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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 4/7/17

Guests: Dahlia Lithwick

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 7, 2017 Guest: Dahlia Lithwick   RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  I have some fisherman`s friend lozenges for you tucked in my top drawer if you want to stop by on your way out.

HAYES:  I might do exactly that.  Have a good weekend.

MADDOW:  Well done, my friend.  Thanks.

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

In 1952 -- we`ve got some great images of this -- 1952, Iraq king, Iraq`s teenage king came to visit the United States.  He was a teenager.  He`s only 17 years old.  He apparently loved baseball.

While he was here, he met Jackie Robinson.  He also met the U.S. secretary of state.  He met President Truman. 

He had been king since he was a little kid, technically speaking, but he came to the U.S. at the age of 17.  He became officially an adult the following year, at which point from 1953 on, the more or less worldly teenage king of Iraq, he assumed his position as the ruler of his country. 

It didn`t last.  He was only 23 years old when a coup was launched against him in July 1958.  In that coup, he was murdered, along with much of his family.  July 1958.  The monarchy was deposed.  Nationalists and the Iraqi military took over.  They overthrew the Iraqi monarchy.

But you know what, that didn`t last either.  About five years after they killed the king and the military took over, the military was overthrown as well, or at least the faction of them that had been in charge.  By then, it was 1963, February 1963.  And the group that took over Iraq then and ruled it for 40 years thereafter, that was the Baath party, right? 

We think of Saddam Hussein as a personification of the Baath Party.  He, in fact, took over Iraq in 1979.  He ruled Iraq in the name of the Baath Party for more than two decades, but the Baath Party itself, they took over Iraq all the way back in 1963, which was basically the exact same time that the Baath Party also took over next door in Syria.

The Baath Party mounted their coup in Baghdad on the 8th of February 1963.  By the 8th of March 1963, one month later, they had mounted their coup in Damascus as well, in Syria.  The Baath Party took over in Iraq in February.  They took over in Syria in March. 

And in Syria, as in Iraq, thereafter, they had a few different stops and starts in terms of what their new governance would look like, in terms of what their new leadership would be like.  They had a couple more upheavals in terms of their leadership in Syria, but by 1970 in Syria, they had their leader for life.  His name was Hafez al-Assad.  Hafez al-Assad.  H-A-F-EZ, Hafez.

He took over in 1970 and he never gave up power.  You know, in Iraq, Saddam rules for a really long time, he ruled for 24 years.  Saddam`s rule in Iraq, of course, only ended when the United States military invaded Iraq and overthrew him and then the occupied Iraqi government executed Saddam.  That was in 2003.

Next door in Syria though, Hafez al-Assad he held on until he died on his own terms.  He had a heart attack in the summer of 2000, and Syria technically is not supposed to be a kingdom, so they did hold an election to pick a successor to Hafez al-Assad.  But in the, quote, "election" to pick his successor, there was only one candidate on the ballot, Hafez al- Assad`s son.  He was the only one on the ballot and it was illegal for anyone to run against him in that election.  And so, yes, he got 99.7 percent of the vote in that year 2000, and that`s how he got power.  That`s how we got Bashar al-Assad as the not quite king of Syria. 

It`s basically a dynastic dictatorship.  He inherited the dictatorship of Syria from his dad in after his dad had taken over in a military coup 30 years before. 

And then at the start of Bashar al-Assad`s second decade in power in 2011, when demonstrators around the Arab world started demonstrating in the streets for relief from corruption, for real democracy, for a reform agenda that was different from country to country but at heart, it was for a relief from corrupt, sclerotic, arbitrary ruled by force.  When the protests of the Arab Spring started sparking around the Arab world in 2010 and 2011 and 2012, you know, every country handled it differently.

In Syria, Bashar al-Assad decided to deal with it with force, with massive force, and the opposition that started with peaceful street protests in 2011 in Syria, it quickly evolved from not just a protest movement, not just a street movement, it evolved into an armed resistance.  It evolved into an armed opposition movement.

And since then, Syria has spent two, three, four, five, now six years sliding deeper and deeper and deeper into increasingly impossible, increasingly complex catastrophic civil war.  A half million people killed, half a million people.  Five million people flown out of Syria, fleeing for their lives, trying to save themselves and their families by taking refuge anywhere else in the world. 

