FEMA No-bid contracts for storm response under scrutiny Transcript 10/19/17 The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: October 19, 2017
Guest: Matthew Philips
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
OK, you know, if I were president, I might not want to talk about this
When the Trump administration`s decision about this particular country was
announced last month, the country involved put out a statement, an unusual
statement in response. They put out a statement saying they felt the need
to, quote, express our incomprehension about what the Trump administration
had just done.
Across the spectrum in the United States, the reaction was the same and it
was unanimous among all sorts of different kinds of people who you might
think would otherwise have really different perspectives on this. But
across the board, everybody was also incomprehending.
The former head of U.S. military operations for that region called the
decision by the Trump administration, quote, puzzling.
A very different kind of expert, a top human rights lawyer who had operated
extensively in that country called the Trump administration`s decision
quote bewildering, saying there`s no reason and, quote, it makes no sense
whatsoever, none, zero.
Longtime U.S. ambassador at the neighboring country said: To me, what they
did makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. That same ambassador did have
one speculative explanation. He said it was possible the Trump
administration did what they did, quote, out of sheer incompetence. But
otherwise frankly it just doesn`t make sense.
So, across the board those are all very different types of people who have
tend to have different types of reactions, right, to policy decisions made
by a new administration. But with all these different types of regional
experts, they`re all just baffled. We have no idea where this came from.
And what they were so baffled by had to do with this part of the world,
this big belt of countries, belt of big countries that that makes up most
of the lower tier of the Sahara Desert. The countries we`re talking about
here are Mali and Nigeria and Niger and Chad.
Here in the United States right now, of course, we are suddenly paying a
lot of attention to the nation of Niger. Two American Green Berets, two
other U.S. special operations – Special Forces soldiers were just killed
in Niger just over two weeks ago. And at a time when most Americans had no
idea that we had a significant number of U.S. troops in Niger at all or if
we did, that those troops were at any significant risk, let alone that we
might lose four of them in an ambush.
Turns out we do have several hundred American troops serving in Niger,
possibly as many as a thousand based on what Defense Secretary James Mattis
told reporters today.
But I think it`s helpful just to see that see that map there in part to
remember which country borders which country, if you`re not that familiar
with that part of Africa. But also just to remember, these are really
large countries we`re talking about. Niger, for example, Niger is a former
French colony, but in terms of its area, Niger alone is twice the size of
France. Mali is about the same size. Chad is even bigger than that.
These are large landlocked countries that have big long interior borders
with each other and so, their regional concerns are really intertwined. By
necessity, they end up very mixed up and very involved in each other`s
business, both for the worse and for the better.
And on that map, the country that`s just east of Niger, the nation of Chad,
that`s the country that caused every expert on that region – every expert
in the military and the human rights people and the diplomats everybody
caused them all even that country`s own government to express just profound
surprise and bewilderment just a few weeks ago, last month, when the Trump
administration did something really strange about that country that might
have actually just been a mistake. Still to this day, it doesn`t make much
sense what the Trump administration did. It really might have just been a
screw-up by them.
But what they did also might explain why we have just had these four
absolutely unbelievable gut-wrenching emotional days in American politics
and in D.C. in particular, because if I were them, I would rather divert
attention to anything, even unbelievably unpalatable decisions and
discussions rather than talk about this.
All right. Do you remember back in 2012, Islamic militants, militia linked
to al Qaeda took over Timbuktu, right? They took over a whole swathe.
Timbuktu is in Mali. They took over Timbuktu and a whole swath of northern
Mali, including that historic world-famous city.
The militants declared Sharia law. They started destroying shrines and
tombs all these priceless world heritage sites. Mali had been a French
colony. France still takes an acute interest and sees itself as a
stakeholder in that part of the world and they took over Timbuktu in 2012.
By January 2013, French jets were flying into Mali. France led a big
military operation thousands of troops to help the government of Mali take
back its territory from those militants to free Timbuktu, to free all of
those all those other areas in northern Mali that had been held by the
Islamic extremists. They just took back whole swathes of that country from
the militant groups and France went in full force.
But they were not there alone. They were in support of the government of
Mali, and they were there with a big regional force of African troops,
which in some cases had a lot of experience already fighting against these
One of the most critical and effective parts of the African force that
fought alongside the French back in 2013 where that the special forces and
the military more broadly from Chad. When the French and those regional
African forces routed the Islamic militants in Timbuktu in northern Mali,
the French thereafter decided that they would stay. They set up a regional
force to continue to fight Islamic extremists, to keep those extremists
from taking territory again in that part of the world.
