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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/03/15

Guests: Nicholas Confessore, Steve Clemons, Bryan Stevenson

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks to you at home for joining us for the next hour. I`m Steve Kornacki. I`m in for Rachel tonight and we have got a lot coming up this hour, including the latest on President Obama`s efforts to sell the Iran nuclear deal. But first, before we get to that, in just about every Congress for the past two decades someone has introduced something called the Employment Non- discrimination Act. This bill is very straightforward in terms of what it would do. It would prohibit employers from discriminating against employees or potential employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. The first time this bill got a vote, it was back in 1996, almost two decades ago and it almost passed. It missed by just one vote back then in the Senate, 49 yeses, 50 nos. Now it`s been almost 20 years since that vote and in all of that time, the Employment Non-discrimination Act has never come that close again. In fact, every time someone introduces it in Congress, it usually ends up dying in committee, never even getting a vote. Sometimes it does get a vote once in 2007, it passed in the House and it died in the Senate. More recently, in 2013, it passed the Senate and it died in the House. So now in the absence of Congress passing this law, making it illegal everywhere in the country to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, in the absence of Congress doing that, it falls to each individual state to make its own decisions about whether to protect gay people from discrimination. And some of these states are predictable in terms of what they do. You can see from this map that states where you can`t be fired for being gay tended to be more traditionally blue states, the more liberal states, but then you see something like this. Something like today in the very red state of North Dakota, this is the front page of the "Fargo Morehead Forum." It`s one of the state`s largest newspapers and it is calling out state lawmakers who voted to kill a bill there that would ban job discrimination against gays. "The Forum" is not exactly some left wing rag. It`s endorsed a lot of Republican candidates in the past. Just three years ago, it actually refused to print a same sex marriage announcement and now it`s doing what you`re seeing on your screen today. Supporters of the non-discrimination bill packed the North Dakota House Chamber for the debate on the bill and for the vote yesterday. It failed and it wasn`t strictly a party line vote either. A dozen Republicans voted for this. The bill actually passed the Republican-controlled state Senate and Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple, he supported it. He`s a Republican supporting a bill that would ban job discrimination against gays and lesbians. The reasons for supporting it reflect the massive backlash we`ve seen over the Indiana`s so-called Religious Freedom Law. One Republican sponsor of the North Dakota legislation telling the "Fargo Forum" that many large employers and prominent business people are afraid that if the bill was defeated, it would send a message to the nation`s fastest growing state, quote, "It`s only open to some." He continues, "And while we can see the backlash in Indiana, the mere perception of LGBT discrimination will have negative consequences for our state." So it`s fascinating here is that in North Dakota this is not a fight over a Religious Freedom Bill like we saw in Indiana. This is a fight over whether to add new protections to state law for gays and lesbians. The Indiana bill signed by Governor Mike Pence and the one in Arkansas that Governor Asa Hutchinson said he`ll oppose and the ones proposed in several other states purport to protect the rights of religious people. But they had the effect or they would have the effect of bringing home to people how unprotected the LGBT community is in most of the country. The objections to those religious freedom bills were that they would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. But in Indiana and Arkansas and all these other states that are not colored in in this map and all of those states, there is no state law that bans discrimination against gays in the first place regardless of whether a religious freedom bill is passed or not. This has been news to a lot of people because not only are the vast majority of Americans supportive of the idea of Employment Non- discrimination Law. Eight out of ten Americans in fact believe it is already illegal in the United States to fire or to refuse to hire someone because of sexual orientation or gender identity. A similar number also thinks it`s already illegal for businesses to refuse to serve gay customers, but in most states both of those things are in fact legal or potentially legal. It hasn`t been decided by a court necessarily. The fact that it is legal is really, really unpopular. That has become clear this week. Mike Pence backed off and amended his bill in Indiana. Asa Hutchinson backed off and asked the bill be amended in Arkansas as well. The Republican leader of the Indiana Senate promising the legislator would take up the issue of a non-discrimination statute next session. Governor of North Dakota is telling his fellow Republicans in the legislature to pass one. There are a lot of indications that the response to the Indiana law has caused Republicans to look at this and to conclude that they are on the wrong side of history on this one except when it comes to the 2016 presidential hopefuls, all of them except for Rand Paul who hasn`t commented publicly. All of whom were flexibly supported the original Mike Pence Indiana Religious Freedom Bill. All of whom weighed