Ukrainian passenger jet crashes in Iran. TRANSCRIPT: 1/8/20, The Rachel Maddow Show.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You’re doing something extremely toxic and
destructive, in the aggregate, over the course of time of the last 19
years, it’s impossible I think to say that U.S. foreign policy, military
policy and the war on terror has succeeded. It really is an addiction.
Spencer Ackerman and Michelle Goldberg, thank you both.
SPENCER ACKERMAN, REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Thank you.
HAYES: That is ALL IN this evening.
“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris.
Let me tell you that the last two nights you’re covering the Iran situation
has been enlightening and expiring and you at your best.
MADDOW: I think you’re just fantastic, man, hitting on all cylinders.
HAYES: That means a lot to me. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: I have learned a lot.
HAYES: Thank you very much. Thank you.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
There are two reporters in this clip. One from NBC, it’s Haley Talbot.
And in this footage, Haley Talbot from NBC is competing with but also
working alongside another reporter from a different competing news
organization, Julia Boccagno from CBS.
And what Talbot and Boccagno are doing here, which you’re about to see,
what they’re doing here is hard. It is hard to walk and film and keep pace
and not bump into things and ask concise, pointed questions on multiple,
simultaneous, developing governing crises. And while doing all those
things simultaneously to keep pushing content-wise in terms of getting an
answer while your subject is trying to blow you off, and you have to not
get distracted in this instance by the sort of adorable interruption that
happens in the middle of you doing your work where we encounter the
Republican senator from Mississippi and learn about how lovely his family
is as depicted on his Christmas card this year.
It all happens in a short period of time. You’re about to see it here.
This is hard to do. But Haley Talbot from NBC and Julia Boccagno from CBS,
they get it done. They get it done. They nail it.
They get yelled at a little bit for their trouble before it’s all over
with, but honestly, this is how you do it. If you want to grow up to be a
reporter, this is how you do it. Let’s roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Speaker Pelosi, can we ask you about your reaction – the Iran
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I’m sorry?
REPORTER: Can w ask you about the Iran briefing?
PELOSI: Well, you can, but I can’t talk about it. It’s a classified
REPORTER: What did – how would you characterize it? Did you think its
PELOSI: Well, we’re going to have our own introduction -
REPORTER: Some people are calling it the worst briefing they’ve ever
PELOSI: Well, there’s stiff competition for that honor from this
administration. For that designation.
REPORTER: What about articles of impeachment?
PELOSI: Your Christmas card was so memorable!
SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): Oh, thank you, thank you.
REPORTER: Are the articles going to be transferred tonight?
REPORTER: Anytime soon?
PELOSI: Do you listen when I speak? I said, when we saw what the arena is
that we would be sending them was in, we would send over the articles. We
haven’t seen that. So I don’t know how many more times I have to say that,
or how many more times you want to ask it, but when we see the arena in
which this will happen, we will then be prepared to send the articles, the
pay-fors, and the managers.
REPORTER: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tonight captured in motion as she moved
across the U.S. Capitol. Do you listen when I speak? Do you? Right?
She said, she said, you know, basically, she says there, the answer is
“no,” you’re asking about my decision. I’ve told at you grounds on which
my decision has been made. The Senate will get those articles of
impeachment conveyed from me, the speaker of the House, when the Senate
declares their intentions for the impeachment trial on those articles.
When they tell me what arena we’re going to be operating in here in terms
of the next steps in this impeachment, I will then forward them the
articles as well as the list of impeachment managers from the House and all
the rest of it. That’s what I said I would do from the beginning. That is
what I will do. Do you listen when I speak?
Because everything is happening all at once now and it is impossible to
extricate these crisis that we are having in our government right now, it’s
impossible to extricate these crisis from one another, in the same unbroken
fast-moving trot across the Capitol building, past all the statues through
the rotunda and everything, you’ve also got to get her on the record on the
other thing that that is simultaneously unfolding alongside this.
Will you testify about the classified briefing you just received on the
justifications for the U.S. military strike on Iran? No, that’s
classified. Madam Speaker, other people are saying it’s the worst briefing
they’ve ever received. She answers, well, there’s stiff competition for
that distinction around here these days, bucko. Bucko is silent.
