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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/15/14

Guests: Michael Leiter

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thanks for you at home joining us this hour. September 7th, 1986, the city of Spokane, Washington was hosting something called the Spokane Interstate Fair. And several government witnesses later testified that on the afternoon of that fair in 1986, a man wearing camouflage pants and army boots walked up to the cotton candy booth at the fair, along with his wife, they also had their baby with them and a diaper bag. The young man in camouflage attempted to buy some cotton candy with a $20 bill. Whoever was manning that cotton candy booth at the fair that day realized something was wrong and somebody called the police. Turns out the $20 bill was both counterfeit and a bad enough counterfeit that whoever was working at the cotton candy booth could tell that it was a fake. The sheriff`s deputy turned up, arrested the guy with the fake $20 bill, and it turns out that inside the diaper bag, he had another 59 counterfeit $20 bills. Turns out that couple arrested at that fair that day back in 1986, they were members of the Aryan Nations, they are members of a Neo- Nazi group that was very active in the Pacific Northwest at the time. The group was trying to create an all-white homeland for white people in that northwest corner of the country. When the other Aryan Nations guys heard about their friend and their comrade being arrested at the cotton candy stand at the fair trying to pass that fake $20 bill, federal prosecutors say two of the other Aryan Nations guys, when they heard their friend got arrested, they went to the guy`s house. They went to the couple`s home and once they were there, they flushed down the toilet a bunch of leftover green printer`s ink that they had used to make those counterfeit $20 bills. They also took the scraps of counterfeit paper that had been left over after they`d cut the bills and they took the paper cutter itself. But one of those two Aryan Nations guys then freaked out and he turned himself into the FBI and he said, he wanted protection. The next day, the FBI raided the home of the other guy, with whom he had flushed the printer`s ink and cleared out the paper cutter and all the rest. In the other guy`s home, the FBI found not only more counterfeit 20s, stacks and stacks of counterfeit $20 bill, they also found whole uncut sheets of counterfeit $20 bills. Tens of thousands of dollars worth had the counterfeits been any good. According to the FBI, they also found a sheet of steel that matched shrapnel from a bombing that had happened just two weeks earlier in northern Idaho. On September 15th, 1986, so about a week after the cotton candy incident, a bomb had gone off at the home of a local pastor in Coeur d`Alene, Idaho. He had been helping lead opposition to the Aryan Nations and their -- against their efforts to try to take over that part of Idaho and the northwest. The Reverend Bill Wassmuth of Coeur d`Alene, Idaho, he was not hurt in the bombing of his home but the forensic evidence taken from the bomb that went off at his house, that forensic evidence did tie back to those counterfeit $20 bills. And they did tie them back to the Aryan Nations and to this whole network of white supremacists operating a complex ring of crimes aimed at attacking people who they hated and getting publicity for the white supremacist cause, and stealing or even manufacturing money in order to help them do more of the same. The Neo-Nazi group of that time called The Order, they`re best known for having murdered this man, Jewish talk show host named Alan Berg in Denver. But The Order was also known at the time for counterfeiting and also for a series of bank robberies, bank robberies and armored car robberies that are thought to have netted the group more $4 million over the span of just a few years in the mid 1980s. The Order used that money from those armed robberies to finance itself as a Neo-Nazi organization, but also to funnel that money to other white supremacist groups. They were hoping they were building what would eventually be an Aryan white power movement strong enough to overthrow the entire U.S. government. And they handed out this booty, basically, stolen money, in hundreds of thousands of dollar chunks to other white supremacist groups. And there had been some effective law enforcement tactics against these Neo-Nazi and far-right groups operating in the Pacific Northwest at the time. I mean, the details about the cotton candy counterfeiter and the bombing in Coeur d`Alene, those came out during a successful federal prosecution that the FBI brought against The Order and the Aryan Nations in 1985. They brought them up on racketeering charges and whole big chunks of those groups all went to jail, all at once. 1985, that was a successful prosecution that was brought in Seattle. But two years later, in 1987, the FBI tried to go for something much bigger with these Neo-Nazi groups. They convinced a federal grand jury in Arkansas, an all-white jury in Arkansas, in trial, once it got to trial, they convinced this federal grand jury to indict 15 different leaders of white supremacists and Neo-Nazi groups for sedition. Not for racketeering or counterfeiting or armed robbery, any of those little things, for sedition, for trying to overthrow the United States government. It was a really, really, really big deal case at the time. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: A three-year federal investigation of white supremacy groups in this country today resulted in indictments against 15 key members. Some were charged in connection with the murder of Jewish talk show host, Alan Berg, three years ago in Denver. Other charges included planning to murder a judge and plotting to overthrow the government. NBC`s Roger O`Neil has more. ROGER O`NEIL, NBC NEWS: Called Operation Clean Sweep by some, the Justice Department says today`s arrest wipe out the white supremacist group known as the Aryan Nations with all of its leaders either in jail or headed that way. The U.S. attorney in Denver said today`s actions sends a message. ROBERT MULLER, U.S. ATTORNEY: The message is that any radical group that uses violence to achieve their ends will be dealt with by the Department of Justice. O`NEIL: The government says the violence included murder, bank and armored car robberies, plotting to kill this man, Federal Judge Franklin Waters of Arkansas, and the ultimate overthrow of the U.S. government. The white supremacists belong to different groups, the Aryan Nations, The Order, the Ku Klux Klan, and were, according to officials, anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-government. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So that was in 1987, really ambitious prosecution brought against all of those different white supremacist leaders, they`re going after them for trying to overthrow the U.S. government. It`s a sedition trial. Those charges brought in April 1987 and that`s when that "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS" report was from, April 1987. By April 1988, it had all fallen apart. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BROKAW: If Portsmouth, Arkansas, today, an all-white jury acquitted 13 members of a white supremacist group charged with conspiring to overthrow the government and to kill two federal officials. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The FBI and federal prosecutors tried to bring down basically the whole Neo-Nazi and white supremacist movement in one fell swoop. They put 15 men on trial all at once for the most serious charges you can levee against American citizens. Right? Sedition, plotting to overthrow the government. The feds went for it and they missed. And that had to be a huge disappointment, right? At least an embarrassing failure, for the prosecutors and for the FBI agents who were involved in that big landmark case. But imagine if you were the informant in that case. Imagine if you were the rat. Imagine if you were the guy inside the white supremacist movement who the FBI flipped and convinced to testify against your old Neo-Nazi pals for the big federal case, and then your old Neo-Nazi pals you just ratted out won the case. And that happened to guy. That happened in that prosecution back in 1987 and 1988. When The Order was robbing banks and robbing armored cars to raise money for the Neo-Nazi movement, they gave some of that money to groups like the Aryan Nations, to the cotton candy counterfeiters, right? They also gave some of that money to a group called the White Patriot Party. The guy who founded the White Patriot Party got flipped by the FBI, and in exchange for a more lenient sentence for himself, he testified against everybody else in that indictment. He explained how he had been given $200,000 in stolen money from the guy who founded The Order. And he testified that -- about what he knew about other white supremacist groups getting money from The Order as well. And when the case collapsed and all these guys were acquitted, here`s this guy, who had testified against everybody else in the Neo-Nazi movement in open court. He had founded the White Patriots Party in North Carolina, he had founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. But after that trial and after him turning state`s evidence and ratting on all of his colleagues in the Neo-Nazi movement, he left North Carolina, he fled the state, he moved to Missouri, and he changed his name. He changed his name from Fraser Glen Miller Jr. to Frazier Glenn Cross. And this, this weekend, was Frazier Glenn Cross. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Panic and fear ripped through the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center this afternoon at 115th and Knoll. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s a guy with a rifle here, shooting at people. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should we leave? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would leave. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he still here? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Three are dead and a 14-year-old boy is in critical condition after police confirmed to 41 Action News a gunman opened fire in two different locations. Just after 1:00, a man with a rifle shot at people in the parking lot, forcing the center into a lockdown. Dozens of people, including teens and children, scrambled to safety. Moments later, gunfire was also reported at Village Shalom, an assisted living facility a few blocks away at 123rd and Knoll. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Now our cameras were there as that person was placed inside a police unit. Now listen to what the suspect had to say. FRAZIER GLENN CROSS, SUSPECTED GUNMAN: Heil Hitler. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The three people who were killed this weekend in that shooting in the Kansas City suburbs were 69-year-old grandfather named William Corporon and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Underwood, as well as a 53-year-old woman named Terry Lamano. Even though the suspect in these shootings was taken into custody almost immediately after the shootings happened, that was him in the back of the car, shouting "Heil Hitler," right? There was still some confusion as to his identity immediately after the shootings, I think in part because of his multiple aliases. And we know that those multiple aliases spring in part from the fact that he had to move across the country and pretend he was somebody else after he turned state`s evidence against other Neo-Nazis in that big failed sedition trial back in the late 1980s. Even so, though, he wasn`t exactly hiding his white supremacist light under a bushel all these years. He did numerous press interviews over years. And the "Idaho Spokesman Review" newspaper