Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 18, 2017 Guest: John Archibald CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You`re not going to wait up, waiting for that response, are you, Chris?
HAYES: No, no, I don`t think I`ll be getting one, but I may be reading about what happens.
MADDOW: You never know. You never know. Thank you, my friend. Appreciate it.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Do you sleep too much or too well? Are you too relaxed? Do you have low blood pressure, a lack of anxiety, not a care in the world?
If so, there`s a cure for that. "Foreign Affairs" is out with a new issue today titled "Present at the Destruction? Trump in Practice."
It`s illustrated with this handy sort of pictogram of -- maybe that`s Air Force One jetting directly into, I don`t know, volcanic eruption? Mushroom cloud? Giant mountain? End of the world? You get the idea.
And that picture and that title set the tone for the content of this new issue of "Foreign Affairs." There`s a detailed look at the initial behavior of this new president on foreign affairs. And how, if that behavior continues, that could lead directly to three brand-new separate wars with three different countries.
There`s also long piece about why the experts believe you probably don`t have to worry about an immediate descent into full-on fascism any time soon. But, yeah, we are maybe sliding into what the experts may call a competitive authoritarianism. Oh.
The editor of "Foreign Affairs" is Gideon Rose. He opens this hair-raising collection today with this question. It`s actually more of a game than a question.
The game is, "Stupid or nefarious?" Quote, "Every administration spins, fights with the press and the bureaucracy, pushes its own agenda and tries to evade intrusive oversight. But ordinary White Houses do not repeatedly lie, or declare war on mainstream media institutions or pursue radical goals while disdaining professional input, nor do they refuse to accept independent scrutiny.
How seriously you take these behaviors depends on how you assess the motivations behind them, generating a game that some have taken to calling `stupid or nefarious?`
Do slow appointments to the new administration signal poor management or a deliberate attempt to deconstruct the administrative state? Is dismissing experienced senior officials en masse just a clumsy way of handling a presidential transition or is that a purge of potential obstacles and whistleblowers? Are all the lies mere venting, or are they a deliberate plot to distract critics and undermine reasoned discourse?
That`s your choice. Stupid or nefarious? Stupid or nefarious? I`d like to take door three, please, if those were my options.
Tonight, we`ve got our eyes on a few developing stories. First, there is the congressional election that happened today in a Republican district in the great state of Georgia. The Republican incumbent there was Tom Price. He left Congress to become health secretary in the new administration. This is the special election to replace him.
And every special election is unique. They`re all, by definition, local affairs. You should never extrapolate too much from any one special election, but Democrats have felt like even though this has been a Republican-held seat since the 1970s, Democrats feel this maybe could be within reach for them.
And so, Democrats have been trying very hard to flip this district, to flip this Georgia district as basically a pushback against Trump and against the Republicans in Congress. So, we have been watching that special election. We have been watching these returns come in. Watching -- you see the percentage of returns in is in the upper right-hand corner there, right? Slow to come in yet.
We`ve been watching these numbers tonight, though, as they trickle in with interest. We`ll have more on this over the course of the night, particularly as we get in more data.
Even though this is a race for just one congressional seat, everybody interested in U.S. politics has been watching this special election today to the point where I think it may have driven the White House to distraction.
You probably heard today that the British prime minister has called a snap election for June. British elections are scheduled to happen every five years but the government can make a decision to call one sooner. Prime Minister Theresa May has decided to do that. This is a moment in British politics where the other parties seem particularly out of it and disorganized and unpopular. So Theresa May is seizing the moment calling a snap election right away in a matter of weeks.
Well, Prime Minister Theresa May apparently called the White House today to talk about that decision. To talk about the fact that Britain is about to have a national election. After that phone call, did you see this today? The White House issued what`s called a readout about that call. That`s what they call it when you get a description from your government in a leader to leader phone call.
So, the White House released this read-out of the call with Theresa May today. And they screwed it up. I mean, you`d think they would be particularly sensitive about not screwing stuff up related to her. They put out that announcement when Theresa May was first visiting the White House that misspelled her name three times. You`d think they`d be sensitive about not screwing stuff up when it comes to her. But, no, they apparently still screwing stuff up.
This is from the readout today. Quote, "President Donald j. Trump receives a phone call from Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom regarding her plans to call a special election in June."
