Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: July 5, 2016 Guest: Carrie Johnson
STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks for that.
Thanks to you for staying with us for the next hour. Rachel has the night off.
Well, every relationship has its ups and downs and we`re going to start at the lowest of all the low moments in the history between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. This is from the Saturday night before the New Hampshire primary eight years ago back in 2008.
Now, to put this in some context, Barack Obama had just scored his historic upset win in the Iowa caucuses, he was surging in the polls in New Hampshire, he had all the momentum in the world. It looked like he was going to steamroll his way to the nomination.
On the flip side, that Saturday night, Hillary Clinton`s campaign was in total turmoil. Not only had she just lost Iowa, she had come in third place there. She finished behind John Edwards. Her numbers were crashing.
She was going to lose New Hampshire. She was going to be forced out of the campaign. Her campaign was going to be remembered as one of the biggest disasters in history, the political equivalent of the Hindenburg. That`s what it looked like on that Saturday night in 2008.
So, at that point, the question was no longer would Barack Obama win New Hampshire next Tuesday. The question was, how much would he win New Hampshire by?
So Clinton and Obama had one final debate scheduled. It was 72 hours before the polls were to open in the Granite State. Obama, he had all the confidence in the world Hillary Clinton`s campaign was looking at its end, and then this happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MODERATOR: My question to you is simply this. What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight, who see a resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), THEN-2008 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that hurts my feelings.
MODERATOR: I`m sorry, Senator. I`m sorry.
CLINTON: But I`ll try to go on.
He`s very likeable. I agree with that. I don`t think I`m that bad.
BARACK OBAMA, THEN-2008 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You`re likeable enough, Hillary.
CLINTON: Thank you so much.
OBAMA: No doubt about it.
CLINTON: I appreciate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Likeable enough. Remember that one?
Well, it didn`t go over that well. Obama came across as a little arrogant, maybe. Clinton looked sympathetic in that moment. And you know what? It seemed like it might have been a turning point, because right up until that moment, the race -- nobody thought Hillary Clinton was going to win New Hampshire. She was trailing double-digits in the polls on the morning of the primary, and yet after that moment, she won the state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I want, especially, to thank New Hampshire. Over the last week I listened to you, and in the process, I found my own voice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Hillary Clinton got her comeback in New Hampshire. She was not immediately forced out of the race. Instead, the Democratic primary in 2008 after that became an epic, 50-state, six-month, once in a lifetime battle, one they`ll be writing books about a hundred years from now probably, a campaign where Hillary Clinton called Barack Obama naive, where Obama compared Hillary Clinton to George W. Bush on foreign policy. Where Bill Clinton called the Obama campaign the biggest fairy tale he`d ever seen.
When it was all over, after all 50 states, after six months of slogging it out, Obama had just enough delegates to become the Democratic nominee. They both had about 18 million votes. And the big question then, when it was all over, what now? How does a party that`s just been through that ever come together?
Well, they tried to answer those questions in the state where so much of that acrimony was born, in New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: In the words of Barack Obama, they were standing there as allies, not as rivals anymore.
First, there was the awkward kiss, then the wave. Rarely had the boarding of a plane been so closely analyzed. On board the jet, the very one that used to ferry Hillary Clinton around the country, the two competitors sat next to each other, his tie almost matching her pant suit.
Karma, the Obama campaign called it, all leading up to this -- a sunny green field in Unity, New Hampshire.
CLINTON: I know what we start here in this field in Unity will end at the capitol when Barack Obama takes the oath of office as our next president.
REPORTER: It was Hillary Clinton who first broke at the ice, alluding to any tension between the two this way.
CLINTON: And I am proud that we had a spirited dialogue.
That was the nicest way I could think of phrasing it.
REPORTER: Still, she heaped praise on him and Barack Obama returned the favor, either in subtle terms.
OBAMA: She rocks. She rocks. That`s the point I`m trying to make.
REPORTER: We`re told that hour and a half bus ride from Manchester up here to Unity was one that was almost frivolous at times. We`re told both of them stood most of the way, swapping campaign stories, not talking policy. When is the next time we`ll see Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail with Barack Obama? Probably the next time he thinks he needs to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That was almost exactly eight years ago to the day. The setting: Unity, New Hampshire, a small town in New Hampshire, full of symbolism, not just because of that name. Actually if you look at the votes in that New Hampshire primary in 2008, look at this, the town of Unity was actually a dead heat. Clinton and Obama each took 107 votes in the small town of Unity. That was the setting for their unity rally.
