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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/28/15

Guests: Lynn Sweet, Michael McFaul, Danny Vargas

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Appreciate it. HAYES: You bet. MADDOW: Thanks to you at home as well for joining us at this hour. OK. This is kind of an amazing story. Historically speaking one of the things that will always be awkward about the Bill Clinton impeachment era is that Newt Gingrich, who was speaker of the House at the time of the Clinton impeachment, right, leading the impeachment crusade against President Clinton because of President Clinton`s extramarital affair, Newt Gingrich later had to admit that at that time that he was leading that crusade against President Clinton because of the president`s affair, he, too, Newt Gingrich, he was also himself having an extramarital affair at that time. One of several as it turns out. And that is like the -- you know, neon glowing hypocrisy asterisk that will always float over that particular and particularly weird time in American political history. You know what? Newt Gingrich was not the only one. In 1998, in the middle of the whole Clinton impeachment mishegoss, there was a midterm election, the `98 midterms. And the president`s party, historically speaking, always does poorly during midterm elections. And so, historically speaking, you would normally expect the Democratic Party to get clobbered in that election. It was the second midterm of President Clinton`s two terms in office. But this impeachment thing that the Republicans had dreamed up over President Clinton`s extramarital affair, however exciting the whole impeachment process it was to them, it was basically disgusting to the rest of the country. And the Democrats not only didn`t get clobbered in those midterm elections, they did great in those midterm elections. They actually picked up seats in the House, which historically speaking is unheard of. In `98, the Democrats did way better than expected. It was in the middle of the impeachment thing and Newt Gingrich, who had been the speaker of the House, leading the House Republicans in that election, leading the House Republicans on the impeachment issue and everything else, Newt Gingrich in the wake of those midterms stepped down as speaker and ultimately resigned from Congress. And so, with Newt Gingrich out under those interesting circumstances, the Republicans needed a new speaker to replace him after that terrible midterm election. They needed a new leader. Remember, they`re still in middle of impeaching President Clinton over his extramarital affair. So, the Republicans decided they would have to pick a new guy, and they picked a new guy, and that went like this -- it was a total disaster. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. BOB LIVINGSTON (R), LOUISIANA: I will vote to impeach the president of the United States. To the president I would say, sir, you have done great damage to this nation over this past year. And while your defenders are contending that further impeachment proceedings would only protract and exacerbate the damage to this country, I`d say that you have the power to terminate that damage and heal the wounds that you have created. You, sir, may resign your post. (BOOS) CROWD: No! No! UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house will be in order. LIVINGSTON: And I can only challenge you in such fashion if I am willing to heed my own words. I was prepared to lead our narrow majority as speaker, and I believe I had it in me to do a fine job. But I cannot do that job or be the kind of leader that I would like to be under current circumstances. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: They had picked Louisiana Republican Congressman Bob Livingston to be the new speaker after Newt Gingrich resigned. But then it turned out that Bob Livingston, too, had been having extramarital affairs. And so, he couldn`t be the speaker for them either, not while they were still in the midst of impeaching President Clinton for his affairs. And so, Livingston gets picked as speaker and then immediately has to resign. Then what are they going to do? They`ve got other Republicans in leadership. They could have picked one of their wild men at the time. Dick Armey on the right of your screen there, or Tom DeLay on the left of your screen, they were both kind of fire breathers like Newt Gingrich had been. But after what Newt Gingrich had brought them to, after the Bob Livingston "I had affairs too" public relations catastrophe in the middle of what they were trying to do in the Bill Clinton impeachment, with all of that going on, with all of that turmoil in `98, after losing the midterms, the middle of the impeachment, recognizing it`s a political disaster, losing Newt Gingrich, picking Bob Livingston, losing Bob Livingston, not wanting Tom Delay, not wanting Armey -- with all of that going on, facing the historic defeat in the elections, they decided, Republicans decided they needed to play it safe. They needed somebody to calm everything down. They needed somebody with no scandal dragging around behind him, somebody who didn`t have enemies under every rock in Washington, somebody who wasn`t a fire breather and super controversial and came across like an insurgent or a revolutionary, they would need somebody competent and trustworthy seeming, somebody kind of low key and most of all somebody squeaky clean. And they had somebody, luckily, who fit that bill, and they picked that guy