Part of the reason you can tell that Chad in particular had been super
valuable to France in that fight, it`s because when France decided to stay,
when they decided they`d stay in the region, they`d leave troops there,
they set up a regional headquarters to run a permanent regional operation
against Islamic militancy in that part of the world, where they decided to
set their headquarters up was not in Mali, where they had had this big
fight over Timbuktu and that hold northern part of the country. No, they
set up their headquarters in Chad and that`s where they remain today. That
French-led operation has been headquartered in Chad since 2014.
2014 is also when President Barack Obama decided to send a contingent of
U.S. troops to assist in the hunt for those hundreds of Nigerian
schoolgirls who were kidnapped and held captive by Boko Haram. U.S. troops
were sent in to that part of the world to be part of the fight to look for
the Chibouk girls, to look for those Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014. And a
lot of what the us troops were there to do was just physically to look for
the girls, to try to figure out where they were being held.
And the place where U.S. troops operated the surveillance drones from and
the planes that looked for those girls in that military operation was
again, Chad. The U.S. military as well set up their headquarters for that
fight in Chad.
Then, in 2015, another permanent multinational joint task force was set up
to fight Islamic militant activity in that whole huge landlocked region in
central and west Africa where all of these al Qaeda-linked and ISIS-linked
groups like Boko Haram were operating it`s just such great effect. The
headquarters for that multinational joint task force against Islamic
extremism, again those headquarters in Chad.
And there`s a reason there was so much international and regional military
activity against Islamic extremists in that part of the world. They really
had a toehold. By early 2015, Boko Haram was controlling territory in that
part of Africa equivalent to the size of the nation of Belgium they had a
lot of territory and they were based in Nigeria and Nigerian troops were
fighting against them, but they couldn`t do it on their own. And so,
that`s part of why these regional efforts were set up to bring force to
bear from multiple countries in the region.
But there`s a reason all of these regional and international groups were
headquartered in Chad because all the experts say that pound for pound,
that that military from Chad and the Chadians special forces, they`re the
best, most battle-hardened, most experienced, most effective military for
fighting Islamic extremism in that part of the world.
In early 2015, when Boko Haram held that huge piece of territory in Nigeria
– yes, Nigerian troops fought them, but they brought in troops from Niger
and from Chad and together they kind of routed them. They ran them out of
town after town after town.
Boko Haram by that point had been proclaiming that they had formed a new
Islamic emirate in that part of Africa. There`s the Islamic emirate in
Iraq and Syria, and they were the other part of that. They were the other
part of the caliphate, and they were setting up in that part of western and
But that regional military effort against them led out of Chad broke that
stuff up, took back all those towns, shut them down.
And Chad is not a rich country. They`ve got oils. They`ve got a little bit
of money, but they`ve also got a dictator who takes care of most of that.
It`s a – it`s a large country. It`s mostly poor, but for a variety of
reasons they have put profound resources into leading the military
counterterrorist fight in that part of the world.
In March of this year, the United States led countries and a massive
military exercise in Chad. It was called Flintlock. Twenty-seven
countries represented, exercise led by the United States. Two thousand
U.S. military personnel participated in it. And again they could have done
this anywhere in Africa. There`s a reason they did it in Chad.
I mean, in this country, we tend to be more focused, when we think about
ISIS, we tend to focus on them more in the Middle East and in Iraq and
Syria. But the other place, they got pretty close to declaring a caliphate
was in this part of the world, and it`s all interlocking related groups.
There`s al-Qaeda linked groups. There`s Boko Haram. At least part of Boko
Haram now calls itself a province of the Islamic state of ISIS.
But for all of them, the lead military effort against them in that part of
the world really has been the military of Chad, and it`s interesting. Even
though the Chad military has been leading the fight against these groups,
there haven`t actually been that many attacks by these groups inside Chad,
and there`s not a lot of Chadian civilians who have been joining the
Islamic militant groups.
Nigeria has a really big problem with them. Nigerian troops then go and
fight these guys and Chad comes too.
Niger has a big problem with these guys. Troops from Niger fight these
guys and then Chad goes too.
Mali has a big problem with these guys. Malian troops fight them, but then
Chad goes too. It`s not necessarily their homegrown problem, but Chad
leads it. This has been much worse of a problem in their neighboring
countries, but Chad has been tip of the spear, in Nigeria, in Mali, to a
lesser extent in Niger, but Chad leads the fight.
