The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/25/14

Guests: David Boeri, Walter Dellinger

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. There is a confession. We`re told there`s a written confession in the mysterious and bizarre killings that happened in the Boston suburbs on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. September 11th, 2011, in Waltham, Massachusetts, these three young men were all found dead, all inside the same apartment. They were all positioned the same way, all laying facing the same direction. All with their throats slit. And there was a significant quantity of marijuana that was thrown on top of their bodies just strewn over them. Left untouched in the apartment was a much greater quantity of high-end marijuana, as well as $5,000 in cash. It was all just left there with the bodies in that heretofore unsolved truly gruesome crime. But, today, a state prosecutor in Florida has released what is said to be the written confession of someone who admits to having been in on that murder. Do you want to see this written confession? We have a picture of it. Here it is. Admittedly it`s kind of hard to read because of the giant block of redacted whatever. But they tell us that this is the written confession. This confession which because of the redaction is basically just a picture of a piece of lined paper, right? It`s part of a voluminous report released today from a Florida state prosecutor investigating the shooting death of this man. He initially came to law enforcement`s attention because he was a friend of the older of the two suspects in the Boston marathon bombing. It was, of course, April 15th last year that the finish line of the Boston marathon was bombed. In the ensuing manhunt after the bombing, two brothers, two Russian immigrant brothers were identified as the suspects in the bombing. And the older of the two brothers was killed in a chaotic gun battle on the streets of Watertown, Massachusetts, as he and his younger brother sought to escape from the police that were pursuing them. Three days later, three days after Tamerlan Tsarnaev died on the streets of Watertown, law enforcement in Florida tracked down this man, reportedly his friend. Ibragim Todashev, he had been a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two Boston bombing suspects. He worked out at the same gym with him in Boston before he moved down to Florida. Starting on April 21st, remember the bombing was April 15th. So, this is less than a week after the Boston marathon bombings. On April 21st, law enforcement started interviewing him. They interviewed him multiple times in conjunction with their investigation of the marathon bombing. Now, it has still never been alleged that Ibragim Todashev had a connection to the bombing other than knowing one of the suspects. But that connection was enough to get him intense attention from the FBI, including several of his friends being not just questioned but also being arrested and being deported from this country on immigration charges, including Ibragim Todashev`s girlfriend who he was living with at the time in Orlando, Florida. On May 21st, of last year, five weeks after the marathon bombings, a month after they`d first started questioning Ibragim Todashev over his connection to the Boston bombing, FBI agents and Massachusetts state troopers again sought to question Mr. Todashev. They had previously agreed -- they had previously interviewed him multiple times and he previously agreed to be interviewed at a local police station. But this time on May 21st when they asked to interview him again, this time he refused to go to the police station for the interview. Law enforcement sources say that recognized that he was upset about what had happened to his girlfriend. The last time he had talked with law enforcement at the police station. So that`s why he refused to go with them again. Quoting from today`s report, "When asked why Mr. Todashev would not agree to be interviewed at the police department again, trooper 2 advised, yes, he was upset about the last interaction, the prior interaction at the police department. His girlfriend, Tatiana was taken into custody by immigration officials. Mr. Todashev felt that that was connected to the fact that he came in voluntarily to speak with agents. Subsequently, she was removed and placed in immigration custody. I think he felt slighted about that." So, this is how it worked out. Since the last time he went to the police department to talk to agents, they arrested his girlfriend and put her in immigration jail. Because that`s what happened the last time he went to the police station with them, this time he said he wouldn`t do that. He would not go with them to the police station. According to today`s report, he initially proposed that he meet with the FBI officers to talk to them at a hookah bar. Now, the task force officer he was negotiating with told him the hookah bar was not going to be a good plan for this next interview. They asked him, what would make you more comfortable? Then, Mr. Todashev agreed that the FBI officers and other law enforcement agents he was going to speak to should meet him at his house. So, that is where they met. This is the front door of his apartment in Orlando. This is the rear view of the house. Kind of backs up on to a bit of a wetland like a swamp. And this, we now know, and it is very