Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: February 8, 2017 Guest: Chuck Schumer
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: That is "ALL IN" for this evening. And again, do not forget to tune in tomorrow night for the reason that I am here in this wonderful, fantastic, complicated, difficult, amazing city of Chicago that I lived in and love deeply. We`re going to have a town hall here and that will be at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, don`t miss it.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: So looking forward to that tomorrow, Chris. Really, really, really, really wish you good luck, it`s going to be awesome. Thanks, man.
HAYES: Thank you. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
In the year 2000, George W. Bush was the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination for president. He, in the very early days, he basically cleared the field of almost all the other major candidates who might have been considering running that year.
And so he ended up running against guys like, you know, Gary Bauer. Whoops. Gary, careful.
And Steve Forbes, remember him? He also ran against Alan Keyes. Remember Alan Keyes who was just stone cold crazy?
He was not exactly running against a robust field. But the Republican primary started that year in 2000 in Iowa, the way it always does, and George W. Bush ran away with it. Even though there were always these other evangelical guys in the field, George W. Bush won the Iowa caucus that year by more than 10 points. Total piece of cake.
And, obviously, he was just going to steam roll to the nomination. But then something unexpected happened. They got to New Hampshire and George W. Bush got beat. Out of the blue, out of the very back of the field came this guy John McCain who was not a crazy person or obviously eccentric or a total lightweight.
John McCain was the only real threat that George W. Bush hadn`t cleared out of the field. And John McCain not only won New Hampshire, he won it by a lot. He beat George W. Bush in New Hampshire by 18 points, uh-oh.
The next big primary that year was in South Carolina, and that was seriously worrying to the Bush campaign because South Carolina is a big military state, tons of veterans. John McCain is not only a veteran but a legitimate nationally famous war hero. John McCain had been sort of favored to win in South Carolina because of those things.
And, you know, that would have been one thing if it was just a one-off, if that was the one state he was going to get. But in context, because John McCain had just upset Bush in New Hampshire, well, then if he goes on to win a second big state after that, that would have been a huge deal in terms of the momentum in the race, changing the narrative, upending expectations.
The Bush campaign absolutely knew that, and so they went into win at all costs mode in South Carolina. That primary election in South Carolina in 2001 is still famous to this day for how dirty the dirty tricks were that were played against John McCain, including the viciously racist flyers about him and his family that nobody ever really claimed responsibility for but turned up at just the right time before the vote.
The George W. Bush campaign in that contest that year, honestly, they decided they were going to go hard right, they decided they would hit the race button really, really hard and nay knew exactly what they were doing including when they decided to put their candidate at Bob Jones University in South Carolina less than two weeks before that primary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Evangelist Bob Jones founded the school 73 years ago for whites only. Today, many say his grandson, Bob Jones III, runs it as if it were still 1927 with only one policy change -- other races are now welcomed at its campus, but no interracial dating or marriage is permitted and no homosexuals. And in what many see as the epitome of religious intolerance, the school`s leaders have described Catholics as members of a cult and the pope as dangerous leader.
It was here that George W. Bush came in search of votes after he lost the New Hampshire primary.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I`d have gone to Bob Jones University, but I`d have told them, looked them straight into the face and said, you better get into modern times and do away with this disgraceful policy of yours banning interracial dating and your attacks on the pope and the Catholics, it`s disgraceful what you`ve done here. That`s what I would have said at Bob Jones University.
TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: Let me show you what Mr. Jones` current thinking is and put it on the screen because this is disturbing. "We believe that the Lord God created races with distinctions and that races are meant to be separate from one another. We basically accept there are three races, Caucasians, Negroes, Orientals. Caucasians can`t date Orientals, Orientals can`t date Caucasians, and neither of them can date Negroes."
That`s what he believes in.
GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I disagree with that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bob Jones University is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers god established. When Jesus Christ returns to the earth, he will establish world unity, but until then, a divided earth seems to be his plan.
Throughout your campaign, you`ve said, "I`m a uniter, not a divider." Do you condone that thinking? If not, why go there?
BUSH: Well, I don`t -- I don`t accept that particular policy at Bob Jones University.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those allegations stem from the speech you gave at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. You said you don`t regret having spoken there but do you regret not having at the time during the speech spoken out against their supposedly segregationist and anti-Catholic policies?
