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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/04/13

Guests: Edwin Lyman, Ed Pilkington

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, man. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. We begin tonight with some breaking news about a fascinating and potentially scary detective story that kept us all glued to the news wires all day long today as this story evolved. This story starts here in the city of Tijuana in Mexico, right across the border from San Diego, California. Last Thursday on Thanksgiving Day, a truck left a big hospital in Tijuana, ultimately headed across the country, well over a thousand miles, almost all the way to Mexico City. That`s how far they were supposed to go on the route. It was a very long trip and it was a very important trip, because that truck was carrying this across the country. It`s an old piece of equipment from that hospital in Tijuana. This particular equipment was used in radiation therapy, which means that the equipment itself was radioactive. The hospital was ready to replace the old equipment with new stuff. But first, it had to send the old, now radioactive equipment to a facility for storing nuclear waste. That piece of old equipment from the hospital in Tijuana was loaded with little pellets with something called Cobalt 60. It`s a radioactive isotope, that used in the right way, could save you from cancer. But in the wrong hands, use improperly, it is the kind of thing that must definitely can kill you. One of the worst nuclear accidents of all time happened in 1987 when people searching for scrap metal in Brazil slipped into an abandoned medical office that had been used for radiation therapy and that had never been properly cleaned out. The scrap metal thieves made off with the old piece of medical equipment that they brought home and they tried to take it apart, then messed around with it, pried on it for a while and tried to take its pieces apart. They ended up selling the pieces to a local junk yard. A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency says the junk yard owner noticed that some of the scrap pieces they bought that day glowed blue in the dark. Junk yard owner`s friends and relatives started coming by to check out the strange new thing that glowed in the dark, they passed around little bits of it, the little glowing pellets the size of grains of rice, and a lot of those people got very, very sick. Twenty people ended up in the hospital with varying levels of radiation poisoning, and four people died. So you can see that it was very important that the truck driver who started off in Tijuana on Thanksgiving Day, you see how it is very important that the truck driver needed to make it to the nuclear waste disposal facility with this piece of radioactive obsolete hospital equipment that he was carrying. And you can see why it became global news today when it became know that that truck driver did not complete his journey. Sometime in the pre-dawn hours of yesterday, the truck driver says he was woken up by a pair of thieves. He had stopped to sleep at a gas station north of Mexico City. He was sleeping in the truck. The thieves who woke him up were armed. They ordered him out of the vehicle. They tied him up and then they drove away in his truck carrying the radioactive material. And then the desperate hunt began for this truck with the highly radioactive Cobalt 60 in its cargo bay. Mexican authorities immediately alerted the International Atomic Energy agency. The United States warned the border patrol to be on the lookout in case anything like this tried to make its way into the United States. Part of the worries that the radioactive material would be harmful to anybody who accidentally or unknowingly came in contact with it. But, of course, another part of the worry is that maybe somebody did it on purpose. Maybe somebody might realize what they`ve got, or they stole it knowing what they were looking for, because they wanted to get their hands on something highly radioactive. American officials told NBC News that there`s no reason to believe that the thieves specifically were looking for materials with which they could build a dirty bomb. They also told NBC that the material involved in this specific case might not even make an effective dirty bomb, because it would just burn up in the initial explosion, instead of dispersing everywhere. They also told NBC that anybody trying to handle this Cobalt 60 for whatever reason would probably make themselves very sick or very hurt in the process of doing so and maybe they wouldn`t be fit to continue making a bomb. Mexican nuclear officials said their working theory was that the thieves had just been after the cargo truck itself and its neat especially mounted crane that`s the back of the truck right behind the cab. These thieves seem to really find these trucks irresistible, and they get stolen all the time. They said the radioactive material was properly shielded when it was put on the back of the truck. The issue was, if anybody opened up that shielded container not knowing what they were getting themselves into it. Well, the hunt started as soon as it went missing. It dragged on all day long today with no sign of it. Until finally, late in the day, authorities say found it. The truck had been abandoned in a small farming town about an hour outside of Mexico City. A half mile away from where they found the truck, they found the cargo box. The authorities did find at least some of the radioactive material still inside the box, but the shielded container had been opened, and there are conflicting reports about whether or not some of the radioactive material is still at large tonight. What the authorities have