Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 16, 2016 Guest: Colin Campbell
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
I`d like to introduce you to "The Impeccable". Awesome name, right? The Impeccable.
There are not very many ships that look like this in the world. It`s got kind of a strange design. See, it`s got the big high catamaran hull. A hull. It`s on even stranger thing to know about this ship.
Besides just the awkward shape of it, is that this ship has a tail. One of the things this ship is designed for is towing behind it something called a surveillance towed array sensor system. It`s basically a giant sonar array, a giant listening post. And part of the reason why this ship "The Impeccable" looks like a cinder block, right? This strange, awkward shape, part of what accounts for its awkward design and shape is because it`s meant to drag behind it this thing that listens to the ocean.
What that sonar array that it drags behind it, most of what it`s listening for is submarines. But that is what explains the awkward visuals here of this ship. "The Impeccable" is a fairly large ship. It`s about 300 feet long. It`s very slow. At its best, it goes about 15 miles per hour.
But while it is towing its sonar array, it only goes about 3 1/2 miles per hour. It`s really slow. It`s unarmed.
Even though it is a U.S. Navy ship, it doesn`t have any big guns on it or anything. It has mostly civilian crew. And in March 2009, right after Barack Obama had been sworn in for the first time as a brand new president, that ship, "The Impeccable", was poking along in its very slow going about 3 miles per hour across the South China Sea when a Chinese frigate zoomed up and crossed right in front of it within 100 yards. Cut it off. That was a slightly worrying development.
But then within hours it got worse. Within hours, Chinese military planes started do multiple flyovers really low over "The Impeccable", like 600 feet over "The Impeccable." That started on a Thursday in March 2009.
And it kept going for a few harrowing days. After the initial confrontation on Thursday, on Friday, this is again March 2009 right after Obama was sworn in, the confrontation started on Thursday, on Friday, the Chinese started verbally threatening "The Impeccable" saying if it didn`t leave the area, it would face the consequences.
By the weekend, by Sunday, that confrontation had gotten much bigger. "The Impeccable" was still alone on the high seas but by Sunday, there were five Chinese ships surrounding it including one that got so close, got within 50 feet of "The Impeccable".
And the civilian crew -- remember, this is unarmed ship. I don`t know if this is protocol or they MacGyvered this because they didn`t know what else to do. They got out the fire hoses on board. They got out the fire hoses on board "The Impeccable" and they literally shot the Chinese ship with fire hoses to try to get them to buzz off.
And that incident led to this sort of amazing formal statement from the Pentagon at the time. They said, quote, "Because the vessels` intentions were not known and The Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the -- excuse me -- because the vessels` intentions were not known, The Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the Chinese vessels in order to protect itself. The Chinese crew members responded by disrobing to their underwear and the vessel continued closing to within 25 feet."
So, think about this. Our ship is surrounded by five of their ships. Our ship is a U.S. Navy ship. It`s identified as such but it`s unarmed. Our civilian crew on this Navy ship shoots the Chinese guys with fire hoses. The Chinese sailors strip down to their underpants for some reason like as if getting your clothes wet is the big problem with being hit with a fire hose.
But while they are in their underpants, their ship decides they are undeterred and it keeps getting closer and closes to within 25 feet. What happened then is that "The Impeccable" decided finally that they actually would leave.
And you would think that that would be the point where the confrontation de-escalated, but at that point it actually got worse. Because as "The Impeccable" turned to leave, these Chinese vessels, even though they had been telling this American ship it had to get out of there, once it started to try to get out of there, they threw junk into the sea, a bunch of pieces of wood and other debris into the ocean right in front of "The Impeccable" which almost caused it to crash. This is big enough stuff that it could have conceivably could have damaged the ship. I guess, conceivably, it could have sunk the ship. They had to do emergency stops and take emergency maneuvers to avoid this junk that the Chinese ships had offloaded into the water as they were trying to get out of there.
