Juneteenth TRANSCRIPT: 6/19/20, The Rachel Maddow Show
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel. Happy Friday.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Happen Friday as well, have a very good weekend.
I want to tell you, Chris, that the – between the thunder and lightning
thing that you were talking about in terms of case numbers and death
numbers from the coronavirus resonate so perfectly for me in terms of how I
have been feeling and how I have been dreading these last few weeks and
rising case numbers. I feel like I`m both mad at you for putting that in my
head and also thankful to have it, that was very clarifying.
HAYES: Thank you. Yeah, it`s really worrying.
MADDOW: Yes. All right, thanks, my friend, I appreciate it.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here
this Friday night.
It was not raining in Dallas, Texas, today but lots of people held
umbrellas outside anyway, big umbrellas, bright yellow umbrellas painted
with the names of African American men and women killed by police. The
local artist who designed them said the yellow symbolizes hope and
liberation. They paraded them down the streets of Dallas today on this
They celebrated Juneteenth in Oakland, California, today. This was the port
of Oakland. Look at this, thousands of people, peaceful protesters, joined
by the longshoreman`s union, commemorating the end of slavery in this
country. As part of this Juneteenth action today at Oakland, they shut down
the operations of the port of Oakland today.
This was across the bay, in San Francisco today, people holding a socially
distant Juneteenth protest outside San Francisco city hall. There were more
than a dozen different Juneteenth rallies and demonstrations and
celebrations just in Washington, D.C. today. Thousands of people crowded
around the memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King and also the Washington
Monument, and also the Lincoln Memorial and in Malcolm X Park and in front
of the White House.
A group of hundreds of people marched in the rain to the steps of the
mayor`s office at the Wilson Building demanding the mayor defund D.C.
police. To commemorate Juneteenth in New York today, demonstrators crossed
the Brooklyn Bridge, some on foot, some by bike, with signs taped to the
There were thousands of people in the streets of Atlanta today, that city,
of course, still grieving the police killing of Rayshard Brooks this past
week. Atlantans marched from Centennial Olympic park to Atlanta City Hall,
the small replica of the Statue of Liberty looking over home to.
There were Juneteenth celebrations all over the place today, just huge
numbers of people. In Chicago and in St. Paul and in Denver and Los Angeles
and Galveston, Texas, today, the birthplace of Juneteenth, where General
Gordon Granger first delivered the news in 1865, the belated news that all
enslaved people were free. The civil war was over.
The war in fact had ended more than a month prior. Slavery had been illegal
in America by then for 2 1/2 years, ever since President Lincoln signed the
In Galveston today, they did a dramatic reading of the order today in the
same spot it was first read 155 years ago. This time, though, of course
they had to wear face masks while reading it and while listening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with
a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slaves are
free. This involves –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Right now, 47 states and Washington, D.C. recognize Juneteenth as
either an official state holiday or as a day of observance.
As part of the sea change that we are experiencing and living through in
this country right now in the wake of multiple police killings of African
Americans and this wave of protest and outrage that has washed over the
country, part of the change we are living through and making happen right
now includes a renewed push to make Juneteenth an official holiday all over
Today, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called on the state legislature in
Minnesota to make that happen in his state. Earlier this week, the governor
of Virginia announced that Juneteenth would henceforth become a paid state
holiday in Virginia. Both the state of New York and the city of Portland,
Oregon, did the same for public employees.
There`s a push on the federal level too, and it is a bipartisan one with
two bills being put forward, one by a group of Democratic senators, another
by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, both of which propose to make
June 19th a national federal holiday, recognizing the end of slavery.
In some parts of the country though, federal holiday or not, celebrating
and honoring Juneteenth is already embedded into the cultural fabric. Take
Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example. Tulsa, of course, was the site of the
horrific race massacre, the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, the massacre of
African Americans by a group of white people who attacked an affluent
African American neighborhood in Tulsa. They destroyed businesses. They
attacked the black residents. They burned the whole community to the
ground. Hundreds of African Americans killed in that attack. Thousands of
Well, today, Tulsa held a fairly massive Juneteenth celebration 99 years
after the Tulsa race massacre. There was a march through the city of Tulsa.
There were speeches and music. There were art lessons for the kids.
In one of the more somber moments today, protesters walked an empty casket
through the streets to remember the people who died during the race
massacre almost a century ago. The importance of marking Juneteenth has
been enshrined in Tulsa`s culture for a long, long time now.
Community organizers had long planned for today to be a big Juneteenth
celebration in Tulsa. They initially had canceled today`s event, though,
because of concerns about coronavirus.