basically from obscurity and made him the next speaker of the House, next in line to the presidency after the vice president. They found their guy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Newt Gingrich was the powerful speaker of the House, then he was gone after the election replaced by Bob Livingston of Louisiana. Now he`s gone, the result of extramarital affairs. And he will likely be replaced by whom? NBC`s Gwen Ifill. GWEN IFILL, NBC: Dennis Hastert`s profile is so low that even after six terms in Congress, most Americans, even many in Washington, have no idea who he is. But Republicans say the former wrestling coach is just who they need to rally their team. DENNIS HASTERT (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I didn`t really seek this at all. It just kind of happened. We needed to heal the wounds and need to reach out across the aisle. IFILL: Allies say Hastert is a fixer, who can talk to Democrats and heal House Republicans now rocked with internal strife. REP. BILL PAXON (R), NEW YORK: The members wanted someone they know was solid, a man of integrity, had no personal problems but also could lead this team with a very narrow majority. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: J. Dennis Hastert, better known as Denny Hastert, became the speaker of the House after the `98 midterms. He served as speaker of the House until the Democrats took back the majority in the house in 2006 and Nancy Pelosi became speaker. That tenure makes Denny Hastert the longest serving Republican House speaker ever -- plucked from obscurity to hold that incredibly high-profile job and chosen for the job in part because he was so darn noncontroversial, non-scandalous. As they say, squeaky clean. Today, Denny Hastert was indicted by a federal grand jury in what appears to be an elaborate hush-money scheme, maybe a blackmail scheme? John Stanton at "BuzzFeed" was first to report this indictment today, and although apparently there had been rumors in Washington for a few weeks that Denny Hastert was maybe in some kind of legal trouble, for most people, the news late today came as a bolt from the blue. And the indictment is short. It`s only seven pages. I print them two pages to a sheet so for me it`s even shorter. It`s only seven pages, but it`s a really, really dramatic and really mysterious indictment. What it describes a series of meetings that happened between some unnamed person and Denny Hastert starting in 2010. Now, in 2010, Denny Hastert had already left Congress. Allegedly, this person starting in 2010, this person confronted Denny Hastert about some kind of past misconduct, past misconduct by Denny Hastert against this individual, misconduct that had occurred, quote, "years earlier". Quote, from the indictment, "During the 2010 meetings and subsequent discussions, defendant J. Dennis Hastert agreed to provide individual A with $3.5 million in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against individual A." Now, at no point in this indictment do we learn who individual A is, we don`t know if individual A is a man or a woman. We also do not learn what the alleged past misconduct is for which Denny Hastert allegedly agreed to pay $3.5 million in hush money and compensation for whatever it is he supposedly did. What we get in terms of the detail is a point-by-point breakdown of how the cash moved, of how the former speaker went on to make allegedly huge cash payments to this unnamed person in amounts up to $100,000 at a time, $100,000 in cash -- that`s a lot of bills. The unraveling of the whole thing appears to be in the way the former speaker allegedly withdrew this cash from his various bank accounts. Large cash transactions of over $10,000 are subject to federal reporting requirements. They`re subject to federal scrutiny as a way to try to stop money laundering and other large-scale crimes. That`s been the law forever. Denny Hastert apparently had started out making cash withdrawals of $50,000 at a time and that`s above the $10,000 threshold. So, amounts like that under federal banking law have to be federally reported. His bank therefore started asking him about those very large withdrawals. After they asked him about it, he switched and finally figured out that maybe he should be taking out less than 10 grand at a time to avoid triggering the reporting requirement. That said, specifically structuring your cash withdrawals so they`re just under the limit to try to avoid the reporting requirement, that is also a crime, and by 2013 -- again, remember, this confrontation apparently happened with this unnamed person in 2010, he started paying this person shortly thereafter -- by 2013, the FBI and the IRS were investigating Denny Hastert. One of the two counts in the indictment against him today says that the former speaker lied to the FBI about what he was doing with all that cash he was withdrawing from his bank accounts, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars, the FBI says that he told them when they asked, quote, "Yes, I kept the cash, that`s what I`m doing." That`s not true, according to federal prosecutors and this grand jury and indictment unsealed today. What the indictment says is that what he was doing with all that cash was that he was paying someone off regularly and regularly scheduled payoffs. He`s paying somebody off to make good on, sort of compensate for and also to cover up something that Denny Hastert had allegedly done wrong to that person years ago. We don`t know what that is, but here`s two things to