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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/13/13

Guests: Ted Mann, Michael Lehnert

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for staying with us as well for the next hour. This is David Dewhurst. He`s the lieutenant governor of Texas. He serves under that state`s governor, Rick Perry. And as lieutenant governor of Texas, David Dewhurst is most famous for two things. Number one, he is famous for losing what everybody thought was going to be a gift of a U.S. Senate seat to him. He lost the Republican primary for that seat last year to a guy named Ted Cruz. Everybody thought that David Dewhurst was going to get that seat, but he lost it and that`s why we have Ted Cruz now. The other thing he`s famous for is using the fact that he is the lieutenant governor of the state of Texas to try to spring one of his relatives out of jail when she got arrested for shoplifting this year. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good evening. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst is taking heat tonight over a phone call to Allen police. In that call, he says he wants to get a relative out of jail. LT. GOV. DAVID DEWHURST (R), TEXAS: I would like to find out what I need to do to get her out of jail, post bond, whatever. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was just a portion of the phone call. But tonight, critics say the lieutenant governor overstepped his bounds. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Allen police arrested Ellen Beavers at 6:30 on a Saturday night. At 10:30, this call came in. DEWHURST: I want to talk to the most senior police officer you have where you are right now. My name is David Dewhurst. I`m the lieutenant governor of the state of Texas. And you have incarcerated my sister-in-law. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That kind of petty abuse of power, trying to throw your weight around and use your stature as an elected official or the things you can control as an elected official to get stuff for yourself and special treatment for your family, that kind of thing has existed as long as elected officials have existed. But getting caught doing that is a particular kind of failure. That people tend to remember, because it reflects on your character. And people tend to remember especially if you try to move up in the world and get even more responsibility. Take for example Sarah Palin and trooper-gate. Before Sarah Palin was chosen to be John McCain`s running mate in 2008, I remember saying on some cable news shows during the sort of veep stakes that year that there was no chance that the unknown governor of Alaska would get picked for the job because in Alaska, she had something called the trooper-gate scandal looming unresolved over her governorship. Trooper-gate was basically something involving Sarah Palin`s sister`s husband. Sarah Palin`s sister and her husband, an Alaska state trooper, they were in the middle of a divorce and child custody battle in 2006 when Sarah Palin as governor and her husband, Todd, decided to weigh in to try to get her sister`s husband fired from his job at a trooper. Ultimately, Governor Palin ended up firing the state commissioner of public safety in part because he refused to fire her brother-in-law. Now, there are a lot of reasons why Sarah Palin didn`t end up becoming vice president of the United States, but trooper-gate did not help. In the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign, less than a month before election day that year when the official Alaska inquiry into trooper-gate came out and it said, yes, Sarah Palin had abused her power as governor in that scandal, it did not help the John McCain Sarah Palin campaign when their official response to that report which said she abused her power was the governor saying she was delighted to be cleared of abusing her power. It was just terrible news for them at a terrible time. It reflected very badly on her as a candidate and as a potential leader. And the only way they could deal with it on the John McCain campaign that year that close to the election was essentially to pretend that the scandal was not true, to pretend that the report that said she did it, said she didn`t do it. Sarah Palin`s abuse of power scandal was not a good thing for that campaign. In the great state of New Jersey, the Republican governor there, Chris Christie, is the closest thing that the Republican Party has right now to a sure bet in terms of somebody who`s definitely going to run for president this time around and somebody who will immediately be seen as a top tier contender as he jumps in. Well, Chris Christie has also had repeated, but small scale problems like this throughout his political career -- little abuse of power problems, little misusing the perks of the office as personal perks of the office. The first problem that he had of this kind related to his terrible driving record. Between 1985 and by the time that he was running for governor in 2009, Chris Christie racked up 25 violation points for various traffic incidents. During that time, he had been in six accidents. He was cited 13 times for moving violations. The problem though for his run for governorship was how he tried to use his public office to escape his responsibility whenever he would find himself in trouble. In 2002, for example, Mr. Christie turned the wrong way on to a one way street in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and hit someone. He hit somebody on a motorcycle and he was going the wrong way. The motorcyclist was injured. Christi Christie`s car had to be towed away, but when