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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 06/23/14

Guests: Steve Clemons

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. That looks incredible. All right. Thank you. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. OK. So, surely this is not the first time this has happened. Surely, this has happened before, somewhere. It`s America. We have a lot of elections. Big country. Has to have happened somewhere. Maybe it`s even happened before in a United States Senate race, but if it has happened before, I have to be honest with you, all my years watching politics, all my years reporting on this stuff, I have never heard about something like this happening before. For me, this is the first time I have ever heard a candidate for U.S. Senate, indeed, an incumbent United States senator, go out to a campaign event and tell the people there for his campaign event in a speech, into a live microphone, it`s not like these were candid comments, but deliberate remarks at a political event. He told the assembled group for his campaign event that when he was a child, when he was a young man, he used to enjoy committing indecent acts with farm animals. But that happened. He said it. It really happened. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. THAD COCHRAN (R), MISSISSIPPI: Trying to get back as often as we could because it was fun. It was an adventure to be out there in the country, and to see what goes on. Picking up the pecans, and from that, all kinds of indecent things to animals. So, I know what that is. But the whole point of the story is -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The whole point of the story is -- all kinds of indecent things with animals. I mean, no matter what the next thing is, you`re going to stay in the speech. At that point, I`m sort of distracted. The whole point of what you`ve just been talking about is all kinds of indecent things with animals. You know, he got a big laugh in the room when he said it. Obviously, that was Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi. It was him speaking in Hattiesburg not long ago. It is remarkable, though, right, he`s trying to be re-elected to United States Senate seat. This is an official campaign event. He gets this big laugh in the room when he says "indecent things with animals." And then there`s the sort of awkward pause after the big laugh and then he gives the little smile then he says, I know you know what I`m talking about. I -- I don`t. Maybe this happens all the time. And this is just part of political rhetoric that I`ve missed. Maybe lots of campaigns have anecdotes like this. I personally have never heard somebody campaign for office with a knowing joke about how we`ve all had sex with animals. This happened? This happened. A PAC that is supporting the Tea Party challenge to Senator Cochran then turned that piece of that speech into a radio ad, and right after they played that clip of Senator Cochran saying all kinds of indecent things with animals, they then played a sheep sound effect, to put quite too fine a point on it. Listen. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) NARRATOR: Mississippi Senior Senator Thad Cochran said just last week that growing up, it was fun to do. COCHRAN: All kinds of indecent things with animals. SHEEP: Baaaa! NARRATOR: Tell Thad Cochran you`re no farm animal and you`re not going to take being on the receiving end of his so-called "fun" any longer. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: This is what this race is like in Mississippi. His so- called fun. Thad Cochran`s so-called fun. Right? In this instance would be what he`s doing to the sheep to make it baaa like that. Yes. So things are not going great for Mississippi`s incumbent Republican Senator Thad Cochran, because this is what his race is like right now. In the Republican primary to hold on to his own seat in the Senate, a few weeks ago, Senator Cochran, of course, lost to his Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. Tomorrow is the runoff in the race since neither of them cleared 50 percent. There is not great polling in the state, at least on this race. But everybody including, Senator Thad Cochran seems to recognize that farm animal jokes or no, he is in trouble in this race, so much so that Thad Cochran is now casting a net way beyond the usual Republican electorate in Mississippi and Thad Cochran is now trying to find votes wherever he can. The great state of Mississippi has a higher percentage of African- American residents than any other state in the country. In 2012, the Mississippi electorate was 36 percent black, highest in the nation. And although you do not register by party in the state of Mississippi, you can usually tell by what elections people choose to participate in just how racially polarizes the electoral politics are in that state. In the 2012 Republican primary for president in Mississippi, for example, again, in a state where 36 percent of the electorate is black, in the GOP primary that year, only 2 percent of the people who participated in that race were black. So, yes, there`s a lot of black voters in Mississippi, but they are almost 100 percent voting Democratic if you want to extrapolate from the available evidence. Well, Thad Cochran is trying to pull out a win in this runoff tomorrow by appealing to black voters in Mississippi, even though black voters overwhelmingly vote Democratic in the state. Now, you don`t have to be a Republican to vote in tomorrow`s runoff. It`s an open primary. The Cochran campaign and his supporters at first very quietly with these ads in Mississippi black newspapers and then increasingly