eerie to see it given what we know happens next, this is a picture of Ibragim Todashev inside his apartment that night talking with law enforcement agents while they are interrogating him. This is a picture of him close up. There`s one other picture they`ve released of him taken from further away inside the apartment. Now, in terms of you`re looking at here, law enforcement says that white table in the foreground there, they say that is where he started to write out his confession to the Waltham triple murder back in Boston from 2011. In addition to those two still images, law enforcement also say today that there were multiple audio and video recordings that were taken in that apartment that night. There were two Massachusetts state troopers in the apartment and an FBI special agent. And between them, they took multiple recordings on their cell phones and also on some sort of high-definition video recorder that they had with them. The report released today says that in all, three recording devices were used by the Massachusetts state police at various times during the interview due to battery life." So they had to keep swapping them out. But the swapping of the various recording devices resulted in a total of four video recordings with audio and one audio-only recording. Quote, "The recordings captured the majority of the interview and the confession of Todashev to that triple murder back on September 11th 2011." Again, that`s what we are told. They haven`t -- they tell us they`ve got these recordings. They haven`t released any of these recordings. They do, however, give us a description of what is on these recordings. From those descriptions we`re told even at the culmination of this hours-long interview in this hot, cramped Florida apartment, this interrogation that went on for almost five hours that night, even at the culmination of it, as Ibragim Todashev was writing out his handwritten confession to complicity in the triple murder, according to the recording made at the time, quote, "The situation appeared to be calm and non confrontational." So we`ve got this new report today and because of it we`ve got pictures of this young man in his apartment while law enforcement is interrogating him. We`ve got the picture of what they say is his written confession, but we can`t see what`s on it because it`s all just a big redacted block of text. We`ve got descriptions of what they say are audio recordings and video recordings of what happened in that room although they won`t let us see or hear the recordings, themselves. What we`ve also got is text messages. Remember, there was two Massachusetts state troopers and one FBI agent there. One of the Massachusetts state troopers who was on scene for the interrogation at 10:28 p.m. that night, trooper 1 sends the following text message. "He signed Miranda." Meaning he signed away his Miranda rights so he will talk without an attorney present. "He signed Miranda. About to tell us his involvement." Twenty seconds later, the same trooper texts again, "Standby to standby." Half an hour later he sends another text message, "He will be in custody after the interviews." Then 45 minutes after that, this is 11:53 p.m., the trooper says, "He is writing the statement now in his apartment." Two minutes after that, trooper 1 sends this message. "Who`s your daddy?" Thirteen seconds later, he sends the same text message again. "Who`s your daddy?" Thirty seconds after that, he receives a message in reply. Multiple question marks. Then he responds in less than 30 seconds. "Getting confession as we speak." Now, we don`t know who that trooper is texting with. Who he`s taunting, "Who`s your daddy?" about the fact he`s getting what he says is a confession. Whoever he`s texting with in that crucial moment sends him this message back. "Shut the heck up. Thought that`s what you were doing. Who`s doing the interview?" A minute and a half later, trooper 1 responds, "Me, FBI guy" and somebody whose name is redacted who`s presumably the other Massachusetts state trooper. "He is now writing the statement. Going to be a long night. Still in his apartment in Orlando. Admitted his role." That was sent at one minute until midnight. Five minutes later, Ibragim Todashev was dead in that apartment. The Massachusetts state trooper who`s sending the "Who`s your daddy?" text messages taunting and lording over someone, we don`t know who, that he`s getting a confession from Ibragim Todashev, he was in the apartment with Todashev while sending the text messages, last one sent at one minute until midnight. Five minutes later at 12:04, the FBI agent also in that apartment opened fire seven times and shot Ibragim Todashev to death. I remember there were multiple recording devices making multiple audio and video records of what was going over the course of that long night in that apartment in Orlando. But amazing as it may seem, even as those recordings were told, captured him writing out that confession, somehow none of those recordings was rolling just moments later when they tell us in the middle of writing out that confession, Mr. Todashev reportedly snapped. They say he threw that white coffee table at the FBI agent, hitting him in the head, leaving the FBI agent to shoot him, saying he feared for his life and for the life of the other armed officer who was in that room who was the Massachusetts state trooper who had been sending all