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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/22/13

Guests: Jeh Johnson, Carolyn Maloney

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks very much, my friend. Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. On another day, frankly, of relentlessly breaking news all day long, the attorney general today wrote a letter to Congress saying for the first time that four American citizens have been among the people killed by the U.S. government`s drone program overseas. Some of these U.S. citizens killed by drones were previously known, but at least one of them was not. This comes on the eve of the president`s big civil liberties and national securities speech planned for tomorrow. We are told today that speech will also include a major announcement about starting up the process again of sending prisoners home from the prison at Guantanamo. The former general counsel for the Pentagon, Jeh Johnson, is here to talk some more -- to talk about that and more, as well. There`s a lot going on. Today in Congress, a senior official at the IRS took the Fifth and refused to answer questions from Congress, while the George W. Bush appointed commissioner of the IRS who left his job in November, but who was there through the whole conservative group`s targeting scandal, he did answer questions and he got lambasted by both Republicans and Democrats. Also today, the city of Chicago announced they are going to be closing 50 schools in the city. That is the largest mass public school closing in U.S. history. Chicago says the schools are underutilized. They want to consolidate the school district, but as you can see from this footage, a lot of the protesters in the city say otherwise. In the city of New York today, disgraced former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, who left Congress because he got caught distributing lewd photos of himself on Twitter and then lying about it, Anthony Weiner announced today in a video on YouTube that he is going to run for mayor of New York City this year. Yes, this year. He`s ready to come back. Already. After the federal appeals court in the ninth circuit yesterday struck down Arizona`s law to ban abortions at 20 weeks, in Washington today, House Republicans announced plans for a national ban on abortion at 20 weeks. Kind of unclear as the whole struck down as unconstitutional concept there. And today at West Point, we learned that a staff member, a staff adviser responsible for the health, welfare, and discipline of 125 West Point cadets, that staff adviser has been relieved of his duties and charged with four counts of indecent acts, dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and violations of good order and discipline. The Army says the charges relate to the accusation that he planted hidden cameras in the showers and the locker room facilities of female cadets. As I say, it has been a day of unrelenting news. But in London today, a man was brutally attacked and killed on the streets of south London. It`s the kind of incident that would be seen as just crime, as a local tragic incident of senseless violence, but for the motive and the means by which this particular crime was carried out. It happened just after 2:00 p.m. local time in southeast London, a neighborhood called Woolwich, near an army barracks there. A man was walking on the sidewalk. From eyewitness and police accounts, what appears to have happened is two men driving a car appeared to have deliberately steered onto the sidewalk to hit the man who was walking. The man then exited the vehicle, and set upon the man they just hit with the car and they essentially cut him to pieces. They were armed with large knives, what appeared to have been at least a large kitchen knife and a cleaver. And whether the man was dead already when they hit him with the car or whether they set upon him, whether they killed him with the car or killed him after, regardless, in the end, it was these two men left standing covered in blood and not trying to flee the scene. This was in broad daylight in a well-trafficked area, lots of pedestrians around. There`s a primary school nearby. Some of the people who witnessed this attack are said to be parents who are picking up their kids at the end of the school day. Look at this photo, though, this is one of the men who`s thought to be one of the assailants. You can see he`s holding a knife still in this photo. He has been approached by a passerby who is standing right next to him seemingly calmly having a conversation with him. Another passerby with a camera shot a cell phone video of what seems to be the other assailant in the case. He is covered in blood and holding what looks to be two knives, two weapons. And he, fairly calmly, explains the whole thing to the guy who`s filming him. He blames British soldiers for killing Muslims and then says it is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. He says by the almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. So what if we want to live by Sharia in Muslim land, why does that mean you must follow us and you must chase and call us extremists and kills us? Rather you are extremists, you are the ones. And then he goes on to say the British people should get rid of their government and Western countries should get their troops out of Muslim countries. Nothing like getting a lecture on not wanting to be called an extremist from a man covered in blood carrying a meat cleaver, which he appears to have just used to hack up somebody on the street, right? The timing here, though, is remarkable. It is clear this