BUSH: Listen, when I went there, I got off an airplane, went in there and gave my speech.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I had to get there on an airplane. Who knows what my speech -- this was a -- this was a calculated risk. They knew they were going to get questions like that, right? But there was a calculated risk. They knew what they needed to do to win South Carolina.
This is just an important moment in Republican Party history, right? Going to Bob Jones University probably did help George W. Bush win that primary in South Carolina, that all white Republican primary in South Carolina. And it thereby helped him put away John McCain and win the presidency.
And forever, George W. Bush will have to drag that hard as part of his legacy because it wasn`t like he didn`t know what he was getting into. It wasn`t like he didn`t know he was going a school that had an enforced apartheid regimen where the school literally regulated who you date by race.
He knew exactly what he was doing when he went to Bob Jones University. It was a well-known thing about that school. When George W. Bush`s dad had been vice president, the Reagan administration had, in fact, gone to court to defend Bob Jones University and specifically to defend its right to ban interracial dating among its students. Even while it still got tax exemptions from the IRS as a school.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Bob Jones University is a fundamentalist Christian college that believes the bible prohibits interracial marriage. Interracial dating is forbidden, a racial restriction that led the Internal Revenue Service, responding to previous court decisions, to take away the university`s tax exemption. The school responded by getting President Reagan to overrule internal revenue.
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The Internal Revenue Service had actually formed a social law and was enforcing that social law, and we think that that`s a bad precedent and is a bad thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, very bad. Much worse than giving tax exemptions to schools that have racial restrictions on who`s allowed to date whom. That social law, meh. We`ll defend that, yes.
I mean -- to be clear, there`s a reason that news clip we showed you is in color. This was 1982. This was not, like, in the 1940s.
The federal government sided with Bob Jones University on their race ban for dating by their students and even at the time in 1982, it was seen as a pretty radical thing for the federal government to be doing. There were people inside the Reagan government, there were people inside, for example, Reagan`s solicitor general`s office and the Justice Department who objected, who didn`t want anything to do with defending the racial dating ban.
But the Reagan administration took this radical line on it and took it all the way to the Supreme Court, and when it got to the Supreme Court they got destroyed. The court ruled against the Reagan administration and racist Bob Jones University by a vote of 8-1.
Anthony Lewis wrote about it at the time for "The New York Times". He said, quote, "The 8-1 decision was worse than an embarrassment for President Reagan and his lawyers, it was a humiliation. How could any president be given such incompetent legal advice? How could lawyers for the U.S. government stray so far from the mainstream of the country`s understanding of the racial issue? How a president at this stage in our history could play with this kind of an issue for political reasons.
Quote, "One troubling aspect about the Bob Jones affair is what it says about the Justice Department today. An attorney general is supposed to protect his president, not embarrass him." But in this case, quote, "a band of young zealots in the Justice Department pressed for the legal switch to give Bob Jones its tax exemption."
And then "The Times" goes ahead and names the young zealots in the Justice Department that had pushed for this radical ruling that was so disastrous at the Supreme Court. Among the names that he gives is a Justice Department lawyer named Charles Cooper, better known as Chuck Cooper. Chuck Cooper got actually promoted in the Reagan administration after the Bob Jones disaster.
Within a few years, he was assistant attorney general and by then, he was appearing on the "Nightly News" himself as the administration`s point man on another charming case that has aged real well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Washington, the Justice Department released an important ruling that for the first time permits employers to fire AIDS victims in many cases.
We begin now with NBC law correspondent Carl Stern.
CARL STERN, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The Justice Department says federal law does not prohibit the firing of potentially millions of workers who may be carrying the AIDS virus. The opinion was reached by Assistant Attorney General Charles Cooper who said carriers who might spread the disease are not handicapped workers whom the law protects.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a distinct between a handicap and the ability to communicate a disease.
STERN: Six months ago, the public health service concluded that AIDS is not spread by casual contact, but the Justice Department ruling said conclusions of this character are too sweeping.
JEFFREY LEVI: It certainly reinforces the false notion that AIDS can be spread casually and will give some employers the rationalization that they`re looking for to discriminate despite everything that scientists have said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Charles Cooper, Chuck Cooper is the guy who wrote the "please discriminate against people with AIDS" ruling, wrote that ruling for the Justice Department under Reagan. He`s also the architect of the defense of the apartheid dating rules at Bob Jones University from earlier in the Reagan administration.