not found yet are the people who stole the truck and/or the people who personally handled the Cobalt 60 when they pried open that shielded container. Mexico`s top nuclear safety officials tell NBC News tonight that if and when the thieves opened the box, they are likely to have burned themselves in the process. He said wherever they are right now, if they handled this stuff, they are either likely dead or in the process of dying. Joining us to help us understand what happened is Edwin Lyman, the senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Mr. Lyman, thank you very much for being with us. Appreciate it. EDWIN LYMAN, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: It`s good to be here. MADDOW: So in terms of Cobalt 60 and other radioactive isotopes that are used in medical procedures like this and that are more or less routinely moved in and out of hospital settings, is Cobalt 60 something that is dangerous to come into very casual or quick contact with? Would you expect that the Mexican authorities are right that anybody who touched this stuff today is likely to be ill or dying? LYMAN: Well, absolutely. If the Cobalt 60 source was removed from the shielding, in a midst, a very high energy gamma rays. These are radioactive rays that can penetrate the human body very easily. And so, simply being in close proximity to these sources can deliver a very, very high dose in a short period of time. That`s why they`re used in radiotherapy. So I would be very concerned if anybody actually did remove the source from its shielding. MADDOW: In terms of the way these things are shielded and the way they`re marked, nobody expects that truck thieves, if they`re common truck thieves, have any specialist knowledge about radioactive material the way these things travel, the way these things are packaged. Are these things marked in such a way and packaged in such a way that it`s A, hard to get to them, and, B, pretty clear that you will be accessing if you opened the container is something that could hurt you? LYMAN: There are international standards for marking and packaging highly radioactive sources. But one problem is, there is no binding requirements. So countries are really free to do as they choose. I don`t know about the Mexican arrangements, but I do that there were many incidents around the world for decades where the providence and the identity of these materials is certainly not known to the people who discovered them to very catastrophic effects. MADDOW: In terms of the motivation here, nobody seems to be putting forth the hypothesis that there were people looking to make a dirty bomb, who set out specifically to steal this stuff in order to turn it into some kind of weapon. But if for whatever reason it was trafficked or people realized what they had, or that hypothesis, that seems unlikely is actually the case, would this be an appropriate material for making an explosive device that would disperse radioactive material over a very large area? LYMAN: This has been a concern of people especially since 9/11. And if you were able to effectively disperse the source, because these are very highly concentrated materials, you could spread relatively low level concentrations over a large area. Now, at Fukushima, you could see what a relatively small amount of material actually created the radioactive mess that went out for 20 miles or more from the site. Now, this amount of material would probably be less effective. But you could certainly contaminate an area in a city, several city blocks to the extent that it might deny people access to that area for weeks, months or years, depending on how fast you could clean it up. MADDOW: Well, to that point, we understand that authorities are preparing to send a special team to the area where the cargo box was found where the radioactive material was detected. What do you expect will happen at that site? And what will they have to do to sort of protect any sort of bystanders or I guess nearby villagers or people who didn`t know what they were getting into who may have come in contact with it? LAYMAN: Well, hopefully, it is shielded and close to where it was lost. But they will have to survey the area very carefully. And the incident you referred to in Brazil and other incidents, when materials like this gets dispersed to other areas, people carry it around. Then, you can have traces of it in places where you don`t expect. So they`re going to have to look very carefully to make sure that they have located all the material and make sure that people are -- that avoid exposure at all costs. And let`s hope that there has not been an opportunity for the material to get in close contact to people. MADDOW: Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, thank you very much for helping us understand this bizarre story. I really appreciate you being here. LYMAN: Thank you. MADDOW: Thank you. If we learn more about this crazy story about stolen radioactive material in Mexico tonight, we will let you know. Again, the most interesting detail at this point until we know about the people who stole this, who may or may not come in contact with it, the most interesting outstanding detail at this point is that there are conflicting reports as to whether or not the total amount of the radioactive material that started out in that truck has been located or whether only some of that material has been found and some of it is still at large. We`ll be keeping an eye on these details tonight as news keeps coming in. In the meantime, lots more to come tonight, including problems for the people who invented or at least spread around the country the "Stand Your Ground" laws, and a Republican lawmaker with a mushroom cloudy suggestion for our country, and the release of those 911 tapes from Newtown today. Please stay tuned. There`s lots to come tonight. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Earlier this fall, a group funded by the Koch brothers specifically to target college students and young people launched these ads to try to convince young people to not sign up for health insurance. The pitch was that signing for health insurance is creepy. It`s like having a guy with a big paper mache pop head perform your prostate exam. Don`t get health insurance, young people, it`s gross. The Koch brothers` idea here was that young people should opt out of the health insurance, and if you wrote to their opt out of insurance Web site, they would send you an opt out of health insurance kit for your college with stickers and beer koozies and stuff so can give them to your friends to let them know that getting health insurance is just not cool. Around the same time, another conservative group linked to the same billionaire conservative brothers launched this Web site in Alaska to convince people in that state that they also should not get health insurance. They actually launched two Web sites at once, one of which just flat out told Alaskan that they should pledge to not get insurance. And the other sort of tried to look more like a neutral site where you might go to get answers about health insurance, but it ended up giving the same advice, don`t do it under any circumstance. Yesterday, "The L.A. Times" reported on the same kind of trick being played in California. In California, though, it`s not some random conservative group funded by the Koch brothers that`s doing it. In California, it`s the state Republican Party. California Republicans are a little bit of an endangered species right now, but when they learned that the health insurance Web site for people to sign up for insurance in California was going to be called, as in Covering CA as in Covering California, the Republican Party in the state came up with a dummy Web site that looked just like the real one. Instead of, their rip-off version was If you ended up there accidentally, it kind of looked like you were in the right place to sign up for health insurance. But you were not at that right place. You, in fact, were at the Republican Party`s Web site that was designed to make you think that health reform is terrible and in no way should you ever think about signing up for health insurance because of health reform`s terrible, terribleness. The conversation in Washington about health reform is sort of an esoteric one now. Republican House Speaker John Boehner was asked whether the Republican Party would ever have its own health care policy, its own policy ideas on the subject. His answer was, "We`ll see." No rush, we`ll see. Today in the Republican-controlled House, there were four, count them, four separate hearings on how terrible health reform is, but with no more votes to repeal it scheduled, with no more plans to shut down the government to try to stop health reform and proper Republican alternatives to replace health reform, the Republicans` whole approach to this issue in Washington has gotten a little esoteric, where it is not esoteric is in the states, and the states really get no attention from the beltway press in terms of their political importance. But that is where you can see much more clearly than in Washington what the real fight is right now between the parties over this issue. And the real fight now between the parties is that one party really wants you to get health insurance. They`re saying it at every turn, the president is going to do an event every day between now and Christmas Eve saying, hey, go get health insurance. One party really wants you to really get health insurance, and another party is proving that they will do almost anything possible to stop you from getting more health insurance. Nowhere is that more clear that in Texas, which, of course, is under complete Republican control and which has more uninsured people than anywhere else in the entire country. Today in Texas, they unveiled 64 pages of new state rules and regulations that restrict people who want to help other people in Texas sign up for health insurance. So, if you want to be a health care navigator in Texas to help people sign up for insurance, as of today, Texas says you must be fingerprinted. You must pass a detailed background check. You have to display evidence of financial responsibility. They will put you through 40 hours of training. And after that, after all that, you will still be banned by law in Texas from actually offering people advice about how to get health insurance. The new Texas rules they unveiled today say that nobody in Texas may recommend to anyone else that they sign up for health insurance plan. Doing that is illegal. You also cannot tell anybody in Texas the differences between the various plans that are being offered to them. You can`t explain the differences between the plans. So if you want to help people sign up for health insurance in Texas, effectively, that is now illegal. And in Missouri, it is outright illegal. Missouri is being taken to federal court right now over their efforts to make it basically impossible for people to figure out how to get health insurance in that state. Because the law that Missouri passed flat out makes it illegal for anybody to offer anyone any advice concerning benefits, terms or features of any health insurance plan. You can`t talk about that in Missouri. So, sure, millions of people across the country who could not get health insurance before now should be able to get it because of health reform. But Republican-controlled state governments are making it illegal, or at least hopefully impossible for you to find out that there are health insurance