Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: February 13, 2017 Guest: Adam Entous, John Garamendi
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
This is the P-3C Orion aircraft. It`s made by Lockheed Martin. They`ve been making it since the 1960s. It`s got four turbo-prop engines. You can see there. This is a plane that can fly really, really far. It can stay in the air for a really, really long time.
The Navy says the P-3 Orion has been its, quote, "front line" land-based maritime patrol aircraft since the 1960s. They`ve got a bunch of these. And they use them all over the world. They are about $36 million each. As I said, the military has a lot of them.
But it`s interesting, it`s not just the U.S. military that has a lot of them. A bunch of other militaries around the world have them, too. This is one of these American military aircraft that we are very happy to sell to friendly governments all over the world.
And that is what allowed this to happen in 2014. Look carefully at that picture. Yes. That is a roof punctured by the top tail fins of a bunch of airplanes.
This is 2014 in Japan. They had a really big snowstorm and there was this 60-year-old aircraft hangar and maintenance facility that had six Japanese P-3 Orions in it, and four P-3 Orions that belonged to this Navy. They had this giant snow storm.
It had a flat roof on that building. The roof could not deal with the weight of the snow, the roof collapsed, the hangar collapsed and all of the planes got squished but not before their tail fins poked through the ceiling. So, yes, that was a very expensive snowstorm crushing all those planes.
That same kind of plane, a P3-C Orion was on a patrol mission last Wednesday in the South China Sea when it had what the Navy is calling an unsafe encounter with a Chinese military plane. Now, this is not one of those things where they like send a little fighter jet out to do barrel rolls around our surveillance aircraft or something. The P-3 Orion that was the U.S. plane involved here but this was the Chinese plane. Look at that.
This was the plane that was involved in the unsafe incident on the Chinese side, or at least it was a plane like this. This is a weird looking plane, isn`t it? It`s also a four engine turbo prop plane, sort of potbellied, like sort of sway bellied. It`s got a sharp little pug nose.
And then it`s got this big thing that sticks off the top that looks like a solar panel from the `70s before we knew how to put them on right. It`s like the least aerodynamic radar array.
But that was it. That was the plane involved on Wednesday of last week. That weird looking plane, or one just like it, according to the U.S. military, quote, "crossed the nose of a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion.
The Pentagon says that the U.S. plane was in international air space. Again, the Orion, they say, was just on a routine patrol on the South China Sea, and this lumbering, strange looking Chinese plane that looks like a big billboard on its back crossed right in front of the Navy Orion. It came within a thousand feet of the U.S. Navy plane, according to the U.S. military. The American pilots in the Orion had to take a hard turn. They had to alter their course abruptly in order to avoid a midair collision and came within 1,000 feet.
And there are a couple of weird things about this. The first, these are not the kind of planes that you expect to be involved in an incident like this, right? These are big -- both of them, big lumbering surveillance aircraft that have been flying for decades. They are both turbo props, right?
I mean, the Orion, again, virtually unchanged since the 1960s. That Chinese plane, that`s called a KJ-200. It`s actually a derivative of a Soviet Union aircraft from back in a previous century when we had a Soviet Union. So, these are old, big, weird lumbering planes to be involved in something that`s this close of an encounter.
Another thing that`s strange about it is that we didn`t find out about it until two days after it happened. This unsafe encounter and having to take the evasive action reportedly happened on Wednesday. The Pentagon did not make any announcement until Friday. The Chinese military has still made no announcement about it at all.
But if you are keeping a list of things to worry about and wonder about these days, I think it`s fair to say you can go ahead and put this on the list. And I mean, you know, keep it in context. There`s a lot going on right now. We just got a new treasury secretary tonight, Steve Mnuchin, sworn in moments ago, another Goldman Sachs guy. Oh, good. You know, his dad worked for Goldman Sachs, too.
The labor secretary nominee now looks like he may be crashing and burning. He might not get confirmed at all. We`re going to have the latest on that coming up in a few minutes tonight, including the weird Oprah Winfrey part of it.
The big parlor game that the beltway media is playing now, which the Trump administration appears to be delighted to play along with, is all about the question of whether the president is going to fire his National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.
