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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/28/14

Guests: Rick Tyler, Craig Carper

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home as well for staying with us this next hour. There is a lot to come on the show tonight regardless of market basket including the president making a dramatic and much anticipated afternoon announcement today in which he said, we are not going to freaking war in Syria, you guys. Will everybody please shut up about we`re going to war in Syria? I never said we`re going to war in Syria. We`re not going to war. Have a nice weekend. It was a surprise announcement from the president in the sense that nobody knew he was going to make an announcement. But then when everybody realized what he wasn`t going to announce, it was kind of a big deal, and an unexpected one. We`ll have more on that in a moment. And the Bob McDonnell jury is not done yet, but day are done hearing testimony from witnesses. The Bob McDonnell jury is now ready to hear closing arguments in that federal corruption trial in Richmond, Virginia. That means we are on verdict watch very shortly in the Bob McDonnell trial. We`ll have more on that ahead. Also, there`s some big news to report tonight on a story that we first brought you here last night. It involves a bribery scandal and a guilty plea and the man who would like to be the next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Federal prosecutors are now reportedly moving on to other new targets in top-tier Republican politics after securing a key guilty plea in that bribery scandal yesterday. We have an update on that for you. That`s all ahead. But first, in the 2008 elections, a man named Nate Silver became very, very famous by being very, very correct. Nate Silver is a stats guy. He came up through the sports world but had an interest in politics. And in that election, he ended up doing deep data mining basically on polling, and on other predictors of electoral outcomes. And in 2008, when John McCain was running against Barack Obama for the White House, Nate Silver correctly predicted the outcome of that presidential race in 49 out of 50 states. The only state he missed was Indiana. Nate thought that Indiana was going to go to John McCain. It ended up going to Barack Obama by a single point. Still, though, he was right in 49 out of 50 states. There were also 35 U.S. Senate seats up in 2008. Nate Silver made predictions in every one of those races, and he got every single one of them right. He predicted the outcome of all 35 U.S. Senate races that year. And you know what, it does not matter how capital "D" dorky you are or how much people think, oh that`s not a guy who ought to be on TV. You know what, if you come up with a record like that, people are going to notice you even if like Nate Silver, you don`t particularly want to be on TV. I mean, by 2012, Republicans including the Mitt Romney for president campaign, they were really confident Mitt Romney was not only going to win the presidency, they thought they knew exactly how he was going to win. And then the Beltway and lots of other prognosticators started to parrot that perception. But Nate Silver, the guy who had been completely right, minus Indiana, in 2008, Nate Silver held out for the 2012 election and said, you know what, I was right last time. And by my figuring this time, actually, Romney`s going to lose. And Nate Silver made that prediction for the 2012 presidential election, not because he wanted Mitt Romney to lose, not because he had make liberals happy glasses on when he was looking at the polling data, but because he just thought that`s what the polling data said. By his calculation, Barack Obama was going to win re-election. And when it came to predicting the results in 2012, even though Nate Silver had to deal with a torrent of abuse for having stuck to those predictions despite all the Beltway noise to the contrary, in 2012, Nate Silver once again was proven right. In the presidential race in 2012, he did even better than he did in 2008. He correctly predicted the results of the presidential election in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. In 2012, there were 33 U.S. Senate seats up. Nate`s predictions were correct in 31 of those 33 U.S. Senate seats. I mean, you do that once, and you`re a star. You do that twice, and you`re an empire, right? And so now Nate Silver, having started with his own blog, which is called "FiveThirtyEight", then getting "FiveThirtyEight" picked up by "The New York Times" after his great showing in the 2008 election, Nate`s "FiveThirtyEight" blog at "The New York Times" was a huge driver of Internet traffic to "The New York Times" Web site throughout the whole 2012 election cycle. It was just a mega, mega site for them. And, of course, after the 2012 election when he nailed it again despite all of the naysayers, after that he sort of became too big for "The New York Times" and now he is Nate Silver empire. He once again is running something called "FiveThirtyEight", but it is now under the auspices of ESPN. And he`s got a whole staff and a whole -- it`s not just about politics and it`s definitely not just about sports. He`s an empire. And ESPN is very lucky to have a piece of it. Well, right now, Nate Silver`s latest prediction about who`s going to control the U.S. Senate after this year`s elections is that he says there`s a 60 percent probability that Republicans are going to win control of the U.S. Senate. After Nate Silver left "The New York Times", "The Times" formed another data-driven unit on their Web site called "The Upshot". It does a lot of things Nate used to do plus more. They have a big staff. They`re particularly good into turning data into understandable graphics and doing data-driven, simple analysis. That