was designed to be a public spectacle. The manner of the crime, the fact it was done in broad daylight in front of lots of passersby. The fact the men who appeared to be assailants waited around and engaged with passersby about what they had done afterwards, waiting for an opportunity to explain themselves. Hey, get this on film. From eyewitness accounts, the period after the crime before the police showed up appears to have gone on for a pretty long time, perhaps up to about 20 minutes before eventually armed police arrived on the scene and both of those men, the one you saw talking to the camera and the one you apparently calmly talking to the passerby there, both of those men when police arrived were shot by police. Neither of them was killed. They were both taken to the hospital. They are in custody and are considered to be the suspects in this case. NBC News has confirmed that the victim in the case was an active duty British soldier. David Cameron was abroad when the attack happened, he was in France. He called the attack the most appalling crime and said there are strong indications that this is a terrorist incident. Yes, that would seem to be hard to dispute here, because at least one of those assailants went out of his way to tell us, in fact, that it was, while he stood there covered in blood over his alleged handiwork. This is not a subtle thing. I mean, had these guys fled the scene, this might have looked like, maybe, the work of an insane person or simply a random, senseless killing. But we now know it was designed as a spectacle for maximum shock, and for maximum political resonance, that`s terrorism. Our own most recent experience of this kind of attack here in this country was just over a month ago in Boston when again it appears to have been two assailants, in this case, it was two brothers. One of whom was killed by police four days after the bombing, and one of whom is now facing the death penalty on terrorism charges as he recovers from his injuries. That case and the one big mystery that remained after the Tsarnaev brothers were found in Boston, that case took a huge and unexpected turn today. At roughly the same time we were learning about this grotesque incident in London, we also got news from Florida, we got news from Orlando, Florida, another person was not just being questioned in connection with the Boston bombings case and with the other unsolved crime that was maybe associated with the Boston bombers, but we got word that the person being questioned had been shot and killed by law enforcement during the questioning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six-fourteen, and we want to get you back to our breaking news in Orange County. A suspect is dead following a confrontation overnight with an FBI agent. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re just learning that investigators may have been looking into the Boston marathon bombing in relation to this person who lives here in Orlando. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The man who was killed while being questioned in an apartment in Orlando today was this man. He`s a 27-year-old man who lived in Florida now, but he previously lived in the Boston area. And in the Boston area, he had apparently been friends with the older of the two Tsarnaev brothers, with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the one who was killed by police just after the bombing. Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the man who was killed today in Florida were of similar age. They were both of Chechen origin, they were fighters. They both worked out at the same gym. Tamerlan was a boxer. The guy who was killed today did mixed martial arts. Law enforcement sources today said the man they killed in Florida was not a suspect in the Boston bombings, but he was a suspect in this other unsolved Boston area triple murder that everybody has been wondering since the bombings whether or not it was connected to the bombing suspects. We reported about this on this show before. But before now, we have never been able to say that there was anything more than a count dental link between these two stories, now it appears there was a real link. Remember that this happened in 2011. It was actually specifically on 9/11 that year, so September 11th, 2011, it was a brutal murder in the quiet Boston suburb of Waltham, three young men were killed by having their throat slit, one of the three men had a previous conviction for position with intent to sell marijuana. When the three bodies were found in that house in Waltham, their bodies were found strewn with marijuana, somebody had thrown marijuana all over them. So lots of drugs were left on the scene. Also, $5,000 in cash was left on the scene, and these three big, fit, healthy guys were all killed. One of the men who was killed was known to be a good friend of one of the Boston bombings suspects. He was known to be friends with the older of the two Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Since the bombing, because of that connection, there`s been a lot of speculation on whether that unsolved triple murder in 2011 in Waltham, Mass, might have been committed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev. For the first time today, we are told that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who again is dead, is now considered to be a suspect in those unsolved Waltham murders, as is the man or has was the man who was killed today while he was being questioned about those murders by Massachusetts state police and the FBI. Now in terms of why this guy was killed today in Florida during