those texts. According to the report released by the Florida state prosecutor today, the three recording devices used by the Massachusetts state police at various times during the interview, those recording devices captured the majority of what happened that night, captured the majority of the interview and the confession by Ibragim Todashev but none of those recording devices managed to capture what happened moments later which is when they shot him. That is just one of the reviews of this incident released today, in very quick succession. Not only we get this report today from the prosecutor from Florida, we also got the U.S. Department of Justice report on the shooting, which also notes, "While there are audio and video recordings of the interview of Todashev earlier that evening, there are no recordings of the shooting, itself." "As midnight, Mr. Todashev agreed to write a statement to memorialize his verbal confession because the interview discontinued when Mr. Todashev began to write his statement, the Massachusetts state trooper shut off the recording device on his cell phone and was sending a text message so other law enforcement officers, thus no recorder was activated at the time of the shooting." Department of Justice report continues, "The last segment of video recording depicts Mr. Todashev sitting on the mattress next to sliding glass doors. He`s beginning to write on a paper tablet using a coffee table as a writing surface. As the recording ends, the Massachusetts state trooper is moving toward the recording device and shutting it off." And then moments later with, they tell us no recording devices running, Ibragim Todashev is shot seven times and is dead. The state prosecutor`s report and department of justice report tell similar but not exactly the same stories today about how Ibragim Todashev allegedly picked up and threw this white coffee table at the FBI agent and hit him in the head. The agent required nine staples in his head to close the laceration. The pictures of those staples were included in the state attorney`s report. That report also depicted the blood-soaked shirt that reportedly was worn by the FBI agent that night. After throwing the coffee table, Mr. Todashev reportedly ran into his kitchen, it was just a few steps away, and grabbed what`s described as a hollow five-foot-long metal utility pole. So maybe that`s like an aluminum mop handle or metal broom stick or something? They describe him as wielding that stick at the officers in a way that they felt threatened them. And that is when the FBI officer opened fire, shooting first three times. They say Mr. Todashev was still getting back up to his feet, still trying to attack them after he had been shot three times and that`s why they shot him four more times. One of the bullets went into the top of his head. Another of the bullets went into his back. But the report from the state attorney and from the Department of Justice, they both explain that as him falling toward the FBI agent who was shooting him while the agent continued to fire. They say even though he was shot in the back, his injuries are not consistent with him having been running away while he was shot. It`s just that he was falling down. When the FBI kills someone, there is no other law enforcement authority that has clear jurisdiction to investigate that killing. So basically in almost every instance, the FBI investigates itself. That`s why it was a big deal when the state prosecutor in Florida agreed that he would also look into this shooting that happened by an FBI agent in the Florida prosecutor`s jurisdiction. But that is the prosecutor`s report today that came out early this morning, and utterly exonerates the FBI of all wrongdoing. Says no criminal charges will be filed against that FBI agent and the Florida prosecutor`s report says this incident will no longer be reviewed, the investigation is complete. At the same time, literally on the same morning, we got also the Department of Justice report. Them releasing their own report on the same incident and, again, it also completely exonerates the FBI for any wrongdoing in this case. They said it`s a completely justifiable shoot. In addition, also today, the FBI has told us that their own shooting incident review group, "has met on this matter and found that, yes, the shooting was consistent with the DOJ deadly force policy." That was all today. Bing, bing, bing. One, two, three. And it`s all over, as far as law enforcement is concerned. After ten months of there being no official information on this case whatsoever, Mr. Todashev`s family outraged and bereft, holding press conferences to show the photos of their son that his friend took in the morgue showing the seven bullet holes in him, them trying to get some explanation of what happened. With his girlfriend and his friends, at least three of them deported and/or barred from re-entering this country during the course of the investigation, all of a sudden today, bing, bing, bing, all in one morning, the U.S. government at both the state and the federal level and the FBI, itself, all declaring this matter to be over, done, completely investigated and totally kosher. It`s done. The Council on American Islamic Relations in Florida advocated for Todashev and his family throughout this case. They said today that they question the FBI`s narrative in the case. They say, "The only person who