It`s not a special election. It`s just an election. It`s a snap election if you want to add an adjective to it. But the special election, that`s what`s happening today in Georgia today. That`s not what`s happening in the U.K. It`s a different thing. They`re not having a special election in Britain. We`re having a special election here.
It`s not like the readout was like a big complicated thing. There`s two sentences. One of them was wrong.
The White House apparently also screwed up its readout of a call between Trump and the president of Turkey yesterday. Turkey is a republic. It is a parliamentary democracy, but President Erdogan in Turkey is doing his best to end all that and turn the country into a dictatorship. The referendum that they held in Turkey this weekend was conducted under a state of emergency after Erdogan locked up tens of thousands of people who he has labeled his political opponents.
The referendum will concentrate power in Erdogan`s hands. It gets rid of that country`s prime minister. It gets rid of Turkey`s parliamentary democracy. It consolidates all power basically in him.
And this referendum, it was an incredibly close result. International observers say the election was not free and fair. The opposition is rejecting the results of the referendum. The opposition says they`re not conceding that this is how the vote went down.
Erdogan, of course, is triumphantly claiming victory. He immediately declared another state of emergency. He`s claiming the vote is a ratification of his efforts to basically become just an outright dictator in Turkey.
In the middle of that scary process in that big important country, we got this readout from the White House yesterday, saying that President Trump had called President Erdogan to congratulate him on his recent referendum victory. And the rest of the world was like, do whoop, what? Really? To congrat -- to what?
Because no other Western leader in any other country in the world called the Turkish president to congratulate him on his dictatorship referendum. There`s a real question as to whether that referendum result should be seen as final or legitimate.
And so, stupid or nefarious? Is the new stance of the United States government to be congratulatory and welcoming to the world`s newest dictatorship? In a formerly democratic country? Or was that just a screw- up? Oops.
That readout was yesterday. Since then we`ve had a whole day of contradiction between the president`s reported congratulatory phone call and the rest of the government, including the State Department not quite knowing what to say about what just happened in Turkey.
Tonight, it finally culminated on Air Force One when a White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to tell reporters that when President Trump called to offer his congratulations on that referendum, he did not mean to convey that the results of that referendum were a good thing, or even that they were results. It was just the other meaning of the word congratulations.
So, to be clear, the United States position on what just happened in Turkey is that we as a government, we as a country do not necessarily accept the results of that referendum. But the president has congratulated the Turkish president on the results of that referendum. OK? Good.
This is a fraught time in the world in a lot of ways, right? A lot of the very basic stuff about our fragile international order is changing or straining or just flat-out falling apart, right?
Before our election in November, Europe lost a cornerstone. Britain voted to leave the E.U., right? That was last summer before our presidential election. Now, Britain is going to be facing a new national election in very short order.
France, another cornerstone of Europe, they`ve got their elections this weekend. Two of the top four candidates in the French presidential election want to pull France not only out of the E.U. but out of NATO as well.
Oh. Turkey is in NATO. Turkey is the biggest military in NATO other than us. If Turkey becomes a full-blown dictatorship, do they get to stay in NATO?
I mean, NATO is a military alliance, right? It`s a pact whereby we agree to mutually defend our NATO allies as we would expect them to defend us. But if they`re going to be a dictatorship now, how does that work out?
I mean, Erdogan locks up a few hundred thousand more people. And we still plan to send the 82nd Airborne in to defend him in the event that he says he needs help?
And then on top of all of that, there`s North Korea, right, which was worrying enough on its own terms before we had to start playing stupid or nefarious to figure out our own government`s behavior toward them.
I started off tonight by mentioning this new issue of "Foreign Affairs" magazine. Here`s the lead article right now at "The Atlantic" magazine. "How did the Trump administration lose an aircraft carrier?"
This story unraveling today is like nothing I`ve ever seen. I mean, this thing started off wrong a week ago and it has gotten more and more wrong every day.
We thought the last week was worrying when it came to North Korea. We had no idea how worrying it was when it came to us. I mean, to the point where tonight, this story is now the front page of every news site in America and still nobody can believe this happened.
But apparently, this has just happened. Honestly, I need historical perspective. I need to know if anything like this has happened because this is absolutely bizarre. Started last Saturday, not this weekend, but Saturday last, April 8th. That was the start of it.