reports today that over the past 10 years, he has posted well over 10,000 messages to racist Web sites and message boards online. And these online message boards are an important part of how the Neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements promulgate themselves still to this day and how they organize and hold themselves together. You might remember that the racist Web site storm front was the online home for this guy, who opened fire inside a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, two years ago, killing six people before he killed himself. Storm Front was also the homebased online for this guy, who ambushed and killed three police officers with his AK-47 in Pittsburgh in 2009. The favorite online home for a man who called himself Online Rounder, who offline was sometimes known as Frazier Glen Miller, or sometimes known as Frazier Glenn Cross, his online home is a place called Vanguard News Network. If you don`t tend to keep Nazi networking hubs in your head, the reason this Vanguard group might sound familiar is because of this news story you might remember. This was the Martin Luther King Day Parade in Spokane, Washington, in 2011. A 36-year-old white supremacist packed fishing weights and other shrapnel dipped into rat poison into a backpack bomb and he left it on the scene of the Martin Luther King Day Parade in Spokane in 2011. He pled guilty later that year. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison. Part of what prosecutors used to try to influence the judge in his case to lengthen his sentence is that after he was arrested in Spokane, once he was in jail on suspicion of having been the bomber of the Martin Luther King Day Parade, that confessed bomber from jail exchanged letters with the guy who shot up the two Jewish facilities and killed those three people this weekend in Kansas City. Frazier Glenn Cross wrote to the MLK Day bomber and offered to be a character witness for him after the bombing. He offered to set up a legal defense fund for him. He did media interviews about the MLK Day bomber`s case, telling "Talking Points Memo" at the time, quote, "I have been conversing with him on the Internet for years. He contributed to my Internet project. He sent me hundreds of dollars to help with that." "I had a very strong opinion of his intellect," he said, "And most of the other people did too on our Vanguard News Network forum." So the guy doing 32 years in prison for bombing the MLK Day Parade in Spokane three years ago and the guy who yelled "Heil Hitler" after allegedly shooting up those two Jewish facilities in Kansas City this weekend, they apparently were old friends who had been corresponding online for years at a Neo-Nazi online hub. And it`s not just them. The "Spokesman Review" also reports today that on Saturday, on the day before the Kansas City shootings this weekend, Frazier Glenn Miller, AKA, Frazier Glenn Cross, he was online, again this time, posting a public notice that he had just spoken with this guy. Over the past few months, you`ve probably seen one of the many inflammatory news stories that have been done about tiny, beleaguered Leith, North Dakota. This is this little town in North Dakota of 15 people where a small group of white supremacists moved in. They attempted to basically set up homesteads and take over the town. The town of Leith, at one point, considered disbanding itself so as to stop these Nazis from having anything to take over. Well, the leader of that pitiful white supremacist band in Leith, North Dakota, his name Craig Cobb. He`s currently in jail facing seven charges including terrorizing the town officials in Leith. But from jail, he reportedly had contact on Saturday with the guy who on Sunday went on to do those Kansas City shootings. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security prepared a draft report on the national security threat of homegrown right-wing extremists in the United States. After a draft of the report was leaked, there was a huge backlash on the political right and on the FOX News Channel in particular. A huge backlash against the Department of Homeland Security, even studying the possibility that there might be a threat of violence from right-wing extremists in this country. That final report was never released. The lead author of the report later said that in response to the uproar the Department of Homeland Security not only didn`t release the report, they also diverted resources away from even studying the problem of homegrown right-wing extremists is and their threat of violence. Today is the one-year anniversary of the bombing at the finish line of the Boston marathon. One of the two suspects in that bombing, of course, is dead. The other one is in custody, still awaiting trial. From what`s been made public about that case so far, it appears clear that the bombing, at least, seems to have been motivated in part by religious extremism. There are reports that the surviving suspect told people from the hospital when he was recovering from his wounds that he hoped to inspire other people to commit jihad. But there also seemed to have been some other things going on here as well. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting several months ago that one of their reporters went into the apartment of the older suspect and among the items found in the older suspect`s apartment was a stack of right-wing conspiracy theory newsletters. The "American Free Press," which promises to tell you the truth that the mainstream media will not tell you about, black mob violence continuing unabated in America, the IRS scandal reveals that there`s Jewish control at the White House, the sovereign, which calls itself the newspaper of the resistance, reporting on how 9/11 was an inside job, Israeli lobbyists control the U.S. government. But this one, this is called the First Freedom, equal rights for whites, which, until recently, was advertising events for Storm Front. The same Nazi message board frequented by the Sikh temple shooter and the Pittsburgh Police ambush shooter with the AK-47, Storm Front, of course, the online cousin to the Vanguard News Network, home of the Martin Luther King Day bomber from Spokane and the alleged Kansas City, Kansas, shooter this weekend. And you know, with the Boston bombing guy, how weird is it to have Chechen- speaking Russian immigrant Muslim guys reading 9/11 truther conspiracies and ads for Nazi message boards while also espousing violent jihad and allegedly setting off bombs that killed Americans? How weird is that combination of conspiratorial nihilism? Good question. But that is as much a part of the story of the Boston bombings as anything else that we have absorbed about the threat posed by those kinds of perpetrators in this past year. The New America Foundation tracks deadly, ideologically motivated attacks in the United States since 9/11. Following the Kansas City attacks this weekend, their totals stand at 21 for the total number of people killed by attacks motivated by Islamic extremism, and that includes the Boston Marathon bombing, with four people killed a year ago today. Also includes the Fort Hood shooting in 2009, with 13 people killed. But after the Kansas City shootings this weekend, the total number of people killed in what appear to be ideologically motivated attacks not by jihadists, but by right-wingers in this country, that`s a higher number, that`s 34. Not 21, 34. And we have decided that combating terrorist attacks motivated by Islamic extremism is not only a matter of national significance, it`s something that should drive the entire international order of things. But when it comes to the proven and interconnected threat of the armed American extreme right wing, we`re still treating every attack by them like a surprise. We`re still treating every one of those attackers like a lone wolf. Regardless of how many letters we find between them, each of them, while they`re in jail. Regardless of the places where we find them talking to each other online. Regardless of the connections that they say exist between them. Regardless of the tide of evidence that these networks exist and are operational. Why are we so willing to not be afraid of the threat of right-wing extremism in this country? Why is that? Should that change? Hold that thought. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In 2011, a white supremacist couple named David Peterson and Holly Grigsby, they were arrested fog a 10-day killing spree in Washington, Oregon, and California. The federal indictment accused them of carjacking, kidnapping and killing four people as part of a campaign to, quote, "purify and preserve the white race." In 2010, a man in Texas set his home on fire and then flew his small plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, killing himself and an IRS supervisor. In 2009, three people, including one linked to the Aryan Nations broke into a home in Pima County, Arizona, looking to commit a robbery. They reportedly intended to use the proceeds of the robbery to finance their anti-immigrant white supremacist Minuteman Militia. They killed a 29-year- old man and his daughter inside the house. She was a third grader. In 2008, a man stormed into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church looking to kill liberals. He said he hated liberals and Democrats and blacks and gay people. He killed two people inside the church with a shotgun. In 2009, abortion provider George Tiller was killed in Kansas, also inside his church at the time. He was killed by a man with long- standing ties to the extreme right wing, including both the Sovereign Citizens Movement and the anti-abortion fringe group, Operation Rescue. There were the other Sovereign Citizens who ambushed and killed two police officers in Louisiana as well in 2012. There was also the white supremacist who ambushed and killed three police officers in Pittsburgh in 2009. He was a regular at the same anti-Semitic Neo-Nazi message board as the man who killed six people at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012. And that one is not to be confused with the anti-Semitic Neo-Nazi message board frequented instead by the confessed bomber of the Martin Luther King Day Parade in Spokane in 2011 and by the suspect arrested this weekend in conjunction with the triple murder in Kansas City. Before he ever sat in the back of that police car and screamed "Heil Hitler" at the cameras, he was organizing online for years, praising other right-wing terrorists, corresponding with them in jail, trying to inspire other people to follow in their footsteps. At today, the CNN Web site, Peter Bergen said we should do a thought experiment in this country, in which instead of shouting "Heil Hitler" after he was arrested, that suspect in Kansas City had instead shouted "Allahu Akbar." How would we be reacting to it then? Why are right-wing American terrorist attacks treated as the acts of one-off whackos that are a surprise every time and indicative of nothing larger than the individual threat posed by an individual kook, when other forms of terrorism, engender not just a bigger reaction from us as a nation, but a more radical and systemic response as well? Joining us now is a man who knows of these thing, Michael Leiter is the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center which is established in 2003 as the terrorist threat integration center is one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Mr. Leiter, thank you for being here. MICHAEL LEITER, FORMER NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM DIRECTOR: Good to be here, Rachel. MADDOW: So you were at the Counterterrorism Center when this report in 2009 from Homeland Security on right-wing extremism, it was -- it was produced and then leaked and never finally reported. Do you remember what was going on around that report at the time? LEITER: I do, very well. The fact is that people