police arrived on the scene to investigate and decide what to do and what tickets to issue, Chris Christie started to throw his weight around. Quoting from "The New Jersey Star Ledger" at the time, when an officer arrived at the scene, Chris Christie explained what happened and said he was on his way to the swearing in ceremony of the Union County prosecutor, quote, "He did identify himself as U.S. attorney to the cop on the scene". And, yes, then, wouldn`t you know, although his car had to get towed from the scene and the motorcyclist who he hit was injured and had to be taken away in an ambulance, Chris Christie after saying, hey, you know what, I`m the U.S. attorney here, he was allowed to continue on his way to the swearing in and he was never even given a ticket for the incident. It emerged during his campaign for governor that that was not the only time Chris Christie had been pulled over for a traffic incident and had avoided getting in trouble after telling police officers that, hey, I`m the U.S. attorney here. In 2011, Governor Christie had another little abuse of power scandal when he had New Jersey state troopers fly him to his son`s baseball game in a state police helicopter at state expense. Governor Christie initially refused to apologize, refused to reimburse the state for the cost of the helicopter ride, but he eventually relented, yelled at the press that it was a joke, the scandal was being driven by political hacks who were just out to get him and it was a distraction from real issues, he did in the end, though, agree he should pay the money back and he did. Earlier this year, there was another incident where Governor Christine was seen as potentially abusing the power of his office when he decided to spend an extra $24 million in state money to set up a whole separate election day for Democrat Cory Booker`s Senate election, so that would not occur on the same day as governor Christie`s own re-election effort. He spent all of that money, more than $20 million in taxpayer money that had to be spent to do a whole separate election, but hugely inconvenient to everybody in the state. It was of no benefit at all to anybody except for Chris Christie, who was trying to rack up a huge margin in his reelection victory. But he did. And in the closing days of that re-election campaign, something else happened, that now turns out to be the most serious of all the abuse of power, potential problems that Chris Christie has had during his political career, and that might be a problem for him if he does in fact try to run for president. This most recent, potentially most serious problem ironically started off as the one that seemed to be the most ridiculous. It involves this bridge between the state of New Jersey and New York City. All week long, I`ve been calling this the busiest bridge in the country. It turns out, I have been understating the fact. If you go to the official New York and New Jersey Web site for that bridge, they`re proud to tell you it is not just the busiest bridge in the country. It is the busiest bridge in the whole world. You say so. The bridge is huge. It takes it more than $600 million every year in revenue in tolls. That`s how busy it is, $600 million. And that`s how rich the agency is that runs it and that takes in the tolls. That`s why it`s a real perk of the job of being governor of New York or governor of New Jersey that you get to appoint people to the agency that runs this bridge, which meant money like a mob up casino. Well, Chris Christie was trying to maximize his margin of victory in his reelection effort this year, trying to sort of stage-manage his reelection as New Jersey governor so it would set him up to run for president. The governor`s campaign put a big emphasis on trying to make sure that he had bipartisan appeal, really trumpeting every endorsement he got from New Jersey Democratic Party officials. One of the New Jersey Democrats who reportedly was asked to endorse Chris Christie but who said no, was the mayor of Ft. Lee. Fort Lee geographically is basically right at the spot where that busiest bridge in the world connects to New Jersey from New York City. Two weeks after that Democratic mayor reportedly declined to endorse Chris Christie, a long time friend and political alley of the governor who had been appointed to the agency that runs the bridge, that long time friend of Chris Christie`s personally gave an order that two of the three lanes to the bridge from the town of Ft. Lee should be closed off. "The Bergen Record" newspaper later published these e-mails showing that traffic engineers for the bridge have warned that if those lanes got shut down, lines of cars 600 cars long would back up into the town of Fort Lee and totally gridlock that town. They said if you shut down those lanes, that`s what`s going to happen. But Christie`s high school friend upon getting that advice about what the consequences would be said go ahead and do it any way, and what they predicted about the traffic the what happened. Fort Lee got gridlocked. It essentially completely shut down the traffic in the town and it was not just for one day. They started it on the first day of school on a Monday morning. It went on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. It was not until the executive director of the whole agency realized what was going on and sent an angry e-mail telling them to open up those lanes that the situation got resolved. The general manager of the bridge later testified that when he got the order to shut down the bridge, he was told to keep it quiet, to not make any sort of public announcement about the lanes being shut down, to not warn Fort Lee that they were about to have traffic Armageddon visited upon them, he was told to not even tell the local police. He said he knew it was wrong. Certainly unprecedented in all of his years at the agency, said he didn`t feel like he had any choice. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question to you is, the reason you chose not to exercise discretion because you feared for your employment? ROBERT DURANDO, GWB GENERAL MANAGER: I was concerned about what Mr. Wildstein`s reaction would be if I did not follow his directive. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mr. Wildstein, Chris Christie`s long-term friend and political ally who ordered the lane closures has now resigned. This morning after refusing to answer questions about this matter for weeks, Governor Christie also announced that Mr. Wildstein`s boss has resigned. Chris Christie`s reaction to the whole matter today was, quote, "I`m bothered when people make mistakes that end up reflecting poorly on their performance." He`s still saying that he had nothing to do with it. The issue here though, not just for New Jersey and certainly not for Fort Lee, but for potentially the whole country and Chris Christi Christie`s national role as a political leader, it`s not whether the busiest bridge in the world is being administered poorly, or being administered by people who make mistakes under the Chris Christie administration. The question, the reason why this is an important national story and why Democratic groups and the Democratic National Committee are getting on board on this and make it a Chris Christie political issue, the question is why did this all happen in the first place? What was the motive for doing this in the first place? Was it political retaliation? Was it Chris Christie abusing the powers of his office to get ahead politically or at least to get revenge politically? I mean, as fascinating as the details have been on this story and the new details are better than like every episode of "The Sopranos" except where Carmelo pulls the AK-47 out of the ceiling, with the gold bars, remember that one? As amazing as the details of this story are, the basic issue here and the reason it`s a national story and not just the most New Jersey story of all time is because of what Governor Christie has still not explained. As "The New Jersey Star Ledger" put it today, quote, "An explanation that one seemed utterly ridiculous, that lanes were closed to create traffic havoc in the town of Fort Lee as some sort of political retribution against the town`s Democratic mayor, that has actually emerged as the only logical explanation" for what happened here. Democrats in New Jersey are starting to call this trooper-gate on the Hudson, calling back to the Sarah Palin that almost upended her chances in 2008. Are they right to call it that? Joining us now is Ted Mann. He`s been covering this story intensively for "The Wall Street Journal" and the lot of the main scoops in this story that has advanced the story as far as we know it have come from him. Mr. Mann, thanks very much for being here. TED MANN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks having me. MADDOW: So, everybody loves a good mystery, but in terms of what you have been able to report so far, and how this story is going, do you think we will ever have an answer as to whether or not this was a politically motivated action? MANN: That`s going to be a hard question to answer especially as governor Christie said today, that he didn`t know this was being done. He categorically rejects this idea that there was anything politically motivated about this and he`s reiterating what Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, the departed officials, said, which is that they just took a very unusual attempt to study traffic way too far. MADDOW: And there are assertions that this was part of a traffic study, and you ferreted out a lot of these details. First, it seemed very damning that the executive director of the agency said, I don`t know anything about new traffic study. We`ve seen evolution that they did something that look like a study, and that continues to be their political explanation to what they were doing. The study itself, such as it was, though, does seem completely unusual and completely unlike anything else the Port Authority has ever done. MANN: Yes, the actions produced no study, no report, and Mr. Baroni and he said when he testified that simply had ended it too soon, so there`s no data to report with. It`s also important that Pat Foye when he testified under oath, didn`t just say he knew of no study. The first question that he was asked by the assembly who was talking to him was, did he buy this explanation, and he said I don`t. MADDOW: Wow. So, he thinks there was no study. That any claim there was a study is not the answer, that there`s some other answer. MANN: It`s very similar to something we were told by someone familiar with it very early on who said they`re calling it a study, but there was no study. It`s something else. MADDOW: If there was no study and if your source is correct and if the executive director of the agency is correct, is there any alternate explanation being put forward that would explain why they did it other than political retaliation? MANN: I mean, certainly, I can`t rule out, you know, some other explanation. MADDOW: But nothing`s been advanced so far. MANN: You know, yes, nothing`s been advanced. There are several versions of the study. The first thing that was said by the press office when a couple of reporters called was this was about traffic safety. Since then, it has been turned into a study about traffic