I mean, this is the environment you’re in right now, right? You’re a
reporter working in the U.S. capitol. You get 40 seconds, maybe, with the
top Democrat in Washington because you’re in the right place at the right
time. She is in motion and you can physically catch her, literally you can
catch up to her and keep up with her while she is moving and she does not
slow down. If anything, she starts going faster, but you are capable of
doing your job in this way.
In trotting after her, and getting these questions out, you can get her to
acknowledge your questions before she dresses you down with them. But, I
mean, what you’re seeing there from those two working reporters in Capitol
Hill extricating that stuff from Nancy Pelosi is that how inextricable
these multiple crises are, right? This is all unfolding very rapidly now.
There’s no break between these two enormous stories.
I mean, how did the Iran crisis start? Well, it was after the president
was impeached by the House led by Nancy Pelosi. It was as the Senate was
preparing to come back to Washington to reconvene, to make their decision
on how they would conduct the impeachment trial of the president.
It was in that interregnum between him being impeached and him starting his
trial that the president ordered this military strike which reportedly
flabbergasted and stunned Pentagon officials who were advising him on this
matter. The president ordered up this U.S. military attack to target and
kill the number two most powerful official in the Iranian government, the
most powerful official in their military.
And those two stories, right, this happening in the interregnum between him
being impeached and potentially removed, that and the military strike he
ordered during that interregnum, these two stories will not be
disentangled, right? In the history of this moment and the history of this
time in our country, the history of this presidency, these things will
always be on the books as having happened at once.
And our political leaders are having to confront them both at once. That’s
why you have Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the house, in one continuous on the
move sound bite being asked about both the intelligence briefing on why the
president ordered that military strike and when she’s planning on sending
impeachment articles to the Senate. Yes, there is a brief interlude where
he complements Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi on the beauty of his
family as depicted in their family Christmas card, but other than that,
it’s all one big story.
As Iran fired ballistic missiles at U.S. targets inside Iraq last night and
President Trump today gave an awe, sort of stumbling speech in which he
basically crowed about how those missile attacks from Iran didn’t do much
damage, the consequences of the president’s decision to launch this
military strike are starting to maybe come into focus. There’s still
considerable uncertainty about what might happen next or how big the stakes
might ultimately be here, but as that is happening, today was the day that
the administration decided they would finally brief Congress on the key
question, the question that will loom large in the culpability of this
moment which is why the president chose to do this when he did it.
Was there a good reason for the president to order that air strike against
a senior Iranian government official when he did it? Was the decision
driven by some national security imperative in the interest of the United
States, or was it driven by something else? Which avoidably a front of
mind question because he ordered that strike somewhat out of the blue, in
the middle of him being impeached. Well, it’s been almost a week since
that strike that killed General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds
Force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It’s been almost a week now.
Today, finally, the administration sent military and intelligence officials
to Congress, briefings today for Congress that were designed to convince
both the House and the Senate that the strike was legal and it was done for
all of the right reasons. Based on what members of Congress said coming
out of those briefings, it didn’t go well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): This, however, is not the biggest problem I had with
the briefing, which I would add was probably the worst briefing I’ve seen
at least on a military issue in the nine years I’ve served in the United
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is Republican U.S. Senator Mike Lee from Utah who came out of
his version of the briefing today on the air strike against Iran, which
again was a briefing designed to reassure the Congress that President Trump
launched this military strike against this Iranian military official in the
middle of his impeachment, but don’t worry, it was for all the right
reasons. It was for reasons that were fine, and sound and legal and not at
I mean, Senator Mike Lee, again, a Republican, has long been a stickler for
the constitutional prerogatives of Congress when it comes to making
decisions about war and peace. But his upset today would appear to be sort
of his revulsion for what the Trump administration tried to sell him and
other senators today. It seemed to go beyond just that concern.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: I went in there hoping to get more specifics as far as the factual,
legal, moral justification for what they did. I’m still undecided on that
issue in part because we never got to the details. They left after 75
Now, I understand these are busy people. They’ve got a lot of demands on
their time. They’re appearing before a coordinate branch of government, a
coordinate branch of government responsible for their funding, for their
confirmation, for any approval of any military action they might undertake,
and they had to leave after 75 minutes while they’re in the process of
telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and
not debate this in public. I find that absolutely insane. I think it’s
I can say that after that briefing, that briefing is what changed my mind.
