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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/15/15

Guests: Fritz Edler, Aaron Sarlo

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Happy Friday, man. CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: You too. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Two really big news stories took two really unexpected turns late in the news day today. It`s been a dramatic day in the news for that reason. The first surprising news was the train crash story, which we`ve been following all week, since that fatal Amtrak derailment Tuesday night in northeast Philadelphia. A surprising development in that story today. The NTSB had planned a briefing late today on their continuing investigation into that derailment. And the NTSB -- if you know anything about the federal agencies who are involved in stuff like this, the NTSB is a by-the-book, dot the I`s, cross the T`s organization. They are, you know, rigorous in terms of their attention to detail and stuff like their timing. So, it was a little bit weird when the time for that briefing came and went today and there was no sign of them. They ended up delaying the NTSB briefing by more than an hour, which is a very unusual thing for that agency. And then they later explained that the reason for the delay is because of what they called breaking news in their investigation into the derailment today. The NTSB this afternoon put forward a new prospect of what might have happened to the Amtrak train that derailed. A new line of inquiry that they are actively investigating, including with the FBI. It`s a line of inquiry that we have not heard anything about in the last few days since the derailment, but they raised the prospect of this tonight. That was a very dramatic turn in that story today. We`re going to have more on that turn and the respect they are raising in just a moment, including with an expert who can talk to us about how feasible this potential explanation is. So that was one thing that happened late today. Also this afternoon, there was the highly anticipated but ultimately surprising news out of Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston marathon was bombed at the finish line almost two years ago in April 2013. There`s no mystery as to who committed that bombing. One of the two brothers who did it was killed in a chaotic firefight during the manhunt that followed the marathon attack. The surviving brother did not contest his guilt at trial. His defense lawyer admitted with her first words to the jury that he had done it, that he committed the bombing. That jury dually convicted him on 30 counts last month, and the real question in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not whether they would be found guilty, but whether he would be sentenced to life in prison or death. And that decision was made today. And the physical setting for both his crime and his trial has loomed as a very important part of that open question, because the state where he committed his crime, and where the state convicted -- and in the state where he was convicted, Massachusetts, is against the death penalty as a state, broadly speaking. The death penalty is not available as a punishment for convictions in state court in Massachusetts. There is no Massachusetts death row. Massachusetts abolished capital punishment more than 30 years ago and it`s not controversial in the state. The reason the Boston marathon bomber was facing the death penalty is because the federal government took over his prosecution and the federal government decided to ask for the death penalty in his case and there is a federal death penalty. But it was a little bit of an out on a limb prosecutorial decision, because even though he was being tried in federal court, the federal court was in Massachusetts. Only a third of Massachusetts residents believe there should be a death penalty for anything, for even the most serious crimes. Less than 20 percent of people in Massachusetts believe the death penalty would be an appropriate punishment for this crime, for this specific case. But even facing those odds, federal prosecutors decided to go for it anyway. That mean they had to find themselves a jury that met two criteria, each of which was statistically difficult to reach, right? They had to find a jury that was both open to the death penalty, at least in some cases, which statistically is a rarity among Massachusetts residents. And they had to find a jury that was unprejudiced when it came to the specifics of this case, which had to be a real challenge, given the high- profile nature of this case. But, they got that jury and first that jury convicted him, and then when they were asked to choose between giving him a life sentence or giving him a death sentence, today, they chose death. In terms of the victims and the victim`s family, some of them said that this was the result they wanted, that they had hoped that he would get the death penalty and this feels like justice. Other victims, including the sister of the MIT police officer, who was shot and killed by the brothers after the bombing, Officer Sean Collier`s sister had argued publicly she didn`t want a death sentence as revenge for her brother`s death. She wanted a life in prison sentence instead. Also, Bill and Denise Richard, whose 8-year-old son, Martin, was killed at the marathon and whose 7-year-old daughter was gravely wounded in the same incident, the parents of those two little kids made a very moving public appeal that the murderer of their son and the attempted murderer of their daughter should get a life sentence instead of