IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/23/15

Guests: Missy Ryan, Robert Costa

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Good evening, Chris. I won`t be going anywhere near that canal, I can tell you. Thanks to you, Chris, for that. Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Rachel Maddow has the night off. In the spring of 2013, this was a few months after President Obama was sworn in for his second term in office, he was set to give his first major counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University here in Washington, D.C. After years and years of the country being at war, after years and years of the Bush era war on terror, after years of housing hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, after years of covert war with drones, after all of that, the president took to the stage on that day, on May 23rd of 2013, to address his administration`s stance on all of those issues. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation and world that we leave to our children. So, America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle or else it will define us. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Now, in that speech the president went on to say that the war must end and that the policy on drones was going to change. And this was the first time in that speech, this was the first time that the president had spoken so publicly, so openly about all of this, about the drone program, about covert operations in places where this country is not technically at war, places like Yemen and Pakistan. The president spoke that day about the casualties that come with that sort of warfare. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in every war. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Obama in that speech was making the case that even though those casualties haunt him, those drone strikes are legal and they are heavily scrutinized and overseen by both him and by Congress, and that while, yes, there are casualties, those attacks work, that program works. But while he was making that point that day in 2013, the president was interrupted. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, is serving a maximum security sentence in the United States. In sentencing Reid, Judge William Young told him the way we treat you is the measure of our own liberty. When -- AUDIENCE MMEBER: How about Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, 16-year-old American, killed by you? OBAMA: We went -- AUDIENCE MEMBER: Is that the way we threat a 16-year-old American? Why was he killed? Can you tell us why Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed? Can you tell the Muslim people their lives are as pressure as our lives? Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Now, the 16-year-old that protester was referring to, he was one of the seven Americans known to be killed by an American drone strike since the year 2009, and one of the ones who was killed inadvertently. He was killed by accident, a 16-year-old. First American drone strike outside of Afghanistan is believed to have occurred in November of 2002 in Yemen. That strike killed a senior al Qaeda leader and five other suspected militants, including an American citizen who was suspected of recruiting a terror cell in Buffalo, New York. In 2011, this guy, 23-year-old North Carolina man who had been a recruiting for al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban, he was killed in 2011 in what Attorney General Eric Holder called a counterterrorism operation. He, however, was not deliberately targeted. In the same year, an al Qaeda militant who would serve as the editor for a group`s online magazine that`s called "Inspire", was also killed in a drone strike. That strike was not intended for him. That strike was intended for this American-born cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, who was also the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was killed in that drone strike. In a few months after that strike, that cleric`s 16-year-old American son, this is the 16-year-old the teenager that the activist heckled the president about in that tape you saw. Well, he was killed in a drone strike, in that case by accident. The day before the president`s big speech on counterterrorism in 2013, the administration finally formally acknowledged for the first time that they had killed those four Americans since 2009, in drone strikes outside of Afghanistan and Iraq. In other words, outside of the war zones where this country was officially waging war. When it comes to Americans killed by drone strikes, we knew only of those four. We knew only of those four until today, because today, we learned that an American aid worker, an American who was a hostage of al Qaeda, that American was killed in an American drone strike. His name is Warren Weinstein, he was working on contract for USAID in Lahore, Pakistan, when he was killed in 2011. He`s believed to have been killed by a drone strike along Pakistan`s border with Afghanistan in January of this year. It`s unclear exactly why it`s taken months to disclose his death. There are some reports intelligence agencies have been working for some time to try to piece together exactly what happened and how he was accidentally killed. It should be noted that this is the first case of the American hostage being killed by an American drone strike. That same drone strike took the life of an Italian named Giovanni Lo Porto. He was a humanitarian aid worker in Pakistan. He was kidnapped in January 2012. Now, the intended target that day, the intended target back in January was an al Qaeda compound. The administration saying today that they had no idea those two hostages were hidden inside of that compound. President Obama himself addressed the error this morning during a statement in the White House briefing room. