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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/04/15

Guests: Ben Hodges

HAYES: Yes. That is "ALL IN" for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you. I will tell you, I was in the makeup room as you were laying out that whole story, and as soon as you finished telling the story about what happened in Argentina, everybody in the room went, wow. HAYES: Yes. MADDOW: That`s an amazing story. Thanks. Appreciate it. All right. What do the St. Louis Cardinals have in common with the kingdom of Belgium? This is not a trick question. It is not a beer- related question. What do the Cardinals have in common with Belgium? Turns out it`s this guy. This is Stephen Brauer. Mr. Brauer was America`s top diplomat in Belgium under the George W. Bush administration. Brauer did not speak Flemish. He did not French either. He did not have any background in government service or diplomacy. But he did part own a baseball team. And he had raised more than $400,000 for President Bush`s first presidential campaign. And so, a short while later, however unlikely it seems, he actually got the ambassadorship to Belgium, even though he, at least on paper, had absolutely no qualifications for that job. It is a dirty little, totally bipartisan, totally open secret in American politics, that American presidents give out ambassadorships basically as thank you notes to a few of their chosen biggest funders. Pretty much every president does it. When it inevitably happens, members of the opposing party always cry foul and say this is a terrible thing. It is, though, one of our grosser bipartisan traditions. And it goes back a ways. This is from "The Philadelphia Inquirer" in 1989, quote, "The Worst Ambassador?" This is about one of George H.W. Bush`s nominees. A guy named Joseph Zappala. "The most embarrassing nomination may be that of developer Joseph Zappala, who gave the GOP more than $100,000 and found himself named to be the main man for the United States in Spain. A foreign affairs neophyte, he knows little about Spain. Mr. Zappala can`t even speak Spanish, even though it is the second language of the former Spanish territory he calls home which is Florida." I mean, lest you think this is a Bush thing, it`s really not. It`s not even a Republican thing. President Obama has carried on this tradition with some gusto. This is what happened last year during one confirmation hearing for the president`s nominee to be the ambassador to Argentina. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Have you been to Argentina? NOAH BRYSON MAMET: Senator, I haven`t had the opportunity yet to be there. I`ve traveled pretty extensively around the world, but I haven`t yet had a chance. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: No, I haven`t -- never occurred to me I should go there. Also last year, President Obama`s nominee to be the ambassador to Norway, who had been a major fund-raiser for the president, he told senators that Norway has a president. Norway does not have a president. The Norway guy pulled himself out of contention for ambassador after that mistake. So, sometimes our ambassadors to certain countries are objectively not qualified for their jobs. But that`s not true of all of them. And sometimes they really, really are qualified. Sometimes you`re glad they got picked. This is Barbara Leaf. She is our ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. She was confirmed by the Senate in November last year. Before she became ambassador to the UAE, she was the deputy assistant secretary of state for the Arabian Peninsula in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Before that, she was deputy assistant secretary for Iraq, before that she worked for a year in Basra in Iraq. She left a job in Rome in order to go to Iraq. Most people don`t choose Iraq when they`re already in Italy. Ambassador Leaf speaks Arabic, she speaks French, she speaks Italian, she also happens to speak Serbo-Croatian in case that`s necessary. She`s our ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. She is a very experienced diplomat. But she has not been in the job on the UAE for very long. And it`s very clear that it`s good we have somebody highly qualified and highly experienced as a diplomat in that position right now, because Ambassador Leaf has had a difficult first month on the job. In this scoop today, "The New York Times" reports that Ambassador Leaf was confronted last week by the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, what they described as a blunt exchange. The reason for that blunt exchange, the reason why the foreign minister from UAE let our brand- new ambassador to his country have it, it`s the words that were used in the article. The reason they had this confrontation is the issue of search and rescue. Specifically, search and rescue of coalition military pilots who might fall into enemy hands, who might fall into ISIS` hands if they crash while conducting air strikes over Syria in the war against ISIS. That foreign minister told our ambassador last week that in his country`s view, U.S. Central Command, the U.S. military is not doing enough, is not putting enough assets in place in the region to allow for the capability we would need to go in and rescue a pilot who for whatever reason found himself in trouble during that air strike campaign. We got that story today for the first time. We learned that that meeting happened last week in Abu Dhabi. We also learned that the United Arab Emirates suspended its participation in airstrikes against ISIS. They suspended that key part of their involvement in the U.S.