in the U.S. government and the counterterrorism community really were worried about right-wing extremism. And the report talked about some of those factors. Frankly, the report also used what I would consider really bad, sloppy language and some bad analysis about some other things, like the potential for returning vets to become right-wing extremists. And that raised the ire of many in Congress, especially in the right, stating that the Department of Homeland Security shouldn`t be in the business of looking at people like veterans and anyone else for purely political views and why those weren`t terrorists, those were patriotic Americans. MADDOW: In terms of recognizing the threat from right-wing extremist groups, though, did the backlash to that report, the fact that it was never even released in any other form, should we read that as essentially the government getting shy about identifying this as a real threat? Because they were worried about that backlash? LEITER: And there is no doubt that when Congress reacts very, very badly to something the executive branch does, it makes people gun shy. And I don`t want to say that people stop looking at right-wing extremism. I think Aryan Nations and other associated groups, a lot of the ones you`ve mentioned, the intelligence community, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, still did focus on them. But there is no doubt in my mind that that sort of reaction to the paper itself absolutely made people a little more risk averse than, frankly, they should have been, given some of the history that we saw. MADDOW: And the Counterterrorism Center, forgive me if I`ve got this wrong, but I understood that the National Counterterrorism Center by law focuses only on international terrorism. Is that true? LEITER: That`s true. MADDOW: And is that -- is that right? Do you think it should be that way? LEITER: I think it`s probably a mistake. I think it`s largely a response to 9/11 and al Qaeda and international terrorism. But the fact is that extremism and terrorists and people who turn to violence are all going through a very similar radicalization process. They`re motivated by different causes. It could be a skewed -- Islamic ideology or it could be right-wing extremism, but almost always, there are people who have gone through some sort of crisis or looking for a higher meaning, create a sense of us versus them. And in that sense, it`s actually really important for organizations like the National Counterterrorism Center and foreign intelligence organizations to at least talk to their domestic counterparts, so that expertise of understanding what makes people turn to violence, regardless of the motivation for that violence, is fully understood. MADDOW: And do you -- there is this issue with the Boston bombing, and of course today is the one-year anniversary, it`s a very painful anniversary. There is this sort of -- almost feels like an outlier detail in terms of the way we think of it, that in the older suspect`s apartment, there was this stack of, you know, right-wing, anti-Semitic, very Aryan Nation style literature, while at the same time, we`ve seen very well documented and seem as very central as to our understanding the case is Islamic radicalism. Is that sort of a mixture of different forms of extremism, an unheard of thing? LEITER: No, it really isn`t. We all know -- we think of America as a melting pot. And we used to say in the counterterrorism community, it`s a slightly bizarre melting pot of extremist violence as well. You would have people who are associated with al Qaeda also sort of living what you might think of as a traditional gangster lifestyle. But the two are totally in conflict. Or reading white supremacist literature. So it`s not totally unheard of. I think in the case of Tsarnaev, it`s pretty clear what motivated the Boston bombing. But what can`t be lost and what you`ve raised is there are also other systemic threats. There are other ideologically motivated violent threats in the U.S. that we have to focus on. And sometimes there is cross-over, no matter how nonsensical it is, spotting that is simply another indicator of identifying the people who aren`t just extreme in their thoughts, but are actually turning to violence. MADDOW: Yes. And to see that, for me, what is frustrating is to watch the sort of news response and the man on the street response, which is that there`s no larger story to tell about all these continued acts of extremism if they come from the American right, but there is a larger story to tell about other forms of extremism I think. It`s just a frustrating disconnect for me but thank you for helping me understand it. Appreciate it. LEITER: My pleasure. MADDOW: Michael Leiter is the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. We`re lucky to have him here at NBC and MSNBC. We got much more ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Troops, tanks, airfields, and the next 24 hours, which could be the difference between peace and war. Richard Engel is going to join us live in just a moment. At the kind of moment in international tensions when you really want to hear what`s happening from Richard Engel. Hold on. He`s with us in just a second. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is James Simpson. James Simpson is a State Transportation commissioner, which is not one of the glamour jobs of government in any state. But what James Simpson is showing us here, what he`s pointing out in this picture is kind of a marquee government thing that lots of people tend to care about. What James Simpson is pointing out is these pictures is the rapidly rusting out underbelly of a great big important bridge. This particular bridge is about 80 years old. It`s called the Pulaski Skyway. It connects a couple of good sized cities. It connects Newark, Jersey City, and Jersey City, New Jersey, on the way into New York City from New Jersey. The Pulaski Skyway carries something like 70,000 cars every day, give or take. But that major, major piece of infrastructure is just flat falling apart. And so this state transportation commissioner, James Simpson, he`s been out there explaining to the public why his department needs to close down this major bridge coming into New York and they need to shut it down for two whole years. Commissioner Simpson has set up a Web site explaining how this is going to work for commuters. They`ve started a Twitter account with the latest options for getting to work. They`ve made PSAs, right? They`re trying to be very friendly and they`re going to explain this to everyone, so this major two-year-long shutdown of this major bridge goes as smoothly as possible, especially for the people of Newark and Jersey City, who especially depend on this bridge because that`s where the bridge goes. Well, last summer, Commissioner James Simpson scheduled a meeting with the mayor of Jersey City. The mayor of Jersey City is a Democrat, his name is Steven Fullop. And you`ll remember that Mayor Fullop is the guy who had all those meetings set up with officials from the New Jersey Governor`s Office but then all those meetings got canceled one after another, most of them in the space of an hour after the mayor told the governor`s office that he wasn`t going to endorse Governor Chris Christie for re-election in New Jersey. The transportation guy, Commissioner James Simpson, he was one of the people who was scheduled for one of those meetings with the Jersey City mayor. But like everybody else, his meeting with the Jersey City mayor got canceled because Governor Christie didn`t get his endorsement. Now the Chris Christie staffers who canceled all those meetings with the Jersey City mayor, they may or may not have been playing politics when they canceled those meetings. They were playing politics when they canceled those meetings. But the transportation commissioner says he actually did just want to talk about the falling down bridge. And he wanted to talk, specifically about how poor old Jersey City, where the bridge is. He wanted to talk with them about how Jersey City was going to manage the traffic that would be created when they closed this bridge down for two whole years so they could repair it. After his meeting got canceled along with everybody else`s meetings, Commissioner Simpson called Governor Christie`s staff, called specifically Governor Christie`s deputy chief of staff, and asked if she could please reschedule that Jersey City meeting, since it wasn`t just a political favor, it was actually on a really important topic. He told Chris Christie`s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, he told her it, quote, "was an important meeting regarding the upcoming temporary closing of the Pulaski Skyway." He called Bridget Kelly repeatedly, asking if he could please meet with the Jersey City mayor. And apparently the answer was no. Jersey City may need to plan for traffic Armageddon, sure, and the state transportation commissioner may want to help them do that planning, sure, but you know what, Chris Christie had an election to win, and the mayor wasn`t playing along with that reelection effort and Chris Christie`s New Jersey, priorities are priorities in Chris Christie`s -- in Chris Christie`s New Jersey and so no meeting, not at least before the election. Finally in December, after the election, after Governor Christie was re- elected, the transportation commissioner asked again, and this time he asked somebody else in the administration, and then finally, in January, Mr. James Simpson did finally get his meeting, so he could finally start talking to Jersey City about how they were going to handle this two-year shutdown of the bridge. And then, yesterday, they finally shut down the bridge and they started working on it. And I, for one, do not know what Governor Christie needs in order to revive his national political career. I don`t particularly care. But I am willing to guess that what he needs in order to revive his national political career is not more manmade traffic problems. Especially in a situation where the transportation commissioner was begging a Chris Christie staffer named Bridget Kelly to please let him meet with the local mayor to avert the traffic crisis. Especially not when that same Christie staffer that the transportation commissioner was begging is the same Chris Christie staffer who ordered traffic problems for the town of Fort Lee. The extent to which Chris Christie staffers also served as an election machine, and the way the Chris Christie administration governed New Jersey as an election machine, that has been one of the startling revelations of the past few weeks. We began to see some of this in the report issued last month by Randy Mastro, whose law firm was hired by the governor`s office to conduct an internal review of the governor. Yesterday, as Steve Kornacki covered here on the show while I was away yesterday, that law firm released notes from 75 interviews they did for that internal report on the governor`s office. Those notes have more and in some ways more unsettling detail that we didn`t know before. For example, they interviewed a Sandy regional director in the governor`s office. This person served as a conduit between mayors and municipalities in the office of the governor, regarding issues related to Hurricane Sandy, recovery from Hurricane Sandy. That staffer in charge of that issue recalled, according to these notes, that on issues related to Hurricane Sandy, Bridge Kelly needed to check with the Chris Christie re-election campaign, quote, "before approving certain things." He says he was told, for instance, not to bend over backwards to help Hoboken Mayor Don Zimmer, who also was not endorsing Chris Christie for re-election. That official says he treated the Hoboken mayor just the same, but do these new documents from the investigation show that the Christie administration conditioned Sandy relief aid on politics? I mean, if the re-election campaign was involved in clearing decisions about Sandy relief, and if the mayor of New Jersey -- of Jersey City, was boxed out of planning for the closing of the Pulaski Skyway because of political relief, because of political reasons, these both seem like very damning revelations from a report that supposedly clears the governor. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: NBC`s Richard Engel joins us next. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is one of those days when the international section of the news gets really dramatic in its language and it is not melodrama. This is earned. It`s that things really are this tense. Check this out from "The Washington Post" today. Defiant militants have pushed this country to the brink of war or disillusion. In a nation of 44 million people, it became clear that a few hundred men with guns and unmarked uniforms operating on the eastern fringes of the country have brought Ukraine to a deeply dangerous juncture. That was "The Washington Post," from "The New York Times" today, just as ominous. Quote, "The looming threat of war sent the Russian stock market down by 3 percent." In a sign of the heightened tension, the Ukraine seemed to teeter toward a run on bank deposits. Quote, "The Ukrainian troops were not yet moving on the town as of early Tuesday night, but ahead of them, scores of armed men maintained their hold on the city hall. They have barricaded the roads and locals say placed snipers on rooftops." What`s happening is that today became what everyone fears is going to be the first day of a new war. Vladimir Putin may have taken a part of Ukraine called Crimea without firing a shot, but in their determination to not let him take any more of their country. The government in the Ukraine today started to use force to push back pro-Russian forces that had started to, effectively, take over parts of eastern Ukraine. And if it feels like this is a fraught decision and this is a fraught moment, it`s because this is a fraught decision and this is a fraught moment. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIM MACEDA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Today, very carefully, Ukraine`s military fought back. It mobilized helicopters, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and Ukrainian special forces and they re-took a small airfield at Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, which had been seized last week by pro- Russian militants. It was a risk. Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned Ukraine`s new government not to use force against the protesters, raising fears Russia will invade if violence does break out. But with protesters seizing one government building after another in as many as a dozen towns in eastern Ukraine, some say with plenty of Russian help, Ukraine`s acting president felt he had to act. Responsibly and cautiously, he said, to protect citizens, stop terror, and stop attempts to tear the country apart. Ukrainian forces have been mobilized, but so far they have not retaken any of those occupied buildings. And angry protesters make it clear they aren`t leaving. Here in Donetsk, the barricades grow larger, the protesters more defiant. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That`s NBC`s Jim Maceda in eastern Ukraine today. NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel has long warned that what Russia was looking for here was anything that they could call a provocation, anything that Russia could cite as a justification for invading Ukraine proper. Has that now happened in the last 24 hours? Joining us now is NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Richard, thank you for being here. RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It`s absolutely a pleasure. It`s good to see you in person. MADDOW: Thank you. You too. And welcome back from Afghanistan. ENGEL: Thank you. And for that Ukraine and Crimea, and looks like I`m going to be heading -- (CROSSTALK) MADDOW: Back there again? ENGEL: Yes. MADDOW: Well, you had talked while you were there before, we`re trying to sort of figure out where the edge of the envelope was in terms of what Putin was going to push toward a new -- (CROSSTALK) ENGEL: I`m not sure if Putin knows where the edge of the -- MADDOW: OK. Well, is this the kind of provocation he`s looking for? ENGEL: Not yet. MADDOW: OK. ENGEL: Not yet. People keep talking about will Russia invade, will the zero hour come? I`m not sure that`s the way we should frame the argument. MADDOW: OK. ENGEL: I think it has already begun. I think this is Russia`s way of taking over eastern Ukraine. It is a step by step approach. He sends in these militias. He activates sympathetic militias. A lot of these militias by the way aren`t just Russian troops in uniforms. They`re local Ukrainians who also have Russian nationality, Russian citizenship, who live right in that border area. And you mobilize these people. That is stage one of a -- effective takeover. MADDOW: Well, that`s what Crimea looked like in stage one as well in some ways. I mean there were Russian troops on the border, but a lot of what happened inside Crimea was Russians speaking and Russian -- allied populations inside. ENGEL: Crimea was much easier because you had Russian bases in Crimea. And the Russian troops on their bases simply went outside and deputized all the people around them who were sympathetic to them and they just took over. Here in Eastern Ukraine, first of all it`s a much bigger area. And you have -- don`t have the Russian bases there. So they`re doing it just with the militias. Unions. Sometimes motorcycle gangs. Whoever is sympathetic to Russia is now being mobilized. They`re taking buildings. And the Ukrainian government has a tough, tough call to make. MADDOW: Well, now that they have moved Ukrainian troops into these areas. And this is -- these last 24 hours has been very dramatic in terms of these confrontations. ENGEL: They`ve moved