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: As president and as commander-in-chief, I take full responsibility for all our operations, including the ones that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families. It is a cruel and bit are truth that notice fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes -- sometimes deadly mistakes -- can occur. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: The president today apologizing for the accidental killing of those hostages, an American and an Italian. But that American hostage and that Italian were not the only ones who died in the drone strike that we learned about today. NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel reports on that part of the story tonight. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Warren Weinstein wasn`t the only American killed in the U.S. drone strikes. There were two others fighting with al Qaeda. The voice on this video experts say belongs to Adam Gadahn -- ADAM GADAHN: These heroes were not 19 armies from 19 countries, but rather were 19 mujahidin. ENGEL: -- an American narrating a notorious propaganda video of the 9/11 hijackers. Born Adam Pearlman, his grandfather Jewish, Gadahn was raised on a goat farm in Virginia, converting to Islam in his teens, attending this mosque and getting in trouble there in the mid-1990s for his increasingly extreme views. Gadahn traveled to Pakistan in 1998, at first hiding his face. But he was identified by U.S. officials, and in 2006 became the first American charged with treason since the World War II region. LAITH ALKHOURI, FLASHPOINT SENIOR ANALYST: His death was a big blow to al Qaeda operations, specifically in the recruitment of Westerners. ENGEL: Gadahn was al Qaeda`s most famous Americans, but experts say this man also killed may have been more dangerous. Ahmed Farouq also started out as an al Qaeda spokesman, but rose through the ranks to become their second in command in Pakistan. Farouq was at the same compound where Dr. Weinstein and the Italian aid worker were held, an American keeping a fellow American hostage for al Qaeda. U.S. officials say the CIA didn`t know it was killing any of these men, not the hostages nor the al Qaeda militants, that they happened to be in compound linked to al Qaeda that were attacked, exposing a key aspect of the administration`s drone war -- the U.S. doesn`t always know who it`s killing. (END VIDEOTAPE) KORNACKI: That was NBC`s Richard Engel reporting tonight on the other Americans killed in the January drone strikes, the ones who did have ties to terrorism but were apparently not specifically targeted. But with today`s acknowledgment by the administration that American drone strikes did kill two hostages, again an Italian and American, and the two American al Qaeda operatives, that makes it seven Americans total now who have been killed by drone strikes since 2009, six of them killed unintentionally. And out of the seven Americans, two of them do not seem to have been implicated in any sort of terrorist activity -- the 16-year-old and the American hostage who we learned about only today, the one that we were previously trying to save. These latest developments today do raise the question how effective really is this covert drone war that we are waging? And is there a way to do this, to carry out this program, to target the so-called bad guys without at the same time potentially hurting innocent bystanders in the process. Joining us now is Missy Ryan. She`s a Pentagon reporter for "The Washington Post." Missy, thanks for being here tonight. MISSY RYAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you. KORNACKI: So, let`s just start on that question, because we`re talking about drones, we`re talking about, you know, basically the trigger being pulled thousands of miles away. It opens up to seems to me, a pretty huge possibilities and margin for error if we`re going to have a drone program that aggressively targets terrorists thousands of miles away, do we have to accept the feature of it, that innocent people are going to be killed? RYAN: So, that`s exactly right. I mean, the big news today is that it`s an operation that illustrated the limitations of the drone operation, which has become a cornerstone of the Obama administration`s counterterrorism policy. And talking to officials today, I think they just think that this is an inherent risk that comes along with conducting this kind of operation and that in balance, it actually does pose less risk to Americans obviously here in the United States when you`re talking about an operation that doesn`t require U.S. military personnel to be on the ground and then just to the country generally. You know, there isn`t the possibility that things go wrong if you`re sending in a SEAL team to Pakistan, or if you`re, you know, deploying a large number of troops into Yemen, for example. So, the Obama administration really has seized on the drone policy and ramped up the number of drone strikes significantly since 2009. And I don`t see any indication that it`s backing away overall globally from the drone program. KORNACKI: So, what have we -- what have we gotten from this? It`s been ramped up dramatically since 2009. It`s impossible, you always say, what is the value of the human life? But we`ve now lost an innocent American to this drone program. What have we gotten for having the drone program? RYAN: Well, the administration`s argument would be that you have an al Qaeda, militant organization that is severely