in and say they supported that initially and that`s what is really been revealed here as a tension within the Republican Party. It`s a clash between the business wing and the establishment and also the conservative grass roots especially religious conservatives when it comes to issues like this, they are finding themselves more and more on opposite sides. But at least for now Republican presidential candidates are siding with the religious conservatives so why? We thought we would go to the big board and try to explain that. Why are all these Republican presidential candidates? Why when they were confronted this week with that Indiana law did so flexibly turn to the religious grassroots of the party. Let`s take a look. First of all, the basic issue of same sex marriage in this country. It has majority support overall, but if you break it down, you see a partisan divide. Democrats pretty strongly in favor, you get down to Republicans, not even half as many support it, just 30 percent, but this is where we start to get into the mixing of religion and politics, religious identity and political identity. Let me tell you what I mean. First of all, take a look at this. This is support for gay marriage broken down by religious groups so unaffiliated, people who don`t declare religion, maybe have no religion, pretty overwhelming support there. Solid majority when you`re talking white mainline Protestants and Catholics. Black Protestants, you are down to about four in ten supporting gay marriage, but then it really just drops off a cliff. Look at that, white Evangelical Christians, 21 percent say they support gay marriage. Eight out of 10 still oppose it even as a majority of the country now says they favor it so that 21 percent support among Evangelical Christians. Well, take a look at this, the role that white Evangelical Christians play in the Republican Party. Take a look at this. This is from 2012. These are the exit polls from the key early primary states in 2012. Remember, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, all competing in these states. These are the percentage of voters in these primaries and caucuses that year who identified themselves as Evangelicals or Born Again Christians, 57 percent in Iowa, 65 percent. That`s basically, two out of every three Republicans voters in South Carolina identifying themselves as a Born Again Christian. Florida nearly half. Only in New Hampshire there that you see a slightly smaller percentage. All in all, the first 27 states that voted on the Republican side in 2012, the ones that really decided the nomination, 50 percent, half one out of every two voters are white Evangelical or Born Again Christian. And again you see the overwhelming opposition among that group when it comes to gay marriage. So that`s what the candidates are responding too. That`s why they`re so eager. They were so eager this week to side with the religious conservatives. Now however, the one catch to this is there may also be a generational issue here. If you look, the youngest people when you serve among gay marriage, two-thirds of them, millennials, these are people in their 30s, in their 20s right now. Two-thirds of them support gay marriage. You look down to the oldest people who are surveyed, the silent generation, just about one in three support it. When you`re talking about Evangelicals, you`re talking about a potential age divide there as well. So this is an issue potentially whereas the population ages, as Evangelicals, like everybody else age, you may see more support. But for right now that explains why there`s such an incentive for Republican presidential candidates to be catering to their base right now on this issue. However, it does raise the question, is running on religious freedom and against discrimination protection for the LGBT community, is that going to be a viable presidential strategy long term. Joining us is Nicholas Confessore, he is a political reporter for the "New York Times." Nick, as I sit back down at that table after that exhausting journey. A little glitch there, but let me ask you that. We put the numbers out there and there`s the incentive. I get it. A huge part of the base Born Again Christian and Born Again Christian still overwhelmingly opposing gay marriage, but are you surprised that every single candidate say for Rand Paul who didn`t comment that all of them made that same calculation because there are other (inaudible) in the party. NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, "NEW YORK TIMES": I`m not surprised partly because the way this issue has been constructed as one of religious freedom as opposed to support for gay marriage, right. It allows certain space for some of these candidates to say look, I`m not being antigay here. I`m supporting religious freedom. It also makes it harder for them to go against it because imagine you`re a Jeb Bush -- you can`t say you`re against a bill that provides freedom for people of faith and that`s why there is so much pressure. This has been designed to be an alternate path for people who have some objection to the establishment of gay rights or worried about it on some level. KORNACKI: The backlash that we are seeing is we talk about the story in North Dakota. It does seem striking to me that I think some things were revealed about where the country is as a whole. There are elements of the Republican Party that are starting to respond to it. You look at like Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson who was poised to sign this, sees what happens in Indiana and backs off. You see in North Dakota now potentially adding protections for gays and lesbians to state law. Something that maybe wouldn`t have happened before this week. I wonder if we sort of seeing a moment of reckoning here within the Republican Party. CONFESSORE: Absolutely. Look, this