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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 1/28/2016

Guests: Paul Rieckhoff

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 28, 2016 Guest: Paul Rieckhoff

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.


MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

So, there`s a lot going on tonight in news and in politics in the wake of our big town hall in Flint, Michigan, last night. There was big, stunning and, in my opinion, fairly infuriating new news today, new revelation today in Flint that broke in Michigan press late today. It`s about the state government, the Rick Snyder administration, knowing that the water was bad in Flint before they said anything publicly. And in fact, what was revealed today was that the Snyder administration appears to have taken action to protect its own employees from Flint`s water while they were still telling the people of Flint that it was safe to drink.

As I said, it is my opinion but I find this fairly infuriating. And we`re going to have that story ahead tonight. That`s just broken late today.

We`ve also got the latest polling out in the presidential race which shows sort of a rather unsettled picture on the Democratic side. In the early states, a much more settled picture on the Republican side, with frontrunner Donald Trump holding a commanding lead not only nationally but pretty much at all the early states, too. It does, of course, remain to be seen what the effect will be of this curveball decision just made by Mr. Trump to skip the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.

Now, this is not a totally unprecedented move by a presidential front- runner. In previous election years, this sort of thing has happened. But it`s only very rarely happened. This is an almost unprecedented event and we don`t know how it`s going to affect his lead. We don`t yet know how it`s gong to affect the overall course of the race.

But Mr. Trump, it should be noted, he`s not just opting out of last debate. He is counter programming basically. That`s the event you`re looking at a live shot of here now. We`re watching to see when this one will get started.

This event is just a couple of miles away from where the other Republican candidates are debating tonight.

Mr. Trump is not going to the debate. Instead, he`s convening his own event at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. And he`s calling this a fund-raiser for veterans. Although given his past history of trying to wrap himself up in veterans glory and purporting to raise money for veterans when he doesn`t seem to have actually done that, that assertion should be taken with a grain of salt, roughly the size of the rock of Gibraltar.

So, we`re going to be talking live with Paul Rieckhoff, who`s the head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America. We`re going to be talking with him about that event. We`re going to be talking about also the way that veterans are being treated by Mr. Trump`s campaign and also by the campaign in general.

Paul has had some choice words and some edgy things to say about the stunt that Trump is pulling tonight in veterans` names. But that veterans event is what we are waiting to get started right now at Drake University in Des Moines.

In terms of the opting out of the debate part of this. There`s been a couple of instances in modern history where a front running candidate has opted out of debate.

You can see Mike Huckabee entering the room. We`re expecting Mike Huckabee and possibly one or maybe even two other Republican candidates to appear tonight at this Donald Trump event.

They are not boycotting the other debate. The other candidates who are expecting to appear at this event were people who are at the kids table, people who are sort of at the undercard debate. So, their work is done. And rather than just sit at home and watch the big stage debate, some of the kids table debate kids have decided that they will come over to the Trump event and do the boycott event and the boycotted event in the same night.

Why not? It`s only a few miles away. Cheap on Uber, right?

We just saw Mike Huckabee. I`m not sure if we`ve seen of the other kids table candidate there yet. I also have to say, given who is at the kids` table tonight, I`m not exactly sure I would recognize all of them, so I might need some help from the control room on that.

In terms of the decision to boycott this debate, though, if you think about it, in politics broadly, when you are a front-runner, when you are leading, you do not necessarily want to do anything to change the trajectory that you`re on, but it looks like you`re going to win, particularly if you`re not a good debater or up against very good debaters.

If you`re a front-runner and you have the chance to opt-out of a debate, it`s not out of the question that you might do that. That happened once in 1980. The interesting thing about the way it happened in 1980 is that was going to be the first ever nationally televised Republican primary debate. It was the night before the Iowa caucuses in 1980.

And Ronald Reagan thought he had Iowa wired. Thought he was going to win and also thought that George H.W. Bush was a better debater than he was. And so, Ronald Reagan made a decision the night before the Iowa caucuses in 1980 that he would sit out that debate. The next day in Iowa, George H.W. Bush beat him in Iowa.

That was sort of widely viewed in Reagan campaign as having been a bad decision that he didn`t participate. They do think it cost him Iowa even if he did go onto win the nomination that year.

It didn`t really happen again in a high profile way until 20 years later, the 2000 presidential election when George W. Bush was the prohibited front runner. George W. Bush got in and basically raised so much money so fast and locked up so many establishment endorsements that he clear cleared the rest of the field that year.

And when George W. Bush was out ahead of the field in 1999 heading into the 2000 presidential race, he made a decision in the fall of 1999 that he would start skipping debates in New Hampshire.

And again, he was way out ahead. He did not think he was going to be a good debater. He thought if things keep going the way they are going, he would win. George Bush skipped out of two debates right before the New Hampshire primary and went on in the year 2000 in that Republican primary to lose New Hampshire. So, again, like Reagan, he went onto win the nomination again any way.

But it is a risky thing to opt out of a debate, particularly when it`s a debate that is narrowly targeted to one of the early states or indeed comes right before one of the early states. So, it`s been a good run I think for the Republican candidates in terms of their debate schedule thus far. They`ve had massive audiences for their debates.