weakened, not just because of the killing of Bin Laden to 2011, but because over the course of years and dozens and dozens of drone strikes, you`ve had dozens and dozens of senior al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, for example, who have been killed. And then if you look at Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is one of the most virulent affiliates of al Qaeda, and they`re much weaker than they used to be. KORNACKI: The other question is in terms of where the program goes from here, obviously, this changes the public`s understanding of it, learning a 73-year-old American totally innocent in all of this is killed today. That will change I imagine the public`s attitude toward this. Is it going to have any effect on how this program is carried out in the future? How this administration, maybe a future administration, thinks about drones? RYAN: I don`t think so. I think it gives counterterrorism officials pause. Obviously -- I mean, you saw Obama in his remarks today. It was a very somber and emotional address. I think it gives officials pause when they`re relying on intelligence that may be imperfect. But this is -- this is a program that`s far too important to American terrorism policy to just sort of walk away from. I think that what it will do is deepen the internal question and the external pressure surrounding the Obama administration`s treatment generally of hostages overseas. KORNACKI: The final question, the family of this man, what are they saying about all of this? RYAN: Yes. Well, Weinstein`s family has been very critical of the administration`s handling of Warren Weinstein`s case. They said they got incomplete and conflicting information and in a actually is the same story that you had from family members of other hostages, including Jim Foley, who was killed by ISIS. KORNACKI: Yes. So, that`s been a sort of recurring story. I think that`s something else that would be followed in the wake of this. Missy Ryan, Pentagon reporter for "The Washington Post" -- appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much. Lots more ahead in the show tonight, including why one Republican presidential hopeful is practically begging for his state to be boycotted. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: All right. Chart imitates life. And this one needs a little bit of context. Now, a decade ago, when a poll asked should it be legal for gay couples to get married, the predominant answer always came back the same -- no. Year after year back then, the majority said that it should not be legal for gay couples to marry. And then, well, that answer changed, barely. In November of 2012, for example, "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll asked whether people supported the right for same-sex couples to get married, and by the slimmest of possible margins, they came out on the yes side. Fifty-one percent say they strongly, or at least somewhat supported of that. And it was up from there. In 2013, the number stood at 55 percent, then it jumped to 57 percent. In 2014, just last year, support climbed to 59 percent, then it dipped a little bit after a string of court rulings that overturned state bans on gay marriage. But now, look at this -- with the Supreme Court set to take this issue up again this week, the new polling shows support for marriage equality has hit 61 percent. That means it`s grown 10 points just since November of 2012. It is nearly double the size it was when we started asking this question more than a decade ago. Now, understandably, that groundswell gets the headline today. More than 60 percent of this country now supports gay marriage, the first time that number has ever been that high. However, that still leaves the other 40 percent. We`re going to talk about the meaning of that in the new race for the White House, just ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: We were just talking about this new poll from the "Washington Post" and ABC News showing 6 in 10 Americans now saying they support same-sex marriage. That`s the highest that number has ever been. However, that still leaves a sizable chunk of Americans who remain opposed to gay marriage. And who those people are is extremely important right now. Take a look. When you ask just Republicans this question about gay marriage, you find a majority of them, 6 in 10 of them say they`re still against same-sex marriage. In fact, most Republicans describe themselves as strongly opposed to gay marriage -- which helps to explain why every single one of the announced or potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates opposes gay marriage. Their audience right now is not the country as a whole. Their audience is the base of the Republican Party, it`s the people they`re going to need to win over if they`re going to have any chance of winning the Republican nomination. So, you have the country overall moving toward acceptance of gay marriage and the Republican Party still opposed to it. And that leaves the Republicans candidates in the bit of a bind. The new litmus test has become some version of this question, maybe you heard of it a little bit over the last week, if you were invited to a gay wedding, would you go to it? Here`s what Marco Rubio said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: If it`s someone I love that`s in my life, I don`t necessarily have to agree with their decisions, or the decisions they`ve made, to continue to love them and participate in important events. Ultimately, how you treat a person that you care for and love is different from what your opinion or what your faith teaches marriage should be. I would point out we live in a free society. If people want to change the definition of marriage, they should petition the state legislature and they can have that debate in the political arena. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Same question to Ted Cruz. If you were invited to a gay wedding, what would you do? (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Well, I will tell you, I haven`t faced that circumstance. I have not had a loved one go to a gay -- to have a gay wedding. You know, at the end of the day, what the media tries to twist the question of marriage into is they try to twist it into a battle of emotions and personalities. (END AUDIO CLIP) KORNACKI: You could probably call that one more of a dodge than an answer. And as far as the other candidates go, Rick Perry says he would probably go to a same-sex wedding but the question isn`t that important. Ohio Governor John Kasich says he is going to one but, quote, "I don`t need to be making any big statements about this". Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he`s been to a same-sex wedding reception, though he still opposes same-sex marriage. Part of the problem is that the GOP presidential candidates are really facing two contests here -- the one for the 60 percent of Americans who support same-sex marriage and the one before, the one they are most concern about right now, the one for the 60 percent of Republicans who don`t. So, one potential candidate is trying a new tactic, embracing the unpopularity of his positions. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has been pressing ahead with a religious freedom bill for his state, a bill like the ones that got Indiana and Arkansas in hot water recently because of claims they would have opened the door to discrimination against gay people. Even as huge business interests in the state of Louisiana -- we`re talking about companies like IBM, companies like Electronic Parts. These are companies that have come to open businesses in his state. Even as though businesses have objected to what Jindal is talking about, they have said Louisiana shouldn`t go down this road, it shouldn`t pass one of those religious freedom laws, that this will jeopardize their business interest in the state of Louisiana, even in the face of that, Bobby Jindal says he`s holding firm. In an op-ed in "The New York Times" this morning entitled "I`m Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage", he actually attacks the business community. Quote, "In Indiana and Arkansas, a large corporations recently joined left- wing activists to bully elected officials. Political leaders in both states quickly cowered amid the shrieks of big business and the radical left. Governor Jindal then acknowledges that American opinion is changing on the issue of gay marriage, but, quote, "I will not change my faith-driven view on this matter, even if it becomes a minority opinion." And then there`s this, Jindal essentially tells the business community, if you want our support on your economic priorities, you have to be with us on this. Quote, "It`s time for corporate America to make a decision. This strategy requires populist social conservatives to ally with the business community on economic matters and corporate titans to side with social conservatives on cultural matters. This is the grand bargain that makes freedom`s defense possible." Bobby Jindal knows this is unpopular. He knows that the business community thinks it bad for business, but he`s going ahead and he`s pushing it anyway. There are still a lot of Republicans out there, a lot of Republican voters out there who want their leaders to do exactly what he`s doing, who may very well reward candidate who is do and say what Jindal is doing and saying. Just next week, the Supreme Court will be hearing the big same-sex marriage case that could affect all 50 states. The Republican hopefuls are having a hard time talking about this already. So, what if the court does what many expect it`s going to do? What if it goes ahead and it makes gay marriage legal in all 50 states? The country as a whole is saying that it`s ready for this to happen. But what about the Republicans? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Earlier this month, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz sent a letter to thousands of pastor across the country. He asked them to lead prayer services in support of biblical marriage next Tuesday. This is the Supreme Court hears arguments on whether same-sex marriage should be made legal nationwide. Now, Cruz has been one of the most outspoken voices against same-sex marriage. It was a huge applause line in his presidential announcement speech. However, this week, apparently he struck a very different tone. This was at a reception hosted by two prominent gay hotel owners in New York where Cruz reportedly, quote, "did not mention his opposition to same-sex marriage" and said, quote, "he would have no problem if one of his daughters was gay." It`s yet another sign of the difficult line Republican presidential hopefuls are walking as the country grows ever more accepting of gay marriage, even as the Republican base remains opposed to it. Joining us now is Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post." Bob, thank you for being here tonight. So, let`s just pick up on Cruz because publicly, Ted Cruz is more sort of the face of the anti-gay movement than just about any of the other presidential candidates. He goes to this event in New York City, he doesn`t mention, he says he has no problem if his daughter is gay. Do we know where the real Ted Cruz is on this? ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think Ted Cruz wants to be the leader on the right, he wants to be the hard liner fighting the cultural war. But he`s a lawyer, he`s a constitutional scholar, he knows as well as anyone if the Supreme Court rules, as it`s expected to perhaps, in favor of gay marriage in the summer, it`s going to put Republicans in a box, even conservatives. Are you going to really make that a battleground? I think Cruz wants to get donations from around the Republican community. But he also recognizes he can fight religious freedom, even if he doesn`t make marriage a central battle. KORNACKI: Yes, what happens if the Supreme Court ruling, expectation is this is going to legalize it in all 50 states. What becomes the default Republican position on that? Are we going to have a year and a half of now we need a constitutional amendment, we`ve got to overturn what the Supreme Court did? Or does the refrain come the court has spoken, we`re done with this? COSTA: Someone like Cruz will be a bellwether. This is the party that lost two straight presidential elections. They`re trying to find the calculus to move ahead and win next November. How do you that? Maybe you don`t fight on the social issues as much. But Bobby Jindal is proving that you can get political oxygen in a place like Iowa by going out really hard against what he thinks is the cultural left. And so, is Bobby Jindal going to decide the debate or can Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, the others who kind of maybe accept the ruling, could they become the chief voices? KORNACKI: Yes, right, the Jindal thing seems like it`s the ultimate play to the base, right? I mean, he looks at the polls and sees the majority of the country is not there anymore, the majority of the Republican Party is there, I`m going to go for the most committed of that majority of this party. How far can he get with that? COSTA: Well, the last two people to win Iowa, Mike Huckabee, evangelical conservative, they didn`t win the nominations. So, if you`re more centrist on marriage, if you`re not going to make marriage your battle cry, maybe Iowa doesn`t matter as much to you. Maybe you just focus on New Hampshire and let the Bobby Jindals of the world fight it out in the Hawkeye State. KORNACKI: Is there any room do you think? We talked about this, right up until the moment that Barack Obama and Joe Biden in 2012 said, we support gay marriage. Conventional wisdom said it`s way too early for somebody to run for president in this country and supports gay marriage. Then, suddenly, we found out it was possible in 2012. The conventional wisdom has been way too early for somebody in the Republican Party to step forward and say, I actually am fine with this, I support gay marriage, let`s move on to something else. Do you think that`s true or is there maybe more room than we think? COSTA: It`s going to be up to tough. The one person I thought could articulate would be Rob Portman, senator from Ohio, he decides not to run. And so, what we`re going to have to watch and listen for is what`s not said. So, Republicans may -- some of them want to talk about social issues. But if Ted Cruz and Scott Walker and Jeb Bush aren`t putting these issues at the fore, that will stay a lot even if they`re not changing their positions in some kind of big picture way. KORNACKI: But if it comes and it will become unavoidable in a way with this -- COSTA: It`s going to become unavoidable. That -- I was just in New Hampshire and Iowa. Republicans want to talk about economic and fiscal issues, but this is going to bring all the cultural and marriage battles back into the campaign and this primary will be a vast social issues in a way it has not been to this point. KORNACKI: It`s such that the contrast to me always goes back to 2004, the Supreme Court in Massachusetts legalizes gay marriage and the instant response from the Republicans is a constitutional amendment to oppose it, and it`s a winning political issue. And here we are barely ten years later and the complete opposite -- (CROSSTALK) COSTA: When I talked to donors of Bush, talk to donors of Walker, even donors for Ted Cruz, many of them don`t think if you`re going to win the election, you have to -- you can`t be hard against gay marriage, you can`t be turning off all the millennials who voted for Barack Obama and who are intrigued by Hillary Clinton`s candidacy. So, how do you win them back? How do you win young people back if they`re turning in such droves toward same-sex marriage? You have to have a tone and an approach, even if you don`t change your position. KORNACKI: Robert Costa, national political reporter with "The Washington Post" -- thanks for your time. COSTA: Thank you. KORNACKI: All right. Ahead the big story on the Democratic side of the Democratic 2016 campaign. New scrutiny tonight surrounding the Clintons and their finances. Details in just a bit. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Today, the unthinkable happened here in Washington. President Obama`s attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, got a vote. It had been 166 days since she was nominated, but today, the Senate confirmed Lynch to become the next attorney general of the United States by a vote of 56 to 43. Republicans had delayed and delayed this vote for months, but when the vote finally came today, ten of them actually did vote in favor of her nomination, including Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, and also notably Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Cochran, who recently survived a Republican primary challenge for his seat, largely on the strength of African-American voters in Mississippi. So, it took more than five months but Loretta Lynch will now become the nation`s first African-American woman to serve as attorney general. Earlier tonight, President Obama reacted to news of her confirmation during a speech in front of the liberal activist group Organizing for America. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Before I start with some other issues, I want to say publicly for the first time that I`ve been looking forward to saying this, that I am very pleased that Loretta Lynch has now been confirmed -- (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) OBAMA: And -- you know, America will be better off for it. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Organizing for Action, I should say, is the name of that group. Loretta Lynch will now become the 83rd attorney general of the United States and she will assume that job after what has been one of the longest waits that any cabinet secretary has ever had to endure. She`s expected to officially be sworn in on Monday. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Six years ago, Hillary Clinton was about to become secretary of state. Barack Obama had nominated her. Everyone knew she was going to be confirmed by the Senate, going to be confirmed easily. But there was a thought, there was a question, there was a doubt out there about a potential conflict of interest. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: The core of the problem is that foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the secretary of state. Although neither Senator Clinton nor President Clinton has a personal financial stake in the foundation. Obviously, its work benefits their legacy and their public service priorities. HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The foundation and the president-elect decided to go beyond what the law and the ethics rules call for to address even the appearance of conflict, and that is why they signed a memorandum of understanding, which outlines the voluntary steps that the foundation is taking to address potential concerns that might come up down the road. (END VIDEO CLIP KORNACKI: Again, that was early 2009. It did not get much attention back then. There was the theoretical possibility of a conflict of interest, the idea that a foreign government or foreign entity might give massively to the Clinton Foundation in the hopes of winning favor with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There was that theoretical possibility, and there was also Clinton`s insistence that there wouldn`t even be an appearance of any conflict. But today, that same issue suddenly got a lot of attention. "The New York Times" reporting that while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, her State Department and other agencies approved a deal allowing a Canadian mine company to sell its uranium business to the Russians. That same Canadian mining company, which again it needed State Department approval for this deal, that same company also donated heavily to the Clinton Foundation. As "The Times" reports today, "Uranium One`s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well." And also this from "The Times", quote, "Shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received add $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock." Now, to be clear, this report does not conclusively establish any quid pro quo. There is no smoking gun here that shows Hillary Clinton taking official action as secretary of state in response to those donations to the Clinton Foundation, or to the payout her husband received for that speech. And the Clinton campaign in an aggressive response today points out that the State Department was just one of nine agencies to approve that deal. And that, quote, "Hillary Clinton herself did not participate in the review, or direct the department to take any position on the sale of Uranium One." Clinton campaign spokesman also telling NBC News today, quote, "No one has produced a shred of evidence that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state in order to support the interest of donors to the Clinton Foundation." It`s also worth noting this "New York Times" story grows out of a new book called "Clinton Cash", and that the author of that book, Peter Schweizer, is a conservative writer from a conservative research group whose leadership includes the same billionaire family bankrolling Ted Cruz`s presidential campaign. This in fact is something the Clinton camp noted in the first sentence of their response today. "The Times" was, quote, "relying largely on research of the conservative author of `Clinton Cash`." It also worth noting what else we learned today, though, that the same conservative author who is also writing a book scrutinizing Jeb Bush`s financial history. That book will be released sometime this summer. And there was more news today, too, from "The Washington Post" about how Bill Clinton has received millions of dollars in speaking fees from companies and organizations that also donated heavily to the Clinton Foundation. In a report the Clinton Foundation is in the process of reviewing its tax returns from 2010 to 2012, they`re going to be refiling them to reflect the fact that some of the money they got in those years came from foreign governments. Today is not the first time that an issue like this has been raised. The press and Hillary`s political enemies have been looking closely at the Clinton Foundation and its relationship with foreign governments for months now. As part of the deal Hillary Clinton made with the Obama administration when she became secretary of state, the Clinton Foundation agreed to disclose all new foreign donations but the latest reporting says the foundation did not always abide by those standards. For example, they reportedly failed to disclose an