can contradict the government`s narrative is now dead and the investigation into his death relied on evidence gathered by agents of the same agency involved in his death." The ACLU in Florida today, they praised the state prosecutor today for what they said was "casting more light on what happened in that Orlando apartment last May." They described today`s report as an "important first step for transparency." But they also say that the report raises as many questions as it answers. According to the Florida ACLU, quote, "even in light of the new information, seven bullets including to the head and the back, seem like an unnecessary response to someone who reportedly assaulted an officer and was wielding a broom stick. When a subject is threatening or assaulting an officer, it is the job of law enforcement to subdue him and take him into custody, not to execute him. The central question of whether officers were justified in killing Mr. Todashev, why a man wielding a broom stick needed seven bullets put into him remains frustratingly and disappointingly unanswered." Now, we asked the FBI if they would please make somebody from the bureau available for this show tonight to talk about this case. We`ve reported on this case more than anybody else in national media. We would love to talk to the FBI directly instead of just talking about them all these times. They would not make somebody available to come on the show. They did, however, give us this statement. They said, "Our agents are put in dangerous situations every day, particularly while working on task forces with other state, local and federal law enforcement partners fighting violent crime in all major cities across the U.S. Those situations don`t make the news. Dangerous situations get resolved peacefully, way more often than not and they are not publicized. Our preference is to avoid using force at all times. Many agents go their entire career without ever using force." In the interest of fairness, though, I have to tell you it should be noted when FBI agents do use force, when they do shoot people in the line of duty, every single time in the last 20 years that that has happened, every single instance of that in the last 20 years, the FBI has exonerated their own agents of any wrongdoing in those shootings. "The New York Times" reported late last year that of the last 150 times that an FBI agent has shot someone and killed them, or shot someone and wounded them in the line of duty, in every single one of those 150 instances, the internal shooting review at the FBI has found the shooting to be justified, 150 times out of 150 times. That was the record heading into today. As of today, make it 151 out of 151. The FBI`s full statement to us today is posted on our Web site tonight at And let me say, I would still welcome the opportunity to speak with anyone from the FBI ever if they would ever be willing to talk about this live on television. So far, I don`t have hope that they ever will, especially because this has ended exactly the way they need it to end. In the meantime, joining us now, David Boeri. He`s senior reporter for WBUR in Boston. He`s been following this case very closely from Orlando. Mr. Boeri, thank you very much for being with us. DAVID BOERI, WBUR: You`re welcome, Rachel. MADDOW: The Florida state attorney`s office took a long time, months and months preparing a report on this shooting. It`s a long detailed report with some primary documents and photos we never saw before. What did you find most important and interesting about this product? BOERI: The biggest surprise in this case, and this case is a bizarre case, but the biggest surprise for me today was to learn the focus of this entire investigation which is whether or not that FBI agent was justified at shooting Ibragim Todashev interviewed all kinds of people but the one person it didn`t interview was the FBI agent. In fact, he didn`t want to be interviewed and the FBI doesn`t record interviews, itself. So not only was he not interviewed by the state attorney here, but there was no recording for the state attorney to listen to, and the FBI simply has a written statement. So go figure that. MADDOW: The FBI has to have some sort of internal protocol. Some sort of guidelines that they follow in terms of doing an interrogation like the one that happened in that Orlando apartment that night. From your reporting on what we learned today about these detailed descriptions and transcripts we got about what happened in that apartment, does it seem to you like the FBI followed their own protocols for interviewing a potentially dangerous subject? They go into a lot of detail about how dangerous they thought Ibragim Todashev was as a man. BOERI: This is something the state attorney avoided. He said he didn`t think it was his place to talk about whether or not there might have been negligence or the actions of the officers. He accepts the fact that they went to Todashev`s home, Todashev, as you said, didn`t want to go into the FBI`s headquarters. However, here you have, and the report indicates, the FBI agent, those two state troopers from Massachusetts, rated him an 8 on a level of 10 in terms of danger before they ever went there. They knew he`s a mixed martial arts fighter, an ultimate fighter. He had a history of assaultive behavior. He has a hair-trigger temper. In addition to all that, as they`re going in, they see the