questioning, initial reports were that he lunged at the agents who were questioning him with a knife, then there were reports later in the day maybe the knife part of it was less clear, but according to the FBI, they`re saying it was at least some sort of violent confrontation, some sort of physical confrontation between this young man and the law enforcement officers who were questioning him in his apartment, and that resulted in him being shot to death. The intersection of all of these horrible crimes and investigations and these loose threads and this ongoing counterterrorism work was at least one of these mysteries solved today. Do we actually have more clarity here or do we have less? Joining us now is "Boston Globe" reporter Wesley Lowery. He`s in Florida, just a few feet from the apartment complex where the shooting happened today. Mr. Lowery, thank you very much for joining us. WESLEY LOWERY, BOSTON GLOBE: Of course. Thanks so much for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: What can you tell us at this hour in terms of the developments in the case or anything that you know about the case that might contradict anything that I just explained? LOWERY: Of course. No, I think you had a very good synopsis there. I mean, essentially, what we know is that this man, Ibragim Todashev was a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev`s. They knew each other in Boston, when they both lived there, and moved down here to Florida sometime in the last few months, just got a Florida driver`s license back in February, was being questioned last night just a few feet to my right by FBI agents from Boston, as well as other law enforcement officials about what, if anything, he knew, one, about the Boston marathon bombing, but, two, about this 2011 grisly, very cruel Waltham triple homicide. Our understanding what we`re hearing from our sources and I know NBC has been reporting this, as well, is that he was getting ready to sign a confession to his involvement in that murder and potentially to implicate Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as well, when he became aggressive, potentially lunged at the FBI agent, and was shot and killed. Again, it`s a tight scene down here. The FBI is not saying much. But again, our sourcing is saying that he became aggressive immediately before signing a written confession and that`s when he was shot and killed. MADDOW: Do you have any clarity on whether or not he was armed? There were some conflicting reports today about whether he might have injured the agents who he actually had this confrontation with and some conflicting reports about whether he might have had a knife. LOWERY: You know, I`ve seen the reports about a knife, and I personally have not gotten confirmation on that. The FBI confirmed the agent involved in the interview was, in fact, injured with nonlife- threatening injuries, which may or may not be consistent with him having a weapon. But right now, it`s really unclear in which the FBI would shoot and kill a suspect. Details are very, very tight as they continue this investigation. You know, like I said, a few feet away from me, they are continuing to investigate this apartment where this happened. MADDOW: I know that in these cases sometimes looking into the motive feels beside the point, especially when the suspects are dead. But, obviously, one of the big questions about this Waltham murder is whether it was a crime as we usually understand it, or whether there might have been any sort of political or extremist motivation for those murders. Do we have any further clarity about whether any sort of motive was going to be part of that confession? LOWERY: You know, right now we really don`t. What we`ve been hearing is that the man, the victim, or suspect who was killed here in Florida was saying it was a robbery gone wrong. They realize that these guys were friends of theirs who knew them, so robbing them of their drugs would leave them implicated, because they could identify them, which is why they had committed the murders. There had been some speculation when Tamerlan Tsarnaev was first tied to this murder, potentially following the bombings, that maybe there was significance that occurred on the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. But again, it`s unclear if this was a crime that had any type of political or religious significance or if it was just a very grisly drug crime. Like I said, it`s very unclear and the picture of Tamerlan is still one that`s being undeveloped. We really don`t know everything there is to know about him, and it will be years before we really do know all the answers to the questions. MADDOW: To be clear, though, the man who was killed in Florida is not considered, has been essentially cleared of any potential involvement in the Boston marathon bombing itself. Is that right? LOWERY: Of course. The FBI`s saying right now they have nothing to indicate he had knowledge of it previously and/or that he played any role. Again, he was being investigated because he was some who is a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He had -- his cell phone had been linked to Tamerlan Tsarnaev`s, as well, they came down. They interviewed him. He became a suspect in this Waltham murder. And again, to our knowledge, he was beginning or had already confessed to being involved in the triple homicide, was preparing a written statement when something went wrong in that room. MADDOW: "Boston Globe" reporter Wesley Lowery, thank you very much for helping us get through the details of this amazing story. Thanks very much. All right. LOWERY: Thank you so much for having me. MADDOW: On the eve of a major address by President Obama, the Obama administration made a startling announcement today that nobody knew was coming and that has really big implications for stuff we thought we knew before, but now it turns out we didn`t understand the way it really was. What happened today with that late announcement, what it means. We`ve got former Pentagon general counsel, Jeh Johnson, joining us tonight for the interview. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The attorney general of the United States broke some major news today in an unexpected way, took a lot of people by surprise. Part of the reason we know that is because this wanted poster was still posted at this afternoon for several hours after the attorney general admitted in print this afternoon that actually this guy is no longer wanted, he`s dead. So, he`s not wanted anymore. Shortly after the national security reporter, Spencer Ackerman, and a number of other folks started tweeting links to the poster, the FBI apparently took it down. Did the FBI really not know that that guy had been killed until the attorney general told Congress and the general public about it this afternoon? I mean, they had a wanted poster out for him. So presumably, they were expending some FBI resources wanting the guy, right, looking for him. If they were looking for him but another agency of the U.S. government, presumably the CIA or maybe the military, some other part of the U.S. government knew that that guy had been killed by us in a drone strike, did those other parts of the U.S. government really just not tell the FBI until they told the whole world today? Was the FBI maybe just playing along with the rest of government in some sort of ruse the government was not admitting the guy was dead? I don`t say that in a conspiratorial way. I say that because the government has been so acrobatically cagey when it comes to taking responsibility for killing people in U.S. counterterrorism efforts around the world. Like this, for example, watch for the uncharacteristic use of the passive verb tense here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to say a few words about some important news. Earlier this morning, Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed in Yemen. The death -- (APPLAUSE) The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al Qaeda`s most active operational affiliate. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The president at an unrelated event there getting interrupted with applause that Anwar al-Awlaki had been killed. That`s the specific instructions he used. Awlaki was killed. He was killed. Well, how did that happen? Today, a year and a half later in this letter sent to Congress, the U.S. government admitted what everybody already knew, which is that it wasn`t just that he was killed. It wasn`t just an observed phenomenon that he came to be dead. But rather, Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by the United States. The attorney general went on in this letter today to go into an elaborate explanation of why it was not just legal, but also a good idea for the U.S. to kill Anwar Awlaki. This letter says, quote, "that the United States specifically targeted and killed him." But then the same letter today also goes on to name three other U.S. citizens who were also killed by the United States, even though they were not, quote, "specifically targeted for killing." One of those three is the guy from the FBI wanted poster. Again, this announcement about the U.S. killing him appears to be a bit of surprise today, including maybe even to the FBI, who wanted him. The other two are Americans who were widely known to have been killed in U.S. drone strikes. One of them was Anwar al-Awlaki`s teenaged son, who was killed a coupler of weeks after his father was killed. The other was the guy thought to be involved with the al Qaeda magazine, making a bomb in the kitchen of your mom thing. He was killed in the same strike that killed Awlaki`s son in 2011. But again, those two guys were widely thought to be killed by U.S. drone strikes, as was Anwar Awlaki, despite the president`s passive phrasing when he described the fact that he was killed. Those guys everybody pretty much figured had been killed by U.S. drone strikes, even though the government had never admitted to it before today. So, here`s my question, actually, here`s by questions -- why didn`t the government admit to these things before today? Why did they admit to them today? And why was it the attorney general who made the admission? The attorney general doesn`t direct the CIA drone pilots or the military drone pilots who made these killings. Why did we hear this from the attorney general? What the government basically admitting only one of these four Americans was killed on purpose as part of specific targeting, doesn`t that mean the government today admitted that the other three Americans were essential killed by accident. And if they were killed by accident, if those were mistakes, do their families get some sort of recourse for that? President Obama`s due to give a big national security and civil liberties speech tomorrow, a major address, and that clearly is driving the timing on some of this. But, boy, do I have questions! Most of all, about whether or not all of this movement on this issue right now and this speech tomorrow means that things are going to be changing in this area or whether this big speech and this bombshell admission from the attorney general today means things are not changing, but the justifications for things are going to be changing. Here next for the interview