fairness, whether it was equitable to have three lanes set aside the way these were. MADDOW: Whether For Lee should be allowed to live, right. MANN: Right. And I think Assemblyman Wisniewski certainly has indicated recently as this afternoon after Bill Baroni resigned that he`s not done here, that he thinks there`s more there, and he wants to keep issuing subpoenas and maybe getting testimony from people who know. MADDOW: Ted, let me ask you about specific thing that you reported that really seemed to get Governor Christie excited and not in a good way. And that was your reporting that Governor Christie as he`s been joking about this and making it light of it in public before today, had earlier this week called New York Governor Andrew Cuomo essentially to say listen, your New York appointees on this are pushing too hard for answers. Why don`t you get them to lay off. Governor Christie is now denying that that call ever took place. MANN: Right. And Governor Cuomo`s spokesman did, too. We stand by that story. That story is right. MADDOW: All right. Ted Mann, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" -- boy, am I looking forward to reading your next piece on this. Thank you very much for being here. Appreciate it. All right. Did you see the big publicity stunt that`s been mounted all week long in Washington this week collapse at 3:00 a.m.? Collapsed at 3:00 a.m., the only camera running was C-Span, and it`s some of the most amazing C-Span you will ever see and we`ve got it next. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Congress is trying to wrap it up for the year and they`re really getting antsy about it. I mean, usually, by the time it`s not Thanksgiving anymore, these guys are already home for Christmas. But this year, the Senate is still there. They are trying to leave, but have not figured it out yet. And the fact it`s really contentious and uncertain as to when they get to leave and under what circumstances, and how much they have to work before they get to leave -- right now, that is making the news out of Washington more unpredictable and more interesting than it usually is this time of year. And it is also making the C-Span right now the best C-Span ever, because C-Span has to come up with ways to show, to make sense of the total nonsense happening in Congress right now that explains why Congress is still there even though they are not doing anything at all. On Wednesday, this week, you`ll remember that the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, he sprung a diabolical scheme on everything. He said he was so mad at Democrats that the not only would the Senate not be allowed to go home early for Christmas, the way they always do, he said they wouldn`t be allowed to go home at all that whole night. He said he was going to force the senate to stay in session all night Wednesday night, then all night Thursday night and all night tonight, Friday night, as well. He said they would go all the way to Saturday. We`re never going to let the Senate leave! That was Mitch McConnell`s I`ll show you plan to try to make the Democrats mad. To hit back at the Democrats because Democrats changed the rules about how nominations get voted on. So, in order to vote on a list of 10 outstanding nominations this week, none of which were controversial at all, Mitch McConnell`s big idea was that he would make it as hard as possible. Republicans would insist that every possible minute of debate time would be used and that would mean holding votes on these rub of the mill nominations like 1:00 in the morning and then 4:00 in the morning and then 4:00 in the morning next morning, too. They wouldn`t let anything be done easily. They would create a giant spectacle by keeping the Senate in session for four straight days at least with no breaks all night every night. That will show them. Nobody sleeps. Now, as publicity stunts go, this one must have sounded really good on paper, must have sounded really good when somebody first proposed it at the staff meeting. In practice, though, the weakness of this as a publicity stunt is as that nobody cared. This is what it looked like. God bless you, C-Span, you were there for every minute of it though nobody else was. And if you want to know why this failed and why Mitch McConnell has now caved and decided to give up on it and call it off early, there`s no better way to see the failure than by watching the genius of C-Span late last night covering the failure as it happened. This is Republican Senator Pat Toomey, just after 11:30 p.m. last night. He`s on the Senate floor talking about how horrible the health insurance law is. It`s latish. He`s wrapping up his comments, maybe ready to pass the baton to the next Republican who`s supposed to be taken an all night stand on the Senate floor. But instead of handing off to whoever the Republican is who`s supposed to be next, instead, he says this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I note the absence of a quorum. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Absence of a quorum. The Republicans forgot to send somebody else to go after Pat Toomey. The whole idea was relay, right? You always got to send somebody up, it`s like you and you and you. They forgot. There was nobody for Pat Toomey to hand off to. So, then, yay for C-Span, the next thing that has to happen is that the clerk has to take attendance. The clerk has to call the roll, watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOOMEY: And I know absence of decorum. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clerk will call the roll. CLERK: Mr. Alexander? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mr. Alexander? Mr. Alexander? Hello? And the camera pulls out, revealing oh, look, nobody`s in any of those desks. There`s some staffers leaving, one guy is carrying around like a white board or something. But none of the people you can see there are Republican senators. There are no senators on the floor. There`s nobody to speak. The Republicans forgot to show up, oh, there goes the board. Republicans forgot to show up for their own protest. There`s nobody there. At one point, this guy, he stands up, looks around and then puts his hand in his pocket and sits down and just puts his head in his hands. That`s pretty much all the action. Our blessed C-Span stays on it until the bitter end. When eventually, finally, they are forced to go to this. This was supposed to be the Republicans big, all night stand, but when they forgot to show up, C-Span decided they couldn`t just keep the camera running on an empty room full of sad staffers, so they started playing some of their greatest hits. They went into rolling Senator James Inhofe reruns, showing old Inhofe speeches for a long time, while they waited for a live Republican senator to show up and get on the floor of the Senate and get back to e business of what was supposed to be a publicity stunt to make Democrats rue the day. Just before 3:00 a.m., the most junior senator in the whole body, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, started presiding over the Senate, but because the Republicans all went home, Cory Booker had nothing to preside over. So finding themselves again with some time to fill, C-Span started talking about Cory Booker`s tweets. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey won a special election of October. He spent a tweet saying, pulling the graveyard shift, now presiding over the graveyard shift. And you can see Senator Booker there sitting on the dais in the middle of your screen, and a number of people responded to his tweet. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And that is essentially how the big publicity stunt ended. At 3:00 in the with C-Span talking about what Cory Booker tweeted that day, and how a number of people responded to his tweet. After that fiasco, early this morning, Mitch McConnell agreed to give up the fight. He met with Harry Reid, and then Harry Reid made the announcement that the Senate would not stay in session all night again tonight and everybody could go home starting at about noon. And it gets better. Initially, it looked like they might adjourn just for the day to get some rest, and maybe get some rest and remind who was supposed to take over for Pat Toomey, what this thing means. Initially, this was going to be one day, and they were gong to back to work this weekend. But then the Republicans decided, you know what, if we`re caving on this thing, let`s really cave on this thing. And, so now, they`re not even coming back until Tuesday. So, the "we`ll stay in session all night every night through Christmas to make you sorry" publicity stunt today dissolved into, hey, it`s Friday and let`s leave early and then let`s have a long weekend. The whole failure was probably best summed up by Republican Senator John McCain who told "The New York Times," quote, "Come on! The zeal sometimes dissipates when you get into Thursday and by Friday, the zeal is gone." So, apparently, that was it. The zeal is gone. That was the Republican Party`s big, angry campaign against the rules change in the Senate. This means that the Democrats could have made this rules change years ago? And probably had hundreds more of President Obama`s nominees confirmed over the years. The reason they didn`t years ago is because they were so scared of how upset the Republicans would be and what the Republicans would do in angry response. Now, we know what the Republicans would do and it turns out their angry response is sort of angry, but it was not strong enough to withstand the desire on the part of U.S. senators to go to sleep, and to not work on the weekend. Constitutional crisis averted. Human nature for a fight (ph). (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: At about 12:30 local time this afternoon, a high school student apparently opened fire at this school in Centennial, Colorado. The teenager reportedly entered Arapahoe High School with a shotgun, saying he intended to confront a specific teacher. Ultimately, the student did use the gun, but not against a teacher. His shots injured two fellow students, before he then turned the gun on himself and took his own life. The identity of the young shooter has not been revealed. Upon hearing the shots, teacher and students at Arapahoe High scurried to the exits. The left the building with law enforcement orders with their hands on their heads. Of course, now, it`s an eerily familiar scene. Today`s shooting was just 10 miles away from the Columbine High School shootings which happened in 1989. It`s also only about 16 miles away from the Aurora theatre mass shooting which happened last summer. And, of course, this all too familiar story comes on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. And we`ve got more on that ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Before the House of Representatives left town, they passed a new defense bill. Every Congress for the last 50 years, every Congress through thick an thin, wartime and peacetime and times of scandal and times of shutdown, in years where there were impeachments and associations and terrorist attacks and everything else we`ve been through for the past 50 years, every Congress for 50 years has been able to get it together to pass a defense bill. And even though this Congress has been