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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 1/11/2017

Guests: David Cole, Cory Booker

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 11, 2017 Guest: David Cole, Cory Booker

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC`S "ALL IN" HOST: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I don`t take it personal at all.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Not at all.

HAYES: It was an impression. It was the voice of a certain hyperbolic character.

MADDOW: No, I don`t mind, doesn`t bother me at all, which I`m sure you can tell.

Thanks, my friend. Thanks, Michael.

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

OK. Here`s the story: in March of this past year there was an explosion in Pasadena, Texas. Pasadena, Texas, is about 11 miles outside of Houston. There was a big explosion followed by a fire. Smoke and flames could be seen for miles around. Look at that.

The whole neighborhood around this fire and this explosion had to be evacuated. Even the Houston ship channel, which is basically the freeway onramp for all American oil, it had to be shut down, the whole ship channel.

It was not exactly national news when this happened in Pasadena, Texas, back in March. But it was a big deal. Locally, it was a really big deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: A plume of smoke and fire at the PRSI refinery, serious enough to shut down the Washburn Tunnel and ship traffic on the channel for a time. Serious enough to recommend a neighborhood nearby evacuate. From sky eye`s perspective, the area of the refinery where the explosion and then fire happened, an operator in the area was injured.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So, that was coverage from the local ABC station in Houston at the time of this refinery explosion back in March. And, thankfully, it was only one person who was hurt in this blast but it was big enough, scary enough, you can see it from this local coverage. It was scary enough that it really put a spotlight on that plant and not in a good way.

Part of what turned up in the local coverage of the aftermath of that explosion and fire was the bad record at that plant. They had a really bad safety record. In 2015, 17 plants in and around Pasadena, Texas, reported on their workplace injuries for the year, almost a third of all the workplace injuries for that year came from that one plant, out of 17 plants who were reporting.

After that explosion and that fire in March, the "Houston Chronicle" further dug in. They found that on the day that explosion happened, that plant was not legally operating. It was -- its permit to operate under the Clean Air Act had expired. They were running the plant anyway on the day the plant blew up.

And all of that bad press, all of that, I`m sure, very unwelcome scrutiny, it came amidst an even larger overarching scandal, actually an international scandal involving that plant and the company that owns it. You heard that local news clip there. You heard it described as the PRSI refinery. It`s actually run, its parent company, is a company called Petrobras, Petrobras bought that refinery from another oil company back in 2006.

And the interesting thing about them buying it, the scandal about them buying it, is that when they bought it, they really, really overpaid. They obviously overpaid. They paid $1.2 billion for that refinery when nobody thought it was worth $1.2 billion.

Now, why would a company radically overpay for anything? Why would an oil company radically overpay for this troubled little refinery plant in Pasadena, Texas?

We`ll take one guess, right? The company in question here, Petrobras, it`s a state-run company. The government of Brazil owns Petrobras. And that has very practical implications, right?

I mean, for one, you have to get a good gig at Petrobras. The CEO of Petrobras isn`t some random CEO who worked his way up through the company or something. No, the president of Brazil gets to decide who runs Petrobras because it`s a government-run company. That`s a nice plum to give out if you`re the president of a country, right? The president gets to hand pick whoever he or she wants to run this giant, giant oil firm.

And what Petrobras, this giant company, is accused of doing in Texas is basically an old-school mafia-style corruption scam. They`re accused -- they`re a government-run company. They`re accused of coming up with a plan to really, really overpay when they bought that refinery. But then the company that they paid that money to, they had to give some of that money back under the table to individual corrupt Brazilian officials who were the ones who greased the deal.

So, it`s a tidy little arrangement, right? You have a state-run oil company that does pay an otherwise inexplicably giant price for that refinery, but the money, that money that the company paid, it gets kicked back to individual officials, to individuals who get to put it in their pocket. It`s a sweet deal, right? It`s a sweet deal if you can get in on it.

And in a government-run oil company, guess who can get in on it?

So, poor old Pasadena, Texas, and their air quality and the shutdown of the Houston ship channel and the shutdown of the tunnel in that neighborhood and the evacuation of that neighborhood and the workers getting hurt and the one worker who was seriously burned and all of the rest of it, I mean, they all paid the brunt for dealing with this corrupt company but what are you going to do? It`s kind of what the business is like.