That briefing is what brought me on board together with the amendments that
Senator Kaine has agreed to make. I’m now going to support it. I walked
in the briefing undecided, I walked out decided, specifically because of
what happened in that briefing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What Republican Senator Mike Lee is saying at the end there about
him now being decided. He walked into the briefing undecided and he’s now
decided. He’s saying there because of how terrible this briefing was from
the Trump administration. Military and intelligence officials from the
Trump administration trying to justify to the Congress why President Trump
launched this military strike against Iran.
Senator Lee says now, based on how terrible that briefing was, he’s now
definitively decided that he will support a forthcoming resolution in the
Senate to invoke the War Powers resolution and essentially disallow
President Trump from continuing any further military action against Iran
unless Congress approves. We don’t know exactly what that resolution will
look like in part because part of what Senator Mike Lee said today is that
they’re now negotiating with the Democrats about what the amendments might
be to that resolution now that more Republicans apparently want to sign on
board of it.
But that Senate resolution is coming and we’re going to see a different
version of it tomorrow in the House. Tomorrow, this resolution will be
brought up on the floor for a full House vote. They brought it up in the
rules committee today so it could be on the floor of the House tomorrow.
As you see, it’s labeled a concurrent resolution. It’s pretty simple.
Concurrent resolution, quote, directing the president pursuant to section
5C of the War Powers Resolution to terminate the use of United States armed
forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran.
Quote, over the past eight months in response to rising tensions with Iran,
the United States has introduced over 15,000 additional forces into the
Middle East. The killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani as well as
Iran’s ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases risks significant escalation
and hostilities between the United States and Iran. When the United States
uses military force, the American people and members of the United States
Armed Forces deserve a credible explanation regarding such use of military
The War Powers Resolution requires the president to consult with Congress
in every possible instance before introducing U.S. armed forces into
hostilities. Congress has not authorized the president to use military
force against Iran.
Therefore, pursuant to section 5C of the War Powers Resolutions, Congress
hereby directs the president to terminate the use of the United States
Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its
government or military. Unless Congress has declared war, or enacted
specific statutory authorizations for such use of the armed forces, or such
use of the Armed Forces is necessary and appropriate to defend against an
imminent armed attack.
That is the resolution that’s going to be voted on in the House of
Representatives tomorrow according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It’s
going to be led by veteran national security veteran and a new freshman
Democratic member of the House, Elissa Slotkin.
Now, Nancy Pelosi does not have a history of bringing legislation to the
floor of the House unless she knows she can pass it. She doesn’t tend to
make mistakes in that regard. So we should, I think, expect that this
concurrent resolution under the War Powers Act will pass the House
The speaker also said today that in addition to that war powers resolution,
they will advance legislation in the House to withhold funding for any war
in Iran and to try to overturn an 18-year-old authorization for the use of
military force which apparently the Trump administration is now citing as
the legal basis for what the president did with this strike against Iran.
But again, it’s not going to be just the House. That’s what’s going to
happen in the House. In the Senate, there will be an effort led by Senator
Tim Kaine, former Democratic vice presidential candidate. He’s going to
lead a War Powers Resolution sort of moment of reckoning in the Senate in
terms of what President Trump just did.
We know as of today that it looks like at least two Republican senators
will support that effort. Senator Mike Lee, we know from his impassioned
comments today, standing with him there, Senator Rand Paul signaling that
he’s also in that same position. And again, whatever it was that the
administration rolled out in these closed-door briefings today in Congress
to try to convince the House and the Senate that President Trump did the
right thing for all the right reasons when he ordered this strike against
Iran, whatever they were thinking what happened here, it has backfired.
On the House side, you saw people from the Foreign Affairs Committee like
Jerry Connelly calling the arguments that he heard in this briefing on the
Iran strike today, quote, sophomoric. Decorated Iraq war veteran,
Democratic Seth Moulton, said that the briefers themselves couldn’t even
agree on what it was they were pitching to the Congress, in terms of the
explanation for what Trump did and when he did it.
Democratic senators coming out of their briefing on the Senate side also
did not mince words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): At least based on the presentation that was made,
it does not meet what I consider to be an imminent threat.