openly they just started making a pitch that black voters in Mississippi, again, who are overwhelmingly Democratic voters in the state, they started making the pitch that black voters, Democratic voters, ought to cross over and make an effort to turn out to vote in this runoff tomorrow. Either vote for Thad Cochran or vote against Chris McDaniel. Doesn`t matter what your motivation is. But they`ve been making the case that black Democratic voters should turn out for this important race because Thad Cochran needs every vote that he can get and he may not be able to do it with Republican voters alone. This is a really interesting position for the black voters of Mississippi, right? For them to be in, right? They`re not used to being courted by Republican politicians. They`re not used to being courted in any statewide races at all. But in this one, conceivably, they might make a difference. A lot of people reporting on this race tomorrow are saying that, in fact, this strategy, this crossover strategy is really Thad Cochran`s only hope of holding on to this Senate seat. At "The Clarion Ledger" today, a reporter, Sam Hall, who`s been covering the race there says whatever concerted effort has been made to court black Democratic voters in Mississippi and have them participate in this race tomorrow, so far, it`s not manifesting in uptick in absentee votes from heavily black districts. Still, though, reportedly the Cochran campaign is trying -- trying to lure black voters which is leading to headlines like this. "Democrat says he`s leading black get out the vote effort for Cochran." Headlines like this, in the local Mississippi press, also leading to headlines like this in the national press. "GOP senator courts blacks in Mississippi primary race." And just as surely as headlines like this started appearing in the national press, what do you think happened next? In recent years, we`ve grown used to this generation of voter suppression and voter intimidation tactics for partisan purposes in our country. Republicans and conservative groups frequently over the last few years have been making spurious claims about voted vote fraud, or voting shenanigans and the need for more voter integrity measures, wherever there are large Democratic constituencies, particularly minority voters. And so, you know, the early voting days heavily used by black churches, those early voting days get specifically targeted for elimination by Republican election officials and conservative activists. Forms of government documentation that disproportionately are not held by minority voters, it suddenly becomes mandatory you have to show those specific documents if you want to be able to vote. And if you don`t have those documents, maybe that means there`s something suspicious about you and you shouldn`t be voting anyway, risks of voter fraud. When Tea Party groups turn themselves into poll watching voter integrity groups starting in Texas in 2010, the places that found themselves getting watched the most by the self-appointed voting vigilantes, they were heavily Democratic minority neighborhoods. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: So, we went to watch the watchers. We started in Tomball. Here, we found no poll watchers at all and we`re told there have been none here this election. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice little town we have here. REPORTER: We went to ethnically diverse and affluent Jersey village. Same thing. No poll watchers. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to vote today, ma`am? REPORTER: Next, we went to the mostly black, low-income neighborhoods of South Central Houston. Though our camera wasn`t allowed inside the Sunnyside Head Start Center, we saw two poll watchers, both Anglo Republicans sitting a few feet behind the voting booths. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Just a few feet behind the voting booths. When the Tea Party group True the Vote announced they wanted to recruit 1 million poll watchers around the country for the 2012 presidential election, their national elections coordinator announced the job of those 1 million poll watchers would be to make voters feel like they are, quote, "driving and seeing the police follow you." For all the usual partisan reasons, we are used to seeing vote intimidation and voter suppression tactics directed against particularly minority communities in general elections. If you put up billboards like this in minority neighborhoods and you send enough tough guy white male poll watchers to enough polling places, maybe you can suppress enough Democratic-leaning minority votes to help the Republican win the general election. That`s the usual script, right, over the last few years. It`s the usual latest script in the latest iteration for a fight of voting rights in our country and we sort of gotten used to it. But in Mississippi tomorrow, there`s no general election. There`s no Democrat on the ballot tomorrow. But there are definitely black voters in play. And so, it was probably just a matter of time between these headlines about Thad Cochran seeking black voter support in Mississippi tomorrow and then the latest round of headlines which look like this. "The New York Times," Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots all announcing yesterday they would be deploying poll watchers, observers. Conservatives plan to use poll watchers in Mississippi. And they say they`re specifically going to be using them in areas where Senator Cochran is recruiting Democrats which in Mississippi means black voters. They`re calling it a voter integrity project. The True the Vote group, the one that makes you want to feel like there`s a cop in your