unsolicited donation made by the government of Algeria in 2010 to help with Haiti earthquake relief efforts. Hillary Clinton formally resigned from the foundation board the day she announced her candidacy this month. She has vowed to be more open about the foundation`s finances. Just today, Chelsea Clinton at a forum on women`s rights was asked about the foundation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did the foundation take Saudi Arabia when they didn`t treat women, you know, as well as perhaps they could? And there`s questions even this morning in the "New York Times" about money coming from Ukraine and there`s this perception of were favors done in exchange for funding? So, I wanted to get your thoughts on that. CHELSEA CLINTON, VICE CHAIR, CLINTON FOUNDATION: Well, lots of questions in that. You know, we have always partnered with, you know, governments, NGOs, foundations who believe the work we do is important. What the Clinton Foundation has said is that we will be even more transparent, even though Transparency International and others have said we`re among the most transparent foundations. We`ll disclose donors on a quarter live basis and not just an annual basis. I very much believe that that`s the right policy, that we`ll be even more transparent, that to eliminate any questions while we`re in this time, we won`t take new government funding but that the work will continue as it is. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Now, again, there is no smoking gun in anything that we learned today. The Clintons are adamant that there is no there there, and it really might be as simple as that. But there is the appearance of a conflict here, the possibility of a conflict. That`s what the reporting shows today and that`s what Hillary said six years ago there wouldn`t be. There are questions here. There are difficult questions here, murky questions here, but legitimate questions. Will the response that the Clinton campaign offered today be enough to put the issue to rest? Will she have to say more? Are we in store for more reports like today`s as the press and, yes, Clinton`s political enemies dig deeper in the months ahead? Joining us now is Alex Seitz-Wald, political reporter for Alex, thanks for joining us tonight. So, the first thing that strikes me about all this, we played it at the top there, her confirmation hearing six years ago, Dick Lugar, the Republican senator from Indiana at the time, spills out the potential for a conflict. Hillary says absolutely nothing to worry about there and yet exactly what Lugar was describing then is what we`re reading about today. ALEX SEITZ-WALD, MSNBC POLITICAL REPORTER: Right, absolutely. There`s a difference between perception and substance and on substance they might be OK. There`s a lot of quid here but there`s not necessarily a lot of quo. It`s hard to believe that these people are giving millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation without at least some of them thinking that they might curry some favor with the Clintons. Whether that favor was returned in any way, we haven`t seen that. But it certainly creates this perception and that`s a problem, and especially for her right now as she`s trying to reintroduce herself to the country as this kind of humble, Midwest grandmother, down to earth, not somebody who fits in this with larger narrative going back to the Clinton White House that they use public office for personal gain. All of this fits into a question that she has with the e-mail scandal, with Benghazi, which essentially that she`s asking us to trust her. I deleted half my e-mails but there`s no work related e-mails in there. Trust me. You know, we took money from people in there but there`s no favor in there, trust us. And I think that works -- it`s worked so far, but there`s a point where it may not longer work, where the benefit of the doubt may run out for her. KORNACKI: And I wonder about -- you talk about the themes, the messages, her campaign is trying to strike now, humility, talking about working people in this country and talking about equality, things like this. I have to say, I know it`s something Republicans are eager to hammer them on but I wonder about this as a potent political question for Republicans and a question voters might have -- look at these sums of money that we`re finding out Bill Clinton commands for these speeches. There`s the conflict of interest itself that`s raised there. There`s also just -- we`re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. We`re talking $250 million here over the last, what, ten-plus years. SEITZ-WALD: Right. And for a campaign that`s expected to raise $2 billion with a super PAC that`s going to support them, you know, $200 million to $500 million. We should say, there`s more than a little bit of hypocrisy here in Republicans who are also going to take tens of millions of dollars from special interest. Today, Marco Rubio, on a conference call with Americans for Prosperity, that Koch-backed group, said that he, unlike Hillary Clinton will not be bought off by special interests and then almost in the next breath said he hopes to win over the brothers. Judge the Republicans with a grain of salt, to be sure. But it definitely complicates her message. And that`s what they`re trying to get I hear. You know, they`re trying to say, there`s no doubt they`re there. This is just -- we`re being attacked by partisan interests. She`s a champion for the middle class. That`s her message. KORNACKI: Yes, that`s what she`s saying today. Do you think what she said today is going to suffice, are we going to have to hear from her? Is there going to be pressure to hear more from her? SEITZ-WALD: Well, I