tonight is a man who actually can answer some of this stuff. Until the end of last year, he was the top lawyer at the Pentagon and he is our guest exclusively, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) OBAMA: It`s the foundation of Anglo-American law, which says very simply, if the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, "Why was I grabbed," and say, "Maybe you`ve got the wrong person." You know, the reason you have that safeguard is because we don`t always have the right person. We don`t always catch the right person. We may think this is Mohammed the terrorist, it might Mohammed the cab driver. You may think it`s Barack the bomb thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president. (APPLAUSE) So, the point is, so the reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism, it`s because that`s who we are. That`s what we`re protecting. Don`t mock the Constitution. Don`t make fun of it. Don`t suggest that it`s un-American to abide by what the Founding Fathers set up. It`s worked pretty well for over 200 years. Where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans. (APPLAUSE) Now, as we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That`s why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable, legal, and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we`re doing things the right way. So in the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Same man, same ideas, very different times. Very different circumstances. Today, on the eve of what is expected to be a major policy address by the president on those issues, the Obama administration released this letter. The attorney general writing this letter, owning up for the first time to American citizens being among those who U.S. counterterrorism efforts have killed abroad. Why (ph) they do that today? How important is it? What`s going to happen in this speech tomorrow? Joining us now for the interview to help us understand some of this stuff, what to look for in the president`s major address, in part, is Jeh Johnson. He served as general counsel at the Pentagon during President Obama`s first term. He`s now a lawyer in private practice and he`s here tonight in person. Mr. Johnson, it`s great to see you. JEH JOHNSON, FORMER PENTAGON GENERAL COUNSEL: Thank you for having me back, Rachel. MADDOW: Eighteen months ago, President Obama announced that Anwar al- Awlaki was killed, but not that we killed him. Why -- why wouldn`t we have said before that we killed him, and why could it be said now, why should it be said now? JOHNSON: Well, any disclosure of that nature, which today involved declassifying certain things, involves careful consideration. We think about the consequences in a variety of context, and I think what we saw today was the result of continued efforts at transparency. When I was in office, I, John Brennan, the attorney general, Harold Koh, gave a number of speeches on the legal foundations for our efforts. Last year, we declassified the military`s counterterrorism efforts in Yemen and Somalia. And so, the conversation about acknowledging Anwar al-Awlaki, who was a U.S. citizen, and acknowledging that there were three other U.S. citizens who were not targeted, but who were killed as a result of our actions, was something that has began a while ago, has been going on for quite some time. And there were a number of people in government, the president most prominently, who thought and believe, obviously, that if a U.S. citizen who is involved in terrorist activities against the United States, is the target of lethal force, our government should acknowledge that. So this is the result of those discussions, obviously. MADDOW: With this letter today, it is the acknowledgment of what was widely believed already to be true about Anwar al-Awlaki. His son, another young man who was killed at the same time he was killed, and now a third man who was not clear before today had been killed in these kinds of efforts, they are all described as being killed by the United States but not as having been specifically targeted. Is that -- JOHNSON: I think you could remove the word specifically from that sentence. MADDOW: Not targeted at all? JOHNSON: Not targeted. MADDOW: They are effectively saying it was an accident. JOHNSON: We are effectively saying that they were not targeted as part of those specific operations. MADDOW: But killed anyway. JOHNSON: But they were, obviously, killed. MADDOW: Doesn`t that -- shouldn`t that afford their family some kind of recourse? JOHNSON: That is a very good question. I think you should put that to the Department of Justice. MADDOW: If I we putting it to you as a lawyer in private practice who knows from these things, what would you say? JOHNSON: I -- like I said, it`s an interesting question. It doesn`t come up too often in my private practice, but it`s an important question. And as you probably know, Anwar al-Awlaki`s father brought a second lawsuit after his son was killed for wrongful death, seeking damages for the loss of his son and his grandson, and I believe that lawsuit is still pending right now. MADDOW: One of the things that arose in the renewed congressional attention to these matters, particularly around John Brennan`s nomination to be head of the CIA, was whether or not people who were being targeted by the U.S. government had a right to surrender and if they don`t know they were being targeted, you don`t have a right to surrender, because you don`t know it`s coming until it happens. Is there a way -- as changes are being made around the way the government talks around these things, are there ways that you can