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): I would say that the briefing was incredibly
thin on facts and to the extent that they provided facts in my judgment,
they did not support any claim of an imminent threat.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I was deeply surprised at the lack of
information presented by the administration. This appears to me to be a
strike of choice by this administration, one that likely would have
required congressional authorization. We did not get information inside
that briefing that there was a specific, imminent threat that we were
halting through the operation conducted last Thursday night. I think it is
likely because it doesn’t exist.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We had 97 senators there, 15 a got to ask
questions as the questions began to get tough, they walked out.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): It seemed to reflect a very rushed and reckless
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): It was deeply concerning today.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): I came away from this briefing really
angry, deeply dissatisfied that after waiting this long for the facts that
justified the killing of the second in command of a foreign government,
that the answers were unacceptably vague and unspecific. In fact, my
takeaway from this briefing was that it raised more questions than it
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Again, how we got here is that in the middle of being impeached,
the president launched a military strike targeting the government of Iran.
Today was their effort to explain that and say that there was a good reason
for him to do it and it was definitely in the national security interest of
the United States. Wasn’t at all motivated by his impeachment concerns or
domestic political worries and sure it was legal, right? It was legal?
This is the outcome of that effort to persuade, to show the evidence, to
persuade the House and the Senate today that this was all right.
In the wake of this fiasco in Washington today, the administration
interestingly canceled its plans to have Vice President Mike Pence give a
big Iran speech on Monday. On Monday, Mike Pence was supposed to lay out
the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran and their strategy toward
Iran and what exactly they’re planning on doing toward Iran and what was
the justification for the air strike.
That was supposed to be Monday. As of tonight, they have canceled that
speech. It is indefinitely put off.
Meanwhile, simultaneously, as the effort to try to present some sort of
rationale for the president’s action fails and falls apart and, in part, is
abandoned, Nancy Pelosi isn’t yet handing the articles of impeachment over
to the United States Senate. And the Senate Republican leader, Mitch
McConnell, is insisting he wants to go ahead with the impeachment trial on
his own terms, on his own party’s terms, with Republicans only determining
the grounds on which the Senate trial of President Trump will be conducted.
Now, it was 21 years ago today, January 8th, 1999, when the U.S. Senate
came to a unanimous 100-0 bipartisan agreement about how they would proceed
with the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. It was the great
Gwen Ifill who reported on that consensus deal that night for “NBC Nightly
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GWEN IFILL, NBC NEWS: With the rest of the nation’s capitol stuck in the
snow today, the Senate moves forward, unanimously approving a plan to begin
the president’s impeachment trial next Wednesday. The Supreme Court Chief
Justice William Rehnquist presiding.
WILLIAM REHNQUIST, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: The Senate will now resume
consideration of the articles of impeachment against William Jefferson
IFILL: Senators put aside sharp party disagreements, unanimously setting
in motion what they optimistically hope will be a five-week trial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Twenty-one years ago today, following a 100-0 vote in the United
States Senate about how they would proceed in the impeachment trial against
In contrast, today, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell who was part of that
that 100-0 vote 21 years ago today, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell
wants to proceed with the impeachment trial of President Trump under rules
that only Republican senators will vote for and that no Democrats support.
So, these two inextricable crises move forward. And as they move forward,
you know what? In terms of what’s going to happen next and the types of
pressures that are going to change here, we don’t know what’s going to
happen with Iran.
But we do have some inkling what’s going to happen with impeachment.
Because one thing that the Republicans can’t control, that the White House
apparently can’t control, that ultimately it’s going to be hard to distract
from, no matter else is going on, is the fact that more new evidence and
potential witness testimony keeps emerging with each passing day in the
impeachment scandal. And that day-to-day is going to change the stakes for
the Republican-controlled Senate and them trying to do an impeachment trial
that doesn’t engage with any emerging facts or witnesses.
I mean, in addition to former national security adviser John Bolton saying
he would testify in an impeachment trial, a revelation that reportedly left
the White House scrambling in response, in addition to the hundreds of new
emails that the Trump administration tried to block from being released to
the impeachment inquiry, which were nevertheless later forced into the open
by court orders, new emails showing the president’s direct roll in ordering
military aid withheld from Ukraine.