But Donald Trump hasn`t really shined in any of them. I think it`s fair to say that Mr. Trump`s prohibitive lead as the Republican frontrunner is not necessarily due to his performance in any of the debates. He hasn`t had stand out moments that`s pushed his numbers up. It`s the rest of his campaign that`s done well for him, candidates who have benefited from the debates have been other people who pushed back at him or gotten in a sort of zinger at his expense.

He hasn`t been winning at the debates. He`s just been holding firm. Perhaps Mr. Trump has decided he did you wan doesn`t want the change the trajectory that he`s on. Perhaps Mr. Trump has decided he`s tired. Perhaps Mr. Trump has decided that this is not a cowardly thing to do, rather a bold, brave thing to do to defy what everybody else is doing, to defy the Republican Party and its schedule, and basically just sit out of the race and counter-program and guess that everybody might cover him instead.

If he were just doing this on his own terms, if he were just saying, hey, look, I`m Donald Trump, I`m doing a campaign rally across town, instead of doing the debate, I think that would be the level of analysis we would be at.

There is another element of this, which is that Mr. Trump is not just opting out of tonight`s debate. He is doing a separate event, hastily pulled together, which he`s calling a fund-raiser for veterans.

That has a long history just in this campaign. Mr. Trump has done there before. We don`t exactly know what that will mean in terms of a political matter. But it does matter to veterans.

And we know that because of some of the stances that have been taken publicly by veterans groups. One of the strongest stances taken by a veterans group in this country has been by the founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Paul Rieckhoff is the founder and CEO of IAVA. And he made news this week by saying that if IAVA were offered profits from this event tonight, IAVA would not accept them.

Paul, it`s great to have you here. Thanks for being here.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IAVA FOUNDER AND CEO: Good to see you. Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: You`ve got a lot of attention for saying that. And I went through the trouble of looking at all your Twitter responses on that, trying to sort of twing the guitar strings there and see what the responses.

What has the response been?

RIECKHOFF: I think from the majority of the veterans community, it`s been supportive. I think folks feel that veterans have been overly-politicized by both parties and for decades. And I think there`s a bigger issue here. I mean, the days of veterans issues being a place for nonpartisanship, for being a place of unity, being kind of off-limits from the non-sense of normal politics are gone. Those days are long gone.

I think, you know, Trump`s always been a populist. He knows what attracts the huge swath of American people. Veterans are very popular.


RIECKHOFF: You know, we`ve said for years, it`s kind of like babies, puppies and vets. Everybody loves veterans. So, to use veterans will definitely appeal to a huge percentage of the population, but the veterans groups don`t want to be used as pawns.

So, I think most of the veterans groups in America will decline donations. It`s not just from Trump but every candidate. And that`s what we`ve said as well. We`re not going to take money from any candidate.

We all need support. We definite need support. Rather than a couple million dollars we would like to hear how will you transform, for example, the V.A., which is $170 billion. If you really want to help veterans, let`s hear your strong policies and specific policies on how you`re going to address the issues that matter the most.

MADDOW: One thing that occurred to me about the specifics of this event tonight, we`ll talk more about this detail later on. But we don`t exactly know where the money is going.

He set up a website today where the money comes to him, comes to his Donald J. Trump Foundation and then he says he will turn it around to veterans organizations. Seems to me like if candidates, for good reasons or bad reasons, right, for craven reasons or noble reasons, if they do want to raise money for vets as part of their campaign, one of the ways to do that is to say, I`m going to charge you, charge you to get into this event in order to come here. You need to donate x amount of money to one of these lists of veterans organizations.

RIECKHOFF: Right, right, right.

MADDOW: Right. Give people about information about how to contact veterans groups and let them donate on their own terms. That would presumably be less problematic for you.

RIECKHOFF: You know, if people want to donate, they can do it without going through a political campaign.

MADDOW: Yes, exactly.

RIECKHOFF: That`s the bottom line. And there`s definitely a need. Every veterans organization that`s on the front line has seen a spike in demand, and the supply overall philanthropically has been declining. So, we need support from people across America but we don`t need to be used as political props. And this has happened again and again.

Trump has used this line effectively. It`s become the new applause line. It`s becoming the new "I`m going to clean up Washington", right? Instead of I`m going to clean up the Washington, say, I`m going to clean up the V.A.

Sounds great. Everybody love it. But how are you going to do it? That`s the hard part.

What are you going to do about the V.A. secretary? How are you going to care for women`s veterans. How are you going to approach the suicide rate? Those are the hard things. Fixing the V.A. may be the hardest thing for a president.

So, it could be a defining issue. As you`ve noted, it`s divided the parties. They are very different perspectives on how they`re going to attack that in particular.

MADDOW: And so, there is when you are using it as applause line, there`s all the more moral requirement that you know what you`re talking about and talking about it substantively.

RIECKHOFF: Now, it`s become arms race. It`s become "I love veterans more than you" arms race.

MADDOW: Right.

RIECKHOFF: Right? And now, Cruz responded and Fiorina responded. I`m sure others will do the same. Maybe in the end, there t will be a silver lining that we`ll more attention on veterans issues, but we really need debates on veterans issues. We need moderators to ask tough questions. We need candidates to answer them.

In all the debate, there`s been almost no focus on veterans. No question and no policy.

MADDOW: Again, applause lines and there`s substance.

RIECKHOFF: Paul, stand by. We`re going to bring you back in once we hear what Mr. Trump has to say on this subject tonight.

I want to bring in NBC special correspondent Tom Brokaw.