An unnamed U.S. official told "Reuters" that the U.S. was diverting an aircraft carrier. A whole carrier strike group. So, an aircraft carrier, all of its support ships were going to go over to the Korean peninsula as a show of force basically to intimidate North Korea.
First word of that was an unnamed government official speaking to "Reuters" Saturday, April 8th. Last Saturday.
Following day on the FOX News Channel, Sunday morning, the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was asked about it and he confirmed it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: I`m going to have to ask you sort of lightning round quick questions, quick answers. Why the carrier strike force to the Korean peninsula?
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it`s prudent to do it, isn`t it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s prudent to do it, isn`t it?
I don`t know if it`s prudent, but at least we got there, the national security adviser confirming that we are doing it. That was last Sunday. Then two days later on Tuesday, there`s a White House briefing and naturally, the White House spokesman gets asked about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN CORKE, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The strike carrier group in the Sea of Japan in that region, is that also a messaging circumstance, or is that simply protective for our allies in Japan and Korea?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A carrier group is several things. The forward deployment is deterrence, presence. It`s prudent, but it does a lot of things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Prudent. There`s that word again. And it does a lot of things. Carrier strike group going to the Korean peninsula.
So, told to a newspaper -- to a wire service on Saturday, confirmed on a Sunday, shows on Sunday morning, confirmed at the White House on Tuesday. The same day at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis, the one everyone is comforted by, the adult in the room, right? That same day, Tuesday, he confirms at the Pentagon, that that aircraft carrier, that strike group is on its way to the Korean peninsula.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: She`s just on her way up there because that`s where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time. There`s not a specific demand, signal or specific reason why we`re sending her up there.
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: It`s just unusual for us to know about a ship movement in advance. That was sort of what got everyone`s attention. So why was that? I mean, why was it put out in advance? Was it just to signal to North Korea that there would be a show of presence there?
MATTIS: I believe it`s because she was originally headed in one direction for an exercise and we canceled our role in that exercise and that`s what became publicly explained why she wasn`t in that exercise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: None of that is true. No one was asking why the USS Carl Vinson pulled out of a military exercise, which necessitated this further explanation of what that ship was doing. Nobody was asking why she pulled out of a military exercise because the USS Carl Vinson did not pull of a military exercise. In fact, that carrier strike group is doing those military exercises right now.
I mean, despite what the White House and the national security adviser and the defense secretary all said, the USS Carl Vinson was not steaming toward North Korea, was not steaming north toward the Korean peninsula. In fact, while they were all saying that the USS Carl Vinson was steaming north toward Korea, in fact, the USS Carl Vinson was 3,000 miles away steaming south in the opposite direction to, in fact, go do those exercises with the Australian navy that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said were being cancel and required an explanation. Huh?
I mean, one of the things that`s been scary about the past week is not knowing what North Korea is going to do. It`s also now scary to figure out the behavior of our own government, particularly because we were all told that our government just sent an aircraft carrier to loom over North Korea when that, in fact, was not happening. It`s a whole different kind of scary to realize now at the end of this week that just was that the whole administration up to and including the White House spokesman, national security adviser and the defense secretary were either all lying, or they all apparently believed that the USS Carl Vinson and its support ships were headed to the Sea of Japan and Korean peninsula when, in fact, they were not. In fact, they were headed in no such direction and they were thousands of miles away.
Of course, it goes without saying that the president got this one wrong, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are sending an armada, very powerful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Whether it is a good idea or not to send an armada, an aircraft carrier strike group to the Korean peninsula at a time like this, I think everybody could agree that it`s a good idea for the United States government to have some basic idea of where all our aircraft carriers are at any given moment.
I mean, in this case, it`s more worrying, not less, to realize that this is a problem that goes well beyond just the president screwing something up. I mean, the president screws stuff up. I mean, at this point with this president, it`s not even weird to realize that he might not even know who the leader of North Korea is. In the middle of this supposed standoff with them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`m not like other administrations where they say we`re going to do this in four weeks and that doesn`t work that way. We`ll see what happens. I hope things work out well. I hope there`s going to be peace but they`ve been talk with this gentleman for a long time.
