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The Rachel Maddow Show, transcript 2/3/2017

Guests: Laurence Tribe, Colin Kahl

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW> Date: February 3, 2017 Guest: Laurence Tribe, Colin Kahl

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  What`s going to happen this weekend?  Two weekends ago this was Washington, D.C., right?  One of the biggest protests in D.C. history combined with the other simultaneous protests and all 50 states that same day.  It may have been the single largest day of protest in American history. 

So that was two weekends ago.  Then last weekend it was this.  And at least the White House had notice there was going to be a protest the day after the inauguration but when this happened the following weekend as well, you could tell they were taken aback.  That outpouring of dissent, rejection of the administration and support for immigrants and refugees last weekend, that was a response to the refugee and Muslim ban that the president signed last Friday, a week ago tonight, led to protests last weekend. 

We had this weekend of chaos and confusion and protest and recrimination and the White House walking parts of it back and not others and lawyers flooding into airports all across the country to help people who were stranded.  You know, after all that, the White House tried to say, geez, this is no big deal, geez, you people just calm down. 

This was the White House response after last weekend.  Quote, "Only 109 people were detained and held for questioning."  Yeah, why such a fuss? 

That was the official line from the White House.  There wasn`t that many people, why did everybody make such a big deal out of this?  Go home people.  Calm down. 


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Again, remember, we`re talking about a universe of 109 people.  There were 325,000 people that came into this country over 24-hour period from another country, 109 of them were stopped for additional screening. 


MADDOW:  Uh-uh.  That was Monday, that was bullpucky.  On Tuesday, badgered by recorders, the press secretary said, OK, the 109 number was referring only to people initially detained but he gave no more numbers of who else got stopped or stranded thereafter.  That`s the only number they`ve ever copped to, 109 people temporarily slowed down.  We`ve all had delays in life.  That`s 109 people.

So, you can imagine the shock in a federal court in Virginia when a lawyer from the Trump Justice Department cleared up that actually it`s more like a thousand times that number.  The admission by the administration lawyer today reportedly leading to an audible gasp in the courtroom. 

Apparently, in addition to what we were told the president ordered on Friday night, he also told the State Department on Friday night they needed to revoke existing visas from people what had visas, those are people who are already cleared to enter the country. 

We didn`t know this at the time but they revoked 100,000 visas, 100,000 people.  That order was issued Friday night.  They didn`t let anybody know that order had been issued until days later.  For some reason, like a secret order? 

You could hear the shock in the voice of one of the lawyers who is challenging the president on this as he emerged from that Virginia courthouse today. 


SIMON SANDOVAL-MOSHENBERG, LEGAL AND JUSTICE CENTER:  Reading the executive order was horrific enough.  Coming to learn this, that the secret order had been signed two days later was even more shocking to me and today coming to learn that there were over 100,000 visas canceled.  Really, it`s just something that I don`t even have words to express. 


MADDOW:  Yes, not a hundred people, a hundred thousand people. 

As this Muslim ban, this refugee ban continued to stumble through the courts, we learned today that there are parts of it we didn`t even know existed when the court cases started.  And we know that the White House has been low-balling its affects by roughly a factor of a thousand -- at least, right?  Makes you wonder what else there is to know about it and makes you wonder what else will happen in the courts in response. 

Well, tonight there`s been a major ruling in a federal court in Washington.  A federal court in Washington state has placed a temporary restraining order nationwide on this new policy from the administration. 

Joining us now is Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard.

Professor Tribe, it`s great to have you with us tonight.  Thank you so much for being here.


MADDOW:  We`ve been watching as this executive order has been pinging through various parts.  At any time the judge has a crack on it, the judge puts a halt to it or says something needs to be stalled or needs to be reviewed.  What`s your take on the legal status of this policy that the president tried to introduce last week? 

TRIBE:  My take is that it`s under a very dark constitutional cloud just take a 30,000 foot view for a moment.  This is clearly a Muslim ban.  Not all Muslims, only Muslims from seven countries but then targeted Muslims with a preference for Christians, clearly a violation of the Establishment Clause. 

It`s done in the dark.  It`s done without hearings.  It`s done in a way that is a violation of due process.  There`s even reason to believe that the picking of these seven countries that the Obama administration had originally targeted for what might be called extreme vetting are the very countries that didn`t need anything more because we`ve had no terrorist attacks from those countries given how effective the Obama program is and yet they picked those seven, perhaps coincidentally, but it`s hard to believe.  All of the countries that were responsible for attacking us on 9/11 are countries that were not targeted for this ban.