blog is called "The Upshot". At "The Upshot", what they say right now about the Senate is that the Republicans have an even greater chance of taking control of the Senate. Nate Silver now says Republicans have a 60 percent chance. "The Upshot" at "The New York Times" says Republicans have a 65 percent chance of taking the Senate. "The Washington Post," they`ve also got a similar polls and data- driven thing going on on their Website. "The Washington Post" in terms of their prediction, they`re right in the same ballpark. "Washington Post" says Republicans have a 57 percent chance of taking the Senate this year. And that is echoed, very similar probability arrived at, by the out and proud liberal blog called "Daily Kos" which does its own data-driven, polling aggression and prediction. "Daily Kos" says Republicans have a 55 percent chance of taking over the Senate. So, from "The Washington Post," to "The New York Times," to the Nate Silver empire, to liberal "Daily Kos", they`re all saying it`s 55 percent to 65 percent probability that Republicans will take over the Senate this year. Couple that with the fact it is basically certain that Republicans will keep the House this year, just because we`ve got these gerrymandered districts, so Republicans have basically a structural advantage in the House and there`s almost no way Democrats are going to be able to compete to control the House in normal circumstances until after the 2020 census. Given that the House is basically structurally locked up for the Republicans, if they really do have a 55 percent to 65 percent chance of locking up the Senate, if they do it, I mean, they would mean the rest of the Barack Obama presidency is going to be him against an all-red Congress. For the whole rest of the time he`s in office. Oh, boy, that sounds like fun. That sounds like a lot of policy being made in Washington, doesn`t it? But given all of that, understanding that as the context, looky here, because here is an outlier. In 2008 and 2012, I just said that Nate Silver was almost perfect in making his predictions about the election. That`s what made him a legend, right? That`s what made him a household name. He was almost perfect. That said, in 2012, Nate did get two U.S. Senate seats wrong. He was wrong in Montana where Jon Tester won and Nate had said he wouldn`t. He was also wrong in North Dakota where Heidi Heitkamp won, even though Nate Silver said she wouldn`t. So, Nate did miss two states in 2012. You want to know who didn`t miss any states in 2012? This guy. This guy from the looks of his blog appears to be visiting from 1997, but -- yes, look, it`s made on a calculator. But what he lacks in caring about the visual presentation of his data, he makes up for apparently in accurate predictions. His name is Sam Wang and he analyzes polling data and makes predictions about elections at the Princeton Election Consortium, PEC. And in 2012, when Nate Silver got those two states wrong on those Senate seats, Mr. Wang at Princeton got zero states wrong. He correctly predicted all 33 of the 33 U.S. Senate races in 2012. So, he`s got a pretty good track record. And at Sam Wang`s Princeton Election Consortium, even though these are what the other data geeks say is going to happen to the U.S. Senate this year, this is what he`s saying instead. All the other analysts say it`s way more likely Republicans are going to win control of the Senate than Democrats, right? But Mr. Wang at Princeton says there is a 70 percent likelihood that Democrats will be holding on to the Senate. Really? Who`s right between these different data geeks who are all looking at reasonable numbers with good formulas for making these predictions? Who`s right between them? It can`t both be 65 percent likely that Democrat -- that Republicans are going to hold it and 75 percent likely that Democrats are going to hold it, right? Both those things can`t exist at once. Who`s right between them? I don`t know. Neither do you. And neither do any of them. It`s predictions, after all. But it is starting to feel like any common wisdom that there is about what`s going to happen on Capitol Hill for the last two years of the Obama presidency, what`s going to happen in Congress in this year`s elections, it is starting to feel like whatever common wisdom there is about what`s going to happen this year is starting to get a little turbulent. And that is in part because unexpected stuff is happening in a lot of key campaigns. In Arkansas, right, Democrat Mark Pryor there has a hard race, but he unexpectedly in that race is running a bunch of pro-Obamacare ads, and they seem to be working really well for him. His conservative Republican opponent now also has Karl Rove`s super PAC ads running in the state that criticize Mark Pryor for not being liberal enough. So, the Democrat running on Obamacare and Republican running on the Democrats aren`t liberal enough, I`m not sure anybody saw that coming in this race in Arkansas. That sort of flummoxes the expectation there. In Iowa, the Republican candidate there is named Joni Ernst. She now unexpectedly is running a campaign based in part on the idea there ought to be no federal minimum wage at all. That seems like a wildcard. Not sure how anybody saw that -- not sure if anybody saw that coming. Not sure if anybody factored that into their expectations for that race. In Alaska, Democrat Mark Begich is defending his seat in a state that`s widely considered to be impossible to poll, and he`s going to be running against a Republican named Dan Sullivan. But here`s the fly in the ointment there. Mark Begich is running against Dan Sullivan, but Dan Sullivan is one of two Republicans named Dan Sullivan what`s going to be on the statewide Alaska ballot this fall. How is that going to affect Dan Sullivan`s chances? Either one of