options out there that you might like. And conservative groups across the country are trying to convince you that health insurance itself is just a terrible, terrible idea. And you don`t want it anyway. It`s clear that Republicans did not want the health reform to pass in the first place. They didn`t want President Obama and the Democrats to have a legislative win. They didn`t like the policy itself. But now the policy itself is in effect. And it means that millions of Americans now can get health insurance who could not get it in the past and millions of Americans who did have health insurance before should now have better and in most cases, more affordable choices for their coverage. And all the talking about it in Washington, if you put it aside, really, the real question is whether this much more under the radar political effort in the states can effectively stop Americans from getting insurance that they might really like if only they knew how to get it. Joining us now is Michael Smerconish. He`s a radio host on Sirius XM. He`s an MSNBC contributor. Michael spent eight weeks trying unsuccessfully to find insurance options for himself and his family through, before it finally worked this week. Michael, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Rachel, for having me. MADDOW: So you had a miserable eight weeks, early experience trying to get through the federal exchange. But now, it has worked for you, is that right? SMERCONISH: It is. I had Eureka moment yesterday. And what broke the log jam for me was a new feature on the Web site that allowed me to withdraw my prior applications. This time, I used a brand-new e-mail, frankly an e-mail address that I obtained just for this purpose, because the system wouldn`t allow me. I made so many efforts I think the system thought I was somehow a fraud, to which I responded if a crook spent that much time trying to impersonate me, he deserves my health insurance. MADDOW: You know, the exact same thing happened to me on PayPal the other day. I spent so long trying to get back in to my old PayPal account, that ultimately, I was ready to arrest myself, I seemed so suspicious. I know you were Republican until a few years ago. You and I talked about lots of policy issues like this over the years. What is your take on Republican state governments and these conservative groups that are telling people, don`t get health insurance that are trying to make it impossible for people to find out about their options? What do you make of that politically and practically? SMERCONISH: Well, now that I`m in, I have 24 different plans that are competing for my business. So I`ve got tremendous choice. And they range in price from a thousand dollars a month to $2,000 a month. And the deductible is what fluctuates in the balance, but I get it now why this was an idea that grew out of the Heritage Foundation, because it`s an antithesis of socialism. I laughed when I hear that charge because it`s either Independence Blue Cross or it`s Aetna. These are private insurers competing for my business, so that I can then go into the marketplace and still select my physician. I completely understand how this is in sync with free market capitalism. So, the Republicans now, you know, abandoning an idea that was originally their own is purely for political purposes. And I think that what illustrates this so clearly is what you just described. These advocacy efforts to say don`t get insurance, that is so antithetical to the idea, the Republican idea of personal responsibility. I mean, what we really need to ask ourselves is, who will pay for those who don`t get insurance or who are allowed to maintain an under- insured policy. Well, society is going to pay. And that was part of the premise at the outset, we wanted to cover people, right? But we also wanted to make sure that those who had coverage were not caring for those who used the E.R. as a primary care facility. So what they`re doing now is so out of whack, dare I say with basic conservatism, that I think it exposes their true hand. MADDOW: Well, if Republicans have stopped trying to repeal Obamacare now. I mean, they`re still complaining about it being terrible, but they mostly seems to have stopped trying to get rid of it, and they`re plan does seem to try to make it not work, to try to interfere with people getting insurance, arguing, as you say, against the whole idea of insurance. What that means in terms of their principles is one thing. What that means in terms of their strategy, for me is very hard to see. Like if that`s what they`re going to do now, if they`re going to tell people not to get insurance, they`re going to try to make it hard to do, where does that strategy end? Where does that lead to, for Republicans? SMERCONISH: Well, if we really want to be Machiavellian about it, I mean, people are signing up. Kentucky is a great example of the success with regard to the Medicaid expansion. But if the Republican efforts like you just described are geared toward turning away the young invincibles, then what I think is really going on, is that they`re trying to subvert the underpinning of this. Remember, this model works if everybody buys in, if the young invincibles are buying in, if I`m buying in, if people who are of means are buying, so that we can provide that safety net for people who theretofore haven`t had insurance. So, if the young invincibles are convinced otherwise, then the economics of this thing are in jeopardy, and everybody has to pay more for now expanded the tent for Medicaid recipients. I think, frankly, that`s what this is all about, so that they can put numbers on the board and say, see, we told you, this is a drain on our economy. MADDOW: I think that, see, I think that if they were -- if they thought