I mean, Petrobras, they`re a really big company. They are the single- biggest company of any kind in all of Latin America.

And the second biggest company of any kind in Latin America is also an oil company and it`s also a state-run oil company. The second-biggest company in Latin America is called Pemex. It`s the Mexican state oil company.

Same deal as in Brazil. The president of Mexico gets to appoint the CEO of that oil company. It`s government-run.

And again, those are the two largest companies on that continent. Two of the biggest companies in the world, two of the biggest oil companies in the world.

But when you`re talking about big oil companies, it turns out that`s kind of the tune they`re all humming. They`re all pretty much like that. I mean, the granddaddy of all of them is Saudi Aramco. Saudi Aramco is the biggest oil company in the world. It`s the biggest company in the world. It`s owned by the Saudi government. It`s state controlled.

The guy in charge of Saudi Aramco, again, not -- it`s not just some industry CEO. He`s the state oil minister of Saudi Arabia. His government job is running Saudi Aramco.

Same deal with the national Iranian oil company. The guy in charge there is the state oil minister.

You`ll find the same thing at all of these giant state-run government-run oil companies in almost all the big oil-producing countries all around the world. It`s the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Petro China.

In Russia, it`s Rosneft. Rosneft is the state-run, government-run oil company of Russia. It`s not run by some random CEO who worked his way up through the company, right? It`s controlled by the Kremlin. It`s controlled by Vladimir Putin. And so, he put his former deputy prime minister in charge of it.

Somebody he goes way back with. He and Vladimir Putin served in the KGB together. So, yeah, Putin put him in charge of the state oil company.

I mean, here in the United States, we tend to think of oil companies differently. I mean, in part, we just think about our everyday lives like where we get our gas from. We think of the big oil companies as, like, Shell and BP, Chevron.

But, globally, if you look globally, all of the biggest oil companies aren`t companies like that. They`re government-controlled companies. It`s, you know, Saudi Aramco. It`s Petrobras. It`s Pemex, right?

They are the state-run oil company of some country or another. And, of course, that comes in very handy for those companies. It`s particularly handy for corruption -- I mean, efficiency.

I mean, think about it, you need policy decision made to clear the way for you to, I don`t know, buy an asset somewhere or get a particular kind of permit, or make some sort of deal? You don`t have to bother lobbying for it. If you are the oil company and you are also the government, what are you going to do, lobby yourself? Don`t bother. You are one in the same, just do it.

They all pull in the same direction. Having a government-run oil company is also a great way for particular politicians and particular governments to stay in power.

That government-run oil company in Mexico, again, second-largest company of any kind on that continent, they`ve been accused of funneling hundreds of millions of dollars back to the ruling party, the governing party back in Mexico. And why not? Governing party is controlling the oil company, why wouldn`t they arrange for the oil company to fund them? It`s a nice system if you can get in on it.

I mean, oil companies, particularly big oil companies, they mint money. If you`re in charge of a government that has one of those -- I mean, that`s a great way to enrich yourself. That`s a great way to pay off and reward people for doing what you want. Sometimes you can even do it legally with your government-owned oil company.

I mean, if you have something as big and rich as Rosneft at your disposal, where you get to control who`s in charge of it and who gets what pieces of it and what that company does, frankly, you could make everybody you know as rich as you want to make them. Rosneft becoming a massive cash machine at Vladimir Putin`s disposal, that explains as much as anything how he has held on to power for these past 17 years.

Right, you can see why governments, particularly corrupt or kleptocratic governments, you can see why they might find it handy to have a state-run oil company. You can also see why state-run oil companies are such a source of corrupt power and since state-run oil companies tend to get something approaching monopoly control over oil in these big countries, it`s easy to see how all the biggest oil companies on the face of the earth end up being this kind of oil company, end up being these companies that are attached to a government. Oil company that is state run.

All of the biggest oil companies are earth are state-run companies. All of them. Except for one.

The biggest non-government owned oil company in the world, the biggest oil company on earth that`s not part of one country`s government -- well, today their CEO took a giant step toward becoming the secretary of state of our government in the United States. Maybe. Probably. But maybe.

