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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/18/12

Guests: Richard Blumenthal, C. Welton Gaddy

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: And that is "THE ED SHOW." I`m Ed Schultz. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thanks, my friend. SCHULTZ: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. There`s a lot to get to this hour, including news about potential gun law reforms and the continuing reaction to the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre there. There`s some surprising news out of Michigan on that issue today that we`re going to be getting to. There`s news about who is going to be in the United States Senate in this next Congress. We found out yesterday who is being tapped to replace Senator Jim DeMint, who is leaving the senate. We also found out yesterday who might replace John Kerry if he leaves the Senate to be secretary of state. We found out today who is the odds-on favorite to replace long-time Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, who died yesterday. We`ve got all that news ahead. But we begin tonight with something that is an important story in its own terms. But for those of us at MSNBC and NBC news, it is also an incredibly emotional thing. And I can tell you, it ends with good news. It ends with this news, which I can say personally was greeted by all of us as the best news in the world when we saw it. Now, there, in the middle there, it`s NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, looking a little disheveled, a little less groomed than usual, I might say. But as you can see, looking like himself. On the left of your screen, that`s Ghazi Balkiz. He`s a producer here at NBC. And on the other side of Richard, on the right, that`s John Kooistra. John is a long-time NBC News photographer. These three men were able to appear live on the "Today" show this morning, from Antakya, Turkey, five days after being kidnapped and held in captivity in Syria. Just hours before this shot of them this morning, they were freed by a Syrian rebel group who rescued them from an unknown group that had taken them and that had held them for five, long, horrible days. The rebel group not only rescued these three, they then took responsibility for driving them to the border and getting them safely out of Syria. They were in Syria in the first place to cover the war there. This is footage of Richard`s last piece for NBC News before the kidnapping happened. Richard and his team are veterans in this field. They`ve been working together for a decade in just about every corner of the world you can imagine, including long stints covering the war in Iraq, also the war in Afghanistan. When they filed this report last week from Aleppo in Syria, they reported that conditions were about as bad as you can imagine. Bread lines, no medicine, a bombed out hospital, and a lot of very, very desperate civilians in Syria`s largest city. It was after filing that devastating report that Richard Engel and his team were captured. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: We were driving in Syria, about five days ago, in what we thought was a rebel-controlled area. We were with some of the rebels. And as we were moving down the road, a group of gunmen just literally jumped out of the trees and bushes on the side of the road. There were probably 15 gunmen. They were wearing ski masks. They were heavily armed. They dragged us out of the car. They had a container truck positioned, waiting by the side of the road. They put us into that container truck. We were with some gunmen, some rebels who were escorting us. They executed one of them on the spot. Then, they took us to a series of safe houses and interrogation places, and they kept us blindfolded, bound. We weren`t physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed. They made us choose which one of us would be shot first. And when we refused, there were mock shootings. They pretended to shoot Ghazi several times. And when you`re blindfolded and they fire the gun up in the air, it can be very traumatic experience. And at the end of this, we were being moved to yet another location in the late -- around 11:00 last night local time. And as we were moving along the road, the kidnappers came across a rebel checkpoint, something they hadn`t expected. And so, we were in the back of what you would think of as a minivan. And as we were driving along the road, the kidnappers saw this checkpoint, started a gunfight with it. Two of the kidnappers were killed. We climbed out of the vehicle and the rebels took us. We spent the night with them. We didn`t get much sleep. And we came right here. And we just got into Turkey a short while ago. I still have on me -- I think these guys do as well the bandages in our pockets. These are the clothes we were wearing. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Made from our bed sheets. ENGEL: Yes, they were torn from the bed sheets we were in. It was a traumatic experience. We`re very happy to be here. We`re in good health. We`re OK. Everyone was great. NBC was fantastic in informing our families and keeping people up to date, keeping the story quiet. But while we`re obviously very happy, there are many people who are still not at liberty to do this kind of thing. There are still hostages. There are still people who don`t have their freedom inside Syria. And we wish them well. DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Richard, it`s David. And let me just add it is so great to see you and your team and to hear from you this morning. Can you take us a little bit more through who you think this was? Did they seem experienced? You`ve been -- you and your team have been throughout Syria. And what clues were you getting along the way about what they wanted? ENGEL: Yes, I think I have a very good idea of who they were. This was a group known as the Shabiha. This is a government militia. These are people who are loyal to President Bashar al Assad. They are Shiite. They were talking openly about their loyalty to the government, openly expressing their Shia faith. They are trained by Iranian revolutionary guard. They are allied with Hezbollah. We were told that they wanted to exchange us for four Iranian agents and two Lebanese people who were from the Amal (ph) movement. And they wanted -- these were other Shabiha members who`ve been captured us in order to carry out this exchange. And that`s what they were hoping to do. They were going to bring us to a Hezbollah stronghold inside Syria right now. We were on our way there when we ran into this rebel checkpoint and we had this escape and freedom. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Richard, John, and Ghazi, I know you all are all very experienced. But I wonder how you are feeling this morning, how you`re doing and how you`re processing what must have been an absolutely terrifying experience. ENGEL: Ghazi, you want that? GHAZI BALKIZ, NBC NEWS PRODUCER: Well, to be honest, when we first got captured, for me at least it was a bit of a moment of disbelief. But I`ve worked with those guys for a long time in harsh environments. And we get each other very well. We work with each other very well. I was actually captured with them because we kept each other`s spirits up. I`ll be honest. They were long, hard five days. There were few moments of despair. At least for me, I thought about my family, my brother, my parents, my wife, and I was feeling bad what I`d been putting them through because of my captivity. But it did help a lot that we were together. And I must say. When we were freed yesterday, you know, the rescued by the rebels, one of the happiest moments of my life. I must say that. JOHN KOOISTRA, NBC NEWS PHOTOGRAPHER: We had talked about that today, that you find a happy spot, what you were thinking. I for one found a very happy spot and I stayed there. But during the ordeal, I made -- I make amends with my maker, I made good with my maker. I made good with myself. I was prepared to die many times. ENGEL: Moving was the hardest part. KOOISTRA: It was disconcerting to move blindfolded from house to house. ENGEL: You think they`re going to be taking you outside to execute you. KOOISTRA: For five days. But we did find that happy spot. We kept each other, as Ghazi said. ENGEL: We passed messages to each other. We joked around. We weren`t allowed to speak. But if you sort of look kind of peek underneath the blindfold, you can see if maybe there is a guard in the room or not. And we tried to joke back-and-forth and keep our spirits up. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his crew, the producer Ghazi Balkiz, and photographer John Kooistra. They were freed just about 24 hours ago, after being held prisoner for five days by an unknown group inside war-torn Syria. What Richard said about there being other people still held in Syria, who are not freed, he is right. Even if you are just talking about journalist, Austin Tice is an American reporter who has worked for a number of outlets, including McClatchy news service and also the "Washington Post." He has been missing in Syria since August. In all, there are 15 journalists who have reported to have gone missing in Syria while reporting on this conflict. So far, of the 15 only eight have been freed. Our Richard and Ghazi and John are three of them. We and they and their families feel very lucky and very happy tonight that that is the case, even as we continue to be concerned about those for whom we cannot yet say that. Foreign correspondents and crews know exactly how dangerous it can be to report from a war zone. We know in part from their reporting that this particular war zone appears to be descending into just total chaos right now. You can see signs of that in the Syrian government`s apparent decision to fire Scud missiles inside its own territory at its own people. They deny they have done it. NATO says they have evidence they have. You can see it in the increasing alarm at the increasing reports that the regime may at least be moving its chemical weapons stocks around the country. You can see it in Richard`s latest reporting from the largest city in Syria, a city nearly the size of Chicago. Richard reporting that at least some of that city is becoming all but uninhabitable for civilian. More than 2 million people live in that city. Where will they go? And you see it in the actions of other countries towards Syria. Syria`s closest ally other than Iran is Russia. Well, today, Russia moved five warships to the Mediterranean to prepare to evacuate Russian citizens out of that country. There`s a lot of Russians who live in Syria. And a massive evacuation is something Russia had resisted doing all of this time because, we think, they thought it would make their ally look bad. Well, now things have progressed in this war to the point where they appear to be no longer concerned about that. They are preparing to get their people out. For those of us who are friends of Richard and Ghazi and John, and, of course, for their families, today and last night when we learned are just pure joy and relief that they are OK. But for all of us who beyond friendship just admire these guys, right, just admire their work, admire that they`re willing to take such risks to report from war zones, the next thing today after the relief and the joy that they have been released unharmed, the next thing today is to remember that the thing they take that risk for is to get the story out to the world of what is happening in these war zones. They go there for us so we will hear the news and see the footage and watch it and take time to understand what is happening even when it is a world away. They know the risks. And they think the story is important enough to be worth it. We were all thankful for that before these last five days. But now beyond that, we are just so thankful to have them coming home. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In the wake of Newtown, a lot of things that used to be accepted as business as usual or things that were accepted as normal cultural expressions in our country seems to have lost that status of normalcy. There have been a whole bunch of unexpected changes even in the last 24 hours in a really wide range of different parts of American life since the Newtown school massacre. Today, for example, we woke up to news of a big move by Cerberus. Cerberus, of course, is the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to hell. Cerberus is also the name of a $20 billion private equity firm that`s made a ton of profit from owning something called the Freedom Group. Cerberus` Freedom Group in recent years has been buying up many of the nation`s gun companies. Cerberus has basically created a giant conglomerate gun company by buying all these individual gun manufacturers and sticking them all together as Freedom Group. Yesterday, afternoon, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer suggested that it might be time for major investors in Cerberus to pressure the company to get out of the gun business. Last night, one very large investor, the California Teachers Pension Fund did start to make a move in that direction. They said they were reviewing their investment in Cerberus Capital in light of Friday`s school shooting. That was late yesterday. And then at 1:00 a.m., at 1:00 a.m. Eastern, Cerberus announced it will be selling the Freedom Group, that big gun company it spent years building up. One part of the Freedom Group that Cerberus is now selling is Bushmaster, the company that manufactured the gun that Connecticut authorities say was used to kill all of the children who died in Friday`s killings. Again, that announcement from Cerberus happen at 1:00 a.m. and that was the start of a whole day long worth of lots of other unexpected changes, apparently, all precipitated by Friday`s shootings. The retail chain Dick`s Sporting Goods today suspended sales of modern sporting rifles, AR-15-style rifles at all of its stores nationwide. The company also stopped sales and display of all guns at the store that`s located closest to the shooting itself. Meanwhile, the nation`s largest retailer of guns and ammo, Wal-Mart, has removed from its website the description of the particular Bushmaster rifle that was used in the Newtown killings. Wal-Mart will still sell that gun to you. You just can`t view it on their Web site anymore. Also, a gun show planned for February in Westchester County, New York, nearby the site of the shooting in Connecticut, that gun show has been canceled. It was due to be held at a government-owned building and the Westchester executive says it would be inappropriate to hold that event given what just happened in Newtown. That same annual gun show was suspended for a decade in the wake of the Columbine shooting in 1999. It was only brought back two years ago in 2010. But now, after Newtown, it has been suspended again. Another gun show scheduled to start January 5th in Danbury, Connecticut, which is very nearby the shooting site, that gun show has also been canceled. The show`s promoter is not as yet commenting as to why. Those were all relatively unexpected developments in the business side of the guns world today. There was also unexpected news in the political side of the guns world. Michigan`s Republican governor is Rick Snyder. And today he vetoed a Republican bill that would have allowed concealed weapons inside of Michigan churches, day-care centers, and schools. The bill passed through the Republican-led Michigan legislature late on the night before the killings at Newtown. Literally, just a few hours before that horrific scene became the center of the entire country`s attention. When the bill got to his desk, Governor Snyder said right away that the Newtown massacre was weighing on his decision. He told the "A.P." that public safety concerns had been heightened and deserved extra consideration following Friday`s mass shooting. He said, quote, "What that legislation says will be looked at through the lens of all that has happened." But then Governor Snyder told a story. He says he doesn`t usually tell -- a personal story about a shooting at his dorm back when he was a law student back in 1981. That shooter in 1981 first started a fire with Molotov cocktails. Mr. Snyder was resident adviser in the dorm. He said he went to deal with the fire alarm while two other R.A.s went up to where the disturbance was happening. And one of those R.A.s was shot and killed by the gunman. "If circumstances had played out any differently," the governor says, "that most likely would have been me. If you ask in