So, in the end when constitutional rulings are finally rendered on the merits, this policy has no chance of standing but we`ve also learned that they are making law in an invisible way.  I mean, it`s truly shocking that they came into court, made it look like all was hunky-dory as you say, nothing to worry about, nothing to see here, move on.  In the meantime, they had secretly without informing the courts, arguably in contempt, they had secretly eradicated all these visas and many of them were visas of students who were going to return to school around the country, among other places, in Minnesota and in the state of Washington, which is why Minnesota and Washington were the states whose attorneys general prevailed in the ruling that came down just this evening. 

And the Department of Justice said again to the states, what do you care?  You have nothing at stake.  You don`t have standing.  That`s the standard argument but they had very clear stakes.

So, what we have is a global crisis.  A lot of business leaders believing that the rule of law in the long run helps them and that law made in invisible ink and in the dark in ways that violate our constitution and in ways that are not remotely transparent hurts them, it hurts everybody. 

So, I think that this cloud is one that`s going to rain a storm pop this administration and it deserves it. 

MADDOW:  Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard -- you were the first person I wanted to call to get a grasp on this today as we`ve been watching this court cases.  Thank you, sir.  Appreciate it.

TRIBE:  Thank you for calling me, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Thank you.

We`ve got much more ahead tonight.  Please stay with us. 


MADDOW:  This is what appears to be a delicious food blog.  I`m always hungry in winter.  Instagram makes it way too easy to look at delicious pictures of food, even while I`m sitting at my desk eating animal crackers or whatever. 

But on this particular food blog, you can`t really afford to just look at the photo, you have to look at the caption, because that`s the important part.  For example, on this Instagram post, this appears to be just a delicious and beautifully plated seafood entree.  This is posted a couple days ago. 

But if you look at the caption it proves it is so much more.  Here`s the caption, "We are oh-fish-ally hungry.  This chef has prepared a brain- healthy disk that may help prevent mood disorders."

Wait, what?  Mood disorders are, like, bipolar disorder and depression.  This dinner is going to fix that.  That is some very fancy fish. 

But that really is what they mean.  Look at their next post.  This one, again, looks delicious.  Looks totally delicious. 

But there`s more than meets the eye.  You have to read the caption.  "A dish that will surely warm your insides on a cold winter night.  But it also acts as antidepressants." 

What?  This is not a normal food blog.  This is the Instagram feed of Neurocore centers.  Neurocore was founded in Michigan years ago by a guy with a masters degree in theology.  He initially called the program Hope 139 which was named after Psalm 139 in the bible, and they marketed themselves mostly to religious schools, mostly in Michigan, as a biblically inspired way to cure problem behaviors in school kids. 

The company has evolved over the years.  They now operate what they call brain performance centers.  They`re still mostly in Michigan, but they`ve also got a couple in Florida. 

"The New York Times" profiled the program recently, including revelations from former staff members at the program who confess that mostly what they did in Neurocore sessions was show people movies and then interrupt them in the middle of the movie.  That was pretty much the therapeutic program. 

Now, as with anything like this, there are definitely people who swear by it.  Honestly, I think my hair started to go gray the day Patriots traded Vince Wilfork.  I mean, we all have ideas about what affects our health and ourselves. 

But there is -- even though there are definitely people who swear by it, there is controversy around this Neurocore group because of their unimaginable claims to effectiveness.  They claim to be just unimaginably effective at curing important things like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, which lots of kids have, lots of adults have it, too.  Neurocore centers claim to have a 90 percent improvement rate when they do their thing on kids with ADHD. 

They actually claim a 76 percent -- basically a cure rate of 76 percent.  They say 76 percent of kids with ADHD go into a non-clinical status after going through the magic of Neurocore. 

And, you know, this is a serious thing.  If your kid`s got ADHD that might sound like a miracle cure.  A 76 percent cure rate, 90 percent improvement rate.  That sounds amazing and maybe if you`re desperate or if you tried other things that haven`t worked or you feel like you`re up against the wall maybe you won`t notice that Neurocore has never published anything that backs up its miraculous claims in any peer reviewed medical journal ever. 

But you know what?  They make up for that with great advertising.  They`re really well funded, they are really, really, really good at marketing themselves, they`ve got multimillion dollar backers.

