Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: March 6, 2017 Guest: Adam Davidson, Betsy Fisher, Geraldine Custer
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining this hour. Happy Monday.
You know the airport that serves the Seattle area is called -- it`s not Seattle airport, right? It`s called SeaTac. The Tac is Tacoma -- Tacoma, Washington, is an hour south and a little west from Seattle.
And Tacoma is a big city. Seattle has about 650,000 people. Tacoma has about 200,000 people. I always love that part of the country, just a lovely part of that lovely state.
But on July 1st, 1940, Tacoma got a brand new bridge. A really important part of the infrastructure for that part of the world. July 1st, 1940, Tacoma got to connect with the tiptop northwest corner of Washington state. It`s a bridge that spans what they call the Tacoma Narrows.
But the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that they got on July 1st, 1940, it was not a good bridge. Look at that. Look at that. When they were building it, they knew something was wrong.
1938, 1939, 1940, the construction workers were building that thing were telling anyone who would listen that there was something wrong. This thing just moved way too much whenever the wind picked up. See the car there?
The construction workers who built this thing called it Galloping Gertie. It would twist and undulate and just sort of get going. It was basically a break dance move, right? And it was -- it`s amazing to see. It was sort of funny, object of fascination for a time.
But then on December 7, 1940, the same year that it was opened, it was actually two days after the presidential election that year, when FDR was elected to a third term, only about four months after that bridge opened, November 7, 1940, it collapsed, it broke apart. The winds got to be about 40 miles per hour that day and the twisting and undulation that had been so weird, it just finally blew the whole thing apart.
After the collapse of that bridge in November 7th, 1940, they actually just left the dead bridge in Puget Sound. They just left it there in the water.
And if you think about the time in terms of -- look at that -- in terms of what was going on in the country at that point, right? This is late 1940, November 1940, the country had other things on its mind. I mean, by 1941, we were into World War II and other more pressing uses for American steel and American engineering firepower.
So, even though collapsed in the fall of 1940, it was not until a decade later they replaced it and they put another bridge across the Tacoma Narrows. 1950, they built a new one, without the Galloping Gertie flaws of the old one. This one worked.
But you know what? By this century, even that replacement bridge from 1950, even that, well, it didn`t need replacing. It was fine. But Tacoma had outgrown it by the 2000s. So, in 2007, they opened up a whole new Tacoma Narrows Bridge. And the great thing is they put it up right next to the old one, where ones was the terrifying physics class roller coaster that bucked like a bronco.
Now, you see how there`s two sets of bridges there. See the two towers next to each other? Now, they got two bridges there.
The replacement bridge form 1950 carries cars out of Tacoma, and the brand spanking bigger, new modern bridge right next to it, that carries cars eastbound into Tacoma. So, the good people of Tacoma are now lousy in bridges over that particular part of Puget Sound. They got the 1951, they`ve got the 2007 one.
And both of those bridges that they`ve got are a good reminder now of the importance of good engineering. Just because you can build something, doesn`t mean you can build it right.
The company that built the latest bridge, the modern bridge over the Tacoma Narrows. That`s company called Bechtel. Bechtel is one of the biggest companies in the United States. And the amount of stuff they have built or had a hand in building since Bechtel was founded over 100 years ago, it`s basically a history of major infrastructure and building adventures in America and around the world for good and bad.
I mean, Bechtel played a big part in building Hoover Dam. They built the D.C. Metro. They built tons of nuclear power plants. They built the Channel Tunnel, the Chunnel between England and France. They built hundreds of U.S. warships during World War II. They built some of the earliest railroads in the American West starting with mule-drawn power.
They built oil pipelines all over the Middle East. They built the metro system for the city of Athens, Greece. The built the jubilee line for the London tube. They`re building the Saudi city of Riyadh a brand new subway system right now, one of the biggest projects they`ve ever been involved in. They did the big dig in Boston, which was almost unimaginably big.
If your city just found out that you`re going to be hosting an Olympics sometime in the future, these guys are probably who you will call to build all of your Olympics facilities as well. When they decided that the only thing to do with Chernobyl was to build a giant dome to cover it up forever, because it`s going to be radioactive forever, well, these guys built the giant dome, too.
Bechtel has built like everything. And when you`re a company as big as Bechtel, you are bound to be a controversial company. I mean, when they got contracts from the George W. Bush administration to rebuild Iraq, and the Iraq War, lots of Americans started having nightmares about Bechtel all at once.
