The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/30/14

Guests: Celinda Lake, Ben Barlyn

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. One of the things people watch for in the State of the Union address every year is not what the president has to say specifically about what the State of the Union is. President pretty much always says it`s great. The other thing people watch for is what the president`s speech says about the state of the president. How`s the president doing? Can you tell from the speech how the president is doing in this point in his or her presidency? Well, one notable feature of this year`s State of the Union from our famously cool, calm and collective President Barack Obama was that at that speech, the state of him, the state of the president, seemed kind of psyched. At least he definitely seemed happy to be there. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st. Help them get covered. (APPLAUSE) Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. That will give her some peace of mind, plus she`ll appreciate hearing from you. (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Pause for extra laughter. Did you like that one? I thought that one up myself. Call your mom. I don`t know why it feels like a surprise to say, but it seems notably like President Obama was having fun up there at the State of the Union. He was loose. He was joking around. And it wasn`t just that night. In the two days since he gave that speech, President Obama has been out traveling around the country and still he`s just sounding like he`s having a whale of a good time being president right now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: At the State of the Union, I was going to start out by saying the State of the Union is cold, but I decided that was not entirely appropriate. Now, I only finished 12 hours ago, so these remarks will be quicker. And I need some time to pick up a snow shovel and one of those 50 pound bags of dog food for Bo and Sunny. I was told I`d get a big screen TV, too, for the Super Bowl coming up. The 80 inch, 60s not enough, huh? Got to go 80. It is funny, though, I was looking, you know -- you can buy a sofa, a chocolate chip cookies and a snorkel set all in the same. (APPLAUSE) The sofa didn`t surprise me, but the snorkel set, now that was impressive. Although I do want to ask, who`s snorkeling right now? How many of those are you guys selling? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President making jokes about the weird stuff you can buy at Costco in very large quantities. He went on to say he was thinking about buying a ten pound bag of pretzels and 500 golf balls while he was there. Costco, of course, was one of the employers who the president shouted out by name at the State of the Union address for having made their own private decision as a company to raise the wages that they pay people who work at that company. The company benefits from having reduced employee turnover and so reduced training costs for new employees, in part because they pay a lot, because they start their cash years and people who stock their shelves at $11.50 an hour, which is not a ton of money. You`re not going to get rich on that but it`s better than your average grocery store. And it works for Costco as a business. The president at the State of the Union also shouted out a little company called Punch Pizza in Minneapolis. He invited to the speech the owner of Punch Pizza on the right there who just raised his employees` wages and one of Punch Pizza`s young employees who the president said helps makes the dough. Only now he makes more of it. Get it? Dough. Like both ways. Yes. Whether or not you like a happy president, or whether or not you think the president is good at this kind of humor that he`s been doing a lot of this week, he does seem to be in a good mood, specifically when he was talking about this whole minimum wage thing which was unexpectedly the focus of the State of the Union Address and has been the focus of his remarks since. And maybe the reason the president is over the moon when he`s talking about the minimum wage issue is because what the Democrats have decided to do on this issue, what the president announced at the State of the Union on this issue is kind of a killer political move because, yes, it`s politically advantageous for Democrats to pick a fight with Republicans in Congress over the minimum wage. Americans generally like the idea of raising the minimum wage. And so, they will side with Democrats if Democrats and Republicans are having a fight about that. But in a fight between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, any fight about any subject, we know how it ends, right? If it has to happen through Congress, it doesn`t happen, nothing happens. We`ve been seeing that for two years now. Just being on the right side of that fight is never going to be resolved, right? That only gets you so far. What the Democrats have decided to do differently this year on this issue, this year, what the president announced the at the State of the Union this year and what he is now going around the country campaigning on is the idea that the fight over what people get paid at work, the fight over wages, the fight over the minimum wage, is not just a federal fight that happens in Congress. Turns out it`s a fight that happens everywhere. It`s a decision for every business owner, from Punch Pizza-sized businesses in Minneapolis, up to Costco sized, up to the biggest employers in the country. The president defined himself as essentially an employer when he announced his executive order to raise the minimum wage for people who work for federal contractors. If you want to contract with the federal government, the head of the federal government, the president, says you can have that contract but in order