Mr. Brokaw, it is great to see you. Thanks for being with us tonight.


MADDOW: Is there important historical precedent? Is there good historical analogy for seeing what Mr. Trump is doing here? A candidate of his stature in the race, skipping out on the last big debate before voting starts?

BROKAW: Well, I`m sure that whatever veterans group get whatever he raises will be grateful for that. But as you have been discussing there, there are over-arcing needs that the veterans need addressing. It`s not just a one time or a one shot event.

Now, Mr. Trump has said that he`s supported veterans groups in the past all across this country, Rachel, groups are supporting veterans. But they`re doing it by and large below the radar, doing the best they can in their communities and in wider ways and they`re not using it for their own advantage.

The veterans come first. I`ve dealt with a lot of them. People are writing big checks. Sports organizations are doing what they can to help.

I was at Texas stadium earlier this year. Ands they had a group in Dallas that raised money for service dogs. Jerry Jones wanted them to do that at half time at a Cowboys game, so everybody could see what was going on. Jerry Jones didn`t appear down on the field. It was really about the veterans and the dogs and the help they could give.

So, I think that`s what the country has to stay focused on, quite honestly. I wouldn`t want this to be the template for how you treat veterans or how you raise money for them.

MADDOW: Tom, because it is -- it`s very transparent what`s going on here. Mr. Trump has a website he set up. It`s a website he registered today. The money that he`s raising goes to his foundation. This is obviously an ad hoc thing, out of politically salient moment for him. And as you, in your words, he`s sort of doing this for his own advancement and not in a transparently impure way.

Does that have potential to have political backlash? Do people see that transparently enough that it ends up hurting him because it looks craven?

BROKAW: Well, it`s hard to speak for all the people, because obviously he`s said some things this year that quite honestly we didn`t think he could get away with. He said this on television, all those Muslims celebrating in New Jersey that was patently not true, but it didn`t seem to damage him at all, in fact, his ratings went up afterwards. So, it`s very hard to forecast how all of this is going to impact Donald Trump and what the country will respond to.

He is playing it seems to me a kind of a dangerous game when you bring in the veterans, because they should have a sacred place in America. And I think more people and more communities across America don`t need to be looking at what we`re seeing here tonight. They need to find the veterans in their town.

There`s a lot of them in small towns, Rachel, who came back wounded, got a lot of attention at the beginning. Now they are home with their wives and wives are having to carry the big struggle and so are the children. That`s the way to get things done.

MADDOW: Do you think that the presidential election process, that the primary process in either party is capable of moving the debate forward in the kind of substance that Paul Rieckhoff was just talking about, actually extracting from these candidates plans and promises that might meaningfully move forward the issue about how to support veterans and reform the V.A. and lall those things.

BROKAW: Well, I think one of the disappointing things not just at this campaign but any primary campaign in the most recent cycles is there`s not been a lot of details spelled out --

MADDOW: We`ve just lot Tom Brokaw`s audio.

Are we able to get that back? I could see he was still speaking but I could hear him.

OK. We`ll go back to tom when we get that. That`s a drag.

What you`re looking at here on the left side on your screen is this event that is due to start momentarily, being -- hosted by Donald Trump. He is calling it a veterans event. And that`s why we have Chyron out there, that`s the line on the screen there.

We`re not sure exactly who Donald Trump is raising money for tonight nor do we know how much money is expected to be raised.

But here comes Mr. Trump. We also don`t know how long he`s going to speak or how substantive these remarks are going to be. Let`s see what he does. This is his counter programming to the debate.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That`s so nice. Thank you. Thank you, man. There`s a vet. There`s vet. We love our vets.

Thank you, everybody. Sit down, please.

We had about 24 hours to put this together. It was very, very quick. And we`re here for some very special people. We`re going to hear from some of them.

But this is an honor. This is a real honor. I didn`t want to be here. I have to be honest. I wanted to be about five minutes away.

I`ve enjoyed that. I`ve enjoyed that. All the online polls said I`ve done well with that, with the debates. And I`ve have a kick with it, but you have to stick up for your rights. When you`re treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights.


You have to do it. Whether we like it or not, whether it`s something we want to do or not and that`s what our country has to do. I mean, as an example around, Iran, the way they have been treating us with all of this horrible, this deal is one of the worst deals I`ve ever seen negotiated under any circumstances and we just take it. We have to stick up for ourselves as people and we have to stick up for our country when we`re being mistreated.

Remember that. I have to go a little step further and say that fox has been extremely nice the last number of hours, actually. They`ve wanted me there and they said how about now. They called a few minutes ago. How about now, can you come over? I said hasn`t it started.

We actually thought we would let them start and we wanted to be about 15 minutes into that hour so that by now they`re all tuned in. Look at the cameras like the Academy Awards. This is like the Academy Awards. This is the Academy Awards.

We`re actually told we have more cameras than they do by quite a bit. So, that`s --


And you know what? That`s really an honor of our vets. They have been very nice. They wanted me to go and apologize. They did apologize. They could not have been -- once this started, there was nothing I could do.

I don`t know. And you know what? I don`t know. Is it for me, personally, a good thing, a bad thing? Will I get more votes? Will I get less votes? Nobody knows. Who the hell know?

But it`s for our vets. You`re going to like it because we raised over $5 million in one day, over $5 million.


