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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/02/14

Guests: Ryan Nobles

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, man. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. OK. So, when terrorist groups launch spectacular attacks, when terrorist groups do things that get the world`s attention, that cannot only unite previously disparate allies against them, it cannot only sort of unify the world in horror, right? It can also sometimes break log jams or settle internal disputes in countries that have been thinking about taking action against said terrorist group. But they`ve not yet been able to decide to do that. So, for example, take al Shabaab. Al Shabaab operates in Somalia. They were initially seen as the military wing of a radical religious fundamentalist political movement called the Islamic Courts Union. And as essentially the militia for the Islamic Courts Union, al Shabaab starting in about 2006, they were doing all the things that we associate with this group and with their ilk. They were stoning people to death. They were cutting off hands and limbs, doing mass executions, basically ruling by terror, declaring a fundamentalist terror state in the parts of Somalia where they had control. And it was not long before they got aspirations beyond Somalia. In 2010, al Shabaab launched all those attacks in Uganda against people who had committed the grave sin of getting together to watch World Cup Soccer matches. Those attacks killed more than 70 people. In 2012, al Shabaab formally declared they were an affiliate of al Qaeda central. Their leadership declared allegiance to the head of al Qaeda, to Ayman al-Zawahiri, and although they claimed credit for bombings and killings and mutilations and grenade attacks over and over and over again throughout this whole time, it was this time last year, was September 2013, when an al Shabaab attack made front-page headlines around the world and shocked the whole international community. That attack happened not in Somalia, but in Kenya, in the cosmopolitan capital Kenyan city of Nairobi. Al Shabaab militants over a period of three days mounted a coordinated military assault on a purely civilian target. They attacked the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi. More than 170 people were wounded in that attack. At least 67 people were killed. And an integral part of how terrorizing that attack was, was not just the mayhem that it caused. Not just the softness and civilian- ness of the target they chose for that attack, but a big part of the terror that it caused was how long it went on. I mean, it was like Mumbai, right? The authorities were not able to bring this siege to a close in the first day or in the second day and all through the third day. It just went on and on and on. These poor people at the mercy of these terrorist attackers. And before that point, it`s not as if the United States government had been ignoring al Shabaab. There had been numerous U.S. airstrikes against the group in Somalia, including an air strike that killed the group`s top leader back in 2008. But in 2012 -- excuse me, sorry, just in 2013, it was just something about that attack in Kenya, just the emotional force of that terrifying attack on this very knowable, very cosmopolitan, frankly, very western shopping mall in Nairobi. When that news broke internationally, it was enough to not just horrify the world, it was enough specifically to make U.S. decision-makers scale up what they were willing to have the U.S. government and the U.S. military do against this group, al Shabaab. Less than two weeks after that attack on that mall in Nairobi, the U.S. launched its first direct boots on the ground commando raid inside Somalia against al Shabaab. Navy SEALs launched from ships off the Somali coast. They came ashore to attack a Shabaab leadership compound in a seaside stronghold that had effectively functioned as al Shabaab`s capital city in Somalia. And, yes, as I said, the U.S. had targeted al Shabaab leadership before, but never like this. And the difference was that that mall attack was less than who weeks before. That had apparently been enough to make U.S. decision makers think differently about how much they were willing to do against that group. In the words of "The New York Times," quote, "that attack broke a deadlock among officials in Washington over whether to conduct the commando raid against al Shabaab." That`s why we decided to do it apparently, the horror over what they did in that shopping mall. The problem is that raid did not work. The Navy SEALs ended up getting turned back by heavy gunfire when al Shabaab guards realized the SEALs were coming ashore and were coming for them. After the failed attack, al Shabaab held a news conference in that town that they controlled basically bragging about their invincibility, bragging about how they not only pulled off a three-day siege of the Westgate Mall, killing dozens of civilians in a neighboring country, but now, also their senior leadership had been protected by their own guards against an attack by the best of the best military in the world, by the best of the U.S. military. At the news conference, they put on display this U.S. military gear left behind by the SEALs, including bullets and a GPS device and what appears to be a stun grenade. There was nothing about that terrible and spectacular assault on that westernized shopping mall in Kenya that made it more likely that a U.S. commando raid against al Shabaab