And Bashar al-Assad still in power and Russia`s propping them up and the Iranians are propping him up and the majority population of Syria is Sunni.  The majority Sunni population of Syria is never going to be OK again.  If they ever were, they will never be OK again with being ruled by a non-Sunni dictator who inherited the gig from his dad and then spent his own second decade in power slaughtering Syrians by the hundreds of thousands.

The solution to this is not rocket science.  The solution to this is way more complicated than rocket science.  Do you think our current administration is going to be the administration that comes up with the genius solution to this, that comes up with the answer? 

The new administration in our country released what they want to be seen as a Situation Room-type photo from last night.  What they`re going for obviously here is that I think they want this to be their version of this iconic shot from the Situation Room at the White House during the bin Laden raid. 

What we got last night from the White House though -- from this White House was it was a little different because the administration last night was not headquartered at the White House in Washington.  They were, of course, at the president`s paid membership resorts in south Florida. 

And so, their Situation Room photo which they released it sort of looks like a situation room photo, but if you look more closely how do you see that -- well, it`s not really the same thing.  For one it was taken at a function room at Mar-a-Lago, where we`re told the president and his advisers were seated on chairs that had been set aside there for wedding receptions.

I mean, you can -- you see have you seen this today, right?  See how the chairs are kind of guilt, right, they`re wedding reception chairs.  This is a function room inside Mar-a-Lago.  This is the photo they released. 

The first obvious caption when you`re looking at this photo is lesson one in how Jared stays the favorite, right?  Look at this just look at look at what everybody else in the photo is doing.  Everybody else in the room is staring intently at the left side of the photo at whatever`s on that screen, while Jared Kushner instead gazes intently at his father-in-law. 

You want there to be a new job in the United States called crown prince, here`s how you will that job into existence.

But it`s also note -- it`s also a notable photo, the Mar-a-Lago Situation Room photo, it`s also notable for who`s there, who`s in on, right, that decision, that moment in the real Situation Room photo, in the bin Laden Situation Room photo, right. 

  There`s the secretary of state.  There`s the national security advisor.  There`s a vice president.  There`s the defense secretary.  There`s the director of national intelligence.  There`s the CIA chief, there`s the chairman of the joint chiefs, right? 

You recognize these people.  You know what their job titles are.

In the Mar-a-Lago photo, you know some of those same people with those same titles are there, but also there`s Jared, the president`s son-in-law.  There`s also the top economic adviser to the president.  There`s the White House spokesman back there.  There`s some other people we don`t know at all.

And sort of right next to the president, there`s the treasury secretary and the secretary of commerce.  Why are they there?  We are told this is the Situation Room photo.  This is the critical military briefing on a possible U.S. military strike in Syria -- why is the commerce secretary there?  I don`t know why Wilbur Ross is there.

But Wilbur Ross does appear to have no idea what was going on around him at that moment.  I have a little bit of tape to play for you.  This is not on camera.  It`s just audio.

A reporter asked the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross today, what it was like to be right there with the president, what it was like to be in that makeshift Mar-a-Lago Situation Room in this key moment.

They asked him what he thought of what he witnessed.  And we know from the photo that Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, he definitely was there.  He was right there, right in the middle of it.  But it`s clear to us as observers why he would have been there and he`s making clear that he -- well, he seems to have misunderstood some key details about what was going on around him in that moment.  Listen.


WILBUR ROSS, TREASURY SECRETARY:  In terms of the strikes themselves, it`s my understanding that they took out something like 20 percent of the entire Syrian air force.  So, it was huge not just in terms of number of planes, but relative to the scale of their air force. 


MADDOW:  Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross under the impression that 20 percent of the entire Syrian air force was destroyed last night in this one U.S. strike on a tertiary airfield. 

I don`t think that`s what happened. 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to clarify that, OK, it wasn`t 20 percent of the air force, maybe it was 20 percent of one wing of the Syrian air force that was destroyed, maybe?  Maybe it was 20 planes that were destroyed.  Maybe it was 20 percent of some economic figure that relevant to this military strike, which would explain why the commerce secretary and the treasury secretary were there on the first place.  I don`t know. 

But at least Wilbur Ross was right there at the president`s side to help make this call, even though he doesn`t know what the call was even afterwards. 