-led coalition in December. They haven`t been flying air strike missions since Christmas Day. The UAE is part of the coalition that agreed to conduct strikes against is alongside the United States. They`ve been dropping bombs on ISIS targets in Syria, along with this crucial international coalition. But since Christmas Day, since the day after a Jordanian pilot was downed and captured in Syria, the United Arab Emirates has stopped conducting air strikes, apparently for fear of the safety of their pilots. Yesterday, of course, ISIS released a video purporting to show that Jordanian pilot burned alive while trapped in a cage. Today, "The New York Times" reports that the UAE in December suspended its airstrikes in support of the coalition, and that news raises a couple of really interesting points. One is about the integrity of this coalition in which we are engaged in our military campaign against ISIS. It`s us and a handful of Arab countries, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Securing the support of those four Arab countries, those four Muslim countries was incredibly important to this administration when they undertook this air campaign in Syria. They said not only do we not want to do it alone, we don`t want to do it without Sunni Arab allies. A lot of political import plays on that united front. This was not going to be the United States going it alone in the Middle East again. This was going to be the United States engaging in air strikes against is with Syria`s Arab and Muslim neighbors. Is that coalition now falling apart? Important point number one. Important point number two, is the United Arab Emirates right in being afraid for the safety of their pilots? Is there adequate search and rescue protection for pilots, for any of the coalition countries, flying these air strikes over ISIS targets? Is there adequate protection, are there adequate assets in place to rescue them if need be if they go down while dropping bombs on ISIS, including our own pilots? An unnamed American defense official gave a very un-reassuring quote to the "Washington Post" today in response to this criticism from UAE, that there wasn`t enough preparation and planning on the ground, there weren`t enough assets in place to save that Jordanian pilot after his plane went down over ISIS territory in Syria. The defense official told "The Washington Post" today that the UAE was quibbling over the speed with which the response happened. Quibbling. Yes. The speed with which the response happened, that was kind of everything. The speed of it sort of turned out to be everything here. That timing made a life-and-death difference for that pilot because they didn`t get to him in time. And that`s how ISIS got him. We know how it turned out. And maybe no search-and-rescue effort would have been feasible in the case of this pilot. Maybe it was just a terrible stroke of luck in terms of when he went down and where he went down. Maybe he was un-rescuable. But this is a real question for all of the countries who agreed to participate in these air strikes against ISIS. What happens if a pilot goes down, another pilot goes down? It`s a real question for all five countries engaged in these airstrikes over Syria. It is an especially important question for us, given that American pilots are flying the lion`s share, really, the lion`s share of these sorties. Of the more than 1,000 airstrikes in Syria against ISIS, the United States has conducted 943 of them. So, yes, if you want to worry about pilots, worry about our pilots. We reached out to the Defense Department today for their response to this contention made by a coalition member, that our search-and-rescue operations in our fight with ISIS are not reassuring enough. And the Pentagon responded with this strongly worded statement. Quote, from the Defense Department official, quote, "When American pilots fly over enemy territory, they know there are risks involved, but they also know they`re backed up by an unswerving commitment to recover them if they go down. The same military personnel and resources are there to support pilots from the nations that fly with us. There is no risk coalition airmen are taking that American airmen don`t share." So it`s a seemingly attempt from the Pentagon in that statement to us tonight to reassure the world about the safety of the pilots who are involved in this military effort against ISIS. Or at least the commitment that the United States has to every pilot involved in the effort regardless of nationality. At this particular time, this horrible case, the pilot happened to be a Jordanian air force pilot. But it was a reminder to everyone how dangerous this mission is. Yes, it`s an air campaign, but that`s not magic, right? It`s still incredibly dangerous. If that poor guy had been an American pilot instead of a Jordanian pilot, given what happened to him, can you imagine how we would be reacting as a country right now? I mean, that`s just the human reaction we would have for the family of an American service member captured by ISIS, and treated that way. But imagine what that would do to our country politically, right? What kind of decisions would we make as a country in the wake of something horrible like that happening? I mean, you can see the change, both in our country and around the world, not just in Jordan, in response to the Jordanian pilot. Can you imagine if it had been an American? We`ve already seen how devastating it is to us as a country when American civilians are held hostage and murdered by ISIS. Well, there`s some new reporting on that front as well today. It`s being reported that ISIS is now holding fewer than 20 foreign hostages from different countries around the world. That includes reportedly at least one American, a 26-year-old American woman. According to reporting in "Foreign Policy" magazine today, U.S. intelligence officials believe this young American woman is still alive in part because they have some sort of proof of life they received, something specific as recently as a couple of weeks ago. Now, the United States policy doesn`t pay for hostages, we don`t pay