Whether or not you enjoy the will he or won`t he "Apprentice"-style who`s going to get fired drama that the White House is hyping here about him now, on real national security issues, on real stuff, not just talking about stuff, but real stuff, out in the world, there are some serious careening going on right now by our government. I mean, whether or not the national security adviser is going to be fired and "The Washington Post" just broke some hot new news about that within the last few minutes, we`re going to have the authors of that piece joining us in just a moment to explain this new development, whether or not Mike Flynn is going to get fired, he`s the national security adviser. He heads the National Security Council and the National Security Council still doesn`t have most of its staff.
And late on Friday night, we learned that one of the senior directors in the National Security Council, somebody who Mike Flynn had brought on board to the NSC with him, has now had to leave that post, leave the National Security Council all together because he was denied his request for a security clearance. We don`t know why he was denied his request for a security clearance but he`s out. That seems like a big deal.
Whether or not that is distracting to the national security adviser, whether or not it`s distracting to him to have the president of the United States dangling his potential firing for everybody else`s entertainment for days now, whether or not you`re in sort of engaged in the personality side of this, there is also national security stuff going on that does increasingly feel out of control, even wildly out of control. So, we had this incident last week with the Chinese plane and the American plane coming within 1,000 feet of each other in the South China Sea, right? This was last week. This was Wednesday.
The last incident, before this one, between the U.S. military and the Chinese military in that part of the world, you might remember, it was in early December.
Do you remember this, right after our presidential election, Barack Obama was still president. You might remember then-President-elect Trump decided to take a phone call from the president of Taiwan. And from China`s perspective, that`s the diplomatic equivalent of the United States, you know, throwing a drink in their face and then cursing their mother and leaving the toilet seat up, right?
I mean, that`s like -- it was rattling to them and a surprise. And at first, our American shock about that was that we didn`t know if our new incoming president actually understood the magnitude of what he had just done by taking this call from the president of Taiwan. We have a sort of deal with China where we don`t recognize the government of Taiwan.
When he took that call, we didn`t know if he understood that. Did he just blunder into this? His initial comments about taking that call are basically, ah, what`s the big deal? President of Taiwan, she called me. She had nice things to say to me. It would have been rude for me not to answer.
Eventually, they realized that wasn`t going to fly. They had to give some indication that the president knew what he was doing. And so, a few days later, they rolled out a new explanation. They rolled out a new explanation saying that the incoming president knew exactly what he was doing and actually what he was doing was just driving a very hard bargain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I fully understand the "One China" policy but I don`t know why we have to be bound by "One China" policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I understand it. But why do we have to be -- we`ll turn it into a deal, right? That was December 11th. He`s not yet president.
The incoming president, the president-elect at that time saying, "One China" policy, I don`t really plan to abide by it unless I get something for it. You can forget the cornerstone of 40 years of relationship between the United States and China. You can forget this "One China" policy so painstakingly crafted in the 1970s to allow us to have diplomatic relations with China, we`re going to throw that out of the window. That doesn`t apply anymore unless we get something for it.
Well, within five days of those comments, remember the Chinese navy stealing a U.S. military underwater drone from an American ship in the South China Sea? Remember that, leading to another tense, weird standoff, where the Chinese a reportedly agreed to give the drone back after they kept it for a few days and then the president-elect said, actually, we don`t want it back. We shouldn`t take it back?
It was very awkward and strange. Nobody knew exactly what was going to happen. Ultimately, Donald Trump was sworn in the following month, January 20th. After he was sworn in, the Chinese president did not call. Despite all the other world leader conversations, the new president had, China made no overtures.
That, in turn, led to a bit of graveling from our new president, 11 days after the start of the Chinese New Year, the White House sent belated happy New Year`s greetings to the Chinese president and the Chinese people. And then on Friday, he did finally take his call with the Chinese president and the White House put out a statement about it. This remarkable statement.
Quote, "The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed at the request of President Xi to honor our `One China` policy."
At the request of? That`s what you got for the "One China" policy. I mean, this is what I mean by careening. President Trump throws the "One China" policy out the window, puts our relationship with China at less than zero, communications between our two governments come to an end, we start having hard to explain isolated military confrontations between our troops and theirs and far flung locales. And then, just as suddenly, he totally capitulates.