would be successful. But there is something about that terrible and spectacular assault on that shopping mall in Kenya that made it more likely that we, our government, the U.S. government, would try to do something as aggressive and risky as that commando raid. That ultimately did not work. We were so horrified we were willing to do something we`d never done before. That doesn`t mean that what we were willing to do was more likely to be effective. Terrorism is provocation. It is designed to provoke action by those who are terrorized so that a fight can then happen between the terrorist group and the opponent of their own choosing on the terrorist group`s own terms and on their own timeframe. And the United States is still taking action against al Shabaab. The Pentagon announced today a new set of airstrikes again targeting senior leadership of that group in Somalia. In fact, targeting them in the exact same town that the Navy SEALs raided last year in that raid that was approved because there had been a terrorist attack but did not succeed when it was tried. We know from our own history that terrorist provocations make us more likely to act. They do not make our actions more likely to succeed. That`s the beauty of terrorism, right? That`s the strategic beauty of it. That`s what they want. Today, for the second time in two weeks, the terrorist group ISIS has released a videotape showing the execution of an American journalist. In the first tape two weeks ago, two weekends ago, an ISIS militant with a distinct London accent is seen killing an American journalist named Jim Foley, then at the end of the tape the same man is seen threatening to kill another American journalist named Steven Sotloff. Well, today, the group posted a similar video apparently showing the murder of Steven Sotloff and threatening to kill another hostage that the group has in captivity who is reportedly a British citizen. U.S. government officials are not confirming the authenticity of the video and neither is NBC News. But the family of Steven Sotloff did release a statement today saying they, quote, "know of this horrific strategy and are grieving privately." They say, "There will be no public comment from family during this difficult time." So, for the second time in two weeks, the U.S. government is in the position of deciding not just how it wants to respond to this terrorist group that keeps killing Americans on videotape, but also what the U.S. government thinks will be the most effective approach to targeting this group. Because what we want to do, and what would be most effective against them, are not necessarily the same things, right? The group that just killed Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff and has taken over big swaths of Iraq and also Syria, they were borne out of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. There was no al Qaeda presence in Iraq when we invaded in 2003. But in 2004, al Qaeda in Iraq was formed by this Jordanian militant named Abu Musab al Zarqawi. I mean, the roiling insurgency and the resistance to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi made his group very high profile, not only by choosing to become an affiliate of the great terror franchise of them all, al Qaeda, right, but also by virtue of spectacular attacks and a penchant for brutality that could, in particular, be filmed. He was the one who started dressing prisoners in Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuits then cutting their heads off on camera. He`s the one who started doing that. That was how Abu Musab al Zarqawi put al Qaeda in Iraq on the map. A U.S. airstrike killed Zarqawi in 2006 and was seen as a great victory by U.S. forces. They wanted to get him more than anybody else. But that victory did eliminate that one leader from the group but did not stop it from going. Al Qaeda in Iraq survived and eventually morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq, same group. They continued to be known for their high-profile provocative brutality, mass kidnappings, high profile political assassinations. They bombed the Iraqi parliament. In 2007, they abducted and tortured and murdered three serving U.S. soldiers. By 2009, their leader was replacing Zarqawi was a new mysterious figure who called himself al Baghdadi. Nobody knows anything about him. Al Baghdadi just means that he claims to be from Baghdad. Al Qaeda had always been strongest in the Sunni part of Iraq, the Sunni western part of Iraq in al Anbar province. At one point they had declared the city of Ramadi in al Anbar province to be the capital of the Islamic State of Iraq. But, geographically speaking, if you`re in western Iraq, if you are in al Anbar province, if you go further west from there, where you are after you cross a desert border is in eastern Syria. When Syria`s civil war started simmering and then boiling over in 2011, the leader of the al Qaeda in Iraq, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq, this guy al Baghdadi, he was very happy to send his fighters a little further west. Send his fighters out of al Anbar province in western Iraq across the border, so they`re operating not only in western Iraq but also in eastern Syria. And that is the thumbnail history of this group. They since split from al Qaeda central in what is essentially a middle management style turf dispute. But where they come from is the same long-term strategic terrorist mindset that is designed to so outrage us, to so provoke us by their brutality and frankly by their evil that they