You read Clinton`s book. He said, oh, we made such a great peace deal and it`s a joke. You look at different things over the years with President Obama. Everybody has been outplayed. They`ve all been outplayed by this gentleman. And we`ll see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Bill Clinton`s book does talk about dealings with North Korea. Talks about a 1994 deal that was initially negotiated with North Korea`s founder Kim Il-sung. And then Kim Il-sung died in July of 1994. That 1994 deal was then finalized with Kim Jong-Il, Kim Il-sung`s son, who took over after his father died. Kim Jong-il then died in 2011 and now there`s a whole new guy, Kim Jong-un. All three of these men are apparently in our president`s mind conflated as somebody who he calls this gentleman. It`s three different people.
This guy hasn`t been doing anything for a long time. He`s only been there since 2011. Not the same guy negotiating with Clinton. You realize that. He was a baby.
I mean, it`s a remarkable thing to realize about your president. But when the White House spokesman and the national security adviser and the defense secretary back up the president`s crazy apparent ignorance about something that is as big a deal and as physically large as a carrier strike group, that is a -- that`s a different level of weird. This is not the president getting something wrong. This is the administration getting something really, really, really wrong for days. And it`s a big deal. And it`s close to the most hair-trigger place on earth in terms of the prospect of an actual nuclear war.
And apparently, they were just going to, like, let this one slide? I mean, I don`t -- I don`t know what this is. I don`t know if this is stupid or nefarious or neither or something in between.
But I do want to know if there is anything in U.S. history that helps us understand what to do in a circumstance like this or what this kind of thing might lead to.
Hold that thought. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT: My fellow citizens, let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can foresee precisely what course it will take or what course or casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead -- months in which both our patience and our will will be tested, months in which many threats and enunciations will keep us aware of our dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Kennedy addressing the nation about the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. As it happened, that crisis did not take months. Ran its course in 13 days -- 13 days during which we now know the United States and the Soviet Union repeatedly came very close to war, which very easily could have been nuclear war.
Tonight, the current administration is struggling to explain whether it lied on purpose or whether it just lost track of an aircraft carrier. A carrier strike group that the administration said was on its way toward North Korea this past week when that aircraft carrier definitely was not on its way to North Korea this past week. Not just the president but the White House spokesman, the national security adviser and defense secretary all misleading the public on that very big fact just in the last few days. We thought we had enough to worry about when it came to nuclear North Korea.
Joining us now for some much-needed perspective is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Michael, it`s great to see you tonight. Thanks for being with us.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thanks. Pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, I want to put aside for the moment the prospect that the administration has concocted a deliberate, elaborate lie that they had spoken by the White House spokesman, the president himself, the national security adviser and the defense secretary. I want to set aside that possibility because that`s a different thing and just talk about this as, I guess what would be a better scenario which is that they`re confused, and they screwed this up and messed it up, and they really didn`t really know where that aircraft carrier was.
If that is the case, is there any historical analogy that helps us understand the gravity of that?
BESCHLOSS: Nothing like this in a crisis this serious. And, you know, part of American power is the impression that our government is competent and we do things well. So, if at the beginning of a crisis like this, you have the White House, the Defense Department, others saying that this ship, this armada as the president said, is somewhere very different from where it actually is, it doesn`t exactly help. This kind of thing never must happen again.
MADDOW: Michael, one of the contextual things that`s happened recently, which is a small thing but also seems relevant as we try to sort this out is on Friday night, we reported that a spokesman for CentCom had come out and given a bunch of very inflammatory quotes to "The Hill" newspaper saying in part the president said during the campaign he wants to bomb the bleep out of is. That`s now what we`re doing. Like, very inflammatory language.
CentCom came out late on Friday night and said actually that wasn`t an authorized -- that wasn`t a person authorized to speak for CentCom. That`s somebody who shouldn`t have been giving quotes in CentCom`s name and essentially retracting those statements without ever saying how that happened.
There is history of the White House, the administration, the government and the military being on different pages in situations like this. But how should we see that interplay between the military as a professional force and decision-makers at a time like this?
BESCHLOSS: It shouldn`t happen this way. You so rightly showed JFK. When Kennedy was dealing with a missile crisis, he thought the biggest danger would be that crisis would escalate unnecessarily and it would be a nuclear war with 50 million people dead. That didn`t have to happen.