So, that`s not so bad. You know, my whole theme is "Make America Great Again". And that`s what we`re going to do. And we wouldn`t have been here if it weren`t for our vets. And our vets are being mistreated.

Illegal immigrants are being treated better in many cases than our vets. It`s not going to happen anymore. Not going to happen anymore.

Once this ball started rolling, we couldn`t stop it. You see the house is packed. And literally, this took place less than 24 hours. We had less than 24 hours to do this. I said I`m not going to do the debate out of respect for myself, I won`t do it, because it would just be wrong.

I love Iowa. I`m here. We got to do something. I didn`t know we were going to raise $5 million. We actually raise close to $6 million to be totally honestly.

But I have to say, a lot more to come. We set up a site, They raised almost $500,000 just today. I think this money is going to continue to pour in. We have some incredible, incredible people.

I do want to say, I do want to call out some of the folks that gave a lot of the money. Ands then we`re going to have somebody come up to speak who is an incredible speaker, but much more importantly it`s the subject. Somebody, somebody that really, really understands what the best are going through.

We have to talk about people that made a lot of money. And they wouldn`t have made a lot of money, they wouldn`t even be here if it weren`t for the vets and our great military, because the military, right, Phil, has a lot more guts than you do, is that right? We have different kind of guts, right?

So, Carl Icahn gave $500,000. One quick phone call, with $500,000.


Richard LeFrak, a great builder in New York, gave $100,000.


Donald Trump, another great builder in New York, now a politician -- I can`t stand this. A politician? I don`t want to be called a politician. All talk, no action. I refuse to be called a politician.

Donald Trump gave $1 million, OK?


The Fisher family of New York gave $75,000.


Howard Lowenberg (ph), a great fan and friend of our family, $100,000.


A very, very rich man in New York, a very good friend of mine, a very good person. He wants to be anonymous. All his life he was out there. I said could you give me a million bucks. He said tell me. I said it`s for the vets. He said you got it.

Is that good, right?


He wanted to be -- he wanted to be anonymous. He`s changed. You know who I`m talking about. Two years ago --


TRUMP: It really is too crazy. I tell the story, I love protests. I love protests at my rallies. Here, this is a beautiful place. We have thousands of people outside that weren`t as good as real estate.

We have thousands of people outside trying to get in. We set up cameras, we set up screens. We have everything.

But I will tell you, you look at that. I love the protesters in the big arenas because the cameras never move. They`re always on my face.

I say to my wife, Melania, honey, stand up. She has to suffer through it. Seriously suffered through this. Now, I go home and it`s always broadcast. You know, they can never like, the other politicians, nobody cares, nobody covering them. No cameras.

Look at this. It`s like crazy. But I`d say, how did I do? She said, you were great. Were there many people there? I said what do you mean, it was 21,000. It was in Mavericks Arena, it was, I remember, in Alabama, Mobile, Alabama, we had 35,000 people.

We get the biggest crowds by far. Much bigger than Bernie, although I have to say he is second. No other Republican. But we get the biggest crowds.

She`ll say they never show the crowd. I said, what do you mean they never show the crowd? I realize they never turn the camera. I always say, you know, I figured maybe they are fixed, these are new cameras they can`t turn.

The only way you find out that they`re not fixed, they`re like pretzels the way they turn them, is when you have a protester. You can have protesters up in top and they are turned around sideways. They turn. But they don`t want to show the crowd. It`s one of those things.

So, we have a rich man from New York, a good guy who has become a little reclusive, obviously, $1 million. He`s a great guy.


We have another unbelievable man, Ike Perlmutter from Marvel. He did such an unbelievable job. One of the great, great men of our country in terms of business and talent. He`s giving Ike and Laurie Perlmutter, $1 million.


J.J. Cafaro from Florida and from Cleveland, he`s man who made a lot of money in Cleveland, does a good job and a fantastic man, $50,000. J.J., thank you.


Another great friend of mine, one of the most brilliant men you`ll ever meet, a phenomenal world class poker player, you wouldn`t even know it. He doesn`t do that for a living. He makes money for a living in every way.

You cannot make a deal with this guy and come out on top. It`s impossible. In fact, I`m thinking about him for China. How about him negotiating with China, OK?


China, this year in trade will make over $500 billion in terms of our trade deficit, $500 billion. That`s no partnership. I`m a free trader. But we have to use our head.

And we use political hacks to negotiate with the Chinese, and they have the smartest people. I deal with them all the time. I love the Chinese. They buy my apartments to millions.

I have the largest bank in the world from China in one of my buildings. I love them. I`m not blaming the Chinese. I`m not angry at them.

I`m angry at our politicians because we have people that are incompetent running our country. Why should we be losing in trade deficits $500 billion a year? So, it`s not going to happen.

So, if I took a guy like this, put him this charge. His wife is so incredible. Would you both come up? Mr. and Mrs. Phil Ruffin, come on up. Come up. Come up.


He`s never had anything -- it`s like everything he touches turns to gold. Whatever deal he goes into, he bought a piece of land in Las Vegas, spent $110 million. He sold it a few years later and made plenty of money in between for $1.3 billion, right? Just about? One point three. I think he says.

Every single -- so when he gives a million it`s like ten cents. But him, very important.

Phil Ruffin, just say a couple of words.


PHIL RUFFIN, BUSINESSMAN: Thank you. I`d like to introduce my wife, Alexandra.