rearview mirror while you`re voting, they say they, quote, "decided to take a closer look in Mississippi because of the acknowledged effort of Cochran operatives to mobilize a crossover vote among traditionally Democrat voters." Traditionally, Democrat voters in Mississippi would mean black voters. The head of the Senate Conservatives Fund is now Ken Cuccinelli. You remember him. The Cooch. You remember him from Virginia politics and losing the governor`s race there. Ken Cuccinelli tells "The New York Times" that his group is funding this poll watching effort in black districts in Mississippi because, quote, "We`re going to lay eyes on Cochran`s effort to bring Democrats in." And the conservative media is doing everything they can to help. The headline at the Breitbart right wing Web site. Look. It`s illegal for Democrats to vote in the Mississippi primary tomorrow. It`s illegal. No, it is not. It`s definitely not illegal for anybody to vote in the Mississippi primary tomorrow unless they cast a Democratic vote in the lightly attended Democratic primary in Mississippi on June 3rd, right? If you just say broadly it`s illegal for Democrats to vote tomorrow, maybe you might dissuade from Democrats from voting tomorrow. Desperate times apparently call for desperate measures. Or the same old racist politics call for the same old racist measures. Even when it is a runoff like this and not a general election, apparently this stuff they think will work. And it is kind of amazing timing. I mean, outside of this Senate race in Mississippi, the past week in Mississippi has pretty much been dominated by the fact that we are right now at the 50-year anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. At the end of last week, we sent producers to Meridian, Mississippi, to the grave site of James Chaney of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, the three civil rights workers who were killed trying to register black people to vote in Mississippi 50 years ago this weekend. That exact same weekend the 50-year anniversary of the murder of those three civil rights workers in Mississippi, that exact same weekend, conservatives deploy poll watchers to black precincts in Mississippi. You know, this is a race that has featured a break-in to a nursing home to take pictures of an elderly woman with dementia. It has featured campaign staffers being locked inside a county courthouse on election night at 2:00 in the morning with all the ballots. It`s featured the incumbent candidate reminiscing into a microphone about the rocking good times he had with livestock back in the day. There are all sorts of different levels at which this Mississippi race has been absolutely viscerally disgusting. But re-enacting the wrong side of Mississippi Freedom Summer, that one has got to be pretty close to the top. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) NARRATOR: Mississippi Senior Senator Thad Cochran said just last week that growing up, it was fun to do. COCHRAN: All kinds of indecent things with animals. SHEEP: Baaaa! NARRATOR: Tell Thad Cochran you`re no farm animal and you`re not going to take being on the receiving end of his so-called "fun" any longer. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Incumbent Republican Senator Thad Cochran is in real danger of losing his U.S. Senate seat tomorrow, in a runoff with a Tea Party challenger whose name is Chris McDaniel. It has been a very weird race to say the least, farm animals and all. But this weekend, after national reports followed local Mississippi reports that the Cochran campaign was targeting black Democratic voters in Mississippi to cross party lines and vote for Thad Cochran in tomorrow`s runoff, after those headlines surfaced nationally, national conservative groups announced that they would be deploying poll watchers, some from Mississippi, some from out of state, specifically to go into the state of Mississippi tomorrow and effectively stand guard, over-mostly Democratic and mostly, therefore, black precincts during tomorrow`s voting. They`re calling it a voter integrity project. I can think of other things to call it, too. Joining us now from Jackson, Mississippi, is Perry Bacon Jr. He`s NBC News senior political reporter. Perry, thanks very much for being with us. It`s pleasure to have you here. PERRY BACON, JR., NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Thanks, Rachel. Of course. MADDOW: Let me ask you about this sort of -- it`s been a wild ride this whole race. There`s been a late turn in the national news about this race, which is that national conservative groups say they`re going to flood the state with poll watchers, specifically because they`re worried about the Cochran campaign trying to get Democratic voters to vote tomorrow. What evidence are you seeing of that in the state or what discussion of that are you seeing of that in the state? BACON: A lot of discussion here. We don`t really know the question of how many black Democrats are going to vote in the primary. The assumption, particularly the campaign is not very many. This is a very racially polarized state as you noted earlier. Not a lot of Democrats vote Republican ever. So, we don`t expect that. But two developments have happened today. First of all, the secretary of state`s office had a joint release with the attorney general`s office here in Mississippi and they laid out very carefully that no organization is allowed to set up a group of poll watchers in each poll. You`re allowed by state law here to have, each campaign can have one person designated in the polling, in the precinct and that`s it. So, they`re trying to lay out pretty quickly that this is not something they expect. They are concerned