ransom. Some European countries and Middle Eastern countries do, we do not. We also do not trade for hostages most of the time. Surprising enough that Jordan made that offer to trade prisoners with ISIS. That offer ultimately did not work. They didn`t get their pilot back. But as a rule, in general, we don`t make those offers either. What we do as a matter of preference when we can is get hostages out. And there was new reporting on that front today as well. In general, the U.S. does everything in our power to free hostages when we can. But according to "The New York Times," after ISIS released that horrific video yesterday, President Obama decided to instruct national security officials and the intelligence community to devote resources to locating other hostages held by the Islamic State. It`s not like we weren`t looking for them before. But according to "The Times," the president has redoubled those instructions, find the hostages. We have a long history of swooping in and trying to get our people out when they`re being held in circumstances like this. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. There was a rescue mission mounted by Special Operations troops to try to save American journalist James Foley and Steven Sotloff. That rescue mission last year failed and they were both ultimately killed by ISIS. Last month, the United States launched a mission to try to save another American journalist who was being held by al Qaeda in Yemen. His name is Luke Summers. That mission also failed. Luke Summers was killed by his captors, as was a South African citizen was apparently just hours away from being freed because of ransom negotiations. We sent in special operators, both of those hostages were killed. So, sometimes those raids don`t work. Sometimes it does work. When it does, it`s amazing. 2005, Army Delta Force operators rescued an American contractor who had been kidnapped and held for almost a year. He was rescued about 15 miles outside of Baghdad. In 2009, there was the incredibly tense and dangerous and dramatic rescue of Captain Richard Phillips who was being held by Somali pirates onboard the USS Maersk Alabama. U.S. Navy SEALs were successful in saving Captain Phillips, and that has become legend, deservedly so. Just a couple of years ago, Navy SEALs rescued two Americans being held in Somalia. At the time, the Obama administration called that rescue, quote, "a daring raid that will be the hallmark of future U.S. military missions." When we are successful at going in, and saving American hostages, it`s an amazing success, and they`re stories that we tell forever. But sometimes that kind of rescue operation fails. One of the most harrowing new details that was just reported today in the wake of that ISIS propaganda video and the murder of that pilot that we all saw the film of yesterday, one of the most horrifying things that was reported today concerning ISIS and the remaining hostages that they hold was this detail. Reported again in "Foreign Policy" today, that the Obama administration is apparently divided internally about whether to try to launch raids to free the remaining hostages if they can find them. Given that relevant history about our success, in terms of freeing American hostages, and what happens when we fail, there is reportedly a debate in this administration about whether specifically the families of the hostages, whether the families of the people being held, specifically presumably the family of this young American woman who is being held by ISIS, whether her family members basically get a say, whether they can veto a proposed military operation to go in and try to save her. It`s impossible to think about having to make that decision, right? I mean, if you were that girl`s mom, right, and the administration came to you and said, do you want us to send Delta Force, send the SEALs in to try to get her, here`s the track record. Do you want us to try? The decision now in part in the administration, at least reportedly today, is whether or not families -- families of these hostages get to help make that decision. What would you do? Joining us now is NBC News foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin. Ayman, it`s great to have you here. Thanks for being here. AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: So, do we know enough to know whether Emirates has a valid point to make with regard to the search-and-rescue missions, and whether or not the pilots who are doing these sorties are adequately protected in case they get shot down? MOHYELDIN: Well, I think there`s two points to this. There are some I`ve been speaking to have suggested that the United Arab Emirates wants the United States to commit more resources to this fight. But as you mentioned, these resources apply to everybody equally. They`re putting the American soldiers and fighter pilots just as much at risk as the United Arab Emirates fighter pilots. So, it`s not that United States is only using its resources just for its pilots. That argument is being made very clearly, I believe, to the United Arab Emirates government. But the United Arab Emirates government feel there is some criticism to be leveled not just against the United States, but these countries in the coalition who are not taking this fight seriously enough, who are not committing all of their resources to try to eradicate this problem with ISIS. They feel these coalition air strikes, which they were a part of for the first month or so, are not doing enough. So, there has to be new tactics, new resources, things brought to the table. This, if you will, schism between the United Arab Emirates and the United States about this particular issue of search-and-rescue resources, perhaps is just a cover, if you will, for a broader debate that the United Arab Emirates is trying to engage in. MADDOW: Although it`s hard to say we need to be doing