a death sentence. They argued that the death penalty would keep Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the spotlight, would keep him in the headlines for longer, and that would just prolong their pain. There is an existential finality to a death sentence, right? But as a legal matter, the pronouncement of a death sentence isn`t the end. It`s the end of one part of a legal process, but it is the start of something else. It is the start of something that is complex and mostly opaque. And at times, it can be hard to understand and predict. Here to help us understand what this means is NBC News chief justice correspondent Pete Williams. Pete, thanks for being here. Appreciate your time tonight. PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Sure. MADDOW: What does happen next, now that the jury has made this decision? WILLIAMS: Well, the jury made this decision under federal death penalty law. And if you look in the statute, the very next thing after how this trial works is the rule for mandatory appeal. So, there will be, must be, a mandatory appeal, and they will, I`m sure, be raising a lot of issues about, for example, the kind of evidence that the judge excluded from the trial It seemed pretty clear, although a great deal of this case was under seal, in the pre-trial phases, it seemed pretty clear that the defense lawyers wanted to show more about what a brutal person Tamerlan Tsarnaev was. And they wanted to bring up the fact that it`s believed that he was involved in a triple homicide in Waltham, Massachusetts, about a year or so before the bombing. They weren`t allowed to raise that. And about four times before the trial, they asked the trial judge and once the court of appeals to grant a change of venue, to move the trial outside of Boston. So the exclusion of evidence and the change of venue will undoubtedly be two things that they`ll bring up on appeal. And then, of course, if that fails, they can try a number of other appeals under the habeas corpus rules. And it`s very possible, this is no exaggeration, to say that the appeals could go on another decade. MADDOW: Well, one of the reasons that I raised the objections or at least the stated public positions of some of the victims` family members who were against a death sentence and said they wanted life in prison, one of the arguments that they made repeatedly that they worry that the prospect of a death sentence is a lengthened period of uncertainty and public attention to his case. And the headlines about this young man, attention to him, they don`t want that. Is that inevitable, or does that depend on what kind of legal strategy he chooses or his advocates choose? Obviously, you say there will be a mandatory appeal, but are some of the courses here a shorter term course than others? WILLIAMS: Well, there must be a mandatory appeal, but whether there are what are called collateral appeals, additional appeals beyond that, in a sense, is up to him. The lawyers can`t undertake those appeals without his permission. You know, you might argue, he`s got nothing else to do, except wait for this to go on. One of the issues that was raised against the death penalty, by the defense was, that if he got life in prison, he would not be a martyr. And, obviously, the jury felt that the crimes he committed were of such a nature that the death penalty was appropriate. And it`s important to point out here, I think, Rachel, that he was not given the death penalty for all the crimes. MADDOW: Right. WILLIAMS: He did not get the death penalty -- he was given the death penalty basically only for the deaths that resulted from the bomb that he placed, the second bomb that he placed near the marathon finish line. So he did not get the death penalty for Krystle Campbell`s death, killed in the first bomb placed by his brother Tamerlan, nor did he get the death penalty for the death of Officer Collier, because it was never clear which of the two brothers pulled the trigger. MADDOW: Pete, the numbers are stark in terms of the federal death penalty. As far as I understand it, there`s something like 60 people on federal death row, which is a lot. But the total number of federal prisoners who have been executed over the last 50 years is three. It`s a very -- it`s a very lightly used process. Even once you get people on to death row in federal crimes. Is there any way to extrapolate from that, and from the other cases that have gone forward, to figure out the likelihood of this sentence ever being carried out? WILLIAMS: So, I guess there are two ways to look at that. One is to say that the odds are against it, and in fact, in both the federal and state system, the odds of someone sentenced to death actually being executed are quite low, because of additional appeals, delays. Right now, there are no executions in the federal system, because of the same controversy that has them bollixed up in the state system, the controversy over the right drug combinations for lethal injection. But look at the Timothy McVeigh case. Now, that was 12 years ago, or 14 years ago, that he was executed. He was executed very shortly after his trial. And I would, you know, I would think that given the high-profile nature of this crime, the government might want to move more quickly on this and might try to push it along. So, there`s two conflicting things here. On the one hands, the odds are against it. On the other hand, there`s a lot of momentum here. MADDOW: Pete Williams, NBC News justice correspondent -- Pete, thank you, particularly late on a Friday. Really appreciate it. WILLIAMS: Sure. MADDOW: Thank you. On that last point that Pete just raised there, about