Ultimately, as "The Impeccable" was pulling away from the confrontation, the Chinese sailors grabbed like -- do you see like a straight line off the ship there off our right, the left side of the ship there underneath that guy? Chinese sailors grabbed -- they were like poles or maybe grappling hooks or gaffes. There`s some conflicting reports about what they were using, but they used these long tools off the deck on one of these boats to try to grab on to The Impeccable`s tail.
They used these grappling hooks or whatever it was they had to try to grab the sonar array out of the water that The Impeccable was towing. They tried to grab the thing out of the water and steal it. Now, luckily the sonar array is a big mama jammer and The Impeccable did a good job of getting away from this, but the Chinese didn`t end up with the sonar array, but still, that whole confrontation was nuts.
And remember, this went on over a period of days. This was like a five-day confrontation at this point, with the flyovers and the frigate cutting them off and the five ships and the fire hoses and the trying to steal the sonar array. And then back home in Washington, we`ve got this brand-new president.
Heck of a test for a new president, right? He`s been in office all of what, six weeks at this point? And what the new president decides after this incredible confrontation, what he decided to do was to send The Impeccable back. The Impeccable had left, right? Under these very difficult circumstances, the new president decided to send The Impeccable back to the place where that confrontation happened but this time he sent The Impeccable with a friend.
President Obama ordered that The Impeccable should this time have an escort. And it should be a 500-foot-long guided missile destroyer, which it goes without saying, is not an unarmed ship. And that in March 2009, that`s how China welcomed Barack Obama to the White House.
Welcome, Mr. President. Hope you enjoy your time.
And when that happened in March 2009, that very dramatic incident was widely described as the sort of woolliest event between the American military and the Chinese military since -- since, well, come to think of it, since the last time we had a brand-new president just taking office. That street fight in the South China Sea with the fire hoses and the Chinese dudes in their underwear and the grappling hooks and all the rest of it, that happened in the spring of 2009 when we had a brand-new President Obama.
Exactly eight years earlier in the spring of 2001 when we had a brand-new President Bush, we had sort of a similar tale to tell. And what happened in the early days of that transition to a new president was, frankly, even more harrowing. In 2001, it was a large U.S. Navy surveillance jet flying over the South China Sea when a small Chinese fighter jet with a single pilot on board roared up to intercept that big American aircraft.
And in this particular case, details are a little bit disputed by the two sides, but the bottom line is that interception by the fighter jet went very badly. And the two planes collided. The Chinese fighter jet crashed. The pilot`s body was never recovered. The American plane, much larger plane, had 24 crew members on board, 21 men and three women. The plane was -- look at it, really badly damaged by the collision. That aircraft only barely was able to emergency land but it had to land in China on Hainan Island.
And this is a really serious thing -- serious not just because of the crash. The Chinese ended up holding on to the American crew for 11 freaking days. And those 24 American service members, they did eventually get out. They did eventually get home safe. I should mention that China also eventually shipped home the surveillance plane many months later in a number of boxes.
But this was just a remarkably intense incident. It was remarkably intense test for the brand-new president. George Bush had been president all of ten weeks at the time that that happened.
Here`s the thing, though. That Hainan Island incident is remembered and it sort of looms large in the early days of the Bush presidency. So much so that I think we forget, that even before that incident with the Hainan Island crash landing, even before that, China had already welcomed the new President Bush into office with another shot across the bow almost literally in this case, in an incident involving another small U.S. Navy ship, the USNS Bowditch. The Bowditch is named after the man who invented modern maritime navigation in the 1800s in Massachusetts.
In March 2001, a couple weeks before the Hainan Island incident, right after George W. Bush was sworn into office, this little ship, the Bowditch was in China, in the Yellow Sea, like The Impeccable, the Bowditch is an unarmed. Yes, it`s a U.S. Navy ship but it`s a research vessel. It`s got a civilian crew.
And right after George Bush was sworn in as president in 2001, the Bowditch was doing its research in the Yellow Sea when it was -- say it with me now -- intercepted by a Chinese frigate, this Chinese naval ship zoomed over to the Bowditch, came within a hundred yards, cut it off, told it had to leave the area. Now, in that incident, nobody ended up taking their clothes off or shooting anybody with a fire hose, but the Bowditch did turn around and leave and just like new President Obama decided in 2009 when it happened to the Bowditch back in 2001, yes, it left but came back several days later with a massively well-armed friend, with a U.S. naval warship.