to get that contract, you`re going to have to pay your workers at least $10.10 an hour. And so, every CEO, every employer now has that decision to make. Also every mayor, every governor, the head of every agency that has control over how much its people earn an hour. The political fight over the minimum wage is now everybody`s political fight. And it is already starting to work. In Missouri, in the city of St. Louis, the mayor responded to the president`s State of the Union by announcing a rise in the minimum wage for people who work for the city of St. Louis. He released a statement saying, "I hope other employers will follow the president`s example. The city of St. Louis will. Tomorrow, I will ask the personnel director in the civil service commission to amend the compensation regulation to ensure all part- time employees receive a minimum of $10.10 per hour." In the New York area, the president`s call for raising the minimum wage dovetails with an ongoing campaign to raise the wage that`s paid specifically to people who work at the New York City area airports. There are two New York airports at LaGuardia and JFK, and one airport that is considered to be in the New York area, but it`s in Newark -- Newark, New Jersey. And you know who decides what the minimum wage is for people who work at those three New York-area airports? It`s these guys. Remember them? The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Yes. Same guys. It`s the Port Authority of Chris Christie bridge scandal fame. "The New York Daily News" has been pressing and pressing recently for airport workers at the three New York-area airports to get a raise, pressing the Port Authority to do something about that because they can. Well, after the State of the Union, it worked. Kind of. The executive director of the Port Authority, who`s not appointed by Chris Christie, he`s on the New York side who he was appointed by Andrew Cuomo, Democratic governor of New York. The executive director of the Port Authority sent this letter calling on the airlines who operate at those airports to immediately effect an increase in the hourly wage paid to the lowest paid employees at the airport. With a phase-in to, say it with me, that magic number, $10.10 per hour. Quote, "The Port Authority is prepared to use every tool at its disposal. To achieve these goals, the port will enforce the changes through revisions to terms and conditions of agreements with the airlines. Earning good wages and proper training increases job loyalty, reduces turnover and improves customer satisfaction. This is something that cannot wait." Quote, "I look forward to working with all of you in bringing the Port Authority`s airports into the 21st century." That went out basically simultaneous with the State of the Union address. "The New York Daily News" promptly declared victory in their fight for fair wages campaign. But now, it is more than just this newspaper celebrating and the Port Authority taking action. Now it is a huge political fight for New York and New Jersey, because the Port Authority`s decision to raise the minimum wage for people who work at the airports was made by the New York side of the Port Authority. And it turns out they couldn`t get the New Jersey side to go along with them. So, the New York side, the side appointed by Andrew Cuomo, the Democrat, they`re the ones who are demanding people who work at the airports get a raise. So, people who work at LaGuardia and JFK in New York are probably going to get a raise. But the other local airport is over the border in New Jersey. And the Chris Christie appointees at the New Jersey side of the Port Authority have decided they`re not going along with this. So, there`s these three airports within a few miles of each other. They`re all under the same agency. The two New York ones, everybody gets a raise. The New Jersey one, no. No minimum wage increase for you. And so, ergo, politics. "The New York Daily News" posted this editorial this afternoon. Quote, "Chris Christie says drop dead." "Governor Christie is giving airport workers the shaft despite Governor Andrew Cuomo`s timely push to raise their salaries. Get lost says Christie who is stomping on his own constituents." Also from the "Daily News" today, "For thousands of low-paid airport workers in New York, help is on the way. The directive covers 8,000 workers at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports but does not cover 4,000 employees in Newark, New Jersey." And why is that, again? They`re not going to let you forget, it is because of drop-dead Chris Christie. No wonder the president is joking about chocolate chip cookies and sofas and snorkel kits, right? All but clicking his heels when he talks about the minimum wage now, because the White House and the Democrats -- they have figured out a way to make this fight not about Barack Obama versus John Boehner. They figured out a way to make this everybody who wants a raise versus every Republican politician who says no everywhere in the country. In New Jersey, famously, the night that Chris Christie was re-elected this past November, New Jersey voters voted on that same ballot to override Governor Christie`s veto of a bill that would have raised the statewide minimum wage in New Jersey. Everybody says, oh, Chris Christie won reelection by such a huge margin. He won by 22 points. You know what? Same margin by which he was overruled by the voters of his state on that minimum wage issue. People like raising the minimum wage. People like raising the minimum wage almost more than they like any politician in the whole country. And now as the blessed Port Authority makes news for something other than purposely ruining the first week of school for thousands of Fort Lee, New Jersey, schoolchildren on orders from Chris Christie`s office, this minimum wage issue is becoming