how to predict what`s going to happen here. Since 1963, the federal government has only executed three people. The federal government went for almost 40 years without executing anyone, before they executed Timothy McVeigh. They killed him in 2001. And right after they killed Timothy McVeigh, they killed another guy the following week. And there was another prisoner that they killed in 2003, but there has not been anybody since then, since 2003. And those three executions over the last 50 years, which all happened in very quick succession, those three federal death penalty cases, those executions were all done by lethal injection. And here`s a very awkward question about the Boston marathon bomber being sentenced to death today for that bombing, being sentenced to death in federal custody. Nobody knows if the federal government actually can execute him. And I don`t mean like, you know, legally, whether it`s going to be OK`d ultimately, after the appeals process. I don`t mean politically or morally, in terms of whether they`ve go the heart and the stomach to kill this guy. I mean, logistically, the question of whether the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who`s now responsible for killing him, whether they can, whether they have the drugs that they would need to use for a lethal injection of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev or any of the other 61 people on federal death row. I mean, this is the highest profile federal death penalty case in a very, very long time. And it arrives today at a time when the death penalty is in more of a state of chaos than it has ever been. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court is due to rule on the constitutionality of lethal injection. They`ve already heard oral arguments on that case. We`re just waiting for the court to hand down its judgment. The Supreme Court could next month, conceivably, abolish lethal injection nationwide. Even if they don`t, though, there`s a legitimate question of whether lethal injection might disappear anyway, because the states who want to kill their prisoners by that method can`t get the drugs to do it anymore. Texas kills more prisoners than anyone, right? Texas is seen as the well-oiled machine of capital punishment in this country. Even Texas right now, after they executed somebody earlier this week, Texas is now down to the last dose they`ve got of lethal injection drugs. Texas only has enough on hand to kill one more person. Everybody all over the country is running out. For that reason, we asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons directly today if they have drugs on hand to kill prisoners on federal death row and they told us no, they don`t have them. This is what they told us, explicitly. Quote, "The cocktail that was used for federal executions in 2001 and 2003, the last time the federal death penalty was carried out, included sodium thiopental, pancurium bromide, and potassium chloride. But considering the ongoing review, the Bureau of Prisons is not in possession of any quantities of sodium thiopental, pancurium bromide, and potassium chloride to be used for the purposes of lethal injections." They don`t have any of the lethal injection drugs. This is kind of a big deal. It`s gotten very little attention today. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons has no drugs for lethal injections, and the federal means of executing prisoners is lethal injection. They`ve done three lethal injections in the past, each of which used the same combination of three drugs. They currently have none of those drugs on hand. And honestly, if they did want to acquire those drugs to kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev or anybody else, there is no reason to believe that the federal government could obtain those drugs. Not given the experience that the states have had, trying to get those drugs over the last several months and the last couple of years. This is not a hypothetical crisis. This is a real crisis. Utah just re-legalized the firing squad, because they know they can`t get the drugs. Oklahoma invented lethal injection in the first place. Oklahoma just last month invented a whole new way of killing prisoners, which has never been tried, never been tested before. It was invented for the state by people with no experience in the field, and no medical expertise at all, but Oklahoma made it law anyway. Oklahoma`s ready to start experimenting with the idea of killing people with nitrogen gas. And that`s because they know they can`t get the drugs for lethal injection. Some time in the last year, the capital punishment system hit the breaking point and it is now past that. It really is broken. Just take one state in today`s news as an example. This has not gotten a lot of national attention yet, but it`s remarkable. It`s the state of Nebraska. Two things are happening simultaneously in the state of Nebraska. The state`s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, last night announced that he has found a way around this problem afflicting the whole country, in terms of nobody being able to get lethal injection drugs. Last night, the governor of Nebraska put out this press release, saying that he had found some lethal injection drugs for the state of Nebraska. He found some drugs in India. And he announced last night that he has put in a mail order. He sent a check for $51,000 and he says $51,000 worth of lethal injection drugs are on their way to Nebraska, from India. Now, Nebraska has previously tried to buy drugs from this same company in India in the past. The drugs turned out to be stolen and it was blocked