the least productive of all time, the House at least did at the very last minute before they left, they did pass a defense bill. And the Senate says they, too, at the last minute will pass a defense bill. It will be the last thing they do on Wednesday of next week before they go home for the year. And as part of the "by the skin of their teeth" strategy that has them passing the defense bill at the last possible second, negotiators from both parties and from both houses of Congress have agreed that basically, no one would be allowed to make any changes to the bill, so even though there had been talk of putting an amendment to go after Iran in a way that would have screwed up the new nuclear deal with Iran, even though there have been talk of putting in an amendment to have the Congress weigh in on when we are leaving Afghanistan, instead of only the Afghan government weighing in on that. Even though there have been talk of an even stronger set of new rules about sexual assault in the military and how it`s prosecuted, by virtue of the fact this is a must-pass bill and that time is running out, none of those changes is going to be made, not yet, not this year, not with this bill. We know what`s in it and we know it won`t change and we know it will pass and don`t tell the Beltway press. Seriously, don`t tell them, because I don`t think they`ve noticed it yet and they can only screw it up. Don`t tell the Beltway press, but the new defense bill that is going to pass on Wednesday is almost secretly going to pave the way to empty out roughly half of the prison at Guantanamo. President Obama`s campaign promise and then his order to close Guantanamo have been stymied all these years by Congress. Congress refused to appropriate funds to close the prison. They refused to let prisoners there be transferred to the real court system here. They passed confusing restrictions on even transferring prisoners to third countries or back to where they came from. And those restrictions on transferring prisoners are why the majority of the prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared for transfer to some other country, but they`re still languishing in Cuba at our strange prison there at an average cost of $2.7 million per man per year indefinitely. That last category of congressional mucking it up, those restrictions on prisoners getting transferred to their home countries, sort of other countries that will take them, those are the restrictions that are essentially getting fixed and the bill that is about to pass Congress and be signed into law by President Obama. President Obama gave a speech in May saying that he would renew efforts to close the prison. After that speech, his White House chief of staff Denis McDonough took a field trip to Guantanamo, along with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican Senator John McCain. They all pledged while they were there that the prison would be closed down. President Obama then appointed a White House senior staffer and envoy from the State Department and an envoy from the Pentagon, all with the same mission, get this closed down. They administration has sense started what are essentially parole board hearings to clear more prisoners for release after careful review by all the top tier intelligence agencies and security agencies in the government, including the military. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, it wasn`t just him and all the candidates for the nomination who said they wanted to close that prison. It was also the current at the time who said it should be closed. It was also the Republican candidate who Mr. Obama was running against in that election. Everyone agreed that it should be shut down. And so, if you told anybody back then that five years later, in 2013, that place would still be open, nobody would have believed you. But it`s still there, and the new defense bill will not shut it down, but it will allow for it to start to shutdown. It should clear the way for about half those prisoners to leave, it`s finally happening. And the political momentum to do it got a huge shove this week from an unlikely source. When the U.S. government decided to open Guantanamo as a prison in late 2001 and early 2002, they called on a U.S. Marine Corps general who had experience at Guantanamo before, I the early `90s, running that site as a camp for Haitians and Cubans who`ve been intercepted while trying immigrate to the United States. After 9/11, General Michael Lehnert got the call again. He was given four days to set up the first 100 prison sells on the island. Within seven days of that initial order, the first prisoners were on site and he was the first commanding officer of America`s newest offshore prison at Guantanamo. Now, 12 years later, retired Marine General Michael Lehnert is speaking out. He wrote this op-ed for "The Detroit Free Press" this week. saying that as a first commander of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo, he now believes that not only is it time to close that facility down, he says that it never should have been opened in the first place. Joining us now for the interview, for his first television interview since retiring from the Marine Corps after 36 years is Major General Michael Lehnert. General Lehnert, thank you very much for being with us tonight. It`s a real honor to have you here. MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL LEHNERT (RET), MARINE CORPS: Thank you, Rachel. It`s good to be here. MADDOW: What are your impressions of the steps that may be able to be taken in the next year or so to try to get Guantanamo closed down? Is it your impression that do you think