And here`s one thing I think it`s worth appreciating about why this is happening. ExxonMobil is based in Texas but obviously and famously they drill for oil all around the world. "Wall Street Journal" did a very useful profile on Exxon a couple days ago that laid this out really nicely. It laid out Exxon`s global reach, where they are already invested, where they have spent a lot of Exxon money in the hopes those investments will pay off because they`ll be able to get oil out of the ground in those countries.

And Exxon`s interests span the globe. So, for example, Papua New Guinea, which is like as far away from here as you can get, right? Papua New Guinea is in the vicinity of Australia and Indonesia. A very remote country, very inaccessible country in terms of its infrastructure. Exxon has the rights to drill about 1.1 million acres of land in Papua New Guinea.

Exxon has rights to drill another 1.1 million acres in Nigeria. They also have a bunch of rights now in places you might not expect. You wouldn`t think of as oil-producing companies, but in the Netherlands, Exxon has the rights to drill about 1.5 million acres.

They have a right to drill another million and a half acres in Australia. In Germany, of all places, they have the rights to drill on just under five million acres in Germany. In Canada, they`ve got a bunch. Canada just under seven million acres.

They`ve got rights to drill tons of acreage here in the United States. Look at this. This is according to the "Wall Street Journal" this week. Exxon has rights to drill on roughly 14 million acres in the United States. That`s a lot. That`s, like, two Marylands, almost two Marylands. It`s more than two vermonts, though, I did the math.

That`s a lot of acreage Exxon has a right to drill in the United States and look at how much it outpaces all of Exxon`s other worldwide holdings right now. Interesting, right? Huge, right? Until you see this.

Yes. It`s kind of an ah-ha moment, right? That line at the top there? That`s Exxon`s holdings in Russia compared to their other holdings all over the world. That`s the number of acres they have right to drill in Russia.

And here`s the really, really important part: do you want to know where Exxon is not able to drill? They are not able to drill, despite those holdings, they are not able to drill in Russia. This is also from the "Wall Street Journal." This is the number of wells Exxon was actually able to drill in 2015 in all the places where they`ve got these international rights.

I mean, mostly, as you can see, the big dot there, they were able to drill in the United States, they were able to drill lots of wells in Canada as well. That`s the next-biggest dot there.

But look at Russia. Can you not see it? Put on your glasses. It`s red and to the left of the United States. Look at the number of wells they were actually able to drill in Russia in 2015 compared to their drilling rights in that country.

And you want to know why they can`t drill in Russia despite all the rights they have purchased to drill in Russia? The reason they can`t freaking drill them, the reason they can`t get their money out of their huge investment that they`ve made in that country is because in our country, the government is not the same thing as the biggest oil company in our country. In the United States, we do not have an integrated oil company and federal government the way they do in Brazil and Mexico and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and the way we got all the other biggest oil companies in the world.

And Exxon can`t get its return on its investment. They can`t get their money out of Russia, right? They can`t cash in on what they`ve invested in Russia because the U.S. government made a determination that it was in the national interest, the national security interest of our country to put sanctions on Russia that preclude doing that kind of business.

When our government made the decision to sanction Russia, that really, really cramp the style of Exxon. That really threw a huge wrench in their works, because look at their investment in Russia compared to other countries around the world in terms of where they have rights to drill.

I mean, this is how they set themselves up under their CEO, Rex Tillerson. Under CEO Rex Tillerson, they made a half trillion dollar deal in Russia to drill the Arctic. It was going to be a partnership with the Russian state- owned, Kremlin-controlled oil company Rosneft, half trillion dollar deal. That was going to make Exxon and Russia and Vladimir Putin specifically hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars.

They signed that deal in 2011. They actually struck oil in the Arctic in 2014, just in time for the U.S. government to say, "Nope, you`re out. We`re kyboshing the deal, we`re putting a halt to all of it because we`re putting these sanctions on Russia for their behavior."

Russia loves Exxon. Exxon partnering with Russia`s state-run oil company, that`s what brought their state-run oil company into the 21st century. That`s what made Russia`s state-run oil company technologically capable. Exxon is who taught them how to drill oil in hard-to-reach places because Russia`s oil is in hard-to-reach places.