And all the regional efforts to fight the Islamic militants there, they`re
all headquartered in Chad, including the ones that we participated.
That kind of sort of military geospatial orientation usually doesn`t matter
to us here in the United States.
But enter the Trump administration. September 24th this year, so three and
a half weeks ago, Trump administration announced its new Muslim ban which
they would prefer you don`t call a Muslim ban anymore. During the
campaign, candidate Trump had proclaimed he would enforce a total and
complete ban on Muslims entering the United States. That morphed into the
Muslim ban that he announced, as soon as he was inaugurated, which went
precisely nowhere in the courts. It`s gone through several different
iterations since then, all of which have also gone nowhere in the courts.
But on September 24th, they announced a new ban that included a new list of
countries from which people would not be allowed to come to this country.
And – I mean, they`ve been – it`s random, right? So we don`t know how
But they dropped Iraq, OK? They dropped Sudan, but then they added in
North Korea. They added in Venezuela, and they added in Chad. And the
additions were weird. They were notably weird at the time.
I mean, North Korea was a strange addition not because North Korea isn`t a
country that the U.S. worries about right now. The reason North Korea was
weird to turn up on the travel ban is because North Koreans don`t really
come to the United States, anyway. It`s not like North Koreans easily get
passports, let alone visas.
As for Venezuela, that one was pretty narrowly targeted. It was targeted
families of members of the government. So, at least that one seemed to be
aimed at something specific.
But Chad? They just blanket banned people from Chad. Nobody from Chad can
get a visa to come here anymore.
And right from the get-go, there was this curious lack of explanation as to
how Chad ended up on this list. “The New York Times” quickly reported that
neither the State Department nor the Defense Department had been consulted
by the Trump administration about putting Chad on the list. “The Times”
further reported immediately that officials at both those agencies, both at
State and Defense, will really opposed to Chad being on this list.
But for some reason the Trump administration did it anyway. And what made
it worse was the purported explanation for why Chad was on the list. Out
of all of the countries listed in the current iteration of the travel ban,
Chad was the only one that`s described by the Trump administration as being
on the list because, quote, several terrorist groups are active within
Chad. Yes, that`s the only country where that`s happening, right?
I mean, maybe you could make that case that Chad has a terrorism problem.
Certainly, they`ve had some attacks, but they`re not the – if that`s the
problem, they`re not the problem. I mean if that`s the reason you end up
on the travel ban list, even just in that part of the world, why wouldn`t
you pick Nigeria? Why wouldn`t you pick Mali?
I mean, broaden it out a little bit why wouldn`t you pick Iraq? Why
wouldn`t you pick Afghanistan? No, Chad`s the country that has terrorism?
Absolutely baffling, absolutely baffling. And that is why you got all
those quotes from the experts, bewildering, puzzling, no reason, this makes
The day after the travel ban was announced, “The New York Times”
interviewed the man who had been the State Department`s expert on that
region, until last year when we got rid of all the experts. He called
putting Chad on that list, quote, a knee-jerk move rather than a careful
decision, one that could put Americans in harm`s way. He said, there`s no
incentive to label Chad as soft on terrorism, which they definitely are
Now, I want you just to stick a pin in one part of that quote there. This
could put Americans in harm`s way. You see that? That is the guy who used
to be the State Department expert on Chad until last year. This decision
could put Americans in harm`s way. September 25th, he gave that warning.
On Friday of last week, the government of Chad announced that they had
completed the withdrawal of all Chadian troops from their neighboring
country Niger, where for years, they have been fighting ISIS-linked Islamic
militants as the most battle-hardened, most effective military in the
region fighting Islamic militancy.
The “Reuters” bureau in the region reported, that already, immediately upon
the withdrawal of those Chadian troops, Boko Haram attacks, other Islamic
militant attacks, started to tick up in Niger. Residents immediately
started to leave their villages and move out of whatever region they lived
in for their own safety because those Chadian troops withdrew from Niger.
Chad announced that their troops were all out this past Friday, but they
also announced that the removal of those troops was the culmination of a
two-week long process. It took him two weeks to get all those troops out
of there. The process was done by Friday, which means they started
withdrawing their troops from Niger the last week in September.