But, whatever you think about this ginormous company, it`s worth appreciating all the things they`ve done in their history as a company. They are undoubtedly really experienced. They have built bridges and roads and railroads and pipelines and power plants and you name it all over the world. And they have been doing it for over a century.
And before WikiLeaks got all inextricably bound up in our new national nightmare about Russia hacking our presidential election. Before that`s what we thought of when we thought of WikiLeaks, back when WikiLeaks was instead just wholesale dumping U.S. State Department cables into the public domain, one of the things we learned via WikiLeaks in that era was actually about a funny thing, a thing on the surface that`s inexplicable, that happened to this giant company Bechtel.
And it happened in that country that you see there in yellow. This little country that sandwiched right between giant Russia on the top and giant Iran on the bottom, it`s a country called Azerbaijan. A small country, it`s about the size of Ireland. It`s a former Soviet state run by a dictator.
Now they have got oil money, that`s always a good combination. The new oil money doesn`t, of course, mean that the people of that country are no better off. It never works that way under a dictator. And in the case of Azerbaijan, though, they`re oil wealth has resulted in them doing a lot of building. They`ve built a whole bunch of stuff, particularly in their capital city of Baku. Big show-offy modern buildings, big fancy buildings in particular for government agencies.
And in 2007, the transportation minister in Azerbaijan, he had what could have been a really, really important meeting for the future of his country. He met with Bechtel, to talk about roads. He met with this giant American company that has, you know, that built the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the latest one. And that built the Hoover Dam and nuclear power plants and pipelines and roads all over the world.
Transportation minister from this little country, flushed with oil money. He met with the senior vice president of Bechtel, to talk about the prospect of Bechtel coming to Azerbaijan and building roads all over that country. Big projects. Lots of roads, they`ve got money to spend, that`s part what have they want to send it on. Bechtel totally could have done that. Like I said, they`ve done it all over the world.
But that meeting happened in April 2007. And they made no deal. And part of the reason we know how that meeting went is because of WikiLeaks.
The American ambassador in that country cabled home to the State Department to explain what happened with that meeting, of that executive from that big American company coming to talk about a big infrastructure deal with this transportation minister. She explained that the Azerbaijanis, quote, "pressed" the Bechtel senior vice president on a typical price for any proposed Bechtel road project. After extensive caveats, the Bechtel executive said that a typical greenfield type road, being starting from nothing could coast approximately $5 to $6 million per kilometer. That`s the basic price.
And continuing from the cable, quote, "That amount struck Minister Mammadov as quite expensive." The minister thought that was way too much to spend.
So, for each new kilometer of road, Bechtel wanted to charge 5 million or 6 million bucks. Azerbaijan transportation minister said, no way, that`s way too expensive and sent them packing, sent them home empty handed and they hired somebody else to do the work instead.
And instead of costing $5 million or $6 million per kilometer, they had the work done for $18 million per kilometer. Huh?
Bechtel must have been like say, what now? We`re too expensive, so you sent us away so you can have the work done instead at more than triple our price? Because we`re too expensive? What?
When stuff stops making any financial sense on the surface, that`s where it often starts to make sense when it comes to stories related to our new president.
Reporter Adam Davidson has a new piece out in the "New Yorker" today about what may end up being the next major line of inquiry into our new president. And it is starting to me to look like one of the best explanations we have had yet about why the White House is so dramatically freaked out about the prospect there might be an independent investigation into this president and his foreign contacts.
And this story basically has just a few little steps we have to follow in order to see what a problem this is for the president. Basically three steps to understanding this. The first one is what explains that Bechtel thing? What dynamic is at work there? Right?
Why would this country turn down Bechtel to do this work because of their $6 million price tag saying that`s too expensive? And then, instead give it to another company who charged triple that? Well, the company that charged triple that, the company that got that gig instead of Bechtel, the company that did the work and tripled the price, thank you very much, that is a company that is believed to be Iran`s Revolutionary Guard.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is basically the second military in Iran. It is charged with preserving internal order in this country. And, yes, that`s meant to be a scary thing to say. But the Revolution Guard also wages war on behalf of Iranian interests and the supreme leader around the globe. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is one of the world`s major supporters, financial and otherwise, of international terrorist movements. And, of course, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is deeply sanctioned by the U.S. government.
Revolutionary Guard actually sort of counterintuitive in terms of the way we think about military stuff here, but the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, like I said, they financially and otherwise support terrorist movements around the globe, and they have a ton of their own money. They are a financial power house.