the facility could be closed under the legal authorities that exist now? LEHNERT: Rachel, I think that right now, we`re at a moment in history where we have an opportunity to close Guantanamo for good. The National Defense Authorization Act is a great first step. Senator Levin wrote some very practical language into the act that would have allowed us to completely close it a you`ve pointed out. What we`ll be able to do is to have simpler rules in order to move those detainees that have been languishing for some cases up to 10 years. And get them back to their country of origin. He was joined by Senator McCain who brought in bipartisan support. As you`ve already pointed out, we have envoys and representatives at the White House to make this happen and now is the time in history that we can reverse this plot on our history. MADDOW: To hear your describe as a blob on our history and to read your op-ed this week, I was struck that you as the commanding officer who was in charge of setting up the facility in the first place thinks now that it never should have been set up. It never should have existed. Why do you believe that? LEHNERT: Well, Rachel, I think that there`s a number of reasons, and it starts with our Constitution. Every service, every officer in every branch of the service takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. It`s my belief that the Constitution does not end at the water`s edge and that as a nation, we have to walk the walk not just talk the talk. MADDOW: Do you think that if the political steps and the logistic steps were taken to shut it down, that could happen over the course of the next year or so, do you think that there would be resistance within the military? Do you think that having seen so many members of the military served there and the kind of capacity that you served there, people working as guards there, the kinds of detainees who have been held, do you think there would be a sense within the Pentagon or within serving forces that the kind of political decision ought to be resisted? LEHNERT: Rachel, the military is the least of my concerns. First off, we have the greatest military in the world. The one concern that I`ve heard expressed obviously is the potential for recidivism. And it is certain that if we release those detainees that have been already designated for release that we`ve had a certain percentage in the past that have gone back to the fight. But our military is the best in the world and is fully capable of finding those that elect to go back to doing bad things. Quite candidly, the military was not designed to be jailers. We fight our nation`s battles. We`re ready to see Guantanamo closed down. I`m speaking for myself, but many, many senior military leaders have shared with me they feel it`s time to close Guantanamo. MADDOW: Retired Major General Michael Lehnert of the United States Marine Corps, the first commander of the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay -- thank you very much for your time tonight, sir. Your contribution to this debate I think is really a landmark thing and I know it took bravery. Thank you for being here, sir. LEHNERT: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In the summer of 2011, President Obama wanted to give an address to the joint session of Congress on Wednesday, September 7th. He wanted to talk about the issue of jobs. Well in advance of the date, the president asked John Boehner if that would be OK and every time in the history of the country that a president has asked Congress about delivering a joint address, the Congress have said, sure, see you then, Mr. President, every time in history. But not John Boehner -- John Boehner made history when he said no to President Obama. He said the House wasn`t planning on convening that day until 6:30 p.m. and there wouldn`t be enough time to get ready for the president`s speech. Perhaps not incidentally, there was also a Republican presidential debate scheduled for that night. So, John Boehner made the president move his speech to the following night, the 8th. On which there was no Republican debate scheduled, but there was the first game of the NFL season, at the exact time the president would be speaking. So the president spoke not on Wednesday, but on Thursday, during the game, because John Boehner said so. It was unprecedented political effrontery. Considering that path, tonight, we can report some progress. Today, Speaker John Boehner formally invited the president of the United States to deliver the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, January 28th. And the president said yes. So civil. And so it will be. And the only football game scheduled any day near it is the Super Bowl which is five whole days later you. So, you will be allowed to watch both. Progress. Baby steps. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Consider Amsterdam, capital of Holland, land of tulips and canals and very tall children. The Dutch are sort of famously tall. Also, Amsterdam and much of the Netherlands really, it`s the land of bicycles. Next time you jump in your car to go somewhere, consider that the Dutch on average make one out of every four trips on a bicycle. Old people. Young people. Little kids. People who sometimes drive cars. People who never drive cars. It doesn`t matter they all ride bikes. When Americans go to Amsterdam for a visit, they tend to be amazed by the sheer number of bicycles and by how old bikes and cars weave around each other in traffic rather seamlessly. Now, the Dutch do still get into conflicts on the streets. Some times, they crash their perfect bicycles or careful cars. But, the Dutch have somehow reached