them. So, some of it is just chaos and fact that time needs to pass. Unpredictability, right? Some of that is we need to get further along into the election cycle. But part of the turbulence in the common wisdom right now about what`s going to happen to Congress for last two years of the Obama presidency, part of what is upsetting the common wisdom and making very smart people looking at good data come to opposite conclusions about what`s going to happen, part of it is that unexpectedly some parts are in motion, including something that just started happening in the great state of Georgia. When Mitt Romney ran against Ted Kennedy to try to win a Senate seat in Massachusetts in 1994, a lot of people thought Ted Kennedy might actually have a hard time holding on to that seat that year. That is, until the Kennedy campaign rolled out these ads hitting Mitt Romney on his business record. These ads against Mitt Romney in 1994 were basically seen as the equivalent of a political nuclear strike. Mitt Romney, the guy from Bain Capital, basically never recovered in that Senate race after these ads ran. There was a number of ads all basically making the same point, talking to real people who had been affected by Bain`s business model coming into their town and doing its business and it destroying those people`s lives. And Ted Kennedy had no problem beating Mitt Romney for Senate that year. When Mitt Romney was running for president in 2012, his Republican rivals may not have been ideologically inclined to go after the financial class in the same way that Ted Kennedy had been back in 1994, but when they saw that Mitt Romney looked like he was going to lock up the nomination, I think a lot of them found it was irresistible to avoid that very potent line of attack. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AD NARRATOR: Wall Street`s corporate raider made billions of dollars. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Private equity leaders getting rich at the expense of American workers. AD NARRATOR: Their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits. Nothing was spared. Nothing mattered but greed. This film is about one such raider and his firm. Mitt Romney became CEO of Bain Capital the day the company was formed. His mission: to reap massive rewards for himself and his investors. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney, them guys, they don`t care who I am. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s for small businesses -- no, he isn`t. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That`s an excerpt from "When Mitt Romney came to town" which is basically a political horror movie about Mitt Romney`s business record. And a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich in the 2012 presidential race started running that during the primaries in 2012. And on the strength of that movie, basically that big ad buy and Newt Gingrich making arguments of the kind made in this film against Mitt Romney calling him a vulture capitalist, saying that his business plan was to exploit people, his business plan was to buy up companies, liquidate the assets and put all the people out of work -- on the strength of that kind of argument, Newt Gingrich for a while caught up to Mitt Romney and for a hot second looked like he might potentially surpass him as the Republican front-runner. Alas, he was Newt Gingrich, and so, yes, Mitt Romney did go on to win the nomination. Once he had the nomination, though, a Democratic super PAC supporting President Obama`s re-election came back at Mitt Romney with that same line of attack in a series of ads that were just devastating. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That plant was my life. I mean, my livelihood. It fed me as a kid and fed my whole family as an adult. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a booming place, and Mitt Romney and Bain Capital turned it into a junkyard. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney and Bain, they were businessmen. They have no idea how to make steel. They knew how to make money. They used us. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was suddenly 60 years old. I had no health care. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mainly, I was thinking about is my family, how am I going to take care of my family? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re just a means to an end. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`ll give you the same thing he gave us -- nothing. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Those were just devastating ads run against Mitt Romney in the general election in 2012. There`s a whole series of them, including an ad that has sort of gone down in the history of the 2012 campaign as the single-most effective ad of that entire election cycle. Democratic-leaning groups spent more than $10 million running this one ad because the focus group results on how effective it was were head and shoulders above everything else that ran in the campaign. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BEV WELCH: Good group of people. Good group of employees out there. DONNIE BOX: This was a booming place, and Mitt Romney and Bain Capital turned it into a junkyard. LORIS HUFFMAN: I was suddenly 60 years old. I had no health care. DAVE LASHURE: Main thing I was thinking about is my family. How am I going to take care of my family? PAT WELLS: He promised us the same things he`s promised in the United States. He`ll give you the same thing he gave us -- nothing. ANNOUNCER: Priority -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That is how you run against a financier guy like Mitt Romney. That`s how Ted Kennedy ran against him in 1994, that`s how President Obama ran against him in 2012, that`s how Newt Gingrich ran against him in 2012 in the Republican primary. I mean, you take what is blithely accepted to be a positive thing, I`m a business guy, and then you get specific about what that means for this specific type of businessman, right? You say that he`s not building jobs, he`s a takeover artist, right? He`s not -- this is not business. This is finance. This is about extracting profit from other people`s work. And that is territory that a candidate like Mitt Romney, like an "I want to be seen as a businessman" candidate, that is territory that they do not want to be stranded on. With that in mind, look at these ads that are now running in Georgia in the Senate race there between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican businessman, David Purdue. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CYNTHIA HANES: It was a male town since I can remember. RONNIE GRIMES: Everything in Kannapolis basically survived off of the mail. CAROLYN HELMS: David Perdue came in in 2002 to take over as president of Pillowtex. There was a lot of promise when he came in, and then, within eight months, he was gone. DELORES GAMBRELL: He walked away with his $1.7 million and didn`t care about if we had a dollar in our pocket. BRENDA MILLER: When Pillowtex closed down, it was pretty much devastating. I don`t think David Perdue understands what happens to the people. They were running as fast as they could with as much money they could get out of the company and pretty much left us there hanging. GAMBRELL: David Purdue looks out for himself. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All we were, were people to make money off our backs. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He left all of us sitting there holding the bag with nothing in it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Control of the United States Senate is critical to the prospects of policymaking in this country. It`s critical to the overall prospects for success in the Obama presidency. And predicting what`s going to happen in the Senate is a complex thing with a lot of moving parts. A lot of smart people are making prediction about that that are diametrically opposed to each other. But one of the moving parts right now is that in one of the states that is thought to be critical but leaning toward the Republicans in their effort to take over the Senate, the Democrats there now, the Democratic candidate there running, Michelle Nunn, has now hired the exact same ad folks to make basically exactly the same type of ad that was judged to be the single-most effective weapon against a Mitt Romney, David Perdue-style candidate in the 2012 election. The same group that rated some of anti- Mitt Romney ads as the single-most effective ad in the election cycle say this ad running against David Perdue is the single-most effective ad running in Georgia. Joining us now is one of the strategists who used this attack against Mitt Romney, not from the left, but from the right in 2012, Rick Tyler was senior adviser to the super PAC that supported Newt Gingrich at the time and used this line of attack to such great effect. Rick Tyler, it`s great to see you again. Thanks for being here. RICK TYLER, GOP STRATEGIST: Rachel, it`s good to be with you. Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So, I`m trying to put myself in the mindset of a David Purdue campaign. And he has -- there are parallels between the type of business career he`s had and Mitt Romney. Is this kind of argument against them kryptonite for this type of business candidate? You guys certainly felt it was effective for you in 2012. TYLER: It can be, partially because Mitt Romney failed to define himself. In other words, inoculate himself from the beginning. I`ll point to another race -- Curt Clawson won the special election down in Florida 19. He was a client. He was also very successful businessman, had a multimillion dollar, multinational corporation. He was attacked by the Republicans in the primary fore being very successful. He retired with great success because the company was eventually sold. He had held on to his options but it was the way we told the story initially. So, the first thing we had to do is connect Curt Clawson to the voter. We did that with a basketball ad. He challenged Barack Obama to a three-point -- MADDOW: I remember that. TYLER: -- shoot off. People really liked that. So, he began to connect with the voter that way. Then, when the attacks came on Curt about his business experience and all businesses have experiences, so there`s plenty to draw from, we did an ad that showed his workers. And when -- one of the most effective ads we did in response was before they go attack Curt Clawson, they ought to talk to me. That was the employees of his company saying, they`ve got to talk to me first. Me first, me first. That was the theme of that ad. It worked very well to inoculate Curt, not only had we done the inoculation in the first, but were prepared to tell Curt`s story, the real story about his business success and the success he had for all his employees. So, it depends on how you do it. Yes, you can attack people for being successful in business, and speaking, you know, for the Republicans, if they don`t know how to defend that, it`s easy pickings. MADDOW: On that point, though, your attack against Romney was not simply on the basis of his success, but for how he earned his success. Basically that -- arguing that the way he succeeded was by exploiting others. And I feel like when the left talks about making an issue of big business and exploitive of business, and the right talks about it, sometimes the message is the same, that you essentially want people who see themselves as workers, people who see themselves as middle class and working class folks to identify with your candidate. But how hard was it for you