So, Kennedy when he was at the beginning of the crisis he said, I want everyone statement even from middle level officials, I want to clear it personally. I want to know where every plane is. I want to know where every ship is. I want to know about all these troop movements.
I don`t want to send a message accidentally to Nikita Khrushchev and the Russians that may cause them to think that we`re going to do a first strike or somehow cause a war that will cause this nuclear war to happen unnecessarily. When you have something like this happen, it is so different from the atmosphere that JFK set in that missile crisis.
MADDOW: And so, in that case, so I`m clear here, what JFK was essentially doing with that directive was ensuring that there would never be a mixed message where the president and the White House and the political side, the elected government was asserting something about real life, but the Soviets might be reading something different from the military or for some other action at the government.
BESCHLOSS: He wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page, plus he wanted to make sure that there might not be some Pentagon official who thought that he was being too moderate and who wanted to escalate the war, saying something that would get into the press and cause the Soviets to think that perhaps we were being more war-like and cause them to retaliate.
MADDOW: On the other side of this, I guess the -- asking about the opposite scenario, one of the reasons that I`m concerned here by what appears to be the role of H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and the defense secretary, James Mattis, is that a lot of people have imbued them with their hopes for this administration. That even if there are parts of the elected government, including the presidency that may seem unstable right now, those are two experienced national security professionals who know what they`re doing. If they are involved in this screw-up this carrier strike group, that shakes that a little bit.
Have there been scenarios, historical scenarios where the military, national security apparatus was actually sort of a check when the government was less stable?
BESCHLOSS: Oh, sure. Absolutely. In the last days of Richard Nixon`s presidency, there was some talk, I don`t know how serious it really was, but worry that Richard Nixon in order to stay in office at the time of Watergate when he was about to be impeached might do something like roll the 101st Airborne on to the White House lawn or commit some military exercise to try and stay in power and consolidate power behind himself.
The secretary of defense, James Schlesinger, required that if there was any order like that, it had to be countersigned by the secretary of defense to make sure it didn`t happen.
MADDOW: Wow. The limits of -- the limits of --
BESCHLOSS: Just to cheer you up tonight, Rachel.
MADDOW: Exactly. My narcolepsy is fine now. Thanks.
BESCHLOSS: Doing my best.
MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian -- Michael, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
BESCHLOSS: Thanks. Great to see you, as always.
MADDOW: As I mentioned, tonight we`re watching the unfolding story of the Georgia congressional election. Democrats have been very excited about the possibility of flipping this seat. We`ve got fresh returns for you. Polls are closed there now. We`re watching the returns come in. That`s straight ahead.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: If you headed out to vote today in Georgia`s 6th congressional district, in that special election today, you may have been greeted by this. The northern suburbs of Atlanta got pounded this afternoon by really heavy thunderstorms.
That`s a good reminder of two axioms of American politics. Number one, special elections come down to turnout. And number two, rain on Election Day depresses turnout, which everybody thinks helps Republicans.
The campaign of the leading Democrat in the race, Jon Ossoff, was apparently ready for this weather today, though. One benefit of raising over $8 million for this race, you literally have rainy day funds. So, you can see the sign there. "Dry your Ossoff."
Despite the thunderstorms this afternoon, Election Day turnout was reported to be steady. That said, even before today, a big number voted early, 55,000 people cast ballots in early voting in this race. That could be about one-third of the total number of votes cast, again, depending on what the overall turnout is.
There are freaking 18 people who are running in this election. Eleven Republicans, five Democrats, and two independents. Democrat Jon Ossoff is favored. At least he`s got the most visible, best funded campaign.
But the question, as we start to get returns in tonight, is whether Jon Ossoff or anybody can clear 50 percent tonight. If anybody clears 50 percent tonight, that person will go to Congress. That person will win the seat.
But if nobody clears 50 percent tonight, there will be a run-off. There will be another contest on June 20th between just the top two finishers.
So, now, polls have been closed for just over two hours. Oh, the election music. Still very early. You can see there on the upper right corner, that`s the percentage of precincts that have fully reports, 23 percent of precincts have fully reported.