reminds me a little bit of the Tea Party business divide, except that people of faith are far more important block or constituency within GOP politics than the Tea Party. It`s a real problem. The business community is operating in a world of all of America, all consumers, right? The Evangelical community is not operating in the same world. It hasn`t got the same accountability to that broader world, that broader electorate and so you see a split here, and the business world is just long since given up on this or in some cases have happily jumped on board the gay rights train. KORNACKI: The point was made the point, I think it was Jonathan Martin in your paper made the point today, that this is sort of the flip of what we`re used to seeing. It used to be on cultural issues sort of the consensus in this country was more on the right. And Democrats had a tension where a lot of their base wanted them to be more liberal in gay rights or whatever it was, but their candidates were forced to acknowledge a more conservative consensus among the public at large. Now it`s changing a little bit. The consensus on gay rights is more on the left and so the tension is on the right. CONFESSORE: It`s a wedge issue on the right and not on the left anymore. As you know for decades social issues of different kinds were the wedge issues against the left. They were deployed effectively to fracture the coalition in politics. What we`re seeing now is progressive activities deploying it to fracture the business and religious alliance in politics. KORNACKI: It`s the potential complications for 2016 are clear. Right now this week we`re talking about Indiana. It could be any number of social issues, gay rights issues or whatever, cultural issues for the next year where Republicans candidates are going to be faced with this same dilemma of the business community is here, the establishment is here, but the religious grassroots is here. If they get through the primary, the general election audience is somewhere else completely. CONFESSORE: As I see what`s going to happen is the pressure is mostly going to come from the Evangelicals in the primary. The danger for the candidates is not kicking off the business guys in the primary. It`s committing themselves to positions that are untenable in a general election. That`s the danger over the long period for them. KORNACKI: That`s what we saw with Mitt Romney in 2012. He inflicted damage on himself. Anyway, we`ll see how this one plays out, but my thanks to Nick Confessori, political reporter for the "New York Times." Appreciate you being here tonight. Much more to come on the show tonight including one of the loudest critics of the Obama administration`s deal with Iran, it was not surprisingly Republicans that are named Tom Cotton, but today, it turns out the biggest threat to the deal may not be from Republicans. More on that ahead along with the strange role that basketball could play in the presidential campaign. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: All right, we have a lot more to come on the show tonight. We have hero monks, basketball, the story of a wrongfully convicted Alabama prisoner, who thought he would never see a free day again and just did. This is going to be a fantastic Friday night. Stay right there. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: It was a scene yesterday afternoon at around 2:00. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey walking out of a federal courthouse in Newark after pleading not guilty to 14 counts of corruption. Menendez is facing charges that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in gift in exchange for taking official actions on behalf of a wealthy Florida businessman. Senator Menendez was released on his own recognisance yesterday. He was ordered to surrender his passport. He now begins what is expected to be a very long, legal process to determine if he will go to jail. Bob Menendez has said that he will not resign his Senate seat while all of this plays out despite calls from the top newspaper in the state that he do so, but there has already been one material consequence from anything that`s happened so far. And it is that Senator Menendez has now stepped aside from his role as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He announced that in a letter to Harry Reid on Tuesday. That`s the day he was indicted and the timing of all of this is really crucial. Bob Menendez is for months now he has been a thorn in the side of the Obama administration while the administration has been trying to cut a nuclear deal with Iran. Menendez has been speaking out frequently and passionately about what he sees as the dangers of cutting a deal with Iran. He has pushed for more sanctions against Iran in a time when the administration has been asking for patience from Congress, but now with this indictment he`s out of the way for the administration. On the same day the Obama administration announced that they`ve reached this framework agreement with Iran. On that same day, Menendez was busy spending his afternoon in federal court. Instead of Menendez, it`s now Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, who is the top Democrat in the Senate on Foreign Relations. And when this deal was announced yesterday, Cardin gave a very un-Menendez like statement. He expressed guarded optimism about the deal saying the president and Congress are unified in the goal of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and that he looks forward to reviewing all the details of the deal. Now we don`t know and Cardin didn`t say if he`ll ultimately be onboard with this deal, but we do know that he`s approaching this a lot differently than Bob Menendez. Menendez was basically the leading hawk among Democrats in the Senate on this issue. At least with Cardin the White House has a chance. That