guys in the Republican establishment to make that kind of a claim? I mean, you really took a lot of criticism for it, right? TYLER: I did. I went to New Hampshire and, you know, I remember going to radio row and half the talk show hosts were with me and half the talk show hosts were against me. I was actually grateful for the talk show host, Roger Hedgecock, good friend, conservative talk show host in southern California, took me to task and beat the hell out of me for a half an hour. I was grateful for it because it made me much better to defend it. You know, Teddy Fornchun (ph) was a venture capitalist. He invested in a lot of companies, but he called people like Mitt Romney the barbarians at the gate. So, we weren`t attacking capitalism in the sense. What happened with Republican establishment who wanted Mitt Romney, they made the whole attack an attack on capitalism. By the way, it was very successful. We lost the argument. We were not trying to make the case that capitalism was wrong. We were trying to make the case some of the business practices of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital were wrong. And I believe -- raiding people`s pensions is wrong. You shouldn`t take people`s pensions. That`s what they depended on, even though you`re legally entitled to them. So, that was one thing. But Mitt Romney was never able to tell his story of being a businessman in a positive sense as it related to people. Let me give you a quick example. You know, if you have a businessman and said, I grew my companies from five employees to 300 employees, that doesn`t mean anything to people. But if you get a guy on the screen who says, you know, candidate X took me from nothing right out of the army, I didn`t have a college education, I didn`t look very good on paper but he took a chance on me and today I`m successful because of him. That has a huge impact. Why? Because it talks to the heart. And our side is not very good, I have to admit, left has been much better at it, they do much better job at talking to the heart and connecting with people through the heart. And if you can do that, you can connect a candidate and their values to the voter, they actually don`t really ask a whole lot about issues. They say, he`s like me, I`m going to vote for him, she`s like me, I`m going to vote for her because they`d do exactly what I would do if elected. MADDOW: Rick Tyler, a former spokesman for Newt Gingrich, former director for the Winning Our Future super PAC -- looking at this through your lens, conservative side of the aisle and seeing you guys saw the -- TYLER: Appreciate the opportunity. MADDOW: -- it`s a fascinating dynamic. Thanks a lot, Rick. Nice to see you. TYLER: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. Last night we reported an underreported but amazing story about buying Republican endorsements in Iowa, and it could have very big national implications. There`s a big development in that today. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, we have a big update tonight on a story we brought you here last night that apparently the national press hasn`t really picked up on yet. It starts with this gentleman, former Republican state senator from Iowa named Kent Sorenson. Mr. Sorenson pictured here with former Republican Congressman Ron Paul during Ron Paul`s run for president in 2012. During that campaign, six days before the Iowa caucuses, Kent Sorenson rocked the political world by publicly switching teams. Kent Sorenson had been the Iowa state chair for the Michele Bachmann for president campaign, but sort of out of nowhere just six days before the caucuses Kent Sorenson publicly flipped, spent the afternoon campaigning with Michele Bachmann as campaign chair, that night appeared on stage at a Ron Paul event and changed his allegiance to the Ron Paul campaign. Yesterday, Kent Sorenson acknowledged that that switch was the result of a $73,000 bribe paid to him by the Ron Paul for president campaign. Kent Sorenson pled guilty in federal court on two counts yesterday. He pled guilty to working with the Ron Paul campaign, to lie about the bribe money that was paid to him when the campaign disclosed its expenditures in federal documents. He also pled guilty about lying about the payment to investors, which was an obstruction of justice charge. Now, one way to get in trouble for bribery is to get caught taking the bribe. The other way to get in trouble for bribery is to be caught paying the bribe. And in Kent Sorenson`s case, what he pled guilty to, what he is facing prison time for is taking the bribe, the bribe that was paid to him by the Ron Paul for president campaign. The man who is in charge of the Ron Paul for president campaign when it was bribing at least one Iowa politician for his endorsement is a man named Jesse Benton. Since then, Jesse Benton has moved on to a new high- profile job in Republican politics. Now, Jesse Benton is the campaign manager for the re-election of the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell. And this guilty plea for Kent Sorenson yesterday, that dealt with the bribee. It dealt with the guy who the Ron Paul campaign paid the $73,000 to for his endorsement. It did not deal with the bribers. It did not deal with the Ron Paul campaign officials involved in that transaction. Now, the Mitch McConnell campaign so far is not answering questions about the involvement of their campaign manager in this matter. Here`s the thing to know, though -- that Republican state senator at the center of all this, Kent Sorenson, he switched sides from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul on December 28th, 2011. Two days before that, December 26th, two days before his public switch, Kent Sorenson was presented with this check for $25,000 by Ron Paul`s deputy national campaign manager. The