You know how people say the presidential transition can be a dangerous time in terms of national security? All right. It`s a time when our adversaries like to test the United States. They like to take advantage, first of all, of any confusion in the transition. Take advantage of inexperience among the new people in charge in the government. Push the new president a little bit to take advantage of the inexperience of the new administration.
You`ve heard that about presidential transitions. This is what it looks like in practice, right? It`s not an esoteric idea. This is not an academic idea that you read about in policy journals that you don`t know about in the real world.
This is how it happens. Sailors screaming at each other, close enough that you don`t need the radio, threatening to sink each other`s ship, throwing debris in the sea, planes getting buzzed out of the sky, the crew members getting held. It`s serious stuff when these tests happen.
In the spring of 1961 when the new president was JFK, that`s when Khrushchev announced he was going to seize West Berlin. The implication was that he would seize it by force. Oh, yes, what are you going to do about it, Mr. Brand-New President?
In the spring of 1981, Ronald Reagan was president and the soviets decided it would be a time to have no warning border skirmishes, and explained Soviet troop movements and standoffs over hostile territory. Some huge, huge military exercises.
The transition to a new president is a time when America`s adversaries push it. And usually we expect that just after the new president is sworn in. And, usually, we expect that, you know, some time in the spring.
Well, in this transition that we`re going through now, whether it`s by accident or it`s on purpose, we don`t know yet, but we`ve got an unusual thing going on in this transition, which is that even though we`ve not yet had an inauguration, even though the current president is still in office, the incoming president has already set in motion a new foreign policy posture toward China in particular. A new foreign policy based on insult and provocation.
And so, this year, spring has come early, and now this just happened.
All right. It was in the South China Sea international waters. Our old friend, same ship, the Bowditch, same ship that had that scrape back in 2001 right after George W. Bush got sworn in. The Bowditch yesterday back out there again, still unarmed vessel, still doing research, still with a civilian crew.
This, time the Bowditch was using what looked like model airplanes. This is what they look like, but they`re underwater vehicles. They`re basically autonomous little drone subs and they measure various ocean conditions. The Bowditch apparently had two of these vehicles out in the sea collecting their oceanic samples and then it came time to bring them back on board. They had two of them out there. The Bowditch picked up one of their little drones, but when they went to go get the second one, a Chinese warship showed up. It launched a small boat, and then Chinese sailors in the small boat grabbed the U.S. Navy drone and stole it.
They apparently didn`t need grappling hooks this time like they did with The Impeccable county and its sonar array. They`re just six feet long, so they were able to grab it out of the water when it came up to the surface. But then they took it.
This is not good. The U.S. military says, quote, it is a sovereign immune vessel clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water, clearly marked that it is U.S. property.
Pentagon spokesman was very blunt. Quote, "It is ours. It is clearly marked as ours. We would like it back. And we would like this not to happen again."
After the Chinese sailors yesterday stole this Navy drone, the Bowditch apparently radioed the Chinese ship that took it. They demanded that they give it back. The Chinese basically said, "Yes, we hear you, then they sailed away with it."
The U.S. has now issued a formal diplomat complaint to China over this incident. Honestly, it`s not entirely clear why China took it. This is not like when they kept our high tech surveillance airport that crashed on Hainan Island and shipped it back to us months later in a number of boxes, presumably having apparently trying to reverse engineer as much of the equipment as they could.
I mean, this little drone thing, it`s cool, but it`s not going to have a lot of intelligence value to the Chinese. This is a commercially available thing. If China wants one of these, they`re expensive, they`re about $150,000, but you can just buy them.
This particular one does belong to the U.S. Navy, though, and China taking it and refusing to give it back is basically just a one-finger salute to the United States of America. It`s meant to be an embarrassment, it`s meant to be an insult, it`s meant to be a diplomatic provocation.