He then went on to a solid career as a hard right lawyer in Washington. He argued a handful of cases before the Supreme Court. Last time he was at the Supreme Court he was defending California`s same sex marriage ban at the Supreme Court, remember how that one went? Yeah, Chuck Cooper lost.
But now, with that illustrious resume behind him, Chuck Cooper is about to get a major, major promotion. Yahoo News is reporting today, citing multiple sources, that Chuck Cooper is about to be named solicitor general of the United States, which will basically mean that he`ll be the main litigator for the new administration.
There have been some initial reporting that that job was going go to Kellyanne Conway`s husband. OK. But reportedly, they are letting Jeff Sessions make this choice and he has picked one of his best friends, he`s picked Chuck Cooper, his old buddy from Alabama.
And this is I think an interesting development in its own right given who Chuck Cooper is and what he`s done in the past. But it`s also a window in what`s going on right now in American politics. I mean, tonight, the Senate voted to confirm Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, despite the fact that when Ronald Reagan nominated him for a judgeship back in the old defending Bob Jones University`s interracial dating ban days in the 1980s, when Reagan appointed him for a judgeship in the `80s, even Republicans in the Senate back then were persuaded that Jeff Sessions`s record on civil rights and racism was too odious to let him have a seat on the federal bench.
Despite that history, tonight, not a single Republican senator voted against Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. Last night, as Democrats argued against his nomination, the Republican leader in the Senate chose his timing and chose his weapon carefully. He dusted off a rule that had been invented in the United States Senate literally to prevent any discussion of abolishing slavery. He dusted off that little-used rule and wielded it against Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren at the moment she was reading a letter from Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was a letter that Coretta Scott King had written in opposition to the Jeff Sessions` judgeship nomination back in the Reagan era. I mean, I think by and large today, particularly among people in the center and the left, but even in the press more broadly, the reaction to that drama last night, this decision by Mitch McConnell to stop the reading of the Coretta Scott King letter with the anti-abolitionist rule from the 1800s, I mean, I think by and large to reaction has been whoa, hey, Mitch McConnell stepped in it, Republicans really look terrible here.
Boy, are they going to regret this? As if the Republican Party has been taking great pains to not appear racially insensitive these days, as if they`re very concerned as a party with how they`re viewed by African- Americans and other minorities and women.
I mean, it`s not an accident, right? This stuff is happening on purpose. These aren`t dumb people. They`re doing what they`re doing deliberately. The president just nominated the whitest, malest cabinet since Reagan. This was the Benetton tableau while the president signed his first abortion restrictions.
Senate Republicans today just introduced new legislation to cut in half legal immigration to this country. Not illegal immigration, legal immigration, and they really did use an anti-abolitionist arcane Senate rule to shut up a woman who was reading the words of Martin Luther King`s widow on the Senate floor and then last night and today, when four male senators read from the same letter on the Senate floor, they let the guys go ahead and read it.
And as they approved Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to be the next attorney general of the United States, we simultaneously learned that he has also been given a door prize on his way into the Justice Department. He`s been allowed to bring in as solicitor general, his old friend from Birmingham, the interracial dating ban guy, Chuck Cooper, who will reportedly be our next solicitor general of the United States. Do you see a theme here?
There`s a thread to pull through all these developments however gossamer it may be, but that thread spells out "we do not give a flying flipping freaking fruit case ficus fjord -- we don`t give any Fs about being unreconstructed on race."
They don`t care about the optics on race. They do not care about racial sensitivity. They do not care about whether they seem super hostile to anybody who doesn`t look just like all those guys arrayed behind the president while he signed the abortion ban.
They do not care about insulting civil rights legends. They do not care about letting men do stuff that they will not allow women to do. They have no calms at all about dragging out of the past people who have been called out for such radically racist positions and behaviors that they have humiliated not only themselves but anybody who ever hired them.
So, if you are looking at what`s going on with Republicans in Washington right now and thinking, oh, they really stepped in it, they must be super embarrassed, how are they going to walk this back? Don`t hold your breath, it`s not what`s going on here.
And it`s one thing to know if you are interested in Republicans and their behavior, but I think it`s also worth knowing if you are interested in Democrats and their behavior, and what Democrats` strategy is to try and stand up to the administration and stop the things that Democrats most object to, because a political strategy, a lot of political strategy, especially around issues like this can depend on making people feel embarrassed, exposing things that people do that are insensitive or prejudice, making people feel shame, making people feel the social cost of doing stuff that`s hostile and regressive and ought to be embarrassing.