What has changed in terms of U.S. military involvement in the terrible, intractable Syrian civil war as of last night is a pretty specific thing.  Last night was not the first time that the U.S. military has shot Tomahawk missiles into Syria from U.S. navy ships.  This footage you`re looking at here, this is from 2014, when President Obama ordered that 47 Tomahawk missiles should be fired at fighters inside Syria that were thought to be allied with al Qaeda.  These were the 2014 Tomahawk strikes. 

The United States also led a coalition of Arab nations in manned aircraft bombing raid in Syria starting in September 2014.  The United States both alone and with along with other countries has continued bombing raids in Syria for years now, both with drones and with manned planes.  Those airstrikes have been targeting ISIS. 

Those U.S. attacks inside Syria continued right through the end of the Obama administration and into the start of the new administration too.  None of that is new in terms of our U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war

What is new as of last night is that now we`re bombing both sides in that war.  Previous U.S. air strikes and bombing raids and even the occasional commando raid targeted ISIS or al Qaeda affiliated fighters.  Now, the new administration has made the sort of momentous decision to also target the Syrian government as well, the Syrian military.  The forces of Bashar al Assad.

And whether you like this turn of events or not, it`s truly not clear why the U.S. government has made that this change.  I mean, Bashar al-Assad undoubtedly is a butcher with the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on his hands as well as the ultimate responsibility for what has been the wholesale destruction of his own country. 

But Bashar al-Assad has been a butcher all this time.  There are -- there are hundreds of thousands of people who have died in that war.  The Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad, they`re operating a prison system that appears to be an industrialized human atrocity on the scale of the death camps that we thought had been left behind in the last century.  That has been true all along.  That has been true for years and it does appear that Bashar al-Assad may have used chemical weapons against his own civilian population again this week.

But, you know, this president was emphatic.  After a much larger chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians just a few years ago, he was emphatic that that was no reason for the United States to get militarily involved whatsoever in the Syrian civil war.  I mean, if -- if you didn`t want to get involved, if you screamed and yelled and occasionally went to all caps emphasis, if you screamed and yelled about how stupid it would be for the U.S. military to get involved in Syria after Bashar al-Assad killed 1,400 people with chemical weapons not that long ago, why would Bashar al-Assad killing 70 people with gas this week results in the new administration instantaneously reversing its position on this war and getting in?

And not just reversing its position from what the president had said when he was a private citizen in 2013, they have reversed their position.  They are taking the exact opposite position from their own public foreign policy position on this subject just last week. 


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I think the status and the longer term -- longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.

Assad`s role in the future is uncertain clearly, and with acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.


MADDOW:  First clip there was Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, last week.  Second clip there was Rex Tillerson secretary of state this week, 180 degree change.

And whether you like the new policy or you like the old one, we need to now try to figure out as Americans what the cause was of that change.  Was it just an impulsive thing from the new president was it in an emotional thing?  Was he secretly inclined to intervene in the Syrian civil war all this time and he just campaigned on the opposite position and publicly maintained the opposite position until a few days ago is some kind of stealth move? 

Is it possible that he was just ignorant about things like the Syrian civil war before, even though he was taking public positions on them now that he`s president and he`s learning about what the Syrian civil war is, he`s finding that now that he gets it, his instincts are actually to start shooting missiles at things that seem bad to him, things that seem bad to him now but he never really noticed before?

In the last few days, the new administration has threatened that the United States will take unilateral action against North Korea.  The secretary of state putting out a strange threatening statement a few days ago that said, quote, "The United States has spoken enough about North Korea.  We have no further comment."

Before the national security advisor got fired, there was also his vague strange threat against Iran.


MICHAEL FLYNN, THEN-NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.


MADDOW:  It`s still not at all clear what that meant, what that was about.  Is the notice still active now that Michael Flynn has been fired?  Could he deliver Iran their notice through Turkey since he was on the Turkish government payroll?

But there will be no more speaking when it comes to North Korea.  Iran is on notice. 

The Navy SEAL raid on Yemen that the new president approved in his first week in office, that was apparently approved after almost no deliberate process within the administration at all.  That raid was a disaster, resulted in many civilian deaths and in a death of the U.S. Navy Seal and injuries to four other Navy SEALs.  We think about that raid as a disaster, which it was, but that raid also represented a significant escalation in us military involvement in Yemen by the new administration.

