money will be returned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Five thousand people sent Nixon tax to pay his back taxes. Really
appreciate the gesture but, no, no, we can`t accept. The president is
sending you your money back and will pay his back taxes himself. So, that
was – that was an exciting Tax Day in 1974 after that leak in the fall of
1973 had made this such a fraud issue.
That`s how we got the modern tradition of presidents releasing their tax
returns. Since then, presidents of the United States release and publish
their tax returns.
The information we learn within them is a little less exciting nowadays,
right? It`s usually more along the lines of, oh, look, President Reagan
got a $14 refund this year. Or, oh, wow, the Bidens, hey, they gave 1.5
percent of their income to charity while the Obamas gave 22 percent. I
wonder if that`s an issue between them.
Or here`s an interesting issue. Look, President Obama`s book sales have
dropped. Right? -That`s how – that`s the stuff we usually get Tax Day.
If that`s how we still did Tax Day in this country there would probably be
stuff to talk about in terms of our current president. But that is not how
we do Tax Day anymore.
Instead, today, we watched as the president signed his big “buy American,
hire American” executive order. Even though Trump family businesses have a
hard time following that pledge themselves. They are known for hiring lots
and lots of foreign workers. Also on Tax Day today, we learned that on the
same day the daughter of the president of the United States sat down for
dinner with the president of China. On that same day, China approved a
bunch of her company`s trademarks, giving her company the right to sell
jewelry, bags and spa services in her name in China.
We also learned on Tax Day today that the lawsuit filed against the
president earlier this year for violating the Emoluments Clause which says
you can`t accept payments from foreign governments, that lawsuit is
expanding to include more people who say they are victims of the
president`s refusal to sell off his business holdings while he continues to
benefit from foreign governments and foreign sources of income.
So, this is how we celebrate Tax Day now, with more reminders about how
little we really know about the president`s financial situation. And that
does not appear to be changing any time soon. This is now the new normal.
The reason Tax Day became something a day on which we learned boring things
about presidents in years past started in scandal with the Nixon
administration in the early 1970s. And once again, this is yet another
thing for which something that was a scandal in the Nixon White House now
seems quaint in comparison to what we`re living through right now as day-
to-day Trump news.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the