I mean, after saying the China policy no longer stands, if China wants that, if China wants that back, they`re going to have to give us something for it. And then, ultimately, the "One China" policy goes back into effect, at the request of the Chinese president. So, what we get out of that big bargain is nothing. That was the big deal.
All right. You want this thing, you`re not going to get that thing unless you give us something and what we want for it is nothing. You can have it. What kind of a negotiation is that? What was that about? Why bother provoking China?
Why bother provoking that country in that way at the very outset of your administration if you`re going to take it back when they ask. It was really strange. I mean, that is -- that is where we were heading into this weekend, this bizarre, unfocused, unforced display of American weakness by our president. That was Friday.
And then on Saturday, North Korea tested a brand-new ballistic missile that they claim is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. And at the time of that North Korean missile test, the president was having dinner at his Florida club with the prime minister of Japan. Japan, of course, is one of the countries most threatened by North Korea`s military and belligerence and their nuclear capability. So far, heading into this new presidency, our president`s take on North Korea has not always inspired confidence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: One of the papers called the other say and they said, "Would you speak to the leader of North Korea?" I said, "Absolutely, why not?" And they come out. "Trump would speak to him."
Who the hell cares? I`ll speak to anybody. Who knows? There`s a 10 percent or a 20 percent chance that I can talk him out of those damn nukes because who the hell wants them to have nukes and there`s a chance. I`m only going to make a good deal for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wait until you see what kind of deal I got with China.
When North Korea tested its missile on Sunday night and the president was at this dinner party with the Japanese prime minister, he apparently decided that he and the Japanese prime minister would just sort of work it out there at dinner on the terrace at Mar-a-Lago in front of all of the other guests attending the dinner as well.
They did not leave and go to a secure facility. They did not take steps to isolate themselves to discuss whatever material they were discussing around this national security matter. We all just got to see it unfold on Facebook while paying club guests documented the American and Japanese reaction to the latest North Korea missile test on their cell phones because they were allowed to see it happen and post it on their social media feeds, because why not? It happened in front of them.
The White House insisted today that nothing classified, nothing about North Korea at all was being discussed at that dinner table in front of all of those guests. The White House said even though it looked like a lot of people were scrambling around and there was a lot of paperwork, and they were reviewing documents, these guys were reading things, there were discussions involving multiple aides and translators, the White House says today actually that whole discussion was not about North Korea at all. It was just about, quote, "reviewing logistics for the press conference that happened later that evening after the dinner."
For the record, here was Donald Trump`s complete participation in that press conference. You can see why the logistics must have been really hard to work out, why it needed all those people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime minister. I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its a great ally, 100 percent. Thank you.
(SPEAKIGN IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s it. You sort of thought there was going to be more there for a second, right? No. That was it. All of the scrambling, all of the aides, all of the documents, all of the conferring, all of the translators and everything, obviously, it was nothing to do with North Korea. It was to plan the very complex press conference.
"I just want everybody to know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, our great ally, 100 percent." That was it, full stop. That`s how they left it on Saturday night at the Situation Room -- I mean dinner.
And now tonight, they careen back into traffic again because the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, she put out a formal statement tonight on behalf of the U.S. government also responding to the North Korean missile launch after those comments from the president on Saturday night, and Nikki Haley`s comment tonight basically threatens war over that missile launch.
Quote, "We call on all members of the security council to use every available resource to make it clear to the North Korean regime and its enablers that these launches are unacceptable. It`s time to hold North Korea accountable, not with our words, but with our actions."
What actions? What actions are you threatening here? Actions against not only North Korea but its enablers. When people say North Korea`s enablers, they mean China. What actions is the U.S. government now threatening against not just North Korea but China tonight? And does that threat from the U.N. ambassador have anything at all to do with the president just saying we love Japan, good night, on Saturday, is his official response to the missile launch and the same president completely doing a 180 on his most important China policy the day before that with no explanation for the U-turn.
Was that near miss between our plane and a Chinese military plane last week, an accident or was that a provocation on purpose? Is there anybody who`s running China at the National Security Council?
Tonight, we`ve got a new treasury secretary. We`ve got a new V.A. secretary. Tomorrow, we`ll get a former wrestling executive, who`ll be confirmed as yet another cabinet secretary.