The results currently show Jon Ossoff in the lead and over the 50 percent threshold. He`s at 55 percent. Behind him is Karen Handel, she`s a Republican, former Georgia secretary of state. She`s at 16 percent. And behind her are former state senator, Dan Moody, and a Trump supporting business executive named Bob Gray.
Now in terms of what these mean, what these numbers mean, keep in mind, these totals are early yet. It`s not even a quarter of the vote in. These totals also include a lot of the early vote which was expected to benefit Jon Ossoff.
These numbers also include a lot of the vote from Northern DeKalb County, which was expected to be Jon Ossoff`s stronghold. So, he`s over 50 percent right now. A lot of vote still needs to come in. It remains very early.
MSNBC will be following returns from Georgia`s sixth congressional district all night long.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last week, the governor of Alabama was forced to resign in a plea deal that allowed him to avoid being prosecuted on multiple felony charges pursuant to a sex and ethics scandal in state government. He pled instead to a couple of misdemeanors and agreed to leave the governorship.
Now, a few weeks before that happened, though, a few weeks before Robert Bentley resigned as governor, he did something as governor that has national importance. He picked a new U.S. senator. He picked somebody to fill the Senate seat that had just been vacated by Jeff Sessions when Jeff Sessions left the Senate to become attorney general of the United States.
Robert Bentley on his own say so decided to give that U.S. Senate seat to this man. To the Alabama attorney general who was then in charge of investigating Robert Bentley`s sex and ethics scandal. The governor handed that U.S. Senate seat to Alabama`s top prosecutor, a man named Luther Strange.
At the time, Luther Strange would not confirm that there was an investigation going on into the governor. He also delayed a second investigation into Governor Bentley. He told the impeachment committee in the state legislature that they should lay off their investigation and let his office take care of it. And then after all that, he accepted from Governor Bentley the kind offer of a seat in the United States Senate.
If you were thinking this whole thing looks a little sketchy and that Senate seat is starting to smell a little bit, then you are picking up what Alabama has been putting down. The Alabama reporter says that the Senate appointment of Luther Strange prompted instant outrage among lawmakers. One Alabama Republican says he tried to warn the governor that appointing the attorney general who was investigating him would look terrible. There`s been talk of asking the Alabama ethics commission to investigate the appointment.
For the record, Senator Luther Strange says he did nothing wrong in accepting the seat or lobbying for it. But here`s the thing: no matter how much outrage or weirdness attended the appointment of Senator Luther Strange, he is now the junior U.S. senator from Alabama. When Governor Bentley made that appointment, he also set the special election to fill the seat permanently. And he set that special election not for this year but for 2018.
So, he not only appointed Luther Strange to that Senate seat. He gave Luther Strange two years to sit in that Senate seat before Alabama voters could even decide whether or not they liked the arrangements.
Which means Alabama was kind of stuck with this unelected senator who had been installed by their disgraced former governor, until today. Today, that changed. Today, the new governor of Alabama, former Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey who moved up into the governorship when Bentley had to resign, today, Kay Ivey said, no. We`re not going to have a special election for this Senate seat in 2018. We`re going to move that up and have it this year instead.
The primary happens in August. The election will be in December, which is, frankly, great news for a small "d" democracy in Alabama and for Alabama voters who would like to weigh in on this, please? It`s also bad news for Senator Luther Strange who has to defend that seat a lot sooner than he otherwise would have to.
In the words of the great Alabama columnist John Archibald, quote, "Governor Kay Ivey takes a chainsaw to Luther Strange. Now what?"
Joining us now is John Archibald, columnist for the "Birmingham News."
Mr. Archibald, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
JOHN ARCHIBALD, ALABAMA MEDIA GROUP COLUMNIST: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Obviously, Luther Strange gets to run as the incumbent senator no matter when this special election happens. But now, that special election will be a lot sooner than it was otherwise going to be. How significant is this shift today?
ARCHIBALD: It`s huge. It`s very hard to imagine in this state right now that Luther Strange survives that. That incumbency is going to be like an anchor going forward because the outrage is far more than he ever would have expected.
MADDOW: I mentioned, John, that there was a state lawmaker who says that he spoke with the governor around the time the governor made this appointment. And according to the state lawmaker, the way the governor explained was that the governor said Luther Strange is corrupt and I essentially appointed him to the United States Senate in order to get him out of Alabama, in order to get him out of state politics because we can`t endure his corruption here anymore.