And the timing would appear to not be random. At the same time that this has all gone down, late last night, China also announced and released footage from its one and only aircraft carrier conducting its first ever live fire, live ammunition real missile exercises. China only has one aircraft carrier, although they`re working on more. They fly these J-15 fighters off the deck of it.
And last night, they announced for the first time and they released footage showing they have done live fire real ammunition exercises that include fighter ships and ship itself using real missiles to destroy targets at sea and display its offensive capability. They have never done that before with their aircraft carrier, but they announced it last night. So, they`ve just done it for the first time and they made sure to send out the footage.
And that comes at the same time that we also just got brand-new imagery of China having erected big, new anti-aircraft guns on the man-made islands that they just constructed in the South China Sea.
When the president of China was at the White House in September, he stood there next to President Obama at a joint press conference and told reporters that China would not pursue militarization of those islands that it was making in the South China Sea. Well, now, those islands have just sprouted anti-aircraft weapons.
So, that is the last 72 hours. The anti-aircraft emplacements on these Chinese islands, first ever live fire exercises by the Chinese aircraft carrier and now, Chinese sailors have stolen a sovereign U.S. Navy vessel in broad daylight. They just sailed off with it.
Presidential transitions are a time when other countries like to test us. Over the last two presidential transitions that we had, that has meant overt very aggressive testing by the Chinese military. Now, granted, these kinds of tests usually wait until the new president is sworn in and again most new presidents wait until they`re sworn in before they start insulting and threatening and upending decades of carefully formed policy with the most populous nation on earth, apparently in the case of Donald Trump, we don`t have to wait until spring. Apparently the tests this year start now.
How are we going to get that drone back?
MADDOW: 1961, as soon as JFK became president, Khrushchev tested him by basically threatening to take West Berlin. Khrushchev felt like JFK`s response was weak and wishy-washy, then by the summer of 1961, the East Germans and the Soviets were building a wall that ran right through the center of Berlin.
Twenty years later, the brand-new president was Ronald Reagan, there he is being sworn in. 1981, Soviets tested his responses, tested to see what kind of president he`d be with surprise Soviet troop movements and border confrontations. By the fall of 1981, the Soviets were carrying out the largest military exercise ever carried out by the Soviet Union.
America`s adversaries have a special way of welcoming newbie presidents. And it`s often very dangerous stuff. Today with news that China has seized, stolen a U.S. Navy unmanned sub, on that same day coincidentally that China has launched its first ever live fire exercises by its aircraft carrier, today, President Obama tried to gently, gently, the incoming administration into figuring out what it`s talking about before it keeps talking so much particularly to other countries.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since there`s only one president at a time, my advice to him has been that, before he starts having a lot of interactions with foreign governments, other than the usual courtesy calls, that he should want to have his full team in place, that he should want his team to be fully briefed on what`s gone on in the past and where the potential pitfalls may be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: As far as we know, the incoming president is still not taking briefings from the State Department, even before he speaks with other world leaders, nor is he regularly attending the intelligence briefings that are being prepared for him every day. But he has, apparently -- at least it appears that he has already provoked China enough that now they`ve got one of our subs and the Navy has to figure out how to get it back.
The transition to a new president is always a good time to test the waters if you`re a foreign power. It does seem like it`s starting early this year.
Joining us now is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Michael, it`s great to have you with us again tonight. Thanks for being here on a Friday night.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Is it fair to say that new presidents, not just the new term of a second-term president, but a new president taking over, does tend to get some tests from America`s adversaries? Is that a pattern?
BESCHLOSS: It absolutely is a question of when not if. And you know, we heard, Rachel, I think you`ve talked about this, that when President Obama met with President-elect Trump, he said one of your biggest problems is going to be North Korea.
And go back in time. 1969, Richard Nixon was in office about ten weeks when we Americans had a reconnaissance plane the, EC-121, shot down by the North Koreans over the Sea of Japan, all 31 crew on board were killed.
And Nixon and Kissinger, his national security adviser, were bowled over. They didn`t expect this. They didn`t know why it was happening.
Kissinger later said, we were unprepared and we screwed up. That was a time when Nixon had been in public office for -- had been in public life for 22 years. Very experienced, very clear about his foreign policy.