In California tonight, nearly 200,000 people have been evacuated in the face of very worrying failures at the largest dam in this country.
And the national security adviser might be getting fired. "The Washington Post" tonight reporting that the acting attorney general before she was fired warned the administration that the national security adviser might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. We`ve got that story next.
There`s a lot to keep an eye on. There`s a lot of balls in the air right now. But on national security, on the potential for military conflict with other countries, this White House is short circuiting and starting fires all over the place and careening incoherently from one irreconcilable position to another.
And in a world where things proceed in a predictable way, at this world where you can always see the news coming, right, there was no snowstorms destroying your Orion aircraft in Japan. There was no insane autocratic child dictator shooting off ballistic missiles, right?
If it was a world where stuff was predictable, we could afford to be another reckless, incoherent, random news generator among the country`s of the world. But to have the United States be the source of this much chaos and incompetence, that really is new on this earth.
And I don`t know how we`re going to deal with did in terms of our domestic politics but increasingly with each passing day, I really don`t know how the rest of the world is going to deal with it either.
MADDOW: So, we have some breaking news tonight that goes to the question not just of whether or not the national security adviser is about to be fired, but it also goes to how many people in the new administration knew the kind of trouble that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was in, how many people knew about that and when they knew it.
This is brand-new reporting from "The Washington Post" published just before we came on the air tonight. It`s headlined, "Justice Department warned White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail."
Quote, "The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had mislead senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian government and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail."
Now, you`ll recall that the acting attorney general, until last month, was Sally Yates. President Trump fired her when she said publicly that she believed his Muslim ban was illegal and she would not have the Justice Department defend it. That view, by the way, has been born out by many, many federal judges since she first put that in a letter to the new president.
But before she was fired, she apparently told the White House that the national security adviser might be personally compromised and, again, vulnerable to Russian blackmail. "The Post" story tonight continues, quote, "in the waning days of the Obama administration, Jim Clapper, who`s director of national intelligence, and John Brennan, who was CIA director, shared Sally Yates` concerns and concurred with her recommendation to inform the Trump White House. They feared that Flynn had put himself in a compromising position."
A senior Trump official said that the White House was aware of the matter adding, quote, "we`ve been working on this for weeks." For weeks, the Trump administration has known about this. For weeks. Really?
Joining us now is Adam Entous. He`s "The Washington Post" reporter who broke this tonight.
Mr. Entous, thanks very much for making time for us tonight. I really appreciate it.
ADAM ENTOUS, WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: No problem. Thank you.
MADDOW: So, obviously, the headline here and the lead graph are arresting, jarring. Why exactly did the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, conclude or surmise that the Russian government might be able to blackmail Mike Flynn, the national security adviser?
ENTOUS: Right. So what happened was when this intelligence first came in, which would be in late December, early January, you know, Yates saw the intelligence and was concerned that Flynn was potentially in violation of what is known as the Logan Act, which is a very obscure statute which would bar a nongovernment official from trying to influence another government`s policies. And so, that really was -- she knew that that was not something that would be pursued in court. There wouldn`t be a prosecution based on the Logan Act.
After Pence, the vice president-elect, and other officials started speaking publicly in defense of Flynn when these calls -- it emerged that these calls existed, when they started to say things like, I checked with Flynn and I can tell you now categorically that the issue of the election sanctions imposed by the Obama administration were not discussed in his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, when Yates and Clapper and Brennan heard that, they knew because they had read the intelligence that that was not accurate.
And so, at that point, they knew that also the Russians knew themselves that what was being said was inaccurate because Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, had reported to Moscow his conversation with Flynn. And so, Russia knew that what was being said by the White House was not true and the fear was that basically the Russians could try to use that information to put that over Flynn and to try to put pressure on him. And, obviously, they were concerned that the vice president-elect, Pence, seemed to have been misled.
MADDOW: So, on that point about pressuring Flynn, let me shake make sure that I understand this precisely. If the Russians knew that they had discussed sanctions, that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian government, and they know that he lied about it to the vice president and other senior officials, the Russian government conceivably could come to Mike Flynn, come to the national security adviser, and say, hey, we want to you do this thing for us and if you don`t, we`re going to tell the world or we`re going to tell the vice president or we`re going to tell the president of the United States that you`ve been lying to them. You wouldn`t want that to happen, would you? You better do what we want.