But even though that event you just saw there was perfectly crafted for the stage, you could tell there was still some raw feelings. When the crowd started to chant, "Obama, Obama, Obama", Clinton supporters made sure to respond with a chant of their own, making sure everyone knew who their first choice was.
That was eight years ago in Unity, New Hampshire. Now, fast forward eight years to today, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama disembarking from Air Force One there, back on the campaign trail together, and in many ways, today`s event in North Carolina had the same trademarks as that rally back in 2008, just like eight years ago, even the flight to today`s rally was a media event, as you can see there. Clearly both the people on stage have aged a little bit since they campaigned a little bit in 2008, but even the staging today was reminiscent of Unity, New Hampshire, in 2008.
What is different, though, the roles are now reversed. Now it`s Hillary Clinton who needs Barack Obama. It`s not Barack Obama running in the fall and needing party unity. It`s Hillary Clinton running in the fall and needing party unity, needing the president on her side.
Today`s event in North Carolina came just hours after the FBI director held a press conference about Hillary Clinton`s State Department e-mails. And while he said the bureau would not recommend charges against Clinton, he did slam her for what he said was carelessness in using the personal e-mail server in the first place. We`re going to have more on that story and what it means for this campaign in just a little bit.
But back for a moment to today`s rally. It was obviously a boost to Hillary Clinton`s campaign. And President Obama made it clear in Charlotte, North Carolina, that he`s not simply going to show up and shake a few hands at rallies.
This is a campaign he wants to be a part of. He`s run and won two national campaigns on his own. And now as its second term as president ends, he wants to make the case for Hillary Clinton to be his successor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`m here to tell you that, the truth is, nobody fully understands the challenges of the job of president until you`ve actually sat at that desk. Everybody`s got an opinion. But nobody actually knows the job until you`re sitting behind the desk. Everybody can tweet, but nobody actually knows what it takes to do the job until you`ve sat behind the desk.
But I can tell you this, Hillary Clinton has been tested. She has seen up close what`s involved in making those decisions. She has participated in the meetings in which those decisions have been made. She`s seen the consequences of things working well and things not working well. And there has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office than Hillary Clinton. Ever.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
And that`s the truth. That`s the truth.
(CROWD CHANTING "HILLARY")
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: If you had any doubt about the role President Obama wants to play, consider, that speech ran 45 minutes today. It was not expected to go that long, but he held court for 45 minutes, giving what you could pretty describe as a barn-burner of a speech. You heard him there touting Hillary Clinton`s accomplishments, but also, he didn`t mention him by name, but it was clear who he was referring to. He went after Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee over and over again.
Now, think about this, though. Not only is President Obama out there now campaigning vigorously on behalf of Hillary Clinton, what makes this so unique, what makes the spectacle of a two-term president campaigning for his hand-picked successor in such public fashion, unique, is this -- we haven`t seen something like this in a generation at least. Think about it, 2008, that was the last time we had a two-term president leaving the White House, George W. Bush, his two terms as president were up, but his poll numbers were so poisonous that during his actual endorsement of that year`s Republican nominee, John McCain, he said he might be more helpful if he opposed the Republican nominee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, how much do you intend to do for senator McCain and do you think in some cases that your help could actually hurt him more than help him?
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Look, if my showing up and endorsing him helps him, or if I`m against him and it helps him, either way I want him to win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Remember, President Bush`s approval numbers back then were at or below 30 percent. Those are the kinds of numbers that produce a spectacle like that. And then at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota, Bush didn`t even make it into the hall. He wasn`t welcome at his own party`s convention. Instead, he delivered a very short speech via a videotaped message.
And that wasn`t the only time a two-term president has had trouble when it comes to his hand-picked successor campaigning. Eight years before that, 2000, Bill Clinton finishing up two terms as president, his vice president, Al Gore, running to succeed him, this was the cold front and the question of the entire 2000 campaign, what role should Bill Clinton, who had just been through impeachment and just been through the revelation of his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, what role if any should he play, the Gore campaign decided they didn`t want him playing any role in the campaign. They didn`t want much to do with President Clinton in the wake of that scandal. It`s a decision, a calculation by that campaign that is it still debated to this day, with Al Gore coming up just short in that election.