and they are trying to address that. The second thing I would say is, I asked McDaniel about this a few months ago, couple of hours, about the poll watchers. He told me was, quote, "We just want to make sure this election is fair." And I try to follow up. He kind of stopped me there. But he did not disavow the poll watchers at all. At the same time, I should note it`s not his campaign doing it, Senate Conservatives Fund doing the -- are bringing the poll watchers. So, they`re not supposed to coordinate legally, at least. MADDOW: Perry, in terms of what`s expected with turnout and basically the conducting of the election, obviously Mississippi has its new voter ID law that`s going to be in effect for this race tomorrow. That`s going to be a change. There is going to be apparently some sort of issue. We don`t know exactly how it`s going to manifest with these poll watchers. Plus, there`s the fact that this isn`t just a primary. It`s a runoff in a specific race. Are they expecting a lot of people to turn out? Obviously, the race has a lot of national buzz and it`s very important. BACON: The general assumption is, in almost all cases, runoffs have much lower turnout than general election than the primary does. This is a unique situation, like you said. So, both campaigns I talked to today, they were not sure how big the turnout would be or who`s there. McDaniel supporters are definitely more enthusiastic and one clue to what`s going to happen is obviously if Cochran thought he was going to win the race with Republicans, he wouldn`t be trying to find black voters to vote for him. So, that tells you he needs -- if the electorate is the one similar to the one three weeks ago, McDaniel will win. I tend to think in the way that Cochran people are very nervous. He has a lot of events tomorrow. McDaniel is behaving confidently, that the controversies may not matter as much as we thought because McDaniel may get a pretty convincing victory tomorrow. MADDOW: In terms of the ongoing hostilities in the party, it has been remarkable to see -- I mean, just the boldfaced names. I mean, Mississippi doesn`t have all that many people who are nationally known in terms of their politics, but everybody in the state who`s nationally known in terms of their politics is on one side or the other of this fight between the two camps and does not seem to be any love lost between them. I mean, if McDaniel does win tomorrow, I think he is -- I think you`re right that he is expected to win tomorrow, what`s going to happen to the Republican establishment there? Are they going to be able to get behind him, or is McDaniel going to be essentially governing from hostile territory for any time that he sits there on top? BACON: You`re right, Rachel. Very striking that he had an event today, Cochran did, all three congressmen there. Lieutenant governor there. The governor there. John McCain there supporting him. There`s a TV ad that runs I think every five seconds here showing Brett Favre, the most popular person I`m sure in Mississippi endorsing Cochran as well. There`s a lot of bad blood between Haley Barbour who`s kind of the official head of the Republican Party in reality here in Mississippi, and McDaniel or things McDaniel did when Barbour was governor. At the same time, eventually -- they need, this is a very poor state and why the electorate want Cochran to win. Their view is he can bring more earmarks back. But no matter who they have in the Senate, they need that person to get earmarks to the state. This is a very poor state, and protect their military bases. So, you saw McCain today in an interview already hinting he would find a way to work with McDaniel down the line. People here are acknowledging McDaniel is likely to win. I think you will see some kind of unity event after the election and people joining with him and saying he can serve us the same way Trent Lott did and Cochran did as well. MADDOW: Perry Bacon Jr., NBC News senior political reporter from Mississippi tonight. Perry, thanks for being with us. It`s great to have you there. Thanks, man. BACON: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. Very busy night tonight. There are Democrats thinking about supporting a Republican, as opposed to not just the Mississippi story, but a totally different case, in a totally different angle. That story is coming up. Plus, big news from the Iraq and Syria situation, including some major news concerning the group that won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Stipulated. Admitted. Senator John McCain`s deep end hawkishness is so prolific, so repeated and so predictable that he has turned the eardrums of most thinking people into sort of nonstick Teflon. So, you know who he`s going to say so you can`t quite hear that he says anything. Like that old "Far Side" cartoon where the dog owner is patiently explaining some complicated thing to the dog, Ginger, and all the dog hears is Ginger, blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger, right? It`s like that with John McCain, except it`s not anything to do with a jog or Ginger. It`s more like blah, blah, blah, arm the rebels, blah, blah, blah, arm the rebels. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: They need anti-tank and anti-air weapons. We should get arms to them so that we can balance the forces. It`s not a fair fight. There are ways to get weapons into Syria. It is time we gave them the wherewithal to fight back. AK-47s don`t do very well against tanks. They need anti-tank weapons and need anti-air weapons. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: It`s arm the rebels o`clock. Do you know where your Senator John McCain is? Well, today there has been really, really explosive reporting on why John McCain not getting us to arm the rebels this time, might have just had even bigger and more sobering consequences than usual. It is kind of amazing reporting. And we`ve got the source of it with us, coming up. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: New "New York Times"/CBS poll just came out tonight. It says that overall, the American public does not think that the United States has a responsibility to do something about the security situation in Iraq right now. The proportion of Americans who say we do have a responsibility to get back involved is 42 percent overall. The proportion of Americans who say we don`t have that responsibility is 50 percent. And this is really interesting. They haven`t released the cross tabs yet. But "The New York Times" when they wrote up their own poll results, they say when you poll Americans right now on whether or not we have this responsibility to get back involved in Iraq, given how things are devolving there, here`s a very interesting subset in how they poll. Americans who served in the military in Iraq or Afghanistan or Americans who have had immediate family members serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, those Americans it turns out are less inclined to say that the United States right now has a responsibility to go back into Iraq to try to help. Military families and service members even less than the population at large think we ought to be going back into Iraq. Well, today, the news out of Iraq was terrible. Over the course of the weekend and into today, the few thousand fighters of the Sunni militant group that has taken over such wide swaths of Iraq, they not only claimed control of a number of new towns today and over the last few days, they also claimed to now control one of Iraq`s border crossings with Jordan and two of Iraq`s border crossings with Syria. The Syrian civil war and the fighting in Iraq were already bleeding into one another. But if this radical Sunni group controls border crossings between the two countries, that means they have free rein to move material, and men, and weapons and anything else between these two troubled countries and that is bad news for anybody who is trying to fight them. Coincidentally, though, on the day we learned about ISIS taking those two border crossings with Syria, we did also get one bright sliver of good news. Today, international weapons inspectors announced Syria has handed over the last of its declared stockpiles of chemical weapons, and, yes, it`s possible that they`ve still got something undeclared hidden away somewhere. That`s always possible. But what they declared and what they have now handed over basically matches the experts` estimates of how much they had in total, and in terms of what we know they had, it`s now gone, all of it, and the United States is taking responsibility for destroying all of it. And as horrible as the Iraq situation is, and as horrible as the ongoing Syrian civil war is, what today`s announcement means is that as ISIS takes over swaths of Iraq and Syria and takes over towns and empties out the banks in towns and takes over border crossings and seizes weapons and vehicles from the troops that fled the battlefield rather than fight them, in the midst of all at that nightmare in the region, one of the things they are not getting is stockpiles of chemical weapons. And as recently as six months ago, that might have been a very different story because Syria had huge stockpiles of chemical weapons until today. They finished handing them over. In terms of what ISIS does have access to, Steve Clemons has a report today at "The Atlantic" magazine that will make your head spin around on your neck. The headline there refers to this statement by Republican Senator John McCain back in January. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: Not to mention what`s happening in Syria, of course, where, again, the United States is disengaged. Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, we`re starting to see a little bit of reversal there, thank God. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Thank God. Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar specifically, because they`re not disengaged. They`re doing what needs done says senator arm the rebels. But Steve Clemons reports after those comments on CNN in January, the king of Saudi Arabia actually relieved Prince Bandar of his Syrian covert action portfolio. Quoting Mr. Clemons, "Sources close to the royal court told me that, in fact, the king fired Prince Bandar over his handling of the kingdom`s Syria policy." And what was the kingdom`s Syria policy under Prince Bandar? Although they have denied it, Steve quotes officials from Qatar admitting that country has been funding and supplying the al Qaeda-linked Sunni militant group fighting in Syria that`s called al Nusra. But as for the other Sunni militant group fighting in Syria and also now controlling border crossings between Syria and Iraq and taking over huge swaths of Iraq, as for that group, ISIS, look at this. As one senior Qatari official stated, ISIS has been a Saudi project. So, the United States didn`t provide arms to the rebels the way that Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham and others demanded. Instead, the U.S. pursued a policy of removing all the chemical weapons stockpiles from Syria. That has now worked. Chemical weapons are gone. But it turns out the country that did arm the rebels the way John McCain and Lindsey Graham and all the rest wanted -- thank God for Saudi Arabia -- this new reporting at least alleges what happened to the group that they armed and funded is that that group became