But what if they`re not embarrassed? How do you adjust your tactics if this is on purpose? They`re not embarrassed and their plan is just to keep getting more blatant. What do you do then? How do you have to adjust your plans?
Let`s ask the leader of the Senate Democrats, Chuck Schumer, who`s here next.
MADDOW: So far, the Democrats in the Senate have delayed votes on the president`s choice for treasury secretary. They`ve delayed votes for the health and human services secretary, for Energy, for secretary of commerce, for Interior, for Housing and Urban Development, for the EPA, the Department of Labor. That nominee has had his nomination put off five separate times so far.
I mean, tonight and last night, there were confirmations for attorney general and Education, Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, clearing the Senate barely. Democrats pried off two Republicans to vote against Betsy DeVos which made it a 50-50 tie the vice president had to break. Every single one of the Democrats voted against Betsy DeVos. All but one Democrat held firm against Jeff Sessions, Joe Manchin voted for Jeff Sessions, but other than that, it was a party-line vote.
That said, despite that all that resistance and all those slow downs, so far, the Democrats are not stopping anyone. They have really slowed things down, but they haven`t stopped anyone.
But the continuing to slow things down thing? That`s apparently the plan from here on out. At least I think it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK THORP, NBC NEWS: You said you`d have long debates on all of these nominees. First off, do you plan on having an all night debate tonight? And also, do you plan on running out 30 hours for every one of the cabinet nominees?
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Stay tuned. Stay tuned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now for "The Interview" is "stay tuned", Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the United States Senate.
Senator Schumer, I really appreciate your time, especially on such a busy night. Thanks for being here.
SCHUMER: Well, we`re all stay tuned right now.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about that, you were asked about that strategy, you`re keeping your counsel. Should we expect we`ve now sort of seen your hand? That we know what the Democrats are going to do to try to block the nominees in the Trump cabinet you disagree with or should we expect it will change up with the rest of them?
SCHUMER: No, look, there are eight nominees who we have said are just really terrible nominees in terms of their conflicts of interest, lots of them are billionaires and they haven`t extricated themselves from those conflicts. In terms of ethics, Tom Price who`s now on the floor sold and traded $300,000 of stocks and then introduced legislation that would have some of them move up.
And in terms of their views, they`re so out of touch with the American people and frankly what Donald Trump campaigned on. So, we believe -- we`re not slowing them down for their own sake. We believe when nominees like this where so controversial that they ought to get a thorough look by the American people.
And I think we`ve laid a predicate, we didn`t win with Betsy DeVos because only two Republicans would cross over, but everyone now is going to watch her like a hawk when she tries to mess with public education. We didn`t win with Jeff Sessions but he is going to be watched like a hawk when he deals with immigration and voting rights and civil rights because his record has been made so clear.
So, these nominations have real affect in the future. They lay out a predicate to the American people as to who these nominees are and that will probably limit them in some of the bad things they can do. It certainly will encourage us to go after them in every way when they do those things.
MADDOW: Senator, it was my impression, just my personal impression, that as the Obama administration left, over the course of the transition after President Trump won the election, started to put together his team, started to announce his cabinet nominees, it was my impression from the outgoing Obama administration that the person they were most concerned about was Jeff Sessions. Not because of personal animus against him but because they felt that the Justice Department was something that shouldn`t take a very, very hard right turn. And if it does, it`s something that could hurt the country. It`s also something that could conceivably be weaponized against the president`s opponents.
Is it -- what are you worried about when it comes to Jeff Sessions?
SCHUMER: Well, first, when Jeff Sessions was passed, it turned my stomach. I don`t have anything against him personally. You know, it`s known we`re in that gym together in the morning.
But to have a man like this with his record on immigration, he`s probably almost certainly the most anti-immigrant senator of the hundred, on civil rights and voting rights. He`s probably one of the top three or four against these sacred rights, civil rights and voting rights. He doesn`t belong there.
And I think a lot of Republicans know it. What`s happened on the Republican side, even hope the many of them have doubts about these nominees, they`re afraid to break with Donald Trump. They`re marching in lockstep on these nominees, on so many other things.