context, this is something that has additional impact on me because of my personal history." And today, when that Republican bill hit his Republican governor`s desk, the bill that would allow firearms into day-care centers and schools and churches, Governor Rick Snyder vetoed it -- a Republican governor vetoing a Republican gun bill that came out of his own totally Republican legislature. That was maybe today`s most unexpected news in the politics of guns. But it wasn`t all. Also today, the governor of Colorado, Democrat John Hickenlooper, made a big move. Today, he announced a $19 million expansion and redesign of his state`s mental health system and it includes a single statewide mental health crisis line for Colorado and five 24/7 walk-in crisis center across the state, and streamlined reporting of mental health commitments to gun sales registry. That news from Colorado coming in at the same time today that we learned of another multiple victim shooting. In Longmont, Colorado, a gunman killing three people in what appears to be a domestic violence situation before shooting and killing himself. It was also news on guns today from a very unexpected quarter of the world of sports. Jim Boeheim is the head basketball coach at Syracuse University. Last night, Jim Boeheim logged his 900th career win as a coach. That`s a really big milestone. Not many people have reached that milestone in the world of sports. But in his moment of being recognized for that rare achievement, this is what Jim Boeheim talked about during his postgame press conference. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIM BOEHEIM, SYRACUSE BASKETBALL HEAD COACH: If we in this country as Americans cannot get the people to represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society. And I`m not talking -- I`m a hunter. I`ve hunted. I`m talking about rifles, that`s fine. If one person in this world, NRA president, anybody, can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots in the thing, if one person in the world -- this is our fault. This is my fault and your fault, your fault, all your faults. We don`t get out and do something about this. I saw one guy from -- a representative I was very proud of, somebody in his state had just come out and said that we need more guns. We don`t need less. We need to give teachers guns so they can shoot people. Yes, that`s really good thinking to do that. We can`t get this thing done. I don`t know what kind of country we have. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And that`s how he ended his press conference. That was Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, speaking at the press conference that was called to celebrate his 900th career win in college basketball. Yes, we have had a lot of mass shootings in this country. I`m not sure we have had one that has resonated quite so acutely in so many widely different areas of American life. Further news today, believe it or not, out of Hollywood. The Los Angeles premier of Quentin Tarantino`s new movie got canceled. It`s a gunfight filled Western just before the Civil War. Also the music industry -- the new song out from the latest album by the singer Kesha, apparently the number three song in the country before the killings, it is being killed from rotations at radio stations around the country in the wake of the massacre. The title of the song is "Die Young." All these changes in the way American life and business and culture is conducted in the wake of Friday`s massacre. And stacking up all of those individual, in some cases unrelated changes, just from today, is just one way of quantifying how big a shock to all different kinds of American systems this tragedy has been. And it is tragedy that tends to knock us out of our normal orbit on issues related to guns in this country. That`s been true for decades. It was true in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson signed a new gun law in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. After JFK, those were the second and third high profile political assassinations in a row that led LBJ to marshal support for a new Gun Control Act for the nation. And even then, LBJ only got half of what he wanted in that final bill. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I asked for the national registration of all guns and the licenses of those who carry those guns. For the fact of life is that there are over 160 million guns in this country, more firearms than families. And if guns are to be kept out of the hands of the criminal and out of the hands of the insane, and out of the hands of the irresponsible, then we just must have licensing. If the criminal with the gun is to be tracked down quickly, then we must have registration in this country. The voices that blocked these safeguards were not the voices of an aroused nation. They were the voices of a powerful lobby, a gun lobby that has prevailed for the moment, in an election year. We have been through a great deal of anguish these last few months and these last few years. Too much anguish to forget so quickly. So, now, we must complete the task with this long-needed legislation begins. We have come a long way. We have made much progress, but not near enough. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Lyndon Johnson, December 1968, the day he signed the Gun Control Act. He got some of what he wanted in that law, but not all. The politics around guns have always been tough. Even LBJ, the master legislator, with nothing to lose at that point -- he`d already announced he was not running for reelection of president. He had all the capital in the world coming out of this horrible series of tragedies in 1968. But even with that he was only able to get half of what he wanted in the bill. But he did get half of what he wanted. He got a crackdown on mail-order guns. He got a crackdown on gun sales to kids and Saturday night specials. He couldn`t get everything he wanted, but he did get something. And something matters. Policy matters in this field. So, what is the legislative low-hanging fruit now? The U.S. Senate has done a very small part of it, unanimously passing a bill that allows federal officials to help local authorities respond to mass shootings or other violent crimes in public places, a jurisdictional thing. That`s a start. That`s something. But is it more possible now in a changed political landscape, in a changed country, what about the issue of federal research on guns? That`s not allowed right now. Back in the mid-`90s, an Arkansas Republican pushed an amendment through Congress that is still in effect today. It strips the Centers for Disease Control budget of $2.6 million specifically, because that is the exact amount the agency had spent on gun-related research. It also outlawed further research on gun control. That`s what it says in the amendment. None of the funds made available for injury, prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control. That is still the law. Or how about allowing the government to release the information it is still allowed to compile about gun violence? Once upon a time, the ATF used to release gun crime data to the public. But starting in 2003, Republican congressman named Todd Tiahrt from Congress started pushing through an amendment that would prevent the ATF from releasing gun crime data to the public. Todd Tiahrt is gone from public, but his amendment lives on. It continues to get added to spending bills over year. So we aren`t allowed to know what the ATF knows about gun crime. Maybe instead of banning research on gun violence, maybe we could now allow or even encourage research on gun violence. Maybe we could make the data we do collect on gun violence more available and not less available. So far, D.C. has not been able to pass a bill renewing the lapsed ban on high capacity ammunition magazines, not even after Jared Lee Loughner used one last year when he opened fire outside a Tucson grocery store, killing six people and wounding 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. He wasn`t able to be stopped until that extended magazine ran out of bullets and he tried to reload. We have not been able to close the so-called gun show loopholes so you`d have to submit to a background check even if you buy a gun at a gun show, just like if you do if you have to buy one at a store. We couldn`t get that done even when the families of Columbine and Virginia Tech massacre victims put their weight behind the effort to do that a couple of years ago. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe the country has changed so much in the wake of this latest unfathomable tragedy that more unexpected things will happen, like that list of big unexpected things that happened today. President Obama has already endorsed banning assault weapons again, including those high capacity magazines. He`s also endorsed closing the gun show loophole. Maybe he is reaching for what he sees now newly as the low hanging fruit in gun policy. The politics on this issue are always tough. Everybody agrees on that. But if we just started with the low-hanging fruit, could there be movement on this issue? Joining us now is Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Senator, thank you very much for being with us tonight, at a difficult time. SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you. MADDOW: Let me start by asking if you do think the political environment has shifted on this issue because of what happened in your state, that there is a new political reality in Washington? BLUMENTHAL: I think there is a new political reality, but really, a seismic, almost tectonic shift in the public awareness of this issue, and the political sense that something must be done. That`s what I hear constantly. And I`ve spent three or more days in Newtown, Connecticut, with the community there that is coming together and seeking to heal and expressing its grief. But again and again and again, law enforcement officials, people across Connecticut and I think across the country are saying we need to do something and that`s reflected in some of the developments that you just cited. And I think in some of the expressions on the part of some of my colleagues in the Senate, private as well as publicly, I`ve spoken to some of your Republican, who came to me after we did a vigil, just last night, with interest in what can be done, the common sense common ground that we can seek together. But it`s never been a politically safe issue. It`s going to be a tough one. And I`m committed to stay with it. I hope the American people are. MADDOW: When the public have seen through previous eras in Washington, seen through gun control measures that seem difficult but eventually got done, one of the things they talk about is timing, particularly when the public is galvanized because of an issue like this, because of an incident like this -- does that mean that there should be something put forward, even if it isn`t the most comprehensive change in the world in a way that could be done quickly during the lame duck session? Something that could be done fast so that