Now, we have President-elect Trump who has no foreign policy experience, has been somewhat vague about a lot of aspects of what he intends to do with foreign policy. As you said, he has done already a number of things that some of these powers might consider to be provocative.
MADDOW: And on that last point there, it does seem to me that -- and the White House I think has been very restrained about this, but when Trump in particular took that call from Taiwan`s president, thus putting at risk, putting at question decades of this very fragile arrangement with China basically in terms of how we recognize the Chinese capital and Taiwan and the one-China policy, when he did that, that signaled a change in American foreign policy of such a magnitude that I think it`s surprising that it happened during the lame duck period. It happened while we still had another president.
Is it -- is that unusual, that not just you change into a different foreign policy mode with a different president but that the changes would start to come into effect even before the new president was sworn in?
BESCHLOSS: You got it exactly right. It was virtually unprecedented that it was this early during the transition before he becomes president. And from everything we know so casual. I mean, Richard Nixon opened the way to China in 1970, `71, `72 after all these years of America not speaking to the Chinese, but that was an opening that was carefully orchestrated, Nixon making contact with the mainland Chinese. He knew what step 92 was going to be after taking this first step.
We don`t have evidence that president-elect Trump was thinking, if I call Taiwan, you know, what is going to be the result of that? How will the Chinese respond? What will I do in response to that?
MADDOW: Is the Obama administration in an unusual position here if this -- these actions by China in the last 24 hour, if they are in response to the president-elect, does that make the calculation different for President Obama in terms of how he responds?
BESCHLOSS: It does to the extend this was not what I did. This was the president-elect`s doing. But at the same time, President Obama wants to keep the peace and for the time that he remains as president, he`s going to have to deal with these things.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian. Great to have you here tonight -- Mike, thanks.
BESCHLOSS: My pleasure. We`ll all stay tuned.
MADDOW: Tonight, I can tell you one little piece of good news, sort of. You know the lame stream media? Tonight the lame stream media has been redeemed. Christmas miracle, Hanukkah miracle, miracle of your secular but still believing choice. This story is absolutely freaking pitiful that it has come to this, but it is next.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`re also learning more every day about the unprecedented Russian plot to swing this election. And this is something every American should be worried about.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No kidding.
CLINTON: You know, we have to recognize that as the latest reports made clear, Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyber attacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a "thank you" event last night in New York City.
"The Washington Post" was first to report that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia intervened in the election not just to make mischief but specifically to help Donald Trump. "The Washington Post" report was a week ago tonight Friday evening. Later that night, "The New York Times" published a similar story citing its own sources.
By the following day, NBC News had confirmed the story, too. This week, NBC News further reported that Putin was directly involved in the hacking operation. CBS News then reported that as well.
But you know what? That`s, of course, just the lame stream media. Why believe any of them? Everybody knows they`re all just out to undermine Donald Trump.
On Republican TV, the president-elect has been repeatedly scoffing at the Russian hacking claims. FOX News contributor, possible State Department employee John Bolton said the whole thing was not only false. He said it`s a conspiracy. He said it was a false flag, somebody else pretending to be Russia attacking our elections just to make it look like Russia attacked our elections even though Russia didn`t attack our elections. Ooh.
Other FOX News personalities have called the Russian attack on the election fake news. They`ve been berating anybody who believes it. FOX News doesn`t believe it or they didn`t believe it until last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fox News has independently confirmed that Russia- backed cyber militias were targeting U.S. systems and influential persons in the summer of 2015, in an operation involved into an effort to interfere with the U.S. election. These operations were sanctioned by the highest levels of the Russian government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: FOX News has independently confirmed it. So, now, Republicans will be allowed to believe it`s true, right? And the new administration now that it finally comes from, you know, independent confirmation by FOX News?
I mean, the new administration tends to like to take things from FOX. Like, for example, their nominee for Housing and Urban Development, former FOX News contributor. Their transportation secretary nominee, former FOX News contributor. Their deputy national security adviser, FOX News personality. Their other deputy national security adviser, FOX News personality.