a big deal, both in New Jersey politics and around the country. Now, the president has framed it as a decision not just for Congress, but for every governor, every mayor, every agency head -- expect everybody who has that decision to make in the country. Now that that`s happened, expect them all to be consulting the polling on this issue which happens to look like this. This is the most recent national polling on the popularity of raising the minimum wage. It is popular across the country. It is popular among Democrats. It is popular among independents. It is even popular among Republicans. But more directly, look at what this issue looks like when people actually go out to vote on it. Statewide in Florida, raising the minimum wage won by 42 points. In 2006, Missouri was one of several states that voted on it statewide. Missouri, its margin of victory was 52 points. It did not get 52 percent of the vote. It won by 52 points. Seventy-six percent of people in Missouri voted to raise the minimum wage. Clear enough statement? Statewide in Nevada won by 38 points. Statewide in Arizona won by 32 points. Statewide in Montana, it won by 46 points. A 46-point margin of victory for raising the minimum wage. Statewide in Ohio, that same year, won by 12 points. Of course, in New Jersey, in November, it won by 22 points. While they were putting Chris Christie back in office. Whenever you put raising the minimum wage on the ballot, whenever you give people a choice about whether or not they want to raise the minimum wage, the answer is yes, they want to raise the minimum wage. That makes Democrats who support raising the minimum wage happy for a number of reasons. Number one, if you want people at the lower end of the wage scale to get paid more money, just the raw impact of the policy is a positive thing. Politically, though, people voting for the minimum wage, it tends to also encourage them to vote for candidates who support raising the minimum wage. So, in 2006, when Missouri was voting to raise the minimum wage and voting for it by a 52-point margin, they also voted into office Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, to replace an incumbent relatively popular Republican senator. He wouldn`t say when he thought about the minimum wage for most of the campaign. She was very much in favor of it. People like the minimum wage, so they liked her and now she`s the very popular senator from Missouri. That same year, Jon Tester was on the ballot in Montana. He was outspoken in favor of raising the minimum wage. Montana voters liked raising the minimum wage by a 46-point margin and, yes, they liked Jon Tester. He`d beat an incumbent Republican U.S. senator on that same ballot. In Ohio, that same year, conservatives fought like heck to kill the minimum wage ballot initiative in Ohio, but it still won by double digits and so did Ohio`s brand new Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. And that`s part of why a year like that in 2006 was such a good year for Democrats. Even in a really bad year for Democrats like, say, the worst possible year for Democrats, like 2010, the first Obama midterm, where the Republicans just ran the table. They won everything. You know where they didn`t win? Republicans did not win that year where they won everywhere else, but they did not win in West Virginia. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Should there be minimum wage or not? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not because minimum wage is something that Franklin Delano Roosevelt put in during the Depression. It didn`t work during the depression. It certainly hasn`t worked now. (END VIDEO CLIP) MDDOW: John Raese, Republican candidate for Senate in West Virginia, in that very Republican year of 2010 explaining to CNN he does not believe in the minimum wage. He did not win. Republicans also did not win that year in the state of Connecticut. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: Since businesses are struggling as you all described, would you argue for reducing the minimum wage? LINDA MCMAHON (R), FORMER CONNECTICUT SEN. CANDIDATE: Well, I think, we have got minimum wages in states, we have got minimum wages in the government, and I think we ought to look at all of those issues in terms of what mandates are being placed on businesses and can they afford them? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Senate candidate Linda McMahon, her very well-funded Senate candidacy describing the minimum wage as a potentially unaffordable mandate for businesses that we maybe ought to look into getting rid of. Linda McMahon did not win. Up in Alaska that same year, Tea Party Republican Joe Miller came close to unseating centrist Republican Lisa Murkowski but this, unfortunately for Joe Miller was part of his pitch. This is part of why he said he should win. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Should the federal government be requiring a minimum wage? JOE MILLER: That`s clearly up to the states. REPORTER: So, there should not be a federal minimum wage? MILLER: That should not be. That`s not the scope of the powers that are given of the federal government. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was Joe Miller. Not a senator then and not a senator after that election. Well, now in 2014, it`s time for our next midterm year. And Democrats and the president have succeed in making the minimum wage an issue that has not just bottlenecked between the president and House Republicans in Washington, it is everywhere -- including today becoming the latest headache for Chris Christie and the Port Authority in New York and New Jersey. The person Chris Christie had to put in to replace the guy who got fired in the bridge scandal, Bill Baroni, the first thing the replacement had to get done was get a huge horrible round of press for what the "Daily News" is calling her mealy-mouthed statement, excusing New Jersey`s decision not to raise the minimum wage when all the other airport workers across the bridges and across the tunnels in New York are getting a raise. It doesn`t look good when you do this at the local level. It doesn`t look good when you do this at the federal level. And between now and November and beyond, Democrats are going to try to play the popularity of this issue into not just their political benefit but into a political headache for any Republican anywhere who finds themselves having to explain a la John Raese in West Virginia and Joe Miller in Alaska what it is exactly they do not like about paying people enough to live on. Pollsters are already looking at the most high-profile senate race of this midterm year and how the minimum wage may factor into that race. The highest profile Senate race this year is Mitch McConnell`s re-election race in Kentucky. A new poll out today aims to show just how badly the minimum wage issue may factor into that race. The other senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, today tied himself into a bow tie with a pretzel on top, trying to gymnastically evade questions about his own views on minimum wage in an interview on CNN. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WOLF BLITZER, CNN: He announced on increasing the minimum wage that federal contractors would get an increase immediately to $10.10 an hour, which is not a huge amount of money by any means, but it`s a little more than the current minimum wage. Are you with him on that? SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: If you increase the price of something, you`ll get less of it. So, all of the studies, virtually all of the studies show if you increase the minimum wage, you get higher more unemployment, particularly teenage unemployment, particularly black -- BLITZER: Do you believe in the minimum wage? PAUL: Well, I think that when you look at raising, all of the studies show that if you raise it, you get more unemployment. So, really the marketplace does a better job at determining what this should be. BLITZER: So there shouldn`t be any federal minimum wage? PAUL: I`m not so sure I`m saying that. I`m not sure I have an answer as far as whether there is a right or wrong -- BLITZER: But you`re a United States senator. You thought about whether or not -- PAUL: Well, not necessarily. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I haven`t thought about it. I`m not sure I`m saying that. I`m definitely sure I don`t have an answer. Is it OK if I say I`ve never thought about this before? The minimum wage has suddenly become one of the year`s more challenging questions, and if history is any guide, that question comes with big, big political consequences. No wonder the president seems so happy. Hold that thought. More ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Americans understand that some people will earn more money than others, and we don`t resent those who by virtue of their efforts achieve incredible success. That`s what America is all about. But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The big pivot that the White House and the Democrats are right now engineering in American politics is toward the issue of how much people get paid for their work. The minimum wage issue levered away from being just a Washington issue to now being a political fight that can be fought all over the country, with anyone who opposes. Joining us now is Democratic pollster, Celinda Lake. Ms. Lake, thanks very much joining us. Nice to have you here. CELINDA LAKE, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So when you compare how different issues poll right now, is the White House smart? Are Democrats smart to be trying to put Republicans on the spot around the country on the issue of the minimum wage? LAKE: Incredibly smart, for a number of reasons. One, it`s a kitchen table issue, 2/3 of minimum wage workers are women. So, both parties are fighting over the women`s vote right now. It`s a great vote to get women`s votes. It`s also an issue that voters know where they stand. They clearly support it, as you demonstrated. Only 27 percent of Republicans oppose raising the minimum wage. Only 45 percent oppose raising it to $10.10 an hour. So, Democrats, independents, widely in favor of it. This is a great way to mobilize voters who aren`t really interested in voting, as well as persuade swing independent voters. So it`s one of those few issues where it`s a twofer. Get your base mobilized to turn out and get swing voters on your side. And as you can see, there`s no good answer about why you won`t do this. People don`t buy that it`s jobs. People don`t buy that it hurts businesses. They think if you raise the minimum wage, that money gets turned around, spent right back at Costco, right back at Walmart, right back on Main Street. MADDOW: Are there regional variations in how much people like raising the minimum wage? Would it particularly help Democrats who support it in any one region more than other parts of the country? LAKE: Yes. This is what is so fantastic about this issue is there are not big regional differences. If you want a Southern strategy which we`re always talking about Republicans, we need a Southern strategy as Democrats -- well, the minimum wage is your Southern strategy because Southern voters vote on this issue even more than Northern and Midwestern and Western voters. There are more minimum wage workers in the South because we have less unionization and it really moves women voters in the south. Watch for a Michelle Nunn and other candidates to win on this issue because it`s a Southern strategy for Democrats. MADDOW: Celinda, when you work with Democratic candidates, when you`re involved in campaigns, how to you tell candidates you work