something else could be done more in the future? BLUMENTHAL: There is a great deal of focus, I need not tell you on the fiscal cliff, some of the issues that were so much on people`s minds even before this horrific tragedy that has galvanized public opinion. Whether there is time in the next two weeks remains to be seen. Certainly there are active efforts under way. The ban on assault weapons is being written now as we speak. My staff and others are involved. Dianne Feinstein, who has been such a leader on this issue, and others are taking the lead. The high capacity magazines certainly could be part of that measure. And increased background checks, only 60 percent of all the sales now involve those background checks. And they could be improved, perhaps administratively without additional legislation. And mental health efforts, funds and support for law enforcement so that they can better do their job. All of them are feasible and achievable whether in the next two weeks or in the first two weeks of the new Congress when I hope we can continue to move forward and build on this moment. We need to seize this moment. It is one that comes rarely in American political life when the political stars are aligned in a way that makes progress possible. But again, the American people are key to this effort. And your viewers and everyone involved in forming public opinion I think has a responsibility to continue talking about it, continue to raise public consciousness. And talk about what it means to have an assault weapon, how this killer was able to blast his way into the school with multiple 30-round clips and then use a weapon that was designed only to kill and maim people -- not for hunting, not for recreation or competitive sport, but to kill and maim people at war. It`s a military-style weapon. And that kind of reality I think needs to be brought home. MADDOW: Senator Blumenthal, I know time is short. You`re on your way back to Connecticut. I know you`ve been in the state a lot since the incident happened. Do you feel, briefly, that community is getting the support it needs, the resources it needs from the federal government and from other aspect of the nation that you need to be tapping here beyond our sympathy and our prayers? BLUMENTHAL: There has been an outpouring across the nation. And Newtown, you know, is a very strong, resolute, resilient community bound by faith. And the president`s visit Sunday night I think reflected feelings of the American people. He was very powerful and moving at the vigil that evening. And Newtown has been supported because we know America is with Newtown. And everywhere I go, again, people are expressing their grief and their sympathies. I will be back in Connecticut for the next number of funerals that I have attended, as well as the three days. And I will live forever with the sights and sounds, with the cries of anguish and grief of parents who emerged from that Sandy Hook firehouse knowing on Friday early evening that they would never see their babies, beautiful children who went to school that day ready to build ginger man and learn their ABCs. The brutality of this crime on children so young I think has touched something very deep and profound in America. And I hope we can seize this moment. MADDOW: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut -- thank you so much for your time tonight, sir. Good luck. Thanks. BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. We`ve got lots more ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We have some breaking news to report at this hour. This news is just coming in right now. It`s the independent panel in Washington that has been investigating the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in Libya on September 11th of the year. The panel has just released its findings, and the report appears to place a lion`s share of the blame for that attack on the U.S. State Department. Our own Andrea Mitchell is going through this report as we speak. Again, it has just come out. But she reports tonight that the panel has found, quote, "systemic failures in leadership management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department. Those two bureaus described as diplomatic security and Near Eastern affairs. According to this report, those leadership deficiencies led to a security posture at that U.S. consulate in Benghazi that was, quote, "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place." According to "The New York Times" and their reporting on this report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accepted all 29 of the panel`s recommendations, including a number of those recommendations that are and will presumably remain classified. Again, the report on the independent report on the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in Libya has just been released. NBC News is still going through it at this hour. But this independent panel that has been investigating the attack in Benghazi appears to be placing most of the blame tonight squarely on the U.S. State Department. Please stay tuned. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We have had the first public word tonight from the National Rifle Association following Friday`s massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school. The NRA had been silent after those killings until tonight. Now, the NRA is announcing that they will hold what they are calling a major news conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday. The NRA said in its statement announcing the press conference that they are, quote, "shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news from Newtown." They say, quote, "out of respect for the families and as matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer, and a full investigation of the facts before commenting." But then they said this, and I think this is the important part. Quote, "The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again." The NRA is prepared to make meaningful contributions to stopping the next mass shooting in America. The NRA? Seriously? Tell me more. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Schools in Newtown, Connecticut, reopened today. Students returning to classrooms today at all of them, except two. One Newtown elementary school called Head of the Meadow remained closed today after that school received an unspecified threat this morning from someone who is obviously in contention for the title of most heinous person on earth. Aside from that, Newtown elementary school closed today because of the threat. The other school that remained closed today is, of course, Sandy Hook where the shooting happened on Friday. Sandy Hook will remain closed indefinitely. School administrators have made arrangements to send students to the neighboring town of Monroe, to a middle school there called Chalk Hill, which Monroe had not been using. Also today, two more funerals for two more children for two 6-year- olds, James Radley Mattioli and Jessica Rekos. Young Mr. Mattioli`s obituary says that he would want you to know he was not 6, he was 6 3/4 years old and his nickname was Jay and that he loved to play the lawn mowing game on the iPad. Jessica Rekos was the first born child in her family. She wrote in journals and she researched orca whales. Both kids were buried today. A group of Newtown residents has formed themselves into a group called Newtown United. These are not necessarily people who have been politically active in the past or who have had any experience trying to change policies or get certain laws enacted. But some members of Newtown united headed to Washington today. They took the day off from their jobs. They woke up at dawn. They drove to Washington to go meet with members of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Newtown United, a group of people at the epicenter of national tragedy. One of the parents who traveled to Washington today was lucky enough to have his child, who attends Sandy Hook elementary come home from that school on Friday. But he said today that he is taking action now in the wake of the shootings because he does not think the next time it should just depend on luck. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDRE NIKITCHUK, SON SAVED BY TEACHER: Every time something like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, were happening, I would avert my eyes, and I will still think that something will be done. But all those beliefs were shattered on Friday. And now I think we all need to speak up. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Joining us now for the interview is the Reverend Welton Gaddy. He is the pastor of the Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, Louisiana. He is also head of the Interfaith Alliance. Reverend Gaddy, thank you for being here. REV. C. WELTON GADDY, INTERFAITH ALLIANCE: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: Seeing these folks from Newtown trying to help lead a national response to what happened, do you think that proximity to a tragedy like this lends a kind of moral leadership, a moral signature that can help the rest of us trying to figure out what we ought to do in the wake of this? GADDY: I certainly do, Rachel. I think it is certainly moral integrity for them. They have the experience. They know what happened to them. They know what can happen to other people. And so they want to move. There is something else involved also, though, that I think is very therapeutic about this, because so many times when this happens in a community or even just a death among good friends, and people are just, you know, like this as to what will -- I feel so helpless. I don`t know what to do. Here is something to do. Here is a situation in which to grieve is to also imagine what can we do to stop needless grieving, needless deaths. The only thing that scares me about this, and it certainly can be overcome is in Washington, moral authority doesn`t really go very far. If it did, we`d be feeding hungry people all over the world already. We would find it harder to go into war. And we would find it easier to get out of war. So, these people are filled with passion and with empathy. And I`m glad to know who they went to see today, because they can be helped there. But this is not going to be quick. Now, something may happen quickly. But the real solutions are going to take a while. And they`re going to be disappointed. They`re going to go in to a room where there are people they think should be their friends and right, they should be, but they`re feeling a political will that is being battered by lobbyists, by the National Rifle Association, by people saying oh, you`re just not realistic about living in this world. We have to have our guns to fight the government. We have to be prepared. And they`re going to be sorely disappointed. That`s when they have to reach deeply again into their guts and find that passion inside and say, we`re not going to be stopped by that. We`ve got to this done. MADDOW: As head of the Interfaith Alliance, I thought about you in watching President Obama addressing that interfaith service