The false flag guy under consideration for deputy secretary of state, FOX News contributor. Two of the people being considered for V.A. secretary, FOX News contributors. The top two names mentioned as potential White House press secretaries, FOX News personalities.
You see it`s a big -- if it happens on that cable news station, it also suddenly occurs to the president-elect. So, now that FOX News has officially come on board with the Russia hacked our election story, maybe that will matter to the new administration and the president-elect? Even though 16 government intelligence agencies and all other sources of news in this country really couldn`t break through to him on it?
Maybe now that it`s been on FOX News, the president-elect will believe that Russia attacked the U.S. election.
But the president-elect is not yet president. And today, President Obama said there would be consequences for Russia for what they did. He`s still really not saying what those consequences might be.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The relationship between us and Russia has deteriorated, sadly, significantly over the last several years. And so, how we approach an appropriate response that increases costs for them for behavior like this in the future, but does not create problems for us is something that`s worth taking the time to think through and figure out. And that`s exactly what we`ve done.
So at a point in time where we`ve taken certain actions that we can divulge publicly, we will do so. There are times where the message will be directly received by the Russians and not publicized.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: "At a point in time where we`ve taken certain actions that we can divulge publicly, we will do so. There are times when the message will be directly received by the Russians and not publicized."
You know, there aren`t many points in time left for the administration. I mean, presumably, President Obama is talking about taking retaliatory action against Russia in the next month, right, within the last 34 days while he`s still president. And we all want to know what those actions will be.
But if the Obama administration does act against Russia particularly if it acts very aggressively against Russia, that`s going to be kind of a remarkable thing for the transition, right? I mean, we`re about to have the most pro-Russia president in modern American history. One who refuses to criticize Russia on anything, one who refuses to criticize the Russian leader on anything, one who has been almost fawning, almost submissive when it comes to Russia and Russia`s leader.
He will apparently be taking office in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. government taking some kind of punitive action against Russia and likely against its leader.
Obama`s going to do something and then Trump gets the ball. That`s a heck of a thing. And if anybody tells you they know what those certain actions are going to look like from the Obama administration, they`re full of it, because we really don`t know.
Lots more to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I understand that we`re at what feels like a time of unprecedented partisanship. And for a lot of people, regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, it just feels like a dark time in American democracy. But you know what? When freaking Santa Claus is getting arrested -- when freaking Santa Claus is getting arrested protesting at the statehouse, it might be time for all of us to re-evaluate how we`re doing things in this country right now, for Pete`s sake. Think of the children.
That story`s next.
MADDOW: And here we are. North Carolina with a third straight day of protests and arrests at the statehouse today. Among dozens of other people arrested, police today arrested Santa Claus. They arrested a woman nursing a baby. They arrested an elderly woman with a walker.
All of the people who got arrested today in North Carolina were there to protest just this extraordinary rewriting of governance in North Carolina which was launched as a kind of surprise attack by Republicans who are determined to strip power from the incoming governor now that North Carolina`s governor`s race is settled and they know that the incoming governor is going to be a Democrat. Republican lawmakers called a sudden unexplained surprise session and passed legislation so the incoming governor will no longer control key state functions, key state boards like the ones that protect voting rights in North Carolina. Republicans are also making it harder for cases to reach the Supreme Court now that a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court they know will be Democrats.
This is a good one. Just for fun, Republican lawmakers in this surprise session, they gave their outgoing governor the Republican governor who just got beat in the election who is only there for a couple more weeks, they gave him a one-time exemption in the law specifically so he could make a special appointment to one of the state`s boards. It`s an appointment to which he wants to name his friend`s wife. The governor gave a six-year term with a six-figure salary to the wife of his chief of staff and his ability to do that was created newly by this legislation that they just invented and dropped this week with no warning.
When this emergency last-minute lame duck session began, there was some question as to whether the defeated outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory, whether he would sign this stuff that was being handed to him by Republicans in the legislature. The answer we now know is yes. He signed the first of these bills today less than 90 minutes after the legislature sent it to him. And they`re still going.