with to talk about this issue? LAKE: I think there are three ways to talk about it. It`s very strong to talk about it in comparison to the wealthiest 1 percent in CEO salaries. It`s very powerful to talk about it as a kitchen table issue. And Americans aren`t good at math. It`s powerful to tell people how much the minimum wage is. When you tell people they can work full time and only take home $290 a week, people are appalled at that. And when you have two people working minimum wage jobs, you can`t raise a family as the president said. And when you tell people you can make more on welfare than the minimum wage, they think that`s an outrage. They want to raise the wages. Cost of living is going up. Look at food, look at fuel. Look at everything this winter. Wages are stagnant and have been for years. This is a great issue for Democrats. MADDOW: Celinda Lake, Democratic pollster, thank you for helping us understand the palpable Democratic glee right now. I really appreciate it. LAKE: Thank you. MADDOW: Thanks very much. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: When you think of the SPCA, the Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals, I don`t know exactly what you think of, but I bet it is not heavily armed officers in cop-like uniforms. Unless you live in certain parts of the great state of New Jersey. In Chris Christie`s New Jersey, the story of the SPCA, of all things, winds all the way around to grand juries and attorney general and administration of the current governor and sniper rifles, tear gas and bulletproof vests. Oh, my. And it`s happening right now. And that whole really weird amazing story is coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. Here`s a story about Chris Christie`s New Jersey that is rather mind bending. You have probably not heard this story before and I find it amazing. You ready? OK. Go. In the year 2000, the state of New Jersey`s Commission on Investigation launched an extensive probe into a New Jersey state institution that was long rumored to be rife with corruption, an institution with practices that were totally opaque to outsiders, cordoned to the New Jersey Commission on Investigation. This was an institution that was a danger to the public safety of the people of New Jersey. They described it essentially as a rogue paramilitary above the law organization called the SPCA. What? The New Jersey chapter for the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. No, I`m not kidding. The New Jersey Commission on Investigation issued 172-page report about the SPCA in New Jersey in the year 2000 because it turns out the SPCA had been given an unbelievable amount of power by state laws that dated back more than a century. Strange old New Jersey state laws made the SPCA basically a law enforcement agency in the state, but one that operated outside all the oversight mechanisms that all the other law enforcement agencies in the state had. Ostensibly, they were a law enforcement agency in charge of policing the treatment of animals, but in the end, not really. The commission found that the SPCA in New Jersey -- in part of New Jersey, at least -- had evolved into something that was above the law. They answered to, quote, "no governmental agency." You think of the SPCA as nice old cat ladies and people who work at shelters because they love dogs, right? But in New Jersey, the commission found SPCA officers carrying guns and other weapons, under a guise of governmental authority but with no governmental oversight at all. The state investigators singled out one particular county branch of the SPCA for particular scrutiny. It was Warren County, New Jersey. And the commission said, quote, "It is the paradigm of a society that is out of control and that exists for the personal benefit of some of its participants. It has wielded its authority in highly inappropriate ways." Citing, quote, "The arrogant display of weapons and citizens` complaints about intimidation tactics, the commission found of the 12 officers of the SPCA in that county, six carried guns they had issued to themselves in the name of the SPCA. Between 1991 and 1998, this one county branch of the SPCA purchased for itself 65,000 rounds of ammunition, including sniper ammunition for the sniper rifle the SPCA had purchased for themselves," because apparently they needed that? They also purchased for themselves bulletproof vests, night vision goggles, laser sight kits, Apache ankle gun holsters and tear gas. The SPCA, arming themselves with tear gas, sniper rifles and ankle holsters for their guns and 65,000 rounds of ammunition. Seriously. Quote, "There are no records to indicate who was assigned these attempts or when they were assigned. But whoever was getting this stuff and whatever they were doing with it does not seem to have anything to actually do with protecting any animals." Quote, "The society also exemplifies one where the motivation in joining has nothing to do with an interest in detecting animal cruelty or in the welfare of animals." This is Michael Russo (ph). Michael Russo is one of the people in charge of that Warren County chapter of the SPCA back in its sniper rifles and tear gas days. He was one of the three original members. He was president for a time. When Mr. Russo was asked to testify before the investigations commission about all this weird stuff his county chapter had allegedly being doing, he pled the Fifth. And the things they wanted to ask him are fascinating. For example, Mr. Russo and his colleagues tried to make SPCA uniforms look just like New Jersey state trooper uniforms. They did, in fact, look exactly like state trooper uniforms except for an SPCA patch that they were supposed to wear on one of their arms, but some of them didn`t wear that part of the uniform. They just didn`t sew that patch on. Eventually, the state