two apparently went out to dinner and this Ron Paul campaign official reportedly handed Kent Sorenson and his wife this check for $25,000. It was at a restaurant in Altoona, Iowa. Kent Sorenson got that check from the Ron Paul deputy campaign manager. And then, two days later, he publicly endorsed Ron Paul, pleasure doing business with you. Well, this is the Ron Paul campaign official on the left here who delivered that check apparently in the bathroom of that restaurant. That`s him on the left. Kent Sorenson is on the right. And ironically, this image is from an interview that Kent Sorenson did with one of our own NBC reporters on the night he made his big Ron Paul endorsement. This was when Kent Sorensen telling NBC News he never took a dime from the Ron Paul campaign for his endorsement. He said that literally while standing next to the guy from the Ron Paul campaign who just two days earlier had handed him a check for $25,000 for his endorsement. The exact guy was right there. One new piece of the story we can tell you tonight is that that guy who handed over the check, the actual bagman from the Ron Paul campaign who handed over the bribe, he also went on to greener pastures after the Ron Paul for president campaign in 2012. It turns out, that guy also was hired by Mitch McConnell. The Center for Responsive Politics dug through Mitch McConnell`s reports and discovered that the McConnell campaign hired that guy`s firm to do strategic consulting, paying him more than $60,000 last year. We reached out to the McConnell campaign tonight to ask if the Iowa bribery bagman is still employed by the McConnell campaign just like campaign manager Jesse Benton is. We so far have not heard back. This Iowa bribery scandal, though, is now becoming a problem for the man who would like to be the top Republican in the Senate. Not only is Mitch McConnell in a tough re-election campaign, it turns out his campaign manager is a guy who was in charge of the Ron Paul campaign when it was paying bribes to at least one Iowa politician in 2012, and the McConnell campaign as of last year was also employing the specific guy from the Ron Paul campaign who personally handed over the initial bribe, the guy who actually wrote the check. McConnell campaign is in day two of refusing to comment on this at all, but that may not be a viable strategy much longer, because tonight in a bombshell development reported exclusively at the "Washington Post," "The Post" says that federal prosecutors are now focusing their investigation on people involved in Ron Paul`s 2012 operation. Ah. This guilty plea yesterday from the bribee, the guy who took the bribe, that was not apparently the end of the story. According to "The Washington Post," this investigation is ongoing and could ensnare those officials from the Ron Paul campaign who offered or authorized those bribes to be paid. This is a fast-moving story. It has wide-ranging implications not just for those involved here, but potentially for the man who would like to be Senate majority leader at some point. And at some point, Mitch McConnell is going to have to address this. Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: One more thing on that Mitch McConnell story. The woman hoping to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, she`s going to be Lawrence O`Donnell`s special guest tonight. She`s Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. She is running against Mitch McConnell. She almost never talks to the national press. But, tonight, she has agreed to talk to our very own Lawrence O`Donnell here on MSNBC. This is an exclusive and rare interview that you will not see anywhere else. That`s coming up right after this show tonight. But still ahead here tonight, we`re now approaching a verdict watch in the great commonwealth of Virginia. Please stay with us on that. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The defense rests. Today was the last day of testimony in the federal corruption trial of Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Today, the judge in the case rejected a request by the defense counsel for an acquittal. And so, tomorrow the jury is going to hear closing arguments. At the closing arguments the jury will start its deliberations. Governor McDonnell and his wife are facing 14 felony charges. If they`re convicted of those charges, they are facing many decades in prison. Now, nobody knows exactly how the prosecution and the defense are going to sum up their cases or what image they will try to leave in the minds of the jury. But regardless of what they say, I think this one will probably stick. And as a surprise part of the trial, the evidence reviewed in court over the course of these many days of testimony in Richmond, included many, many, many photos of Governor Bob McDonnell driving a white Ferrari -- white Ferrari, the use of which was one of the gifts was from a Virginia businessman who federal prosecutors say constituted a bribe of the governor. The governor and his staff and his lawyers seem to have understood early on that the white Ferrari thing with all of these pictures of it was not a good look for the governor. Last year, even before the start of the trial, the governor`s spokesman tried to explain the white Ferrari away. Quote, "The governor`s spokesman said as a favor to the businessman, the family drove one of Jonnie Williams` cars and his Range Rover back to the lake house, and then they drove the Ferrari back to Richmond." Quote, "There was no recreational use of the vehicles." Understand that? The use of the Ferrari was not recreational. There was definitely no fun at all. Bob McDonnell was merely doing an onerous favor for a Virginia resident. As governor, he`s also responsible for being a valet parking attendant of not inconsiderable skill. But it`s not fun. It`s