I mean, can you imagine if a Democrat had said the United States has moral equivalency to Russia and Putin? The Republicans would be howling at the moon. But here, they just go along and say nothing. It`s a real display of lack of courage, of lack of strength, of lack of conviction for them to go along with these nominees and so do many things that they absolutely know in their hearts and minds is wrong.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the Supreme Court nominee, Judge Gorsuch. Today, a spokesperson for him confirmed something that had been claimed by Senator Dick Blumenthal. Senator Blumenthal said he had a meeting with the judge and the judge in that meeting described the way President Trump has attacked judges in cases against him, described those attacks as disheartening and demoralizing.
MADDOW: That means that the judge is putting some distance between himself and President Trump. Did anything like that happen in your meeting with him? What`s your take on this?
SCHUMER: Yes. Well, I asked Judge Gorsuch to publicly condemn Donald Trump`s attacks on the judiciary. I said, this president shows so little respect for an independent judiciary that the bar is higher and any nominee particularly by the Supreme Court by this president has to show independence. I said to him, "You have an obligation to publicly condemn the actions of President Trump." He said, "Well, I`m disheartened by them."
To whisper to a senator behind closed doors that he`s disheartened without condemning, without making a public statement is not close to enough. And I will tell you having seen Kelly Ayotte go on television and tout that she said it, I think it`s the way of the Republicans and the president trying to show independence when none really exists.
And I`ve got to tell you this, Rachel, he did not answer any questions he should have. I asked him a simple question -- is a Muslim ban unconstitutional? He wouldn`t answer it.
He`s an originalist. I asked him about his view of the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, he wouldn`t answer it.
Question after question after question, he refused to answer. You know what this reminds me of? I had an eerie feeling as I sat in that meeting, here was a judge well-groomed, intelligence, very polite, very articulate who wouldn`t give his views on anything.
Justice Roberts, then Judge Roberts, assured us he`d call balls and strikes. He gets in office and his court does Citizens United, a huge break with precedent that ruins, ruins the politics of America. He repeals basically the Voting Rights Act by eliminating Section V, a sacred right.
And I am very worried that Judge Gorsuch is similar. He`s going to not answer questions, he`s going to have a nice appearance, he`s going to claim he`s independent, but he has not exhibited any real independence whatsoever. And with this president, independence is more called for than ever.
MADDOW: Now, you have been outspoken including talking to me on the show that there will be a filibuster. That he`s going to have to meet a 60-vote threshold --
MADDOW: -- that Republicans will not be able to approve him just with 50 votes. In order to get there, in order to that 60-vote threshold, you need to hold 41 members of your own caucus together in order to get that filibuster threshold established.
Are you sure that you will have that? The White House and right wing media have started touting this idea that the caucus is not holding together and that the filibuster won`t hold.
SCHUMER: Well, the good old right wing media as usual slants news. A number of senators have said there ought to be a vote. They didn`t say a vote of 51. Most of them meant, if not every one, a vote of 60. That is conventionally a filibuster.
So, should there be a vote unlike with Merrick Garland? Absolutely. Will we be able to ask for 60 votes and get 60 votes and get a 60-vote threshold? Absolutely.
MADDOW: Let me ask you also about what happened last night with Senator McConnell and Senator Warren.
MADDOW: We had Senator Warren on by phone just off the floor as soon as it happened giving us her take on what happened. What is your take on what happened there?
I ask specifically because Rule 19 exists, it`s relatively simple. It`s almost never called. It`s almost never used in the Senate.
MADDOW: Why did they dust this off and bring it out last night in this way?
SCHUMER: OK. Well, that`s the $64,000 question, Rachel. This was what I call selective enforcement. When Ted Cruz called Mitch McConnell a liar on the floor no one invoked Article 19. When Senator Cotton said that Harry was a -- Harry Reid was a cancer, was cancerous on the Senate, no one invoked Rule 19.
In fact, last week, two senators accused me of having false tears. I didn`t run to invoke Section 19.
So, the question is, why? And there are a whole lot of different explanations. People can draw their own conclusions. But I`ll tell you this -- I think a lot is because these Republicans know that somebody like Senator Sessions doesn`t belong as attorney general. They`re feeling the pressure. They`re feeling the heat. Some of them may have some consciences that they`re feeling.
And so, it results in these absurd actions which just backfire on them.
MADDOW: You actually think they didn`t mean for it to unfold the way they did? It was an outburst borne out of guilt?