Of course shortly after that, though, the president decided that
coronavirus be damned, he wanted Tulsa to be the site of the first big
rally for his re-election effort at a 19,000-person arena in Tulsa. The
president`s campaign announced initially that that rally would be held on
June 19th, on Juneteenth.
When that announcement was made, it came as this like remarkable slap in
the face, right? Deciding to hold it on Juneteenth but in Tulsa of all
places, the site of one of the worst incidents of racial terrorism in
American history, that massacre of African Americans, of which we are
entering into the centennial year, right? Widely considered to be the
single worst incident of racial violence in American history, and he wants
to go there on Juneteenth, especially after what he`s been saying recently
on racial matters.
Faced with that announcement from the Trump campaign, community organizers
in Tulsa did what they thought needed to be done. They un-canceled. They
rescheduled Tulsa`s previously canceled Juneteenth commemoration basically
as a way to counterprogram what the president was doing in their town.
Given the widespread backlash that that announced Trump rally caused, the
president was forced to move it off Juneteenth and moved it to tomorrow
But regardless of that late concession, there`s a movement that is
happening in Tulsa right now that has a totally different cast than it
otherwise would have had. Trump`s decision to hold a rally there on
Juneteenth as amplified celebrations that just until a few weeks ago had
been called off because of COVID.
Given how bad things are in Oklahoma right now in terms of the epidemic,
community activists elsewhere in the state have postponed events that they
had scheduled even for this weekend. There was due to be a Black Lives
Matter event scheduled to take place in Oklahoma City tonight. It was
called off at the last minute because they didn`t think it would be safe.
Organizers said they expected 10,000 people to turn out for an event in
Oklahoma City tonight, what they were calling a solidarity event with
10,000 people on hand. They thought it would be impossible to hold it
safely in terms of concerns about the virus, and so they canceled tonight`s
planned events in Oklahoma City.
But not in Tulsa. Given everything that`s happened around Tulsa and the
president`s decisions and all of this, that event was seen as simply too
important to put off to a later date.
It`s against that backdrop that we heard from the Reverend Al Sharpton just
a little while ago tonight. Reverend Sharpton was the headline speaker at
today`s Juneteenth celebration in Tulsa, and here`s part of what the rev
had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We celebrate the day and all this
country those that are humane and those who are committed to decency should
celebrate because Juneteenth represented the first day in this country that
you did not have legalized slavery.
When members of the Senate proposed making a federal holiday out of
Juneteenth today, it ought to be a federal holiday because it`s the first
day this country stepped toward living up to the motto that it had
announced, that all men were created equal.
Don`t forget that most of them that wrote that owned slaves. Most of them
that wrote that didn`t even respect their own women. Women couldn`t vote
That`s why I`m a little puzzled when I hear people walking around talking
about “Make America Great Again.”
Give me the date that America was great for everybody.
It wasn`t great for blacks when we were enslaved and then had to fight Jim
Crow and then fight for the right to vote. It wasn`t great for white women,
who couldn`t even vote and was reduced to staying in the kitchen. It wasn`t
great for those of Latino and Asian descent who were not welcome here even
though you had a statue in the harbor saying “bring me your tired and
huddled masses that yearn to be free.”
When was America great? For everybody?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Reverend Al Sharpton speaking tonight at Juneteenth commemoration
in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the eve of the president`s rally there that has
caused so much consternation in that city, in that state, and even around
As that event, that Juneteenth celebration, starts to wrap up tonight, the
city of Tulsa has to prepare for tomorrow`s event with the president. And
to be honest, the convergence of all these people in Tulsa, folks out
celebrating Juneteenth and people who have been camping out, waiting in
line to make sure they can get in to see the president, it`s already led to
Last night, the mayor of Tulsa imposed an overnight curfew for downtown
Tulsa. He imposed the curfew for Friday and Saturday nights based on what
he said were projections that 100,000 people were expected to converge in
the area surrounding the BOK Center where the president`s going to hold his
But today, the Secret Service apparently told the mayor or asked the mayor
to lift that curfew. So they announced the curfew last night. Now the mayor
has lifted the curfew even as the president has been stoking tensions as
best as he can on Twitter. The president threatening today, threatening any
protesters who might show up at his event tomorrow, threatening that they
wouldn`t be treated nicely.
There`s also been a little bit of confusion over where overflow crowds
might go tomorrow night. For weeks, the president and his campaign have
been touting the huge response they`ve had to the announcement of this
rally, saying they`ve been scoping out overflow space for all the hundreds
of thousands of their supporters who are going to turn up but who won`t be
able to get into the main event.
Nobody knows if that`s actually happening. “The Tulsa World” reports today
it`s unclear where all these supposed extra supporters are going to go if
they don`t make it into the BOK Center.