SPCA came in and took over the Warren County chapter. But Michael Russo of paramilitary prevention of cruelty to animals fame, he did not go away. A few short years after the whole sort of terrifying sniper rifles for the SPCA situation in Warren County, New Jersey. See this is Warren County, we`ve got that marked there up top. Hunterdon County is right next to it. A few short years after the whole Warren County, paramilitary SPCA thing, Mr. Russo turned up in the neighboring county in Hunterdon County. And in Hunterdon County, he was hired into an actual law enforcement agency as second in command under the newly elected sheriff of Hunterdon County. He was hired as an undersheriff and tasked with a job of making sure all the other officers followed the sheriff`s rules. The new sheriff who hired him was a Republican named Deborah Trout. When Sheriff Trout became the new sheriff of Hunterdon County when she was elected, she made seemingly unusual hiring decisions. In addition to hiring Mr. Russo fresh off his time at the paramilitary SPCA, she also hired somebody named Greg Ezekian as an investigator in the sheriff`s office. Mr. Ezekian had been dismissed from two past jobs at other police departments and according to the local Hunterdon newspaper, he was fighting a drunk driving conviction at the time he was hired. Sheriff Trout then hired another investigator named John Falat who according to the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper had never had any position in any law enforcement agency ever before but he had given money to Deborah Trout`s campaign for sheriff. The one thing the hires had in common is along with the new sheriff, along with Sheriff Trout, they were all, quote, "Members of the Warren County SPCA during the years Michael Russo ran it as a wing of some fantasy cat police military." The all powerful county branch of the SPCA with the tear gas and sniper rifles essentially moves over and becomes the actual sheriff in the neighboring county? Sheriff Trout`s tenure as Hunterdon County sheriff was short and contentious, a recall effort against her. She was alleged to making her employees sign loyalty oaths to her. She also became friends to a contributor of Governor Christie`s campaign, somebody who served on Governor Christie`s transition team. In return for getting to fly on that Christie contributor`s private jet, he apparently was given some sort of pseudo police ID from Hunterdon County that made him look like a pseudo police official. When asked by "The New York Times" if that Christie contributor, this very rich guy did in fact get a fake police ID from sheriff trout his lawyer did not deny it and said, quote, "Let`s assume he did. So what." Also in Sheriff Trout`s office, background checks for hiring were often not conducted at all or by strange means. Sometimes the person whose background was getting checked would be the person overseeing the background checks on themselves. That`s sort of thing is against the law in New Jersey. It`s against the law for a sheriff to not do a proper background check on new employees. Eventually somebody told. Somebody in Sheriff Trout`s office called the prosecutor`s office in the county in Hunterdon County to complain of the allegations of loyalty oaths and fake police IDs for Chris Christie donors and no background checks and the hiring your friends from the paramilitary SPCA to come run the sheriff`s office. On December 22nd, 2008, less than a year after Sheriff Trout took office, local prosecutors and state police did raid her office and carted away computers and documents about how Sheriff Trout was running that office. At which point it may become relevant to mention that Sheriff Trout was politically pretty well connected. According to "The New York Times" she, quote, "led an association of county law enforcement officials that backed the candidacy of Chris Christie and his running mate, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. The lieutenant governor herself had, of course, also been a Republican county sheriff in New Jersey. Also, according to "The New York Times," Sheriff Trout and lieutenant governor were friendly. They exchanged chatty e-mails including the lieutenant governor thanking the sheriff for having dispatched deputies to help on the campaign trail. According to the local Hunterdon paper at the time, as the prosecutors were building their case in 2009 and 2010 against Sheriff Trout, and Michael Russo and the other staff members in that sheriffs office, Michael Russo, the guy from the SPCA, told a reporter that, to his mind, he was pretty sure Governor Christie was going to step in and, quote, have this whole thing thrown out. And then guess what happened next? Well, on May 8th, 2010, a grand jury did issue a 41-count indictment against Sheriff Trout and Michael Russo and other staff members there. They were charged with official misconduct and other offenses. But weirdly, on that same day, the lead prosecutor in the Hunterdon County, day of the indictment, lead prosecutor resigned and the new attorney general of New Jersey who had just been appointed by Governor Christie took over the county prosecutor`s office. Three months later on August 23rd, 2010, the deputy attorney general told the judge that she had reviewed that indictment, she`d reviewed that case and found it had legal and factual deficiencies, basically asking for the indictment to be thrown out. The deputy attorney general under Chris Christie`s office wanted the charges against Sheriff Trout dismissed. And since they`d taken over the prosecutor`s office, it wasn`t hard just to say yes to that so the charges went away. That same day in August, Governor Christie appointed a man named Anthony Kearns to be the new prosecutor in Hunterdon County. Mr. Kearns is still the prosecutor in that county. And maybe