SCHUMER: I know -- I don`t know if it`s brought on by guilt, but I know it was not planned. I talked to a number of high-up Republicans and they told me that. They lost their cool.
Why did they lose their cool? And why was Elizabeth Warren the one they singled out? . And why was it Coretta Scott King`s letter that seemed to raise their hackles the most?
These are good questions that we can all come to our own conclusions.
MADDOW: I can read your conclusions on your face. I have one last question for you, sir.
MADDOW: When the new president came to office, one of the intriguing things was that you`re both New Yorkers. He initially said some not unkind things about you and you talked about the fact that even though you weren`t friends, you two had crossed paths a few times and were able to have a conversation.
MADDOW: He has since called you a clown. He has accused you of fake crying over the refugee ban.
MADDOW: Are you talking to him at all?
SCHUMER: No, I haven`t talked to him much in the last few weeks. But, look, when he praised me, it didn`t matter. When he called names, it didn`t matter.
We`re guided by our values. We have strong values. It`s what America should be about. And what`s happened is that Donald Trump presidency has moved so far to the right that it`s hard to see compromising with them on almost anything, because they are not what Donald Trump campaigned on.
You know, as I said to you last time, if he were to say "I`ll abolish the carried interest, the carry interest loophole", yes, of course, we`d support him. But they`re not close to that.
This administration still occasionally talks populist, but its actions are hard right. And that is very bad news not only for America but for them, because we`ve never had a hard right government. We`ve never had a president, House and Senate that are hard right. It is so far away from the views of average Americans and I would posit the views of most Trump voters even that they`re going to have a real hard time.
MADDOW: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer -- thank you for your time, sir. I really appreciate it.
SCHUMER: Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I know it`s been a late night -- a night of late -- a week of late nights already.
SCHUMER: I`m filled with energy. I`m invigorated by the fight.
MADDOW: Thank you, sir.
SCHUMER: Thanks. Bye.
MADDOW: All right. A quick programming note: I mentioned Senator Richard Blumenthal, the senator who was meeting with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and made the comments that the president`s attacks on judges were demoralizing and disheartening. Senator Blumenthal is going to be a live guest talking about that and other matters on "THE LAST WORD" tonight, which is right after this show, so you should definitely stay here after me -- although there`s more me.
I`ll be right back.
MADDOW: There are universal truths. There are indisputable facts.
The sun rises in the east and it sets in the west. When the sun is shining in the sky, the sky is blue. The earth is round. What goes up must come down.
Also, Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. Indisputable. Sorry.
Some things are just a given. They`re not up for debate. They`re knowable and true.
And when you`re in a circumstance like that, it can throw you off a little bit when somebody tries to pretend otherwise. It`s disorienting, it can be a shock. And we have that kind of a story coming up tonight because somebody lied to us, lied to me, bluntly and forcefully about something that is totally checkable.
And it really does throw you for a loop when that happens, but when it happens and it`s about the president of the United States, it`s not just weird and disorienting, it`s something that has to be corrected. It has to be fixed. And that story is next.
MADDOW: All right. We have an update for you tonight on a story we have covered previously on this show. You`re going to want to stick around to the very end of this one. It has a good ending.
This is a nuts-and-bolts, in real life, yes, this is really happening story. It`s almost an experiment in American governance because it`s something we never tried before as a country.
The first thing you will note about this is that this is a corruption story, a conflict story, a story about the sitting president having active business interests that he hasn`t divested from, and then once he`s president the government has to make decisions about his businesses, about whether his business gets its way on a particular matter, whether the president`s company maybe doesn`t get its way in a particular matter.
I mean, for the first time in our country`s history, because of the way the Trump presidency is going to unfold, state officials and federal officials will have to make decisions that directly affect the president`s profits, the president`s bottom line, and that has happened with a state government for the first time.
Here`s the story. A few years ago Donald Trump bailed out a failing bankrupt business venture in South Carolina. He took over the company`s derelict factory site in that state. The place is a mess, rotting chemical drums everywhere.
The president`s company apparently wants to clean up and redevelop this property that it now owns. Now, South Carolina has a sound rule about this. If you redevelop a property, you`re not responsible for any pollution left behind by the previous owners, but you also can`t pull off a scam to get out of cleaning it up if it`s your mess. You can`t, you know, pollute the place and then switch the name of your company and just pretend you had nothing to do with that terrible old company that left such a terrible expensive mess. You can`t scam your way out of it.