said Cardin is also not a sure bet to back Obama on this. After years of Washington gridlock, we`re used to stories where President Obama proposes something and then we see a torrent of Republican opposition that quickly materializes. But here on the issue of this Iran deal, we see something else going on, something very different going on. Yes, you`ll hear plenty of Republicans attacking this deal. They`re already out there doing that, but at the same time, you`ll also hear a lot of Democrats attacking it. Bob Menendez is not alone in this. Some Democrats are already against it. A lot of others are offering decidedly mixed views on it. The job of the White House right now is essentially to put on a full court press to try to win over members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans who are on the fence about this. The White House said today that President Obama has already spoken to House Speaker John Boehner. It was their goal for the president to speak to all congressional leaders by the end of the day. It`s not just the president making calls to members of Congress. It`s also Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Energy Secretary Earnest Monies, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, all of them burning up the phone lines trying to get members of Congress on board with this Iran deal. The stakes are really high here. A bill in the Senate that would prevent the president from lifting sanctions on Iran until Congress weighs in is now just one vote away from achieving a veto proof majority, 67 senators for a veto proof majority. This now has 66 supporters. When President Obama announced this deal in the Rose Garden at the White House yesterday, he warned the Congress if they kill this deal, he said the United States will be blamed for it on the world stage and the path to an armed conflict with Iran will only increase. This is a real challenge for President Obama. He badly wants this signature foreign policy breakthrough. The question now though is not just if Congress is going to sabotage him on this, but if his own party is going to sabotage him on this. Joining us is Steven Clemons, Washington editor-at-large for "The Atlantic." Steve, thanks for being with us. First of all, we put the story up there saying they`re one vote away from the Senate to having a veto proof majority on this sanctions bill at the White House. Is this a matter of time before they get that 67? STEVE CLEMONS, WASHINGTON EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "THE ATLANTIC": I think right now what you see is the full court press to educate, to do teach ins with every member of the Senate on what`s in that bill. They didn`t have the detail before when they were adding names to that roster. And so if those senators want to stay on there without looking at the detail, without asking the question of what they would do instead, you know, I think that would be unlikely. I talked to -- KORNACKI: The hope here is that with the deal announced yesterday, the framework for this deal announced yesterday, people who have already signed on to support the sanctions bill might now rethink it? CLEMONS: Yes, I think absolutely because what`s happening -- you have to remember 18 months this process has been going on and for 18 months, the Congress has been threatening to pull the rug out from underneath President Obama. They haven`t because at the end of the day they haven`t wanted to carry the responsibility for sabotaging that deal. I think that`s part of the bet the White House is making, but now the details are out. Now it`s transparent. People can look and see exactly what the administration achieved. I have to tell you analysts on the right and on the left are surprised at how deep this went and how much they achieved. So when you come forward and you begin looking, you know, a senator like Bob Corker, you know, who`s been trying to say like Tim Cain there`s a legitimate role for the Senate and the Congress in this process. That`s different than saying we are going to just basically line up a lot of no votes. I think that there is an opportunity here. I talked to Senator Joe Manchin today and said that he is of the view now that it is unlikely that the GOP will vote in a block, will remain as monolithic as it has been. KORNACKI: So if in the short term, the White House is able to survive this and Congress doesn`t immediately throw some kind of obstacle into this. What about the long term? Because we are talking about a deal here that, again, if the final deal is put together based on this frame work, this is something that`s going to play out over years and it raises certain issues. If Iran lives up to everything in the deal, then these sanctions we`ve imposed on them start to get lifted. Is that something that this president or a future president would be in position to do him or herself or is Congress then going to have step in and lift those sanctions? CLEMONS: Congress is going to have to vote no matter what on the sanctions that they have imposed. There will have to be a vote down the road. It`s not an immediate part of this process. So Congress will have its say on the sanctions in which it has to vote down the road. But on the other parts, this is an international arrangement. It`s not a treaty. It`s not a subject to ratification in a classic form like you would see other arms control treaties. So the next president of the United States could very much come along as Scott Walker and other people have said and undo everything President Obama has done. In my view, that would be a tragedy and it`s not typical of the continuity between presidents. If you think of George W. Bush, when you think about Bob Gates as his defense secretary, this is the kind of deal that George W. Bush might have done himself. So when you get into the detail of that and look