the Frankenstein monster that, yes, has done pretty well against Assad in Syria, but, boy, have they done great in Iraq. They`ve done way better in Iraq taking over whole huge swaths of what we used to consider to be the nation of Iraq, but which now may be dissolving as a country. Joining us now, Steve Clemons, editor at large for "The Atlantic" and senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Steve, thanks for being with us. And congratulations on this very scary story. STEVE CLEMONS, THE ATLANTIC: Thank you. Well, thanks in a way. MADDOW: Well, let me ask you about -- let me just ask you to extrapolate on what I just said and your broader findings here. The Saudi government does not admit to having funded and armed ISIS as far as I know. But you`re essentially reporting that they made it happen through unofficial channels, partially at the behest of some American senators. CLEMONS: Well, I mean, there`s a lot of interesting evidence around this. The most important of which after Senator McCain who, to be clear, I don`t think Senator McCain overtly want to support ISIS. Senator McCain has been frustrated with how the good and warm and fuzzy Syrian opposition hasn`t been more effective in wanting those folks armed and was praising Bandar in a way for doing things the U.S. wouldn`t or couldn`t do. And what Bandar was doing, this was the head of Saudi intelligence at the time, was essentially running an operation of coddling and building what became the most effective fighting force against Assad inside Syria. And that has now become a monster. What has happened is in February, well, it happened in January and February, our intelligence establishment and our national security establishment, people like Susan Rice became very worried, began convening the intelligence directors and czars from that region and saying these groups that we are seeing emerge as the defining edge of the Syrian resistance are affiliated with al Qaeda, are ferocious and we fear them. That we worry about them. And at that point, the king in Saudi Arabia relieved Bandar of his covert responsibilities and gave him to the interior minister in Saudi Arabia and David Ignatius and people reported about the shift in said day attention, away from those that had been not necessarily mentioned but the ISIS crowd and toward the more moderate parts of the Syrian opposition. So, we know clearly the calendar point of a shift from the radicals at one level to another. But we`re talking about February of this year. March of this year. Bandar was just fired in mid-April, shortly after President Obama`s visit with King Abdullah. So, this has been percolating for some time. MADDOW: Steve, in terms of the American role here -- obviously, I don`t feel we know very much about exactly what we have been providing to the various groups of Syrian rebels. I mean, the White House has been talking about nonmilitary aid and making sure they two go to vetted rebels and reports about CIA assets on the ground making sure that they`re essentially if not training at least trying to organize -- do some organizing in terms of the forces against Assad. Is the United States government also implicated in any way in directly or indirectly supplying the most radical of these groups that is now causing such trouble in Iraq? CLEMONS: I don`t believe so with the exception of Syria`s naivety. In the sense that what was happening as lower level arms and munitions and even money was reaching certain parts of the FSA, the Free Syrian Army, and being funneled through this. A lot of this material was either being hijacked by al Nusra, or ISIS, or in fact the FSA forces were selling it to them. So, this was leeching out from the FSA forces to the others and we would see U.S. made and also French arms and other arms provided through channels that were typically coming from the Turkish border and whatnot -- that would end up in ISIS` hands and al Nusra`s hands. So, it was a function of naivety in my view in the United States. But what began to happen is Prince Bandar was really trying to organize a much more substantial opposition to Bashar al Assad and trying to basically convene a number of components including ISIS to attack Damascus. And two of those groups, serious arms and money were provided. Now, the Saudi government says it didn`t provide those funds. What Prince Bandar was able to do was to maneuver and direct an enormous amount of private money from Saudi private sources to these groups. MADDOW: Getting -- just thinking about the fungibility of arms in that way, that you can, yes, control who you give them to, but you can`t then control what they do with them. CLEMONS: Or what they`re sold -- MADDOW: Or what they`re sold for, who they`re stolen by, who they get -- who ends up getting them once there`s a defeat on the battlefield. I mean, anything that happens to them. Once you supplied a gun, it doesn`t go away. And in that context, thinking about there being chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, I mean, this news today chemical weapons are out of Syria, it`s being treated as if it`s some sidebar issue that has no relevance -- CLEMONS: It`s an enormous issue. It`s an enormous success to the White House. It`s important to remember what would have happened had we attacked at that point and not had the leverage to get Syria to give up 1,300 tons of chemical agents? Those chemical agents would still be there, probably weaponized or on their way to being weaponized and making this dissolution of the border between Syria and Iraq so much more consequential than we see today. So, the White House deserves enormous credit for doing that. In the near term, those chemical weapons were