Exxon partnering with Russia`s state-run oil company made that state-run oil company very effective and very rich. So, Russia loves Exxon. Exxon loves Russia back because Exxon bet on Russia in a huge way under Rex Tillerson in terms of where they are planning on drilling their oil for the foreseeable decades.

What they did under Tillerson a few years ago was the biggest oil deal in the history of the world. And it got stopped by a policy decision made by the United States government. Exxon needs the United States government to change that policy decision. Exxon needs the United States government to change America`s position overall about Russia, simply, so Exxon can freaking drill over there. So they can recoup their giant investment in that country which outweighs what they are doing anywhere else in the world.

They made a huge bet and they`re going to lose it unless they get this change from the U.S. government. This is trillion-dollar math that all depends on the U.S. government getting in line with what Exxon needs to do. And so, Exxon is now on the verge of installing its CEO as the head of foreign policy in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: So, I think you can probably understand, Mr. Tillerson, why some of us are very concerned about the president-elect`s statements, praising Vladimir Putin`s leadership, his intelligence, including after being reminded of his ruthless persecution of political enemies and after receiving compelling information that Russia has interfered with our elections. So, do you think now is the right time to lift sanctions against Russia?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I think it`s important that we keep the status quo until we are able to develop what our approach is going to be. That it will be all part of the approach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: What do you think the approach is going to be?

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson facing questioning today from New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

The big political news out of this hearing today was not necessarily the tough questioning that Rex Tillerson got from Democrats. The big political news out of the hearing was the contentious back-and-forth that happened between Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson and a Republican senator by the name of Marco Rubio.

I mean, the Democrats gave Tillerson tons of hard questions today, but the reason it`s so important that he also fought today with Republican Senator Marco Rubio is that if a Republican decides to vote against Tillerson, that conceivably would be enough to stop his nomination. That`s the math on the committee, as long as all the other Democrats, as long as all the Democrats voted no as well, one Republican no vote could stop him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Have you decided how you`re going to vote? Did he answer your questions adequately about Russia in particular?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Many of his answers were concerning to me. But there`s a chance now to submit some questions in writing which we`ll do as well. I`ll go back and I`ll start consider everything and read through it and I`ll make a decision here very soon.

REPORTER: Are you leaning one way or another?

RUBIO: I wouldn`t characterize it that way quite yet. It`s clear I`m concerned about some of his answers and I recognize the partisan split on the committee, and what it would mean. So I have to make sure that I`m 100 percent behind whatever decision I make, because once I make it --

REPORTER: Because if you make the decision and vote against him, you could stall this nomination. Are you prepared to be the one Republican to vote no?

RUBIO: Well, I`m prepared to do what`s right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: If Marco Rubio does vote no on putting the CEO of Exxon in charge of the State Department, and if all the Democrats on that committee voted no as well, Rex Tillerson`s nomination presumably would be over. And that would be a very dramatic development. It would not be quite as dramatic as the U.S. government merging in a large way with our nation`s largest oil company, but it would be pretty dramatic on its own terms.

So, we`ve got eyes on that tonight. Imagine the lobbying that Marco Rubio is being subjected to right now as we speak. There were incredibly dramatic developments in that story today.

There were dramatic developments today on ethics as well, including the Office of Government Ethics coming out on his own terms and making a pronouncement about the president-elect that nobody saw coming.

We also got a health scare in the Capitol tonight. One member of Congress reportedly collapsing and being taken out of the Capitol on a stretcher and being hospitalized. We`ve got the latest details on that.

There`s a lot to come tonight. This is not a time to stop paying attention.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We`ve got some breaking news tonight from Capitol Hill and it`s not good news. A congressman collapsed tonight in the capital.

Now, this is probably not a congressman you have heard of. He`s a first term congressman named John Rutherford. He`s from Florida. He was just sworn in last week to start his first term in Congress.

You see him on the left with the mustache and red tie. Apparently what happened is that he was in the Republican cloak room, that`s kind of the lounge and meeting area for Republicans off the House floor. He was in the cloak room tonight and he collapsed.