stencil outline of an assault weapon on the door. They walk in and there`s a ceremonial samurai sword posted on the wall. They knew that this guy was dangerous. And yet, some of their actions indicate that they had placed themselves at great jeopardy being there. And they did not take the opportunity, and they had the opportunity, according to the report after 10:00, he had waived his Miranda rights. He had made incriminating statements. He had said he thought it was -- that incident in Waltham that turned out to be a triple homicide was only going to be a robbery. He said that, look, I was involved, I just didn`t know he was going to kill them. They had cause at the time to bring him in or they could have -- they`re very good at that -- come up with a pretext for inviting him in or invite him to a safe facility where they would have been safe and he would have been safe. Remember, this is an important guy to keep alive. He is a very unsympathetic figure in many ways, but he knows, according to the police, he`s the only eyewitness to that unsolved triple homicide in Waltham. He knows that. He may know something about Tsarnaev and his terrorist ties. But within the course of a couple of hours, they took someone, turned him into the only eyewitness, known eyewitness of a triple homicide that was unsolved, and then they shot him. That`s a catastrophe. MADDOW: A catastrophe that apparently is not going to be investigated any further and in which everybody has been cleared, at least as far as the DOJ, the FBI and now the local prosecutors are concern. David Boeri, senior reporter at WBUR Radio in Boston -- thank you for helping us understand this tonight. I really appreciate you being here. BOERI: You`re welcome, Rachel. MADDOW: It will be interesting. Think about who was there when the shooting happened. One agent. He was the shooter who killed Ibragim Todashev. But two Massachusetts state troopers. One outside the apartment when the shooting happened, the other inside apartment texting "who`s your daddy" presumably to his friends back in Massachusetts and having a great old time having stopped his recording literally five minutes before the guy is shot. Is the Massachusetts state police ever going to investigate its troopers` role in this killing? Are they ever going to look into this in Massachusetts or is Massachusetts going to continue to pretend like this is somebody else`s scandal? We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In 2008, in Colorado, antiabortion activists decided they were going to try to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in that state. It was called the personhood initiative and it would have declared that at the moment that sperm meets egg, that`s a person. Fertilized eggs are people. So, in Colorado, as soon as you had sex, you legally would be two people. If a woman had unprotected sex or even protected sex where the method of contraception didn`t work or even protected sex where the method of contraception did work but not yet, in Colorado, as soon as you said, hey, that was fun, congratulations, you`re two people. Wow. The antiabortion activists pushing the personhood amendment did get enough signatures to get the thing on the ballot for the `08 election and then it failed spectacularly. It lost by more than 40 points. Two years later in 2010, the same activists reintroduced the same, hey, you`re two people now measure. They changed the exact language. Instead of moment of fertilization, it became the beginning of biological development, but it was exactly the same bill. And even with that year`s conservative electorate in 2010, still, Colorado voters said no way to personhood by more than 40 points. The mainstream antiabortion movement actually opposed the Colorado effort in part because they worry that if they bluntly tried to ban all abortion in all circumstances, that might cause a backlash that would set back their otherwise very successful strategy of incrementally chipping away at abortion rights. But there was also the issue of not just abortion, but contraception - - banning birth control. The personhood initiative because of the way it was worded would not just have made criminal all abortion in all circumstances. It would also outlaw arguably hormonal forms of birth control, the pill, the most popular form of birth control in the country. So, no, even in a conservative year, Colorado said no to personhood by huge, huge margins. That did not stop the personhood folks, though. In 2011, the following year, they got the same measure on to the ballot in Mississippi. And there were national predictions that, wow, it`s Mississippi. In Mississippi, any antiabortion ballot measure is going to pass, but even with those predictions and even though the voting was in an off year, it failed in Mississippi, too. Mississippi rejected personhood once after Colorado rejected it twice. And then a sort of an amazing thing happened. The national Republican Party decided after that track record in the polls, we should have it for the whole country -- the personhood initiative that was widely rejected even by Mississippi voters, the banning of not only all abortion in all circumstances, but also the most popular forms of birth control in the country, the national Republican Party decided they wanted that as federal law. In 2012, while running for president, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and