on Sunday night in Newtown, quoting from Scripture, speaking both as a president but also speaking as a man of faith. GADDY: Yes. MADDOW: Talking to people in very interfaith, very diverse environment. Do you feel like, especially in moments like this, when people are so emotionally affected -- I mean, there are a lot of different types of tragedies that happen over a lot of different time in our country. This one has grabbed people by the heart, to see people so upset you see a lot of references to faith. You see a lot of people reaching for faith and talking about faith in the way they`re more open than they usually do. Do you feel like the religious community is being constructive in playing an important role in the response so far? GADDY: Always, some of it is, and some of it is not. There are some people who are still as religious leaders, carrying political baggage and delivering political mail. And it makes me sick at my stomach to see that. It -- I can`t say enough good about Newtown. I mean, I think they have handled this remarkably well. The interfaith component of that service was terribly important. And, Rachel, here is a place in which we can find a nation that`s really divided can find common ground. I don`t know of a single religion that is not for protecting life, and seeing that children have a right and an opportunity to grow up and become the people they -- can intended to be. That`s why I don`t understand people who are carrying political baggage in that situation. And so, those of us who see that this needs diversity coming into a unified voice, we`ve got to speak up. MADDOW: Reverend Welton Gaddy, pastor of Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, Louisiana, and the head of the Interfaith Alliance -- thank you, my friend. GADDY: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: I`ve been looking forward to talking to you. GADDY: Good to see you. MADDOW: All right. Real heroes cannot be replaced when they`re gone, but somebody has to take the job they leave behind. And we have news today on that. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: At 2:34 Eastern this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued an official presidential proclamation signed by President Obama. It ordered that flags be flown at half staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds until sunset on the day of his interment. The "his" in his case is the Hawaii senator, Daniel Inoue, who passed away yesterday at the age of 88. President Obama`s proclamation actually applies to U.S. facilities around the world, not just for places in the United States. Flags will remain at half staff until sunset on Sunday, which is when Daniel Inouye will be buried in his native Hawaii. One of the things that has become clear in the 24 hours or so since Daniel Inouye died is the almost unparalleled, outsized respect, that he commanded from his Senate colleagues. That is in part because of his quite remarkable war record. He is a recipient of the Medal of Honor. But it`s also for his reputation of taking principled stands even as he was a senator who never sought the limelight, he was never afraid to stand up for what he thought was right. During the Iran Contra hearings in the 1980s, it was Senator Daniel Inouye who, before the entire country, accused President Ronald Reagan of creating a, quote, "shadowy government" with its own air force, its own navy, its own fundraising mechanism, free from the law itself. He was right. In 2002, it was Senator Inouye who was among a tiny group of senators to vote against the authorization for the use of military force in Iraq. Despite the support of a popular president of his own party in 1996, it was Senator Inouye who took a stand and voted no on the Defense of Marriage Act. Before he`s buried on Sunday morning, Daniel Inouye will lie in state underneath the capital rotunda in Washington on Thursday. That is usually an honor reserved for former presidents of the United States. It has also over the years been accorded to a very few distinguished members of Congress. And if Daniel Inouye is not considered distinguished, then it is hard to imagine who would be. The passing of the senator opens up a seat in the state of Hawaii. State law says the state -- the seat must be to a member of the party of the senator who has died. So the Democratic Party in Hawaii in the next few weeks will submit to the governor a list of three potential nominees to serve out the next two years of Senator Inouye`s term. The governor will then choose a replacement from among those three options presented by the party. And Democrats in Hawaii do not exactly have a deep bench in Congress to choose from. Both of the state`s House members are relatively inexperience. Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa was just elected in 2010. Iraq war veteran Tulsi Gabbard just won her seat in November and hasn`t even been sworn in yet. It`s not clear who will be on the list submitted by the state party. But we learned a very piece of important information today. We learned before he died, Senator Inouye wrote a personal letter to Hawaii`s governor asking that should he die in office, he`d be replaced by Colleen Hanabusa. It sometimes seems like there are more Senate vacancies these days that there are filled Senate seats. But the passing of Daniel Inouye this week now means there is one more to keep an eye on in Hawaii. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Thanks for being with us tonight. Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END