Revolutionary Guard in Iran, they`ve got front companies in everything from oil and gas to illegal alcohol importing to weapons manufacturing to construction, lots of construction. Revolutionary Guard has a lot of money and they need a lot of money for what they do around the world.
But with the sanctions on them, it`s awkward, it`s hard, it`s often illegal for them to move their money around. So, they need what appear to be legitimate business transactions, the bigger the better, to receive and to spend as much money as possible, to move as much Revolutionary Guard money as is possible through seemingly legitimate means so that Revolutionary Guard money becomes apparently legitimate business money, which then is much easier to access and much easier to move around the globe. So, you can, you can, finance terrorist groups or whatever else it is you need to do.
So, if you`re the Revolutionary Guard, you need front companies to do what appears to be legitimate business. It you`re the Revolutionary Guard, you`ve got a front company doing construction and if you can get a deal, the infrastructure deal during some construction projects, somewhere, you know what? The bigger the deal, the better. The more money moves through that the better.
And if you`re the transportation minister in a country like Azerbaijan -- well, the bigger the better for you too, right? I mean, if you care about a good deal for the people of your country, then, of course, it would be a bad thing to have money moving through these contracts unnecessarily.
But if you want to support the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and if the guard wants to help you out in return, well, you know what? Big is beautiful then. Can we quadruple this?
Transportation minister in Azerbaijan who did these deals, his government salary is reportedly about $12,000 a year. Somehow on a salary of $12,000 a year, he has become a billionaire.
We`re sort of all learning now that this is one of the things to watch for in international corruption, money laundering, bribery schemes. Look for deals on the surface make no financial sense, because they are going to make sense in some other way.
Look for example at this. You see this big building in the center of the picture. Look at the roads around it. If you wanted to drive to that building, how would you drive to that building?
Adam Davidson writes in "The New Yorker", quote, "reaching the property is surprisingly difficult. The tower stands amid a welter of on-ramps, off- ramps and overpasses. During the nine days I was in town, I went to the site half a dozen times. On each occasion, I had a comical exchange with the taxi driver who had no idea which combination of turns would lead to the entrance."
So, it`s literately hard to get into. This is a picture from one angle. I just have to show you. This is a picture that ran in "The New Yorker" today that I think is supposed to be the front of the building.
Point of personal privilege here, Susan saw me reading this article and laughed out loud when I got to this page. She said she thought from across the room that I was locking at dirty pictures.
It does have a certain something, come on. Paging, Georgia O`Keefe.
But this building I have to say, whatever you think this looks like, it doesn`t make sense for a bunch of reasons. Not just because there`s no way to get there, there`s no way to get to it and it`s kind of hilarious looking from the front, but look at this. We marked on this map with the red arrow, that`s where the fancy hotels are in the capital, right on the Caspian Sea, right?
The other building we just showed you, the one with the onramps and off ramps to nowhere and everything, that big new building, it`s not where all the other hotels are. It`s over there. And what`s described as not a particularly good neighborhood, it`s over by an extensive field of rail yards. It`s about an hour`s walk from where any other well off western tourist might be expected to stay in this town. It`s weird for a luxury building.
Until December, until December, this past December, where the upper right arrow is there, that weird building that you can`t get into in the middle of nowhere next to the rail yards, that was supposed to be the site of the new Trump Tower in Azerbaijan, in all of its Georgia O`Keefe glory. It`s supposed to be way over there, away from everything else in that capital city.
In fact, I know it`s hard. If you have never been there, I`ve never been there. You might find it hard to sort of picture what`s weird about the location. Let me show you how weird that location was.
2014, the president`s daughter Ivanka was on a business trip to Azerbaijan. They had a Trump building project there. She posted this Facebook video showing how awesome the view was from her hotel rom.
(BGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: A very long flight, but I`m here in Baku, Azerbaijan. Check it out. The view from my balcony. The Flame Towers. And the Caspian Sea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is, in fact, a lovely view there right next to the Caspian Sea. That`s nowhere near the building she`s there to work on. That`s not where the Trump Tower was going. We think she`s at the Four Seasons, which is five kilometers away and an hour`s walk from where the Trump building was going up in the middle of town nowhere near the sea, right, in all its hard to look at glory.