Without a process to deliberate over that really at all, the new president apparently approved that raid and that major escalation in Yemen at a dinner meeting that included Jared, his son-in-law.

This new presidency is also where we got what appears to have been a truly disastrous U.S. air raid in Mosul, in Iraq.  An air raid that may have killed nearly 200 civilians after U.S. and allied forces specifically told the civilians in those neighborhoods that they should not leave, that they should stay in their homes right before U.S. planes then bond those homes.

And now, the new administration has launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the other side in the Syrian war that we weren`t yet fighting, at the Syrian military.

Why were Steve Mnuchin and Jared Kushner and the chief of the economic council and Wilbur Ross, why were they all in the room while that decision was being made?  What military action decision requires the chief of the economic advisors to be there or Wilbur Ross?

The U.S. military has been involved in the Syrian civil war before.  We have never before deliberately taken a combatant role against the Syrian military.  Who knows what will happen in response if anything?  I mean is the United States going to pursue a military strategy that`s aimed at regime change in Syria now? 

I mean, the administration would have said that was nuts a week ago but today, who knows?  And next week, who wants to bet? 

We don`t understand how it is that the policy changed 180 degrees from last week, how will we know whether it`s going to change 180 degrees to next week?

The founders of our country tried to invest the power to make war in the United States Congress instead of in the presidency, and they did that for a reason.  It is -- it is hard to get a legislature full of hundreds of elective officials from all over the country to vote to start a war.  Congress wouldn`t even take a vote on President Obama`s request to them to authorize U.S. military force in Syria in 2013. 

Congress is structurally disinclined toward war, and the founders knew that would be.  They knew that a deliberative body would be less likely to wage war recklessly as compared to one person who could make that kind of a decision alone. 

Over these past couple of generations, we have left that constitutional imperative slip.  And now, we`ve got in power a person with the war-making powers of a modern American president who is also a person that is the subject of a counterintelligence investigation by the FBI because of the possibility that he colluded with a foreign power in order to become president.  He also appears to have no mooring whatsoever in the day-to-day basics of foreign policy. 

But he has just gotten the first good press of his young presidency and he got it by turning on a dime, doing something completely contrary to his stated foreign policy and deciding, what the heck, let`s bomb something.  Whether or not you think that was a good decision, how do you feel about his decision-making process for coming to it?  Because the incentives here are about to get very, very perverse.

More head on this tonight.  Stay with us


MADDOW:  So, this is the time in the show when I thought we were about to be joined live by NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.  Richard is live for us right now on the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria.  Just right now in the commercial break, we have just been told that Turkish authorities have told Richard to take down his live shot.  So, even though he`s there, as far as I know, we cannot put him on camera.

But I believe, Richard, that we`ve been able to get you by phone?  Richard Engel, are we, are we with you?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone):  You are.  I`m very sorry about this.  Yes, we were up, we were ready to go, the lights were on, that the police or intelligent services came and chased us away, not because I was going to come on and talk to you about Syria, it was because the situation here is a little bit tensed as a referendum coming up in this country that`s very important, very politically sensitive here.  So they`re very nervous about journalists coming, setting up shop and talking about almost anything these days.

MADDOW:  So, essentially they just didn`t want you -- 

ENGEL:  I really wanted to be part of your show because it`s an incredibly important subject that you`re discussing.  I was listening to your intro and I was -- I was crying to myself if they were going to take me away and I couldn`t contribute to this conversation. 

It`s so important that people realize, we are -- you were suggesting, do we have a policy on Syria?  Can this team in power right now be trusted to guide us through these incredibly treacherous waters?  And I wanted to go to discuss that with you.

MADDOW:  Well, Richard in terms of what`s different here.  I think it`s important to be specific about the fact that there has been -- there have been various types of U.S. military engagement in Syria over the last few years.  There have been tomahawk strikes before.  There have been bombing raids and drone strikes.


ENGEL:  We`ve been bombing Syria constantly.


ENGEL:  Just now, as you said, we`re bombing both sides.  So, how does that end well?  We`ve been bombing the extremist groups there. 

First, we were arming groups that became extremist groups then we started bombing those groups.  Now, we`re bombing the government that is bombing of those groups because that group did it an atrocity and did it on television.  And I think that was the key thing here.  He did it on television.