Somebody called the authorities. Congressman John Rutherford was taken out of the capitol on a stretcher and taken to a nearby hospital. His campaign manager has been trying to keep people appraised. The campaign manager says that Congressman Rutherford is in stable condition.

As of about an hour ago, we had word he was being evaluated in the emergency room. But we have not had further updates since then. We will let you know more as we learn more.

Obviously, everybody in the country is wishing John Rutherford of Florida a full recovery tonight.

Much more to come tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Today was day two of the confirmation hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general of the United States and today at round two a couple of important people were notably not in attendance.

The first important missing person was Senator Dianne Feinstein. She`s the top Democrat on this committee that`s considering the Sessions nomination. At the first day of his hearings, yesterday, she was very tough. She denounced Senator Sessions for his record on discrimination broadly, on gay rights in particular. She told senators on the committee they should consider those positions when deciding on his confirmation.

That was yesterday but today she wasn`t there. Her office said she had to go have a pacemaker installed. Now, the senator`s office says this procedure, this operation was routine and voluntary. She had the procedure out of an abundance of caution. They say she`ll be back to work soon.

But that`s important development, I mean, in general, for Senator Feinstein. Just personally, we wish her all the best as she prepares to come back to work, having gone through this surgery. But it also happens at a crucial time.

The other person behind Senator Feinstein who was notably absent from the second day of the Jeff Sessions confirmation hearing was Jeff Sessions himself. Little known fact, nominees are not actually required to be present at their confirmation hearings, and today was maybe a good day for Senator Sessions to rearrange the paper clips on his desk instead of being there in the hearing room while this testimony was presented today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: We were beaten, tear gassed, left bloody, some of us unconscious. Some of us had concussions. Some of us almost died on that bridge.

It doesn`t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you. Those two are committed to equal justice and our society wonders whether Senator Sessions calls for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Congressman John Lewis today. He grew up in Alabama not far from where Jeff Sessions is from. He was nearly beaten to death in Alabama for marching for voting rights. Congressman Lewis today advocated for a no vote for Senator Sessions to be attorney general on the basis of what he said was Senator Session`s hostility to voting rights in general and in the South in particular.

Also testifying today was the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, David Cole. This is interesting, the ACLU wouldn`t usually testify in a confirmation hearing like this. But today, Mr. Coal, in addition to taking issue with Jeff Sessions` record on civil rights, he brought up another thing. He brought up a little known decades old case that is now starting to follow Senator Sessions around like a string with a can on it tied to his bumper.

In that case, from when Senator Sessions was the attorney general of Alabama, he charged a local company with defrauding its customers and its suppliers. His office indicted the company on 222 counts. His office as the time touted the case as being, quote, "of the most magnitude that the attorney general`s office has undertaken in the last 25 years."

Case turned out to be a dud, though. The court not only through the case out, the judge in the case raised sharp questions about Senator Sessions -- now Senator Sessions and how he handled that case at the time. Questions about whether he took the case as a favor to one of his campaign donors, whether he was misusing his office to basically help his campaign donors attack their business competitors, using his attorney general`s office as their weapon.

The judge in that case accused the Alabama attorney general`s office of, quote, "serious and wholesale prosecutorial misconduct", while Jeff Sessions was in charge. Quote, "The court finds even having been given every benefit of the doubt, the misconduct of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in this case far surpasses in both extensiveness and measure the totality of any prosecutorial misconduct ever previously presented to or witness by this court.

Never really seen anything like that. I would not have known about that before David Cole testified about it today from the ACLU.

Joining us is David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU.

Mr. Cole, thank you very much for being with us. I appreciate your time tonight.

DAVID COLE, ACLU NATIONAL LEGAL DIRECTOR: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: Am I right in saying that the ACLU, certainly legal director of ACLU, wouldn`t normally as a matter of course testify at a confirmation hearing for a nominee like this?

COLE: That`s right. It`s actually been decades since we have. We have a longstanding policy of neither supporting nor opposing nominees for office and we didn`t actually support or oppose Senator Sessions. We presented our concerns and our concerns are wide ranging and deep and our position is the Senate should not confirm him until it gets satisfactory answers to those concerns.