definitely never been fun. During the trial, governor McDonnell reiterated the favor excuse adding that he didn`t even want to drive the white Ferrari. He says his cars egged him on to drive the car not once, but twice during the lakeside vacation that the businessman paid for. Governor McDonnell even testified that he didn`t even know the Ferrari was at the lake house. He hadn`t noticed it. It had been tucked away in a garage perhaps under a cover. He said, at some time during vacation, quote, "We saw it was a very significant high-performance car." Yesterday with a late surprise witness, we ended up hearing more about that Ferrari. Federal prosecutors called this witness, it was a former employee of Jonnie Williams, the generous businessman in the case. The employee testified his boss had instructed him to pick up the Ferrari and drive it up to the lake house so the governor could use it during his vacation. The employee testified that once he drove the Ferrari to the lake house, he found there was nobody there to give the keys to, so he just left keys on the seat and left the car parked out front in the driveway. Right out in front of the house. Not in the garage or anything but right out front so Bob McDonnell would see it as soon as he arrived. Oh, also, there`s the $680 car service bill to prove that this employee had to be picked up and driven back to town at considerable expense after he ferried the Ferrari up to the lake house so Bob McDonnell could drive it. But, again, there was to recreational use of this vehicle, it was just a favor for this guy who needed this car moved. Bob McDonnell barely even noticed it was there. Today, the McDonnell defense attorneys moved again to have their clients acquitted. The judge in the case said no. So, both sides will get to present their closing arguments tomorrow, and then this case is going to go to the jury. Joining us now is Craig Carper, capital reporter for WCVE Public Radio in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Carper, thanks very much for being here. CRAIG CARPER, NPR CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: So, we`re expecting -- as far as I understand it, we`re expecting four closing arguments tomorrow, the prosecution, then Bob McDonnell`s attorneys, then Maureen McDonnell`s attorneys, and then the prosecution`s rebuttal. And I know that there`s been a lot of consternation or at least argument concerning the instructions to the jury at that point when they get the case. What`s the worry or the consternation about the instructions to the jury? CARPER: Well, the instructions are key. We spent the better part of today discussing those. Prosecution and defense lawyers for both teams, the Bob and Maureen McDonnell teams, presented suggestions, their own versions, to Judge James Spencer today. The prosecution trying to cast a much wider net in terms of how the jury should be able to read this evidence. The defense, of course, trying to draw this criteria much more narrowly. MADDOW: Who has been better, broadly speaking, at making a cogent case that the jury could easily wrap their heads around? I mean, as you`ve been watching testimony here, obviously, you`ve got to report on how the two sides are making their case. But do you have a sense if either side is resonating more in terms of telling a believable and understandable story? CARPER: Well, they both have their moments. I think, you knows, the defense has had some weak moments and I think one of the reasons that we saw Bob McDonnell testify so early was because of testimony, paid testimony from a financial adviser who really had done some sort of sloppy prep work beforehand and had not really presented the McDonnells in a favorable light in looking at their personal finances, and this was a man who was paid $60,000 to $80,000 to be there in court. But the prosecution has definitely had some weak moments as well. And a lot of their case, the challenges there is that so much of their evidence is circumstantial in terms of what we`re seeing, so much of this rests on quid pro quo. We`ve seen plenty of quid, but the quo is a little more open to interpretation. MADDOW: Craig Carper, capital reporter for WCVE Public Radio in Richmond -- thanks for helping us understand this. Enjoy the closing arguments tomorrow. CARPER: Thank you. MADDOW: One of the things everybody is going to be watching for, of course, is to see if they can`t be guilty because they had a terrible marriage, and so, therefore they weren`t speaking to each other enough to collude to do something criminal together. Everybody is going to watch to see if the defense is going to carry that argument right through to the closing arguments. Every sign so far indicates that they will. Just a remarkable case. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Shocker confession -- I don`t know anything about fashion. On this show, if you do know anything about fashion, you may have noticed I just basically wear the same three $19 blazers over and over again. And I know this about myself. I`m comfortable with this. But today, politics and fashion overlapped in a way that I was not allowed to ignore. It`s very uncomfortable. That story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So I don`t know that much about the TV business. I just work here. But I do know that it`s a very big deal for any TV network to decide something is important enough that we should interrupt the regular viewing time of the Ellen DeGeneres show. But today, that threshold was crossed. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ELLEN DEGENERES, TV HOST: I want to personally welcome my new Chinese audience by reading all of your names on the air. All you have to do is write your name on a piece of paper that looks like this. And you can send it to this address. Happy Dance Lady. Well, out of a billion people, 12 of you followed the instructions. So I want to read your names on the air. I want to keep my promise. ANNOUNCER: This is an NBC News special report. Here`s Lester Holt. LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: Good day, everyone. President Obama is about to meet with his National Security Council to discuss the crisis in Iraq and Syria as it pertains to ISIS. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This surprise press conference from President Obama was the subject of all this dramatic attention today, including this special report interrupting regular broadcast programming. The press conference was not on President Obama`s regular schedule at the start of the day. In the afternoon, the White House shifted to announce that he`d be making live remarks from the White House briefing room, and then taking questions from the press. And honestly, I think what everybody thought was going to happen was OK, we`re bombing Syria. Turns out we`re not, but that was the worry. And when it became clear that`s not what the president was announcing and, in fact, the president was there to talk the press off of that ledge, you did kind of feel this collective release of breath everybody had been holding in. So, then, when everybody relaxed, you got the joking about the suit. "Tan suit equals war." "I`m sorry, but you can`t declare war in a suit like that." This one from MSNBC`s Josh Barro, "Obama vows to defeat whoever made him wear this suit." And then, my favorite one was from Phillip Klein, "This is what happens when Obama bypasses Congress to purchase a suit." And, actually, I got to say, I kind of liked the suit. But nobody really takes fashion advice from me for a reason. On the substantive issue, though, of whether strikes against ISIS in Syria are imminent, President Obama today very clearly told the press to cool it, basically said, "Stop expecting that, at least right away." And then in response to multiple questions about whether Congress should be debating and voting on any such plans, President Obama today was pretty emphatic. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, it is my intention that Congress has to have some buy-in as representatives of the American people and, by the way, the American people need to hear what that strategy is. But as I said to Chuck, I don`t want to put the cart before the horse. And in some of the media reports, the suggestion seems to have been that, you know, we`re about to go full scale on an elaborate strategy for defeating ISIL. And the suggestion, I guess, has been that we`ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress still out of town is going to be heft in the dark. That`s not what is going to happen. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama saying hold on, wait a minute, we`re not starting a war with ISIS in Syria, at least not yet. And so, he said, no, Congress doesn`t need to be voting on anything like that yet. The president reiterated that same point saying, there`s no point for asking on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that`s going to be required for us to get the job done -- so dialing it back. But honestly now, this is the thing, because the president telling the media directly you`re getting ahead of what we`re doing and we`re thinking about and what we`re planning, we don`t have plans to bomb inside Syria, stop reporting that we do -- but the president saying that so directly today, that will change the way the press talks about this issue. Basically, the press got direct instructions from the president today that we`ve been getting something wrong about what they are doing. But the rest of the story here is that the U.S. is already fighting military battles against ISIS in Iraq, not in Syria, but in Iraq. That`s already happening. The president made the notification to Congress about fighting ISIS in Iraq 20 days ago, on August 8th. Under the War Powers Resolution, those operations can continue for 40 more days, or 60 days total. Even if Congress doesn`t OK them, they`ve got 60 days. But at the end of 60, those operations have to stop and those U.S. forces need to be brought home unless Congress authorizes those strikes. And that`s regardless of whether something new starts up in Syria, as well. And so, in the hopes that we can contribute to a not putting a cart before the horse constructive, fact-based understanding of what`s going on with the U.S. military in the Middle East right now, we have decided to make concrete, something about which there`s been a lot of loose talk. We decided to start a running whip count for members of Congress who have signed letters or said publicly that Congress ought to vote on military authorization for using force in Iraq, or more recently, for using force in Syria. We`re posting the whip count online in the hopes you can keep our running tally up to date. If you`re a member of Congress, joins us this list or drops off of it. We hope you`ll let us know. We hope it can be an authoritative source of members of Congress who are not wussing out of their constitutional responsibilities to take a vote on these matters. Our running tally thus far includes a grand total of five U.S. senators and just over 80 members of the House from both parties who have publicly committed that Congress needs to debate on this and vote. The Pentagon today announced five more airstrikes in the vicinity of Mosul in Iraq. That means, we`re up to 106 total air strikes. Again, our running tally of members of Congress who acknowledge their responsibility for okaying that kind of thing -- we`re posting it online tonight, Help us out with it. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Thanks for being with us tonight. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END