We`re going to be literal as to what they announced about the two-week
period. That means they pulled their troops out starting Friday, September
29th, which would be the Friday after the Trump administration made this
baffling decision to insult and harm our closest military ally in that
region and the leader of the regional fight against ISIS and Boko Haram in
that part of the world where ISIS has been trying to establish another
And you know, I`m sure the family members of those Chadian soldiers were
happy to get them home when they all got suddenly withdrawn from Niger
after America made this inexplicable decision about Chadian troops. But
those Chadian troops were really doing something in Niger. They were
protecting those villages in that whole region from ISIS and other Islamic
militant groups being able to operate freely there and presumably to take
more territory there once again.
And those Chadian troops pulling out immediately had an effect of
emboldening and enabling ISIS attacks, and those troops started pulling out
best as we can tell last week of September, September 29th. This right
after the Trump administration inexplicably what they did what they did.
This troops from Chad got pulled out the 29th – well, right after that,
that`s when four U.S. Army soldiers got attacked by a large contingent of
ISIS fighters in Niger, and four of them killed within days of the start of
the Chadian soldiers being withdrawn.
So, no wonder the president doesn`t want to talk about it, right? There
had been some speculation that maybe the president didn`t want to make any
public acknowledgement of the deaths of those soldiers because he didn`t
want to talk about U.S. troops being killed by ISIS-affiliated fighters at
a time when he wants to be given credit for defeating ISIS. That might be
some of it.
But this really was the deadliest combat mission of his presidency thus
far, and it really did follow just days after a policy decision by his
administration and inexplicable, baffling, possibly mistaken policy
decision by his administration – I mean, it`s being called a mistake at
best by everybody who knows the region just days after that policy decision
by his administration, our best and most experienced and most battle-
hardened regional military allies in that part of the world pulled out of
that part of the world and went home and then American soldiers were
The AfriCom spokesman from the U.S. military has said that the ambush that
killed those four American soldiers was, quote, not expected. He said
American troops had done more than two dozen patrols in the same region
over the last six months with no problem. But this one was different.
Certainly, in its result, potentially in its cause.
And now, today, in the fourth day of Washington turning itself inside out
over the president refusing to speak about the deaths of those service
members and why they were killed and where they were killed and what they
were doing there today, today, we finally got the first concrete
information about why the Trump administration might have made that
baffling decision in the first place that`s so upset this military ally of
ours, that precipitated their withdrawal from the country where our troops
were attacked just days later.
I mean, there had been an initial speculation on this travel ban thing.
And indeed, it was just speculation but maybe this had something to do with
Exxon. Chad`s a poor country, but it does have oil reserves. Exxon Mobil,
more than anybody else, pumps their oil. The government of Chad had
recently gone after Exxon, saying they`d been not paying their taxes.
The country demanded something like $70 billion in fines from Exxon, on the
tax issue. They wanted hundreds of millions of dollars from Exxon, and
overdue royalties. The government of Chad drove this very hard bargain
with Exxon. They went after Exxon really hard. And, yes, the CEO of Exxon
for most of this time was Rex Tillerson, and maybe that made him mad.
That dispute between the government of Chad and Exxon was settled in June
for some undisclosed sum, we don`t know. But – I mean, but there had been
speculation because the weirdness of this decision about Chad, the lack of
explanation for how this happened to Chad that they ended up in the travel
ban, that maybe this was some excellent business revenge, some Exxon
business decision that had leaked into the Rex Tillerson State Department
and before all the former State Department experts who`ve been speaking out
about how bad and dumb and inexplicable this decision was toward Chad with
the travel ban, Rex Tillerson himself has said nothing about it. And, you
know, maybe someday we`ll find out if that had anything to do with it.
But today, “The Associated Press” reported something much more pedestrian,
that arguably makes it even worse because it`s so stupid. When the Trump
administration said about trying to develop a new travel ban, they told
countries all over the world, all over the globe, hey, if you want to stay
off our travel ban, you have to send the United States a simple passport so
the Homeland Security Department here can determine if your passport is
secure, so we can determine if your passports are secure and they can`t
easily be faked.
That was the across-the-board order from the Homeland Security Department.
Hey, country that wants to stay off the travel ban list, we need you to
print us up a new sample passport and send it to us. They gave countries a
50-day time limit to submit a freshly printed passport sample.
In Chad, that turns out to have been a problem. Chad recently had to stop
issuing passports altogether for about six months. Part of the problem
appears to be an office supply problem. They use a special paper like all
countries do to print their passports.
Passports to secure documents it often means, there`s a specially-designed,
you know, supposed to be forgery-proof type of paper that`s used to print
these things up. Chad ran out of that paper, and at the time the U.S. was
demanding these sample passports be submitted by every country on earth,
Chad was unable to print a new one because they didn`t have the paper.