they could control that much of the economy and that much of the policy board, I would see them aiming at that. I think that they`re sort of short term hoping that`s going to happen. But with 1.5 million people having already being told that they qualify for Medicaid, with over hundred thousand people having already signed up for private insurance companies, with more people having signed up for Obamacare in the last two days than the whole first month of the program, I think the train is out of the station, I think this is going to be, I think it`s going to be politically influx for a long time. But it`s fascinating experience. Go ahead. SMERCONISH: Rachel, the debate has just changed. You know, when the conversation was only about the inability to get online, and there`s a lot of confusion out there. Eighty-five percent of Americans don`t need to ever be concerned with going online. I`m continually contacted by people who say, oh, I think I need to get to that Web site, and I`ll say, but you have insurance through your employer, nothing is going to change for you. So I think the confusion has really been a detriment to the administration. But now, now that the site is functioning, functioning quite well, and you can go online and see the choice you have. Remember, I`m a Pennsylvanian, so we don`t have our exchange. You know, I probably would have more than two dozen choices. If our governor had cooperated, I think in addition to Aetna and Independence Blue Cross, I would be looking at even more selections. But in the end, people want to see, what does it mean to me, oh, really? I can spend X, Y or Z? I think that`s what matters. MADDOW: Michael Smerconish, Sirius XM satellite radio host, MSNBC contributor, it`s really nice to see you, Michael. It`s been too long. Thanks for being here. SMERCONISH: Thank you. MADDOW: Appreciate it. All right. Lots more still ahead tonight, including those 911 tapes out of Newtown. And a big document dump to a British newspaper about one of the most powerful and mysterious groups on the American political right. That`s all ahead. Stay with us. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have acknowledged more than once that we didn`t roll out parts of this law as well as we should have. But the law is already working in major ways that benefit millions of Americans right now, even as we have begun to slow the rise in health care costs which is good for family budgets, good for federal and state budgets, and good for the budgets of businesses, small and large. So, this law is going to work, and for the sake of our economic security, it needs to work. And -- (APPLAUSE) And as people in states as different as California and Kentucky sign up every single day for health insurance, signing up in droves, they`re proving they want that economic security. You know, if the Senate Republican leader still thinks he is going to be able to repeal this some day, he might want to check with the more than 60,000 people in his home state who are already set to finally have coverage that frees them from the fear of financial ruin and lets them afford to take their kids to see a doctor. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Hey, how was your Wednesday morning? Feels like a long time ago, right? Take a quick look at how Congressman Duncan Hunter of California kicked off his Wednesday morning today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: I think that is the way to do it, with a massive aerial bombardment campaign. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Good morning. It will be cloudy and cool today. There`s traffic getting into downtown and massive aerial bombardment campaign. The next thing the Republican Party thinks they are going to use politically against President Obama after health reform turns out is a doozy. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Carter went up on the roof of the White House today to show off the new solar water heaters installed there, and he called for using solar power to produce 20 percent of this country`s energy within 20 years. Here`s Judy Woodruff at the White House. JUDY WOODRUFF, REPORTER: These solar panels at the White House cost almost $30,000, and they heat only the water in the building`s West Wing. But they are meant to symbolize the Carter administration`s commitment to solar energy. During dedication ceremonies today, the president said solar energy is safer and more reliable than the energy we depend on now. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: That was June 1979, in the midst of a national energy crisis. Americans just getting used to waiting in long lines at gas stations, when President Jimmy Carter warmed his hands on those newly installed solar panels and promised tax credits to anyone in the country who put up solar panels on their homes and businesses. Let`s get energy independence of these meddlesome Middle Eastern oil states. Go solar. Well, seven years later, a Republican president named Ronald Reagan had the solar roof panels taken down, supposedly for roof repairs. But he never put them back up and they ultimately ended up gathering dust in a warehouse in Virginia. This summer, though, new and improved solar panels got put back up on the White House roof once again, as part of a green overhaul of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The new solar panels are expected to pay for themselves in energy savings over the course of President Obama`s tenure, and into that of the next president. But just down the street, in a big meeting going on right now at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, the White House`s solar panels are the object of scorn and strategy. It`s the meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, the