Rick Perry all attended a candidates forum sponsored by Personhood USA, and at that forum, they all signed a pledge to pursue this personhood thing at the federal level. The Republican Party`s eventual presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, he didn`t attention that candidates forum, but when he was asked whether he, too, supported the personhood initiative federally, he said, "Absolutely." Oh, but wait, there`s more. In 2012, while Mitt Romney was running against President Obama, Congress at the time was debating something called the Blunt Amendment. The Blunt Amendment wasn`t a potential ban on birth control like the personhood initiative was. It was a bill to allow employers to pick and choose what their employees get from health insurance. It sprung out of Republicans` apparent desire that your boss should be able to block you from getting contraception specifically but really would apply to anything in health care. In the 2012 presidential debate, President Obama just hammered Mitt Romney for supporting that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making. I think that`s a mistake. In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who`s insured. Governor Romney not only opposed it, he suggested that, in fact, employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mitt Romney, this is very interesting, he initially denied that that was his position. He said, "I don`t believe employers should tell someone whether they can have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives." But, in fact, he did actually support the Blunt Amendment and the Blunt Amendment really did say that women can`t get access to contraception through their health insurance if their boss says so. Kind of does sound terrible when you put it that way, right? That is what it does. And then Mitt Romney had to walk it back. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn`t understand his question. Of course, I support the Blunt Amendment. I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception. So I was simply misunderstood the question and, of course, I support the Blunt Amendment. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Letting your boss decide if you can have contraception or not, seriously? That`s my position? OK. Yes. That`s what I`m for. Are you sure? In 2012, the Blunt Amendment was defeated in the Senate. It got votes from every single Republican senator in the senate except for one. Even seemingly moderate Republicans like old Scott Brown got behind that effort to allow employers to restrict access to contraception. No abortion and no access to contraception has slowly become the party line for Republicans. I mean, remember, Rick Santorum did pretty well in his race for the Republican nomination in 2012 which he said he was waging in part to make clear to America the evils of contraception. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country. The whole sexual libertine idea -- many in the Christian faith have said, well, that`s OK. I mean, you know, contraception is OK. It`s not OK. It`s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: He came in second to Mitt Romney in the Republican primary campaign in 2012. The idea that contraception is a problem unexpectedly has become Republican Party orthodoxy now. But it has also become a general election problem for Republicans. The Republican congressman who`s running for Senate in Colorado right now against Mark Udall, his name is Cory Gardner. He has supported anti- contraception like personhood at both the state level in Colorado and federal level. He supported them for years. He bragged about supporting personhood when he was first trying to win his seat in the House in 2012. But now, he`s trying to run statewide in Colorado. And now he has decided that he never really had that position at all. He says he didn`t understand what he was advocating all those years. The Republican position on contraception has become increasingly doctrinaire, while also staying totally politically untenable except in Republican primaries. And that fact and that issue boiled over today in a bombshell case at the United States Supreme Court. And we`ve got more on that ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, the lawyer who`s arguing the case that a corporation should be able to deny its employees access to contraception on the basis of their religious beliefs, the lawyer is arguing that case and he gets out 1 1/2 sentences of his argument when he is interrupted by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She says, "Is your claim limited to contraceptives or include items like blood transfusions, vaccines? For some religions, products made of pork. Could an employer preclude the use of those items as well?" The lawyer gets out 2 1/2 sentences in response to Justice Sotomayor, whereupon he gets interrupted again. This time by Justice Elena Kagan who says this, "Just take one of the things that justice Sotomayor asked about which is vaccinations, because there are many people who have religious objections to vaccinations. Suppose an employer refused to fund vaccinations for employees. What happens then?" The lawyer gets out two more sentences and then Justice Kagan jumps in again, interrupts him, asks, "Blood transfusions?" She says, "Blood transfusions, could they refuse their employees getting blood