In addition to the classified supplement that was filed with the
Intelligence Committee concerning the engagement of Vice President Mike
Pence with the Ukrainian government around the scheme for which the
president was impeached, in addition to the recently revealed Pentagon
emails which showed the perception at the highest levels at the pentagon
that Vice President Mike Pence would be key in securing whatever it was
that was being demanded from Ukraine in exchange for them getting their
In addition to a federal district court judge ordering last week that Rudy
Giuliani’s compatriot in the Ukraine scheme, Lev Parnas, would be allowed
to hand other to the intelligence committee the contents of his new iPhone
which he and his lawyers say are materially relevant to this impeachment
investigation, in addition to all of that new evidence and that new
material about the core impeachment allegations that has surged to the
surface since the impeachment articles were passed in the House three weeks
ago tonight, in addition to all of that, as of tonight, a watchdog group
called American Oversight has just received from the State Department by
court order additional documents that have never been seen by the public
before that were supposed to be about Rudy Giuliani’s engagement with the
State Department on this scheme for which the president was already
Just within the hour, American Oversight announced that they have received
these documents. We have just ahold of them ourselves. We are reviewing
I will tell you, though. This is just the first batch. The day after
tomorrow, American Oversight is expecting yet more documents to be
released, again, from the State Department, things we have never seen
before that the Trump administration tried to block from becoming public
that pertain to the Ukraine scandal, the Friday documents are expected to
pertain specifically to President Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt
I mean, all of this stuff is still coming out, which will change the
dynamics of the Senate impeachment trial against President Trump and how
much Republicans in the Senate are able to constrain it so none of that is
discussed, everything all at once.
Senator Chris Van Hollen has helped lead the effort in the United States
Senate to try to force a full trial in the president in which witnesses
will be heard, in which this new evidence will be heard and examined.
Senator Van Hollen joins us live here next.
Lots going on. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN HOLLEN: Mr. President, here’s what we saw earlier. This is one of the
emails, redacted emails. This is the draft letter I just referred to that
had been prepared for the signature of the deputy secretary of defense.
It’s addressed to Mr. Vogt. He’s the acting director over at OMB.
So when the administration first released the emails in response to a
Freedom of Information request, something that the administration didn’t
want to do but it was required by law, they decided to black out this
entire email. Redact it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That’s this double helix of crises twists its way through
Washington today, senators today were briefed by the administration on the
purported explanation for why President Trump launched that military strike
against a senior Iranian government official last week. On a bipartisan
basis, senators expressed dissatisfaction with those briefings today.
Simultaneously, though, there is a joined fight between senators about
whether or not the House – excuse me, whether or not the Senate
impeachment trial of President Trump will be conducted along anything that
looks like bipartisan lines and whether or not new evidence that has
surfaced since the House passed its impeachment articles and new witnesses
will be heard in that Senate impeachment trial.
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland who has
called for more witnesses and more evidence to be heard at the Senate
Sir, thank you for joining us tonight. I really appreciate you being here.
VAN HOLLEN: Great. Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: First, let me ask you about my perception, which I’ve described a
couple times tonight already, which is my sense that there are these twin
crises right now. There is this matter in terms of what’s happening
between the United States and Iran, the possibility for further
retaliation, the justification for that strike that the president launched
against Iran, and there is the ongoing negotiation argument, arguably
crisis around the impeachment scandal.
It seems to me like this is a double helix, like these crises are unfolding
in an inextricable way. Is that fair?
VAN HOLLEN: That’s very fair. And these are two crises that Congress has
an obligation to deal with under the Constitution. I mean, Congress has
the power to declare war. The president can’t unilaterally go out and do
that. You are right to describe today’s intelligence briefing as a
disaster for the administration’s position.
First of all, the facts were very thin, and I can tell you that those facts
did not support the administration’s claim that there was an imminent
threat. This was a choice that the administration made, one that has
really made Americans less safe and the region less safe, and has given the
Iranians a leg up on their major strategic objective in Iraq, which was to
reduce our influence and our position there, which we’ve seen happening.
So you’ve got this going on, and then the other constitutional duty is, of
course, for the Senate to try a case. The word “try” is in the
Constitution, and every American knows that in order to have a fair trial,
you need to be able to call relevant fact witnesses and get relevant
documents. As you’ve just described, that has become more important than
ever with the recent ravings that have come out in the last couple weeks.