foresee that that issue could be addressed? JOHNSON: Well, yes, actually, it`s in that letter that was issued today. The government acknowledged Anwar al-Awlaki. We acknowledged three other U.S. citizens who were killed in counterterrorism operations that were not targeted. But in addition, set forth in that letter is effectively a new standard for our counterterrorism activities, that the individual must be a continuing and imminent threat to Americans and that capture should not be feasible. Those standards previously were only in place when it comes to U.S. citizens, and what the letter discloses is that from this point forward, and this is probably been in place for awhile now, that standard will be in place for any targeted lethal force off the so-called "hot battlefield". And that`s a pretty rigorous standard, and I think it`s an acknowledgment that we are moving to a different phase in our counterterrorism efforts. We`ve been in a so-called arm conflict now for almost the last 12 years, since 9/11, that is involved the U.S. military. It`s involved other assets of the U.S. government, and we`re now in a different phase. Some call it an inflection point, where core al Qaeda has been effectively disseminated, captured or killed, and we see splinter groups, we see affiliates in North Africa, in other places. And so, I think what you`re seeing now is an acknowledgment we need to move away from conventional armed conflict to the more traditional approaches to counterterrorism where you have intelligence assets, law enforcement assets, the military in reserve, and the bar is going to be really high when it comes to targeted lethal force. So, that is -- to me, that is actually probably going forward the most significant thing in the attorney general`s letter. MADDOW: You were the one who said we should start looking for that inflection point, and I think there`s going to be great debate when we hear it in the speech tomorrow from the president about whether or not that -- whether or not that`s it. There`s one other matter that I wanted to ask you about, though, totally different part of what your responsibilities were as general counsel, and that is the issue of the military really struggling with this problem of sexual assault. It`s another just terrible set of charges levied today by, in this case, a staff member at West Point, but we saw this top-ranking U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who is in charge of sexual assault (INAUDIBLE) himself arrested in a related case. JOHNSON: All in the category of you can`t make this stuff up. MADDOW: Yes. JOHNSON: Right. MADDOW: It`s unbelievable. But the scale of the problem seems like it is, both, getting worse and the military has not been able to handle it himself. Are -- itself -- are there shortcomings in the military`s justice system that make it so that this isn`t being treated seriously enough and that victims don`t trust the system? JOHNSON: I have recently come to the conclusion that the answer to that question is, yes. We saw a recent report there were an estimated 26,000 inappropriate advances, sexual advances, within the military in FY- 2012. In that same period, only about 3,300 get reported and only about 300 or so end up in criminal convictions in our military justice system. We`ve tried a lot of different things. We`ve tried additional training. We`ve tried better resources, assets for investigations, we`ve tried victims counseling. Last year, Secretary Panetta raised the initial -- the initial disposition authority for how these cases should be handled to the 06 colonel captain level. And the problem, I believe, has become so pervasive. The bad behavior is so pervasive. We need to look at fundamental change in the military justice system itself. There`s something like 16 bills pending right now in Congress. Some of them would change the system. I think they are all worthy of consideration, and there`s a panel that`s been appointed by the secretary and the Congress to look at all this and they have to be sensitive to the political calendar, but I think that this panel should look at all the options. MADDOW: Jeh Johnson, former general counsel at the Pentagon -- I think you just made a lot of news here tonight. Thank you for being here and willing to do it on this show. It`s nice to see you. JOHNSON: Thank you. MADDOW: Thanks. JOHNSON: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: Taking the Fifth today in baroque (ph) and entertaining style. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: A big change today on a story that we have been covering for months now. The Veterans Administration, as you know, has built up this huge backlog of hundreds of thousands of disability claims from veterans, disabled vets, waiting a year, waiting longer than that, just to even hear from the V.A. about the status of their claims. There are a lot of different reasons for the backlog, a lot of veterans coming home after 12 years of war, disabilities that are complicated to diagnose, lots of types of claims from older veterans that would not been accepted before, but now, they will be accepted. Too much of the recordkeeping being done on paper, there`s lots of reasons. One of the big reasons is the fact that your records when you`re active duty in the Defense Department are kept under a totally different, incompatible system from your records when you e in the V.A., once you`re a veteran and when you are out. Well, today, that particular problem changed, maybe. Today, the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Pentagon is going to get a whole new huge system for its computerized medical records. That is in part because of the hope that the new system might integrate better with the system over at the V.A. Now, the Pentagon had just considered dumping their own system and adopting the V.A. system for the Defense Department so everybody would be on one big system and there would be no issue with integration, but when they looked into it, the Pentagon decided -- no, let`s build our own new thing instead. And, you know, maybe that will help the backlog. Maybe it will set it back even further, but it is a ginormous change that is going to affect millions of Americans. Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LOIS LERNER, IRS EXEMPT ORGANIZATIONS DIRECTOR: I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee. And while I would very much like to answer the committee`s questions today, I`ve been advised by my counsel to assert my constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing. After very careful consideration, I`ve decided to follow my counsel`s advice and not testify or answer any of the questions today. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If you`re going to take the Fifth, that is, like, the deluxe version of taking the Fifth, right? When a person pleads the Fifth, they are referencing the specific part of that amendment to the Constitution that says that a person cannot be forced to be a witness against himself. The IRS official who heads the division that has been caught up in this scandal about processing applications from ideologically specific groups, she pled the Fifth today because she said she believed the committee was trying to get her to say things on record under oath, essentially for the purpose of prosecuting her for those statements, even though she says she has done nothing wrong. Well, some members of the committee appeared enraged today that she tried to explain even that much while still refusing to take their questions, but that is what she did. And then, members of the committee, both Republican and Democratic, proceeded to shred both her and the agency as a whole over the course of the whole afternoon, including a series of particularly grueling exchanges with the guy who doesn`t even work there anymore, the George W. Bush appointed former head of the IRS, who hasn`t even worked there since late last year. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: At no point in the letter did Ms. Lerner mention that IRS officials were conducting their own internal review. And, Mr. Shulman, why did she admit that fact? DOUGLAS SHULMAN, FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER: I -- I`m not familiar with that letter. I`m sorry. MALONEY: And, in fact, Ms. Lerner never informed the committee of what was happening in the IRS tax exempt status in any way, and I just would like to ask you, do you think it`s appropriate for the IRS to send such a misleading response back to this committee? SHULMAN: I`d have to look at the whole response and, you know, if it came from Ms. Lerner, it`s very unlikely at, you know, I knew about it or reviewed it. MALONEY: Well, I would say that we`re all outraged, but it`s not too early to start talking about what we can do to fix it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That`s, essentially, the baseline starting point on this one -- we`re all outraged. The question is not only about what can be done to fix it, but whether we fully understand the scope of what the problem is already. Joining us now is Congressman Carolyn Maloney of New York, you just saw on that footage from the hearing. She`s member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Congresswoman, thanks very much for your time tonight. It`s nice to have you here. MALONEY: Great to be here. MADDOW: So, this was the third hearing on this topic so far. Do you feel you`ve been getting the answers you need from these IRS officials who have appeared before your committee? MALONEY: Well, not yet. Those of us who want to get to the facts and we were to the facts, we were very disappointed, frustrated she pled the Fifth Amendment today, but it is her constitutional right. But you have to realize we are now confronting four different investigations. The Department of Justice has a criminal investigation. The House has an investigation. I.G. George is going to continue with his audit and investigation, and the Senate has investigation. We have hearings when we come back in a week from now with the new director, Werfel, so there`s more to be done to get the answers and to get the truth. MADDOW: From what you have been able to discern thus far, obviously more needs to be asked and more needs to be forthcoming from the agency itself. But does it seem to you thus far like a screw up or does it seem to you like there`s any evidence that this was being directed as a political tactic to try to hurt conservatives? MALONEY: Well, I would say -- I would say, Rachel, that it`s -- we are united for one, so Democrats and Republicans, in our outrage and are united in our incompetence. They had people that were appointed by Republicans and by Democrats that participated in this really misjudgment, incompetence, screw up, whatever you want to call it. So, what we did learn is that the IRS had their own investigation that they did not inform the White House or Congress about. We learned that there was no outside influence from any direction. It was totally an IRS operation and we know the investigation is ongoing. MADDOW: Are the guidelines surrounding, this whole 501c part of the tax code, in terms of group getting assessed for their tax exemption status, do you think the guidelines in the