this whole insane story would have gone away out of the public eye if one of the prosecutors who worked on that 41-count indictment against Sheriff Trout, if he was not suing the state of New Jersey right now for wrongful termination related to that case. Bennett Barlyn was one of the prosecutors in the Hunterdon County office assigned to investigate sheriff trout. He says the Christie administration wrongfully stepped in and squashed that prosecution against the sheriff and her gang from the SPCA. Mr. Barlyn says he was fired because he spoke up and when he spoke up. He says his firing was politically motivated. Mr. Barlyn is now trying to get confidential grand jury records unsealed. He contends those records will show this was a real case, that this was a case with merit and it should not have been dismissed. A judge ruled in Mr. Barlyn`s favor last summer. Christie administration appealed that ruling. And this week, three judges heard from both sides and have yet to decide if the records will be unsealed. We called the office of the deputy attorney general in New Jersey for comment. They told us they wouldn`t comment ongoing litigation. Through her lawyer, Sheriff Trout say she followed protocols for background checks. She also denies the Christie administration was involved in the dismissal of the indictments against her in any way. Joining us next to talk about the lawsuit that he has filed against the state of the New Jersey is Ben Barlyn who was fired, he says, because of political involvement in this case. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Even after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to come out and apologize for the George Washington Bridge lane closure, even though after he had to admit the order to close those lanes did appear to in fact come from his own office. Remember, time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee? Got it? Even after Governor Christie came out and admitted that, the Christi Christie administration has been doing damage control in the press about anybody asking why that closing happened and the theories posited about why conceivably that closing had been ordered. The governor`s spokesman saying, quote, "Why not commenting on every wild eyed conspiracy theory that`s originating on left wing blogs." That was from the governor`s spokesman. If that sounds at all familiar, it may be because a Governor Christie spokesman used almost the exact same language to deflect claims that an indictment was quashed and the whole Hunterdon County, New Jersey, prosecutors office was effectively dismantled and taken over by the state in retribution for that county prosecutor`s office bringing a case against a reported ally of the governor. That quote from the Christie spokesman was, "This truly is some of the most wild eyed conspiracy theories I`ve heard in a long time." Lots of wild eyed conspiracy theories. Joining us now for the interview is former Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor Ben Barlyn who filed a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey. Mr. Barlyn, thanks for being with us. BEN BARLYN, FORMER HUNTERDON COUNTY ASST. PROSECUTOR: My pleasure. MADDOW: So, you just clarified for me in the commercial break it was 43 counts, not 41 counts. BARLYN: That`s correct, 43. MADDOW: What were some of the charges that were in that indictment? And how serious a matter was this for your prosecutor`s office to bring that case against the sheriff? BARLYN: Sure, it was a serious case. The investigation was two years in the making and it proceeded like any other criminal case. We collected evidence, interviewed witnesses. And it reached a point, Rachel, where there was enough evidence we could go before a judge, a neutral magistrate and say, look, there`s enough evidence here to believe that evidence is located in the sheriffs office and elsewhere, so review the affidavit and issue a search warrant. And the judge did make a finding of probable cause to allow the case to go forward and for us to seize the evidence. Then, it was presented to a grand jury and according to "The New York Times," the reporter who wrote the story interviewed for the grand jurors separately. And all four agreed that the case presented to them was very compelling, very strong. MADDOW: So for the attorney general`s office. And we should clarify the attorney general is not an elected position in New Jersey. It`s appointed by the governor. BARYLN: That`s correct. MADDOW: For the attorney general`s office to come in and say we are taking over this office, we are reviewing this particular indictment and we find it`s failing. That from the outside at least seems like a very unusual decision. Is that the kind of thing that has ever happened before in New Jersey or in your country? BARLYN: It`s unprecedented. And let me tell you, the three prosecutors you referenced earlier were all former state prosecutor. We actually all worked in the attorney general`s office. So the fact is, yes, it was unprecedented. It was so unprecedented that a detective wrote an e-mail to the attorneys at one point and it said forth in our complaint noting how odd it was. And in his 28 years as a law enforcement officer, he never had seen a prosecuting agency handle the case the way the attorney general`s office did. So, yes, it struck us all as very unusual as things sort of unfolded towards the dismissals. MADDOW: In terms of the documentation in the case, the evidence that was persuasive to the judge to the grand jury to order the indictment. The evidence that the attorney general`s office says was worth taking this unprecedented step to come in and take over for you guys. Where is that evidence? And can people judge for themselves? BARLYN: Well, not a present. The evidence was, during the period of the takeover, transported from the Hunterdon