And President Trump saw it and decided to act either for emotional reasons or if you were a cynical person, for political reasons.  And I was told that that -- you know, the optics of it were also part of it.  He did want to send a message to the Chinese president who was having dinner with that he`s a tough guy, that times have changed, that he can be trusted to use the military at his discretion when he wants to.

MADDOW:  Richard, do you think, particularly, in light of that sort of disturbing reporting that this may have been essentially something done not for strategic reasons but for political effect -- do you think that the United States government and the U.S. military should be expecting that there will be a different kind of response to this strike targeting the Syrian military than there has been to the other kinds of involvement we`ve had on the other sides of this war?

ENGEL:  So far, there hasn`t been any kind of catastrophic reaction to this because it was small, because there is a meeting coming up next week between Rex Tillerson and Putin in Moscow, the Russians don`t want to rock the boat right now. 

I don`t think the Russians are going to forget about this.  I don`t think the Syrians have forgotten about this.  The Syrians -- the Syrian government while as you said they are running what has been described as a concentration camp system, today were baffled.   They said, who -- what side is the U.S. on? 

We had an interview with someone very close to Assad`s office who were saying, are you helping the terrorists?  Are you -- maybe that`s what they call all the extremist groups there.  Are you against us?  Whose side are you on?

And to a point -- to a degree, they have a point because it`s not clear whose side were on.

MADDOW:  Richard Engel, joins us from Antakya, Turkey, which is near the Syrian border -- I`m sorry I can`t show you his face, that`s because he has been asked to turn off his lights and shut down his live shot.  But, Richard, I`m glad to get you in on this broadcast by phone my friend.  Thank you.

ENGEL:  Will be more because as you said, what happens -- what`s coming next week?  So, this time -- it was this out of this strike, maybe there`s not going to be great consequences because it was limited.  But who knows where this is going?  And this is a really delicate stuff.

MADDOW:  Richard Engel, thank you, my friend.  Stay safe tonight, especially out there in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere in Turkey.

I want to bring into the conversation now, Courtney Kube, who is Pentagon - - the NBC News national security producer, who joins us from the Pentagon.

Courtney, you`ve been doing absolutely yeoman`s work and really, really good reporting.  You`ve been way ahead of the curve in terms of everybody else, in terms of anticipating these things and describing them.  I want to congratulate you, first of all, and thank you for helping us report this over the last 24 hours.


MADDOW:  One of the things that we`ve had conflicting reports about today, Courtney, is how much damage was done?  We got some sort of -- you know, hard to read, hard to assess reports from the ground in Syria, saying not too much damage was done to this base. 

Certainly, it`s still functioning as an air base.  There were airplanes taking off from there today.  We got countervailing information from U.S. sources saying, no, no, no, the amount of damage and the type of damage that was done was exactly what we intended and this worked perfectly. 

Can you -- can you thread that for us at all in terms of giving us an assessment there?

KUBE:  Sure.  So, the base itself -- the majority of the damage to the base itself was infrastructure.  They did not pock up the runways.  They did not -- I mean, these strikes were very targeted.  They didn`t take out the Syrian air force, as some were calling for early yesterday. 

What they were trying to do was send a very clear message, a very clear signal that the specific assets that were used for this chemical attack earlier this week on civilians near Idlib, those were what were targeted.  So, they went after about 20 Syrian aircraft.  They went after several hardened aircraft hangars.  They went after some fuel depots, some of the places where they refuel the aircraft on the base. 

They went after the air defenses.  They took out -- they believe they disabled the air defenses at that base, which was relatively minor.  It was a radar.  It was a Russian made Syrian radar.

So, they weren`t intending to stop the Syrian air force`s capability throughout the country.  Frankly, they didn`t even stop their capability at that base.  They still have the ability to fly jets and to fly helicopters in and out of that base today.

MADDOW:  Courtney, one on a specific thing to ask you about is that we got this dramatic photo released by the White House today, showing the sort of makeshift situation room that they set up at the president`s resort in south Florida.  It was a dramatic picture but an unusual cast of characters.  The president`s top economic adviser is there.  The commerce secretary is there.  The treasury secretary is there -- not to mention the White House spokesman, the president`s son-in-law.

