Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 19, 2017 Guest: Matthew Philips
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: 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. Appreciate it.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
OK, you know, if I were president, I might not want to talk about this either.
When the Trump administration`s decision about this particular country was announced last month, the country involved put out a statement, an unusual statement in response. They put out a statement saying they felt the need to, quote, express our incomprehension about what the Trump administration had just done.
Across the spectrum in the United States, the reaction was the same and it was unanimous among all sorts of different kinds of people who you might think would otherwise have really different perspectives on this. But across the board, everybody was also incomprehending.
The former head of U.S. military operations for that region called the decision by the Trump administration, quote, puzzling.
A very different kind of expert, a top human rights lawyer who had operated extensively in that country called the Trump administration`s decision quote bewildering, saying there`s no reason and, quote, it makes no sense whatsoever, none, zero.
Longtime U.S. ambassador at the neighboring country said: To me, what they did makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. That same ambassador did have one speculative explanation. He said it was possible the Trump administration did what they did, quote, out of sheer incompetence. But otherwise frankly it just doesn`t make sense.
So, across the board those are all very different types of people who have tend to have different types of reactions, right, to policy decisions made by a new administration. But with all these different types of regional experts, they`re all just baffled. We have no idea where this came from.
And what they were so baffled by had to do with this part of the world, this big belt of countries, belt of big countries that that makes up most of the lower tier of the Sahara Desert. The countries we`re talking about here are Mali and Nigeria and Niger and Chad.
Here in the United States right now, of course, we are suddenly paying a lot of attention to the nation of Niger. Two American Green Berets, two other U.S. special operations -- Special Forces soldiers were just killed in Niger just over two weeks ago. And at a time when most Americans had no idea that we had a significant number of U.S. troops in Niger at all or if we did, that those troops were at any significant risk, let alone that we might lose four of them in an ambush.
Turns out we do have several hundred American troops serving in Niger, possibly as many as a thousand based on what Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters today.
But I think it`s helpful just to see that see that map there in part to remember which country borders which country, if you`re not that familiar with that part of Africa. But also just to remember, these are really large countries we`re talking about. Niger, for example, Niger is a former French colony, but in terms of its area, Niger alone is twice the size of France. Mali is about the same size. Chad is even bigger than that.
These are large landlocked countries that have big long interior borders with each other and so, their regional concerns are really intertwined. By necessity, they end up very mixed up and very involved in each other`s business, both for the worse and for the better.
And on that map, the country that`s just east of Niger, the nation of Chad, that`s the country that caused every expert on that region -- every expert in the military and the human rights people and the diplomats everybody caused them all even that country`s own government to express just profound surprise and bewilderment just a few weeks ago, last month, when the Trump administration did something really strange about that country that might have actually just been a mistake. Still to this day, it doesn`t make much sense what the Trump administration did. It really might have just been a screw-up by them.
But what they did also might explain why we have just had these four absolutely unbelievable gut-wrenching emotional days in American politics and in D.C. in particular, because if I were them, I would rather divert attention to anything, even unbelievably unpalatable decisions and discussions rather than talk about this.
All right. Do you remember back in 2012, Islamic militants, militia linked to al Qaeda took over Timbuktu, right? They took over a whole swathe. Timbuktu is in Mali. They took over Timbuktu and a whole swath of northern Mali, including that historic world-famous city.
The militants declared Sharia law. They started destroying shrines and tombs all these priceless world heritage sites. Mali had been a French colony. France still takes an acute interest and sees itself as a stakeholder in that part of the world and they took over Timbuktu in 2012.
By January 2013, French jets were flying into Mali. France led a big military operation thousands of troops to help the government of Mali take back its territory from those militants to free Timbuktu, to free all of those all those other areas in northern Mali that had been held by the Islamic extremists. They just took back whole swathes of that country from the militant groups and France went in full force.
But they were not there alone. They were in support of the government of Mali, and they were there with a big regional force of African troops, which in some cases had a lot of experience already fighting against these Islamic militias.
One of the most critical and effective parts of the African force that fought alongside the French back in 2013 where that the special forces and the military more broadly from Chad. When the French and those regional African forces routed the Islamic militants in Timbuktu in northern Mali, the French thereafter decided that they would stay. They set up a regional force to continue to fight Islamic extremists, to keep those extremists from taking territory again in that part of the world.
Part of the reason you can tell that Chad in particular had been super valuable to France in that fight, it`s because when France decided to stay, when they decided they`d stay in the region, they`d leave troops there, they set up a regional headquarters to run a permanent regional operation against Islamic militancy in that part of the world, where they decided to set their headquarters up was not in Mali, where they had had this big fight over Timbuktu and that hold northern part of the country. No, they set up their headquarters in Chad and that`s where they remain today. That French-led operation has been headquartered in Chad since 2014.
2014 is also when President Barack Obama decided to send a contingent of U.S. troops to assist in the hunt for those hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped and held captive by Boko Haram. U.S. troops were sent in to that part of the world to be part of the fight to look for the Chibouk girls, to look for those Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014. And a lot of what the us troops were there to do was just physically to look for the girls, to try to figure out where they were being held.