According to “The A.P.” today, they asked the Trump administration if they
could they could submit a recently printed passport from before the time
they ran out of passport paper. The Trump administration apparently said
no, and then apparently, they ignored everything about our relationship
with that country, including the fact that they are our most potent
regional partner in fighting Islamic terrorism, and we headquarter all of
our military efforts in that part of the world in their country because
they work with us so well on that issue. They just ignored that, said they
– hey, well, they didn`t get the paperwork in. And so, Chad got on the
And then that week, Chad said, we`re pulling out of Niger. And now, we are
where we are. Like I said, if I were the president, I wouldn`t want to
talk about this either. What we`ve had instead is a four-day long gut-
wrenching fight and national discussion about something that should never
be discussed in a political context, about the private treatment of
military families received from U.S. presidents when their loved one dies
in service to the United States.
And that culminated today in an incredibly emotional appearance in the
briefing room from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who lost his son
in Afghanistan, and with a quivering jaw, he walked the press corps through
the path that the bodies of deceased service members take from the
battlefield through U.S. military facilities in Europe, home to Dover Air
Base, and then home to be interred and he explained what he personally was
told when he got the notification that his son had died in combat. And he
attacked a congresswoman who had heard President Trump`s call to a widow of
one of the soldiers killed in new share, he attacked her because the widow
put the call on speakerphone and allowed that congresswoman and one of her
own relatives to listen in.
And it feels disgusting for us as Americans to have any of the private
grief of these families or president`s handling or mishandling of it in
public discussions at all, right? it`s inconceivable that the president
might have directed the public discussion of these private matters by his
But the only reason the subject matter is being discussed in any political
context at all, it`s because the president still will not talk about what
happened in Niger, and how and why those American troops lost their lives
We knew from reporting in “Politico” last night that national security
staff prepared the president a statement for him to give the day after the
deaths happened in Niger. He didn`t give that statement. He still hasn`t.
He still won`t talk about it.
Now, when he was pressed on it after two weeks of ignoring those deaths,
the president diverted the public pressure on that matter into instead this
discussion and these attacks about notifications and condolences for the
bereft. The only reason that public discussion has happened now for four
straight days with all of the emotional strain it has caused to the country
and caused to so many hurting people is because of the president`s
diversion of questions about what happened in Niger.
Well, now, we`re starting to figure out why he might not want to talk about
MADDOW: Right after Chief of Staff John Kelly gave emotional remarks at
the White House briefing room today after he talked about the ways
presidents talked to grieving military families, after he talked about how
he was told about the death of his own son who died in combat, John Kelly
opened it up to questions. And this was the first question he got from the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why were they in Niger? What was – we were told they weren`t
in armored vehicles and there was no air cover. So, what are the specifics
about this particular incident and why were we there? And why are we
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I would – I would start by
saying there is an investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Why were they there? Why were they in Niger?
Before this became a political discussion about the families of fallen
service members, one started by this president, what this actually started
out as was the worst combat fatalities of the Trump era, the story of four
U.S. Special Forces soldiers killed in the line of duty in the central
African nation of Niger.
The reason it became a White House story is because the president made no
public acknowledgement of those deaths, again, the deadliest combat
incident of his presidency. He still hasn`t talked about it. He won`t
NBC News reporting about the swarm of unanswered questions that the
Pentagon is still trying to get answered on this attack. The things as
basic as where the attack happened or whether those soldiers had the right
protective equipment. One official telling NBC news today that the level
of confusion during and after the mission was, quote, tremendous.
Joining us now is Courtney Kube. She`s a national security and military
reporter for NBC News.
Courtney, thank you very much for being here. Really appreciate your time.
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND MILITARY REPORTER: Thanks,
MADDOW: So, have there been any additional updates since this afternoon.
Obviously, General Kelly gave those very emotional remarks about condolence
processes for service members – the families of service members who were
killed. But when it came to explaining what happened in Niger, he was
pretty circumspect and put most of this off to there being an ongoing
Have you been able to flush anything else out at the Pentagon in terms of
knowing what happened?
KUBE: And General McMaster, the national security advisor, I asked him
about Niger at an event in D.C. this afternoon, and he also was relatively
circumspect. I mean, the incident is under investigation, so that`s one
reason that we aren`t hearing a lot of very specific facts yet. At some
point, AfriCom, U.S. Africa Command, is going to have to put out more
details but about what happened.