So, companies who want to be relieved of the responsibility of cleaning up a polluted site, they have to sign a document that says, hey, if there`s pollution here, I had nothing to do with it because I have no connection with the previous owners.
So, at this site in South Carolina that the president`s company owns, the president`s company filed an application with the state of South Carolina saying just that, saying actually, it`s the taxpayers who should clean up any pollution here on this side, I`m not responsible for pollution cleanup on this site because I, Donald Trump, have no connection to the previous owners of this site. Signed, Donald Trump`s company.
And that`s where things get really tricky for South Carolina because the president is claiming that he has no connection whatsoever to the previous company that occupied this derelict factory site in South Carolina, no connection whatsoever. But the previous company that occupied that site was his son. It was a company run by Donald Trump Jr.
When Donald Trump, the president, went in to bail out that failing company he did so because it was his son who was failing. But now, the state of South Carolina has to decide if they believe what the president`s company is saying, if they believe that the president, Donald Trump, has no connection whatsoever to Donald Trump Jr. who he bailed out when he bought this possibly polluted seven-acre falling down factory.
So, if the South Carolina government decided to buy that argument that there`s no connection whatsoever between Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. They don`t even know each other, just a coincidence, right? Then the taxpayers of that state would be on the hook for an environmental mess at that site.
On the other hand, if the South Carolina government decided they were not going to buy that argument, then they have to say sorry, Mr. President, you`re on the hook to pay for any clean up here yourself. Your company has to pay, Mr. President, are you mad?
That`s a lousy position to put these folks in South Carolina in. These are, you know, mid-ranking government officials. They are people who are in charge of enforcing these state regulations. They`re being asked to make a decision on the financial bottom line of the sitting president of the United States. Should we really be doing this to people? We`ve never done this to them before. But that`s what we`re doing now.
And last night, South Carolina made their call. They said no to the president. The state will not be granting his application to have the taxpayers on the hook for the environmental cleanup. They did not buy the president`s argument that there`s no relationship whatsoever between the president and his namesake son and that means the president`s company will be responsible for any cleanup costs at that site instead of the taxpayers.
Now, we contacted the president`s lawyer to ask for a reaction to this decision by the state of South Carolina; we haven`t heard anything back. But I need to tell you, I need to tell you, we did hear about this matter from the president`s lawyer back in December when we first contacted him about this story. At the time, the president`s lawyer told us this whole deal was settled and complete, the application had been approved, South Carolina had said yes to the president`s company.
And, you know what? That was flat out not true. We now know not only was that application not approved, it`s not going to be approved. They just got told no, now, last night.
So the Trump organization lawyer lied to us directly. We know that in full technicolor now. And as of tonight, we know mid-level regulators in South Carolina state government had the uncomfortable task of staring down the most powerful man in the world, the man who happens to be known for suing companies and threatening states and threatening people who defy him but they steeled themselves and they made their decision.
This is a nuts thing to have to put them through. But that`s our world now and the folks in South Carolina are first to face it. But this is going to happen all through this presidency and all over the country. This was first. Hang in there, South Carolina.
And Trump organization personnel, stop lying to news organizations. We catch you when you do it.
MADDOW: Today in Republican governance, amid the worry, the reporting, the evidence, the report, the congressional testimony from our intelligence agencies that Russia did in fact meddle in the presidential election for the purpose of trying to help Donald Trump win that election, for all that unsettling news about the attack by Russia, there was one lone ray of sunshine in all of that. Because for all that intelligence officials did think Russia did interfere in the election in a lot of different way, one thing they say Russia didn`t do was affect the actual counting of the vote by hacking into our voting machines.
Yes, it appears that Russia wanted this current president to win the election. There is no reason to think they wouldn`t have hacked voting machines, too, if they could. But the intelligence agencies say that`s one thing they didn`t do. They did attack some state election boards, but they never successfully hacked the actual voting machines.
And the Department of Homeland Security then declared our election systems national critical infrastructure, hopefully to focus us on the need to protect the integrity of those machines, particularly from hacking.
OK. So there is one federal agency that has as a central part of its mission keeping those voting machines safe -- making them unhackable. That agency is called the Election Assistance Commission. That was created after the calamitous 2000 election with the hanging chads and all the rest.