MADDOW: So many of the objections that have been raised to Senator Sessions` nomination and the concerns that have been raised in terms of what have the vetting process for him should be like have been about his record on civil rights. You talked about a lot of that today but you did also bring up this case that -- I realize it`s been discussed and it`s been hashed through a little bit since he`s been nominated, but it`s not as widely known.

I wonder if you brought that up because you`re worried that his previous experience as an attorney general at the state level, if that sort of alleged misconduct at the state level was extrapolated to the national level that that could be a particular kind of crisis that we might not be expecting from Jeff Sessions even as we do look at his civil rights stuff?

COLE: Well, absolutely. I think, you know, you`ve got two things to look at with Senator Sessions. One is, he was a prosecutor for a fairly extensive period of time and how did he exercise that power? And we find that he exercised it in a very, very disturbing way.

This case was seen by the judge as the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he`d ever seen in his life on the bench. Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at NYU, who`s been doing this business for 40 years, says it`s the worst case he`s seen in 40 years.

So, are we now going to give to a person who abused his office in this way on behalf of campaign contributors a case that was completely baseless -- and all 222 counts were thrown out on prosecutorial misconduct grounds -- are we going to give him the most powerful prosecutorial post in the nation? I think that raises serious questions and they don`t just go to his ideology, they go to his exercise of this incredible power.

MADDOW: David Cole, ACLU national legal director, I appreciate both the magnitude of this decision to make that testimony today but also appreciate you sort of making it a national story. I think a lot of people wouldn`t know about this had you not front paged it.

Thanks for being with us tonight.

COLE: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead. A very busy news day, busy news night. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: If you`re going to run a marathon, you generally do not sprint the whole darn thing. But a marathon getting started at a sprinter`s pace, that is basically the story right now in D.C. All day hearings on cabinet nominees yesterday and today and tomorrow, in addition to that, the Senate at this hour, even right now, is engaged in an extended series of lightning votes on what honestly are generally grandstanding and meaningless amendments but what might also over the course of this evening include the first votes to try to repeal Obamacare.

They`re doing this series of a zillion votes. They call it a vote-a-rama, I`m not kidding. This vote-a-rama started three hours ago, it`s still going right now. That`s a live shot. This thing is due to keep going until 4:00 a.m. is our latest advice?

But somewhere in this combination marathon and sprint is a guest of ours tonight. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey is due to join us tonight live, just as soon as he breaks free from the vote-a-rama. Senator Cory Booker coming up. I hope.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I know that some of my many colleagues aren`t happy that I am breaking with Senate tradition -- to testify on the nomination of one of my colleagues. But I believe like perhaps all of my colleagues in the Senate, that in the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country.

I pray that my colleagues will join me in opposing his nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That today was the first time a sitting U.S. senator has ever testified against another sitting U.S. senator in a confirmation hearing. That decision by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey today to testify against Senator Jeff Sessions` nomination to be attorney general, that was a lot of things today, but one of the things it was, was history.

Joining us now for the interview is Senator Booker.

Senator, I know this is an incredibly busy night. Thank you for your time tonight.

BOOKER: Thank you, Rachel. It`s good to be back on.

MADDOW: How hard a decision was this? You knew this was unprecedented. You knew it would put you in the history books and it would probably attract the ire of a lot of your colleagues. How hard a call was this for you?

BOOKER: It wasn`t that hard of a call. These are issues that have been at a core of my work since I`ve first gotten to public life, issues of civil rights, issues of equal rights, protecting vulnerable people. I`m here because of strident lawyers who stood up and fought for my rights even when it wasn`t comfortable or convenient.

So, this was a case with -- especially with the extreme views where Jeff Sessions doesn`t even line up with the majority of his Republican colleagues on things like criminal justice reform, this was a case where I thought there was a clear threat to many people in our country. And silence in that case is unacceptable. I had to speak up at every opportunity I had.

MADDOW: You mentioned criminal justice reform there. You also said today, "If confirmed, Senator Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women, but his record indicates he won`t. He`ll be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian Americans, but his record indicates that he won`t. He`ll be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won`t. He`ll be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity, but his record indicates he won`t."

I feel like that`s a powerful argument. I feel like the entire confirmation process thus far has been him trying to rebut that, trying to say, "I am not who you think I am. You have concerns about me on civil rights and equal protection and discrimination, don`t have them, I don`t deserve that nomination."