consider: this is going to sound like it`s really out of left field, but it`s a connection to this that seems like we ought to consider given this -- given the opacity of the indictment on this point. Do you remember the Sibel Edmonds case? She was an FBI-translator- turned-whistleblower who said during the George W. Bush era that she had been fired when she tried to expose legal and scandalous things that she had overheard in her job as an FBI translator. One of the things, one of the lower-profile things that she alleged in the year 2005 was that she had overheard Turkish wiretap targets bragging that they were secretly paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to the then-speaker of the House, Denny Hastert. That was one of the allegations made by Sibel Edmonds. I do not know what to make of those allegations but those allegations exist from a decade ago. They may now be cast in a new light given this indictment. The second thing to consider is from the indictment itself that`s just out today. Now, the mystery here is not just did he do it, but what did he allegedly do? If the former speaker of the House, Denny Hastert, was paying hush money to someone to cover up something he had done years earlier, what did he allegedly do and to whom did he allegedly do it? To that point, the very top line of the indictment is one of the more striking things I have seen in any sort of criminal case like this. And it may be a clue. Here bluntly is how the indictment starts. Here it is: "1. At times material to this indictment: A, from approximately 1965 to 1981 defendant John Dennis Hastert was a high school teacher and coach in New Yorkville, Illinois." In the next paragraph, "B, individual A has been a resident of Yorkville, Illinois, and has known defendant John Hastert most of individual A`s life." Is that of material interest to this indictment because this so- called past misconduct that had occurred years earlier happened in Yorkville, Illinois, before Denny Hastert was speaker of the House, before Denny Hastert was member of Congress, before Denny Hastert was a member of politics at all, when he was just teaching high school and coaching high school sports? That is what is hinted at by the start of this indictment. Is that when the misconduct happened and by extension to whom it happened? Don`t know. We really don`t. Former House Speaker Denny Hastert has been a high-priced Washington lobbyist since he retired from Congress in 2007. This alleged confrontation with the person who said he was wronged by Denny Hastert years before happened three years later in 2010. As a lobbyist, Denny Hastert has been sort of as obscured in his post-Congress life as he was obscured before he was plucked from that obscurity to become third in line to the presidency and one of the most powerful people in the country, under those bizarre political circumstances, back during the Clinton impeachment era in 1998. He started off obscure. He went immediately pack to obscurity once he left Congress, but that obscurity today came to an abrupt end with one of more surprising turns in American political scandal that I can remember in a very long time. What happened here? Joining us next is somebody who very well may know. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: When this surprise indictment was unsealed today against former Republican Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, the "Chicago Sun- Times" remarked in its article about the indictment that Denny Hastert is believed to be the highest ranking Illinois politician ever charged with a crime. And that really sounds like something. But specifically in Illinois, that really is something, because Illinois is really special in terms of charging its politicians, its high-ranking politicians with crimes. I mean, Illinois has sent four of its governors to prison just in the last 50 years. One of Illinois`s most recent congressmen has just been transferred from prison to a halfway house to serve out the remainder of his sentence. That`s Jesse Jackson Jr. Another Illinois Congressman Aaron Shock has just resigned from Congress and is under federal investigation himself and depending on how his cases go, he may get to scratch his name into the wall of the crowbar hotel alongside with the others who have preceded him there. Illinois is great when it comes to criminal politicians. They are really top of the heap. But Denny Hastert? Former speaker of the House, Mr. Low Key Denny Hastert? Nobody saw this coming from him or did they? Joining us now is Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-Times". Lynn, it`s great to see you. Thanks for your time tonight. LYNN SWEET, THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Hi, Rachel. MADDOW: There -- I have heard today since the news broke there were some rumors that something might have been swimming around Denny Hastert in terms of legal trouble. Were you surprised today when you heard about this indictment? SWEET: Everyone was surprised by the nature of this indictment and the indictment itself with all this mysterious person A, potential blackmail plot going on here. I talked to many of Denny`s -- and everyone called him Denny as you noted, many of his friends and acquaintances, stunned and puzzled about what was going on and what could possibly be at issue that would have led him to be in fact be part of what looks like either an extortion or blackmail scheme. But Hastert, according to the indictment, was agreeing to go along with it. So, this is such a sad