MADDOW: Now, you have called aggressively for the recent revelations to be
aired out in the Senate trial, for the evidence that has been produced for
the witnesses who either newly seemed relevant or who were volunteering now
to testify to be actually harder as part of this trial. There’s no
indication that Senator Mitch McConnell wants to do any of that.
Is it – is it effectively settled now, the way the trial will convene and
the way the trial will proceed given that he says that he can run things
however he wants based on the votes of only Republican senators?
VAN HOLLEN: Rachel, I do not think it’s settled and here’s why. Mitch
McConnell, Senator McConnell clearly is trying to rig this trial, right?
He’s trying to exclude witnesses and exclude relevant documents.
But even if Senator McConnell is to start this trial without a promise to
call witnesses, we will have an opportunity to make motions, to call
witnesses, and to request documents. And those motions will be subjected
to votes. And so, we will need 51 votes.
Now, senator McConnell may want to put his head in the sand, he may want to
say he doesn’t want to hear or see evidence, but the question is whether
all those Republican senators are going to be complicit in trying to cover
up the facts. And we need four Republican senators, hopefully more, who
will recognize that the American people want to see a fair trial, and that
means a trial with witnesses and documents. So, there will be votes.
These Republican senators will not be able to escape accountability on the
question of a fair trial.
MADDOW: Sir, you came out very early in support of House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi’s ultimate strategy here, which was not to convey the articles of
impeachment right over to the Senate. Instead, what she has done is she
said she wants to know what the arena will be in which these impeachment
articles are heard, that she wants to know that before she hands the
impeachment articles over and before she picks the impeachment managers
from the House side who will effectively try the case in the Senate. I
know you were very much in support of that strategy early on.
Has that strategy effectively run its course now, or do you think the
speaker is correct to hold out until she has the kind of assurances about
how the trial is going to be run that she’s been asking for?
VAN HOLLEN: Rachel, I think she was absolutely right to take that
position. And I respect her judgment as to what the right time will be to
send over the articles of impeachment.
Because of her action, we’ve had a very public discussion throughout the
country about what constitutes a fair trial and the fact that witnesses and
documents are essential to that fair trial. I don’t think we would have
seen that level of attention. What you would have seen if Mitch McConnell
had gotten those articles, he would have immediately launched into the
proceedings the way he wants to without that discussion.
Now we see a lot more pressure on senators, including Republican senators,
to be there to call these witnesses. I mean, my goodness. We had John
Bolton, who we know from Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony, describe the
president’s holdup of Ukraine as a drug deal. And you still got people
like Mitch McConnell and Republicans who don’t think that the guy who is
witness to the drug deal should come and give personal testimony?
Donald Trump, President Trump on December 13th said he wanted Mick
Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, to testify at a Senate trial. Well,
we do too.
So what Speaker Pelosi has done is focus more attention on this and I would
finally say on this point that Mitch McConnell says he wants to do this
like the Clinton trial. Well, in the Clinton trial, as you know, all the
witnesses they wanted to call had already testified under oath in previous
proceedings. In this case, none of the witnesses that we want to call have
testified under oath in previous proceedings because the president has
blocked them from doing it.
So, at some point, we’re going to have a vote on this fundamental issue of
fairness in a trial. And I think Speaker Pelosi’s strategy has helped
highlight the importance of this issue.
MADDOW: Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland – sir, thanks for
making time for us tonight. I know there’s a lot going on. I appreciate
you being here.
VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We got much more to get to here tonight. Do stay with
MADDOW: Here’s what we know about the civilian passenger plane that
crashed just outside Tehran early this morning, killing all 176 people on
board. It was a Ukrainian International Airlines flight. It had just
taken off from Iran’s capital Tehran and was flying to the Ukrainian
capital of Kyiv.
The plane took off at 6:12 a.m. local time. It reached nearly 8,000 feet
in what appeared to be a normal ascent. But within two minutes, it had
suddenly disappeared from radar. The plane then crashed into fields about
ten miles from Tehran’s airport.
One hundred seventy-six people on board all killed. They included 82
Iranians, 63 Canadians, most of the passengers, 138 of them, were scheduled
to transfer in Kyiv to a flight that would go on to Toronto and Canada.
The “Associated Press” reports that many of the passengers who were killed
were believed to be international students attending universities in Canada
returning to school after visiting family in Iran during the winter break.