Quote: Contrary to previous reports, the convention center will not be used
for overflow. It was unclear whether other overflow arrangements were being
According to “The Tulsa World”, it was also not year when the BOK center
will actually open up and start letting people in tomorrow.
Quote: The Trump campaign`s website and BOK management say the doors will
open at 3:00 p.m. but an ad that ran in yesterday`s “Tulsa World” newspaper
says the doors will open at 10:00 a.m., five hours earlier. That could make
a big difference depending on how many people are in the streets and how
well they get along.
On top of all of that, there of course are concerns over whether this event
or any event like this should be happening anywhere in the world,
especially in Oklahoma, where there has been a dramatic rise in coronavirus
cases recently, where Oklahoma has seen a spike in terms of record numbers
this week, but where Tulsa is actually the worst part of the spike in
Yesterday, the Oklahoma state Supreme Court heard arguments about whether
to require the adherence to CDC guidelines at the Trump rally tomorrow. An
attorney for local residents and businesses that brought this case argued
that going forward as is, going forward with the Trump rally the way
they`re planning to do it, would pose a huge risk to the public in terms of
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PAUL DEMURO, ATTORNEY: We would be seeking the same relief no matter if
this was a concert, no matter if this was an NBA game, or no matter if this
was another political candidate. This has nothing to do with politics. This
has everything to do with public safety.
This is not a question of whether additional people will be infected and
die in Tulsa, it`s just a question of how many. People are going to be
allowed in and to sit as closely as possible to each other, 19,000 people
chanting and screaming and yelling in a big box in the middle of the worst
pandemic we may have ever faced as a country.
It`s madness to let this event go forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s madness to let this event go forward.
I will say that the residents who brought that case also proffered to the
Oklahoma Supreme Court that if somebody had tried to intentionally design a
delivery system that would maximize the communal spread of this deadly
virus, the president`s rally tomorrow is what somebody would design to do
Nevertheless, today, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected that bid, and so
the Trump rally will be allowed to go forward without following the Trump
administration`s own CDC guidelines about how to keep people safe. CDC
guidelines describe this type of event, a large group of people indoors for
a prolonged period of time as the highest risk event that you could design
when it comes to the potential spread of the virus.
Oklahoma`s a state that has now recorded four straight days of record
numbers of new coronavirus cases. Tulsa has been hitting new records itself
Tulsa, Oklahoma, tonight is the center of two crucially important stories,
both coming to a head, both very much live right now.
Joining us now is Democratic Oklahoma State Representative Regina Goodwin,
who represents the state`s 73rd district. That includes the part of Tulsa
where Juneteenth events are going on at this hour. She`s also a native of
the historic Greenwood District, which, of course, was the site of the
Tulsa race massacre in 1921. It`s a place where her grandfather in 1937
took over “The Oklahoma Eagle” newspaper. That paper still in her family to
Representative Goodwin, thank you so much for making time to be here
tonight. I know this is a fraught and fascinating day in the city of Tulsa.
STATE REP. REGINA GOODWIN (D), OKLAHOMA: Thank you, Rachel. It is a fraught
and fascinating day, but we`re here.
MADDOW: Tell me about how these multiple strands are coming together for
you. Today being Juneteenth, the presence of the president`s supporters,
the planned event for the president tomorrow, coronavirus crisis right now
in Oklahoma and Tulsa specifically. How are these things coming together
for you and your constituents right now?
GOODWIN: So what we have here, as you said, is it`s a unique situation.
We`re in Tulsa where we`re accustomed to challenge, and no one would ask
for this. But we felt that we`re going to have to deal with this situation
and do what we`ve always done. What we`ve always done here is take care of
each other. We`ve always fought for justice, and we`ve also hopefully done
our ancestors proud in terms of lengthening their legacy.
So, we have to continue to focus on justice, equity, and all things that
have always mattered. We have never actually received justice in Tulsa,
Oklahoma. So that`s an ongoing fight for us.
MADDOW: What do you think will happen tomorrow in the city when the
president`s rally happens? We don`t know, and we can`t at least tell from a
national perspective how many people are actually going to turn up and how
– what proportion of those people are going to be able to get inside the
We don`t know what will happen if there is a significant number of people
who can`t get inside the venue who are left outside in Tulsa with no
Do you – what are your expectations of what`s going to happen tomorrow? It
seems like - it seems like a tinderbox.
GOODWIN: So what we expect here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as we`ve always done,
we`re not going to be distracted by the divisiveness of racism. We`re going
to be distracted by the foolishness of double talk.