You have to go back 12 years before that to 1988 when Ronald Reagan finishing up his second term as president, did get out there and campaign for his vice president, George H.W. Bush, but again, that was 1988, 28 years ago. "Alf" was still on the air back then. That`s old that was. Bush`s victory, though, he won 40 states that fall. Many people saw that as President Reagan`s third term. People said Bush campaigned for the third term he couldn`t run for and voters gave it to him.
Now, it was 28 years ago. Now, 28 years later, in 2016, that is the question. That`s the question raised by that rally we saw in North Carolina today. Can Hillary Clinton win the White House on the legacy, in many ways, of President Obama? Can she ask voters, can she and President Obama ask voters to give him, in effect, a third term? That was the case, in many ways, they were making today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I have run my last campaign. And I couldn`t be prouder of the things we`ve done together, but I`m ready to pass the baton. And I know that Hillary Clinton is going to take it. And I know she can run that race, the race to create good jobs and better schools and safer streets and a safer world, and that`s why I`m fired up! And that`s why I`m ready to go! And that`s why I`m with her! And that`s why I need you to work just as hard to make sure that Hillary Rodham Clinton is the next president of the United States of America.
God bless you, North Carolina! God bless you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That`s President Obama in North Carolina today.
Joining us now, Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Michael, thanks for joining us.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Pleasure, Steve.
KORNACKI: So, the third term argument, Republicans in 2008 looked around and said no way a third term going to work with George W. Bush. There was debate with Gore and Clinton. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are going to be making that argument this fall.
Do you think the conditions are right for it to work?
BESCHLOSS: Well, what we saw today really helps. You know, as you know from your reading of history, you have to really go back to Martin Van Buren before George H.W. Bush to find a situation where the party was able to hold on to the White House in terms like this, for three terms in a row.
But, you know, Steve, I think this fall, if Hillary Clinton wins, especially in a close election, I think we might say that what happened today was one of the most important reasons. Because 1960, when Dwight Eisenhower didn`t campaign much for Richard Nixon. 2000, you mentioned Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, the Clinton people now would say, if he had gone to Arkansas and been able to flip Arkansas to Al Gore, instead of George W. Bush, Al Gore would have won that election in 2000. That`s how important it was.
1968, Lyndon Johnson was angry at his vice president who was running, Hubert Humphrey, didn`t feel he was strong enough to the Vietnam War. So Johnson, if you could believe it, told his donors, hold back, don`t give money to Humphrey. Humphrey was not able to get on TV, lost that election by 400,000 votes. So, these relationships can be very important.
KORNACKI: Yes, that 2000 decision, so controversial to this day by Al Gore, an election that close.
KORNACKI: You could look anywhere and say, if they could just scare up a few votes here, it would have made a difference. It`s also interesting, though, in this case, this is not Barack Obama`s vice president that we`re talking about. It`s a situation where his right-hand man is not the anointed successor.
BESCHLOSS: I think we would not have been surprised to see him talking this way had Joe Biden locked up the nomination under other circumstances. But in a way that`s what gave this speech today such force because people do know they had been bitter rivals eight years ago. This relationship took a while to form.
And in the other thing is that in Barack Obama`s case, he knows that if Donald Trump were elected, he`s going to dismantle his legacy. He detests Donald Trump personally, with good reason, since Donald Trump was one of the original birthers and realizes that Donald Trump disagrees with almost everything that Barack Obama stands for. So if you had to just combine the ingredients for a great attitude, a great relationship between a sitting president and his party`s nominee. They`re all here today.
KORNACKI: You know, a lot has been made of Barack Obama`s approval rating, seeming to tick up in the last few months, over 50 percent in most polls right now. I wonder what you make of that. Does that suggest there`s a sort of end of the second term re-assessment going on where people are -- some of his skeptics are warming to him? Or is that just a function of, hey, the political fighting right now is between Clinton and Trump and he`s sort of benefitting from not being caught in the middle of that all the time?