an equilibrium, a sort of agreement in their society, with rights and privileges and limits and rules and compromises. And the end result is that it works. Their new way of doing things overall is safer, and if you are willing to slow down in your car and on your bike, the new ways also freer. It gives you more choices, more options, more ways to do things. The Netherlands have not always been like that. For a while in the 1960s and 1970s, Dutch streets looked more like this with more people driving and some people still trying to ride bikes without much success among the increasing car traffic. Now, look at this. See the sign on the right there, "stop kinder moord," literally means stop murdering children. It`s essentially a slow down, be careful sign for drivers. A simple message, very clear. Stop killing kids with your cars. The effort was to try to remake the whole Dutch approach to traffic. So it would be safer for kids, for kids on bikes, and ultimately for everybody on bikes. That movement was started in the Netherlands by kids. This boy lived in an Amsterdam neighborhood called the Fijp. In this old documentary, you can see him walking along asking why his city street cannot be a safer place. And then he asked his friend. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED KID: The state of Fijp: the autos. All these cars are unbearable. There is no space left. Thousands die in accidents and air pollution increases. Everything is devoted to parking. Why don`t we all ride bicycles? I do agree with that. Yes, I do agree with that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Those grade school kids, 9, 10, 11 years old, they started a petition drive in their town to create for themselves a place where they could play on the streets, essentially, cars out, kids in. And when they first blocked off their streets, so that kids could play, the drivers did not want to go along. They did not want to give up anything. Compromise did not seem possible. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) MADDOW: That was 1972 in the Netherlands. They`re off to a rough start. The drivers, at least some of them really did not want to yield. But that movement started by the kids did not go away. And slowly small things in that country started to change. People realized for instance that lowering the speed limit was not itself a fatal thing. You could lower the speed limit and still drive. Look at that that same street today. It still has cars, but it also has bicycles, and trees, it is a nicer place and a safer one. Those first ambitious neighborhoods got the kind of change that they were working for. It started with the kids -- these kids with their, their teachers smoking cigarettes in class. Their giant class rabbit, all of the other weird things about seeing kids in the Netherlands at this time of the world, right? The kids who were so industrious and determined and so smart, they were right. And their kids started movement changed their whole country in a way that is globally celebrated. Kids did it. They have thought it up. They have far sighted wisdom to not only be right, but to make it work. Our nation -- tomorrow, it is going to mark the one-year anniversary of the loss of six school staff members and 20 kids in Newtown, Connecticut -- kids who could have become anything, done anything, had that day not happened. The people of Newtown, Connecticut, have asked the media and public to please leave them alone as the anniversary has approached and as it arrives this weekend. They said they need their time to themselves. And it is hard to understand how anybody could fight them on that or fault them on that. But the national discussion about where we are as a nation a year after Newtown is a discussion that feels like futility. At our network Web site at, a reporter named Mischelle Risnik (ph) has written beautiful individual profiles of American kids who have all been killed, who have all been shot to death just since Newtown. She got up to over 50. But that`s scratching the surface. It is barely a quarter of the number of kids who have been killed in the past year. Here, "Mother Jones" magazine portraits of nearly 200 American kids all under the age of 12, who have been shot to death in our country since Newtown. After Newtown, even off to day, it is some times just feels impossible that the same scenes are just going to keep playing out year after year after year, school after school. This was Arapahoe High School today, not 10 miles from Columbine. The gunman killed himself after shooting and wounding two students. It some times feels impossible. There may be no safe place to be a kid. Whether you`re a kid in suburban school, or in your home, or in a city park, the conventional wisdom says the country can do nothing more against gun violence, and even specifically nothing more about protecting kids from gun violence. You can`t get people to give up access to guns. Guns are part of who we are, how we live. Get over it. Get over it. Or don`t get over it. Don`t get over it. Don`t believe when they say that there can be no changes to what we`re used to, that there`s no compromise that can be lived with, that the repeated and frequent murder of children has to be normal and there`s no way to stop it at all. We have a choice. As to whether we accept that or whether we see a way to make change. And if we adults do not see the way to do it, our best hope is that the surviving kids are smarter and braver and more clever and more committed than we are. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again Monday. Have a great weekend. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END