Donald and I have been friends for some 18 years and business partners and about two years ago I said, Donald, if you ever run for president, I will give you a million dollars. Well, he ran. I gave him a million dollars. He sent it back.


He said, I can`t take your money. I couldn`t believe it. In any case, he`s a great man. I`m very happy. My wife and I will donate $1 million to your charity. Thank you.


TRUMP: He actually -- he actually sent me a million dollars. He said there`s 10 or 20 more of them if you want it, if you need it. I just can`t stand it. You know I`m self-funding my own campaign, right?


But all my life, I made money. I made money. I`ve always been good making money. I think I have great imagination, but I made money. All my life, I did well.

And my father always said, everything he touches turns to gold. That`s why I use that same expression on him because there`s a guy, believe me, a fantastic guy. But he always said, everything my boy touches turns to gold.

What happens is I turn all this money down. They`re calling and calling. They want to give me money because being number one, they all want the control you. They want to give you money and now they call you. Remember I gave you $5 million. I tell the story about the Ford plant, about the Nabisco plant.

So, what happens is all my life and I`m turning down millions. I was in Iowa in a different location. We had 4,000 people. I went to those people, I said listen, I don`t feel good about turning down money, because my whole life I`d been greedy, greedy, greedy. I grabbed all the money I could get.

Now I want to be greedy for the United States. I want to grab all that money. I want to be greedy for the United States.


It`s true. But I`ve always feel guilty, I`m in this beautiful place and the crowd is lovely. We have the most incredible people in this country, in Iowa, but in this country, it`s like a movement going on.

The cover of "Time Magazine" this week is a whole thing. It`s a cover story. In fact, there it is. Hold that up.

They have the back of my head, they have the back of my head with the massive crowd in front of me and they`re cover the story. I said, I didn`t know they were doing the story. I said I didn`t know they were doing the story. And it`s a cover of "Time", they`re talking about a movement. It is actually a movement.

But what`s happening is I said to the crowd, let me ask you this one thing, supposing -- and I promise you I won`t be influence influenced. Could I take all this money? Because I`m turning away so much money, stand up, please, could I take all this money?

And everybody went crazy, no, no. It was only one guy and he was in the back corner of the room. He was a crooked looking guy. He was the only guy. He looked like such a crook.

And he said it was OK to take it. And I look at that guy and I said, I don`t want anything to do with that. He`s the only guy.

So, I feel a little bit -- I feel a little bit foolish not taking the money. But, you know, you`re looking at guy like Jeb Bush -- he`s taking a hundred -- low energy, he`s taking a hundred and twenty -- extremely low.

I shouldn`t say, he`s debating right now. Maybe he`s doing great. He`s probably looking for me. He`s saying, has anyone seen Trump? Why -- where`s Trump? Where is he?


Jeb -- he`s taken $128 million. People that I know, killers. Killers, like him, killers. They put up $5 million, $2 million, $8 million. They`re lobbyists, special interests, they`re not doing that for their health.

And whenever we have a problem, you know, a lot of times, I said the other day, because I know most of the lobbyists, I mean, I`ve used them. I was on the other side. Seven months ago, I was on the other side. I was a big giver.

But I know these people and I said, believe me, when they put in $6 million, $5 million, $1 million, they`re not just doing it. They want something for it.

When you see these horrible deals that are being made, and they are horrible, the politicians aren`t that stupid. You think they`re horrible. You say how is it possible that Iran just got $150 billion from this country in one of the dumbest deals ever? And they just went out, and the first purchase is 114 Airbus jets, not Boeing jets.

And then we have from France and from other countries in Europe, and think of it, think of it, and then they go to Russia, they`re buying missiles. And somebody said --

MADDOW: That`s front-runner speaking tonight in Des Moines, Iowa, and turning into his standard stump speech.

He`s speaking here tonight just a couple of miles away from where the rest of the Republican field has been holding the last Republican candidates debate before the Iowa caucuses which are in four days.

Here`s what I want to say about what`s going on here. We can -- goodbye. It`s OK. Good-bye, Mr. Trump. Good-bye.

That felt great. I`m actually right now with my mind, I`m willing you that power at home. Disappear. Poof. It`s like a mute button for your mind.

All right. Here`s what`s going on, and I think this is worth understanding. Here`s why all the other Republican candidates right this weekend are at their last debate before Iowa and Donald Trump is counter programming and having his own event in the same town starting at the same time competing for the same attention.

This is what is going on here. Do you remember last summer when Donald Trump was fairly new candidate on the campaign trail? He had shocked everybody basically by racing to the top of the polls as soon as he announced his campaign for president, right?

And it was just, it was a few weeks into his new frontrunner status last summer, when he said something absolutely terrible about an American hero who spent five years being tortured and imprisoned in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war and who behaved with such heroism and patriotism and bravery under those circumstances that even people who cannot stand him as a politician rightfully honor his service in the almost unimaginable extraordinarily lengths that he went to to serve his country.

This is what Donald Trump said about him just a couple of weeks after becoming the Republican frontrunner for president.


TRUMP: I supported him for president. I raised a million dollars for him. I supported him.

He lost. He let us down. He lost. I never liked him much after that because I don`t like loser. But, Frank, let me get to it.

FRANK LUNTZ: He`s a war hero.

TRUMP: He`s not a war hero. He`s a war hero --

LUNTZ: Five and a half years as --

TRUMP: He`s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren`t captured, OK?