We`re going to continue, Rachel, to do what we`ve always done here. What
we`ve got to do here is have an overflow of justice. What we`ve got to do
here is vote come June 30th as it relates to Medicaid expansion.
There are real issues in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they`re going to be going on.
When this all blows over, we`re going to be here, and we`re going to
hopefully handle what we do with dignity and grace.
MADDOW: There has been consternation, I know, over some of the mayor`s
decisions. I know that there has been a lot of heartache and a lot of
concerned voicing including by health workers, by doctors in Tulsa about
the event that`s happening tomorrow and about how things seem to be going
really in the wrong direction in terms of coronavirus.
MADDOW: Can you talk to me at all about how you feel about Oklahoma`s
leadership right now on coronavirus and whether smart decisions are being
made? I`ve been very concerned, for example, to see the governor say at
this point in the epidemic in Oklahoma that people can go back into nursing
homes and start visiting in nursing homes again, which seems like a very
How do you feel about leadership in your state on that issue?
GOODWIN: I can tell you unequivocally that I thought that the governor
opened Oklahoma up too soon. The numbers have been much higher than had
been basically toned to the public.
So the numbers are increasing. We didn`t really get the real data that we
should have gotten. And in Oklahoma, they just picked a date, and it was
not according to data, and they opened Oklahoma back up too soon.
And I think we have found ourselves in this predicament because of that
leadership. I`ve not been quiet about that, and I think this is evidence
what we`re seeing today with the numbers peaking. It makes no sense that we
talk about the nursing homes. It makes no sense that we talk about our
testing as what it should be. We were never caught up with testing in
We were never caught up with tracing. It has not been handled well, and I
don`t know why anybody in America was told that story.
MADDOW: Oklahoma State Representative Regina Goodwin, represents the good
people of Tulsa – Representative Goodwin, I know this, as I said, is a
tough time, and it`s a time for leadership right now in Tulsa. Thank you
for taking some time out to help us understand. Good look to you and your
GOODWIN: Rachel, I want to thank you for just shining a light on Tulsa.
We`ve got institutions here that we`re going to continue to move forward,
and we thank you for shining a light.
MADDOW: Absolutely. Thank you, ma`am. I much appreciate it. I will say that
Tulsa has a – oh, I`m sorry. Go ahead.
GOODWIN: Yes. I was going to say to you that we stand here in the heart.
Your crew is here right in the heart where our ancestors bled and died,
right? This is really sacred ground, and we considered this area really our
jewel, our crown jewel.
We`ve got the Greenwood Cultural Center. We`ve got the Mabel Little House.
We have institutions here that need to be protected, and we just ask
everybody to support the keepers of our culture and our history,
generations from years ago.
We draw on their strength to move us forward. And, again, we just thank
you. We`re going to stay focused.
We`re not going to be distracted. We`re not going to be distracted. Rachel,
we are not going to be distracted.
MADDOW: State Representative Regina Goodwin – ma`am, thank you. Thank you
GOODWIN: All right. We`ve got much more ahead tonight. Up next, we`ve got a
story you are not likely to have heard anywhere else, but it bodes – well,
I`ll just – it`s worrying. We`ve got an exclusive on that coming up here
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The news was bad. America had been at war just 79 days.
A U-Boat had fired on California, and the president struggled to improve
ANNOUNCER: This is a voice speaking from America.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Voice of America was born.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Broadcasting in German to an occupied Europe, it
reported the bad news and was later believed when it told of Allied
invasions and victories even though the Nazis made listening to shortwave
punishable by death.
HENRY CHAMP: Shortwave radio did help sap German resistance, but many
Americans and particularly those in Congress felt very uneasy about a
service they equated with propaganda, and they wanted it closed down. But
peace didn`t follow war as everyone had expected.
The Iron Curtain fell on information and people, and the service had a new
job, keeping a democratic voice alive in the communist world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The eagle has landed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It had the world`s largest audience ever when it
reported in 46 languages man landing on the moon.
It earned trust when it reported on Watergate and the anti-Vietnam
protests. In 1968, Czechs battled Soviet tanks in the streets. When Soviet
troops forced a Czech dissident broadcaster to sign off, he told his
audience, listen to the VOA.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Czech broadcasting was never trusted again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were lying, and if we wanted to get some
information, we had to listen to Radio for Europe, or Voice of America.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the wall eventually came down, new leaders,
Czechoslovakia Havel and Poland`s Walesa, were quick to give the VOA
enormous credit for their peaceful revolutions.