And if you think you might want to give this thing a try for your kid -- all you`ve got to do is fork over $2,000 and they will, you know, interrupt your kid while he`s watching movies and who knows, maybe it will work.  See what happens.  Or try the sea bass, may that will do it.  We are oh-fish- ally hungry.  This will cure your mood disorders. 

I`m officially weirded out by the fact that this malarkey, which has been aggressively marketed to schools, this thing on which lots of parents have spent thousands of dollars, this is one of the major investments our new education secretary is planning on keeping if she gets confirmed to the cabinet to run education policy for this country. 

And this is not a vestigial thing.  This is not like some sideline thing she forgot to address in her confirmation process.  Betsy DeVos is a billionaire.  She was born into a billionaire family.  She then married into another billionaire family. 

During the confirmation process she has promised to divest from a whole bunch of things that would pose a conflict of interest if she gets put in charge of U.S. education policy but even with that divestment plan, even though she`s giving up other stuff, she`s explicitly planning on holding on to her multimillion dollar investment stake in Neurocore, which promises to cure your kid`s moods problems and depression problems and mood disorders and all the rest of it.  They`ll cure it with berries and movies and your $2,000 please. 

I mean, attention issues and behavior issues, treatment issues, therapeutic issues, mental health issues in kids, really big deal in terms of education policy.  How can she possibly be involved in any policy around that issue as education secretary if she`s also got $5 million to $25 million invested in the "we`ll cure you with fish" place? 

But this kind of stuff, these continuing revelations about Betsy DeVos and what she has been involved in on the fringes of education policy, that continues to drive what`s turned into a nationwide uproar over her nomination.

And last night -- it`s interesting, last night, we got news that really didn`t seem to make sense about how Republicans were going to try to get her confirmed.  You have probably heard by now her nomination is the most endangered of all the Trump cabinet nominations thus far.  She`s really on the bubble.  All Senate Democrats and two Senate Republicans have said they will vote against her.  That`s 48 Democrats and two Republicans.  That puts the vote on her nomination at 50-50. 

Now, that has two practical consequences.  One is that the Republicans can`t confirm Alabama Jeff Sessions to be attorney general until this Betsy DeVos thing is settled because they can`t afford to lose a Republican senator.  They need him to still be a Republican senator so he can cast a vote for her or she will not be confirmed. 

I mean, up until a few days ago, the White House was complaining about how slow the confirmation process was going for Jeff Sessions.  Notice how they`re not claiming that anymore?  It`s because they need to slow down the confirmation of Jeff Sessions because they need them to stay a senator so he can save Betsy DeVos. 

And even if they can plain that three card Monty game with the Jeff Sessions confirmation they`re also going to need Mike Pence.  They`re also going to need the vice president to go down the Senate in his role as president of the Senate, they`re going to need him to break the tie in favor of her nomination.  I mean, it`s 50-50.  Vice President Mike Pence will have to cast the 51st vote in order to have her confirmed.  If that happens, that will be the first time a vice president has ever had to cast a tie-breaking vote to confirm a member of the president`s cabinet, ever. 

So, this is really fragile.  This is barely going to happen if it does happen.  If anything goes wrong, it won`t work.  And so, in a circumstance like that, right, you`ve got to move fast.  You don`t time to let anything else happen, anything jostle loose.  They have to get this through while there`s this thin possibility they can get this through. 

And that is why we haven`t been able to understand why the Republicans were not voting on the Betsy DeVos nomination as soon as they can.  By the Senate calendar and the Senate rules, the first time they could take a vote to get her confirmed would be tomorrow.  Tomorrow morning in the United States Senate and I know is it`s a Saturday, but honestly, last chance for your billionaire Neurocore investor to get in and she might not get in.  Better act fast. 

It`s weird, though, even though they could vote on her tomorrow and they ought to be voting on her as soon as they can, they`re not doing that.  So interesting.  It`s been a puzzle to us as to why that is.  They really can`t afford to let this fall apart any more than it already has.  Why aren`t they voting tomorrow? 

Now we know, and the answer is -- ka-ching.  Republican senators are all going to Palm Beach, Florida, today, where Mar-a-Lago is.  They`re going to be there today and tomorrow for a big fund-raising event with major donors.  So, yes, they want to get Betsy DeVos confirmed, yes, it`s very fragile, yes, the soonest they could do it is tomorrow and they probably should do it tomorrow, but you know what?  There are donors to meet, there`s money to be made and priorities are priorities. 

Senior Republican staffers told "The Hill" today there will be a "attendance issue" that will prevent the DeVos vote on Saturday.  The attendance issue is they`ll be attending a campaign donor soiree in South Florida in Donald Trump`s neighborhood with rich people. 