Israel`s greatest near-term threat. They`ve now been removed. So, it`s an enormous accomplishment on that level even though there are many other nightmares to deal with, some of which were created, as I write, by Prince Bandar, and it kind of teaches a lesson about humility and knee-jerk actions, when one is thinking about, how do you arm an opposition? You got to think about the blowback. We saw this in the Afghan war with the mujahidin. That in many of those remnants led to 9/11, and today, we`re seeing it happen in Iraq. MADDOW: Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for "The Atlantic", with again, this bombshell story today -- no pun intended -- Steve, thank you for coming on the show to help us understand it. It`s good to see you. CLEMONS: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: An Iraq weapons of mass destruction story, the exact opposite of the Iraq weapons of mass destruction story we all know from a decade ago. All right. Political trickery is sometimes evil. Political trickery is sometimes hilarious. And some political trickery works so well, it gets taught in political science classes and political consultants patent these tricks and try them all over the country because they`ve worked so well somewhere important. One of those tricks saved a Senate seat for the Democratic Party in 2012, and they are going to try to use the same trick again tomorrow in an unexpected place, and it`s not Mississippi. We`ve got the tape of how they`re going to try to pull it off, and that`s coming up. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: How do executions actually happen in this country, logistically speaking? In one state, this is a description of the various parts of the execution team, how they communicate with each other during an execution as the prisoner is being killed. Quote, "We have colored pencils. We`ve got a regular yellow. We`ve got a black grease pencil, a red grease pencil. If you saw red, there might be possible problems. But if you see the black or yellow, things are fine." There`s a wall between the room where people push down the syringes to administer the drugs, and the room where the prisoner into whom those drugs are being pushed is actually sitting or strapped down. Two separate rooms. There`s a hole in that wall between the two rooms and the system to make sure everything is going OK poking colored pencils through the hole in the wall, that is part of the ad hoc catches catch can protocol for how they kill people in the great state of Oklahoma, where they notoriously botched the execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett this past April. Well, now, the excellent newspaper, "The Tulsa World", has published a three-part series exposing unbelievable details about Oklahoma`s death penalty and the way it`s administered. Today`s print edition part two titled "Lethal Lessons" describes how it works in the death chamber beginning with this unnerving scene. Quote, "In a cramp dimly lit room next the to Oklahoma state penitentiary`s death chamber, three volunteer executioners push syringes of lethal drugs into the veins of an inmate they cannot see." While the executioners and the drug administration can hear what`s going on in the execution chamber, one of the more stunning revelations from today`s report is that they have virtually no way of communicating from that chamber that they`re in to where the guy`s actually dying, except for that crude system of code involving colored pencils. The only way the executioners can communicate with the warden in the execution chamber is by sticking colored pencils through the hole in the wall. That`s the same hole in the wall that lets the I.V. line from the drug administration room extend all the way to the inmate`s body. Red pencil through the hole in the wall, there`s a problem. Yellow or black means OK. Amazing. This reporting is I think sort of essential for any reasonable analysis or understanding of the death penalty in our country, which right now is undergoing a massive challenge. And there`s a bunch more of it and "The Tulsa World" has made some really important news here and we`re going to have much more on that later this week. But, right now, we`ve got a really weird story coming up about a big trick the Democrats of trying to play in one election tomorrow that is not in Mississippi, and that story`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: I want to flag something for you about tomorrow`s primaries. Obviously, the marquee event everybody across the country is going to be watching for is that Mississippi Senate race in which incumbent Senator Thad Cochran may very well lose his seat to the neo Confederate Tea Party guy, Chris McDaniel. That`s Mississippi tomorrow night. But there are also primaries and runoffs and special elections tomorrow all over the country. In Florida, South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma, New York, Maryland, and Colorado. Tomorrow`s a big election day in a whole bunch of states. But in Colorado specifically there`s something really interesting to watch. You might remember back in 2012, in the Senate races in 2012, Republicans really thought they were going to pick off Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Claire McCaskill is a fairly conservative Democrat but Republicans thought Missouri was becoming a conservative state, they thought they`d beat her in the general election in 2012. But, first, the Republicans had on pick a candidate to run against her. And the genius move that Claire McCaskill made that year was to essentially try to pick her opponent. She ran ads in the Republican primary to try to make Republicans pick this sort of nut ball guy, Todd