conservative policy writing consortium, where mostly Republican legislatures shot for right wing proposals to pass in their states. Among ALEC`s offerings this year are initiatives to punish American homeowners who choose to go solar. The idea is to make the solar-powered homeowners pay a penalty for using fewer fossil fuels, disincentivize renewable energy. An internal ALEC documents obtained by "The Guardian" newspaper, ALEC stated objectives for 2014 include a new focus on blocking renewable energy initiatives in the state and at the federal level. They`re touting their efforts to introduce new laws that reform, freeze or repeal state or renewable energy mandates. These internal documents obtained by "The Guardian" boasts that 15 states have already introduced this kind of legislation, with ALEC`s help, and that is ALEC`s who reason for existing. They try to get their bills copied and passed as law in as many states as possible. That`s what they do. The American Legislative Exchange Council, they write or they take model legislation and then they shop it to other states. Sometimes, its bills that have already became law, like in Wisconsin, the bill stripping union rights or in Florida, the "Stand Your Ground" law, the so-called Castle Doctrine Law. The nationwide proliferation of that idea from Florida was once a shining achievement for ALEC, creating a whole new legal determination for justifiable homicide in states across the country. The "Stand Your Ground"/Castle Doctrine thing was a proud achievement for them, until the case of a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed by an armed neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of committing second degree murder in that case. The case, of course, got a ton of national attention, and the stand your ground laws got a ton of national attention. And since then, many of the very familiar, very powerful companies with interests in ALEC have stopped their association with the organization. Our parent company, Comcast, has not ceased its association with ALEC, but lots of companies with household names like Coca-Cola and Kraft and Pepsi, even Wal-Mart, very publicly ceased being dues-paying members of ALEC in the midst of that controversy. Even after ALEC announced that it was getting out of the gun rights business, and they`d eliminate their entire task force that wrote the "Stand Your Ground" bill, companies kept fleeing from the controversy. And it has had an effect apparently on this very well-funded, very, very influential conservative organization. "The Guardian" newspaper today posted a dossier of international ALEC memos and reports showing that a third of ALEC`s revenue is gone, year over year, owing to big corporate members leaving the organization. ALEC has also lost 400 state legislators from their ranks. The group is so worried about this attrition that they reportedly had started an initiative to try to at least get those big corporate donors back, trying to woo dozens of their former well-heeled members back to the organization with something that is reportedly called the "Prodigal Son Project." Also, a promise to keep member`s names anonymous with the new organization designed in the 501c4 category, which means that donors could remain undisclosed to the public while they supported ALEC. They could keep supporting the group, but avoid the embarrassment, something that may, in fact, make corporate members more comfortable with the aggressive legislative agenda that ALEC promotes, especially if they`re able to deliver on that promise of anonymity. Other documents posted by "The Guardian" reveal that ALEC is not only trying to recover its corporate revenue, they`re also trying to bolster their footing with Congress and state legislatures. They`ll be asking for a stronger commitment from lawmakers that have stayed true to the organization, asking that legislators pledge to act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first. Put the interests of the organization first. How about the constituents that voted you into office? Joining us now is Ed Pilkington. He`s chief reporter for "The Guardian" newspaper, which broke the story about ALEC. Mr. Pilkington, thank you very much for being here tonight. ED PILKINGTON, THE GUARDIAN: Great to be here. MADDOW: It`s a long story, and you recovered a lot of information from this group about which people have been very curious but known very little. I should ask if I misstated any of that or that pretty much -- PILKINGTON: No, pretty well put. MADDOW: OK. PILKINGTON: Yes. MADDOW: What do you think is the big finding from this document dump? What have we learned about this group that we didn`t know before? PILKINGTON: Well, the thing that caught our attention, you mentioned it was the "Prodigal Son Project, as they called it, stamped on the top of one of their documents. They misspelled it. They call it prodical, with the C, rather than G, which you can`t get everything right in life. But nevertheless, it listed underneath it 41 companies, Coke, Pepsi, Wal-Mart, GE, all the big companies America they lost in the last couple of years and now are desperate to get back. And that`s the sort of affirmation of what we`ve kind of learned bit by bit, which is that ALEC is in trouble. And I think the reason they`re in trouble really goes to the heart of their -- one of the great strengths of ALEC was their secrecy. They were a very secret organization. And that suits the companies who back them. Most of their money comes from corporations, and corporations and corporations turned up in room, they meet the legislators who are introduced to them, and they together vote on legislation which then gets passed around the states. If that`s done in secret, that`s fine, that