ENTOUS: I think it was less of a concern that they would tell the president of the United States or somebody else. I think the fear would be that they would actually just leak it publicly. And then Flynn would be obviously his reputation, his credibility would be tarnished. So, that was the concern.
And so, by telling the counsel to Trump at the White House, the goal was to take that leverage away from the Russians. So, as long as people in the White House were aware that this was an issue, they could try to address it and try to mitigate the risk that this could compromise Flynn and potentially compromise the Trump administration in its future dealings with Russia.
MADDOW: Adam, do you have any information about how the White House counsel Don McGahn reacted to this or whether the Trump administration took any internal action that they haven`t disclosed thus far publicly?
ENTOUS: Yes. I mean, so if -- so we know that Yates provided this information to the counsel sometime near the end of January, before she was fired. Obviously, there`s a period of a couple of weeks that have passed since then and based on the surprise that Pence had to the breaking of the story last week that Flynn had discussed the sanctions with Kislyak, I`m surmising here, but I don`t know for sure, but that council certainly did not share this information with Pence, the vice president.
It`s unclear really who shared the information. Also, we had an interview with Flynn last Wednesday in which he repeated what Pence, which is that, you know, Flynn insisted that he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak. So, it appears, based on that, one would think that he was not aware. So, frankly, I just don`t know who the council at the White House consulted with bout this.
MADDOW: Wow. That`s -- I mean, that`s remarkable, that something this explosive comes to the White House counsel`s office and it doesn`t get fixed. That`s amazing.
Adam Entous, "Washington Post" national security reporter -- thank you for helping understand this scope. Appreciate it.
ENTOUS: Thank you.
MADDOW: Again, this news breaking tonight in "The Washington Post" within the last hour, Justice Department warned the White House that National Security Adviser Mike Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail, as "Washington Post" reporter Adam Entous said there. After that warning, the White House appears to have not acted on that news.
Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: You know, the new president has only signed two bills since he came into office. One of them let`s the Government Accountability Office gather records more easily.
Wake up, sleepy puppy. Don`t fall asleep on the Government Accountability Office gathering records more easily. Come on, little puppy. Oh. That`s fun.
The other new law allowed General James Mattis to be sworn in as defense secretary, even though he`s only recently retired out of the military. We`re supposed to have civilian control over the military. But that`s it. Those are the two laws that the president has signed so far. That`s it, in terms of actual legislation.
But look, this is interesting. Neither of those two new laws are posted on the White House website where they`re supposed to post new laws. This is supposed to be like the grown up version of putting your report card on the fridge.
Look at all of the bills I`ve signed. Instead, it`s empty. Well, maybe the third time is a charm, because the president may get a shot at bill signing number three this week and it`s a doozy.
In the Obama administration, they created a rule to try to keep guns out of the hands of people who are classified as seriously mentally disabled by the Social Security Administration. So if a person is too mentally disabled to be able to handle his or her own affairs, like, you know, cash your own checks and stuff, that will pop on a background check if that seriously mentally disabled person tries to buy a gun.
Once President Obama left office, the Republican Congress decided that seriously mentally ill people definitely need easier access to firearms and they took a vote on it in the House and House Republicans on an almost perfect party line vote, they voted to get rid of that rule. They voted overtly to make it easier for the mentally ill to get guns. Almost a perfect party line vote on that.
It passed the House. Now, it`s going to the Senate. There are 52 Republicans in the Senate and everybody expects them all to vote yes by a mile.
Also, Joe Manchin, Democratic senator from West Virginia, he also says he will vote to end that rule. He will vote explicitly and only. It`s not like it`s folded into a more complicated thing. It`s just a vote to make it easier for seriously mentally ill people to have guns stand-alone now.
So, thanks to Republicans and Joe Manchin, this bill is expected to pass easily. I mean, nobody campaigned in November on needing to put more guns in the hands of people suffering from serious and disabling mental illness. But it`s probably going to be the third piece of legislation that Trump signs. It has been a top priority for the NRA and now the bill is moving on grease skids.