by a court and it was huge fiasco and they never used those drugs with, but they have now put in another order. And we`ll see what happens. And if it works you can out get your killing-people drugs by mail order from India, that would be a surprise. That would be a surprise that more states other than Nebraska weren`t just doing that already. But Nebraska is giving it a go again. We reached out to the Food and Drug Administration today to ask about that plan by the state of Nebraska, and the Food and Drug Administration told us that they were, and I quote, "looking into it." We are currently looking into this matter. So that`s going on within the last 24 hours in Nebraska and simultaneously, within the last 24 hours, in Nebraska, the legislature has just voted to abolish capital punishment. Massachusetts -- no, not Massachusetts. Nebraska. Nebraska has an unusual legislature. It`s all one House. They don`t have a House and a Senate, they just have one thing, and legislators don`t get seated by party either. But it is Nebraska, it`s very conservative, mostly Republican body. But still, Nebraska`s legislature has just taken the second of three votes that they will need to take in order to legally abolish the death penalty in the state of Nebraska. The repeal the death penalty bill in Nebraska is passing, it is passing by huge margins, even though it is a very conservative legislature there. They have to take one more vote and the governor says he`ll veto the bill, because he wants to keep the death penalty, but the votes that have happened so far look like they are both a filibuster-proof margin and a veto-proof margin, to abolish capital punishment in the state of Nebraska. So, just think about that for a second. They are simultaneously abolishing it, the conservatives, in the state legislature are abolishing it, and they are waiting for the UPS guy. Waiting for their $50,000 worth of probably illegal Indian lethal injection drugs to maybe show up in Lincoln. To be fair, I don`t know if it`s UPS. But that mail-order package that they`re waiting for this, this open question as to whether or not it`s ever going to get delivered to Nebraska, that`s the kind of seat of the pants, see what happens detail that may determine the future of the death penalty in at least one U.S. state. And to have both of those things happening in Nebraska in one 24-hour period, honestly, that`s nuts, right? We`re abolishing it and also we sent away to India for the drugs and maybe we`ll get them, even if it`s illegal. I have no idea how that`s going to work out in Nebraska. But that 24 hour period of chaos in that one state is actually a perfect microcosm of how chaotic, and catch-as-catch-can and unpredictable this whole supposedly very sober scientific process has become. State to state and even now at the federal level, this has now descended into like duct tape and paper clips, DIY, call your buddy, steal some stuff, jerry- rigged chaos. That is our so-called system. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Is it that time again? TRICIA MCKINNEY, TRMS SENIOR PLANNING PRODUCER: Is it that time again? It is time to pick prizes for the player of our Friday night news dump. MADDOW: OK. MCKINNEY: So we`re kind of running out of good stuff in the drawer. MADDOW: So we`re getting down to bad stuff? MCKINNEY: Yes. Well, I was digging around and found some expired energy gels. They expired in 2013. MADDOW: Really expired. MCKINNEY: I`m kidding, we`re not giving these away. MADDOW: Why do we have those? MCKINNEY: I have no idea. MADDOW: OK. MCKINNEY: So it`s really between two things. MADDOW: Can I have them? MCKINNEY: Sure. MADDOW: OK. MCKINNEY: I found -- MADDOW: Larger than life. MCKINNEY: Larger than life -- MADDOW: I never met him. MCKINNEY: That could be life-sized. MADDOW: OK. That`s one. MCKINNEY: I don`t know why we have that. MADDOW: It`s a nice print job. MCKINNEY: A little wrinkly, but we could, you know -- MADDOW: Iron it out. OK. MCKINNEY: Everybody needs a new -- MADDOW: A big Newt Gingrich head. MCKINNEY: Now, this, Kelsey found this. MADDOW: What`s that? MCKINNEY: This is a bag of swag -- MADDOW: From CPAC 2010! I remember that swag bag. There`s nothing good in it. MCKINNEY: No, I don`t want give -- there`s one good thing in it. MADDOW: My handwritten name tag from CPAC, on a lanyard. You could repurpose the lanyard. MCKINNEY: I think people would want to have your lanyard. MADDOW: First on the day, Liz Cheney, I was talking her, I thought we got her to do an interview with me and she was like -- MCKINNEY: Yes. MADDOW: That`s pretty good. Are we going to give the whole bag? MCKINNEY: Well, I think we should keep this in mind that there might be other good stuff in here. There`s probably not much. MADDOW: A swag bag from a five-year-old CPAC which includes my personal lanyard or a giant Newt Gingrich head. I think the swag bag and the lanyard. MCKINNEY: All right. Done, I`m going to keep Newt. MADDOW: I`m going to keep, (INAUDIBLE) MCKINNEY: OK. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The investigation into the Amtrak derailment this week, yesterday, focused on the forward-facing video camera that was on the train that crashed. That video, as described by investigators, it showed the train accelerating steadily, as it approached that very sharp curve, 70, 80, 90, over 100 miles an hour. The lead NTSB investigator on the scene said the train accelerated steadily, from 70, up to over 100 miles an hour as it got near that bend. It should have been slowing down, but the train instead was speeding up. That was the big revelation yesterday. Obviously, the question is why. Why would the train speed up as it approached that curve? Well, today, investigators said they also have obtained the forward- facing video from a totally unrelated second train. And they`ve got that video, because they are now investigating a whole new line of inquiry into what may have caused the fatal Amtrak derailment. This is a whole new idea, a whole new line of inquiry raised by the investigators today. They explained why they are now pursuing that line of inquiry. It`s fascinating and a little unnerving. And that`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, today the NTSB announced a briefing into their investigation on the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia this week. Uncharacteristically, they then delayed that briefing by more than an hour, because of what they later described as breaking news, which they discovered while interviewing the crew from the Amtrak train. They interviewed members of the crew today. And first, they explained in detail that the engineer of the train, the actual driver of the train, he is, in fact, cooperating with the investigation, contrary to some media reports that had portrayed the engineer as uncooperative with investigators. The NTSB said he is more than cooperative. They said they talked to him at length today. They described him adds extremely cooperative. They say he does not remember anything about the crash itself or the moments immediately before it. He apparently remembers sounding his bell on the train, at the north Philadelphia station, but then nothing after that, and the derailment happened not long after the train passed through the North Philadelphia station. So, the NTSB cleared up that misunderstanding today about whether the engineer is helping in the investigation. He is. But, then, they also explained, basically, a new line of inquiry about the crash that they say they are now actively pursuing in part with the help of the FBI. This line of inquiry is based on an interview that they conducted today, with an assistant conductor who was working on the train and she apparently told investigators that she overheard a radio conversation between her engineer on her Amtrak train and the engineer on a nearby SEPTA train, a Pennsylvania regional commuter train. There had been some media reports that a SEPTA train nearby had had its windshield broken, just before the Amtrak train derailed. And that it had been described as an unrelated incident. Had been described as an unrelated incident, but the questions had been put to rest as to whether there was any connection between the two of them. But what the assistant conductor apparently overheard in that discussion between the two engineers, right before the Amtrak derailment, is now tonight raising a whole new set of questions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERT SUMWALT, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: She reported that approximately three to four minutes after departing Philadelphia, she said she heard the engineer talking to a SEPTA engineer. She recalled that the SEPTA engineer had reported to the train dispatcher that he had either been hit by a rock or shot at. And that the SEPTA engineer said that he had a broken windshield and he placed his train into emergency stop. She also believed that she heard the engineer say something about -- she also believed that she heard her engineer say something about his train being struck by something. Our investigation is not independently confirmed this information, but we have seen damage to the left-hand lower portion of the Amtrak windshield that we have asked the FBI to come in and look at for us. If you`re standing in the middle of the locomotive cab, the center line, over here is where the engineer`s windshield is. Over here is the other windshield, and in the lower portion of the left-hand windshield, there is a circular pattern that emanates out, just a bit. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Did something strike that Amtrak train at the locomotive before it derailed? Is that part of what happened here? The NTSB tonight saying they are looking at damage on the left side of the windshield. So that would be on the right side of your screen. They`re describing this crew member`s account, obtained just today in this interview, which says the train may have been hit by something, shortly before that crash. Could that possibly explain what happened? Again, the engineer says he remembers nothing in the moments leading up to the derailment itself. Joining us now is Fritz Edler. Mr. Edler is a veteran Amtrak engineer and a union officer from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and he is someone who has operated this same model train. Mr. Edler, thank you very much for being with us tonight. FRITZ EDLER, VETERAN AMTRAK ENGINEER: I`m glad to be here under these unfortunate circumstances. MADDOW: Yes. I understand, forgive me if I get anything wrong, and please correct me if I get anything wrong. But I understand this is a relatively new engine. It probably went into service last year. I understand you`ve also driven this model. Can you briefly give us a description of what it takes to control the train`s speed in an engine like this? EDLER: Well, it is true that the city sprinter locomotives are pretty new to our service and they`re a new model locomotive, period, in production in the world. We have quite a number of them in service on Amtrak at this point. They`re not particularly different in terms of their basics than any of the other electric locomotives that we operate. There`s -- the differences would just be in details about exactly, you