think what they`re going to do is not necessarily convince the doubters, because they know that in a polarized country, half the country is just never going to get onboard with Hillary Clinton. He`s going to never going to trust Hilary Clinton. What they want to do is discredit the attacks, discredit the sources and muddy the waters enough that this becomes an issue that`s complicated and average Americans feel comfortable just ignoring. You know, they`re just not for me. They basically want to turn this into Benghazi. It excites the right, but doesn`t really breakthrough to Democrats, independents, the media. That`s where they want to bring this issue to eventually. So, they don`t want the story to be "New York Times" versus Hillary Clinton. They want it to be the Republicans versus Hillary Clinton. That`s what they started to do today. We want to see whether they succeed in getting there. KORNACKI: All right. MSNBC political reporter Alex Seitz-Wald, who is covering the Hillary Clinton campaign -- thanks for your time tonight. Appreciate it. SEITZ-WALD: Thanks. KORNACKI: Coming up, a little football related who done it might actually be solved. That`s coming up. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: OK. Here`s an interesting fact -- Chile has 90 active volcanoes. More interesting facts, over the last 24 hours, there have been two eruptions in southern Chile from a volcano named Calbuco, this after 40 years of being dormant. Now, the eruptions sent smoke and ash six miles into the air. The authorities have evacuated thousands of people who live within 12 miles of that volcano. Eruptions have been so big that ash is falling into neighboring Argentina. And authorities say they`re expecting an even bigger explosion to happen soon. The first eruption occurred Wednesday, shortly before nightfall. The second went off this morning just before sunrise, providing us with this image of volcanic lighting in action. Never seen that before. It`s very incredible. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: This is the week for football champions at the White House. On Monday, the president congratulated the Buckeyes of Ohio State on winning the first ever college football playoff championship. And then today, in a ceremony in the White House lawn, the president congratulated the New England Patriots on their dramatic super bowl victory over the Seahawks. Now, usually, these are pretty formulaic. The president makes a speech, the team gives him a jersey with the number 44 on it and then everyone poses for pictures. Although today not everything the president said went over so well. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I usually tell a lot of jokes at these events, but with the Patriots in town, I was worried that 11 out of 12 of them would fall flat. (LAUGHTER) All right, all right, all right. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Belichick really likes that one. That, of course, a call back to the deflate-gate controversy in which the Patriots were investigated for allegations that they tampered with 11 footballs to gain some sort of an advantage in the playoffs last season, an allegation that should be noted that still has not been proven. That whole gave rise to two great moments in TRMS history, including the night the theory that 11 footballs could be deflated in two minutes inside a bathroom stall. And then, of course, there was the super cut of Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady violating the first law of Rachel Maddow`s sports relations, always call a football by its name. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL BELICHIK, PATRIOTS COACH: Anytime that players complained about the quality of the balls. TOM BRADY, PATRIOTS QUARTERBACK: I`m not squeezing the ball. I`m not -- you know, I don`t -- that`s not part of my process. BELICHIK: Each team has the opportunity to prepare the balls. BRADY: I don`t want anyone touching the balls after that. I don`t want anyone scrubbing them. To me, those balls perfect. BELICHIK: That balls. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: But after Obama`s deflategate joke, there was another weird moment. It happened between the president and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Gronkowski just being Gronkowski. He`s not making rabbit ears back there. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: The president was talking there about something that happened earlier this week when the other championship team, the Ohio State Buckeyes got their photo open. Someone that time gave the president bunny ears. And as you can see from this photograph, it`s actually kind of figure out which of these guys it was. And most journalists who wrote about the bunny ears figured it was Ohio State`s former star defensive tackle Michael Bennet who is standing behind and to the left of President Obama in that picture. But "GQ" magazine in their write-up pointed their finger at Ohio State corner Duran Grant. Was it actually his hand? Now, several TRMS staffers spent way too much time this week trying to crack this case starting with the videotape. There`s the hand. It`s stealthy, but still, it is hard to tell whose hand it is there. So, the mystery continued until yesterday and that is when the prime suspect, Michael Bennet, copped to it on Twitter. And he apologized, saying he meant no disrespect to the president. And today, I`m going to guess all is forgiven as the president appeared to take no offense. That does it for us tonight. We`re going to see you again tomorrow night. Now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Lawrence, take it away. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END