at it, I think it`s unlikely. But yes, an international arrangement can be undone easily by a future president. KORNACKI: And the argument here from people in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, they say is look, we, Congress passed these sanctions. The administration has been negotiating this deal. It`s not a formal treaty that requires Congress gets involved, but they say we deserve a role here because we passed these sanctions and you`re negotiating over these sanctions so we should get to look at this thing. CLEMONS: The Senate can come along and say because the Senate is an -- you know, its own branch of government. It can come on and assert itself in a way, and I think given where Bob Corker is and frankly, Tim Cain, they are reasserting the prerogative of the Senate to play an oversight role and oversight function. And you can agree or disagree on that. That`s a different thing -- KORNACKI: How can they do that without potentially blowing up the deal? CLEMONS: Because they can come out and someone like Bob Corker can come in and you know, along with other folks and say we want an up or down vote or we want to fund or defund various parts of this, and I think -- just by bringing it up doesn`t assure that they`re going to undermine the president. I can see a track where Bob Corker himself becomes a supporter of this deal. People have been raising that issue. You listen to him very carefully, he keeps his powder dry. He`s saying there`s a point of principle here that he believes strongly in, but he`s not necessarily opposed to the Iran deal. He didn`t join the Cotton letter like a lot of other senators who now regret that and that`s why I think that now that the framework is out, you`re going to have a lot of senators, who I think, will back up a little bit. You know, there been -- every senator, Joe Manchin said, every senator who wanted to be informed on this was able to call Samantha Power, Susan Rice and ask for a classified or private briefing, and get informed. Some senators have chosen not to be informed and many of them had been signing letters anyway, but I think in the sense that the White House is in pretty good ground right now. They have to do it and I think a lot of us in media have been thinking that those numbers on that 66 in the sanctions bill are automatically going to stay there. I don`t think that`s the case now. KORNACKI: That`s what we`ll look for to see if that 66 instead of growing to 67, that veto proof majority, if it starts going the other way. That obviously be a positive thing the White House is looking for. Steve Clemons, the Washington editor-at-large of "The Atlantic," thanks for joining us. Still ahead tonight, Monks, a red state desperate for a visit from President Obama, believe it or not, and what the final four has to do with a want-to-be president. That`s coming up. But first one more thing, Monday night on this show, Rachel will have a live interview with one of the Obama administration officials who was key to getting this Iran deal done in the first place, the Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has been in Switzerland all week. He`s been negotiating with Iran alongside Secretary of State John Kerry and he will be Rachel`s guest on this show Monday night. Ernest Moniz is one of the nation`s leading nuclear scientists. He helped negotiate many of the technical aspects of this deal with his Iranian counterpart. He has been widely credited with getting this deal across the finish line this week and he will be Rachel`s guest right here Monday night. Stay tuned. We have much more ahead on the show tonight. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nigel, we want to know is there anything you`d like to say to our stenographer just to tip things of? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Syzygy. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: As Rachel pointed out recently, that was the way that much of America was introduced to Nigel Hayes. He`s a sophomore forward for the University of Wisconsin Badgers basketball team and those Badgers are going to play undefeated Kentucky tomorrow night in the final four of the NCAA tournament. It struck much of sporting America as a little odd to hear Nigel Hayes open his press conference that funny word. It wasn`t exactly strange for Nigel Hayes or for his teammates. The story here is that they have been fascinated during their tournament run with the stenographer who types what they say in those press conferences. They`ve been so fascinated they decided to try to give her a series of challenges. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible), onomatopoeia and anti-disestablishment (inaudible). Maybe she might have to work a little bit harder to type words. They make her job a little more interesting. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Today people sent around pictures of the transcript from the latest Badgers press conference. Nigel Hayes tossed the stenographer pressed the digitation and also a joke about why you can`t hear a pterodactyl in the bathroom. The answer is because that he is silent, of course. So mybe America now expects Wisconsin`s Nigel Hayes to surprise them with a challenging word, but it turns out Nigel Hayes has been this kind of guy all along. Way back in high school he said this was maybe the only thing people didn`t know about him. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell me something most people maybe don`t know about Nigel Hayes? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really? I don`t know. People, they don`t know a lot of stuff about me. I`m a very open person. I like sharing my life with others. But I would say that there`s not much people don`t know about me. They may not know my love for words. If I could walk around dictionary or thesaurus, I would. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Nigel Hayes and his teammates are now two wins away from a national championship. They`re going to play Kentucky tomorrow night. It`s safe to say they`ve picked up a lot of new fans these last few weeks. Coming up the story of a Republican presidential contender who is finding the tournament more of a political headache in a delicious sort of way, that story is at the end of the show. You`re going to want to hear it. Stick around. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: President Obama arrived last night in Utah and today he visited Hill Air Force Base outside Salt Lake City. At that air force base, he announced a new program for helping veterans find jobs in solar energy. But what was really interesting about all of this had nothing to do with the speech, it was the location of the speech because this visit to Utah means that President Obama has now as president officially traveled to 49 out of the 50 states. Which, of course, means that there is now just one state in America, one, single, lonely solitary state that has not received an official presidential visit these past six plus years and that state is South Dakota. The Mount Rushmore state, all those presidents chiselled on that mountain, but no presidential visit during the Obama years. Now to be fair, Barack Obama did visit South Dakota during the Democratic primary back in 2008. He ended up losing that state to Hillary Clinton and then that was it. He has not been back since. He has not set foot in South Dakota since then. South Dakota`s "Argus Leader" newspaper recently pointing this out, quote, "As South Dakotans, we`re used to getting ignored by presidential candidates during the election cycles, but that hasn`t always mean sitting presidents ignores us." Every president in fact since Ronald Reagan has been to South Dakota. George H.W. Bush apparently made it out to South Dakota four times in just four years as president. The White House said earlier this year that President Obama hopes to get to every single state in the country before the end of his term. It`s not like it`s that hard to get to South Dakota either. The "Argus Leader" in South Dakota is now asking for reader submissions. They`re asking for ideas for what President Obama could do in their state. They`re trying to lure the president there with some kind of a juicy invite. Maybe a trip to Wall Drug or Sturgis, but again, the news tonight is that with this visit in Utah, President Obama has officially traveled to 49 of the 50 states, one more to go. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: In 1973, Richard Nixon began his second term as president. Same year in 1973 the Miami Dolphins finished the NFL as only perfect season with a Super Bowl championship. And that same year a death row prisoner named David Keaton was suddenly cleared of all charges, spared execution and set free after its new trial found that his original conviction had been based on a case of mistaken identity. The Death Penalty Information Center keeps a list of death row exonerations since 1973 and all of that time, in the last four plus decades, more than 150 other people have been taken off of death row and set free. These are the names of those former prisoners. You see them scrolls on the screen right now. In each of these cases the prisoner was facing execution until it was discovered that that prisoner should never have been in jail in the first place. Name after names, scores of prisoners freed from death row over the last 40 years. David Keaton is the first former death row prison on that very long list going all the way back to 1973 and today the newest name was added to it. The 152nd person walked out of prison. Anthony Ray Hinton is now 58 years old. He was convicted of murder in 1985, two murders in separate robberies of fastfood restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Hinton had been given, quote, "Consistently deficient counsel during his first trial." Operating on the chief, his court appointed lawyer had hired a ballistics expert to provide evidence for Hinton`s defense. Now that expert that the court appointed lawyer turned to had limited experience testifying in cases like this. That expert was blind in one eye. That expert had trouble using the microscope for a ballistics comparison. That expert was not exactly the kind of expert you would want testifying in your defense. But after the Supreme Court awarded Hinton another chance to make his case, experts from the state took a new look at the bullets that have been used to connect Hinton to the crimes. And that new testing showed that the state`s evidence against Hinton was simply not conclusive. Yesterday, an Alabama judge dismissed the case against Hinton, ordered the Department of Corrections to release him immediately, and today at 9:30 a.m., Anthony Ray Hinton walked out of prison a free man. It would be an understatement to say that this has been a long saga for him. He was one of the longest serving death row inmates in Alabama. He`s spent nearly three decades on death row in Alabama entering as a young man and leaving alive in late middle age. He was held long after evidence began to emerge that he didn`t commit the crimes that had him slated for execution. Thirteen years ago, his appeals team first presented evidence showing the bullets did not match his gun. They asked the state to reconsider his conviction, but Hinton was denied a new hearing back then. That was in 2002. Since then Hinton`s lawyers have been fighting to present their evidence in court. His lead attorney is this guy, Bryan Stevenson is his name. He is the founder of a non-profit law firm in Alabama called "The Equal Justice Initiative." They represent people who have not had access to effective counsel often because like Anthony Ray Hinton, they could not afford it. Those are the people Bryan Stevenson and his team represent. They`ve built a record of how they are helping people overturn wrongful convictions. Today when Hinton walked out of prison, Bryan Stevenson was by his side. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRYAN STEVENSON, ANTHONY RAY HINTON`S LAWYER: This is a very, very happy day. It`s a tragic day too because Mr. Hinton spent 30 years locked in a cell where the state of Alabama tried to kill him every day for 30 years. His case in my judgment is a case study in what`s wrong with our system. He was convicted because he`s poor. We have a system that treats you better if you`re rich and guilty than if you`re poor and innocent. His case proves it. We have a system that`s compromised by racial bias and his case proves it. We have system that doesn`t do the right thing when the right thing is apparent. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Bryan Stevenson has been arguing for much of his career that Hinton should not be on death row. That he should be in prison at all for that matter. Today that finally happened. Joining us now is Bryan Stevenson, a law professor at New York University Law School and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. That`s the organization that represented Anthony Ray Hinton. Bryan, thanks for joining us tonight. So let me just start with a simple question. This is his first night of freedom in three decades. What`s he doing? STEVENSON: He`s at home with his friends. He`s trying to recover. It`s very disorienting when you`ve been locked down in a cell when you`ve been in solitary confinement on death row for 30 years to all of a sudden regain your freedom. And so it`s -- we`re going to take it slow. He`s going to take it slow. He`s going to be with his family and friends this week and we`ll start putting things together next week, but he`s very, very grateful, very happy to finally be free. KORNACKI: What do you guys, what do you tell him? What do you do at this point? Do you guys have some kind of a plan in place for how to put a life together after being away? He`s been away for more than half his life? STEVENSON: Yes. Well, no. You just take it day by day. I think no one can appreciate the burden of being wrongly condemned. It`s difficult being in prison for anyone. It`s especially difficult being on death row where you`re facing execution. But to be innocent and on death row is unconscionable. Mr. Hinton was on death row and was there when nearly 50 people were executed in the state of Alabama. During the early years, we executed people in the electric chair. I`ve had conversations with Mr. Hinton where he complained about smelling the flesh burning when these men were executed. You can`t traumatize someone like that. You can torture someone like that and expect them to go home and be OK. So we`re going to take it step by step, week by week, month by month. It`s especially painful in this case because Mr. Hinton should have never been convicted. He wasn`t convicted because he committed a crime. He was convicted because he was poor and didn`t have the resources to prove his innocence. He was also convicted because like many black and brown people in this country he was burdened with a presumption of guilt and the state exploited that presumption of guilt to condemn him unfairly. All of those things make the challenge of a wrongful conviction especially burdensome. KORNACKI: How -- in all that time, how close did he come to being put to death? STEVENSON: Well, you know, he never had an execution date, but we got very close to kind of stepping off the cliff. I mean, every court looked the other way. What was especially challenging about that is we presented evidence of his innocence 15 years ago and just said retest the weapon, retest the bullets. Satisfy yourself that he`s guilty and when you won`t have to worry about this, and they absolutely refused to do it. We have elected judges and the prosecutors and the judges decided to risk the prosecution of an innocent person has opposed to the perception of caring too much about the rights of the accused. That perverse choice meant that he spent much longer on the road than he should have ever had to face when we had clear evidence of his innocence right there in front of the prosecutors and the examiners. KORNACKI: All right, Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, thank you for your time tonight. Appreciate it. STEVENSON: You`re very welcome. KORNACKI: All right, still ahead, the very strange intersection between presidential politics and the biggest sporting event of the season. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: This is a video released by ISIS back in February. It shows supporters of ISIS taking hammers to ancient statues and artifacts at a museum in the city of Mosul. It`s a city that ISIS gained control of last summer. Now these artifacts appear to be over 2,000 years old. They date back to the Assyrian Empire. It`s unclear how many of these artifacts were reel or replicas of real artifacts, but this video was not the only instance of ISIS making clear that its mission, at least in part, is to destroy significant works of art and culture in Iraq and Syria. That propaganda video, paired with reports that ISIS had ransacked the Mosul library and burned hundreds of ancient books and manuscripts. This month, the Iraqi government announced that ISIS bulldozed the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud. At that time, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that ISIS`s quote, "twisted goal is clear, to eviscerate a culture and rewrite history in its own brutal image." And that quote, "This crude attempt to erase the heritage of ancient civilization will ultimately fail." But now we`re starting to see the ways in which the people of Iraq