We`re told to expect a vote, I kid you not, as early as tomorrow. And if it passes the Senate, it will end up on the president`s desk. And then I`m sure they will tack the NRA bill up on the White House (INAUDIBLE). A lot of room for it.
MADDOW: So, we`re watching a situation that continues to unfold tonight in Oroville, California, where nearly 200,000 people have been evacuated around the nation`s tallest dam and those communities are facing a real possibility of catastrophic flooding. Now, we spent some time on the show on Friday night trying to wrap our heads around the scale of that dam and the scale of the problem at that dam. That was our lead story on Friday show. But over the weekend, it became a crisis of much greater proportions.
Again, we`re talking about a lot of people being evacuated, 188,000 people. Evacuation order came suddenly. Yesterday afternoon, people were told they might have only an hour to get out in time before possible failure and possibly catastrophic flooding at the site of the dam.
This is the Oroville Dam in happier times. You can see the main body of the dam there on the right side. It`s nearly 800 feet tall. It`s taller than the Hoover Dam. It`s the tallest dam in the country. It was built in 1968 or opened in 1968.
That dam created Lake Oroville, which is one of the two biggest reservoirs in California. It`s absolutely central to the drinking water system of the entire state. This is the centerpiece of how more than 20 million Californians get their drinking water.
Because of the crazy weather in California this winter, Lake Oroville up at the top of that dam is quite full. As of midnight last night, it was 100 percent capacity. So, they have to release some of that water and the way they do that is by pumping water down this concrete spillway. So it flows, you know, nicely and calmly into the Feather River below, eventually into the Sacramento River out into the San Francisco Bay.
But last week, the water coming down that spillway started looking crazy, right, shooting up and sideways and these churning plumes and the water looked really dirty. It`s not supposed to look like this.
When they shut off the water to get a look at what was wrong, they discovered this massive sinkhole in this spillway and it was growing. How big is this hole in the spillway? It`s this big. That`s people. Those little yellow specks there are people inspecting the damage.
But they have to keep running water down that spillway even if the water makes that hole worse, even if the water erodes more of that spillway because, as I said, the lake is full. Even pumping as much water as fast as they could down that dam and spillway was not enough as of this weekend. And on Saturday, for the first time in the 50-year history of that dam, they started pouring water over the dam`s emergency spillway as well.
And the emergency spillway isn`t even really a spillway. It`s just a hillside. And that -- there you go. That hillside even though, it`s supposed to be an emergency outlet for the water coming out of the lake, it did not hold up well this weekend.
I think we`ve got a shot of what the hillside looked like before this weekend. Here`s what it looked like by yesterday afternoon. Yes.
And see the lake there is on the left side. If that erosion underneath the rim of the reservoir there gets so bad that it takes out basically the wall that`s the rim of the reservoir, well, then all of that water`s going to come down the hill.
This is when the evacuation order went out this week, when they realized that erosion was that catastrophic on the emergency spillway, when they realized the sudden erosion was happening. When they realized it was happening to that hillside, they realized that concrete lip holding the reservoir could fail and that could send a 30-foot wall of water into communities. So, when they sent out that evacuation order yesterday, they at that point thought that that could fail within one hour and that was the rush on the evacuation for all of those people.
Now, again, looking at the overall structure, you see the dam is on the right side. It`s labeled Oroville Dam. That part of the dam, they say, is not in danger. And that`s good. But it`s not necessarily reassuring at this point when they keep sending huge amounts of water at high speed down the main spillway even though it`s got that giant sinkhole there, which very well could get bigger and could spread. If it spreads all the way up back the mountain to the gates of the dam, that too could be catastrophic.
Meanwhile, the hole in the emergency spillway, if they need to put more water down there, that could also grow. That could undermine the concrete lip at the top of the reservoir, and that could be catastrophic. I mean, right now officials say they have managed to pump out enough water to lower the level of the lake by a few feet, and the water`s no longer coming over the emergency spillway but more rain is forecast for the day after tomorrow. And the question is whether they can pump out enough water down the damaged spillway by the time the next storm comes and then there`s the question of how they are going to shore up and rebuild these spillways.