Is it -- is it clear that in terms of the White House decision-making part of this that all of those people were involved in this in this process?  Do we know what the chain of the chain of decision-making was here?

KUBE:  It was a relatively quick decision-making process.  So, earlier in the week, on April 5th, President Trump asked Secretary Mattis for specific plans for options to strike back at the Syrian regime specifically against again because of this chemical attack that they that they instilled upon their people on April 4th.  By that day, there were plans at the White House and then it goes back and forth. 

There`s the -- the military and the administration likes to call it an interagency process.  But basically what it is, is members of the NSC, members of the military, they go back and forth.  They talk through their options.  By the next day, on April 6th, yesterday, a proposal was sent forward to secretary -- by Secretary Mattis to President Trump down at Mar- a-Lago.

We don`t know exactly whether President Trump accepted the exact recommendation by Secretary Mattis or if there was sort of a variation of several options that came forward, we just don`t know.  But in fact, he did make the call at four-thirty yesterday afternoon, President Trump said go forward with the strikes, I wanted to be targeted, I wanted to be specifically against any of the assets that were involved in this chemical weapons attack earlier this week, and that`s what the military did.

So, think about that, 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time, President Trump gave the order.  There was a tank meeting it`s the exact same time, I watched the chiefs walk into the office yesterday afternoon and less about three hours later, those Tomahawks started firing off the coast in the eastern Med.

MADDOW:  NBC News national security producer Courtney Kube, who hasn`t slept in the last 24 hours -- Courtney, thank you for helping us understand the process here.  Really appreciate it.

KUBE:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  All right.  We got much more ahead tonight.  Do stay with us.


MADDOW:  There is a Twitter account for the Badlands National Park, but there`s also a bad hombre lands national park Twitter account.  Bad hombre lands is not a national park.

Obviously, the National Park Service itself also has a Twitter account.  But there is also a nasty women of the national park service Twitter account.  They call it, quote, "the unofficial resistance team of nasty lady rangers that your elected officials warned you about." 

Here`s another one, this is pretty blunt.  "Not actual EPA."

Since President Trump took office, one of the things that`s happened online is that dozens of parody accounts have popped up that are critical of what`s being done at different departments and agencies under the Trump administration, and they`re usually pretty open about the fact that there are alternative accounts, a lot of them put it right there in their handles, right?  The alt Department of Energy or the alt Department of Labor, or the alt Library of Congress.

There`s also one account called alt immigration, it`s the alternative account for the youth agency called the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.  This account has been particularly critical of the Muslim ban and the president`s proposed wall on the border with Mexico.

Apparently, that criticism, that parody, was not well-received by the actual Trump administration.  On March 14th, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the real one, sent a summons to Twitter, to the company, Twitter, asking for, quote, "all records regarding this Twitter account, including usernames, the account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses and IP addresses."  Border Patrol, the real Border Patrol, faxed that summons to the company, to Twitter, on March 14th. 

Unfortunately, they asked Twitter to comply with the summons by March 13th, the day before they sent it, which itself is mind-bending.

Well, yesterday, Twitter sued.  Twitter sued pretty much everybody involved in issuing this strange summons.  They filed a case against the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the acting commissioner of the Customs and Border Patrol Agency, as well as a bunch of other officials from that agency.

And the lawsuit said that Customs and Border Patrol didn`t have grounds to even issue a summons like this, and I know that sounds a little bit like weird legalese until you see that in fact the U.S. Code that Customs and Border Patrol cited when they issued this summon, when they demanded this information about this parody Twitter account, what they actually cited is a part of the U.S. Code that relates to, quote, "inquiries relating to the importation of merchandise." 

Tweets are not merchandise nor are they imported, but nice try.  You should try to get them for parking too?

I don`t know who the Trump administration has working at the legal office at Customs and Border Patrol, but we can tell for sure two things.  One, they don`t have a sense of humor and, two, they`re not that awesome when it comes to the legal stuff. 

Well, after Twitter sued them yesterday, today, Customs and Border Patrol, I`ll just tried to make the whole thing go away they rescinded the summons they dropped their requests for information related to this meme parody Twitter account.  They withdrew it.  They want it all to go away.  So, now, Twitter has dropped their lawsuit in response.

But under the Trump administration, that`s your tax dollars at work.