It`s the job of the Election Assistance Commission to make sure the technical process of voting is safe. To make sure the voting machines are safe and sound and up to standard and ready to do their job and not hackable.
And knowing that, you will be interested to hear that now, naturally, in a party line vote, Republicans in one committee in the House have voted that we should eliminate the Election Assistance Commission. The Republican chair of the House Administrative Committee saying, quote, "It is time for the Election Assistance Commission to be officially ended. We don`t need fluff."
Yes, particularly now. Why would we ever need an agency to protect our voting machines from foreign hackers? What fluff?
Today, in Republican governance, just because some day we will have to prove that stuff like this actually happened.
MADDOW: There were pictures the government meant for you to never see when the U.S. invaded Iraq at the outset of that war in 2003. President George W. Bush declared that there would be no arrival ceremonies and no media coverage of military casualties coming home in flag-draped caskets.
Americans could see the combat. They were happy to embed reporters with the military to make sure the public saw that, but Americans would not be able to see for ourselves this other part of the war, the part where we see the human cost to U.S. troops and their families.
It`s not that there were no pictures of the flag-draped coffins coming back from Iraq. The Pentagon had pictures. But they wouldn`t release them. And they wouldn`t let the media take their own. They walled off those ceremonies and all the visual evidence of them. And for years, we did not see them.
And then one day, a blogger in Arizona got a letter from the department of defense. That blogger was named Russ Kick. And he specializes in finding and preserving and publishing documents that the government wants to keep hidden.
And he had been asking repeatedly in all different kinds of ways for photos of the solemn ceremonies. He appealed when the Pentagon turned him down. And then out of the blue one day they sent him a CD with 361 photographs showing the return of fallen service members and the remains of astronauts who died on board the Columbia in 2003. All coming home to Dover Air Force Base.
And most people, including many news organizations didn`t realize that the photos existed at all. Didn`t realize that the Defense Department was taking these photographs to document the transfer ceremonies in the first place, right? There was a media ban on the media taking their own photos or on anybody publishing those photos.
But Russ Kick in Arizona, he figured it out. And he filed specifically for them. He placed a Freedom of Information Act for, quote, all photographs showing caskets containing the remains of U.S. military personnel at Dover Air Force Base. He crafted the FOIA just right and he was the one who got them.
When he got those photos, he published them on his website, a website he ran called "The Memory Hole". And once Russ Kick published the photo, newspapers and shows all over the country also published them.
But it was Russ Kick, that one man, that intrepid guy, who thought about this harder than anybody else did. He changed the way Americans saw the Iraq War, literally with those photos. He purposely got them out of government imposed oblivion and he published them in April 2004.
Now, get this: last night, we reported as our lead story that the USDA under the new administration just disappeared data from its records on animals, animal welfare, animal abuse, including this long-standing public records database on dog breeders. In seven states in the U.S., you can`t sell puppies to a pet store unless you`ve got a clean inspection record from the USDA. People can check this on this public USDA database showing inspection reports for dog breeders and animal abuse reports.
The USDA just removed all of that data without an announcement and without any warning just a few days ago. Now, today, look, that data is beginning to reappear in a new and different location because Russ Kick is back with a new website, "The Memory Hole 2". He has already posted a bunch of the animal abuse data the USDA was trying to hide. He apparently saw this coming and started collecting this information ahead of time before the USDA disappeared it.
He told Motherboard today, quote, "I`ve learned that if I see something and think I`m really surprised the government posted this, I need to download it. So, when I found these reports on animal cruelty and puppy mills, I thought this is surprising and I downloaded them."
Now, he doesn`t have everything that the USDA removed. He is asking anybody who might have copies of the reports who are up there to send them his way so we can fill out the archive. When we heard from Russ today, he was busy uploading his newest finds. He told us he got inspection reports from dozens of facilities, quote, "mainly ones that house big cats."
But he spent the day today putting that public data back where the public can see it. Because the Trump administration inexplicably took it down. To what, help the abusive puppy mills? To try to trick you as an American into buying dogs from somebody who abuses them?
This is such a weird story from the start. But you know what? Russ Kick is everything right about it. Since the election, people have been asking me what should I do, I`m concerned. You know what, figure out what you`re good at and do that thing to try to help your country.
Russ Kick is good at saving stuff that the government wants hidden. And on this story, he is going for it.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD". Ari Melber sitting in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Ari.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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