Tonight, Republicans voted to -- look at this. Slash the number of employees the new governor will be able to hire and fire from about 1,500 employees to 300. Since the new governor`s a Democrat, why don`t we take away 1,200 of the jobs he`s able to name people to?
They voted to require confirmation for the governor`s cabinet nominees by the Republican supermajority in the Senate, which previous governors hadn`t had to do with their cabinet nominees. Tonight, the special session came to an end with that one law signed and the other one to strip even more power from the incoming governor. That`s now sitting on the desk of the outgoing Republican governor, the guy that the incoming Democratic governor just beat.
This is banana republic stuff that`s been happening over the last three days in North Carolina. And by banana republic I do not mean the fancy version of the Gap.
Joining us now is Colin Campbell. He`s a reporter for "Raleigh News and Observer", who`s been at the statehouse from the beginning of this remarkable saga this week.
Mr. Campbell, appreciate your time this evening. Thanks for joining us.
COLIN CAMPBELL, THE NEWS & OBSERVER POLITICAL REPORTER (via telephone): Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Do you expect that Governor McCrory will sign this second bill that takes away so much power from the new governor?
CAMPBELL: Well, I think the likelihood is he probably will, but he`s not said definitively one way or the other whether he plans to sign it. In fact, within the last hour released a news release praising the bill he already did sign that deal with the election law. But one of the interesting questions for him, going at this latest bill -- this is a bill that deals with the governor`s appointment powers is the Governor McCrory has actually sued the legislature before to get appointment powers back that they took away from him. So, it will be interesting to see if he`s comfortable with taking away appointment powers from his successor.
MADDOW: Watching from outside North Carolina, the reason I said banana republic there was actually considered observation. This doesn`t seem like the kind of thing that we`re expecting -- that we expect to see in American states. I mean, there are Democratic held states that elected Republican governors where the Democratic legislature has not responded like this. Like this is not a normal thing in other states` politics that you would strip power from the incoming governor once you learn he`s going to be of the other party.
Is this something that`s more normal in North Carolina than it would be in other parts of the country?
CAMPBELL: Well, North Carolina legislature particularly in the last five or six years since it`s been under Republican control has been very interested in putting more power in the hands of the legislature. The argument Republicans made was legislators live in the communities that the people who vote to elect them come from and, therefore, they`re somehow closer to the people and should have more power than the governor. So, this is a conscious decision that they think that the legislature should be significantly more powerful than the legislature was a year or two or a decade ago.
MADDOW: But they`re still giving Governor McCrory the power to appoint somebody to a new job for six years on his way out the door before the incoming governor comes in.
CAMPBELL: Yes. And another member of his cabinet is getting a judge position that was also confirmed this week.
MADDOW: That`s amazing. And the number of positions, 1,500 down to 300 in terms of the number of jobs that the new governor would be able to fill?
CAMPBELL: They revised it up to 425. So it`s consistent with what we had under the last Democratic governor who last office in 2012. When McCrory took office they upped the number up to 1,500 for him. Now the same people are bringing it back down to 425.
MADDOW: Wow. North Carolina, a fascinating new suburb of Venezuela. It has been a remarkable thing to see it unfold. We still don`t know what`s going to happen with that last bill.
Colin Campbell, reporter from "The Raleigh News & Observer" -- thanks for your reporting tonight, Colin. Appreciate it.
CAMPBELL: Thanks a lot.
MADDOW: All right. Those scenes of those arrests in North Carolina -- I mean, we`ve covered North Carolina a lot over the last few years. The way they`re going out from this election season is more than a bang.
All right. Up next, trying to delete that which cannot be deleted.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Six days before the election, November 2nd this year, a retired general named Michael Flynn tweeted this, quote, "You decide. NYPD blows whistle on new Hillary e-mails. Money laundering, sex crimes with children, et cetera. Must read."
That must read tweet about Hillary Clinton and her sex crimes with children, that`s now gone. And now, former General Michael Flynn who believes stuff leak that and spreads it around, he`s now slated to be national security adviser.