end. I was in the chamber that December day in 1998 that you talked about earlier in the show when I saw how quickly he put together the votes to become the speaker. Like that he was able to do it. And to have this now at age 73 be the end or however this resolved, I cover a lot of Illinois political figures. My joke is, and it doesn`t sound like a joke tonight, I cover them from announcement to indictment. Once again this seems to be the case. MADDOW: Lynn, there is this strange and maybe it`s immaterial, but it`s striking, the first line of the indictment specifically points out from 1965 to 1981, he was a high school teacher and coach in Yorkville, Illinois. The implication of that, and it may be a stretch, we`ll find out more at some point, I assume, the implication of that is that the past misconduct that he was paying off about might date back to that time. Was there ever any sort of a hint of a scandal or shadow from this time in his life? SWEET: No. He was a beloved wrestling coach at the school. I agree with you that they could have picked some other things because he went from being a high school teacher to a being a member of the Illinois general assembly. That`s not in this document that you and I have. So, I think the people -- the lawyers who drafted this did this for a reason because otherwise what material nature is this? So, if it doesn`t have anything to do with someone from there, then this indictment does a disservice. I mean, the man`s already in trouble. Just either say what it is or don`t draft these hints on it. I think in due time, because Chicago investigative reporters have a great tradition of figuring these things out, I bet we`ll know who individual A is. It`s only a matter of time. MADDOW: Excuse me. I apologize. SWEET: Bless you. MADDOW: Thank you. I have been doing television for X number of years. I`ve been radio for five years before that. SWEET: You OK? MADDOW: That`s the first time I`ve ever sneezed on air in my entire broadcasting career. SWEET: I wish I had a tissue for you but I don`t have one. MADDOW: No, I`m sorry. Just -- I feel like it must be an omen about something strange about this story. Lynn Sweet, thank you for helping us understand this. Thanks very much. SWEET: Sure. It`s where Washington is really taken by surprise. This one was it. MADDOW: Yes, exactly. That`s how weird it is. Lynn is, of course, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times." It is -- this is a remarkably shocking thing. I mean, anytime you`re talking about potentially extortion or blackmail and a high-profile politician, it is a shocking criminal indictment. But for it to happen to somebody whose whole major political career was around the fact he was seen as such a non-scandalous person as somebody who could be counted on to stay out of the headlines in terms of negative implications and things from his personal life, it`s just a truly shocking turn of event -- so much so that I just sneezed. All right. Lots more ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Vladimir Putin has been in power in Russia for a long time now. He`s been either president or prime minister for nearly 16 years now. First became prime minister in August 1999. Just a couple years into his tenure, an opposition member of parliament was shot to death in Moscow under mysterious circumstances. Nobody exactly knew what happened to the guy, nobody was ever prosecuted for the crime, but another opposition member of parliament was quoted by the BBC at the time saying that the man`s death was a political assassination. That it was politically motivated. Well, eight months later, that other opposition member of parliament who made that claim to the BBC, he himself was the next one to be shot to death in mysterious circumstances on the streets of Moscow. The following year, it was another opposition member of parliament, who was also a journalist at a liberal Russian newspaper. He was killed, although this time they didn`t shoot him, he died after the onset of a mysterious and unexplained illness that lasted for 16 days before it ultimately killed him. Turns out he was poisoned to death. The following year, it was another journalist from the same liberal newspaper. She suffered multiple organ failure after being served poison tea onboard a Russian airliner. She survived that poisoning attempt barely, but two years later, they got her anyway. Her name Anna Politkovskaya, she was shot to death at the entrance to her apartment building in Moscow in October 2006. A few weeks later, it was the very famous case of this guy, Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB officer to who turned into a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin. He was in London, with just weeks after Anna Politkovskaya was shot in Moscow. He was in London weeks later. He was poisoned in London with an extremely rare and deadly radioactive isotope called plutonium 210. It made him gravely ill. It turned him blue. From his death bed, he wrote a screed implicating Vladimir Putin in his murder and within three weeks of being poisoned, he too was dead. And, oddly, that was not the only time it happened in the U.K. In 2012, it was a Russian finance guy who had fled Russia and turned into a whistle-blower when he uncovered a huge fraud scheme in which top Russian officials from the Putin government had stolen over $200 million. He was healthy guy, didn`t take any med cases, no known health problems, he was 44 years old. He mysteriously collapsed while jogging in a London suburb. "The