But the Republicans -- in craven opportunism lies other people`s opportunity.  The Republicans prioritizing meeting with donors and taking that cash instead of voting on Betsy DeVos tomorrow, it does create this opportunity for people all over the country who have been trying to push this fragile nomination so hard that it falls apart.

And listen, anti-Trump folks have not psyched about anything this new president and his new administration has done, but it`s clear the Betsy DeVos nomination is special.  It has a special place in people`s hearts.  It has fired a lot of people up.  It has been motivating, to the point where in complaining about the Betsy DeVos nomination, folks have basically broken the phone system in Washington. 


SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON:  Senate office phone lines have been shut down over the past week with so many callers weighing in against Betsy DeVos.  Every office is receiving tens of thousands of letters asking the Senate to reject her.  Almost 40,000 have come in to my office alone. 

SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA:  There are 1 million people who live in Montana.  Over 3,000 people have contacted me opposing her, I`ve had 20 contacting me supporting her.  The phones are ringing -- in fact, the phones are ringing to the tone of 12 to 15 calls a day.  The phone system has shut down.  There are some senators who aren`t even answering their phones because they don`t want to hear it. 

SEN. CHRISTOPHER MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT:  I`ve never seen folks in Connecticut respond to a nominee like they did after that hearing.  Since the hearing, I`ve had 11,000 people from my tiny little state call or write me to oppose her nomination.  Almost no one has called to support the nomination.  That`s extraordinary. 

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  I know that my phone lines I assume all of our phone lines have been bombarded by calls.  Senator Burr, have you got a call or two yet?  Only Senator Burr can`t remember those calls. 

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA:  This is a strategy.  Let`s face it.  That`s why Senator Scott got all the calls he did.  That`s why I got all the calls.  That`s why my wife gets calls.  My son gets calls on cell phones, to deliver a message to me. 


MADDOW:  On cell phones.  Whether or not this is a strategy, Senator Burr, it is a strategy that is working to inundate senators with the nationwide opposition to Betsy DeVos. 

Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii sent out this as -- I think it was meant to be an encouraging message.  Quote, "The last three days have been the busiest in capitol switchboard history by almost double.  This is working, keep it up."

Local news stations across the country are running stories about the busy signals at their senator`s offices and how constituents are getting desperate to reach their senators.  We titled this segment -- where it?  There it is.  Ham/pineapple democracy, because we call everything ham/pineapple/democracy. 

We call this ham/pineapple/democracy because of one Utah woman who is a constituent of Senator Orrin Hatch.  She got tired of not being able to get through to her senator, Orrin Hatch.  Nobody can get through to their senators.  Always a busy signal, everyday all day all night long. 

This one Utah woman rather than keep pounding her head against the wall she came up with what I think is a delicious and excellent alternative approach.  She tried sending Orrin Hatch and his staff a delicious Hawaiian pizza.  And, crucially, she ordered that pizza from a delivery site where you could attach a note to arrive with your order. 

You can see it here.  This is the special instructions which may result in additional charges for the delivery.  Quote, "From a Salt Lake constituent, police deliver to Orrin Hatch`s office number 8402.  From a Salt Lake constituent."  She gives her zip code, 84105. 

"Please vote know on Betsy DeVos.  She is an inappropriate choice to lead our public schools."  Please attach that to the pizza and deliver this pizza to Orrin Hatch`s office.  Yes, that cost $12.99 for a small ham and pineapple pizza plus the delivery fee so not everybody will be able to do that, it costs money.  But appreciate the effort here. 

Unfortunately for that creative Salt Lake City constituent, the security guard at Orrin Hatch`s Salt Lake City office did not accept the gift/message/play for his attention/pizza.  The senator`s security guard called it, quote, "a suspicious pizza.  I have gotten a call about a suspicious pizza" and the suspicious pizza was not allowed into the office either.

And I think it wouldn`t get much better than that, but it gets better.  One of the specific concerns about Betsy DeVos, of course, is not just that she`s a multibillionaire who`s never had anything do with public schools in her life, but it`s also that she`s a committed life long conservative activist and a multimillion dollar Republican Party donor.  Now, in most administrations, being a multimillion dollar donor to your party, that kind of thing gets you an ambassadorship and that`s embarrassing enough. 

In this administration, they`re trying to give her the keys to every school in the country.  But as people opposed to Betsy DeVos have been scouring the roster of Republican senators looking for just one more vote to peel off, all they need is one more vote to end her nomination. 