CHASE UNTERMAYER: The testimonials were truly touching as to how much
people were motivated by what they heard over international radio.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was 1992. That was NBC News, “Nightly News”, marking 50 years
from the founding of Voice of America during World War II. Listen to the
VOA. If you wanted to get information, you had to listen to the Voice of
And the gentleman you saw there at the end of that news clip, that was the
guy who was the head of Voice of America at the time under the first
President Bush. His name is Chase Untermeyer, which is a great Washington
But Chase Untermeyer successor as head of Voice of America is Amanda
Bennett, who until this week held that same job. She was head of VOA under
the Trump administration.
Amanda Bennett is a big deal. She`s a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning
journalist. She was also an editor at “Philadelphia Inquirer” and the
“Lexington Herald Leader” in Kentucky. She was also an editor at “The
Oregonian” in Portland.
Did I mention the two Pulitzer Prizes?
This is who has been running the Voice of America for the past two years.
But as of this week, she is gone. She resigned suddenly, along with her
deputy and without much of an explanation at the beginning of this week.
If that wasn`t interesting enough, within 48 hours, all the network heads
were fired within the agency that runs Voice of America. Voice of America
is just one network that runs alongside all the other international
broadcasting entities in the U.S. government. You know, they`re all
ultimately derived from that original mission set in World War II.
It`s Voice of America, but it`s also Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty,
Radio Free Asia. There`s a Cuban Broadcasting Service, the Middle East
Broadcasting Network. They`re all run by the U.S. government. They`re all
supposed to be totally insulated from any domestic partisan politics in
They are supposed to be straight news organizations that bring both the
values of the free press and actual free, un-bossed journalism to the
world, courtesy of the American people.
But this week, it has all gone haywire. The VOA chief, Amanda Bennett, and
her deputy, resign suddenly and without notice. Then two nights after that
in what`s being headlined as a Wednesday night massacre, the heads of all
those other networks all get fired all at one as well. Radio Free Europe,
Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Cuban Broadcasting Service, the Middle
East Broadcasting Network, fired, fired, fired.
No reason given for any of those network heads being fired. They were all
just wiped out.
So what`s going on here?
A couple of months ago, the president started denouncing the Voice of
America as, in his words, disgusting. And that seemed kind of out of the
blue, but, you know, welcome to the Trump era.
But then the White House also published like a blog post, a newsletter
item. It`s hard to tell exactly what this is. But they published this thing
denouncing the Voice of America, specifically because VOA had the temerity
to run an “A.P.” article on their website about China lifting its lockdown
in Wuhan for the coronavirus.
All sorts of news organizations run “Associated Press” news stories, and in
fact the Wuhan region did lift its lockdown, and that story was true. So
why has the White House and the president been bending over backwards to
like gin up some kind of bottled outrage about this?
Well, you may remember this guy, Steve Bannon, was the head of the right-
wing blog Breitbart, and then he leaped from there to be CEO of the Trump
campaign. Then he was a senior adviser at the White House, and then, God,
who even remembers what happened to him there and why he had to go.
But before all of that, Steve Bannon`s previous career was that he was a
ham-handed, super, over the top, right-wing filmmaker. His films included
one that tried to make Sarah Palin into an object of national veneration.
There was also this really weird one where Bannon tried to make the case
that the old guy from Duck Dynasty was maybe like a prophet, like kind of a
new Jesus or something? You see what I mean? It`s hard to figure out.
It has been a weird ride for old Steve Bannon. But along the way Mr. Bannon
has picked up acolytes including apparently this man, Michael Pack, who has
also made a career out of making right wing movies. He describes Steve
Bannon as his mentor.
And this is the guy who Trump nominated – the guy who says Steve Bannon is
his mentor, who spent his own career making weird right wing movies of his
own about things like the tyranny of the gays on college campuses and how
white male Christians are the only people who are really discriminated
President Trump has nominated that guy, the Bannon acolyte guy who makes
the anti-gay documentaries about the oppression of Christians – President
Trump has nominated him, Michael Pack, to take over the agency that
oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Middle East Broadcasting
Network and all the rest.
Now, it is widely perceived in Washington that the president started
attacking Voice of America and calling them disgusting and denouncing them
literally as communists, not because of anything particularly interesting
or outre that VOA had done. It`s widely believed in Washington that the
president started mounting that criticism of Voice of America because he
wanted to goose momentum to get that guy`s nomination through, to get his
guy installed as the head of the agency that oversees all of these
Among other things, I should tell you the White House criticism of Voice of
America led the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control of all places, to
formally blacklist Voice of America reporters so they could no longer get
interviews with CDC officials.
Think about that, right? The president and the White House start denouncing
Voice of America because they want to get this guy in there. They want to
create some controversy and get their new guy in there. The denunciations
of Voice of America end up resonating at Centers for Disease Control.