code are clear enough or are they ambiguous enough that there`s necessarily going to be some kind of error here if not abuse? MALONEY: They are extremely vague and guidance needed to be clear about it. I for one do not understand why you are granted tax-exempt status if 49 percent of your activities can be political. The whole purpose of not for profits is to be for social benefit, to help people. I, for one, would support legislation that would ban any political activity if you`re getting a tax-exempt status. It also carries the cover that you can contribute to these 501(c)(4)s and not be disclosed. So, that is also a problem when trying to influence politics or elections. MADDOW: In the midst of scandal, the worst possible time to make smart policy about fixing big, complicated systems. But I have a feeling when the scandal is fixed, that big complicated problem is going to remain. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, thank you very much for your time tonight. Thanks for helping us understand what`s going on. MALONEY: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: I appreciate it. All right. As if enduring a devastating natural disaster wasn`t enough, now we get crazy pants political conspiracy theories that portend to explain that first problem. That`s coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Two things happened recently that are related. They do not seem related at first, but trust me, they`re related. So, stick with me here. The first thing was a small piece of one of the planes that was used on 9/11 being found wedged in a narrow alley way not far from Ground Zero. Now, at first, it was reported to be part of the landing gear from those landing gear from one of those planes. We learned that it actually came from under one of the wings. So, that was thing number one. Just a couple days later, thing number two: Republicans on the House Oversight Committee had a joint hearing on the amount of ammunition the Department of Homeland Security has on hand. See, if the federal government has more bullets than the general population, how are we going to defend ourselves in the fight against the government? Can`t let the government get the upper hand in the weapons race, right? Next thing, you know, they`ll have a standing army and bombs that can take out whole cities and stuff. So, yes, Republicans in the House and the Senate followed up the ammo thing with an actual bill, an actual piece of legislation that`s supposed to prevent the government from buying too many bullets. Yes, this is the same federal government that already stock piles, say, Abrams tanks and armed drones and giant intercontinental missiles that carry nuclear weapons -- all that, yes, but it`s an excess bullets that congressional Republicans have decided is the really worrying firepower. That worry was so crazy, so out there, that even the National Rifle Association wouldn`t touch it with a ten-foot rifle. And yes, the conspiracy theory about the government having too many bullets is nuts, but it`s not out of nowhere. That conspiracy theory comes from the mother of all conspiracy theorists that can (INAUDIBLE) Republicans. It`s an Internet talk show called "Info Wars". Yes, this is the same guy selling the idea that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and massacre at Aurora, Colorado, were actually fake, they were faked as an excuse to take away our guns, enslave us to the giant wasps who hive beneath the U.N. building or whatever. It`s the same guy who says the Boston bombing was also fake. It was fake for political purposes. The same guy who says he doesn`t believe the Columbia space shuttle disaster actually happened. He doesn`t believe there was actually an Oklahoma City bombing. Naturally, of course, he also knows and sells the idea that 9/11 was an inside job, so that landing gear, that must be faked, too, the conspiracy continues. And every tragedy, the "Info Wars"/Alex Jones world thinks they see conspiracy. Monday`s devastating record breaking tornado in Moore, Oklahoma killed two dozen people, flattened a community, just devastating, devastating, right? But now, I am not kidding, the same conspiracy theory folks are peddling the idea the tornado was a conspiracy as well. Seriously, the tornado was a conspiracy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALEX JONES, INFO WARS: And tornadoes are way down. Of course, they lie and say they are way up, to try to get carbon taxes. But I don`t know if this was a weather weapon or not, but they can -- with the right weather conditions, they can create and steer groups of tornadoes. If people 50 miles out of storm systems see aircraft in and around the clouds spraying and doing things, if you saw that, you better bet your bottom dollar they did this. But who knows if they did. You know, that`s the thing. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Who knows? Who knows if the U.S. government uses a secret made up weather weapon that only exists in the mind of -- yes. I mean, that`s the thing, right? Here`s the other thing. Alex Jones should be disqualified from participating in Republican Party politics. His crackpot theories shouldn`t prompt hearings in Congress and they shouldn`t inspire actual legislation in Congress, and you shouldn`t do a money bomb on his show running for Congress. Do not fund race on this theater of the absurd by showing yourself to be one with this guy, really. He says the tornado was a conspiracy, the tornado. Can we agree it is over now, Republicans, going on his show, really? Can we agree? Please? Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END