more, therefore, we`re going to do nothing. I mean, United Arab Emirates, they are key ally here, not just because they`re in it, in the same way that Bahrain and Jordan are in it. I mean, they were -- United Arab Emirate, they were the country that came out before the United States even asked and they volunteered to say, we want to be part of the coalition to do this, and we will fight, we will go there. They were in on proportionately high number of the early strikes. They have a well-funded, well-resource military. They fly all- American jets. I mean, they`ve been seen as a country we didn`t have to ask to come along. If they`re peeling away from this now, does that mean that the whole coalition is in jeopardy? MOHYELDIN: Well, you know, they made very clear early on, on our air, the ambassador in D.C., saying this is our fight. It`s not just America`s fight. This was a fight for the UAE. And the same thing that we are now hearing from Jordan. Without these countries, two things happen. And as you mentioned, again, tactically, it`s not going to change the coalition from a military strategic point of view. But the optics of it would be disastrous. If the coalition begins to fray and fall apart, it is going to be seen as a propaganda victory for ISIS. They will certainly jump on that. They play up to that. If you watch that 22-minute video yesterday, a big part of that is targeting the coalition. They singled out every single member of that coalition and said that they are going to pay a price for participating in this U.S.-led operation. So, the optics of it, I think, would be much more significant, and the symbolism of it would be much more significant than the military component that these countries are really bringing to the table. MADDOW: Do we expect Jordan is going to up the intensity of their involvement, or the type of their involvement? Obviously, we saw Jordan yesterday retaliate against ISIS, at least indirectly, by killing two al Qaeda associated prisoners. Do we expect that Jordan is going to do something they haven`t otherwise done in terms of the military fight against ISIS? MOHYELDIN: Well, the bottom line is Jordan`s technical capabilities, military capabilities are limited. There`s only so much they can do. The coalition without the United States cannot exist. That`s a fact everybody agrees with. None of these countries are going to be able to put their own ground troops on the ground. And more importantly, all of these countries are now somewhat held hijacked by geopolitics of the region. None of them want to take on the ISIS forces along without addressing the big picture, which is the Assad regime in Damascus. The United States does not want to address that right now. It`s in a sensitive negotiation with Iran that could tip the balance. All of these geopolitics, all of these proxy issues have paralyzed the situation in trying to deal with it. So, to make it, a long answer short, there`s only so much Jordan can do. Yes. You can see them carry out a few executions in their country in retaliation, they can intensify the airstrikes. But at the end of the day, it`s going to be more of the same, not a paradigm shift in this operation. MADDOW: NBC News foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin -- Ayman, it`s great to have you here. Thank you for helping us understand. MOHYELDIN: My pleasure. Thanks. MADDOW: All right. We got lots more ahead, including yet another thing that Senator Rand Paul has to say about vaccines. Why? Why, sir? Why? Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: My boyfriend Alex Jones is the Swiss chess mind behind "Info Wars", a conspiracy belching factory of paranoia dedicated to unveiling the government operations that are happening right into your nose sheeple, 9/11, Ebola, it`s all a conspiracy to take your guns ,or whatever. This week, a conservative Web site dredged up footage of Rand Paul, telling that crazy show the most amazing thing about the government`s false flag plan to take over your lives, starting with vaccines. This thing Rand Paul said is a wonder. And it is straight ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This was the front page of "The Lexington Herald Leader" newspaper today. This is one of the biggest newspapers in Kentucky. And, look, right on the front page, above the fold, on the right side there, Rand Paul plagues himself over vaccines, potential presidential candidacy in damage control. Oh, another day, another day of horrifically bad press for senator and would-be presidential candidate Rand Paul. Started on Monday, when he gave an interview to CNBC when he suggested parents should maybe not vaccinate their children because, quote, "I`ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines." He said that Monday. Yesterday, Tuesday, Rand Paul was forced to walk back those comments saying he never suggested vaccines cause mental disorders, even though he very obviously and directly did. But he went on to say, in fact, if you really want to know what he thinks about vaccines, he loves them. He gets vaccines all the time. Look. So, Monday it was vaccines are terrible. Tuesday it was vaccines are great. What would today bring for Rand Paul? Happy Wednesday. This is Rand Paul before he was a senator. Rand Paul speaking to "Info Wars", which is the online outlet of noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Alex Jones is the 9/11 was perpetrated with by our own government guy, the Boston marathon bombing was a false flag operation launched by the U.S. government. Alex Jones is the guy who seriously says the Newtown massacre was faked. It`s all a conspiracy. Rand Paul is an Alex Jones guy from way back. And back in 2009, Senator Paul spoke to the Alex Jones outlet "Info Wars", and he said that he, Rand Paul, was worried that the flu vaccine would lead to martial law in America. Yes. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RAND PAUL: The first sort of thing you see with martial law is mandates, and they`re talking about making it mandatory. I worry because the last flu vaccine we had in the 1970s, more people died from the vaccine than died from the swine flu. I think you have to use your brain. But I think every individual should be allowed to make that choice. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: First comes mandatory flu vaccines, then comes martial law. Very slippery. Make your own call on vaccines, Alex Jones listeners. Don`t believe the man. Well, Rand Paul is now trying to act like the media spun his words this week, and tried to make him seem anti-vaccine, when really actually he loves vaccines. Just watch this clip from his interview with the Alex Jones people back in 2009. This is Rand Paul talking about how dangerous vaccines are. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: You have to be careful. You have to weigh the risks of the disease versus the risks of the vaccine. But I`m not going to tell people who think it`s a bad idea that they have to take it, because everybody should be allowed to make their own health care decisions. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Rand Paul goes on at length in this interview about how risky vaccines are and how people have to make their own choices about whether or not they want to risk getting vaccinated. And this wasn`t like, you know, back in the 1970s. This wasn`t an Aqua Buddha diversion for him. This was 2009. The silver lining in all of this, if there is one, may be the widespread backlash, even on the right, that both Rand Paul and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have been getting this week on their whack vaccine advice. This backlash is coming, refreshingly, from all quarters. "Washington Post" yesterday published a blistering editorial saying that the remarks from both Chris Christie and Rand Paul, quote, "call into question their judgment, and their fitness for higher office." And it`s not just the "Washington Post." It`s also conservative media outlets. The Alex Jones video was flagged at the Web site "Red States", which called Rand Paul`s comments on vaccines, quote, "facially insane, and beyond the pale of reasonable debate." This was the reaction today from the conservative op-ed page at "The Wall Street Journal". They slammed Rand Paul for indulging in bad science and engaging in, quote, "libertarian dormitory passions." One thing if you`re running for president to get knocked by the "Washington Post." It is quite another to get knocked by "The Wall Street Journal," and by conservative base public indications like "Red State", especially if you`re a Republican trying to win your party`s nomination for president. But that is the sort of week that Rand Paul has had so far. And, unfortunately, for him, it really is only Wednesday so far. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: For days now, we`ve been looking for the chairman of the Republican Party. Have you seen this man? Reince Priebus, leader of the National Republican Party. Reince, where are you? We`ve been e-mailing Republican Party staffers over and over again over the past few days asking where in the world Reince Priebus might be. They would not tell us. Finally, tonight, we can report a credible Reince Priebus sighting. The Republican Party`s national chairman has turned up where we least expected him. The story is going to be so much fun. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: It has been a terrible year for plane crashes, and even for lost planes. From the Malaysian flight that went missing last March and still never been located to the AirAsia crash that went missing for days over the Java Sea before its wreckage was finally found, to this astonishing, and terrible crash yesterday in Taiwan, as this TransAsia flight lost altitude and clipped a raised highway and then crashed into a Taiwanese river. This footage is just almost impossible to believe it was captured on dashboard cameras from cars that were on the highway, when the highway got hit by the plane. Thirty-one people, including the pilots, are confirmed dead in that crash. Incredibly, it appears that at least 15 people survived that crash. It has just been a terrible year for air crashes. This past July, though, there was a different type of terrible air crash when a Malaysia airlines plane did not just crash, it was shot down, it was shot out of the sky over Ukraine, near the Ukraine-Russia border. This is last summer, 298 people killed. And it appears that what happened there is that passenger jet was shot out of the sky by pro-Russian separatists who thought it was a Ukrainian military plane that they were shooting at. The separatists supported by Russia had been fighting in Eastern Ukraine for months already at that point. Vladimir Putin had annexed Crimea, part of Ukraine called Crimea, right, taken the Crimean Peninsula, and tried to make it part of Russia. And the Obama administration and European countries had denounced Russia. They imposed what turned out to be fairly crippling economic sanctions on Russia. They told Russia to get out of Ukraine and stop interfering in that country. But the downing of the plane in Eastern Ukraine on the Russian border, that upped the stakes immensely. Everybody all at the same time, left, right and center started asking the same scary reductive question, new Cold War? Is this a new Cold War? Are we, we, the United States, going to fight some sort of new war with Russia, set off by Vladimir Putin`s aggression toward this neighboring nation of Ukraine? President Obama seemed pretty clear on his answer to that, even right after that plane got shot out of the sky. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Is this a new Cold War, sir? BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. It`s not a new Cold War. REPORTER: So far, sanctions haven`t stopped Vladimir Putin. Are sanctions going to be enough? And are you considering lethal aid for Ukraine? OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, the issue at this point is not the Ukrainian capacity to outfight separatists. They are better armed than the separatists. The issue is, how do we prevent bloodshed in Eastern Ukraine? We`re trying to avoid that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So, this is not a new Cold War, we`re not going to send weapons into this fight because that`s not what Ukraine needs. And they could cause more bloodshed. That was President Obama speaking in July. Fast forward to now, and it seems like this whole question, which sort of feels old, right, it feels like last year`s news, it feels like maybe this is on again. I mean, on security issues, the reason I say this feels like last year`s news, right now, our national attention is focused on ISIS, and the confirmation hearing for the new defense secretary, and the other stuff that`s going on in national security. It hasn`t really been focused on Ukraine in terms of the national discussion. I mean, at the confirmation hearing for Ash Carter today, there was even a peep or two about Afghanistan where 10,000 U.S. troops remain and for where there`s apparently invisible gag rule that means we can`t talk about that fact. Right? So, we`re willing to talk about ISIS. We`re willing to talk even a little bit about Afghanistan. But this Ukraine thing? Are we having a war with Russia? It has fallen out of the national discussion over the last few months. But one level below those surface discussions, it really seems right now that this thing is back on. And you should know about it. In Ukraine, a cease-fire was agreed to in September. That cease-fire has been blown through. The Russian-backed forces in Ukraine have taken a couple hundred square miles of territory away from the Ukrainian government, including a major airport, shown here in ruins after the fighting was done. They`ve taken those couple hundred miles and the airport just since New Year`s this year. The Russian arm shipment to the forces fighting against Ukraine have reportedly been way up, to including lots of heavy weapons. So, that thing that President Obama said last summer about the Ukrainian government actually being better armed than the separatists, than the insurgency? Our government apparently no longer believes that is the case, given the kind of Russian weaponry that Putin seems to be shipping into the Ukrainian separatists. And so, the ground game seems to have changed. And now, the Obama administration, this week -- granted, with everybody talking about ISIS and vaccines and Rand Paul and Paris Hilton`s brother and all the rest of it -- that`s the major national discussion. But this week alongside that, below the surface, the Obama administration seems to be making a concerted effort to get the idea out there that we might be about to start fighting Vladimir Putin and Russia with more than just economic sanctions. This report from a bunch of big named military diplomatic officials, it says send $1 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine right now, send them now. "The New York Times" reported this week reported that Secretary Kerry is open to the idea, as is the chairman of the joint chiefs. They reported that national security adviser Susan Rice used to be against the idea, but she is now, quote, "prepared to reconsider." They report that the outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, he wants to get weapons into Ukraine now. And then, today, at this confirmation hearing, the man who would replace Chuck Hagel, the new nominee for defense secretary, Ash Carter, said he is, quote, "very much inclined to send American weapons into Ukraine." Secretary of State John Kerry is on his way to Ukraine right now. Vice President Joe Biden is going to be meeting with the president of Ukraine this weekend. The president of Ukraine is already publicly saying, hey, yes, America is about to start arming us, about to start shipping us weapons to fight against Russia and these Russian-backed forces. He`s already saying that publicly. Are we? It is barely started to penetrate the headlines here at all. But after last summer`s freak-out about whether we were about to restart the Cold War with Russia right now, just barely under the surface in our politics right now, our whole military and diplomatic apparatus, you can feel it shifting into gear, start talking about a new war -- at least putting us into a situation that feels an awful lot like a proxy war with Russia. And proxy war with Russia isn`t a phrase we`ve really heard since Nicaragua, or Afghanistan in the 1980s. Are we going to do that again? Are we about to start arming Ukraine as a way of fighting Russia? Would arming Ukraine actually change the situation on the ground there materially? Would it make it better? Would it risk making the war bigger and worse? And are we about to do this? The commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe is our guest next on "The Interview." Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: General, the official regional command bread product. BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGES, U.S. ARMY: Official Afghan product, with seal approval. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: It`s good, man. It`s like pizza dough. HODGES: It is. It`s wonderful. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was from my 2010 trip to Afghanistan, inside an MRAP, breaking bread with the top U.S. officer in Southern Afghanistan, then- Brigadier General Ben Hodges. Well, tonight, Ben Hodges joins us for "The Interview" as Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Forces in Europe. General Hodges has just returned from Ukraine to Wiesbaden in Germany where he`s now based. General, it`s really nice to see you again. Thanks very much for being here. HODGES: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: So, I know you recently returned from Ukraine. We`ve been talking a little bit about a lot of political noise, and media noise in this country right now that the U.S. might be seriously looking at sending lethal aid into Ukraine. When you were there, what was your assessment of how things are on the ground there now? HODGES: Rachel, I was very impressed with a couple of things when I was in Kiev three weeks ago. First, our ambassador, Ambassador Pyatt, and the U.S. country team there, they`re effective and committed. They have a good feel for what`s actually going on there. I was also impressed with civilian and military security force leadership, their earnestness and their commitment to get their institutions ready for sustained effort to improve training, leader development, this sort of thing. So, I was very impressed with that. And I did visit a military hospital in Kiev. Frankly, the quality of care was quite good. The capacity is what they lack. MADDOW: In terms of the prospect of U.S. arms, and again, there`s been no decision made. But if our government is considering sending a lot more weapons into this in the Ukrainian side for this fight they`re having with these Russian-backed separatists, do we know whether the Ukrainian forces are well-trained enough, that they can actually make good use of advanced American weaponry, sort of anti -- the kind of weapons that you would use against these armored personnel carriers, for example, that Russia that is sent in, in such large numbers? HODGES: Well, you make a couple of great points, Rachel. First of all, providing weapons is not a strategy. The military support for what`s going on would be a part of the strategy. And I think identifying what is the desired end state that the United States, the West has with respect to Russia, and to Ukraine, which is a manifestation of that, is what`s really important. And also, just providing weapons by themselves is not necessarily going to help. The equipment that`s being provided requires training, it`s typically part of the system, and that`s why what Russia has provided, you know, not only is it sophisticated equipment, but you have to have the experts to come with it. That`s why it`s laughable that people would think this is militia that`s using this. MADDOW: The reason that you can point that out is because Russia has sort of been saying, oh, it`s not us, it`s just the separatists, we support what they`re doing, but don`t think this is Russian troops and there`s a lot of reason to be skeptical about that. But I think given that, if the U.S. military did decide overtly, all right, we`re going to get involved, and really arm the Ukrainian side, I just imagine, like, if I were Vladimir Putin, I would see that as a great opportunity to triple down on the fighting and what I was going to put my name on, what I was willing to admit to, and how much military commitment I was willing to make to Ukraine, if only because his war-making is sort of the only thing working for him with his own domestic audience. His economy has totally cratered, he`s seen -- being a little weaker with the Russian people than many other issues. But they like him in terms of the war. If I were him, I would scale up if we did, too. HODGES: Well, certainly, President Putin has two objectives, I think. Number one is to continue moving boundaries around Europe, to destabilize those countries that are on his periphery so that they cannot be in the E.U., that they would not be -- could not join NATO. So, to create the instability around his periphery. And certainly, Ukraine is the most important country on the periphery of Russia, in terms of non-NATO countries. His second objective is, I`m sure, to splinter our great alliance, NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to put a wedge between North America and Europe, to create doubt in the minds of the smaller NATO countries, that the risk of the alliance would be there. Those are the two objectives. And -- so, that`s why I think you`re right, he`s emphasizing the use of military force, and it seems to me that he`s shown no indication to back off despite the very strong sanctions that are in place. MADDOW: Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Forces in Europe. When we met in 2010, I was doing this job, I`m still doing this job. You, meanwhile, are now the commander of U.S. Army Forces in Europe. Congratulations on your success thus far in the Army, sir. And thank you for taking the time to talk with us tonight. HODGES: Rachel, thank you. And thanks for helping to educate your viewers. MADDOW: I appreciate it, sir. Thank you. All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We got word tonight from the White House that President Obama`s longest serving staffer at this point, Dan Pfeiffer, the communications department there, is going to be leaving the White House. He`s been with President Obama from the beginning. So, his decision as an Obama original to not stay on for the last couple of years -- that`s interesting. Although we don`t know what senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer will be doing next. He`ll be stepping down a couple of weeks. Then, late this evening after that, we also heard that the second announcement, White House Communications Director Jen Palmieri is also leaving. Again, I don`t know what Dan Pfeiffer is leaving to do, but Jen is leaving to go work on the Hillary Clinton for president campaign, which doesn`t officially exist yet. You always wonder when you get these announcements in bursts, right? I`m not sure they`re connected, but we`re keeping an eye on movement in and out of the White House, and movement toward the 2016 campaign. Stay with me on that one. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We found him. We`ve been looking for him for days. Here is Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Party. He attended the Senate Republican lunch yesterday, in Washington, and that isn`t a weird thing for him to do as Republican Party chairman, but it is weird or at least is unexpected that he was in .D.C at all. And that`s because, since December, it`s been reported multiple times that this week, Reince Priebus was going away on an all expenses paid to Israel, paid for by the American Family Association, and organized and led by this guy. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) DAVID LANE, AMERICAN RENEWAL PROJECT: So, here we are, killing 60 million babies, red ink as far as the eye can see, homosexuals praying at the inauguration. If America gets mercy, I believe -- this doesn`t sound good -- I think the process of mercy looks like car bombs in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Des Moines, Iowa. I think we get mercy, the process is going to be a very painful process. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: That`s David Lane. He works for part of a far right religious group called the American Family Association. In December, "Time" was first to report that Reince Priebus invited the 168 members of the RNC to go on a nine-day trip to Israel, paid for by the American Family Association, and led by that guy David Lane. There`s no reason RNC members can`t pay themselves to go to Israel, or go themselves, but this trip was free to them, all expenses paid. So, it basically amounts to an in-kind donation of several hundred thousand dollars to the National Republican Party from the American Family Association. That set off alarm bells for the people who spend their time documenting who the American Family Association is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRYAN FISCHER, AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATION: Hitler discovered that he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough to carry out his orders, but that homosexual soldiers basically had no limits on the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whoever Hitler sent them after. So, he surrounded himself, virtually all of the storm troopers, the brown shirts, were male homosexuals. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So, that`s the American Family Association. That`s who Reince Priebus invited the members of the RNC to go to Israel with, all expenses paid. People for the American Way and Southern Poverty Law Center, groups like that have exhaustive work cataloguing exactly who this work is. They`re pretty notorious, even within Republican politics. After they and David Lane specifically joined other far right activists in 2012 saying Mitt Romney shouldn`t be the Republican nominee for president because he worships a false god. These guys are notorious, even inside Republican politics. But Reince Priebus took hundreds of thousands from them, made this arrangement and would be hosting this big trip for the National Republican Party. "Time" magazine and "Haaretz" in Israel reported that a third of the members of the RNC said yes to go on the trip and Reince Priebus himself would also be going on this trip, with the American Family Association and David lane. After the trip sort of getting reported more widely, there was an announcement of the American Family Association distancing themselves from their most inflammatory spokesman, Bryan Fischer. Still, this is radio show for them. But after years of earning them terrible press, they finally demoted him within the organization before this trip with the RNC. The story started getting more and more press. Conservative Jewish group the Anti-Defamation League called the RNC to not go. The National Jewish Democratic Council did the same. The story got covered on "Politico", Jewish daily "Forward", "Haaretz" more than once, kin Israel. And now, the RNC is getting weird. First, we asked if they had anything to do with Bryan Fischer getting fired right before the RNC took its trip. No answer from them on that. We asked the RNC if Reince Priebus was still planning on going on a trip as had previously been reported. No answer from them on that. We asked the RNC if the trip was still on, if they`re still planning on going on, no answer from them on that. That seemed weird. Then, we called back the American Family Association to tell us if the trip was still on. Their lawyer told us Monday, "I don`t know that." That was literally his quotes, three days into the trip they`re paying for and leading and their line was they had no idea if it was happening. And now, as we`ve continued to badger the RNC to find out if they actually went on this trip to Israel with this controversial group, that all these Jewish groups are horrified by, to find out if Reince Priebus followed through and actually went to Israel with this organization that says Jewish immigrants to this country should be forced to convert to Christianity, Jews have no First Amendment right to practice their religion in this country, after refusing to say if Reince Priebus is really going through with the Republican Party trip to Israel led by the guy who says America was founded to advance the Christian faith and he couldn`t vote for a Mormon like Mitt Romney, after dodging those questions for more than a week now and just refusing to say anything about it, there was Reince Priebus yesterday, not in Israel but in Washington, D.C. Apparently, the RNC caved. Reince Priebus bailed and they couldn`t take the heat and they`re hoping if they refuse all comment about it, no one will notice. Mr. Chairman, we noticed. That does it for us tonight. I can`t believe they`re trying to "no comment" their way out of this. That does it for us tonight. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END