Have you been at all persuaded by the arguments that he has made, portraying himself very differently than he`s behaved in the Senate all these years?

BOOKER: No, because he has a 40-year career of serving and many levels of law enforcement and as a United States senator. He has openly criticized the Department of Justice for doing the very things I talked about, criticized them for holding cities accountable for police treatment of citizens, criticized the Department of Justice -- guidance that was give on the stop bullying against gay and lesbian kids, criticized the Department of Justice for getting involved as a party to cases taking on states for suppressing votes.

So, here`s somebody who has told us, shown us who he is. His whole career from his days of using his office to try to stop a group of LGBT young people from meeting on a college campus, this has been a consistent person. And given -- you have to give him this, for consistency in the things he`s been doing and saying for all these years. And you can`t just somehow declare that you`re going to be doing things differently suddenly now that you`re up for this position.

MADDOW: The unspoken rule that you violated today is one of these long- standing traditions of the Senate in terms of the way that senators defer to one another and treat one other, the collegiality of that body. One of the consequences of those traditions is that everybody thinks that -- well, not everybody -- a lot of people believe that Jeff Sessions, despite all of these concerns, that he will be confirmed, that he has almost an unbreachable advantage simply by being a United States senator who is being confirmed with the U.S. Senate.

If he is confirmed, if the odds are with him here, are you at all worried about retaliation? About him getting his revenge on you, on your constituents or on the Democratic conference?

BOOKER: Well, look, that`s a profoundly powerful position and my concern is not the well-being of me or other electeds. This is a person that is in a position where he can defend or not or even make the lives more difficult of some of the most vulnerable people in America. And so, this isn`t about what could happen in the realm of politics or even in the realm of my life. This is a real threat to those folks that I got into politics to try to do something for and with and try to make this America real for everybody.

So, I am -- I am -- I have a heaviness, a sadness from the day that Donald Trump announced this appointment, this has been weighing on me and my heart and I think most people don`t understand the power of the Justice Department, nor do they appreciate how the Obama administration through the Justice Department has been doing extraordinary things on mandatory minimums, on mass incarceration. This has been a great Justice Department that has been affirming the rights of the marginalized in our country and I think that`s about to come to a horrible end and an about-face, and it`s going to necessitate more people speaking up, standing up, resisting and fighting.

MADDOW: Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, joining us on a very, very busy night in the Senate after what was a really remarkable day -- Senator, thank you. We`ll look forward to having you back soon.

BOOKER: Thank you very much, Rachel. Thank you.

MADDOW: Thank you.

Senator Cory Booker joining us. You saw him there, he was in the U.S. capitol. That explains some of the statuary behind him, as some of the people behind them. That`s because as I mentioned, the United States Senate is involved in a series of lightning votes on amendments important and not important tonight, but those are -- but those are expected to go until 4:00 in the morning. We`ll be keeping an eye on what happens in Washington throughout the evening.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The incoming president today unveiled his big plan for dealing with his business interests while he is supposed to be occupied by the national interests of our country. Turns out, it`s the same plan he`s been talking about all along. He`s not going to divest himself from his business, not going to separate himself from his business, he`s just going to have his sons run it and we should trust him.

After the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, Congress created something called the Office of Government Ethics. It`s an independent non-partisan office that tries to stop conflicts of interest among high-ranking public officials. The head of that agency is a political appointee but the terms of the director of that office are staggered. So, incoming presidents don`t get to replace the head of that office the way they replace the heads of other offices.

The current director of the Government Ethics Office started working there under President George W. Bush. He became director under President Obama. He will be the head of that office until midway through this next presidential term. His name is Walter Shaub. Walter Shaub has no reason to fear being thrown out of office by Donald Trump.

Well, today, after the incoming president announced that he would not really be divesting from his business interests, Walter Shaub made a remarkable public statement. He gave his blunt and passionate and patriotic assessment of what Trump is offering.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER SHAUB, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS DIRECTOR: It`s important to understand that the president is now entering a world of public service. He is going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He is going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don`t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You can see the lines being drawn now in D.C., you know, with Donald Trump on one side and Democrats on the other. But this fight over ethics, this fight is something else. This fight is the incoming president versus ethics. And that fight has only just started apparently.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are the problem. You are the problem.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Can I ask you something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.