MADDOW:  When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on a ranch in western Texas last year, only a few hours had passed before the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said that President Obama wouldn`t be allowed to put a justice on the court to replace Justice Scalia.  He said, quote, "This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.

That was February 2016.  That was the very start of the presidential primary season.  President Obama still had almost a full year left in office, but the Republicans in the Senate declared that as far as they were concerned, he wasn`t really president at all.  President Obama had no right to make a Supreme Court nomination, and then they tried to persuade everybody else that this was somehow true.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS:  Justice Scalia served for 30 years.  So this clearly extends far beyond President Obama`s term of office.  It`s that important.


MADDOW:  Justice Scalia served for 30 years.  So, what gives this president the right to go ahead and try to replace him? 

After President Obama nevertheless nominated someone, he nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Scalia seat, even Republicans who have wholeheartedly praised Judge Garland just a few years earlier when he was nominated to an appeals court seat, those Republicans refused to meet with them.  They refused to even schedule a hearing for him.  They pretended like the nomination didn`t exist.  It was an unprecedented thing on the Republicans part what they did to Merrick Garland.

And further, they started arguing that if Hillary Clinton ended up winning the presidency, they would never fill that seat.  They would hold it open for the entire time that she was president.  Judge Merrick Garland waited for 293 days for a Senate hearing, the longest any Supreme Court nominee has ever had to wait.  He waited and waited until his nomination ended without him ever getting a hearing.  The Supreme Court seat stayed open for months, so Republicans could wait until a Republican was in place and they could get a Republican candidate in that seat.

We`ve never ever gone through a process like that before in this country.  We`ve never filled a Supreme Court seat like this in this way.  Ever since Justice Scalia died, since the day he passed away, the process of filling the seat has never been normal. 

Today, we found out who will fill that seat.  Republicans got rid of Senate rules that have been there forever in order to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed to that seat.  It`s done.  He will be sworn in on Monday.  There`s nothing anybody can do about it.

  But the way it happened was so radical, was so completely ahistorical that in some ways it`s like occluded any reasonable view of what kind of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch should be expected to be.

  If somehow Democrats managed to win back the Senate next year, it`s not likely, but theoretically, I`d say they did, would this then be the new normal, right?  Is this now the way we`re going to do it from here on out, where the president from an opposing party no longer gets to put anybody on the Supreme Court and seats just get held open?  If another Supreme Court justice retired or died on the bench and there was another opening on the Supreme Court, if Democrats were in charge of the Senate, did -- would they just not allow Trump to nominate anyone?  Is that just going to be what we do from here on out?  Is there any other remedy at this point, given what we just went through?

Joining us now is the great Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for

Dahlia, it`s great to see you on this first day of the new world order.

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SLATE SENIOR EDITOR & JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT:  Hey, Rachel, I feel like it`s been months of us talking about this theoretically and here we are.

MADDOW:  And that sort of have been our lives in this new political era.  We all -- we talk about how amazing and strange and perverting to the course of American history it would be if X happened.  Then, X happens, then we have to figure out what you do the next day.

So, is this just sort of -- this is the way it goes and we don`t know what happens next or do you feel like we`ve got a sort of tale foretold in terms of what happens now?

LITHWICK:  I think this happened now forever.  I mean, I think something fundamental broke and you put it perfectly.  You know, this -- what we learned and we learn when Mitch McConnell said that obstructing Merrick Garland was one of the proudest moments of his career, that this is about power now, it`s not about putting up, you know, a mainstream or centrist judge that Senate can agree on, and it`s not about Senate norms that suggests that Supreme Court justices are different. 

Now, it`s just about power.  It`s about winning elections.  It`s about putting the most extreme person you can put up, knowing that you just need 51 votes to confirm them.  I don`t see this unrolling.

And I think the other thing I`d add, Rachel, is 84, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 80, Anthony Kennedy, 78, Steve Breyer -- this is not a theoretical question either.

MADDOW:  If you could wave a magic wand, that was not retrospective, not retroactive.  So, you couldn`t wave your Dahlia magic wand and go back in time and make the Republicans have not done this.  You could just determine what people were going to deal with -- how people are going to deal with these matters going forward.  Is there any fix that you could even imagine, that you could invent, that would get us out of that very dire description that you just gave us?