MADDOW: He`s not war hero. I like people who weren`t captured. That was last summer. Never an apology for that.

But, Donald Trump, at the time he said that, he was the new front-runner for the presidential nomination. People were up in arms about this guy who never served a day in the military, saying John McCain, five years a prisoner of war was not a hero of war.

In any normal for any normal candidate, that would not be fatal political error, that would be like a fatal public image error. I mean, that`s the kind of thing you say and you shock people and offend people so much by it that you`re sort of never heard from again, right?

With Donald Trump, it didn`t work out that way. One of the small side bar stories that happened at the same time, which should have been our first inkling that things weren`t going to work out as normal with Donald Trump was that there was this weird sort of unexpected statement support for Mr. Trump in what he said about John McCain. It was a further attack on John McCain and it came from something called Veterans for a Strong America.

They put a statement at a time. Quote, "This feuding between Mr. Trump and Senator McCain has nothing to do with Mr. Trump`s high regard for the military or veterans as a whole. Mr. Trump is a supporter of the U.S. military and of America`s veterans. It`s well-known that when Mr. Trump attack by a detractor, he swings back. As veterans, we do not hide behind military service to deflect criticism and when Senator McCain attacked Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump hit back."

It`s like, yes, McCain got what`s coming to him. Donald Trump was right to call him not a war hero. Take it from us. We`re veterans.

It wasn`t the biggest story around that time but it was this interesting side bar. This statement from a group, what do they call him, Veterans for a Strong America. Side bar at the time. It ended up becoming a few weeks later when things were really picking up steam for Mr. Trump`s candidacy.

In "The New York Times" scooped some of the juiciest quotes from a new, rather lurid biography about Mr. Trump. Among the most stomach-churning quotes and revelations in that book as described by "The New York Times" were quotes by Mr. Trump characterizing his own time at a military themed prep school when he was a teenager, characterizing that time at prep school as being equivalent to him having served in the military.

Here`s how that article in "The New York Times" stated it on September 8. This is the start of the article. Quote, "Donald J. Trump, who received draft deferments throughout much of the Vietnam War told the author of an upcoming biography that he nevertheless, quote, `always felt I was always in the military` because of his education at a military themed boarding school."

"Despite sitting out the Vietnam War because of deferments followed by a high draft lottery number, Mr. Trump says he endured the rigors of military life."

Again quote Mr. Trump, "My number was so incredible. It was a very high draft number. Anyway, so I never had to do that, but I felt I was in the military in the true sense because I dealt with those people." And by those people he means the other people he went to prep school with who were not the military but who did wear fancy outfits that made them look like majorettes.

Those revelations, embarrassing, those embarrassing revelations and quotes, they were published by "The New York Times" September 8th. That same day, September 8th, Mr. Trump decided that he was suddenly feeling a little shy about showing up to the next Republican presidential primary debate.

That same day that "The New York Times" published the quotes about him not being in military but thinking he was, that same day, Donald Trump wrote to CNN and demanded if they wanted him to participate in the next debate, they would have to pay him $5 million to do so. He also insisted that all profits be donated to veterans organizations -- a list of which he would provide to CNN.

And that was outrageous and strange and weird, but it did -- because it was so weird, it kind of pushed the story about him at the military prep school thinking he was in the real military sort of pushed that out of the headlines for a day. Ultimately, I should tell you, we don`t have any indication that Mr. Trump ever bothered to send the list of veterans organizations to CNN nor did CNN ever pay him $5 million, as what, a booking fee for him participating in the debate.

Ultimately, Mr. Trump decided to show up any way. But this is really it got weird. I think this is what explains what happened tonight because the night before that CNN debate in September, when Donald Trump suddenly discovered this newfound ardor for veterans causes after being caught out in his embarrassing effort to make it seem like he might be a veteran when he wasn`t, Donald Trump, the night before that debate, did a fund-raiser, and doing a fund-raiser is normal for any other presidential candidate but not normal for him, right? Remember, he`s not doing fundraisers.

He`s self-funding his campaign. He said he`s not taking donations. No fundraisers. But Donald Trump went to the USS Iowa, to a decommissioned battleship in San Diego, he stood right into the guns and he did a fund- raiser -- not for himself but for Veterans for a Strong America. That random thing which nobody had ever heard of before but which put out statement after he attacks John McCain saying John McCain deserved it and they Veterans for a Strong America, they were on Donald Trump`s side for picking on the POW as not being a real war hero.

It was such a strange night. It`s the night before that debate. He`s demanding that the proceeds of the debates, like the advertising revenue, go to veterans, although he never follows through to even try to make it happen.

He gets up there on a battleship. He does a presidential candidate fundraiser for this previously totally unknown group with the tough guy veterans name.


TRUMP: Boy, oh, boy. I didn`t expect that. You know, Joel and the group called and said would you come over and speak. I`m here for a certain reason. It`s called tomorrow night.

I got here and they ask a couple of days ago would it be possible to say a few words -- an endorsement from your group with so many veterans, hundreds of thousands of veterans. I really appreciate that. I did not expect it.


MADDOW: Your group with so many veterans, hundreds of thousands of veterans.

Veterans for a Strong America is not a group made up of hundreds of thousands of veterans. In fact, Veterans for a Strong America does not appear to have any members other than Joel who you just heard Mr. Trump refer to in a speech. As best as we can tell, he`s it. They are not a membership organization.