That`s been one of the strangest side bars to this story, at least looking at it from a national perspective, from an outside perspective looking in. What do you make of that whole line?
ARCHIBALD: Well, honestly, I disbelieve it. I think Governor Bentley has done very stupid things, and I think Luther Strange has done the same, but it`s hard for me to imagine both of them being stupid enough to hold that conversation with each other who were at that time mortal enemies. So, it stretches my credibility just a little bit to think that that happened. But Ed Henry says it did.
MADDOW: There`s also been a little bit of noise that there may be an inquiry or maybe that there ought to be an inquiry into Senator Strange`s appointment to see if the appointment itself was improper in some way, possibly the state ethics commission looking into that. Do you expect that will happen?
ARCHIBALD: I fully expect complaints to be made with the ethics commission which we don`t have privy yet to and there have been bar complaints against Luther Strange as well, or those are in the works. I think everybody that can apply pressure in any way right now is applying pressure. And, of course, everybody is lining up to fight him for that Senate seat as well.
MADDOW: In terms of how that election will go, obviously, it`s early days. Kay Ivey`s first week in office. She makes this announcement today that election is going to move.
What do you think is likely to happen in that election? It`s hard to imagine Alabama not sending another Republican to the Senate, even if they don`t send Luther Strange back.
ARCHIBALD: It`s hard to imagine somebody you won`t be calling about in a year and a half. Roy Moore, the suspended chief justice is probably a front-runner in that race, as are a couple of Republicans who are now billing themselves as anti-corruption people, but who were also first and foremost in the pep rally to support our former house speaker who was indicted on serious ethics charges. So -- anti-corruption means different things on different days.
MADDOW: To be clear, Alabama has now lost its house speaker, which is arguably one of the -- probably the most powerful position in state government. Indicted, convicted, sentenced. The chief justice to the Supreme Court was taken off the bench, Roy Moore, as you say. The governor was forced to resign in this scandal, pleading guilty to misdemeanors to avoid trial on felony charges.
And now, the state`s sitting U.S. senator replacing the current attorney general of the United States as the nation`s chief law enforcement office, has always been roped into this ethics scandal and facing bar complaints about potentially losing his own law license and potential ethics inquiries in the state?
ARCHIBALD: That about sums it up.
MADDOW: John, if this is a full employment program for political columnists, it is a nefarious one. Thank you, John. Appreciate you being here.
ARCHIBALD: Thank you.
MADDOW: John Archibald, columnist for the "Birmingham News" and Alabama is lucky to have him, even if they`re not lucky in politicians.
All right, coming up, Tax Day. This particular Tax Day today was unlike any other Tax Day we have ever had in this country for one very specific reason, and that`s ahead.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INTERVIEWER: I`m not going to ask you for your favorite curse word. Actually, I am. Do you have a favorite curse word?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Poop.
INTERVIEWER: Poop? Oh, that`s a good two-shoes favorite curse word that if I ever heard one.
WARREN: No, it`s not. No. Are you kidding? Have you ever seen a woman like me look you straight in the face after you`ve finished some long explanation of something and then just said "poop"? Right?
INTERVIEWER: And you said on the Senate floor?
INTERVIEWER: No. But that day could be coming.
WARREN: It could be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don`t know whether she was warned, but she persisted. Poop.
The not at all profane senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, has remained a leading firebrand for her Democratic Party in this new administration. She`s become a favorite target of the Republican Party and particularly of the oppo groups. The professional oppo groups on the right that, that make money by inventing new liberal boogie man every so often and then scaring conservative people around the country with news that said boogie man is hiding under the bed and coming to get them.
The fear of Elizabeth Warren is very strong on the right, which has made the professional right very excited to try to clip her wing wings for her reelection bid in 2018. They also, I think, are thinking ahead about another bigger election that will come two years later.
Whether she likes it or not right now, Elizabeth Warren shoulders a lot of the weight of the Democratic Party. She really is the right`s favorite target. And as her party, as the minority party gears up to fight the Trump administration, gets up to fight the Republicans in Congress, a lot of eyes are going to be on her. Not just from the right but from every direction -- what she does, what she says, what fights she chooses to fight.