BESCHLOSS: I think it`s both of those things. As you know, Reagan came up at the end, so did Bill Clinton. So, to some extend it`s a phenomenon of late in that presidency. It did not with George W. Bush.
That`s why you saw this awkward situation, we saw the clip of it, between John McCain trying to be polite, but really hoping that the sitting president would not get into this.
KORNACKI: All right. NBC News presidential historian -- Michael Beschloss, thanks as always for the time. Appreciate it.
BESCHLOSS: Pleasure as always, Steve.
KORNACKI: All right. And much more ahead tonight on what turned out to be the busiest day in political news we`ve seen in a long time. Stay with us.
KORNACKI: Hillary Clinton brought the president to North Carolina for a raucous rally today. And then just a couple hours later, her Republican rival Donald Trump showed up in the same state. And that`s no coincidence. Why each candidate thinks they can swing the swing state their way. It`s coming up next.
KORNACKI: All right. So think back to just a few weeks ago. Remember the headlines? President Obama was ready to come off the sidelines. His first rally with Hillary Clinton was put on the schedule. It was going to be in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Why Wisconsin? Well, Hillary Clinton had just been clobbered in Wisconsin by Bernie Sanders in the primaries. And Democrats were a little worried. Wisconsin seemed like just the kind of state a white, working class, Rust Belt state, the kind of state where Donald Trump might be able to make in- roads, especially with those Bernie Sanders` voters.
This was the fear of Democrats a few weeks ago. We don`t want to lose those working class voters that Bernie Sanders appeals to, they were saying, the same voters that Donald Trump could tap into. So, that was the idea. Send Obama to Wisconsin for the big Democratic unity event, the blue state of Wisconsin, the state that hasn`t voted Republican since 1984, but one where Clinton looked like she could maybe be in trouble if those Sanders supporters didn`t come around.
In other words, this was a defensive move. And this was the move Democrats were set to make a few weeks ago, but then tragically, the massacre in Orlando happened. And the Obama-Clinton event was canceled. And politics was played out in the next couple of weeks. A lot happened, a few weeks not good for Donald Trump.
And so, when it came time to re-schedule the Obama-Clinton unity rally, the Clinton campaign reassessed and came up with a new calculation. This time, not a defensive calculation, but a decision to play offense. Instead of worrying about Sanders, about party unity, about blue states, about the Rust Belt, instead of all of that, they looked at Trump`s sagging numbers, the rough few weeks he had, and they started to think bigger, not just about holding blue states, but about flipping red ones.
And that takes us to the state of North Carolina. In 2008, Barack Obama narrowly won North Carolina, but that was the exception to modern history in that state. Before Obama in 2008, the last Democrat to carry the Tar Heel State had been Jimmy Carter back in 1976. And heading into 2012, no one thought Obama was going to win North Carolina again, he barely pulled it out in 2008. That has been an extremely good year for Democrat. So the assumption was things would return to normal in 2012.
In a way they did, Mitt Romney did win the state of North Carolina, but it was by a much smaller margin than people expected, just about two points. You can see it there. Obama actually nearly won North Carolina in 2012. And there was a reason for that.
The big reason was support from black voters. Not just support, but participation. The share of African American voters in North Carolina went up substantially from 2008 to 2012. In fact, black voters turned out at a higher rate than white voters in North Carolina in 2012.
This was something that had never happened before, and it was nearly enough to lift Obama to what would have been a major upset victory. As it was, out of all the states that Obama lost to Romney in 2012, North Carolina ended up being the closest.
So, the Democrats started looking at that. They said, well, we expected to lose North Carolina by a lot more in 2012 and in the end, we almost fought Romney to a draw. Maybe there`s some life for us in that state going forward.
That`s the backdrop for today. That`s why President Obama is out in North Carolina, doing his first campaign event for Hillary Clinton today. This is a state the Clinton campaign now thinks it can win, a red state they believe they can flip.
And Clinton`s best weapon is President Obama. Her biggest strength is black voters, that`s why they went to Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina, a city where 35 percent of the population is black.
The question is, can the Clinton ticket this fall get the same kind of black turn-out that President Obama got four years ago? Maybe even greater. That`s the challenge for them. The psychology of Democrats, though, has clearly changed over just the last few weeks.