That’s some of what we know.
Here’s some of what we still don’t know. We don’t know what happened that
caused that plane to crash. And we don’t know how we’re going to find out
This is a Ukrainian airliner that took off from Tehran before dawn. It
took off on the same night that Iran had just launched a dozen or so
ballistic missiles at American targets inside Iraq. As “The New York
Times” put it today, just hours before the plane took off, quote, Iran had
fired missiles at two bases in Iraq that housed United States troops, and
Iranian forces were on alert for an American counterstrike.
The FAA issued a notice last night. You might remember from our coverage,
prohibiting civilian airliners from operating in the air space over Iran,
that was in over concerns that airliners might be mistaken for military
aircraft. After the missiles were launching from Iran, they put out this
notice to pilots to stay clear of Iranian air space.
In terms of what we don’t know and how we’re going to figure out what
happened here, there is reason to believe that the plane may have been on
fire before it crashed. This video was taken from the ground in Iran.
It’s been verified by NBC News.
It appears to show the Ukrainian passenger plane on fire, aflame, streaking
through the sky before it exploded on impact. Aviation experts are telling
reporters today that the crash site bears the hallmarks of a plane that
looks like it broke up in the air before it hit the ground. No big central
crater, wreckage strewn over a large area.
So, it’s not surprising that at a press conference today to mourn the loss
of 63 citizen, Justin Trudeau was asked directly the question that’s on
everybody’s minds about this disaster.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Can you say categorically one way or another that the plane was
not shot down?
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I cannot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So now the question becomes, how are we going to find out what
happened to this plane? Was it shot down accidentally or deliberately?
Was it some kind of horrific coincidence that a plane crashed out of that
particular part of the sky on that night of all nights just after those
missiles were fired from Iran and the whole world was on tenterhooks
waiting to see if there would be further military interaction between the
United States and Iran or proxies on either side?
Because the crash happened on Iranian soil, it is Iran that will lead the
investigation. Iran has already insisted that the crash was a mechanical
failure on the plane of some kind. One Iranian official going so far as to
plane that the engine exploded and the pilot wasn’t able to gain control,
even though there’s literally no way that anybody could know that at this
Iran is also insisting it will not send the airplane’s recovered black
boxes to Boeing, to the airplane’s manufacturer for analysis which would
otherwise be standard procedure. But because the manufacturer, Boeing, is
an American manufacturer and Iran doesn’t want anything to do with America
on this or any other matter, that’s not going to happen this time.
It’s ultimately not clear who’s going to get to analyze the evidence from
this crash. Iran apparently is allowing a Ukrainian team to participate in
the investigation. Again, this was a Ukrainian airliner.
While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he is, quote,
confident that Canada will also be a part of the investigation, Canada,
like the U.S., has no diplomatic relations with Iran. It’s not even clear
that Iran will speak to Canada about this, let alone invite them into the
investigation. Despite the fact that about a third of the people who were
killed on board this flight were Canadian citizens.
So, yes, the question is what happens here, but more imminently, how are we
going to find out what happened here? Hold that thought. That’s next.
MADDOW: Just hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at bases housing
American troops in Iraq last night, a civilian passenger plane crashed
outside Iran’s capital minutes after taking off. One hundred and seventy-
six people on board were killed.
Tonight, we still don’t know what happened, whether it was an aviation
accident that struck coincidentally last night of all nights in Tehran of
all places. For obvious but certainly circumstantial reasons, there’s also
speculation and concern over the possibility the plane might have been shot
down somehow, perhaps accidentally, a case of mistaken identity in the
midst of last night’s military conflict between Iran and the United States.
How are we going to get those answers?
Joining us now is Jeff Guzzetti. He’s a former NTSB investigator and FAA
accident investigation chief.
Mr. Guzzetti, thank you very much for being here. This is a very serious
and concerning series of events. That’s a pleasure and an honor to have
you with us tonight.