There`s no real way to join them. They don`t have hundreds of thousands of anything. After we were first to report on the weirdness of this Donald Trump supposed veterans fund-raiser in September, it quickly emerged that the IRS revoked this group`s nonprofit status last year because they hadn`t filed tax returns in three years.

This is actually a nice development in the story since. The group Veterans for a Strong America has since dissolved themselves as an organization. They recently reestablished themselves as an organization but with a slightly different name. They`re are no longer Veterans for a Strong America. They are now Vets for a Strong America.

And on their certificate of incorporation which we dug up, you can see right there on their official documents, quote, "Checked off the corporation will not have members."

But at the time Donald Trump did this event for them, you couldn`t join them. Not a membership organization. Their latest FEC filing said they had $30 in the bank, they had approximately $300 in debts and obligations, which appeared mostly to be owed to another group that was just this one guy, Joel.

So, here`s this technically defunct one man organization that Donald Trump, Republican presidential front-runner is doing a giant battleship fund- raiser for. It was so weird.

We bugged the Trump campaign about it for days, trying to figure out what happened there. What was, where was, money, where`s the money -- the Trump campaign ultimately gave us a statement about the event and what it accomplished.

They told us this, quote, "Mr. Trump and the campaign had no knowledge of any issues associated with the group or their chairman Joel Arends. Nor does this campaign know what the group intends to do with the money raised that night."

We asked them specifically, do you know how much money you raised that night? The campaign said, "No. Please ask Veterans for a Strong America."

We asked them further, well, did veterans tell you what they would use the money for once you give them the money? Answer for the Trump campaign, "no".

So, they had no idea who this guy was or what the organization was. The candidate said they had hundreds of thousands of members. They actually have zero members. They have no idea how much money they raised, they have no idea what the money was used for and arguably because the group had its nonprofit status revoked by the IRS, it was arguably illegal for Donald Trump to raise money for that group in that way in California in September on the eve of that debate.

So, that`s what is going on here. Once again, we have Donald Trump, still the Republican presidential front-runner, and lo these months, and lo these months later, he apparently feels like he wants to squirrel out of the debate again. For whatever reason, he doesn`t want to be with the other Republican candidates this year, four days before Iowa.

But just like the last time he tried to squirrel out, this time he`s also playing the veterans card as his way to do it as if him skipping this debate is somehow noble and helps veterans. Mr. Trump`s event tonight at Drake University in Des Moines was built as a special event to benefit veterans organizations, the largest organization of our current generations of veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff put out this tweet yesterday as soon as the news emerged. Quote, "If offered, IAVA will decline donations from Trump`s events. We need strong policies from candidates not to be used for political stunts."

We`re still not sure where any money raised tonight by Mr. Trump is actually going to go. Let alone how much money he`s going to raise.

Today, his campaign did launch this website,, which generally asks for donations, quote, " to support our veterans." Where is that money going go that`s donated through that website? All we know is that it`s going to the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

Who knows? Maybe the Donald J. Trump Foundation will turn it around and all donations will go directly to veterans needs as it says very vaguely on that website.

But if you`re trying to figure out what`s going on here, just consider this: A, Donald Trump has done this before. B, the first time he did something like this, we have no idea where the money went. And C, was registered as a website this morning. It was registered in the cheapest possible way. That website URL expires in exactly one year. It expires one year from today, at which point Mr. Trump or President Trump will get to decide whether he wants to renew that website and keep playing this particular trick or whether he let it fade away.

Meanwhile, all the real veterans organizations will keep slogging away day after day doing really hard work that needs to be done, needing money for that cause. And they`ll keep doing it whether or not anybody is using them as a political stunt on any one particular day.



TRUMP: But once this started, it`s for our vets there`s nothing I could do. I don`t know. You know what? I don`t know. Is it for me personally a good thing, a bad thing? Will I get more votes, will I get less votes? Nobody knows. Who the hell knows?

But it`s for our vets. You`re going to like it because we raised over $5 million in one day. So, $5 million. So, that`s not so bad.

You know, my whole theme is "Make America Great Again". That`s what we`re going to do. And we wouldn`t have even been here if it weren`t for our vets. And our vets are being mistreated. Illegal immigrants are treated better in many cases than our vets and it`s not going to happen any more. It`s not going to happen any more.


MADDOW: Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump speaking tonight hosting an event as a result of his manufactured spat with FOX News. Instead of doing the last debate before Iowa, he`s doing this event that he says will benefit veterans groups, although we don`t really know what he means by that. One of the groups has come out and said they won`t take money from this event if offered is Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA.

In some ways, even if candidates are being craven and exploitative in their treatment of veterans, does it help -- does it create a better climate for you guys in terms of raising awareness and getting support that somebody`s talking about vets at all?

RIECKHOFF: It doesn`t necessarily create a better climate, but I think it creates an opportunity. I`m here talking to you tonight, right? And we wouldn`t be if this wasn`t happening.

So, in some ways, thank you, Donald Trump.

But it`s creating a toxic environment. I mean, part of you answer is early is yes we`ve gotten support, we`ve also gotten ferocious, nasty, nasty attacks.

MADDOW: From when we said we`re not going to take his money.


RIECKHOFF: We`re not endorsing anyone. We`re not taking a partisan position. We wouldn`t take money from Bernie Sanders either.