Two weeks ago, it was hold on to what we have, because Bernie Sanders, party unity questions, Donald Trump making in-roads, maybe, it was a defensive thinking that dominated the Democratic calculations two weeks ago, but now, it`s apparently we can afford to think bigger. That`s why Wisconsin was out for the first rally and North Carolina was in. It`s why North Carolina is such an important state and it`s all why Donald Trump is, as we speak, tonight in North Carolina.
That state is very much a swing state this fall, one that is very much up for grabs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have discovered a very troubling and continuing pattern of abuse of power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This administration believed evasion and obstruction were more important than the truth.
REPORTER: In the scathing report, the result of $2 million worth of hearings and investigations, Republicans charged serious misconduct, including a cover-up, reaching from Arkansas to the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has been one central figure that`s been a major player in all three phases of this investigation and that one person has been Hillary Rodham Clinton.
REPORTER: Republicans stopped short of accusing either Clinton of a claim, but barely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Investigation or witch-hunt? Innocent mistakes, or massive cover-up? Is the conduct actually bad, or does it just look bad? That was almost exactly 20 years ago, that`s when the Senate concluded its investigation into President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton`s whitewater scandal.
If all of that you just heard sounds familiar, well, here`s an extra jolt of deja vu, because one of the deputy special counsels who helped carry out that Senate Whitewater investigation of the Clintons 20 years ago was James Comey, James Comey who is now the director of the FBI, and James Comey who today as director of the FBI, announced the results of the latest investigation into Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.
As a result, although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Comey said today that out of the 30,000 e-mails that Hillary Clinton turned over, that the FBI reviewed eight e-mail chains, including information that was considered top secret at the time, 36 more included secret information and others including confidential information, that`s the lowest level of classification.
Additionally, the FBI found several thousand e-mails that Hillary Clinton did not release. Of those, one included secret information, two included confidential information. A small number of those were marked classified at the time.
Perhaps nothing shows the polarization around Hillary Clinton and politics in general in the way we perceive Clinton scandals in general than when we all watched the same press conference and yet, it could feel like we watched two completely different press conferences. One side could look at what it saw today, did look at what it saw today and say it was a great day for Hillary Clinton. The director of the FBI said she`s not going to be charged. The other side could say, today was actually a terrible day for Hillary Clinton. The FBI director just said that she mishandled classified information.
One side could say Hillary Clinton only escaped charges because she got special treatment from a rigged system. Anybody else, a lower person, would have been charged with a crime. The other side could fire back and say, no one else would have been so singled out for condemnation. The FBI never makes a statement like this when it`s declining to charge someone.
One side could say, this exhaustive investigation shows Hillary Clinton may have been careless, but she`s not a criminal. The other side could say, this just shows that James Comey is sold out and that Hillary Clinton is above the law. And just like all the past Clinton scandals, this one is probably not going to go away.
Plenty of Republicans in Congress today are now calling for a deeper look into how the FBI reached this conclusion. There could be an investigation into the investigation. And if there is, no one would be surprised if that drags on into potential Hillary Clinton presidency.
Joining us more on today`s announcement is Carrie Johnson. She`s the justice correspondent for National Public Radio.
Carrie, thanks for joining us.
Well, so, take us through -- what jumps out at me here are some of these numbers. Eight chains of e-mails here involving top secret information passed through this server. A couple dozen more with other forms of classified information. Hillary Clinton had been saying that no -- that nothing marked classified had gone through this server. The FBI today though is saying that did happen.
CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR, DC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The FBI director essentially removed the threat of criminal prosecution from Hillary Clinton and her aides in her inner circle today, Steve, but he`s certainly gave her critics a lot of ammunition in the campaign and beyond. This finding that she and her aides were extremely careless, that she should have known, given her level of government and experience of government, that she should not have been using personal e-mail to communicate about these essential government secrets with her aides.
And finally, Steve, this notion that although the FBI couldn`t find direct evidence of a foreign power had hacked Clinton`s e-mail server, they certainly found it was possible, given how frequently she was communicating with the server, and how frequently she was traveling overseas, sometimes into adversarial territory and using her BlackBerry.