This building in this random neighborhood in Baku, Azerbaijan, it`s a business project that really just doesn`t make sense on the surface. The building is a huge luxury development that isn`t sustaining its luxury properties. It`s in the wrong part of town for a luxury property. No way was it ever designed to get into the property. Why was this built? How could it make financial sense to pour this much in terms of resources into something that doesn`t even seem like it was designed to work?
This was supposed to be Trump Tower, Baku, Azerbaijan. One month after our presidential election, the Trump Organization abandoned this project. They pulled out.
And here`s what you need to know. The Trump family`s business partner in that project is the family of the transportation minister of Azerbaijan. The one who made all those lucrative partnerships, the inexplicably lucrative deals with companies that really do appear to just be fronts for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Apparently helping the Iranian Revolutionary Guard launder money, evade sanctions for their support of terrorism around the world and making himself and his own family wildly wealthy in the process. That was their partner. His family was their partner in that deal.
Deals that make no financial sense on the surface are worth a second look to see if they make some other kind of sense some other way of looking at it. If you were a government official who gets rich off the contracts you award and the projects you green light, you might award anything as a contract, right? You might green light anything.
And American businesses are free to do business anywhere it is legal to do business in the world. But American businesses are not allowed to accept any funds if the origin of those funds is a sanctioned organization like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. And you have to check it out. You have to know.
American businesses are not allowed to participate in business deals with partners who are acting illegally. And you have to know, you have to check it out. Looking the other way is not a defense.
Do you know the handbag company Dooney & Bourke, me neither. I don`t know if I`m saying it right. But they are nice handbags. I`m learning about them because Frederick Bourke of Dooney & Bourke was convicted in 2009 of doing a business deal in Azerbaijan with a corrupt partner.
The handbag guy wasn`t paying the bribes. He was just in business with Azerbaijani guy who did pay bribes, who was corrupt. And that`s enough to have put the handbag guy in federal prison. If you`re an American business, you`re expected to do your due diligence to make sure the people you`re doing business with are not paying bribes, they are not corrupt.
In the case of this inexplicable Trump building project that was inexplicably abandoned right after the election, Trump and his family were in the business, were in business with the cartoon caricature of corruption in that country. And I mean that almost literally.
In the fall of 2014, four months before Ivanka Trump was on the balcony of the Four Seasons showing off the Caspian Sea from a normal hotel location, you know, the family she was there to do business with was featured in this article in "Foreign Policy" magazine. Look at the headline. "The Corleones of hteh Caspian."
Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is U.S. law, not to put too fine a point on it, but under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, you cannot go into business with the Corleone s of the Caspian. You must as an American business do due diligence to make sure your financial partners in your international businesses are not paying bribes, are not outrageously corrupt, are not involved in huge repeated financial dealings with sanctioned international sponsors of terrorism like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It is a violation of U.S. law to do business with, to make money from a business partnership like that.
The new president, as I said, he and his organize organization backed out of this deal a month after the election. Not before he received millions of dollars in the deal. We know that from the limited financial filing he made as a candidate for president.
If there is going to be an independent investigation of this president, his campaign and his ties to Russia, right, it is inconceivable that an independent investigation would not include an examination of the president`s financials, right? His tax returns, his business records, all the rest.
Adam Davidson at the "New Yorker" has just detailed enough about the president`s dealings in this one former Soviet republic to raise several questions. I mean, is the president or his family potentially at risk of having violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is a crime for which you go to jail.
Is the president or is his family potentially at risk of being blackmailed by foreign business partners who have evidence of ties or behavior that might put the president and his family in legal jeopardy if those things were exposed.
A senior Democrat on the Banking Committee is Senator Sherrod Brown. He says he`s seen enough about this particular deal to justify starting a new inquiry into our new president. We`ll have more on that ahead.
But if there is an independent, truly independent inquiry into this president, whether it starts in Russia and winds its way through Azerbaijan, or whether it maybe even starts here, starts with this in Azerbaijan.
There is a reason we should expect this White House, this president to do everything in his power to keep secret his finances and his business dealings. But you know what, if you get paid an extra $60 million for a house in Palm Beach that no one wants to live in and it gets torn down with a guy never living in it, never setting foot in it, you get paid an extra $60 million over what you paid for it and you put nothing into it, and the guy who paid it is a Russian guy, that needs explaining. If your company is getting paid millions of dollars for a project that makes no sense, that is one degree of separation from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, that needs explaining.
We`ve got two of these stories now in one week. How many more do you think there are? And what length dos you think they will go to avoid this being turned over and made public? Stay with us.