One of the things they`re running up against is that Betsy DeVos has given thousands and in most cases tens of thousands of dollars to a very large proportion of the Republican senators who are about to vote on her nomination and how do you compete with that? 

Well, literally, you could try competing with that.  And that is next.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  So, it happened first in Pennsylvania where Senator Pat Toomey has been absolutely inundated by, among other things, anti-Betsy DeVos constituent messages.  Local news stations in Pennsylvania have been running stories about now no constituents can get through to Pat Toomey`s Washington office.  They can`t get through to any one of his constituent offices anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania, either.  Literally, this local station interviewed constituents who haven`t been activists before but they want to convey to Senator Toomey, "Please don`t vote for Betsy DeVos and they have no way to do it."

Pittsburgh "Post-Gazette" reports on a retro turn in efforts by Senator Toomey`s constituents to meet with him.  He won`t meet with them in person, that`s why these Tuesdays with Toomey protesters have been complaining outside his office every Tuesday for the last few Tuesdays now.  Also, every single one of his office is completely jammed in terms of phone lines. 

According to the Pittsburgh "Post-Gazette" that has led people to faxing Pat Toomey.  Did you know you can still fax people?  Quote, "If the number of messages sent through is any gauge, Senator Toomey`s office is busier than most according to that one online faxing service, nearly 1,400 faxes were sent to Pat Toomey`s office in one 24-hour period between noon Monday and noon Tuesday."

On top of all that, check this out, this is what I wanted to show you.  This is a Go Fund Me page, sort of a real last-ditch effort to reach Senator Pat Toomey through the only medium his constituents have not been able to monopolize so far.  They`re using money.  They`re literally trying to buy his vote. 

Quote, "Betsy DeVos has donated more than $55,000 to the campaign of U.S. Senator Pat Toomey.  Incidentally, despite all evidence to the contrary, Senator Toomey thinks Betsy DeVos would be a great choice to lead the department of education.  If Betsy DeVos can buy Senator Toomey`s vote, then we should be allowed to do the same."

In one day, more than 2,000 people offered to donate money to Pat Toomey to try to compete with what Betsy DeVos has donated to him over time.  They set their goal for the fund-raising as the amount of money that Betsy DeVos and her family spent on them so they could be heard just as loud. 

If they reach their goal fast, who knows?  Maybe they can get a last minute invite to Palm Beach for the Republican donor summit.  You imagine senators being lined up by their staffers to meet their $50,000 donors, right, hello, rich person, hello, rich person, hello lobbyist person, hello cabinet secretary nominee, hello 2,000 of my own constituents. 


How did you guys get in here? 

After that Go Fund Me page was posted to buy Pat Toomey`s vote, a very similar version of the same idea went up in Arkansas.  You can see it here, "Buy Senator Tom Cotton`s vote.  So far, Betsy DeVos and her allies have contributed $8,300 to Tom Cotton.  I propose we try to raise $8,301 to outbid them." 

People who started that in Arkansas, the buy Tom Cotton`s vote Go Fund Me, they tell us they honestly had no idea it was already happening in Pennsylvania to buy Pat Toomey`s vote.  They didn`t know when they set up theirs but once they realized they had the same idea and somebody else was doing this for a different Republican senator, they posted this teasing update saying Pennsylvania folks are pitching in to help buy their senator`s vote but ours is much cheaper.


MADDOW:  In both of these cases, they say, they are not actually trying to bribe their senator.  They will donate the money that they raise if they hit their target to worthy charities in their senator`s home states but still, point made. 

So, it will be interesting to see what happens here because, you know, Republicans prioritize their meeting with major donors tonight and tomorrow in South Florida.  They gave up the chance to nail down the Betsy DeVos nomination tomorrow morning.  They`ve got no margin for error.  They have the thinnest possible pathway to nomination.  You`d think they want to act fast.  They gave that up to meet with donors and what they`re facing is this incredibly creative fast-evolving joyful mega source of pressure on senators all across the country and what this pressure is trying to just peel off one more vote. 

Because they are meeting with donors instead of voting, people opposed to Betsy DeVos get two and a half more dies to burn up phone lines and sent pizzas and get their home state senators terrible press about how afraid those senators are of their own constituents and how much money they took from people they are voting for despite the express wishes of their constituents in overwhelming numbers. 

So, this is political science.  We`re living a political science experiment right now.  It`s happening right now, it`s going to happen all this weekend. 