KORNACKI: He also what struck me too from this announcement, from Comey`s announcement, was she seemed to be drawing this line between negligence and intent. Basically saying, hey, I can`t find any intent to mishandle classified information. I can potentially negligence, but that`s a difference in terms of prosecution. Is that -- when he says that no reasonable prosecutor would bring this case, is there reason to believe that?
JOHNSON: Well, Steve, I`ve been hearing from prosecutors current and former, for the last year or so, that they would be very surprised if criminal charges resulted from this lengthy investigation. That now appears to be where the FBI has landed, to be determined where the Justice Department would land. But hard to imagine the DOJ would override a recommendation from the FBI not to go forward with a criminal case here.
Now, Steve, the issue is, under two statutes, one involved willful or knowing mishandling of government secrets. And the other involved gross negligence. Under both of those statutes, James Comey today determined that no reasonable prosecutor would move ahead with the case. And he talked about some reasons why, no evidence of spying or disloyalty to the U.S.
No evidence of obstructing justice or lying in the course of this investigation and, Steve, of course, that would include the three and a half hour interrogation that Hillary Clinton underwent on Saturday morning at FBI headquarters. And finally, no clear evidence of criminal intent, of intent to break the law. Based on those factors and a review of some prior cases in which DOJ did pull the trigger, the FBI director found this was not a criminal case, in his view.
KORNACKI: All right. Carrie Johnson, justice correspondent for NPR, thanks for the time.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
KORNACKI: All right. And still ahead tonight, some late news that could impact Donald Trump`s pick for his running mate. That just out tonight. Stay with us.
KORNACKI: There`s a new report with what would be very big news involving the bridgegate saga and Chris Christie, if it`s true. And that`s the key here, because like everything else, when it comes to politics in New Jersey, there`s a story behind the story here.
First, here`s the refresher. It`s been nearly three years now, three years. Since the appointees of Chris Christie shut down access lanes to the George Washington Bridge and caused a traffic nightmare in the New Jersey town. Federal prosecutors say this was a payback scheme hatched by those Christie appointees who were trying to settle a score with a local mayor who had refused to back Christie`s re-election campaign in New Jersey.
Now, so far, there`s been one guilty plea and two of the other Christie allies now are awaiting trial in federal court. And hanging over all of these never ending legal drama has always been the key political questions, what exactly was Chris Christie`s role in all of this? What did he know? When did he know it? And could he ever face any legal action himself?
That`s where that report tonight comes from. According to the "New York Observer" newspaper, this man is about to plead guilty to a felony. His name is David Samson. And if you don`t know that name, here`s the key -- he`s very powerful, and he`s a close mentor and confidant of Chris Christie. It was Christie who was governor appointed Samson to be the chairman of the Port Authority, which oversees the George Washington Bridge among other things, and this new report says Samson is expected to please guilty to one felony charge related to one of the many issues brought to light by the bridgegate investigation.
One of the theories that`s been out there these past few years is that Samson basically represents the biggest potential legal threat that Christie faces in this whole drama. The theory goes like this: if prosecutors could corner Samson, he would naturally want to find a way out. Since Samson is a really big fish, the only way he`d be able to get out would be to cut a plea deal and to turn on Christie. This possibility has been speculated on a lot.
We need to stress. It has all been speculation. But now, here it is, a report that Samson is ready to plead guilty.
So, is this the nightmare for Chris Christie that so many people thought it would be? Well, here`s the key line from the "New York Observer`s" report. Quote, "According to a former prosecutor with intimate knowledge of the players in what`s become known as the Bridgegate affair, Samson will be indicted and plead guilty to a one-count felony. He will not be cooperating with the government."
He will not be cooperating -- translation, Christie has nothing to worry about. Even if Samson knows something that prosecutors might be interested in when it comes to Christie, and again, we have no idea if he does. But even if he does, this report says he`s not going to be sharing it. So, all that chatter that David Samson will be the undoing of Chris Christie, at least according to this report, it doesn`t look like it`s happening.
Now wait for a second, because here`s where the story behind the story comes in. Look back at the money quote I just read from the article.
"According to a former prosecutor with intimate knowledge of the players in what`s become known as the Bridgegate affair" -- that`s the source for this story in the "New York Observer", a former federal prosecutor, intimate knowledge of the players in Bridgegate. Obviously, this is an anonymous source, and that happens a lot in journalism, not an uncommon thing there. But that`s a very specific description of this source with this blockbuster information. A source talking to the "New York Observer", the "New York Observer", which is owned by Jared Kushner.