transfusions on religious grounds?" The lawyer says at that point each of these would have to be evaluated on its own. Then they struggled on through the first half of the argument. This is a case at the Supreme Court today that has been championed by conservatives and Republicans as a test of religious liberty. At its factual core, though, it really is about the question of whether or not your boss gets to decide on the basis of his or her religious beliefs whether or not your health insurance covers your birth control. Joining us for the interview tonight is Walter Dellinger. He`s a former acting solicitor general and a presidential adviser on constitutional issues. He was at the Supreme Court for today`s arguments. Mr. Dellinger, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate your time tonight. WALTER DELLINGER, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: You`re welcome. MADDOW: From what you saw and heard in court today and the way this case was briefed, what is the key legal point that will decide this case? And how broadly applicable is it beyond the initial facts of this challenge? DELLINGER: Well, the key legal point that ought to decide the case is whether companies can use their economic leverage to impose their own moral views on their employees. No one doubts that the Green family has sincere objections to contraception. They own a company that employs 13,000 people. And they want to impose their religious views on those 13,000 people. And if they succeed, as Justice Kagan pointed out later in the argument, Rachel, if they succeed in this claim of imposing their burden of their religious beliefs on their employees, they will both be denying the essential moral agency of those women as individuals. They will also be setting the stage for endless other claims as Justice Kagan said to come out of the woodwork. Claims about -- I don`t agree with the sex discrimination laws, I don`t agree with the race discrimination laws, I don`t agree with the Family Medical Leave Act all on religious grounds. Therefore, I don`t want any of my employees to have the benefit of those. I think it`s that notion that we let people impose a burden on third parties which is really where their religious rights ought to stop, when they subordinate the religious and moral views of other people. MADDOW: So to be clear, there`s nothing about this case that would limit the potential applicability of a ruling to just the Affordable Care Act or just health care. At least the more liberal justices today were making the case that this is something that could potentially give corporations the opportunity to opt out of any statute, even ones that are broadly seen as applicable to everyone. DELLINGER: Absolutely. Justice Kagan said that any corporation is going to be able to, or any commercial enterprise is going to be able to say we have religious objections to complying with the law, whether it`s an anti-discrimination law or a handicap law, we don`t want to comply with it. And they would be entitled to win unless the government can meet some exceedingly demanding test of showing an especially strict form of the compelling governmental interest. And here I think what is really telling is how they disparage and diminish those who are seeking to uphold this religious exception, disparage the rights of the women who want to be making their own moral decisions and be responsible for their own moral choices. They also, I think at times, spoke today as if this were some sort of gift for the women from the employers that the employer wants to hold back. It`s not a gift. This is part of an employment compensation package that these women have earned. They have contributed part of the premium, themselves, and they`ve earned the rest of it as part of their employment compensation just like Social Security. This would be the first time in American history that a for-profit company had successfully claimed that it could be exempt from commercial regulations on religious grounds and there`s no telling where that would stop. MADDOW: I know it is folly to make predictions on the basis of oral arguments, but you`ve seen a lot of them. You`ve argued before the court. Having seen what happened today, did you have a sense of which way the balance of the court might be leaning on this issue? DELLINGER: Rachel, I did not. Clear, I can tell you how eight of the justices are going to vote. Four on each side. Justice Kennedy at one point indicated he understood that this was a burden on the employees, on the women. At other times, he expressed concerns with the government`s case. I really found it a case where it was not possible to read the direction of it. So it`s going to be the last week in June we`re going to find out. It`s possible they may find some narrow ground to decide this on, but it`s something that`s very important to -- what people don`t realize is that the most effective means of birth control are often the most expensive. IUDs can cost a month`s salary for a minimum wage full-time worker. If you take that outside of the insurance compensation package which these women have earned, you`re really imposing a great burden on these for the benefit of their employers. MADDOW: I thought about that today reading Justice Scalia`s remarks about how this doesn`t really cost anything. This surely can`t be anything too expensive. His lack of familiarity with the factual basis of the claim was striking today. Something that you wrote about in advance of hearing today`s arguments. Walter Dellinger, former assistant attorney general, former acting solicitor general -- thank you so much for being with us. I really appreciate your time, sir. DELLINGER: Thank you. MADDOW: Thank you. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Last night, we reported on the worst possible way to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. We reported last night on a new really big oil spill near Galveston, Texas. Now, this is a choke point for the American oil economy and therefore for the American economy. It`s also a crucial environmental setting along the Texas shore. The spill was caused by a collision between a ship and a barge that was carrying bunker fuel oil, which is a really heavy form of marine fuel oil. The barge partially sunk after the collision and leaked ability 170,000 gallons of this really heavy oil into the water after of Galveston bay. Well, the Coast Guard responded by closing the Houston ship channel. That`s one of the busiest shipping channels in the country. They had to close down the shipping channel in order to start clean-up operations. This caused over 100 vessels, oil tankers, cargo ship, boats of all different kinds, caused over 100 vessels who were attempting to leave or enter that whole seaport area, caused them all to come to a full stop and drop anchor. And that is a huge deal for the U.S. economically. The Houston ship channel is basically like the Suez Canal of Texas. So if it is shut down, depending on how long it goes on, that could be a really big economic deal for the country. Well, today, the Coast Guard partially reopened the shipping channel. They authorized some limited traffic in and out of the area. But they do say it still could be days for the ship traffic in and around Galveston Bay and the Houston ship channel to get back to normal. They say it will be almost a week after the collision at least before ship channel is anything approaching what it used to be. In the meantime, clean up are still trying to both rescue wildlife and to harness all of that spilled very gunky oil. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Currents in the Gulf of Mexico are pushing the oil down the coast towards the southwest. That means agencies involved in the clean-up are actively monitoring the movement of that oil. They plan on putting equipment and personnel on Matagorda Island in anticipation of the oil making landfall. That could happen in the next few days. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: "Houston Chronicle" is reporting tonight that a lawsuit has been filed against the company who is in charge of towing the barge. Lawsuit filed by about a dozen of local businesses and individuals who say this massive oil spill in Texas has already hurt them economically. One of the factors everybody is watching here is that that company that was operating the barge, or the tow vessel which was towing the barge, that company has been involved in, in fact, that tow boat the one specific boat involved in this has been involved in more than 20 incidents reported to the Coast Guard over the last dozen years, including several other accidents. But a lawsuit filed today and we`ll keep you updated as we learn more about this spill in Texas. Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We have some breaking news tonight from western Washington state, Snohomish County. That, of course, is where recovery operations are still ongoing after the giant mudslide there over the weekend. Just in the last few minutes, authorities in Snohomish County have announced a new death toll in this disaster. They`re announcing a new death toll and some bad news about what they expect to happen to that death toll in coming days. This is new information from just moments ago. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHIEF TRAVIS HOSTS, SNOHOMISH COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We continued our search and recovery operation on the entire slide area. Unfortunately, we didn`t find any signs of life. We didn`t locate anybody alive. And so, that`s the disappointing part. Our condolences go out to the families who have lost people here. I say that on behalf of every single person that is working this scene and putting in a tremendous amount of time and effort and hours and they`re doing a great job. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was moments ago from Snohomish County in western Washington. Before this announcement today, the death toll was 14. They say they covered to more bodies which brings the total death toll to 16. The true terrible news, though, is that they`re announcing in Snohomish County that they believe they have located an additional eight bodies, eight additional bodies that have not yet been recovered so they have not been added to the confirmed death toll. If those eight additional bodies are recovered and confirmed as dead, that would bring the total number of deaths in this terrible mudslide to 24. Again, though, the confirmed total right now 16, expected to raise to 24 in western Washington state from that mudslide that happened Saturday morning about 55 miles north of Seattle. As we learn more, we will let you know more. Thanks for being with us tonight. 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