MADDOW: Reporter Adam Davidson is known for making complex financial crime and intrigue readable and understandable even for us bozos whose eyes glazed over at the sight of a stock ticker. In the "New Yorker" today, he has unfolded a very dark story about the Trump organization in the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan.
Senator Sherrod Brown is the top Democrat in the Banking Committee and he wants an investigation. He says, quote, "Congress and the Trump administration itself have a duty to examine whether the president or his family is exposed to terrorist financing, sanctions, money laundering and other imprudent associations through their business holdings and connections."
Senator Brown has also now written to the Treasury Department, which, of course, has jurisdictions over sanctions and terrorist financing issues. He`s asking the Treasury Department to look into the president`s business ties. Quote, "Unlike previous presidents, President Trump has elected to not divest himself of investments that pose potential conflicts of interest. The lack of transparency with respect to those interests raises questions about whether they may pose any potential or immediate conflicts with existing federal laws and regulations related to terrorist financing, sanctions, anti-money laundering, Bank Secrecy Act requirements, anti- corruption rules, national security interests, and the like.
Senator Brown is asking the Treasury Department to look into those ties, quote, "in the interest of the Trump family and the American people."
Joining us now is the author of this new piece in "The New Yorker", Adam Davidson. He`s a staff writer with the magazine.
Adam, thanks for being here.
ADAM DAVIDSON, THE NEW YORKER: Thank you, Rachel. Great to be here.
MADDOW: So, you write this story, obviously, very different than I told it. But is the basic idea that any American company operating in Azerbaijan needs to be careful of running afoul of the U.S. law here, Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act.
ADAM DAVIDSON, THE NEW YORKER REPORTER: Any American company doing business anywhere in the world needs to be careful about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and they know that. They know that. They are careful about it.
MADDOW: And is this something that`s aggressively prosecuted?
DAVIDSON: It`s aggressively prosecuted. And it`s something you -- I`ve asked so many lawyers, so many corporate folks who know this world. I said, explain to me, is this thing that the Trump Organization did partnering with a man who is called notoriously corrupt, even for Azerbaijan, which is known as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, is this weird?
And then when you thrown the Iran connection, is this 30 percent, 40 percent of companies would do this, 10 percent? And I heard so many people say no percent. Nobody would do this. This is extreme behavior, even for corporations that aren`t for some ethical reason don`t want to be corrupt. They are just simply reasonable risk managers. They are not going to get in business with someone who is thoroughly corrupt and has relationships with the Revolutionary Guard.
MADDOW: Not out of the goodness of their heart, but because it`s illegal under American law to do so.
DAVIDSON: You go to jail. The fines are way disproportionate to the money you make. So, Trump stood to make $2 million to $3 million a year. He could have easily been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for this deal. For all we know, he will be.
MADDOW: The red flags here, let me just line them up and you tell me if I got this right. One of the red flags is doing business in Azerbaijan, which is a country that`s known to have a corruption problem. The other is doing business with a government official, which itself can be a marker.
DAVIDSON: And in this case, too, the treasury, the transportation minister and his brother, who was a member of parliament.
MADDOW: And in this case, this is a government minister who on $12,000 a year government salary in the case of the transportation minister has apparently become a billionaire.
DAVIDSON: He saved well. He`s very smart in his investments. Yes.
MADDOW: He was in that Snapchat idea. I know how that goes.
MADDOW: And the implication here is that this is a way that the Trump Organization regularly did business or that this is a uniquely dangerous deal even for them?
DAVIDSON: They -- I will say, the Trump Organization said some things that I consider troubling. They said, we did all appropriate due diligence. I asked them again and again, please show me the due diligence because nobody thinks this was appropriate due diligence. If you show me due diligence, then I know you did it.
They refused to show me. I couldn`t tell if they lost it. if they didn`t do any or if they did or it showed red flags, and they didn`t want -- I have no idea. But they didn`t show it to me.
And they kept saying, this is our standard due diligence. There are dozens of deals around the world and this is the one I spent three and a half months really digging into. But the ones I just peeked at, the Brazil deal fell apart because of deep corruption. Their deal in Indonesia is very questionable. The fell apart in Georgia is questionable. The deal in Turkey is questionable, and on and on and on.
And one of the things that was shocking to me, I mean, you`d think by November, December of last year, we reporters sort of knew a lot about Donald Trump. But looking at just one deal, spending three and a half months on it, there was so much that shocked me in the shabbiness with which they approached this deal. And I do have to wonder with dozens of other deals what else is out there.