Crews have been trying to fill in the hole in the emergency spillway. They`ve been trying to buttress that concrete wall with boulders in bags delivered by helicopter. That sounds easy.
The sheriff says he doesn`t know when the nearly 200,000 people who have been evacuated will be able to come back home. There`s no timeline yet for when this will be safe. Just an extremely scary time for residents of that area and for all of California which depends on this massive piece of very broken infrastructure for a statewide functioning water system that literally provides water to tens of millions of people.
Joining us now from the Oroville Dam is Congressman John Garamendi. A hundred fifty thousand of the people evacuated because of this dam are from his district.
Congressman, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I know these are trying times.
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it is. And that was a very good explanation of what is going on here and it`s still very serious. You have about 28, 29 feet of water behind that emergency spillway, and it still is in question. And so, right now, all of that noise and activity behind me is to figure out how to pile enough rocks into it that it is strengthened and secure.
MADDOW: Congressman, do you feel like from what you know about this infrastructure and the California Department of Water Resources and the sheriff and the other authorities that are brought to bear on this, do you feel like this crisis is being well-managed, well-handled? Do you have confidence in the people in charge of this ongoing situation?
GARAMENDI: There`s several pieces to this puzzle. Let me kind of take them apart, Rachel.
The issue of the emergency evacuation last night I think was absolutely essential. That water was continuing to pour over the top of that emergency spillway and continuing the erosion. Looking at some of that today in the light of day, yes, it was really serious last night. Fortunately, when they were able to open the main spillway gates, they began to lower the reservoir level because the river water coming into the reservoir was about half of what they were able to expel down the main spillway.
So, it`s stabilized. But nonetheless -- so they did make the right call last night. Now, the next call will be, can this thing be patched up sufficient to withstand the storms that are clearly out ahead of us, one coming up later this week and even more as we move into March and early April, which are the heavy storm times here in the state.
So, we`ve got a lot of -- let`s call it tight time ahead of us. What happened before and why did that sinkhole happen? Was there somebody that overlooked the safety of that spillway and then there`s the question about the emergency spillway not having a concrete apron all the downhill side. Why didn`t that take place in the years past?
MADDOW: Congressman, obviously you`ve got 150,000 of your constituents who are not at home tonight, people who are not knowing how long this is going to go on. It`s a scary situation. It`s a human health and safety situation and quickly I imagine for many families already becoming a serious economic situation when we look at this as an infrastructure problem. I -- it boggles my mind to think how expensive this is going to be to get it fixed.
I understand that Governor Jerry Brown has put in an initial request for an emergency declaration from the White House.
Do you have any comment on that or any expectations in terms of whether or not California is going to be able to just handle this and whether families will be able to handle this economically?
GARAMENDI: Well, it`s certainly a tremendous strain on the families. I was at one of the centers down in Woodland, about 50 miles downstream from this area and mostly kids, young families. And you know, they are not able to work. And so, these communities are clearly having a major economic loss.
Can that emergency declaration that`s been requested by the governor and hopefully approved by the president, would that provide some economic relief? I think the answer is probably not to the individuals. But surely, there would be some additional federal money to help rebuild this system.
But this is just one really startling and very tragic and quite potentially a catastrophic example of what`s happened to the infrastructure across America. We`ve seen bridges collapse in Minnesota. We`ve seen them on I-5 up in Washington state and now this reservoir which is the linchpin of California`s water system may be inoperable in the year ahead because of the silt that has now filled the river below the powerhouse, which is the way in which water ultimately gets out of the reservoir and flows to southern California.
So, there`s a whole series of problems here, not only the dam`s safety but with water supply for the state of California in the coming summer.
MADDOW: Wow. Incredibly serious situation, a complex one.
GARAMENDI: It is.
MADDOW: Right in the middle of it still.
Congressman John Garamendi, who represents many of the people evacuated because of the Oroville, Dam -- thank you, sir. Good luck to you and your constituents. Please keep us apprised.
GARAMENDI: I will. Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Mystery solved. We think.
Last month, "Politico" reported on the existence of an old tape, having to do with the man on the right there, nominee to be labor secretary, Andy Puzder. This old tape supposedly showed Mr. Puzder`s former wife in disguise on a vintage episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show. According to this report, his ex-wife appeared on the Oprah show in disguise to describe abuse that she said took place in her marriage to Andy Puzder who`s now nominated for the Trump cabinet.