cause us in anger to do things that ultimately in the long run hurt us and help them. Yes, we killed the leader of al Shabaab in 2008. Today, literally today, we`re still waiting on word about whether we killed the new leader of al Shabaab. Any doubts whether there will be a new leader after him? Another U.S. airstrike killed Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2006 in Iraq. Now, we`re debating whether bombing Syria would be the way to kill the new guy, al Baghdadi, who`s taken over since we killed the old guy. In 2010, the targeted killing to end all targeted killings, Osama bin Laden, himself. Now, the man in Osama bin Laden`s office is Ayman al Zawahiri. And al Qaeda central still has groups competing to see who can bet their official franchise in troubled states around the world. Airstrikes are not magic. President Obama left today for a European trip in part to try and shore up international support for his strategy to try to contain and isolate an increasingly aggressive Vladimir Putin in Russia. He`ll also be working on the NATO side of an international coalition to try and stop ISIS, to try to stop this Islamic state group -- across not just NATO and not just the western world, but across the whole world including the Muslim world, even across the more radical-friendly Muslim state governments around the world, ISIS has united the world in revulsion with their tactics and their goals. To them, that`s a feature, not a bug. That`s part of what they`re trying to do. Have we learned enough in past fights, have we learned enough in fighting groups with those goals who use those kinds of tactics to get at those goals, have we learned enough to fight them now in a way that might actually work this time, in a way that isn`t just giving them exactly what they want? NBC`s Richard Engel joins us live from the Turkish/Syrian border in just a moment. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is going to be joining us live from the Turkish/Syrian border in just a moment. We`ll be right back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, we`re trying to do a constructive thing here. Constitutionally speaking, it`s Congress that is supposed to decide if we are going to war or not. A president can deploy U.S. troops into hostilities for 60 days on his own say so without Congress weighing, but under the War Powers resolution, those troops are supposed to be brought back in 60 days if the Congress doesn`t authorize them to participate in those hostilities. Will Congress do that? In an effort to keep track whether Congress may or may not do their constitutional duty, vote, even debate the issue of military force in Iraq and maybe in Syria, we have started a public whip count of all the members of Congress who have publicly expressed the need for a vote on military authorization of the use of force against ISIS. Last week, we had five U.S. senators and over 80 members of the House from both parties. Today we`re adding three more members of the House. Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, and California Republican Congressman Ed Royce. We can add one more U.S. senator, Democrat from Florida, Senator Bill Nelson who says he`s going to be introducing to authorize airstrikes in Syria if President Obama decides that is what he wants to do. And in some breaking news, late this evening, we just got word from the White House President Obama has ordered an additional 350 military personnel to Iraq. The White House specified that those 350 people will not be serving in a combat role but will be deployed to Baghdad to protect U.S. diplomatic outposts there. Joining us now from Antakya, Turkey, on the Syrian border, is NBC chief correspondent, chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel. Richard, thanks very much for being there. I have to ask you about how you see the overall U.S. approach to this problem right now. We were just talking in New York last week, you said you didn`t see what the overall rationale and design was from a U.S. government prospective. RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I`ve been struggling to figure out what our foreign policy is as we have so many conflicts around the world, so many conflicts in the Muslim world. Libya is falling apart, is going back into civil war. The capital no longer in control of any reasonable force. You have Syria and Iraq in a state of collapse. And I`m not exactly sure what our objectives are. I was listening, as I always do, to your introduction just a few minutes ago, and you pointed out a couple of very important issues. There is this terrorist dilemma. You don`t want to fall into the terrorist trap. Terrorists want to do atrocious, horrible things in order to provoke an emotional response. And you talked about a few examples. Think about Osama bin Laden. That`s perhaps the greatest example. He launched 9/11 in order to draw the United States into a war in Afghanistan. He watched. He participated in the conflict when the Soviet Union was pulled into a war in Afghanistan. And it was pivotal to collapsing the Soviet Empire. He said in repeated statements that the goal of 9/11 in part was to draw the United States into a land war in Afghanistan which he thought would be the end of the American empire. It proved not to be the end of the United States, but it was, in fact, very costly. So, you don`t want to allow the terrorists by doing something heinous to pull you into a conflict where they choose at a timing of their own choosing. But, now, you have a situation with