MADDOW: What else is out there? What else remains to be found?
What will be the response of authorities in this country if the suspicions are borne out and is the first family or the president vulnerable to blackmail if there are people out there who can document this stuff in a way that prosecutors will find resistible? To be determined on all those things.
Adam Davidson, staff writer at "The New Yorker" -- thank you. Appreciate it.
DAVIDSON: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I know you didn`t let me. But thank you for letting me have that much time with your story.
DAVIDSON: I loved it.
MADDOW: It`s incredible work.
DAVIDSON: Thank you.
MADDOW: A whole lot going on today. Very busy day. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In the five weeks since Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed in a raid in Yemen that went disastrously wrong, his father has given precisely one interview to "The Miami Herald". And the headline everybody pulled out of that interview was that when Ryan Owens body was brought back to the U.S., his grieving father declined to meet with the president at Dover Air Force Base.
You know, there was something else that Bill Owens said at the end of that "Miami Herald" write up that has stuck with me. And it did not get as much attention. But it feels important today.
When Donald Trump signed his Muslim ban the first time, it was January 27th. It was a Friday. That order singled out seven majority Muslim nations and banned travel to the United States by anyone from any one of those seven countries. And one of those seven countries was Yemen. That was on Friday.
And the very next day on Saturday, the U.S. launched what turned out to be this disastrous American raid in Yemen. A large number of civilians were killed, including at least one child. Four Navy SEALs were wounded. Ryan Owens was killed.
Here`s "The Miami Herald", at the end of that interview, speaking with Ryan Owen`s father about that raid. Quote, "One aspect of the chain of events that nags at him is the fact that the president signed the order suspending the entry of immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries, including Yemen the day before the mission. Owens wonders whether that affected friendly forces in Yemen who were assisting with the raid. He says, quote, `It just doesn`t make any sense to do something to antagonizes an ally when you`re going to conduct a mission in that country. Did we alienate some of the people working with them, translators or support people, maybe they decided to release information to jeopardize the mission.`"
Great question. One day we tell Yemen nobody from your country can come to our country. The next day, we launch an on the ground raid in Yemen. It`s been reported that the SEALs lost the element of the surprise from the beginning of that raid, that al Qaeda fighters were somehow tipped off and knew they were coming. If any Yemenis were involved anywhere along the chain in the operation, the SEALs obviously, the whole military was counting on them to be partners in this.
Why would you sign something so inflammatory about Yemen the day before this incredibly difficult, up-scaled conflict mission? Right? In Yemen.
We don`t know whether that decision had an affect on the raid, but you can see why Ryan Owens` father is wondering if it did. Now, the Trump administration has issued the new version of their Muslim ban. It`s only six majority Muslim countries this time. Yemen is still on it. Iraq is off.
We saw what the fight over this was like with the last, when thousands of people descending on the nation`s airports and protesting. Then, the Muslim ban just got destroyed in court with ruling after ruling going against the administration. While this new order, they`re saying it`s going to go into effect. In a week and a half, it`s going to go into effect in ten days.
So three, two, one, here we go.
MADDOW: The first time this president signed a Muslim ban, a call went out for volunteer attorneys to show up, to go to airports, to help people whose lives had suddenly been upended by this new radical, poorly run policy. The International Refugee Assistance Project made that call for volunteer attorneys. Within four hours, 3,000 attorneys had signed up to volunteer. It`s part of the way that I knew our country was something different than I thought it was going to be in this new era, that there was a new level of civic engagement we hoped for but never expected.
With the president signing the new version today, is that going to happen again? Should we expect it to happen again and will it help if it does?
Joining us now is Betsy Fisher. She`s policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project.
Ms. Fisher, thank you for being here.
BETSY FISHER, INTERNATIONAL REFUGEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Is this the same policy basically as the old one, just with different dressing?
FISHER: It`s the same policy with different dressing, exactly.
MADDOW: What are you expecting in terms of when this goes into effect next week? The first time this happened, a big part of what we saw was chaos and upset. Are you expecting it to be any different?
FISHER: We`re expecting the crisis to remain for refugees in the Middle East where they are, because they will be left in limbo. We don`t think there will be the same chaos and catastrophe in airports.