really suits them. They get what they want, lower taxes or, you know, legislation to stop climate change regulation, to stop people from putting up solar panels on the roof, that you mentioned. That`s great. But when it becomes public, if a spotlight is put on what ALEC is doing, the work the Center for Media and Democracy has done, and other groups have done, tirelessly over the last couple of years to open the door on the activities. There is one thing that corporations like less than taxes and regulations, and that is bad publicity. And that`s the story of the Trayvon Martin fallout. ALEC got caught up in that controversy of "Stand Your Ground" laws which they`ve helped to spread, right across America, 26 states still have them, partly due to ALEC`s influence. When ALEC got caught up in that, a lot of the big companies agreed (INAUDIBLE) and they run as fast as they could. MADDOW: So, in terms of their strategy for wooing back corporate sponsors, is the promise of anonymity a key part of how they are intending to win corporations back? And do you think that the sort of restructuring they`re describing could actually effectively let them off of their corporate sponsors, the anonymity that they seek? PILKINGTON: It`s partly anonymity and it`s party increasingly sense of regulation they were lobbying. Now, ALEC is not a lobbyist. It says it does absolutely no lobbying at all. Now, if you get two people in the room, one is the state legislator, the other is a big corporation, and they agree legislation together, they vote on it together, that legislation gets taken up by state assembly and becomes law. Now, is that lobbying? I think -- MADDOW: It appears to be a beautiful relationship -- PILKINGTON: It is a bit of fun they`re having in this room, or could it, maybe a little bit of lobbying going on there. There is a huge gray area in America about lobbying. And I think it`s going to become more and more important. Last week, Obama flagged it up, they`re not going to allow lobbying for groups like Karl Rove`s group, that actively do electioneering and do TV advertising. Now, ALEC doesn`t do that. It doesn`t get involved in election campaigns. It does arguably something even more serious, which is to get involved in what happens to those people once they`re elected. You know, what happens to someone who gets elected as a state assemblyman and what laws are they going to pass. And that`s when ALEC gets involved. And I think there`s going to be more and more debate about lobbying, what`s acceptable. ALEC is a tax-exempt charity. It`s called an educated body, and yet what it does is cook up legislation -- MADDOW: If I had the choice of choosing who could be elected in a particular election or writing the laws that that person would introduce as a legislator once they were there, I know which one I would pick. Ed Pilkington, chief reporter for "The Guardian" newspaper -- thank you very much for your time. It is fascinating, sir. Congratulations. PILKINGTON: Thank you. MADDOW: Thanks. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Today, "The Hill" newspaper in Washington reported that House Republicans believe they have found their next big issue that they`re going to hit President Obama with. They did sort of need something new right now, right, for the holidays? And it turns out President Obama did not close the Vatican embassy. They thought they had a live one there, but that ended up not being true. For hot second, they thought they had a huge story when they thought they had discovered that President Obama did not cover babies. That`s terrible. President Obama is so anti-baby. They thought they had a great story. That one in turns out, the only reason that that one conservative activist guy thought his baby was not covered on his health insurance is because that one conservative activist guy forgot to list that he had that baby on his application for insurance. He forgot one of his kids, simple mistake, apparently. The IRS scandal turned out not really being a scandal, trying to turn the Benghazi scandal into a tragedy other than a tragedy. It never really worked out for them. Even "60 Minutes" got humiliated in that effort. Republicans have given up their plans to keep pulling stunts to try to repeal Obamacare, now that hundreds of thousands of people are getting health insurance they never had before. They really need a new thing to hit them on if they`re going to keep hitting him on things. But they think they got a new thing. They think they would like to hit him now on Iran. According to "The Hill", quote, "House Republicans are considering various legislative options that would either tacitly or explicitly rip the Obama administration`s nuclear deal with Iran." Quote, "A handful of House GOP lawmakers tell `The Hill` that the party is debating how best to express disapproval of the multilateral Iran agreement, which was struck shortly after Congress left for the Thanksgiving recess." This is the new plan. Republicans are going to try to make President Obama look terrible for negotiating that new agreement over Iran`s nuclear program. And in the process of making him look terrible, they, of course, will show the country that they, themselves, Republicans are much better on the issue. They are much more trustworthy, much more sober, much more sane when it comes to dealing with complicated and sensitive international issues like Iran and nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Republicans want to show off how much Americans should prefer their Republican approach when it comes to Iran. As part of that new political offensive, behold Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter holding fort today on C-Span. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HUNTER: I think a ground war in Iran with American boots on the ground would be a horrible thing and I think people like to toss around the fact that we have to stop them in some way from getting this nuclear capability. I don`t think it`s inevitable but I think if you have to hit Iran, you don`t put boots on the ground. You do with tactical nuclear devices and you set them back a decade. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: You do it with what now? With tactical nuclear -- oh, just tactical nuclear devices, the little kind. Yes, what could possibly go wrong? See, Republicans would prefer to be in charge of foreign policy and national security matters right now, because they`ve got the big thinkers who know that little, tiny nuclear wars in the Middle East are a much better alternative to the kinds of dangerous talking that this president is so recklessly undertaking right now. A small, tactical nuclear device -- why not? I mean, if you start small, you can always build on your success. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD) (CLOCK TICKING) NARRATOR: On December 14th, we`ll have a moment of silence for Newtown. But with 26 more school shootings since that day -- ask yourself, is silence what America needs right now? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That`s a new ad released today by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which was a group formed spontaneously in reaction to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary last year. We will hit one year since those shootings next Saturday. And the town of Newtown, Connecticut, is making it known that they do not want you to be there for the anniversary. At a press conference this week, Newtown`s first selectman asked that well wishers please not visit the community on December 14th. Please do not visit that day. At that same press conference, the chief of police said his department would be displaying a visible presence across town around the time of the anniversary to keep traffic moving as quickly as possible through Newtown. Town officials have also asked that people please do not leave any items of any kind in the town. No gifts or memorial items or signs to be left in Sandy Hook or in the surrounding communities. Quoting the first selectman, "As much as we value the sentiment, it is not in our best interests to have that happen. So we will have to react by removing those items as soon as they appear." You may remember that in the aftermath of the shooting, Newtown was physically overwhelmed with all of the stuff that people sent to the town which, of course, was all sent with the best of intentions. But regardless of those good intentions, it became an added burden for the town in the early days after the shooting to figure out what they were going to do with all of that stuff. If there is a lesson that Newtown has in its strength tried to articulate in a sensitive but firm way, this past year since the shootings, part of that lesson is that your need to express yourself in reaction to this tragedy is not more important than the material effect that your expression may have on the people who are still surviving this thing. It may feel like the right thing to do, to try to make manifest in Newtown your feelings for what that community has been through, but they cannot use your stuff and it does not help them for you to physically be there. And today, 10 days ahead of the anniversary, we are seeing essentially a first run of that principle in action with the release of the audio of the 911 calls that were made in Newtown the morning of the shooting. The state`s prosecutor`s office, town officials, the Newtown families have fought to keep these tapes out of the public domain, but "The Associated Press" sued for them and so, the 911 tapes today were released. There is no news value to the content of those tapes. If you want to know what people said when they called 911 that day during the shootings, and what the emergency operators said to them in response, you can read that in the transcripts, including the exact moments at which their words are punctuated by gunfire -- you can read those transcripts. If you want more description and more feeling to go along with the transcripts, you can read the lead from the local paper where journalists describing the tapes. "Their out of breath voices trembling with fear and interrupted by the blasts of gunshots, Sandy Hook Elementary School employees pleaded with emergency dispatchers for help." As we knew it would, that is what is contained in those audiotapes. Having access to the actual audio of the calls so that the people of Newtown and the families might come across them accidentally when they`re broadcast, when they didn`t actually intend to hear them, the actual audio is of no news value at all, unless you want the thrill of hearing the sound of the actual individual gunshot that might have killed a 7-year-old. But now, the audio is out and we will not play them here. You can seek them out yourself if you really need to hear them. Congratulations, CBS. If that`s what`s really important to you about this tragedy, those tapes are out there. But if you ask Newtown itself, they would like to be left alone. Today and especially next week, they are asking whatever strong feelings that you have about what happened in their community, whatever way you want to help them, take that inclination to your own community, to perform an act of kindness and speak out politically in a way that you want to. But if you ask Newtown themselves, they would like to be left alone. That does it for us tonight. Thanks for being with us. "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" starts right now. Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END