In addition to all the Republican senators going to Palm Beach, Florida, this weekend to go meet with their donors instead of voting on Betsy DeVos, the president is also going to be in Palm Beach, Florida, this weekend, he`s taking a weekend off.  Whew, it`s been a tough two weeks, time for a vacation. 

It`s expected that there will be protesters opposed to the new president and opposed to his cabinet nominees and opposed to his refugee ban and other executive orders.  It`s expected there will be protests this weekend in South Florida around the president`s visit.  The fact that all the Republican senators are there as well will make it a particularly rich target for protest this is weekend and I`m sure authorities in South Florida are expecting that. 

It`s also probably safe to assume there will be protests this weekend at the Super Bowl in Houston.  Frankly, it`s probably safe to assume there will be protests the day after the Super Bowl when the Senate reconvened in Washington and they try to get that Betsy DeVos vote in and the other remaining cabinet nominees.  I mean, we are in a new era where two brand new things are upon us as Americans.  One, we have a new president and all that entails, but, too an immediate instantaneous reaction to that first one, we also have a huge new movement of people mobilized against that new president and what he is trying to do. 

Bloomberg News and the "L.A. Times" today both report on 10 states across the country where Republican legislators have introduced legislation to crack down on the right to protest in those states.  It will be interesting to watch what becomes of that, but clearly Republicans in those states are unnerved. 

"The Washington Post" today reports on an embarrassing incident this week involving a planned visit by the president to Harley-Davidson plant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  "The Post" reports air travel had been booked, hotel rooms were booked on the ground for security presence and other people who would be traveling to Milwaukee in advance of and in support of this presidential visit to Wisconsin. 

Once word leaked, though, to Harley-Davidson factory workers and people in Milwaukee that the president was going to visit on Thursday, Harley- Davidson started getting, you guessed it, inundated with calls from people who were hundred happy they were planning on hosting the president.  And protesters in Milwaukee made plans to protest that visit by the president.  And if there`s one thing Americans have shown in the last two weeks it`s that we as a culture have not forgotten how to protest, even on short notice, even in places where you wouldn`t expect to turn out a lot of people.  A lot of people can turn out if they have reason to. 

And so, the White House tried to make it seem like they never planned that trip to Wisconsin this week.  There was no intention to have the president go there. 

That has been exposed as a lie.  They were definitely planning on having the president go there and as far as we can tell, the White House just chickened out because as much as this president likes to deride people in the streets in record numbers protesting against his every move, you can call them professional anarchists like he did on Twitter today, whatever that is.  You can call them paid protesters, whatever.  You can call them anything you want.  When it`s a million people in the street against you, it doesn`t matter what you call them anymore. 

So, it`s going to be an interesting weekend.  I am officially excited to see what happens.  Also, I`m in a great mood ever since I had that sea bass for lunch. 

And we`ve got lots ahead tonight.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  In April, 2011, then Secretary of Defense Bob Gates made a surprise visit to Iraq.  American troops were set to leave Iraq at the end of that year.  This was an important planning meeting around that transition.  He met with the deputy prime minister of Iraq.  He met with the prime minister of Iraq. 

And in both of those meetings, both of those pictures, you may notice someone he brought with him to the meeting.  We will point this out.  See the red arrow?  See that guy. 

That`s the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East at the time.  His name is Colin Kahl.  In 2014, three years later, Colin Kahl became Vice President Joe Biden`s national security advisor.  There he is to the right of the vice president. 

Now, because there`s a new vice president, Colin Kahl has moved on from his time in the White House but now, from outside of government, he`s one of the people who is loudly pushing back on what the Trump administration is saying about their first military action.  The disastrous raid in Yemen that killed a U.S. Navy SEAL, that wounded three others and that the Pentagon says killed multiple civilians including children. 

That operation incidentally resulted in a $70 million Osprey aircraft being abandoned on the ground in Yemen and later blown up. 

With everything going so wrong about that operation, questions are being raised about the process of how this thing was approved and why it was approved.  So far, the Trump administration is blaming President Obama. 


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  On January 6th, there was an interagency deputies meeting, the deputies recommended at that time that they go ahead.  It was so easily approved it was sent straight up.  The conclusion was at that time to hold for what they called a moonless night which, by calendar, wouldn`t occur until then President-elect Trump was President Trump. 


MADDOW:  January 6th an interagency deputies meeting, the deputies recommended at that time they go ahead.  It was so easily approved. 