know, there might be a slight difference in a handle or whatever, but in general, the handle positions are pretty similar and, so in that regard, the learning curve to take over this equipment hasn`t been very steep. MADDOW: When you want to accelerate, you`re the engineer, you`re driving this train, you`re in this city sprinter cockpit and you want to accelerate, there`s something that you physically have to depress, move forward, a kind of throttle, we would imagine, in order to that? EDLER: There is a throttle. MADDOW: OK. EDLER: The throttle is visible in the picture that you used moments ago. That would be where the left hand is approximately, if I`m seeing it properly, Mr. Boardman, with his hand there, there`s a black handle. MADDOW: OK. EDLER: And, you operate -- you can actually get both propulsion and also regenerative braking. Regenerative braking is one of the supplemental kind of braking systems that this equipment has, with the same device. MADDOW: The prospect that was being raised today at this NTSB briefing is that it may have been relevant to what happened to this train that something struck the engine. That they`re saying that they`re looking into, there`s damage to that left front windshield, and they`re looking into whether or not that`s relevant. What would it take in terms of a projectile hitting a train, what kind of -- the thickness of the glass, is it something where, with, you know, somebody shooting at the glass, for example, could penetrate that glass? EDLER: Well, things being thrown at, things coming through the windshield has been a problem over the course of the history of the railroad. Sometimes we`ve had spates of bad incidents of that kind. Nothing in the recent period of that kind, but -- it is not an unusual thing for things to be thrown at a locomotive. It`s somewhat more unusual for them to actually come through the windshield, but it does happen. This is one of the many kinds of obstacles that engineers operating on the corridor run into. It`s an additional part of our -- the difficulties of our job, that most people don`t know about or think about. But, there is safety glass. And it worked pretty well. It works pretty well to, when you realize that the combined forces that would be involved with something sympathetic that is thrown or shot at a windshield, plus the velocity of the train itself, you could be talking about hubs of miles an hour of impact. MADDOW: Fritz Edler, former Amtrak engineer, long time officer of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen -- thanks for helping us understand these logistics. It`s a scary story and a scary prospect, but thanks for helping us to understand it tonight. Obviously, the NTSB -- the implication of what the NTSB is saying, if something came through the windshield or something else happened to affect the engineer, could he physically have -- it`s something he doesn`t remember -- could he physically have, essentially, fallen on the throttle? Could that have resulted in some way, either by hitting something mechanically on the trail or affecting the engineer, somehow in the train cab, could that have resulted in that otherwise unexplained rapid acceleration? Amazing. We`ll keep you posted. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So historic news in politics today. We just got word that we are about to get a new announcement, a likely new entrant into the presidential race who adds totally historically unprecedented diversity to the Republican presidential field. The Republican Party is about to break a glass ceiling that has never been broken before in major party presidential politics. Exciting and surprising news, that story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The Republican field of presidential contenders is already diverse this year. And today it took a step toward becoming even more so. Historically so. Among the Republican contenders this year, there`s female former HP executive, Carly Fiorina. There`s African-American retired surgeon, Ben Carson. There are not one, but two Hispanic United States senators running. And today, we learned that the next likely declared candidate brings another kind of unprecedented diversity to the field, because he is a man who is under indictment. No one under felony indictment has ever made a major party run for presidency before. But that is not holding become former Texas Governor Rick Perry. He`s apparently going for it. His wife`s Twitter feed announced today that Governor Perry will make a declaration of some kind on June 4th -- which means for at least for now, we can keep Rick Perry on the long list, of by my count, 20 Republican presidential hopefuls, 20. The size of that list is an issue that the Republican National Committee has been contending with this week during their spring meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. The RNC seems to be aware that they can`t really have 20 people on stage when their debates start this summer. But, you know, who do you exclude? What they usually do is say that anyone who polls over 1 percent in a solid national poll is allowed to participate in the debates. But this year, even the RNC agrees that that standard won`t help. If we were going by the overall polling average for major national polls so far, that would mean all of these people would be on stage together, for at least the first debate. That`s too many. So that`s what the RNC has been grappling with this week, how they are going to make this decision about who to cut and who to allow on the stage, I have not idea. I would not know how to advise them if they asked me -- they won`t ask me. At their spring meeting, though, the Republicans have been taking some people`s advice. They have been going to talks, they have been hearing from experts. And also, there`s the blood moons. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone is talking these days about blood moons. ANNOUNCER: For some, it`s a message of hope. For others, of coming destruction. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The heavens are God`s billboard, and when something big is about to happen, he gives planet Earth a sign in heaven. It`s a signal that something significant is about to happen. Pay attention! NASA has said this is coming. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Blood moons! Pay attention! Phases of the moon predicting world changing events or just God`s mood. May be the end of the world. You may have come across the blood moons prophesies if you spend time in the conspiracy theory/Obama is a gay Muslim of the crawl space of the Internet called World Net Daily. One noted proponent of the blood moon prophesies is this guy. His name is William Koenig. Mr. Koenig also says that Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 both happened to the United States as biblical retribution. He says when we give God a foreign policy that is not what God wants for Israel, God sends large storms to the United States. Well, this week in Phoenix, Arizona, the Republican conservative steering committee, which holds its meetings alongside the RNC and holds among its members a majority of the current members of the RNC, reportedly, this week, while the RNC was trying to come up with a solution to their big practical debate problem, members of the conservative steering committee at the phoenix meeting also took a little time to go to a talk by William Koenig, who treated to them some wisdom about the blood moons and what they tell us about the future of the Middle East. Right Wing Watch spotted this today on an RNC member`s Facebook page. Quote, "At the RNC conservative steering committee breakfast this morning in Phoenix, we had several speakers. William Koenig gave us a history of the blood moons. So, the Republican National Committee does have some hard decisions to make right now. Maybe hearing from the blood moon guy is helping them to make their decision. Maybe just talking about blood moons relaxes them enough to make hard decisions. But in any case, Republicans are going to have to figure out their debate problem soon. Maybe the moon can help. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: When the news came today that the great B.B. King had died, the White House put out a statement from the president, saying, "The blues has lost its king and America has lost a legend. B.B. King was born a sharecropper`s son in Mississippi, came of age in Memphis, Tennessee, and became the ambassador that brought his all American music to the country and the world." The president`s statement continued, "Three years ago, Michelle and I hosted a blues concert at the White House. I had not expected that I would be talked into swinging `Sweet Home Chicago` with B.B. by the end of the night, but that was the kind of effect his music had and still does. He gets stuck in your head. He gets you moving. He gets doing the things you probably shouldn`t do, but will always be glad you did. B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever, and there`s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight." That statement from the president today. And here`s that moment he`s talking about. The president and blues legend, Buddy Guy, and blues legend, B.B. King. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard you sing with Al Green. So, you done started something, you got to keep it up now. You can do it! Come on! You can do it! Come on! (MUSIC) (SINGING) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: B.B. King gone today at the age of 89. Hard to believe. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Are you ready? Because here it comes. Whoo-hoo! Friday night news dump time. Kent Jones, who is tonight`s lucky player? KENT JONES: Tonight`s player is Aaron Sarlo from Little Rock, Arkansas. He plays in a band called the Dangerous Idiots. He`s made to Sarah for 13 years. He does stand up for fun. Rachel, please meet Aaron Sarlo. MADDOW: Aaron, it is very nice to meet you. Thank you very much for being here. AARON SARLO, LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS: Thank you. Nice to meet you as well. MADDOW: You have made a very deliberate decision about your head hair versus your beard hair. SARLO: You`re correct, I have. MADDOW: Have you had that -- have you committed to that for a long time or is that something that sort of been sudden decision or -- SARLO: Well, the decision about my head hair was made for me a few years ago by higher forces. I just went with it. MADDOW: I got it. Well, I believe you are a tough man. Nothing having to do with your facial hair or your head hair, but the fact that you do both music and comedy means that you are obviously fearless. So, I`m very much looking forward to this. Thanks for being here. SARLO: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. The way this works, you probably know this. But you`re going to get three multiple choice questions about this week`s news. If you get two right, you will get a cruddy piece of junk. Kent, everybody? JONES: Right here. Cocktail -- MADDOW: It is functional in a very small way. Also, Aaron, your maybe could have should have bonus prize if you do very poorly, or very well, or probably just because we like you, it`s something random and it is cluttering up our office. Kent, what