Both Mr. Puzder and his ex-wife have now denied there was any abuse in their relationship. You can imagine why anybody in the world was trying to find that old tape so people could find out what she was saying about it at the time.
Well, tonight, we are learning that not only has that tape finally surfaced, it has surfaced in the United States Senate, three days before Andy Puzder`s supposed to have his confirmation hearing in the United States Senate.
It`s a sort of amazing story and if the reporting on this is correct, it`s double amazing for how that tape made its way to Washington, D.C., and who has been watching it already.
That story is next.
MADDOW: Right around lunchtime today, this happened at the hairs of Hardee`s in St. Louis, Missouri. These folks marched into the corporate offices of the Hardee`s fast food chain. The same time, protesters were also marching outside the California headquarters of Carl`s Jr. today.
The nominee to be the new secretary of labor in this country is the CEO of Hardee`s and Carl`s Jr. His name is Andy Puzder. His confirmation hearing is supposed to business this Thursday. But this is what kickoff to his confirmation week looked like in more than two dozen cities around the country.
Democratic senators have fought hardest so far against Betsy DeVos to be education secretary and Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, but Democrats actually think they`ve got the best chance of beating the nomination of this guy.
Since he`s been CEO, Puzder`s fast food restaurants have been accused of erasing people`s work hours out of time charts in order to avoid paying them overtime. They`ve been accused of telling their employees to clock out and sit in the parking lot when business is slow, so the employees don`t get paid for that time. They`ve been accused of breaking child labor laws. They`ve also been accused of requiring their employees to pay 10 cents an hour every hour for the privilege of wearing a work uniform.
So, you can see why fast food workers would be willing to make a fuss in his corporate offices today. For the record, his defenders say it`s the individual restaurant store owners who are responsible for stuff like this, not Andy Puzder. He`s just the CEO.
But then there`s this. A court in Missouri tomorrow will decide whether or not to unseal Mr. Puzder`s divorce records. These records reportedly include allegations of domestic abuse made against him by his former wife in the 1980s. His former wife since recanted those allegations but today there`s a new wrinkle in that part of the story.
"Politico" reported a few weeks ago that Andy Puzder`s ex-wife had once appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, around the time of their divorce. She appeared in disguise to talk about being a victim of domestic violence. That reporting from "Politico" in January set off a frenzy of people searching for that tape of that "Oprah Winfrey Show". Nobody apparently found it.
Well, today, three days before the hearing in the Senate on Andy Puzder`s confirmation, the tape has reportedly surfaced. "The Washington Post" reporting that one of the four Republican senators who now says he or she is on the fence about Andy Puzder is Maine Senator Susan Collins. And she said she has reviewed footage of an "Oprah Winfrey Show" interview with Puzder`s ex-wife.
Tonight, "Politico" reports further the tape was provided to senators of both parties by the Oprah Winfrey Network. The episode was reportedly called "High Class Battered Women." They say it aired in March 1990.
Republican chairman on the committee overseeing Puzder`s nomination, Lamar Alexander, says he supports Puzder`s nomination although Senator Alexander, himself, has arranged for his colleagues on the committee to see the Oprah tape. He says the whole thing for him is not an issue.
The top Democrat on the issue disagrees, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who said she watched the tape and she was, quote, "deeply troubled by it."
Even before this development, we knew Andy Puzder was having serious trouble getting through the vetting process. His paperwork only came through this past week. It was revealed he hired an undocumented worker as a nanny and that he did not pay taxes for that person. His hearing has already being delayed five times.
But we now know this video of his ex-wife talking about abuse allegations against him in their marriage, that`s now in rotation on Capitol Hill.
Andy Puzder could only afford to lose two Republican votes if all Democrats vote against his nomination. It`d only take one Republican no vote in committee to see his nomination to the full seat, with an unfavorable recommendation. And on that committee, there are those four Republicans who say they`re on the fence.
And all of this is the street level opposition to his nomination continues to gather momentum. This is going to be a close one and an interesting one.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time your "THE LAST WORD," my friend, Joy Reid, sitting in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Joy.
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