You know, one of the people who was in on that January 6th meeting was Colin Kahl.  He says he was there.  He says that particular raid was never discussed in that meeting.  He says the Trump administration`s claim that the Obama administration cleared the Yemen raid that`s just gone so disastrously wrong, he says that is false. 

He says the decision was deferred to Trump, quote, "so he could run a deliberate process."  Instead, he hosted a dinner.  That refers to news that President Trump made the call to green light this Yemen operation over dinner with, among other people, his 35-year-old son-in-law who is a former real estate executive who none of us knew was even cleared to discuss the existence of JSOC, let alone green light operations like this. 

Today, the military also distributed explosives training videos they said had been collected as part of this Yemen raid, basically to brag about the dangerous and valuable information they collected on this raid.  After questions from some baffled reporters, CentCom later admitted those videos were actually over a decade old and they had nothing to do with this raid at all and they retracted the announcement. 

Simple mistake, maybe.  But one of a string of disturbing turns in this strange, apparently botched and indisputably fatal first military action by this new president.  And Colin Kahl joins us next. 



SPICER:  On January 6th, there was an interagency deputies meeting, the deputies recommended at that time that they go ahead.  It was so easily approved it was sent straight up.  The conclusion was at that time to hold for what they called a moonless night which, by calendar, wouldn`t occur until then President-elect Trump was President Trump. 


MADDOW:  That is what the Trump administration is describing as the process that led to this disastrous ground raid in Yemen that led to the death of a U.S. navy seal, the injuries to three others and the killing of multiple civilians, including children.  When he talks about that meeting on January 6th, he`s talking about real people who are still around and can answer for them themselves and one of the people who says he was in that January 6th meeting says the administration is characterizing in the a way that is absolutely false. 

Joining us now is Colin Kahl.  He`s a professor of Georgetown, a former deputy assistant to President Obama and he was national security advisor to Vice President Biden.

Professor Kahl, thanks for joining us.  I really appreciate your time tonight. 


MADDOW:  I recognize and appreciate a lot around this discussion is sensitive and/or classified and you can`t give us all the details.  But within those parameters, can you tell us what`s different about your understanding of the green-lighting of this operation?  What`s different about your understand of that compared to the way the White House is characterizing it? 

KAHL:  Yes, I think it would help for your viewers to understand that the United States has been engaged in counterterrorism against this group, AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is a deadly al Qaeda affiliate for years.  We`ve mostly been doing that through drones and air strikes.  We`ve had a very a very small number of special operations forces at times on the ground in an advisory role not at all in a combat role. 

And so, you know, some time before Christmas the Pentagon came to the White House and basically asked for expanded authorities to allow other special operations forces to take more direct action that is to do raids against al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula in support of our coalition partners engage in that fight.  So, we had a discussion about the deputies level can which is the subcabinet level which make recommendations up the president.  We had that discussion on January 6th as Sean Spicer noted. 

The Pentagon basically outlined their request for a general set of authorities that would allow them to do this and also to put some additional forces into the field.  But they did not brief a single specific raid.  They did not brief a target, a compound or what we call a con op, a concept of operations.  And the deputies made no decision. 

Basically, since we were so close to the end of the Obama administration, the recommendations by the deputies was to simply provide the information to the Trump team so that they could run a deliberate process.  And that recommendation went forward to President Trump who agreed that he wasn`t going to jam Trump in the last week of his presidency, with a major escalation in Yemen, that this is something the new president had to own and run a process for. 

MADDOW:  When you say the recommendation was to provide information to the incoming administration so they could run a deliberate process, is that a term of art?  What do you mean by deliberate process? 

KAHL:  Yes.  So, we ran a very careful process where basically in a Situation Room, senior officials from all different departments and agencies, the Department of State, Department of Defense; the CIA, the director of national intelligence, USAID, United States representative at the U.N., we all sat around and discussed pressing issues of national security.  When our militaries involved in combat operations, or counterterrorism operations, if they request an expansion of authority so that they can do more, put more boots on the ground, take a more active role in a combat situation, that`s precisely what we debate around the table. 

The deputies then make a set of recommendations basically to the cabinet who then make a set of recommendations to the president who oftentimes convenes a national security council meeting to discuss it.  That`s how we ran the process.  That`s now how Trump ran this process. 