And – but right now, they are – they`re really hiding behind the fact
that it`s under investigation, to give us any real specifics. Well – I
mean, one of the things you know you talked about in the intro, the
confusion. That`s – a theme that people have really been stressing with
me over the past two weeks since this happened was that they were not
expecting this patrol.
This is a patrol they had done times in the past six months. They were not
expecting trouble. They went to see some leaders, some local leaders and
pay their respects and visit with them and they were ambushed. It was very
So, this – there is always whenever there`s a death of a service member
like this, there`s what`s called a line of duty investigation. It`s a
standard investigation. And then now, there`s this more informal one
that`s also ongoing which includes looking at the very basic facts of what
happened here – everything from who was actually there when the gunfire
and the RPG started coming in, why were they at the village for as long as
they were there, why were they visiting these leaders as long as they were.
You know, everything.
And then, of course, it led to one of the soldiers – one of the support
soldiers, Sergeant Johnson, he wasn`t found immediately when they all left,
when they left the scene.
MADDOW: Courtney, in terms of the handling of this issue in Washington,
obviously, what has led this to splay into such an emotionally fraught and
far-ranging discussion about service members families and all of these
things has been the president`s reluctant to – reluctance to acknowledge
publicly these deaths, to put out even a statement written by somebody else
about what happened, to explain to the American people the basics of the
fact that these service members were lost or the circumstances in which
they were lost.
Do you have any insight – does the Pentagon have any insight into why
people like General Mattis have been willing to spell out the basics here
and talk to reporters about this, but the president himself has been either
totally mum or diverting questions to other matters?
KUBE: I don`t know why to be honest with you. I mean, we are – we don`t
have a lot of facts from the Pentagon or from U.S. Africa Command. So,
after – in the first 48 hours or so after this attack occurred, details
were very, very scarce and that was because there was an American soldier
who was missing.
KUBE: In the confusion on the battlefield, you know, he was – they were
evacuated, both the injured, the killed and the uninjured, and he was still
there, and there was an extensive search for him. So, in those first 48
hours, we didn`t get a lot of details because there was this desperate hope
by the U.S. military that no one would find out that he was missing.
They were worried that some terrorist group in the area would find him,
dead or alive. You know, fortunately, local forces found him and he was
returned home as we all saw in that just got wrenching video of his widow
this week meeting his remains. But, you know, in the aftermath of that,
they initiated this investigation and the U.S. military just has not been
And part of it is, I don`t think in the first week or two, they knew much
about exactly what happened there. There was confusion about basic facts
like who was flying the medevac helicopter. There have been three
different scenarios and Secretary Mattis laid out a you know one today that
we think is the most accurate or the most up-to-date and that was that
there was a French military helicopter and a contract helicopter that both
came in and picked the people up.
MADDOW: Again, but also raising the question of, if, you know, not in
armored vehicles, there was no U.S. search-and-rescue air cover available
for these guys, a lot – a lot of unanswered questions about the intel that
led to this patrol happening, whether or not there was a regional support
issue here, a lot still to learn and a lot of curiosity about the
president`s reticence, at least on my part.
Courtney Kube, NBC News` excellent national security and military reporter
staying up late for us tonight – Courtney, thank you very much.
KUBE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. There is a developing story right now that is getting
very little attention outside the communities it most affects. It actually
affects the whole country and that story`s coming up next. Heads up.
MADDOW: This is just a heads up on something we`ve been tracking for a
little while now that hasn`t really made national news.
A couple of weeks ago, you might remember that the secretary of veterans
affairs, David Shulkin, got caught up in the kind of scandal Trump cabinet
officials keep getting caught up in now, when he took a 10-day taxpayer-
funded work trip to Europe with his wife that included trips to four
palaces, a river cruise, lots of days with no work on the schedule at all,
and a trip to see the Wimbledon Women`s Final – taxpayers paid for.
The V.A.`s inspector general is investigating that trip. Fresh off that,
the V.A. is now out with their proposal to overhaul health care for
America`s veterans. This has been a very controversial issue for veterans,
for the V.A. and for all of us for a few years now.
Ever since it emerged that veterans were waiting too long to see their V.A.
doctors and some documents were being falsified to cover up those long wait
times, conservative groups who have long wanted to get rid of the V.A.
because they see it as socialism, conservative groups capitalized on those
reports in that scandal to propose their own solution. Their solution is
to dismantle the V.A., privatize the V.A. Health care system put veterans
into the private health care system that everybody else is in and just have
them pay insurance companies for whatever courage – whatever coverage they
Whatever problems the V.A. health system has had, by and large, it is a
system that veterans don`t want taken away. So, veterans groups have
raised alarm bells about conservative efforts to privatize the V.A. in the
past, notably in 2015.