Tomorrow night, some of those eyes will be here because Senator Elizabeth Warren is going to join us tomorrow for an extended interview. We will talk about the state of the country. We will talk about the state of her party. I will probably get her to say "poop" in some context that will make you laugh and me as well, and then they`ll have to end the segment and go to commercial because I`ll be blushing. I`ll also ask her if she`s running for president and all that other stuff. It`s going to be fun.
Elizabeth Warren here tomorrow night. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In October 1973, an employee of the IRS leaked information about the president`s tax returns. And this was October 1973. So, other stuff was going on.
This is a leak that was, in history now has been obscured by the unfolding Watergate scandal. But still, at the time, it was a big deal. Leaking tax information like this it was, it is something you`re really not supposed to do. And it really doesn`t usually happen.
But someone in the fall of 1973, someone apparently with the help of a photocopy machine at an IRS office in Martinsburg, West Virginia, somebody sent President Nixon`s tax information to a reporter, a reporter at the "Providence Journal Bulletin" in Rhode Island. And that reporter then published a story on it.
And what we learned from that leak and that publication was over the course of two years, President Nixon had paid next to nothing in federal income taxes. He was earning $200,000 a year as president of the United States, but he was paying the government in taxes basically the same amount as if he was, quote, "a wage earner with one exemption in the $7,000 income bracket."
So, he faced an onslaught of public pressure after that leak. And that revelation about how little he was paying in taxes and why was that anyway, right? President Nixon after that happened, he eventually released five years of his tax returns. He released those tax returns to Congress.
He then promptly got socked with the bill for $470,000 in unpaid back taxes because it turns out he was not actually paying all of his taxes.
And even though President Nixon`s financial situation, his tax situation was now dire straits for all the world to see, some Americans to supported him decided they actually felt quite charitable toward him on that whole issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s Tax Day for most people today, but because of his tax problems, President Nixon has been given an extra 60 days to file his return. The White House said today that about 5,000 people have sent the president over $40,000 to help pay his huge bill for back taxes, but that although the gesture is appreciated, the money will be returned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Five thousand people sent Nixon tax to pay his back taxes. Really appreciate the gesture but, no, no, we can`t accept. The president is sending you your money back and will pay his back taxes himself. So, that was -- that was an exciting Tax Day in 1974 after that leak in the fall of 1973 had made this such a fraud issue.
That`s how we got the modern tradition of presidents releasing their tax returns. Since then, presidents of the United States release and publish their tax returns.
The information we learn within them is a little less exciting nowadays, right? It`s usually more along the lines of, oh, look, President Reagan got a $14 refund this year. Or, oh, wow, the Bidens, hey, they gave 1.5 percent of their income to charity while the Obamas gave 22 percent. I wonder if that`s an issue between them.
Or here`s an interesting issue. Look, President Obama`s book sales have dropped. Right? -That`s how -- that`s the stuff we usually get Tax Day. If that`s how we still did Tax Day in this country there would probably be stuff to talk about in terms of our current president. But that is not how we do Tax Day anymore.
Instead, today, we watched as the president signed his big "buy American, hire American" executive order. Even though Trump family businesses have a hard time following that pledge themselves. They are known for hiring lots and lots of foreign workers. Also on Tax Day today, we learned that on the same day the daughter of the president of the United States sat down for dinner with the president of China. On that same day, China approved a bunch of her company`s trademarks, giving her company the right to sell jewelry, bags and spa services in her name in China.
We also learned on Tax Day today that the lawsuit filed against the president earlier this year for violating the Emoluments Clause which says you can`t accept payments from foreign governments, that lawsuit is expanding to include more people who say they are victims of the president`s refusal to sell off his business holdings while he continues to benefit from foreign governments and foreign sources of income.
So, this is how we celebrate Tax Day now, with more reminders about how little we really know about the president`s financial situation. And that does not appear to be changing any time soon. This is now the new normal.
The reason Tax Day became something a day on which we learned boring things about presidents in years past started in scandal with the Nixon administration in the early 1970s. And once again, this is yet another thing for which something that was a scandal in the Nixon White House now seems quaint in comparison to what we`re living through right now as day- to-day Trump news.
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