MADDOW: What will lawyers be able to do? Seeing lawyers respond personally trying to advocate individually for people who are stuck and in limbo, it was heartening to see, as I just said, it was this incredible level of rising to the occasion on civic terms. What do you expect to see in terms of the response and what do you need in terms of your own advocacy?
FISHER: Sure. Well, we will continue to challenge this ban through our litigation and by working with members of Congress and members of the public to express their opposition to this ban. But the administration was very clear that it intended to discriminate against Muslims and whatever that the words that they use, it`s clear the intent of this order is to do just that. So, we will continue to challenge it.
But as far as assisting refugees who are in transit, refugees won`t be left in transit. They will be stranded in the Middle East for at least 120 days while this refugee resettlement program is on pause.
MADDOW: And while the program is on pause, as you say, in addition, the overall number of refugees coming into the country will be quite severely curtailed, cut back by more than half. How is that going to work in practice? Is that just going to make it a more selective process? Is it going to be a random distribution in terms of how that affects people who might otherwise qualify?
FISHER: Well, we don`t know completely how that will work out. What we know is that tens of thousands of refugees who are in the very late stages of a year`s long screening process will remain in limbo and in many cases in danger. And among those people are thousands of Iraqis who served as military translators who are waiting for resettlement through the refugee program, kids with medical emergencies, many others.
MADDOW: Has anybody from the administration talked to you or talked to other people that do the kind of work you do about what their ideas mean in terms of extreme vetting and the way these things are going to be allowed to be cut back. Have any gone through any sort of due diligence with you guys in terms of being the people who actually worked with refugee families?
FISHER: We haven`t had that kind of engagement. And certainly, the extreme vetting that we have had has been in place for many years for refugees. And we see people rejected for pretenses for many years. It`s already extreme vetting.
MADDOW: Betsy Fisher, policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project, which has a very solid reputation in this field doing very difficult work. Good luck.
FISHER: Thank you. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Keep us apprised.
We`ll be right back with a story I guarantee you have not seen anywhere else that will not involve the word Trump even once.
MADDOW: Montana has only one congressional district. It`s a giant Montana-shaped congressional district. Montana has only one member of Congress. Right now, it`s Ryan Zinke.
He`s no longer in Congress though because he`s been -- he`s no longer a member of Congress. He`s now the secretary of the interior. So, he has vacated husband House seat and that means that Montana needs a new member of Congress.
Every election for Montana`s congressional seat is a statewide election because they`ve only got the one congressional district. That means electing a member of Congress in Montana is expensive. And they`ve got to pick a new one now because of Ryan Zinke being elevated to the cabinet, they got to pick one now in a special election.
Montana doesn`t budget for something like a statewide special election. And I should also tell you that the budgets are already a little crimped, anyway, because in Montana, they had an unusually expensive election in November, that busted the budget of a lot of counties that had to pay to administer these things. It`s all a big bummer.
But there is a neat solution. They can hold the election via a mail-in ballot. Montana already knows how to do it, their local elections, their school bond issues, pretty much everything except federal elections are already done by mail. Local county clerks across the state have been advocating that they do this as a mail-in election.
Quote, "Conducting the election by mail would conservatively save taxpayers state wide between a half million and three quarters of a million dollars." So, that`s a cheap easy way to do it and know how to do it. The idea gained support from Republican lawmakers who sponsored the bill to switch the special election to replace Ryan Zinke to a vote by mail election, fiscally conservative plan. That`s good, because both the House and Senate in Montana are controlled by Republicans.
But it has found opposition from an unlikely source., Montana`s Republican leadership, meaning the chairman of the party. Last week, as this bill for a mail-in election gained steam, the Republican Party chairman blasted this out. Quote, "All mail ballots give the Democrats an inherent advantage. Vote by mail was designed to increase participation rates of lower propensity voters. They may be well intended, but this bill could be the death of our effort to make Montana a reliably Republican state."
So, the state party chairman is saying we can`t vote by mail, too many people will vote. That will make it too likely that a Democrat might win that election.
Nevertheless, the Republican bill to make it a vote-by-mail election, it passed the state Senate last week. That bill now awaits its fate in the statehouse.
Our next guest says the bill, which she co-sponsored, that vote-by-mail bill, she says it`s being purposely derailed in the House by her party leadership and she is fighting back against it.
Joining us now is Republican Montana State Rep Geraldine Custer. She says she has a plan to keep the bill alive.
Representative Custer, I`ve been so looking forward to talking to you about this. Thank you so much for being here.