Guardian" newspaper in London reported last week that botanists have now identified in his remains the traces of an extremely rare and deadly plant poison called gelsemium, gelsemium is lovely in its flower form, and if properly processed it can apparently quickly and efficiently kill you. This past Friday was perhaps the most popular anti-Putin Russian politician in Russia. They killed him the old-fashioned way. He was shot dead by someone in a moving car as he walked on a Moscow street. Vladimir Putin said at the time that he would personally investigate that assassination. The man that was killed in that assassination, he`s on the right, the man on the left in the same a picture is apparently the next one now -- the next one up in Vladimir Putin`s Russia. His wife and his three kids live here in the U.S., but he lives in Moscow where he works for one of the last remaining opposition NGOs that Putin hasn`t figured out how to shut down yet. He was working at his Moscow office on Tuesday when he suddenly collapsed and fell unconscious. He was rushed to hospital. He has not regained consciousness. He is being treated apparently for acute kidney failure that doctors say is a result of acute nonalcoholic intoxication of some unknown origin. In other words, he also appears to have been poisoned. It`s not like this pattern is subtle, right? I mean, just to do that little timeline over a couple of minutes, I`m only giving just the highlights. I mean, I could give you another dozen cases of shootings and poisonings that all fit the same pattern if we wanted to flush out the timeline even more. At what point does that sort of thing become the main thing that Russia and Vladimir Putin are known for? I mean, when do they think this might be a little heavy handed, a little too obvious, maybe they should scoff if only for appearances? In the lead-up to Russia hosting the winter Olympics in Sochi last year, you might remember that Vladimir Putin made a big show of freeing some of his critics from prison, including the band Pussy Riot and this outspoken Putin critic and billionaire who Putin had kept in jail for 10 years that were a little wooly to say the least. That billionaire fled to Switzerland after getting his Olympics clemency. From Switzerland, he`s been running this stealthy international NGO called Open Russia, and that group how apparently has one of its top leaders dying of kidney failure caused by some unknown poison, some unknown intoxicants after he collapsed at his desk in Moscow on Tuesday at the ripe old age of 33. His wife says he has not regained consciousness at all since he initially collapsed. She fears that he is going to die in that Russian hospital without anybody being allowed to know what happened to him. She says she`s trying to get him moved to a hospital anywhere outside Russia, anywhere -- Europe, the Middle East, the U.S. And maybe this guy from Open Russia will survive, God willing he will. If he does not, he will become the latest in what is an incredibly long list of journalists and activists and critics of Vladimir Putin who have mysteriously been shot to death or in surprisingly large numbers poisoned to death since Vladimir Putin took hold of that country by its throat 16 years ago. Joining us now is Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia. Ambassador McFaul, thank you for being with us tonight. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So, the Kremlin is denying any involvement in this apparent poisoning. How -- is it fair to view it in light of the kinds of previous incidents that I just laid out? MCFAUL: Well, of course. I mean, to be honest, listening to what you`ve just said, even I -- and I know some of these people personally -- have forgotten just how long this list is and, by the way, how few people have gone to jail as a result of these actions. And at the same time, in the spirit of not knowing all the facts, we don`t know what happened to Vladimir -- another colleague of mine who I`ve known for many years, the gentleman now in the hospital. But, you know, when you add it up and connect the dots as you just did, it does feel like it is a pattern and it does feel like people can do this and not be held accountable for it. MADDOW: Because of that pattern -- and again, I take your point that, you know, we don`t know all the facts about this, no reason to rush to judgment but also no reason to be woefully ignorant about the pattern -- does this M.O. in Russia of people being killed under these mysterious circumstances and nobody ever being held accountable or being named as being responsible for it, what sort of effect does it have on Vladimir Putin`s power and on the ability of people to organize opposition to him? MCFAUL: Well, for the opposition, it has the obvious chilling effect. People in Russia are scared. And many of them have left the country. Many of them now live in London. Many of them live here in the Bay Area, in Palo Alto, precisely because of fear for their lives. Whether they should or not, whether they should be fearful of the Kremlin or not, the perception among the opposition is that it`s a dangerous place to be an opponent to Mr. Putin. The second effect, though, is even a bigger one, and a little more nuanced, which is that the Putin regime, his media outlets for now two, almost three years, have labeled these people traitors. They`ve labeled them enemies of the state. They`ve labeled them puppets of the United States, and therefore that stirs up crazy people. Some of these crazy