ISIS on the move, with the state where you can`t ignore it. You can`t close the door and forget about this because things have advanced so far that it`s not going to resolve itself without any kind of intervention. So, you have to split the difference. You can`t get sucked in, but you can`t do nothing. And I think this problem, finding a middle ground, has left the United States in paralysis. MADDOW: Richard, join look at the history of not just groups like this, but fighting groups like this, not just militias, not just would-be sort of proto-states around the world but really terrorist groups using terrorist strategy to get us to fight on their terms, to pick their own enemies and pick their own turf and pick their own tactics of battle -- are there examples where these groups have been effectively either defeated or sidelined or neutralized that we should see as models for ways to defeat them in the long run rather than just sort of playing this game where every once in a while, you`re able to use an airstrike or commando raid to take out their leadership, but they just regrow? ENGEL: There are quite a few historic examples. It usually takes a long time. Seven to 10 years. But the most effective way, it seems, is to carry out occasional airstrikes when necessary, but really to have a local indigenous force that does it for you. ISIS, the best thing about ISIS if there could be any good thing about ISIS is it is to brutal that almost everywhere it goes within a matter of months, it is hated by the people where it is governing. So, there are plenty of people in Syria, in Iraq, who are very happy to rise up and stand against ISIS. It just takes a great amount of diplomatic skill, takes a lot of coalition building. It takes determination, risk to engage these groups, to try and get them empowered enough, financed enough, to get them the right kind of intelligence so that they can get rid of ISIS, themselves, with the occasional help from above. MADDOW: Richard, we`re just learning tonight that the president is deploying another 350 U.S. troops to Iraq. He`s not saying that these troops are for a combat role but rather that they`ll be protecting U.S. diplomatic facilities inside Iraq. I don`t -- I can`t do the math in my head right now, but from what I remember, I think that means we`re up over 1,000 troops deployed right now, doing airstrikes, fighting ISIS, and also advising troops fighting ISIS, and also protecting U.S. facilities there. Are enough troops there in meaningful numbers that we should see this as a start of a large-scale U.S. operation or do you see this as sort of equivalent to the sort of things we don`t think of as war in the kind of places around the world where we have people deployed all the time but doesn`t rise to the level of something we ought to be debating as a war back at home? ENGEL: I think we are now at the level -- and it is over 1,000 right now -- of the residual force. You remember there was so much talk, and the Democrats, Republicans, were beating themselves up whether there would be a residual force left in Iraq after the U.S. pullout. Well, that residual force is now there. It has been put there piecemeal. Not with the combat mission, but with an advising combat mission. And there`s a lot more than 1,000 people involved in this. There are many aircraft flying over Iraq right now. There are drones flying over aircraft. This means that U.S. command centers, mostly special operations forces command centers, are watching the terrain, advising the Iraqi government, aiding and supplying Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who are in northern Iraq. So, we are involved in this conflict, we`re just trying to do it by remote control. And 1,000 is not an insignificant number. There is a chance that some of them could get caught up in the fighting, but the idea is that they are the stay-behind force that was never left behind in order to prevent the Iraqi army from collapsing as it did collapse in Mosul. I think something to watch right now is, will this force be enough to allow the Iraqi army to take back the city of Mosul? The Iraqi government is now making a lot of noises that it is going to launch an offensive against Mosul and drive is out of the flagship city that it took where it seized all the American Humvees and the American weapons from the Iraqi army, where the Iraqi army suffered a humiliation when two divisions dropped their weapons and ran. If the Iraqi army can take over Mosul and hold it, then I think it would be an achievement for this strategy of putting American advisers back on the ground to help the Iraqi army reconstitute itself and reclaim some of its territory including a major city. But it`s not at all clear that the Iraqi forces are at a stage yet where they can take Mosul. MADDOW: If they could, of course, it would be a huge psychological shift in at least the perceived momentum there. NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel staying up until the dead of night to be with us from Antakya, Turkey, on the Syrian border -- Richard, thank you so much. All right. The jury is out on former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, literally and metaphorically. We`ll have the latest straight ahead on that. And also a trip to "Debunktion Junction". There`s lots to come tonight. Stay with us. But, first, one more thing about our running tally of members of Congress who have publicly said that Congress ought to take a vote on military authorization for the U.S. of force in the Middle East. There