MADDOW: Right.

RIECKHOFF: And I go on your show, I go on FOX. We`re a nonpartisan organization. Our members are very diverse.

We said we`re not going to take money and we`re going to stay out of that. And they have descended on us on Twitter, on our phones, jamming up our hotline that actually serves veterrns who are in crisis.

MADDOW: Really?

RIECKHOFF: And it`s a nasty tone. That`s actually a plea to him.

MADDOW: Is it an organized thing? Or it just -- who is it?

RIECKHOFF: I don`t know if it`s organized or not. But you can see it on Twitter. You know, it`s on our email account. And we`ve got social workers who take calls from veterans in crisis and their phone lines are being hit by these folks.

So, I hope that he can turn them in a different direction.

MADDOW: Because these are Trump supporters?

RIECKHOFF: Yes. All we did was say we`re not going to take your money.

And most veterans groups will not take their money. The VFW doesn`t seem to be taking their money, the American Legion. We`ve said it publicly and a lot of vets groups are saying it privately and we thought it was important to say keep it out of this.

And if folks want to donate, they don`t have to do it through a political campaign. They can donate to us or any other top veterans groups just by finding us online.

But, take a bigger step back. There are 22 million veterans in this country, 22 million. They are a diverse, strong, influential voting group. And they`re jump off.

So, I think they are watching and they`re watching both parties. Many are independent minded, our members in particular that are younger are very independent-minded.

So, o maybe everybody will now start to play them. Maybe they will talk to us about specifics, they will get down to brass tacks, they`ll talk about what they`re going to do in the V.A., and maybe now moderators will ask them questions about it. And that can be a good thing in America in the end.

MADDOW: If there is an organized group of people or even a disorganized group of people going after IAVA on this, you can give them my number.

RIECKHOFF: Yes. We`re pretty organize and we`re used to being attacked. So, we can handle it, but I hope they send it in directional.

MADDOW: It makes me mad.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA, I`m mad on your behalf. Thank you my friend.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you.

MADDOW: Good to see you. We`ll be right back.

Stay with us.



MADDOW: Are you fully staffed up in terms of school nurses, for example, in terms of special ed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are -- we are not. We are blessed enough to have a health navigator that allows our parents to make connections with the community, but we do not have a school nurse.

MADDOW: You do not have a school nurse?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do not. None of our schools do. Usually that responsibility falls on our secretaries. I give medications. We`re trained to do certain things. Again, we make do with the staff that we have who are devoted with serving our children.

MADDOW: Flint community schools do not have nurses right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do not. We have one in our district level.

MADDOW: One for all the schools?



MADDOW: One for the entire district, 6,000 kids, nine elementary schools, one nurse total in a community where all the kids in town need extra support and medical monitoring and attention because they were all just exposed to lead poisoned tap water.

That was a moments in Flint last night at our town hall where I could sort feel the recoil, feel the whiplash from all of those in the room who weren`t from Flint who didn`t know that and everybody in the room knew that. It was just remarkable.

Today, though, there is some news that more school nurses may be coming to Flint. Today, the Michigan legislature approved $28 million to help address Flint`s water crisis and they did designate several thousand dollars of that money to hire nine school nurses for Flint`s public schools. So, there`s that and may it come to pass.

But there`s also some late breaking news about how the state of Michigan responded to this disaster while it was under way and in the throes of it. This has just been reported late today. It`s jaw-dropping story.

It`s something that happened basically a year ago. Flint residents were still being told that the water was perfectly safe. January 21st of last year, state officials came to Flint city hall to assure the people at a public meeting that they were totally on top of any problems with Flint`s water.

Flint residents who came to that meeting and shouted complaints at state officials. They held up jugs of brown water. One of the treatment experts from the Snyder administration, told the people of Flint, told people in that room that they should, quote, "hang in there". Flint residents were still being told at this time that it was fine for them to drink this water.

But what those Snyder administration officials did not say at that town meeting was that two weeks earlier, the state government had started shipping bottled water to the state office building in Flint. The Snyder administration had started shipping coolers of purified water to the state workers at the state office building in Flint so at least they wouldn`t have to drink the tap water.

"The Detroit Free Press" first reported this day based on state government e-mails released by the liberal group Progress Michigan. Quote, "DTMB, which stands for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, that`s a state agency that oversees state office buildings, DTMB is in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor position near the water fountain so you can choice which water to drink. The coolers will arrive today and will be provided as long as the public water does not meet treatment requirements."

January of last year, the Rick Snyder administration all last year was telling the people of Flint that everything was fine, everything was under control, there was no danger from their tap water, but the people who actually worked for the Snyder administration at the state office building in Flint, they were getting sent pure clean water to drink. Everybody else in Flint hang in there. Amazing.

If you lived in Flint, would you trust the state government to fix the problem there now, right, to tell you when it`s safe to give your child a glass of water?

The folks I met in Flint at this town hall yesterday were incredibly warm, incredibly open-hearted, but they were also very, very suspicious of anybody telling them that things were OK, that they ought to relax. And the more you learn about what they have been through over these past two years when they`ve screaming bloody murder and they`ve been told everything was fine when it was not, and in some cases being told that by people who knew it was not fine, it is easy to see why they are so suspicious. It doesn`t count as paranoia, it doesn`t count as conspiracy when you live through what they have lived there.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.