where we`ve obtained it, to Trenton. And that`s where the evidence resides now. MADDOW: They took the evidence back to the state capitol? BARYLN: Before the dismissal, that`s absolutely correct. MADDOW: And that`s where it is now? BARLYN: That`s where it is now. MADDOW: Is it crucial to your case -- you obviously have a beef about losing your job during the course of this playing out -- is it crucial to your case that the indictment was quashed and this prosecutorial, this takeover of the prosecutor`s office happened because of some political connection that traces back to the lieutenant governor`s office? Couldn`t this just be a strange act by the attorney general`s office that is as yet unexplained? BARLYN: You know, I`m skeptical of that for a number of reasons. First, there were so many unusual circumstances beginning with the Undersheriff Russo`s comment that the governor would step in. MADDOW: Yes. BARLYN: You have the lead prosecutor who handled the investigation, a man with 20 years experience, removed from the case two weeks before the dismissal. You have all of these connections that directly lead back to the governor`s inner circle. You have the relationship, as you noted, between Guadagno and the sheriff. You have this donor who -- MADDOW: The pseudo police badge. BARYLN: That`s correct, who was a very generous contributor to the governor. And then you have interestingly enough, a man by the name of Richard Bagger (ph), who was the governor`s chief of staff. Shortly after the indictments were dismissed, Mr. Bagger left his position as chief of staff and went to work for the same company as the donor. MADDOW: Went to work for the donor`s company? BARLYN: That`s correct, a company called Salgen (ph). And then to bring everything full circle is now also a commissioner with the Port Authority. MADDOW: Ahh. Ben Barlyn, former Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor, currently suing the state of New Jersey over this matter -- this is an ongoing matter, I know that you`re waiting to hear on the judge`s ruling on that evidence, but I hope you`ll keep us apprised. BARLYN: I will. Thank you very much. MADDOW: Thank you very much. You are going to hear more about this in the future. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. This is a story that starts bad but ends really, really great. All right. Listen to this. When the big ice and snowstorm rolled into the South on Tuesday morning this week, one of the unusually hard hit cities was Birmingham, Alabama. Like Atlanta and some other Southern cities, Birmingham was the one of the places where the storm just made travel impossible, a lot of accidents, businesses and schools closing, no real public transportation options to get you anywhere without using the roads, just the sheer difficulty of people driving in icy conditions and snowy conditions in a place that really isn`t used to it or equipped for it. It turned a lot of Birmingham, Alabama, into a parking lot, including the spectacle of people just abandoning their cars on the roads and taking off on foot, walking down the interstate. One of the people who was stuck in this cars going nowhere nightmare in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, was a brain surgeon. In fact, he was the only brain surgeon who works in Trinity Hospital in Birmingham. And in the middle of the mess, in the middle of the storm, in traffic Armageddon on Tuesday, the one and only brain surgeon at Trinity Hospital got a call that he was needed urgently for a traumatic brain injury. And here`s the problem. He was not at Trinity Hospital when he got the call. He was at a different medical facility about six miles when he got the call from Trinity. Doctor, we need you urgently. At first, he tried to drive it. He got in his car heading towards Trinity. And this grievously wounded person who needed emergency brain surgery and his help. But like everybody else, the doctor was gridlocked. He could not get more than a few blocks by car. The charge nurse and the neuro-intensive care unit at Trinity was on the phone with him. He said the cell service was bad. It was fading in and out. Finally, the doctor just decided he was going to go for it. He told the charge nurse, I`m walking. At which point the charge nurse at Trinity Hospital has to realize, oh, my God, the only person on Earth who can save this patient of ours, the only brain surgeon we`ve got is now out there alone miles from here in an ice storm walking along the side of the road trying to get here alone. And the charge nurse called the police and told the police to fan out and look for the surgeon, try to get somebody pick him up. But no cell service to reach him, the patient is going to die if the surgeon doesn`t get there. And the police never found him. But the Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw walked the six miles through the snow and the ice alone and he made it to Trinity Hospital and it took him hours to do it but he got there. When he walked into the hospital, first thing he said was, what`s the status? Before he then went to go speak to the patient`s family and went straight into surgery, just like that. And the surgery was successful and the patient survived. And a spokeswoman at Trinity Hospital says tonight, that Dr. Hrynkiw is still at Trinity Hospital tonight, still works on various cases. He has not left the hospital since his very eventful arrival after walking six miles on Tuesday morning. Which means, Birmingham, Alabama, I know you`re watching because I`ve seen it in the ratings. Birmingham, if you are short a grand marshal for your next parade, his name is really hard to spell, but it doesn`t matter. You got one. He`s the brain surgeon at Trinity. That does it for us tonight. We will see again tomorrow night. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END