And who is Jared Kushner? Jared Kushner is married to Ivanka Trump. Ivanka Trump, of course, Donald Trump`s daughter.
So, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump`s husband, has emerged also as a key inside player in his father-in-law`s presidential campaign. Jared Kushner, also, the owner of the "New York Observer", that newspaper has enthusiastically endorsed Trump`s campaign in the Republican primary. And the author of the story we`re talking about tonight, the author of the story in the "New York Observer" is Ken Kurson.
Ken Kurson is the editor of "The Observer". He also gave input on a major speech that Trump delivered a few months ago to the annual AIPAC conference.
So, you put all of that together, and it`s fair to say that as newspapers go, there really aren`t any out there that are as close to the Trump campaign as the "New York Observer". And, of course, who was one of Trump`s top supporters right now? One of his only outspoken supporters from the Republican political establishment? Well, It`s Chris Christie.
Christie who is reportedly very interesting in serving as Trump`s running mate. That`s a decision Trump is going to have to make in the next two weeks. And this, the question of bridgegate, the question of whether he might still somehow be implicated, this has been one of the biggest knocks against Christie`s chances of landing on the ticket.
But now, here`s a newspaper that is closer to the Trump campaign, closer to the Trump family than any newspaper in America, and suddenly, it`s reporting the blockbuster news that would make it easier for Trump to put Christie on the ticket.
If you think that means something, well, there`s another twist to all of the story behind the story. Try this one on for size. Christie, when he was the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, made his name with the high profile prosecution of a major real estate developer and political donor. This was a sordid case from a summer of 2004. The developer, quote, "pleaded guilty on Wednesday to trying to compromise a witness in a campaign finance investigation by setting him up with a prostitute and secretly videotaping the sexual encounter. The plea came in a case that the federal prosecutor called a clear example of corruption in the state`s political culture."
That was back in 2004. I covered that story back then. It is the story I would tell everyone when they asked me what covering New Jersey politics was like, the politically connected developer who hired the very expensive prostitutes in a retaliation scheme.
Now, who was the politically connected developer who Chris Christie made his name prosecuting over this? Well, his name was Charles Kushner, as in Charles Kushner, the father of Jared Kushner. Jared Kushner, the son-in- law of Donald Trump. Jared Kushner, the owner of "The New York Observer." "The New York Observer", the newspaper that`s now reporting that Christie is about to catch a big break on bridgegate at just the moment that Christie needs to catch a big break.
What does this all mean? Well, I`ve talked to a bunch of people in New Jersey tonight. I used to cover that world. Full disclosure here, I used to write for "The New York Observer". Jared Kushner`s paper, they laid me off. I try not to take it personally.
But everybody I talk to tonight is baffled by this. So, maybe this means a lot, the fact that this story at this moment and appearing in "The New York Observer". Maybe it means something we haven`t imagined, and maybe it`s one big red herring, but it`s one of the biggest and definitely the weirdest in a whole bunch of new developments in the veepstakes.
The latest on who Donald Trump might ask to run with him, and who would actually say yes is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I wasn`t going to say anything. I just came to visit. But I have to tell you something. The rallies that I have back home aren`t quite like this.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Very good.
CORKER: Pretty cool, yeah. This is unbelievable, isn`t it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That was Donald Trump earlier tonight in North Carolina joined by Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. Corker who is also the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the latest Republican to stump for Donald Trump.
Now, the two of them met earlier in Manhattan at Trump Tower before flying off to North Carolina for that event. Trump also met with Indiana Governor Mike Pence on Saturday at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.
And on Sunday, he tweeted about Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton`s appearance on "Meet the Press". And yesterday, on the Fourth of July holiday, Trump met with Tea Party Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa. And tomorrow, he`s going to be campaigning with former House Speaker and former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Gingrich reportedly being vetted by the Trump campaign. And tomorrow, they`re going to campaign together in Cincinnati.
Add all of this together, a lot of veepstakes talk in the air.
And joining us now to break it down is Robert Costa, national political reporter at "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.