are still hundreds of members of the House and dozens of senators who might weigh in one way or the other. The list as it stands right now is up at right now. You can be part of this. If you notice your hometown lawmaker calling for a vote or saying that Congress needs a vote, drop a link in the comments at and we will keep adding to that list as we learn more. We`ll be right back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. In a hard-fought governor`s race this year in the great state of Alaska, Alaska Democrats have decided to win that race by quitting that race. And if you think Alaska governor and quitting, you`re probably thinking about this person who quit halfway through her first term as governor after coming in second in the race for vice president of the United States, but that`s not who I`m talking about. Because after she quit, her lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, he got the top job in Alaska and Republican Alaska Governor Sean Parnell this year is up for re-election. Sean Parnell does not have great approval ratings. Before today, though, he did have the advantage of running in a split field. He was running against not one opponent, but two. In this race against a popular independent and also a Democratic candidate, Sean Parnell probably by virtue of the split field was going to hold on to his seat. Now, though, Alaska Democrats have decided to kibosh their own candidate for governor and have him run instead as the lieutenant governor running mate with the independent guy. Who`s going to be running for governor. They formed a fusion campaign. The independents and the Democrats have teamed up in a fusion campaign that is much more likely to actually unseat the Republican incumbent. Now, this whole scheme obviously involved lots of negotiations about how they`re going to describe themselves and what their platform is and how they get their existing lieutenant governor running mates to drop out, kindly. But Alaska Democrats really have decided now that the best chance of winning their partisan fight against Republicans is to blow up the two- party system that created that partisan fight in the first place. It`s not bunk. That really did happen today in Alaska. It`s true. And that doesn`t mean there isn`t a lot of bunk you may have heard masquerading as news about other stories today. And for that reason, right at the end of the show today, there`s a "Debunktion Junction". That`s coming up. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Take a look at this. It`s called he said/he said. It`s a chart the "Washington Post" put together comparing on the one hand things that were said by former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and on the other hand things that were said by the man who`s accused of bribing McDonnell when he was governing to the tune of more than $160,000. Take, for example, the Rolex, engraved Rolex that was purchased by businessman Jonnie Williams then given to the governor by his wife. Governor McDonnell says when his wife gave him that Rolex on Christmas Eve, he assumed that his wife had bought the watch to give to him. Jonnie Williams, though, he says the governor texted him a photo of himself wearing the watch which led Jonnie Williams to leave that Bob McDonnell knew where the watch was actually from. Take the all-expenses-paid trip to a resort on Cape Cod which Jonnie Williams also paid for. Governor McDonnell says that was very little business discussed on that trip, it was just a chance for him to have some time with his family -- while another guy was paying for some strange reason. Jonnie Williams, however, billed that trip as an expense to his company and said the whole point of the trip was to get Governor McDonnell on board promoting his company. He told the jury, quote, "I was working the entire weekend." Mr. Williams says that he had discussed with the governor a $50,000 loan Mr. Williams planned to make to First Lady Maureen McDonnell. He says the governor even thanked him for that loan. Governor McDonnell on the other hand contends he knew nothing of the $50,000 loan until after his wife received it and then he was horrified to find out what she had done. Not horrified enough, though, that he didn`t then personally move to arrange himself $70,000 more in loans from the same guy. The discrepancies between the he said/he said worlds here, right, the discrepancies between the world of lavish gifts and cash as told by Bob and the world of lavish gifts and cash as told by Jonnie, discrepancies between those two are now a key part of what the jury is weighing in the 14-count federal corruption trial of Governor Bob McDonnell in Virginia. Today, the jury finally got the case. The judge spent two hours going through nearly 90 pages of jury instructions with them in the morning. Judge James Spencer told the jurors they should examine and weigh with greater care than usual any testimony from witnesses who have been granted immunity in exchange for their testimony like, say, Jonnie Williams, the star witness of the prosecution case. Judge Spencer also told the jury that governor McDonnell`s wife, Maureen, she can`t be on the hook for the public corruption charges she`s facing unless her husband, Bob, is convicted of them, too. If he hasn`t committed a public corruption crime, then she cannot have conspired with him to commit that crime and so she`ll be off the hook, too, basically by definition. Well, after these jury instructions today, after jury instructions so long and complicated that they