I mean, the fact that the CDC has time to play these kind of reindeer games
in the middle of a fricking pandemic that has killed nearly 120,000
Americans already kind of tells you what the CDC has been reduced to in
this administration, right, at a time when it`s supposed to be the premier
public agency, not only in the country but in the world, it`s instead
spending its time blacklisting Voice of America reporters so they can`t get
CDC official interviews anymore because the White House says they`re
That`s the CDC doing that. Seriously. It`s just incredible.
But the White House criticism, the president`s criticism, all this effort
to goose interest in this agency, to boost the momentum for this Bannon
acolyte who the president wanted to take over all these networks, it
worked. Senate Republicans dutifully obliged and even though Michael Pack`s
nomination had been languishing for a very long time, he was confirmed a
couple of weeks ago.
So now he`s in there, and immediately upon arriving, he`s just fired
everyone there. He`s fired the heads of all of those networks. He`s also
just fired all the boards of directors that advised all those networks.
So the way these things work, the structure has changed a little bit over
the years in terms of where all these agencies are headquartered and how
exactly, who reports to who. But basically they are advised, these networks
are advised by senior and bipartisan people who are experienced in
journalism and diplomacy. That has been true from the very beginning.
He`s just fired all of those people in all of those advisory roles for all
of the networks, and he has replaced them with a handpicked bunch of
winners. For example, an anti-transgender activist who writes for a right
wing blog. Also, an anti-gay activist lawyer. Also an adviser to Ben
Carson, who already has a full-time job in the government and somebody who
also works full-time in Mick Mulvaney`s office.
Also, he named himself, Michael Pack picked himself to be the chairman of
all of those boards, advising all of those networks where she`s just fired
all of the heads of the networks and fired everybody who was advising them
and put in his little club full of cub scouts who he handpicked to advise
them instead. None of the people who he has picked to be on these boards
advising these networks have any journalism experience whatsoever or any
State Department experience, any diplomacy experience, anything like that.
So, the Trump administration hollowing out, destroying, attacking an
institution of government, I know it`s a day that ends in “Y.” But think
about what agency, what part of government this is. Think about the
potential implications here.
If you have ever wondered what the Trump presidency might be like if in
addition to the traditional powers of the federal government, the president
also commandeered control of a media empire for his own purposes, an empire
with a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars with hundreds of
staff, with a huge reach that not only spans the global, it also of course
now broadcasts into the United States, if you`ve ever wondered what a Trump
presidency might be like with a huge media outlet added to it – well,
let`s see because what just happened this week in the middle of everything
else was a hostile takeover of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, a sudden
decapitation of all of its leadership, the removal of all experienced
advisers and the installation of Steve Bannon`s guy to run it all.
Here we go. And there`s a new important piece of this that is just
happening tonight, and we`ve got that piece of it next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Subject line was, thank you. The email was sent Wednesday night by
Michael Pack, Donald Trump`s new head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
The recipient was Karen Kornbluh, former ambassador and member of the
Here`s what it says, quote: Dear Mr. Kornbluh, thank you for your service
on the board of directors of the Middle East broadcasting networks.
Pursuant to my authority as CEO and the bylaws of the Middle East
Broadcasting Networks, I have terminated your membership on the board
effective immediately. The agency appreciates your contributions and wishes
you all the best in future endeavors. Sincerely, Michael Pack.
That`s it. Thank you, get lost. That was the whole thing.
That email or a personalized version of it was sent Wednesday night to all
members of the governing board for the U.S. agency that runs Voice of
America and the other international broadcasting networks for the U.S.
government. It was sent by the newly installed CEO Michael Pack, who was
picked for the job by President Trump and just recently approved by the
It was Republican appointees to these boards that got this letter,
Democratic appointees got it. They all got it. Everybody out, effective
Mr. Pack also then fired the heads of the company`s news divisions,
including Radio Free Europe and the Middle East Broadcasting Network.
Why did this newly appointed Trump appointee, who says that Steve Bannon is
his mentor – why did he just come in and take a machete to this particular
part of the U.S. government? Is there reason to worry that this could be
the opening salvo of an effort to try to twist this media agency with its
budget of hundreds of millions of dollars and his global reach including
into the United States? Is there reason to worry that this might be the
first opening salvo of an effort to turn that network into something that
serves the president instead of serves the purposes laid out in the charter
of these networks?
Tonight, some of the unceremoniously fired board members are responding. In
a letter to this new CEO, Michael pack, four board members, two Republicans
and two Democrats write this in part, quote: We call on you to respect the
firewall guarding the editorial independence of the agency and grantees and
their adherence to the highest standards of professional journalism, to
maintain qualified boards and management, and to continue the nonpartisan
They continue, quote: You have inherited a critical U.S. asset and we urge
you to protect it by respecting the firewall, maintaining qualified boards
and management, and continuing this nonpartisan legacy.