people, by the way, had death threats against me when I was ambassador. And that`s just another sign of the times, right? So, maybe Putin himself, did he order that Vladimir Kara-Murza should be poisoned? I doubt it, but might some people acting allegedly in his behalf or allegedly for the nation-state have taken this upon themselves to go after and destroy Vladimir or Mr. Nemtsov, who you mentioned earlier, that I think is also plausible. But ultimately, the Kremlin should also be held accountable for that hatred they`ve spun up. MADDOW: Mike McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, now at Stanford -- thanks very much for that perspective. It`s really, really helpful. Thank you. All right. We got lots more ahead, including interesting developments today in the 2016 race and a very smart Republican to talk to about it. Oh, yes. Lots ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRICIA MCKINNEY, TRMS SENIOR PLANNING PRODUCER: It`s time for some swag ideas for the Friday night news dump. MADDOW: OK. MCKINNEY: I`m putting some things down but don`t look at these. You have to look at this one first. MADDOW: I`ll make some space. MCKINNEY: Ready? MADDOW: Oh, I remember this! Herman Cain is an art project! This is our thesis we wanted to make. Wow. MCKINNEY: Yes. It`s from 2011. And it`s so timely that we have this now that we`re talk about the GOP debates. MADDOW: That`s so great. MCKINNEY: Because this was like a lot of the things you played. So it was so funny. MADDOW: That`s great. I remember having to make this on my exact wingspan, too. MCKINNEY: Yes. We have the same wingspan. MADDOW: That`s great. MCKINNEY: OK. MADDOW: So good. MCKINNEY: Two random things. I found this game in the closet. No idea why we have that. Doesn`t ring a bell for anyone. MADDOW: I have no idea. MCKINNEY: It`s some flashy game. MADDOW: It`s brain teaser? MCKINNEY: And we never opened it so -- MADDOW: It has batteries. MCKINNEY: Yes. MADDOW: Eight of them. OK. MCKINNEY: Seems like it could be a nice present. And this I think must have come from a publicist. It`s a puzzle. I don`t know what it`s a puzzle of. MADDOW: What does it make? We don`t know? MCKINNEY: No. They put it together. It looks like a restaurant. I think I see booze. MADDOW: Yes. That`s a speed pourer. So that`s like -- it could be like a dirty picture and we don`t know. MCKINNEY: I did -- I did lay out all the pieces to see -- MADDOW: Oh, no, there`s a nipple, we can`t send that one. MCKINNEY: Well, it`s a mystery, mystery puzzle. MADDOW: I like all of these very much. This is going to be difficult. I think we give people the choice of the mystery puzzle or the Herman Cain art project. MCKINNEY: OK. That seems like a good idea. MADDOW: Yes, and then this one we should keep in case it`s somebody`s birthday and we forgot to get them something. MCKINNEY: Oh, great, let`s hope they don`t watch. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let`s try New York governors, $400. ALEX TREBEK, JEOPARDY: When he left office after the 1994 election, he had served as New York governor longer than any Democrat in history. Nathan? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is Cuomo? TREBEK: Which one? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mario Cuomo. TREBEK: Thank you. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Governors of New York was the "Jeopardy" category. Governors of New York. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New York governors for $800, please? TREBEK: He took New York into the 21st century. Elliott? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is Bloomberg? TREBEK: No. Who is George Pataki? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Who is George Pataki? Who is George Pataki? Today , he`s the man who announced that he`s running for president of the United States! Luckily, the nomination will not be decided by a game show. We started a few weeks ago with a list of 22 candidates and likely candidates for the Republican nomination for president. Since then, three of these folks have announced that they`ve decided not to run, so we can poof the three of them. Poof! Now we`re down to 19. As of last night, with Rick Santorum`s big announcement, that means as of last night seven Republicans officially announced they were running for president, with George Pataki jumping in formally today that makes it eight Republicans formally in the race. And then there are the folks who haven`t necessarily announced yet but they have said that they`re going to announce at a specific time in the near future. Right now, that`s Lindsey Graham due to announce on Monday. That`s Rick Perry due to announce a week from today. That`s John Kasich who we`re told will make his decision by June 30th. And now, as of today, we can add one more to the list of Republican hopefuls not yet dissuaded from running and will tell us soon, Congressman Peter King telling MSNBC`s Andrea Mitchell today he will announce his decision, quote, "in the next month," which means he gets a dotted line too. That means our huge field of candidates is not shrinking. And it turns out that makes for amazing polling. A new Quinnipiac poll out just today of Republican voters nationwide asked about 16 of the Republican hopefuls for president. The winner by a long mile is undecided/don`t know. Landslide. The runner-up is a tie. A five-way tie between Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and, yes, Mike Huckabee all coming in at 10 percent. Sadly, in this poll, George Pataki who just announced