CRUZ: Out of all of the candidates, name one who had a million dollar judgment against him for hiring immigrants?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Name one.

CRUZ: Donald Trump did.

So, you like rich people who buy politicians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is your Goldman Sachs jacket at?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Where is your Goldman Sachs jacket at? You`re losing an argument or don`t want to have an argument, never a bad idea to yell out Goldman Sachs as an epithet.

Those pro-Trump protesters in Indiana during the Republican primary, they threw Goldman Sachs as an epithet at Ted Cruz because that`s what Donald Trump had been doing to Ted Cruz. Look, Goldman Sachs owns him. He will do anything they demand. He is in bed with Wall Street. He is funded by Goldman Sachs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He talks about how he is going to get, well, Goldman Sachs -- I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total, total control over him. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton. They have total.

But they have no control -- they have no control over Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Today, the Trump administration announced its fifth straight high profile hire from Goldman Sachs.

Just keeping track. The senior strategist at the White House, Goldman Sachs. The nominee to be treasury secretary, Goldman Sachs. The head of the National Economic Council, the president of Goldman Sachs. The head of the SEC, which is the top cop that polices Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs. That will be a former lawyer for Goldman Sachs.

And now, today, some new adviser job they created at the White House will be going to another partner at Goldman Sachs.

Anybody who told you definitely shouldn`t vote for Hillary Clinton because, look, Goldman Sachs -- yes, you got suckered.

Today, the incoming administration made one other big personnel announcement. They announced finally who they have chosen to run the Veterans Administration. To the surprise of a lot of people, including apparently the man who was chosen himself, he had no idea it was coming. The nominee who was picked for the job is this guy. His name is David Shulkin.

He is currently the undersecretary for health at the V.A. He is there now. He is an Obama appointee who is already running health at the V.A.

During the campaign, the incoming president, of course, trashed the V.A. every chance he got, particularly its health care. He called V.A. and V.A. health a fraudulent enterprise. He said it was the most corrupt agency in the United States. He would rail about how illegal immigrants got better health care and better care than the vets.

But now, apparently, he is going to keep the guy in charge of V.A. health, and he is not only going to keep him on, he is going to put him in charge of the whole V.A.

Now, veterans organizations had feared that the Trump administration would put somebody in the top of the V.A. who was bent on privatizing it and dismantling the whole agency. Some of those groups sound a little bit relieved by this choice. Group AMVETS announced that they were pleasantly surprised with this choice. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said they were optimistic about David Shulkin, called him, quote, "our best hope among the candidates reported in the media."

That said, the pick is not without controversy. Not only is he an Obama appointee and currently there, he is not a veteran himself. If confirmed, the V.A. would be led by a nonveteran for the first time in its history. Still, David Shulkin was confirmed unanimously for his current job at the V.A. He is very much involved in running the V.A. right now.

And for all those reasons and many others, he is expected to sail to confirmation. We`ll, of course, keep you posted.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Fifteen years ago today, twenty of them arrived that first day in total. In the years since that strange, expensive, quasi-legal offshore prison has held 780 different prisoners.

By the time President Obama signed an order one day into his presidency to close that prison, there were 242 prisoners still being held there. Now, as President Obama leaves office, the number of prisoner there`s is down to 55. Last week, the Pentagon announced the transfer of four more men to Saudi Arabia. That brings the total number of people held at Guantanamo to 55.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said it`s unlikely any more prisoners will be transferred out before the end of the Obama administration. But despite that, today, 40 Democratic legislators wrote to President Obama saying this, quote, "As President-elect Trump prepares to take office, we write to you to express concern over his public declarations in support of torture." Quote, "He also vowed to keep Guantanamo Bay detention camp open and load it up with some bad dudes. For this reason, we encourage you to engage in a bold, renewed push to shut down the Guantanamo facility." Quote, "Mr. Trump must be deprived of the use of Guantanamo Bay."

It remains to be seen if and how the Obama administration plans to respond. Trump takes office in nine days. Tick-tock.

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

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."

Good evening, Lawrence.

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