MADDOW:  In terms of how President Trump did run this process, we don`t know very much about it.  We`re told in terms of the timeline that his national security advisor briefed him on the plans for the operation one day, the next day at dinner, with his senior strategist Steve Bannon and with his son-in-law Jared Kushner and with secretary of defense and some of other principal level personnel, he made a decision around the dinner table that it would happen, and then it was launched immediately. 

Is that -- does that seem like a remarkably informal, small, quick process?  Is that totally out of keeping with the kinds of processes that you`re seeing around potentially deadly raids like this in the past? 

KAHL:  Well, it is unusual, especially in the context where a raid like this represents a significant escalation in the nature of our actions in Yemen.  So, it`s not just the raid itself.  It`s that there`s a broader set of authorities that are behind that that deserve deliberation.  And what I mean by that is, you need to have not just the Defense Department around the table.  You also need your intelligence professionals so that they can vet the intelligence, to make sure that they agree with the risk assessment the Pentagon is making.  You also need the State Department at the table, so they can go through the political implications, what happens if civilians die, what are the implications for tribal relations in Yemen, or the diplomatic relations.

You need the communicators in our room, so that you know that you`re on message, and you can coordinate with your allies.  You also need your legislators in the room so you can notify Congress. 

This is a deliberate process that you owe the president a holistic assessment.  And the problem is, even if you`ve got a bunch smart capable people around a table at dinner, like Secretary Mattis who I think the world of and Joe Dunford, our chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who`s an amazing man, you need a fuller picture than those two gentlemen can provide for the president to make a decision of this gravity. 

MADDOW:  Colin Kahl, a professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, former deputy assistant to President Obama, national security adviser to Vice President Biden, and somebody who has provided us a window into this process, that bothers me about the way the White House is characterizing it, if it`s that at odds with the reality that you live.  Thanks for helping us understand this, sir.  Appreciate it. 

KAHL:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Behold, today in Republican governance.  This is not satire.  In South Dakota, Republicans in the state legislature took the unusual step of declaring a state of emergency, so they could repeal an ethics law that was passed by South Dakota voters this November.  The ethics law restricted gifts from lobbyists, establish an ethics commission, kind of the standard ethics stuff. 

But it`s stuff that South Dakota maybe needs right now.  The state has had a few ethics scandals, recently, including a legislator resigning last month because he got sex -- well, actually, he caught having sex with interns.  We`re talking more than one intern. 

After that scandal came to light, Republican legislators distinguished themselves in South Dakota by blocking legislation that literally said, legislators should not have sex with interns, they blocked that.  And now, they`d just gone whole hog.  They just repealed the whole entire new ethics law that again was just passed by a majority of South Dakota voters. 

Republican legislators came back in an emergency session to kill the ethics rules and the Republican governor signed off on it last night.  Also in Republican governance today, on the day that the CEO of Exxon, started work as America`s new secretary of state, Republicans in the House of Representatives decided that would be the day that the largest oil companies in the world should get a little something extra from the U.S. government.  They needed another hug. 

So, now, the Republicans on a 98 percent party line vote, voted to make sure that oil companies don`t have to disclose their payments that they make to foreign governments. 

Republicans in the House took overt action to make sure oil companies don`t have to publicly disclose when they pay foreign governments because America was clamoring for oil companies to be free of that.  And just one last one, because I feel like it`s worth sticking a flag in these things when they happen, because someday nobody will believe this. 

Here`s my favorite, today in less than governance, ready?  President Obama put in place a rule to help keep guns out of the hands of people with severe mental health problems, yesterday Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted overwhelmingly to get rid of that rule. 

Because if there`s one thing that everybody campaigned on in November, is that the seriously mentally ill need easier access to firearms.  Seriously, House Republicans last night voted to green-light gun ownership for people who are classified as seriously mentally disabled by the Social Security Administration. 

This is not hyperbole.  This is not spin.  This actually happened.  It was largely party line vote, 97 percent of House Republicans said it was a good idea to let people who are so mentally impaired that they tell the Social Security Administration they cannot handle their own affairs, including like cashing their own checks. 

It should be easier for those people who are too mentally impaired to cash a check to get guns.  It`s up to the Senate now.  They will decide in an up-or-down vote whether they too want to act to make it overtly easier for the severely mentally ill to get their hands on firearms.  There are 52 Republicans in the Senate, what do you think will happen.  How do you think they`ll vote?

That`s today in Republican governance, because just someday we will have to prove that stuff like this actually happened, sometimes it happened all at once. 

That does it for us to tonight.  We will see you again on Monday.  Have an excellent weekend.  Go Pats!

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."                                                                                                                 THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END