Akin, to run against her. I mean, the Republicans had the state treasurer to choose from or a really rich well-known businessman or Todd Akin, the guy with the strong feelings on what counts as a legitimate rape. So, if you`re Claire McCaskill, obviously you`d rather run against Todd Akin, whether it`s Todd Akin versus anybody else in the world you`d always rather run against Todd Akin. So, Claire McCaskill ran this ad in Missouri during the Republican primary and it was ostensibly an ad critical of Todd Akin, but it criticized him by calling him a crusader against bigger government with a pro-family agenda. The McCaskill ad called Todd Akin the most conservative congressman in Missouri, Missouri`s true conservative, to which Republican primary voters said, right on, yes, let`s pick that guy. If Claire McCaskill says he`s too conservative, if Claire McCaskill and all these people say he`s the true conservative, then, yes, let`s pick him. And Todd Akin thus won the Republican nomination. Claire McCaskill got the wing nut candidate she always wanted to run against. She just destroyed him in the general election. Genius, right? Well, it`s happening again. At least they`re trying it again tomorrow in Colorado. Colorado is a purplish state. The incumbent governor is a Democrat, John Hickenlooper. Tomorrow, Republicans in Colorado are going to pick who they want to run against John Hickenlooper and using the Claire McCaskill playbook, Democrats have decided to try to help Republicans make their decision. Democrats are trying to get Republican voters tomorrow in Colorado to pick the Republican nominee who the Democrats would be most excited to run against. There are four Republicans in the primary tomorrow, running for the chance to run against John Hickenlooper for governor. They include a former congressman with a lot of name recognition, the current secretary of state in Colorado. But obviously, the guy who Democrats most want to run against is Tom Tancredo. Tom Tancredo has run for governor before and lost. He`s run for president before and lost, obviously. Tom Tancredo is now a writer for "World Net Daily" and his platform for this run for governor in Colorado is he wants to impeach President Obama. Tom Tancredo also says President Obama should be sent back to Kenya. He says we should bomb Mecca. He says Miami is a third world country. He says the Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, she`s a racist. He says the only reason President Obama was elected is because of, quote, "people who cannot even spell the word vote or say it in English." He says he should have literacy tests for voting. Did I mention that he writes for "World Net Daily" now? So, yes, Democrats in Colorado want to run against that guy, obviously. It turns out they`re not just wishing and hoping for that, they`re actually doing something about it. KTVR in Denver was first to report on this ad run by a liberal group in Colorado, it`s kind of amazing. It again appears on the surface to be an anti-Tom Tancredo ad, but it is totally designed to make conservative Republican primary voters pick Tom Tancredo to be their Republican candidate for governor. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AD NARRATOR: Even as it it`s starting to work, Republican Tom Tancredo is still one of the country`s strongest opponents of Obamacare. He called it crony capitalism on steroids and a monstrous government scam. That`s right. Tancredo believes Obamacare is a scam. Tancredo called the idea of states setting up their own programs futile, and as governor, Tancredo would do everything within his power to undermine the law. Tom Tancredo, he`s just too conservative for Colorado. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Hey, Republican primary voter, do you think you`re too conservative for Colorado, too? Here`s your guy. The language -- Tom Tancredo, as governor he`ll do everything he can against Obamacare. Tom Tancredo, he`s so conservative. This is exactly the Claire McCaskill playbook against Todd Akin all over again. They`re trying to trick Republican voters into picking the wing nut. So they get the delight of running against the wing nut guy. And just like Claire McCaskill did in 2012, when alongside the Todd Akin true conservative ad she also ran another ad against the more viable Republican candidate questioning whether he was conservative at all, so too in Colorado right now is this liberal group now running other ads against the more viable candidates, questioning their conservative credentials as they trumpet Tom Tancredo as the true conservative in the race, trumpeting him that way to a Republican primary electorate desperate to pick the true conservative in the race. In politics, the only thing more strategically sound than running unopposed is to be able to pick the candidate who you run against. You almost never get lucky enough to do it but it worked for Claire McCaskill in Missouri in 2012, and heading into Colorado`s primary tomorrow, it looks like it might work for Democrats in Colorado as well. There`s no great polling in this primary tomorrow. But some Colorado analysts say that Tom Tancredo looks like he is the front-runner in this Republican primary for governor, which, of course, has Democrats very, very excited. Polls close in Colorado tomorrow, right when we go on the air live tomorrow night. It`s going to be a great night. Watch this space. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. But, now, I`m very pleased to say that it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL", because Lawrence O`Donnell is back. Good evening, Lawrence. Welcome back. We missed you. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END