STATE REP. GERALDINE CUSTER (R), MONTANA: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: So, the bill that passed the Senate is substantially so much of the bill that you are sponsoring in the House. Did you know it would be controversial when you first wrote it up, first thought about introducing it?
CUSTER: I did not. I thought it would be a way to save money for the counties and it makes sense that everybody get a ballot and vote. I didn`t think there would be an issue with what would be the problem with everyone getting a ballot and voting it.
MADDOW: I understand that are a former -- sorry, excuse me. Sorry, ma`am. Didn`t mean to interrupt. Continue.
CUSTER: I was going to say, is the party chairman saying maybe Republicans won`t go to the post office with their vote-ballot or won`t drop it off at the courthouse as opposed to Democrats?
MADDOW: I understand that you are a former country elections administrator yourself. That you`ve done this actual -- this work at the county level. I`ve been struck by these good government arguments, these fiscally conservative arguments that have been made by county clerks across the state. Just saying, listen, Montana knows how to do this, this is an easy way to do it. It`s familiar to everybody and we can do this without controversy.
Is there any substantive objection to it other than the party chairman saying that it might help Democrats?
CUSTER: There`s not anything that`s wrong with mail ballots I can think of. We`ve been doing mail ballots since 1983 in the state. Most the school elections are held that way and which are mostly the bond elections. Any time there is a special bond election, they`re usually held by mail so you can get a better turnout, because that`s what happens with the mail ballot election. You get a way better turnout.
And all the municipal elections now are held that way so the mayors and the city councils and -- are elected by mail and a lot of the special smaller districts and it`s just more convenient and it`s very cost effective.
And that`s the problem with the elections, especially one that usually you have two years to plan for and this is going to happen within 85 days and right now the clock is ticking, less than 85 days right now. It`s -- and the big venues and bigger areas, they usually book those two years out so you just can`t get a venue on May 25th this close to the election.
There are lots of them are in use like the bigger areas, fairgrounds, civic centers, the metro that`s in one of our largest counties, population wise. And then our judges -- our judges are -- a lot of them are snow birds and they`re still in Arizona.
And school`s on. And for a lot of the polling places in the rural areas use schools so there`s always a conflict with the room. There`s just a lot of reasons to have a mail ballot election.
MADDOW: State Representative Geraldine --
CUSTER: More cost effective and easier.
MADDOW: I`m sorry. We`ve got this awkward satellite delay which is why I stepped on you twice there, ma`am. I`m sorry.
I want to thank you for coming to studio tonight to talk to us about this. I know that tomorrow, the legislature`s back in session. We`ll be watching this closely, an interesting interparty fight there that you`ve got among your fellow Montana Republicans.
Keep us apprised, ma`am. It`s nice to meet you.
CUSTER: Yes, I will. Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
CUSTER: It will be interesting to watch this tomorrow. State legislature, state house is back in Montana tomorrow. The bill sponsor you just saw there has got a fight for her bill. The leadership of her party is going to be trying to kill this thing. Republicans fighting Republicans over whether or not they want a cost-effective way that makes it easy to vote.
I love state politics.
All right. Stay with us. More ahead.
MADDOW: Tomorrow morning, 10:00 Eastern, get thee to a -- get thee to a TV. Easy for me to say. Ten a.m. Eastern tomorrow is the confirmation hearing for deputy attorney general of the United States, which I know is not something you would usually care about. But now that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has recused himself from any investigations into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, it is the deputy attorney general who would oversee any such investigations or who would decide if maybe an outside special prosecutor should handle that instead.
Nominee to be deputy A.G. is a U.S. attorney for the state of Maryland, his name is Rod Rosenstein. He has not emerged thus far as a particularly divisive or controversial nominee. Nevertheless, this is going to be must- see TV because he`s about to step into a job that`s critically important to the future of the country.
We do not yet know what we would plan on doing if he becomes deputy A.G. It`s entirely possible we`ll find that out tomorrow at the hearing because Democrats are making this decision about whether or not a special prosecutor should be appointed, they`re making that a stick point for his nomination.
One member of the committee, Richard Blumenthal, senator from Connecticut, says he`ll block Rosenstein`s name from confirmation unless Rosenstein agrees at the hearing tomorrow that he will appoint a special investigator to lead the investigation of Trump and Russia. Can Blumenthal do that? Can he and his fellow Democrats actually hang this nomination on that question? Will Republicans join them in support on this?
I told you it`s going to be must-see TV. We will find out tomorrow, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END