them in. MADDOW: They`ve moved them in. ENGEL: They took a tiny airfield. MADDOW: Yes. ENGEL: But if you listen to that report, that was just on. MADDOW: They`re not taking the buildings. ENGEL: They haven`t taken the buildings yet. You go. Start clearing out buildings. Start killing people. Then you could have a different situation. Don`t forget the narrative. Vladimir Putin has said, very clearly, the government in Kiev is controlled by Nazis. These are from his point of view, which is being spread in the Russian media, Nazis, who are controlling the government who are backed by Europe and Washington. That`s who he is telling the Russian people and the people of Ukraine he`s fighting. And he is saying that the Nazis have taken over. The Nazis killed a lot of Jews, they also killed a lot of Russians, so it has a deep residence in the local, you know, history and the local sentiment. The Nazis have come back, they`ve come back to power in Ukraine. This is the scenario anyway. And we can`t allow these Nazis to go kill lots of good Russian folk. We have to go in and protect those people who are begging for our assistance. That`s the scenario he`s presenting. So if suddenly this government, this Nazi, CIA-backed, pro-Washington -- (CROSSTALK) MADDOW: That wantonly kill Russians. ENGEL: That wants to wantonly kill Russians starts actually killing Russians then I could see coming up in the next few days, Vladimir Putin saying, well, we had no choice, this is a humanitarian act. We had to send in peacekeepers, otherwise the Nazis would take over. MADDOW: So what is the Ukrainian government`s range of options then? I mean, that narrative, I believe that Vladimir Putin is a little bit of a kook. I don`t believe he -- ENGEL: I don`t think he`s a kook. MADDOW: I believe that he is using that in a very smart way. Not sure that he totally believes that it is true whether or not he`s talked himself into it. But he must realize that that boxes the Ukrainian government into not being able to act to protect their own territory. ENGEL: Well, that`s the whole point. MADDOW: So how do they get out of that box? ENGEL: I think he -- the Ukrainian government is in a very difficult box because -- and look where they`re reaching out to. The Ukrainian government is asking for help from Washington, from the EU, from the United Nations. And so far the help hasn`t really been coming. They lost Crimea, which was a blow, but I think even the government in Kiev kind of accepted that. This part of eastern Ukraine is half the country. They can`t lose half the country. Otherwise they`re a failed state. MADDOW: Does Ukraine have the sort of tactical infrastructure to fight to hold on to this part of their country if they decide to do it by fighting? ENGEL: No, not really. MADDOW: No. ENGEL: If they -- if they fight against just the militias, maybe they`ll win against the militias or maybe they`ll lose. If they fight against Russia, they`ll be -- they`ll be done in an hour. They don`t have the kind of force. MADDOW: NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, this is very - - this is -- I know you`re -- when you see a story like this you think oh, I better get there, better closer to it. This is the sort of story that makes me want to, like, hide under a pillow for a moment. ENGEL: Well, it`s just the idea that -- MADDOW: It`s terrifying. ENGEL: It`s happening. It`s not -- MADDOW: Yes. ENGEL: We always -- are the Russians going to go in? I think it`s happening. MADDOW: They`re already there. ENGEL: This is the phase one of a maybe four or five-phase plan. MADDOW: NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, thank you for being here, my friend. ENGEL: Absolutely. MADDOW: Try to stay safe as always. I know you are on your way to some where dangerous. You always are. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There are some news happening right now in Boston on the night of the one-year anniversary of the bombings at the Boston marathon. Law enforcement have been on the scene and the scene is the area that is the finish line of the Boston marathon every year and that of course has some pretty terrible resonance on this anniversary because of last year`s bombing. But at around 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight in Boston, this is the strange scenario that has been reported. A man who was reportedly barefoot and wearing a large black veil over his head was reportedly walking down the street near the finish line for the marathon and he was carrying two large backpacks underneath the veil. Reportedly he was yelling "Boston Strong" as he made his way down the street. The man dropped both backpacks near the finish line along Boylston Street and at that point, unsurprisingly, the man was apprehended and taken into custody by the Boston Police. Now the police have cleared out the area around the finish line tonight. They`ve created a perimeter around the two backpack as they have investigated their contents. That investigation continues and the bomb squad has been on the scene but get this, less than an hour ago, the bomb squad issued a one-minute warning to people in the area. An officer called fire in the hole. That was followed by a loud boom and an explosion. Reportedly that was one of the backpacks being blown up by the bomb squad. Then just moments ago, another fire in the hole call was issued, followed by another warning and another loud boom. The bomb squad apparently detonated the second of the two of bags. And that is the breaking news out of Boston tonight. Strange and obviously weirdly resonant news out of Boston tonight on the anniversary of the Boston bombings. And just six days from when runners will be streaming through that area for the next running of the Boston marathon. That does it for us tonight. Thank you for being with us. We`ll see you again tomorrow night. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD." THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END