is tonight`s random office swag? JONES: It`s super random. This is the CPAC swag bag that you got in 2010 full of conservative fun stuff including Reagan calendar and a candy bar that I`m sure is fresh and delicious at this stage and your ID with lanyard from 2010. MADDOW: Which is hand -- has my name handwritten on it, not by me. JONES: Indeed it does. MADDOW: Conservative swag back from years ago. SARLO: That`s cool. MADDOW: Hope you win. All right. Aaron, we also need to bring in the disembodied voice of Steve Benen, the lord of Maddow Blog, who is the man who will determine whether you got the right answer. Hello, Steve. STEVE BENEN, MADDOW BLOG: Good evening to you both. MADDOW: Good evening. Good evening. All right. Aaron, are you ready for the first question? SARLO: Yes. MADDOW: Monday`s show. On Monday, we reported the breaking news that Christie`s auction house had just cold a painting for more money than any single work of hard had ever sold for at auction ever. This is the painting we are showing right here. It went for just under $180 million. Who painted that painting? Was it: (A), Pablo Picasso, (B), Rosa Bonheur, (C), Henri Matisse, (D) George W. Bush? SARLO: Whoa, George W. Bush is looking tempting. I don`t think it is. I remember the story. I`m not 100 percent on the answer. I will go with Picasso, because it kind of looks like Picasso. I may be wrong about that? MADDOW: Steve, did Aaron guess right? BENEN: We will check from Monday`s show. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This is a Pablo Picasso work called Le Femme d`Alger Version O. It was painted in 1955. Tonight, it just set the world record as the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. (END VIDEO CLIP) BENEN: Yes, the correct answer is A. Pablo Picasso, and Aaron guessed correctly. MADDOW: All the more impressive. You were guessing and you didn`t remember. That was excellent. We have to get two right to win the cruddy prize. Let`s go to question two. This was from last night`s show. We reported that Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson had to explain an unusual physical problem that he encountered while on a campaign stop in South Carolina. What happened to Ben Carson in South Carolina? Was it (A), he hurt his eye in an exercise equipment accident? (B), he hurt his elbow in an exercise accident? (C), he hurt his tongue while licking a campaign tracker`s camera, or (D), he lost a tooth while eating breakfast. SARLO: Wow, I watch your show so often, I know what A and C refer to. It is D, he lost a tooth on some ham or something, right? MADDOW: At the ham country -- country ham store or something. Steve, what was the right answer there. BENEN: Let`s check last night`s segment. MADDOW: All right. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: TMZ posted this photo late last night of declared Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson at a campaign event in South Carolina. This is from TMZ. Quote, "The Republican hopeful was stumping at Tommy`s Country Ham House in Greenville, South Carolina, where he chowed down on scrambled eggs, greats and ham biscuits and noticed a bonus on his plate. His front tooth had fallen out." (END VIDEO CLIP) BENEN: Yes, poor Ben Carson. He had a dental emergency. And Aaron is correct again. MADDOW: From Tommy`s Country Ham House. Spectacular. And, you know what? Actually, the elbow one which was option B, that is also sort from the news. Although we didn`t talk about it last week. Remember Martin O`Malley had an obscure accident while exercising as well. These are all real possibilities. SARLO: Right. MADDOW: OK, last question, also from last night`s show. We reported on an activist campaign to dial back tensions between Sweden and Russia. The activists had lowered this sort of risque neon sign into the sea off the coast of Sweden to ward off/hit on any Russian submarines that stray into Swedish territory. What is the name that the activist group has given to their hunky neon dancing under water mascot? Is he, (A), the able bodied seaman, (B), the dancing deck hand, (C), the singing sailor, or (D), happy birthday, Steve Benen? SARLO: Oh, happy birthday, Steve Benen. That`s awesome. I`m sure it`s the singing sailor and it`s also the greatest news story I have heard in forever. MADDOW: Happy Birthday, Steve. Do you have the answer for us? BENEN: I do, but let`s check from last night`s show. MADDOW: OK, very good. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NARRATOR: The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society proudly presents the singing sailor. (MUSIC) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Yes, and happy birthday, Steve, on top of it. BENEN: That music gets stuck in my head. I want you to know that. Anyway, the correct answer is C, and Aaron is correct again. MADDOW: Wonderful. Aaron, you cleaned up, my friend. Kent, did Aaron win the prize? JONES: All of it. So much goodness. MADDOW: What year is the Reagan calendar from? Is it 2010 calendar? JONES: From 2010, yes. MADDOW: Still good. Aaron, really, really great to have you here. Thank you so much for playing. It`s really nice to meet you. SARLO: It`s nice to meet you, too. I appreciate it. MADDOW: Thank you. Awesome. That was great. If you want to play, send us an e-mail and all we need to know is who are, where you are from and why you want to play the news. If you are particularly sensitive about either your head hair or your face hair, just tell me and I won`t ask you about it. Can`t wait to send us some of your junk. You email us, OK? Now, go to prison. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END