actually required a 15-minute intermission halfway through, the jury did start deliberating today. They ruminated on this case for roughly 5 1/2 hours today, but at the end of the day, they still had no verdict. They`re due to be back at it first thing tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is day two of jury deliberations. Joining us now is Ryan Nobles. He`s political reporter covering the story for NBC 12 in Richmond. Mr. Nobles, thanks very much for being here. RYAN NOBLES, NBC 12: My pleasure, Rachel. Thank you for having me. MADDOW: So, 85 to 90 pages of instructions for the jury. They had to take an intermission in getting all those instructions from the judge. Did it seem like the jurors were sort of OK with the instructions they received or just such an overwhelming amount of information you think they might have trouble? NOBLES: Rachel, I think that`s a question you could ask about the entire trial. I mean, we`ve had five weeks of testimony and arguments from the attorneys from both sides and a lot has been knee deep in legalese. And these are just average folks sitting on the jury and a lot of us in the press corps wonder at certain points if they seem overwhelmed by everything happening. Judge Spencer has taken care to make sure each and every one of them are prepared for what they`re facing in this deliberation. And that is a big question as we go into it, and I can`t imagine that any of them understand the very specificity of this law that they`re dealing with and then when you pile on top of it all of these in-depth instructions, it certainly is a momentous task that they have in front of them and I think that`s why most of us think it`s going to be quite a while before they come back with a verdict. MADDOW: Specifically, in terms of how hard it might be for them to understand their remit and what they`re being asked to decide, do they have option in terms of getting more guidance on these instructions now that they started deliberation? Can they actually ask the judge for help if they need it? NOBLES: Yes, they can ask the judge questions about the instructions, but Judge Spencer was very specific with him that the rules of the courtroom allow him very little latitude in providing guidance. They basically have to take all of these instructions and that is their bible. That is what they have to use to make this ultimate decision. He can clarify. He can kind of emphasize certain points that stay within the bounds of the law. But for the most part, all they have is their recollection, what they heard over these past five weeks, and then that lengthy set of instructions to come up a final decision. MADDOW: Ryan, in terms of the broader view here, I`m wondering if you as a reporter can give us your sense of the effect that this trial is having on the political atmosphere in Virginia. Obviously, he`s a former governor. He`s the first Virginia governor indicted for acts while in office ever in Virginia history. He was indicted just a few days after he left office. He`s a legend in the state in terms of his political profile. Is this trial being seen as a very big deal in the state? How is it being viewed in Virginia? NOBLES: Well, I don`t think there`s any question that most political observers have never seen anything like the spectacle that we`ve seen over the past five weeks. All the television cameras, all the excitement and interest every time the former governor and his wife come in the courtroom separately every year -- every morning. But there`s no real indication there`s been any sort of movement or impetus on behalf of the general assembly to make any changes as related to Virginia`s really lax gift laws. They put forth some real meager legislation in this past general assembly session, but yet even though the eyes of the world and the eyes of the United States are focused on Virginia, there`s been no calls for stricter gift laws. There`s been no legislators that have put forward plans to make something happen. They do have a special session coming up in the next month where they`re going to deal with Medicaid expansion, but there`s been no one who`s taken a strong stand about increasing the gift laws. Of course, the current governor, Terry McAuliffe, imposed a gift ban on himself, but he`s a multimillionaire and nothing in this sense he would necessarily be someone who could become a victim of a situation like this. So, yes, everybody agrees that this is a historic month that we faced here in Virginia, but whether or not it turns into something substantive over the long term so that these politicians could maybe protect themselves from their selves, at this point we haven`t seen anything like that. MADDOW: Ryan Nobles is political reporter for NBC 12 in Richmond -- Ryan, thank you very much. Good to have you here. Appreciate it. NOBLES: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: On the last point Ryan was making, it`s amazing, $160,000 in cash and prizes, enough to get the attention of federal prosecutors. Nobody ever contended it might have broken Virginia law. That kind of thing doesn`t look that illegal under state law. Maybe that`s a problem for state law. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Cardinal rule of political crisis management: if you have some kind of bad news to put out, the only thing better than putting it out 6:00 on a Friday night is putting it out 6:00 on a Friday night before a long holiday weekend. And so it was this past Friday night, right as the Labor Day weekend was upon us, that news really did break out of Kentucky. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: News tonight of a huge shakeup in Kentucky`s Senate race. Mitch McConnell`s right hand man, his campaign manager, resigns as questions swirl. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know how this works -- bad news right before a long holiday weekend. Jesse Benton will resign effective Saturday, what he knew in an endorsement for pay scandal involving a 2012 campaign he was in charge of. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The patented Friday night, right before the Labor Day weekend, late night news dump. Ta-da! Last week on this show, we reported extensively on the chickens coming home to roost from a bribery scandal involving the Ron Paul for president campaign back in 2012. A former Republican state senator from Iowa pled guilty in federal court last week on two counts related to a secret deal that he`d worked out with the Ron Paul campaign in which they`d given more than $70,000 for him to endorse Ron Paul. The guy who was running the Ron Paul campaign back then, when they were bribing a guy for his endorsement, was a longtime Paul family political aide named Jesse Benton. Jesse Benton then went on to become the campaign manager for the top Republican in the U.S. Senate. He`s the campaign manager for Mitch McConnell of Kentucky now that McConnell is running for re-election. Last week, as that bribery scandal was resulting in that guilty plea in Iowa, sealed documents and word the guy pleading guilty was cooperating with prosecutors, last week as that news was breaking, the Mitch McConnell campaign refused to respond to our phone calls and e-mails about their campaign manager`s role in that bribery scandal. They refused comment for two days. And then, bam, right before the holiday weekend, Jesse Benton quit. Stepped down as Mitch McConnell`s campaign manager after close of business on the Friday before a holiday weekend. And incidentally, two months before Election Day. That, in itself, is big political news, but there`s also a criminal investigation here that`s still under way. "The Washington Post" reporting late last week that the federal investigation into that Ron Paul campaign bribery scheme is ongoing and that the focus of federal prosecutors at this point is on the people who were running the Ron Paul campaign back then. So, that part of the story, the criminal part of it, may not be over yet. Stick a pin in that for now, right? In terms of the political part of this scandal, though, there is also this. This is Jesse Benton standing alongside Kentucky`s other Republican senator, Rand Paul. The thing that Jesse Benton did right before running the Ron Paul presidential campaign in 2012, bribery and all, was that he ran the 2010 campaign that got Rand Paul elected to the United States Senate. So, he did son Rand`s Senate campaign in 2010, then he did dad, Ron`s, presidential campaign in 2012, and yes, Jesse Benton was believed to run son Rand`s presidential campaign in 2016 -- was being the operative word. If Rand Paul is going to run for president, why else would he be spending all this time these days in -- all his time these days in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, if he`s going to run for president, Rand Paul has had an awful few days. I mean, on Friday, his presidential campaign manager in waiting was forced to quit his current job and is still mired in what is reportedly an ongoing federal criminal investigation into bribery. And then today, this was the front page of rand page of Rand Paul`s home state newspaper, "The Lexington Herald Leader". "Voters offer mixed signals for Rand Paul in 2016." The headline refers to a new poll that shows 22 percent of Kentucky voters want Rand Paul to run for president. But look at the sub-headline there. They don`t want season law changed to allow Senate and White House bids. Oh, right. It`s the law of the land in Kentucky that you can`t run for two federal offices on the same ballot. In 2016, Ron Paul is not only contemplating a presidential run. He`s also up for re-election in the Senate. Under Kentucky law, you can`t do both at once. They`ve had to change the law in the state to let him do that. So this is sort of one of those crystalline moments in politics. This calls the question as to whether Rand Paul is a real candidate and a real Republican or whether, like his dad, he`s a perennial protest candidate, a candidate running not the win, but running to run, because running is good for the cause and good for the family business. The Ron Paul protest candidacies for decades now have been the Paul family business. A protest candidacy is one that can`t win an election. Nobody is under any illusion you`re going to be the last man standing, but your running can build an ideological movement at which you`re the center. Luckily, though, you`ll never have significant governing responsibilities, that might sully your purist appeal to the college sophomores of the world. I mean, that`s what the Ron Paul backwards e-revolution has been about, protest candidacy as family business. I mean, Rand Paul`s claim for why he should have been elected to the Senate in 2010 was that he was Ron Paul`s son, and therefore, a junior level icon of the movement. I mean, he didn`t run as being an excellent ophthalmologist. He ran and he won on being the younger, maybe second coming of Ron Paul the movement. So, now, here`s the question: Is Rand Paul just a protest candidate as the Pauls have been for a very long time? Or