Joining us are two signers of that letter, two newly former members of the
U.S. Agency for Global Media, Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, who served in the
Obama administration as ambassador to the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who`s Republican,
who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations as ambassador
to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, Lebanon and potentially
others that I have forgiven.
Ambassadors, thank you both so much for joining us. I really appreciate you
being here tonight.
KAREN KORNBLUH, SENIOR FELLOW AT THE GERMAN MARSHALL FUND OF THE U.S.:
RYAN CROCKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN AND SYRIA: Thanks
for having us.
MADDOW: It`s nice to have the both of you here with us tonight, both a
Democrat and a Republican who can personally symbolize the fact that these
advisory roles and these agencies that you have served have been
nonpartisan. I mean by definition, media always has some sort of
controversy around it.
But is it fair for those of us looking in from the outside to say that
there has been a legit bipartisan tradition here and a legit insulation
from American partisan politics?
CROCKER: Rachel, first just to correct what you said there, I am not a
Republican, nor am I a Democrat. I`m an independent, and I made that clear
when I was asked to come on this board. I was a –
MADDOW: Forgive me, sorry.
CROCKER: If you look at the six embassies that I was privileged to serve
in, three were under Republican administrations and three under the
Democratic administrations. So that`s bipartisanship.
MADDOW: Absolutely, embodied in yourself. I apologize for having introduced
you in that way.
But let me ask you and Ambassador Kornbluh, if it is fair to look at this
agency and the advisory roles you have played in this agency as
legitimately bipartisan, nonpartisan experience?
KORNBLUH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean we were appointed to what`s considers a
bipartisan role to fill Democratic seats and Republican seats, but we
function together in a completely nonpartisan way. And the agency had
support from appropriators and authorizers on the Hill from both sides of
the aisle. The secretary of state sat with us on the board, and all
supported the mission of the organization and the independence of the
networks and the new entity, the Open Technology Fund because there`s this
appreciation, just as you laid out beautifully, that these entities are key
tools in our soft power toolbox.
And perhaps even as important now as in the cold war when we`re fighting
this information war against disinformation and authoritarians, these
organizations are getting out the U.S. message, VOA, and then the others
are getting news and information demonstrating the First Amendment,
demonstrating the free press, and getting information into Russia, China,
Iran, North Korea, you know, the work that Radio Free Asia is doing in
China is amazing. The Open Technology Fund has produced tools, Internet
freedom tools that are used by 2 billion people.
Radio Free Europe working with the other entities launched current time,
which is a 24/7 global digital and broadcast network going to Russian
speakers around the world.
So, these are really important assets, and what`s really troubling is that
we may have already done them damage by putting in places as you laid out,
you know, seemingly partisan cronies and not respecting the procedures on
the books, the guardrails on the books. So, we may have already done some
damage, and it`s really, really important that we pull back from that
MADDOW: Ambassador Crocker, let me ask you what was your reaction to being
fired sort of unceremoniously in the way that you were this week. How would
you have wanted the incoming CEO to handle taking the reins? How unusual
did you find this?
CROCKER: We all knew that with the arrival of a presidentially nominated,
Senate confirmed CEO that things were going to change. The overarching
board that Karen and I both served on, the broadcasting board of governors,
went out of business as soon as Mr. Pack was confirmed. That`s in the
We also knew that he might want to make changes in the subsidiary entity
boards, so we just sat tight on that. We didn`t have any guidance of what
he might want. I can`t say I was terribly surprised to get the letter.
But what did surprise me, as Karen alludes to, is the fact that he then
sacked all of the entity heads. Karen has described the structural work
this board did to make the entire U.S. global media operation better. A lot
of that has to do with people.
You mentioned Amanda Bennett. It does not get better than that in American
journalism. In addition to the two Pulitzer prizes, she literally saved
“The Philadelphia Inquirer” when she was executive editor.
Look at Alberto Fernandez, my former foreign service colleague who ran
Middle East Broadcasting in the end. He is a fluent Arabic speaker. Those
are rare on the ground, let me tell you as one myself.
Alberto was good enough to go on Al Jazeera, debate some of our adversaries
in flawless Arabic, and just create a whole different image for the United
States. He remade the Middle East Broadcasting Network, cleaned it up,
cleared it out, started over in a lot of respects, and it is utterly
unrecognizable from the pretty pedestrian entity that he stepped into.
He got banned in Baghdad. How great is that, for reporting on corruption.