You might remember when Republican candidate Ben Carson proposed
privatizing the V.A. as part of his run for the presidency. That got him
an angry personalized letter from eight of the country`s leading veterans
Well, now, heads up. Now, the Trump administration`s V.A. is out with this
brand-new, vaguely worded health care proposal. They`re calling it the
Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences Act.
Largest federal workers union in the country which represents a quarter
million V.A. employees, they say this is basically euphemistic code for
privatizing the V.A. They call it a total dismantling of the V.A. It`s
taking resources out of the V.A. and shifting them into the private sector.
It`s voucherizing veteran`s health care.
Now, this is just arisen – this has just been proposed by the Trump V.A.
The veterans organizations have not yet come out and full force to say
whether or not they agree with this, but next week, the Veterans Committee
in the House is going to review this plan and other V.A. reform proposals
in a hearing. That`s next Tuesday. We expect that veterans groups will be
on hand to testify.
But if you`ve been like me watching this for the past few years, seeing
conservative groups circling V.A. health care, trying to figure out how to
get rid of it, this appears to be the first one of the efforts to do that
that is coming from inside the federal government, from inside the Trump
administration. This could end up being a very big deal.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: This was “NBC Nightly News” September 1st 2005.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: It`s a profound humanitarian crisis that grows deeper by the
day, tens of thousands of hurricane refugees trapped in a city, that`s
dissolving into chaos.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We haven`t eaten here like five days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) be able survive out here with no milk, no
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No food, no water.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We get nothing (ph).
REPORTER: But victims who`ve suffered for days say they need help now and
want to know where it is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is wrong. We have no water. You could have
dropped it from the sky from the helicopter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The failure to get water, drinking water to the people of New
Orleans became one of the lasting images, a still searing detail about the
response to Hurricane Katrina, a symbol of the failure of our federal
government in the wake of that storm. At the time, FEMA hand-picked one
company to deliver bottled water to people who survived Katrina. They were
called Lipsey Mountain Spring Water. FEMA paid them $81 million to provide
bottled water during Katrina.
There were problems with that. The inspector general at the Department of
Defense concluded that Lipsey Mountain Spring Water, quote, did not
consistently meet time performance requirements of the contract. Lipsey
missed nine out of deadlines. They were paid nearly $900,000 in mysterious
unsupported costs. And we know the people of New Orleans didn`t get the
But apparently, FEMA believes in second chances, because after that
experience with that company just over a decade ago, FEMA has just granted
Lipsey, now going by Composite Analysis Group, they`ve just granted them a
new contract for $215 million, this time to deliver bottled water after
Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.
Data like this was scrupulously compiled by reporters at “Bloomberg
BusinessWeek”. They found this week that FEMA has awarded $2.2 billion
dollars in new contracts since August 25th when Hurricane Harvey. And you
might expect a lot of outlay like that in a hurricane year like this.
But would you expect that money to be spent this way on September 5th, Give
Co LLC, you got a $70 million award to build mobile homes for Hurricane
Harvey victims. Give Co`s only public presence is a Go Daddy Website which
lists neither a phone number, an email address nor information about who
runs the company. The address listed as its headquarters belongs to a
house in a residential neighborhood in Longwood, Florida. A phone call to
a number associated with the company was answered by a man who refused to
provide his name or answer questions. He referred questions to FEMA which
declined to answer them.
Again, they got a $74 million award from FEMA to build housing for Harvey`s
Joining us now is Matthew Philips. He`s a politics and policy editor at
Mr. Phillips, thank you for being here.
MATTHEW PHILIPS, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK POLITICS AND POLICY EDITOR: Thanks
for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: How`d you find this stuff?
PHILIPS: We have great analysts at “Bloomberg”. It`s a big company. We
have an entire team of data analysts who go through federal contracts every
day. They scrub this stuff that was coming out of the GSA, and we put it
in a spreadsheet. We`ve got a great reporter named Chris Flavelle down in
Washington who reports on climate change, has been doing a lot of work on
FEMA recently, put it in a spreadsheet, started looking at it and stuff
started looking a little funny.