is he an actual Republican candidate who`s trying to win the presidency and not just further market the family brand? And in a really specific way, that question is now being called, because that new poll in Kentucky on the front page of his newspaper shows that 66 percent of Kentucky voters don`t want to change that state law in Kentucky that would allow Rand Paul to run for president and run for his seat in the Senate at the same time, 2/3 of the state agrees that if Rand Paul really wants to run for president, he would have to give up the Senate seat in order to do that. And giving up the Senate seat is not the kind of thing that you do, if you`re not actually expecting to win your race for president, if you`re just running because you`re looking forward to running. So, this calls the question, right? I mean, if Kentucky calls the question for Rand Paul, will he give up his Senate seat and really run for president because he thinks he can win? I`ll believe it when I see it. But watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Hoot, hoot, "Debunktion Junction", what`s my function? OK. President Vladimir Putin of Russia is none too pleased about the West and the U.S. pressuring him about the war he`s waging against Eastern Ukraine. But in advance of President Obama`s provocative trip tonight to Russia`s border, to the tiny nation of Estonia on the Russian border, there are reports that President Putin has dramatically increased the belligerence of his stance toward Ukraine. Did Vladimir Putin really just say, quote, "If I wanted to, I could take Kiev in two weeks"? Vladimir Putin now says I could take the capital of Ukraine, I could take all of Ukraine in two weeks if I wanted to. Did that really happen? Is that true or false? True. It was first reported by the Italian paper "La Republica" after the president of the European commission told the paper that`s what Putin said to him. "If I wanted to, I could take that whole country in two weeks." Confusion about this might have come when the Kremlin tried to muddy the waters about the quote, saying it was unprofessional and unserious for this European diplomat to have told newspapers what President Putin said to him. They said, really, if you heard the comment in context, it didn`t sound so bad. But is the Kremlin denying that Putin said this thing? No. They are not denying that he said it. So, it`s true that on the eve of President Obama arriving on Russia`s border in part to pressure Russia to back off its war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin really is bragging that if he wants to, he can take that whole huge country in two weeks. That one`s true. Ek! Next up, the last time a U.S. president visited the Balkans was when George W. Bush visited Albania in 2007. The thing that most people remember about that last trip is it resulted in this 9 1/2 foot statue being erected by the Albanian government to honor President Bush. It shows George W. Bush over nine feet tall with pleated pants and a teeny tiny little head. But beyond the giant statue that they built of him in Albania, is it true or false that the last trip by a U.S. trip to the Balkans also included him having his watch stolen while he was there? You might have seen the headlines. Theft mystery over George Bush`s vanishing timepiece. ABC News, "Was Bush`s Watch Stolen in Albania?" Well, here`s the video. President Bush shaking hands in an Albanian crowd in 2007. And here`s basically when the moment the watch disappears. I`ll show a close up from the beginning where you can see the dark strap on his left wrist. And then about 10 seconds later, the same left wrist but no watch strap visible. Here`s some still shots. This one shows before -- hold on, we have before. See the bottom part of the screen there the watch? You can see the watch there at the bottom center? And this is during, here he is shaking hands. People sort of grabbing his wrists. And then after, same event. Here`s the president -- wait, look at his left wrist. Tan line, no watch. Is that true or is that false, that the last time a U.S. president went to the Balkans, the president had the watch stolen off his wrist in a crowd of Albanians, is that true or is that false? False. Although he did start that handshaking with a watch on his left wrist, and he did finish the handshaking with no watch on his left wrist, the White House clarified that president bush didn`t lose the watch, so much as he took it off himself and maybe stuffed it in his own pocket or gave it to a bodyguard to hold. Anyway, they say he didn`t get it stolen. It is basically the only thing you will find if you try to Google about the last time a U.S. president went to the Balkans. But it is not apparently true that President Bush had his watch stolen while he was there. Presumably, this White House is hoping to replace headlines like those, with something more memorable in its own terms. The president will be wheels down in Estonia very shortly. It`s about 10:00 Eastern Time tomorrow morning that he`s going to be addressing U.S. troops who are stationed in Estonia. Now, in part to remind Russia that the full force of NATO is really on their doorstep. The speech is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Eastern hour tomorrow. It will be worth watching if you have been curious to see what it looks like when this president rattles his saber. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Thanks for being with us tonight. Good evening, Lawrence. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END