LITHWICK:  The depressing fix, Rachel, is that I think that this is a situation where Democrats have been awfully moderate and temperate over the last few decades, and so that when, you know, John Roberts was put up, Sam Alito, you know, right to quite far right nominees from Republican president, we saw Sotomayor, we saw Kagan, we saw Breyer, we saw people who were sort of center left.  So, I think in one sense retroactively, I`d say just keep putting up Brennan`s and Marshalls, put up people who are counterweight because what we`ve seen over the years is the court become progressively more and more right, the center of the court is now Anthony Kennedy, one of the most conservative jurists in Supreme Court history.

So, I think some kind of parody of passion and force and enthusiasm, I think maybe that`s the only thing that might have fixed this.

MADDOW:  Dahlia, briefly, very briefly, do you subscribe to the common view now that he will be -- that Judge Gorsuch will be to the right of every justice on the court?

LITHWICK:  Whether he`s to the right of Alito or Thomas, I think, you know, those are the questions were asking.  I think he is pretty consistently where Scalia, Thomas, Alito are, certainly not to the left of any of them.

MADDOW:  Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor, legal correspondent for "Slate" and teller of hard truths -- Dahlia, thank you very much.  Good to have you here.

LITHWICK:  Thanks, Rachel.

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


MADDOW:  I know what you want.  I know what you`ve been thinking.  You should just own up to it.  You`ve been sitting there tonight, all through the show, thinking to yourself, yes, yes, this is all fine, Maddow.  But man, I wish there was some new, even creepier details on that lurid sex scandal involving Alabama`s handsome 74-year-old governor. 

It`s Friday.  I will not let you down.  Dirty text messages, open threats, including something rustling in the bushes.

Also something about a command to "bow to the throne".  And that`s a quote. 

Put the kids to bed.  Maybe clear the room of anything you don`t want to up chuck on, because it`s about to get little weird.  It`s our final story of the night.  Thank you, Alabama. 

That`s next.  


MADDOW:  For the past year, Alabama`s Republican Governor Robert Bentley has been under three separate investigations as the state has tried to figure out whether he used taxpayer funds to carry on and then cover up an affair with a top staffer. 

Well, on Wednesday this week, we reported that the state ethics commission had referred the governor for prosecution.  Well, today, the Alabama House Impeachment Committee released their investigative report on the scandal, and -- oh my.  The report says the governor refused to cooperate with the investigation in any meaningful sense, which they say is itself grounds for impeachment. 

But despite his lack of cooperation, they`re able to detail things like the governor dispatching Alabama law enforcement officials to break up with his alleged girlfriend on his behalf.  He also allegedly directed law enforcement officials to drive all over the state to confront people he thought might have sexy recordings of him and his alleged mistress.

The report also details significant sums of money paid to his alleged mistress.  And that part doesn`t even cover the salacious stuff like the text messages discovered by the governor`s wife because he didn`t realize his cell phone was synced to his iPad, and she had access to the iPad.  Messages where he talks with his alleged mistress about wanting to touch her body and wishing she could be sleeping next to him.  And they say things, like bless our hearts and other parts, to which he responds magnetic. 

On top of all that, there -- sorry.  I want to rescind my facial expression.  I take it back.  Recall. 

There are new revelations about the culture of fear and intimidation the governor established once he knew he was in trouble, including allegations of multiple threats against his then wife`s chief of staff who helped set up the recording device that caught the governor red -- not exactly handed.  The governor reportedly cornering her in the governor`s mansion, telling her, quote, "You`ll never work in the state of Alabama again if you tell anybody about the affair", and then he again reportedly confronted her in a parking lot, warning her to, quote, "watch herself because she didn`t know what she was getting into."  He also told her, allegedly, that because he was the governor, quote, "people bow to the throne."

The wife`s chief of staff also says somebody threw a rock through her window and scrawled death threats on her car. 

Even before this report came out at 5:00 today, the leaders of the statehouse and state senate, both of them Republicans, urged the governor to resign, but the governor so far says, nope, he is staying. 

This afternoon, a judge granted the governor`s request for a temporary restraining order on impeachment proceedings.  So, no impeachment proceedings formally for now.  Republican lawmakers are appealing that decision for right now, the court says the governor deserves time to respond to the report. 

I tell you, I kind of can`t wait the see how he responds.  I hope none of it is by text. 

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


Good evening, Lawrence.