The Iraqi government didn`t like it. This information didn`t like it so
The people loved it. We were telling truth to power. As you said earlier,
that`s the whole mission of this agency and its subsidiary entities.
You`ve got, you know, Jamie Fly running radio-free Europe. This is someone
who has been a thought leader particularly on European matters, comes out
of the German Marshall Fund, speaks Russian and immediately got into the
faces of some of these autocratic regimes.
So people are everything in the business. These were really great people
that we worked really hard to get, and I`m very concerned that we are not
going to maintain that level of competence. And I also wonder what`s going
to happen to our standards, the firewall in particular.
MADDOW: Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, newly former
board members of the U.S. Agency for Global Media – I`ve spelled out, I`ve
been open about my sort of darkest worries about what`s going on there at
that agency. But aside from that, thank you for the service that you gave
to our country by doing this work. And I`m sorry that it has ended in the
way that it has. Thanks for helping us understand.
KORNBLUH: Thank you so much for covering this.
CROCKER: Thanks for having us.
MADDOW: I appreciate it.
All right. I will tell you that we actually have some breaking news that
we`re going to get to next. A Friday night news dump the administration has
just let us know about that legitimately I won`t say shocks – nothing
shocks me – legitimately surprises me.
We`ve got that breaking news for you when we come back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have breaking news from the Department of Justice, specifically
from the super important southern district of New York, the U.S. attorney`s
office in Manhattan where President Trump had his residence until recently
and where all his companies are headquartered. The U.S. attorney in SDNY,
Geoff Berman, is out in what appears to be a Friday night news dump.
Attorney General William Barr announcing the change late tonight after the
close of business, saying, quote, I`m pleased to announce President Trump
intends to nominate Jay Clayton to serve as the next U.S. attorney for the
Southern District of New York.
What about the one who`s there now? But news like this coming like this on
a Friday night, it`s of course drawn immediate questions.
Former U.S. attorney at SDNY, Preet Bharara, saying, quote, doesn`t sound
like stepping down. Quote, why does a president get rid of his own
handpicked U.S. attorney at SDNY on a Friday night less than five months
before the election?
I should mention, SDNY has been in the news related to President Trump this
week. In John Bolton`s forthcoming book, the former national security
adviser reportedly says that the president was willing to fire the
leadership at SDNY as part of an effort to kill prosecutions that he wanted
killed so that he could basically give those killed prosecutions as a gift
to the leader of Turkey.
The Turkish president wanted a particular prosecution killed, and Trump
thought that he could and maybe should do so by ousting the existing
leadership at SDNY and putting in different people.
Joining us now by phone is former FBI general counsel and MSNBC
contributor, Andrew Weissmann, who knows a little bit about this part of
Mr. Weissmann, Andrew, thank you very much for making time.
ANDREW WEISSMANN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No problem. Glad to be here.
MADDOW: Do you know anything about this, and what is your reaction to it?
WEISSMANN: So I know what you know. So there are two reactions I have. One
is as you know, the Southern District is known as the sovereign district of
New York because it`s fiercely independent. And so, this is a real slap at
that independence. It`s the first time I can think of in memory where
someone has been nominated and someone`s going to be the acting U.S.
attorney who has not actually come from that office.
And the second is it`s pretty – depending on how you look at it –
ingenious or devious because the nomination isn`t really the key thing
because that may or may not go through. But simultaneously, the attorney
general has announced that he is going to have an acting U.S. attorney,
that`s the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, and that person gets to act for six
So if you do the math, that gets them to the election.
MADDOW: Andrew, I`m going to tread carefully here and be very transparent
about this. I have heard lots of rumors over the past couple of years, and
you have heard lots of rumors that SDNY has received pressure from William
Barr since he`s been attorney general, and it`s very opaque. It`s hard for
us to know what happens when those things happen.
If something improper happened here either now that led to this ousting of
Mr. Berman or the resignation of Mr. Berman or if something improper
happened in the past during Berman`s tenure, will he be free to discuss
that once he is out of the U.S. attorney`s office?
WEISSMANN: So one way that he could easily be free to do that is he could
be subpoenaed by the House, and then any claim of privilege that could be
asserted would be on much shakier grounds.
And I also think that there are enough independent career people in the
Southern District of New York that you`d be likely to hear about it.
MADDOW: Andrew Weissmann, former Justice Department official, thank you
very much for your time tonight, joining us on zero notice on a Friday
night. I really appreciate it, Andrew.
WEISSMANN: No problem.
MADDOW: All right. That is going to do it for us tonight. But, you know
what, it`s Friday night. Anything could happen.
Now it`s time for “THE LAST WORD.” Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Ali.
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