today and a bunch of other Republican would-bes, including Lindsey Graham, and Bobby Jindal, and Rick Perry, don`t even crack the top ten in this brand-new poll. And in a field this big, that wouldn`t necessarily matter. It`s kind of a statistical by-product of so many people running, except for the fact that this year being in the top ten of the most recent national polls is the only way you can get a spot on stage at the first Republican debate on August 6th. And here`s part of the drama around that -- Rick Santorum, at the beginning of the 2012 Republican presidential primary, he was polling next to nothing. But in the presidential primary, he made it into the debates, he made his case, and he went on to become this guy who came in second, the runner-up to Mitt Romney by the end of it, not to mention the guy who won Iowa. Rick Santorum would also be left out of the first debate this year based on at least today`s national polling from Quinnipiac. For the past week, Senator Santorum has been using that to make the case against the FOX News criteria for the first Republican debate. He`s been arguing instead that all the conceivably viable candidates should get a chance on stage, even if they have to do it over the course of different, smaller debates rather than one big one. Looking at the field and looking at the polling in this giant field, honestly, I think he makes a good point. Why would you reasonably exclude him, especially after his performance in 2012, and include somebody like, I don`t know, any of the other guys who are in there? If Republicans really are trying to figure out who would be the best and most viable candidate in the general election and that`s what their primary process is for, really significantly basing that decision on who makes the top ten in a national poll right now, it makes no strategic sense at all. There are just too many of them for that statistical cut off to make any rational strategic sense. And that said, I say that as a liberal. My question is, do Republicans see it that same way? Hold that thought. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m probably the best person to comment on this. In January of 2012, I was at 4 percent of the national polls, and I won the Iowa caucuses. I don`t know if I was last in the polls, but I was pretty close to last. And so, the idea that the national poll has any relationship as to the viability of the candidate, ask Rudy Giuliani about it. Ask Phil Gramm. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Rick Santorum just yesterday officially announced that he`s running for the Republican nomination. And although he finished second place to Mitt Romney in 2012 and he won Iowa and won ten other states, Mr. Santorum now finds himself at the tail end, the very tail end of recent national polls, which means that right now under the current selection criteria being used by the party, he wouldn`t even qualify to appear in the first Republican debate of the primary season this year. Doesn`t that seem weird? Joining us now is Danny Vargas, Republican strategist, former chair of the Hispanic National Assembly. I should mention, he`s also running for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates this year. Mr. Vargas, thanks very much for being with us. I appreciate your time tonight. DANNY VARGAS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Hi, Rachel. How are you? By the way, I love the little graphic thing with the poof. The graphics department did a really good job with that. MADDOW: Well, we were worried we didn`t want it to look like we were hurting or blowing up or casting aspersions on the people. We wanted to make it like a pleasant cartoon poof. VARGAS: That`s very gentle. I appreciate it. MADDOW: OK. So, I feel like when I look at the giant Republican field and the fact it is not a clown car, it is a lot of serious candidates, the Republican party has a deep bench, they`ve got a lot of people who have a roughly equivalent chance of getting the nomination, it seems nuts to me that only ten people are going to get into the first debate. Do you see it that same way? Do you have that same analysis? VARGAS: I do -- so I`ve got a bit of a concern. I mean, any process that would leave out Rick Santorum, that would leave out John Kasich is a process that`s a bit flawed, especially when we know that national polls can swing wildly, violently, week to week or even day to day. So, I think Senator Santorum has a point. We may have to have a process by which we have a couple different debates on the same day or, you know, even a process that`s a much longer debate where everyone has an opportunity to interact with each other. I think the American public deserves the abilities to listen to each of these candidates and see them interact with each other. MADDOW: You know, the idea we just have more debate, if you don`t want 20 people on a stage, go seven at a time and be more of them, it seemed -- would seem to be one of the more obvious ways to deal with this. But there was this deliberate and rational decision made by the Republican Party this year to limit the number of debates in parts that they don`t sort of see the candidates do damage to each other and the way they think they did in 2012. Is that concern part of what needs to be balanced here? VARGAS: Well, I think the concern on the part of the party -- and I agree with that, I agree with Chairman Priebus and the fact that we did have to reduce and condense the calendar a little bit. But if that means we can do two debates