MADDOW: I am finding sort of – dubious seeming companies getting large
contracts is one thing and I expect that we`ll learn more about those types
of contracts as we see with their responses like, and whether a little
seeming companies actually maybe have surprising resources to really
provide these things they`ve been contracted for. What I am – what I am
surprised by now is companies that have negative documented track records
from previous similar disasters getting even bigger contracts now. There`s
no blackball system?
PHILIPS: That`s right. FEMA keeps a long list of vetted contractors that
they have to deploy when disaster strike, like we`ve seen in the past
month. When you see three hurricanes hit in the span of a month, they
quickly blow through that and then they need to turn to whoever is next in
line. And sometimes, in this case, the person who`s next in line if
they`ve changed name their company, for example, has a previous track
It doesn`t seem like there`s a system in place to vet that or that whoever
was in charge of giving that contract gave it much mind and cared about it,
because the impetus here for obvious reasons is to get money out the door
and on the ground and get supplies delivered. That`s tricky when you have
to do it so quickly and you don`t have the system and process in place to
do this properly and to vet these companies.
MADDOW: Obviously, FEMA is a great concern right now because we`ve had
this terrifically terrible hurricane season and because of what persists in
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in terms of really dire conditions
there. There`s more FEMA personnel in Texas right now post-Harvey than
there are in Puerto Rico, even as Puerto Rico goes to a month without
drinking water. It`s very hard to sort of get your head around.
Is there anything from this reporting that tells you in a holistic sense
whether or not FEMA is well-run right now? Whether they`re doing a good
PHILIPS: Look, they are under tremendous pressure. Brock Long, who`s the
head of FEMA right now, is a seasoned, lifelong emergency management guy.
This is what he`s done his entire professional career. Do – does the
reporting that we`ve done indicate that they are aware of any problems in-
house about their procurement situation, it does not.
MADDOW: Well, we`ll see.
Matthew Philips, politics and policy editor for “Bloomberg Businessweek”, I
think this is a wake up call and it`s really good, good, well done
reporting. Thanks for helping us, Alex.
PHILIPS: Thanks for having us.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
All right. We`ll be right. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Can you say with absolute certainty that the election results
were not skewed as a result of Russian interference especially given what
we`ve learned just in the last few weeks?
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Yes, the intelligence community`s assessment is
that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s not true.
Today, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency said something that
was untrue, very important and not true. He said the intelligence
community`s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not
affect the outcome of our election. Not true.
Quoting from the intelligence community`s January report, quote: We did not
make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome
of the 2016 election.
So, the CIA director made exactly the opposite statement to what the
intelligence community put in writing just a few months ago. He got
blowback from those comments and then the CIA had to put out a clean-up
This was their clean up statement, quote: The intelligence assessment with
regard to the Russian election meddling has not changed and the director
did not intend to suggest that it had. Except for what he said directly on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POMPEO: Yes, the intelligence community`s assessment is that the Russian
meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s not true. The CIA director insists the director didn`t
really mean that when he said it. Let`s make you kind of wonder why he
said it then, right?
MADDOW: Something a little weird happens in Wisconsin last election day.
The state had ranked second in the country in voter participation in the
previous two presidential elections in 2008 and 2012. But in 2016,
Wisconsin saw its lowest voter turnout in nearly two decades.
In a new piece for “Mother Jones”, reporter Ari Berman offers one theory as
to why. This was the first big election under a new Wisconsin law that
made voting harder. They have a new voter ID law in Wisconsin.
After the election, the University of Wisconsin surveyed voters in some of
the Democratic strongholds in Wisconsin, they found that over 11 percent of
registered voters who didn`t vote in 2016 were, quote, deterred in some way
by the voter ID law either because they lacked ID, they believed they
lacked ID, or they were told at the polls their ID didn`t qualify as valid.
Well, 11 percent in those counties, that translates to as many as 45,000
people in those Democratic strongholds in Wisconsin, who might have been
discouraged from voting by the new voter ID law, 45,000.
Hillary Clinton lost Wisconsin by 22,000 votes. So voter ID might account
for more than double the margin of votes by which she lost.
In July 2014, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called Wisconsin`s voter ID
law pernicious and misguided. He said it was likely to, quote, impose
significant barriers to the most basic right of our democracy.
Here`s a programming note. Monday night, I am pleased to say, Eric Holder
will be here live for the interview on this show. I had a ton to ask him
about. This is his first live television interview since the election of
Donald Trump to the presidency. Monday night, 9:00 p.m., Eric Holder right
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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