So, Bob, interesting. There`s been so much talk Newt Gingrich`s name has been out there for months. Chris Christie`s name has been out there for months. They`re sort of the obvious candidates in all of this. But it seems like a second track is emerging here of sort of more traditional establishment-type choices.
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: For a long time, Steve, people within Trump`s inner circle thought he picked someone like himself, someone who had populist instinct to his combative when it came to their personality. A Chris Christie, a Newt Gingrich or at least politically someone like Jeff Sessions, the senator from Alabama.
But with Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, really asserting himself within the campaign at Trump Tower, there`s a sense now, in the recent days that Trump may be leaning toward Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, Bob Corker of Tennessee, someone with some establishment connections and a temperament that will fit in Washington as Trump tries to win over some skeptical Republicans.
KORNACKI: And I imagine the cautionary tale here, when you`re talking about Bob Corker type Republican, the cautionary tale me might be Paul Ryan who came out and endorsed Donald Trump and found himself forced to defend things he clearly was uncomfortable defending.
What is the calculation there for somebody like Bob Corker, in terms of the risk potentially of joining a Trump ticket?
COSTA: Well, the calculation, of course, if you`re not up for re-election set you up for future national run should Trump loses. If Trump, of course, you`re vice president of the United States.
But there`s a sense also that something is happening within the Republican Party, and a lot of people were relate to it in noticing this populist wave, antiestablishment, a move against the hawks in the party, a different kind of Republican future may be on the horizon.
If you`re a Bob Corker, a Mike Pence, and there`s always been a certain path to national power, maybe you`re thinking to yourself now, there`s a different kind of way to get to the top and this could be it.
KORNACKI: Newt Gingrich campaigning tomorrow with Donald Trump, fair to look at that as an audition?
COSTA: Very much so. Newt Gingrich has become personally close to Trump on the campaign. And when you look at them, they`re both over 70 years old. They`re both media savvy. Gingrich ran a campaign, in many ways that was a precursor to Trump`s run, running on the debates, not really having a ground game or an operation, and really using the force of personality and an instinct for the people and common touch to try to rouse some support. And you`ve seen Trump add celebrity and use that Gingrich model this time around.
KORNACKI: All right. Robert Costa from "The Washington Post", thanks as always.
COSTA: Thank you.
KORNACKI: All right. We`ll be right back.
KORNACKI: We spent a lot of times in politics talking about frontrunner and favorites. But tonight, we get to talk about an upset. In fact, a string of upsets each more improbable than the next in a celebration that anyone can get behind. Here is to the little guy. Our best new thing in the world is next.
KORNACKI: All right. I`m going to borrow one of Rachel`s favorite segments because we have the best new thing in the world.
We start with Iceland, population 330,000. That isn`t even half the population of Denver, Colorado. Yet it`s an independent nation.
Iceland`s national soccer team made history this year, they became the smallest country ever to qualify for the European championship tournament. They call it the Euro.
Now, making the tournament was such a big deal in Iceland that reportedly one out of every ten people in the country left Iceland and traveled to France so they can cheer on their team in person, more than enough for Iceland to qualify for this thing.
But, then, a funny thing happen, they wouldn`t lose. Rachel has fallen in love with the Icelandic announcer. How could you not. But that might have played second fiddle to the real star for Iceland in this tournament, their two celebration after victories against teams that were suppose to end the Icelandic dream we instead got this, the Viking clap.
This right here is after their knockout round game against England. Iceland actually beat England in that game. England, the third ranked team in the world. That`s the team that`s won five Euro titles.
Losing to the right there. That`s the Viking clap. That`s how they celebrate a big soccer upset in Iceland.
Unfortunately, the Icelandic dream run ended in the quarterfinals, a lost to the host nation France. The score was 5-2. France`s talent was just too much to overcome. Or maybe the fix was in.
That didn`t do a thing, though, to dull Iceland`s fans love of their team. Yesterday, team Iceland returned home to a hero`s welcome, thousands of fans showing up to thank them for that incredible run farther into the euro tournament than anyone ever thought they would get and they delivered one more goose bump-inducing Viking clap.
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KORNACKI: It`s 10 percent of Iceland went to France to watch the soccer tournament, looks like the other 90 percent turned up there for that celebration. By far, the best new thing in the world today, the Viking clap.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Lawrence, good evening.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END