in a single day, whether the voting public gets the opportunity to see in a single day, debate A, debate B, we have all the candidates in there and describing their positions, they are able to interact with each other, you still have the calendar that`s sort of reduce and we have a quicker process, but you give the opportunity for the public to be able to see the debates. MADDOW: I have to ask you the awkward question here which is about this first debate and the fact that this decision, this, I think, irrational -- not irrational, but I think unfortunate decision that isn`t good for all the candidates and it doesn`t seem fair to most people, let alone strategic this decision was not necessarily made by the Republican Party. It was made by the host of the debate, which is FOX News, which is not just a typical media outlet when it comes to its relationship with the Republican Party. Can the party go back to FOX and renegotiate this? Is it in FOX`s interest, even if it isn`t the Republican Party`s interest? VARGAS: I think both FOX News and CNN are discussing ways to be able to have a debate A and a debate B. So, I think those processes are being debated and discussed right now. Now, what I will say is that the party fortunately has an embarrassment in riches in terms of the number of serious minded really qualified candidates that we`re able to field right now. So, we do have former governors, we`ve got sitting senators, folks that have a serious voice in policy issues. Unfortunately, the Democrats -- and I have a lot of friends who are Democrats, it`s unfortunate that they are so limited in the number of candidates that they`re putting forth. They don`t have a deep or strong bench and it`s unfortunate. There`s not a lot of enthusiasm behind Hillary Clinton. Now, she`s probably going to be the nominee, but it would be great to have more of a choice. MADDOW: I appreciate your admission at this point, but the Democrats don`t have any worries about organizing their debates. It`s going to be Hillary Clinton and whoever else is running and we`re all going to enjoy it and there`s no drama. The Republican Party is absolutely on a tight rope right now with what to do with, as you say, all of these very qualified candidates. So I appreciate the sort of concern trolling about the Democrats problems here but the Republican -- VARGAS: What I will tell you, though -- honestly, though, it will come down to the few candidates -- and it`s probably going to be a handful of candidates that can be viable in general elections, that have the gravitas and qualifications to run and win a presidential election and raise the $1.5 billion to $2 billion to run against the general. I mean, that number is much smaller than the 19 or 20 in the field right now. MADDOW: That`s right. And you have to make it on the stage in order to make that case. This is going to be fascinating. Danny Vargas, Republican strategist, really appreciate having you here tonight. I hope you will come back. It`s nice to talk to you. VARGAS: My pleasure. Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. Thanks. Much more ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So we`ve been following this oil spill last week in Santa Barbara, California, this pristine coastal area of California fouled by an oil spill that in practical terms is much bigger and much worse than it`s being described in a lot of the press and the headlines about that spill. We`ve got an update on that spill coming up next. And it is very worrying. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Nearly seven miles of Los Angeles area beaches were closed today after a wave of tar balls washed ashore yesterday morning. The biggest chunks were the size of footballs. It`s not unusual to find some tar along the beaches there. There are some natural seeps on the ocean floor. But it`s not usual this much tar. And the source of these oil tar balls was described today in the local press as a mystery and it`s being investigated, but there is the matter of the major oil spill that happened last week on the California coast near Santa Barbara when the oil pipeline burst and dumped out what the pipeline company says is about 100,000 gallons of crude. That leaked oil across 10 square miles of oceans, but that still happened 100 miles north of where this gunk washed up today in L.A. There`s also been tar on the beach reported closer to the spill in the town of Oxnard. Meanwhile, near the pipeline break, the cleanup continues on the miles of shore line that were nearby to the pipeline break. And the threat to animals from this spill may not be over. One researcher tells us today that birds in the wildlife preserve where she works, near the pipeline burst have -- those birds are nesting just a few feet away from where oil continues to wash in. Those birds are called western snowy clovers. In that preserve, they`re listed as a threatened species. Now, she says they`re walking around, quote, "with little black feet because their feet is black from oil." I have to say I continue to be amazed by the scale of what`s happened here in this Santa Barbara spill. And the scale of the cleanup that not only has happened already, but that continues to need to happen. And the contrast between that scale of what happened here and how little attention to it is being paid by the rest of the country, ignoring this disaster and that pristine ecological system on the Santa Barbara coast is not going to make it go away. That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END