Michael Flynn this week tried to quietly disappear that tweet, tried to delete it, except, thanks to the Wayback Machine, God bless you, Wayback Machine, thanks to them, nothing ever really disappears anymore. So he did try to take it down, but he can`t make it go away.
That said, the conspiracy theory that I consider to be perhaps the greatest Obama conspiracy theory of all time, that conspiracy theory was pushed by the person who was just announced to be Michael Flynn`s deputy at the National Security Council.
That story, greatest Obama conspiracy of all time and who pushed it, that`s our last story of the night tonight, and that`s next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Monday is the day the electoral college votes. And to tell you the truth in most election years, that doesn`t warrant calendar space, but this year, it does. For one thing, some of the electors have been asking for an intelligence briefing on Russia interfering to help Donald Trump win the election. Tonight, NPR reports that the electors` request for the intelligence briefing, that request was denied.
And now, at state capitals across the country, protesters are planning on holding rallies. On Monday, before the electors officially cast their ballots for president, the voting for Electoral College happens in every state capital in the country, protesters are hoping to flip enough electors in states that went for Donald Trump to go for Hillary Clinton. Legal experts say the laws that bind to their state results are weak and the penalties for switching votes are small. But the prospect that this is going to happen is very, very, very remote.
But, again, the Electoral College will vote on Monday. We don`t know how big the protests are expected to be. But anytime something is planned for all 50 dates you should probably pay attention to what happens in your own state.
We`ll let you know as it happens. Watch this space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The successes are widely shared with all the amazing people who`ve been part of this administration, OK? Thank you, everybody. Mele Kalikimaka.
REPORTER: Was this your last news conference, sir?
OBAMA: I don`t know. I have to reflect on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama today waving good-bye after his final end of the year press conference before heading off for a two-week family vacation in Hawaii. That`s why we got Mele Kalikimaka.
Honestly, presidents are never truly away even when they are on vacation. Who knows, maybe he will hold another press conference, we don`t know.
Either way, though, this is likely one of the last times we will see President Obama in this kind of a setting. And regardless of whether or not you have liked President Obama or not, there are going to be plenty of things that people miss about him. Maybe one of the things that I will miss most about him, maybe not most, one of the things I will miss about him is how crazy he made the people who opposed him.
That has been an unusual thing and occasionally riveting thing to watch over these last eight years. There have been lots of conspiracy theories surrounding President Obama. I think, though, that my all-time personal favorite conspiracy theory about him is one from 2008. It was the secret truth revealed on right wing talk radio that Barack Obama secretly isn`t black.
I love this conspiracy theory then, I still love it now.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
THE LAURA INGRAHAM SHOW: You know, if you`re born Christian in Africa, you`re given Christian name. If you`re born Arab in Africa, and there are a lot of Arab Africans, you`re given an African name. Hence, Barack Hussein Obama.
Now, he was not born in Africa, but the father was from Kenya, the father was from Africa. And according to this genealogy, and again, because I haven`t done the research, I can`t verify this, but according to this guy, Kenneth Lamb, Barack Obama is not black African, he is Arab African, and yet this guy is campaigning as black and painting anybody who dares to criticize him as a racist. I mean, that is -- it is the biggest con we`ve ever seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This guy is campaigning as black. That happened on Laura Ingraham`s Show. But that voice there, if you know Laura Ingraham, that was not her. That was a substitute guest host who not only believes that Barack Obama is secretly not black. She is also who President-elect Donald Trump just appointed to be one of his deputy national security advisers.
There has been a lot of concern about national security adviser Michael Flynn and his love of conspiracy theories and fake news stories. That fear was not alleviated when the transition was announced that one of General Flynn`s top deputies would be a FOX News personality most known for embellishing resume when she run for Senate, also for running darkly that China`s going to ban the Fourth of July. But now, we have the announcement of who General Flynn`s other deputy national security adviser will be, and it is the person who says that anybody who believes Barack Obama is black has just fallen for the biggest con I think I`ve ever seen.
That said, Monica Crowley does have a contributor gig at the FOX News Channel. So, deputy national security adviser it is.
That does it for us. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END