and Syria themselves are fighting back to keep their culture alive. This is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world located on top of a mountain in Northern Iraq. It was about 12 miles from Mosul. The monastery was founded back in the 4th century. The monastery is open to the public. They used to get up to 2 million visitors a year. All of that changed when ISIS invaded Northern Iraq. When ISIS fighters took over Mosul last summer, they destroyed several churches and several monasteries and then they set their sights on this one. When it became clear they were trying to seize it, the monks who lived in that monastery got to work trying to save their library. Some of their books are more than 1,000 years old. They took them away to an unknown location. That was back in August. So far Kurdish fighters have been able to keep the monastery safe from ISIS fighters, but the monks wouldn`t say where they took the manuscripts until today, when, moments later, the monks went public with their story. They showed the world that the manuscripts were safely tucked away in an apartment in a nearby town. And here they are, neatly displayed on book shelves in an undisclosed location, successfully hidden from the terrorists who would otherwise destroy them. Some of these manuscripts are over a thousand years old. The monks saved them by sneaking them away and keeping them in this secret hiding place, protecting them from those who had done so much damage to the cultural treasures of that part of the world. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Maybe you`re all fired up or maybe you`ve just heard about it a little on the news, maybe you had no idea it`s even going on. But this weekend, there`s a pretty big sporting event taking place, the final days of the NCAA men`s basketball tournament, which is being watched this year by more people than ever before, because they`re live streaming the games now. The games themselves have been great. In fact the tournament has broken down the way many fans always dreamed it will. There were lots of shocking upsets early on and a lot of favorites winning, meaning three of the top seeds in the tournament have lasted until the final stages of the tournament. That`s the best of the best, fighting it out on the biggest of the stages, which brings us to this weekend`s final four in Indianapolis. It kicks off tomorrow night around 6:00 p.m. Eastern. In sports, one of the most talented pools of players we have ever seen in a final four. It will involve 10 or 11 players currently projected to be taken in the NBA draft. Four of them maybe taken in the first five picks of the draft. On top of that, there`s the potential for a championship game that would pit the number one and two picks against each other, Carl Anthony Talins of Kentucky and Duke University`s Julio Ocafor. So there`s that, the sheer amount of talent in this year`s final four. It`s pretty incredible. It`s a lot of fun to watch if you`re a basketball fan. But if you don`t necessarily care about college basketball, if you care more about say, politics, then here`s a bit of advice for you. You should probably root for Kentucky and Duke tomorrow night. There`s a reason for this. You will want to see them play each other on the championship game Monday night. First, start with this. The good people of Kentucky are obsessed with basketball. It`s more a religion in that state than a sport. Right now, the University of Kentucky Wildcats are undefeated. They are 38-0. That means if they were to win it all, Saturday night and Monday night, it would be the first perfect season in Division I men`s basketball in nearly 40 years. And they would be the first team ever to go through a season 40-0. So this is maybe the biggest weekend in the history of Kentucky sports. And if Kentucky plays Duke on Monday, duke has four national championships, their coach holds the most wins in Division I, and there`s already a lot of bad blood between these two blue bloods. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, during his campaign last year, mistakenly used footage of the Duke Blue Devils when he meant to use his home state Wildcats in one of his campaign ads. But the political intrigue only grows from there because while these games with being played this weekend, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is going to be announcing his presidential candidacy. Now put yourself in Rand Paul`s shoes here for a minute. Currently, he has a kid enrolled at the University of Kentucky. He also represents Kentucky. This is the basketball obsessed state, just bursting with excitement over the possibility of its team going 40-0. Rand Paul is a public supporter of the Kentucky Wildcats, but RAND PAUL is also something else, he is also a proud graduate of Duke University. He graduated from Duke`s medical school back in 1988. He is a Dukie. Duke and Kentucky are both favored to win their games tomorrow night. If they do, it will be Duke and Kentucky, Rand Paul`s alma mater and Rand Paul`s adopted state team facing off Monday night for all the marbles with an undefeated season and historic 40-0 record with the pride of the Commonwealth of Kentucky all on the line. And now add in this, not even 24 hours after that game on Monday night, a game that might be one of the biggest in the history of Kentucky, Rand Paul is going to be in Kentucky to announce his candidacy for the presidency, which means that, if Duke wins that game on Monday, if they upset Kentucky, then Rand Paul will be announcing his candidacy on what would be one of the saddest days in the history of that state and that sadness would have been inflicted by his alma mater. Not that he needs it, but here`s my advice to Rand Paul. If anyone ask you who you`re cheering for, just THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END