JEFF GUZZETTI, FORMER FAA & FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: It’s good to be with
MADDOW: So looking at this crash from this distance, obviously, we don’t
know anything in terms of what’s been looked at, we don’t know anything
about what kind of investigation is ultimately going to happen. But you
told “The Washington Post” tonight, quote, to me it has all the earmarks of
an intentional act. I don’t know whether it was a bomb or a missile or an
incendiary device, but you said, if the video of the flaming plane was
accurate, I can’t conceive of a failure that would cause that much of a
Can you explain to us your thinking behind those comments? What do you
GUZZETTI: Sure. Probably, the word “intentional act” would be something I
would probably correct in that, but it does have all the earmarks of
something that isn’t typically an aviation accident failure, like you
explained in the opening. The circumstantial evidence that is out there in
the public now, basically the radar track, the normal profile right after
takeoff, a normal, smooth, within parameters climb to 7,900 feet and then
suddenly nothing. There’s no more transponder. It’s as if the entire
electric system of the airplane, to include the redundant battery backup
all goes away.
And then when you pair that up with the video, and if you take the video on
its face that that’s the video of the accident airplane, you got to
remember the parallax. That video – that flame is probably two, three
miles away from whoever was filming it. And that was not just a light.
That was a large fire ball where chunks of, it appeared chunks of fire was
coming off that fire ball. And then it hits the ground and you see this
giant plume of flame.
Things like that just don’t happen out of the blue in an aviation type of
accident. It can, like TWA 800 and other accidents, but that was a while
ago. Today’s airplanes – this was a fairly young airplane – are built to
be able to withstand these types of normal failures. A missile or a bomb,
not so much.
But an engine – uncontained engine failure or cargo fire, for example, it
takes a while for something like that to turn into a full-fledged flaming
fire ball, and that is – it didn’t take a while in this case. It was just
two minutes into the flight.
MADDOW: What do you expect in terms of the investigation of this matter?
Obviously, there’s a lot of unique things about these circumstances, where
it happened, the night on which it happened, the immediate and confused
statements about what happened here.
What do you think will happen in terms of investigating the cause of this
GUZZETTI: Well, Rachel, I’m hopeful it’s going to be a transparent
investigation. And quite frankly, you know, the head of the Iranian Civil
Aviation Administration actually said that. You know, he doesn’t want to
speculate, and that’s the right thing to say.
They follow the international playbook for aviation accidents. It’s called
ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization annex 13. It’s been in
force for decades. Most countries play by those rules. And it allows
people to play in the investigation like Boeing or NTSB or FAA.
I think there might be an issue with Iran being a sanctioned country, where
there’s actual laws in our country that will make it difficult for us to
exchange technical information. And hopefully, you know, things can be
worked out, waivers can be written for that.
But something like this, it’s very tough in the aviation safety world to
keep under wraps and to keep a secret. And I think that we will get to the
bottom of it eventually. I don’t know the mechanism by which that’s going
to happen, but I think we will know.
MADDOW: Jeff Guzzetti, safety – air safety investigator and engineering
specialist at the NTSB for 18 years before becoming accident investigation
chief at the FAA – sir, thanks for your time tonight. Scary situation.
Thanks for helping us.
GUZZETTI: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. More news to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Top of the show I mentioned that new documents were just released
by court order tonight to the watchdog group American Oversight. This is
the latest addition to the raft of my information about the impeachment
scandal that’s been pried loose by the courts and oversight groups even
since the House passed those impeachment articles against the president
three weeks ago tonight.
These new documents just released tonight are from the State Department, 44
pages including an introductory letter from State saying, here are your
records. Based on the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that forced this
disclosure, American Oversight expected that these documents would include
exchanges between the president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and the State
Department as Giuliani tried to leverage Ukraine into the scheme, to try to
help with the president’s 2020 campaign.
Even though that’s what they were supposed to get, the watchdog group
appears to have gotten a bunch of stuff tonight from State that has very
little to do with Giuliani. Just to mention here or there, as in this
letter from Congress to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
American Oversight says tonight, quote: For a foreign policy initiative the
White House claims was totally above board and legitimate, it is highly
suspicious that the senior echelons of the State Department have no records
of any communications with Rudy Giuliani, the lead trafficker of the bogus
conspiracy theory, during the critical months of August and September 2019.
Giuliani himself said he was in contact with Secretary Pompeo in September
yet there is no record of it in these documents in contrast with prior
calls between the two men.
American Oversight says they are expecting another round of State
Department documents to be released to them the day after tomorrow. So,
possibly still more to come.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Thank you for being with us tonight. That’s going to do it for
us. 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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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