And the place where U.S. troops operated the surveillance drones from and the planes that looked for those girls in that military operation was again, Chad. The U.S. military as well set up their headquarters for that fight in Chad.
Then, in 2015, another permanent multinational joint task force was set up to fight Islamic militant activity in that whole huge landlocked region in central and west Africa where all of these al Qaeda-linked and ISIS-linked groups like Boko Haram were operating it`s just such great effect. The headquarters for that multinational joint task force against Islamic extremism, again those headquarters in Chad.
And there`s a reason there was so much international and regional military activity against Islamic extremists in that part of the world. They really had a toehold. By early 2015, Boko Haram was controlling territory in that part of Africa equivalent to the size of the nation of Belgium they had a lot of territory and they were based in Nigeria and Nigerian troops were fighting against them, but they couldn`t do it on their own. And so, that`s part of why these regional efforts were set up to bring force to bear from multiple countries in the region.
But there`s a reason all of these regional and international groups were headquartered in Chad because all the experts say that pound for pound, that that military from Chad and the Chadians special forces, they`re the best, most battle-hardened, most experienced, most effective military for fighting Islamic extremism in that part of the world.
In early 2015, when Boko Haram held that huge piece of territory in Nigeria -- yes, Nigerian troops fought them, but they brought in troops from Niger and from Chad and together they kind of routed them. They ran them out of town after town after town.
Boko Haram by that point had been proclaiming that they had formed a new Islamic emirate in that part of Africa. There`s the Islamic emirate in Iraq and Syria, and they were the other part of that. They were the other part of the caliphate, and they were setting up in that part of western and central Africa.
But that regional military effort against them led out of Chad broke that stuff up, took back all those towns, shut them down.
And Chad is not a rich country. They`ve got oils. They`ve got a little bit of money, but they`ve also got a dictator who takes care of most of that. It`s a -- it`s a large country. It`s mostly poor, but for a variety of reasons they have put profound resources into leading the military counterterrorist fight in that part of the world.
In March of this year, the United States led countries and a massive military exercise in Chad. It was called Flintlock. Twenty-seven countries represented, exercise led by the United States. Two thousand U.S. military personnel participated in it. And again they could have done this anywhere in Africa. There`s a reason they did it in Chad.
I mean, in this country, we tend to be more focused, when we think about ISIS, we tend to focus on them more in the Middle East and in Iraq and Syria. But the other place, they got pretty close to declaring a caliphate was in this part of the world, and it`s all interlocking related groups. There`s al-Qaeda linked groups. There`s Boko Haram. At least part of Boko Haram now calls itself a province of the Islamic state of ISIS.
But for all of them, the lead military effort against them in that part of the world really has been the military of Chad, and it`s interesting. Even though the Chad military has been leading the fight against these groups, there haven`t actually been that many attacks by these groups inside Chad, and there`s not a lot of Chadian civilians who have been joining the Islamic militant groups.
Nigeria has a really big problem with them. Nigerian troops then go and fight these guys and Chad comes too.
Niger has a big problem with these guys. Troops from Niger fight these guys and then Chad goes too.
Mali has a big problem with these guys. Malian troops fight them, but then Chad goes too. It`s not necessarily their homegrown problem, but Chad leads it. This has been much worse of a problem in their neighboring countries, but Chad has been tip of the spear, in Nigeria, in Mali, to a lesser extent in Niger, but Chad leads the fight.
And all the regional efforts to fight the Islamic militants there, they`re all headquartered in Chad, including the ones that we participated.
That kind of sort of military geospatial orientation usually doesn`t matter to us here in the United States.
But enter the Trump administration. September 24th this year, so three and a half weeks ago, Trump administration announced its new Muslim ban which they would prefer you don`t call a Muslim ban anymore. During the campaign, candidate Trump had proclaimed he would enforce a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the United States. That morphed into the Muslim ban that he announced, as soon as he was inaugurated, which went precisely nowhere in the courts. It`s gone through several different iterations since then, all of which have also gone nowhere in the courts.
But on September 24th, they announced a new ban that included a new list of countries from which people would not be allowed to come to this country. And -- I mean, they`ve been -- it`s random, right? So we don`t know how this happens.
But they dropped Iraq, OK? They dropped Sudan, but then they added in North Korea. They added in Venezuela, and they added in Chad. And the additions were weird. They were notably weird at the time.
I mean, North Korea was a strange addition not because North Korea isn`t a country that the U.S. worries about right now. The reason North Korea was weird to turn up on the travel ban is because North Koreans don`t really come to the United States, anyway. It`s not like North Koreans easily get passports, let alone visas.
As for Venezuela, that one was pretty narrowly targeted. It was targeted families of members of the government. So, at least that one seemed to be aimed at something specific.
But Chad? They just blanket banned people from Chad. Nobody from Chad can get a visa to come here anymore.
And right from the get-go, there was this curious lack of explanation as to how Chad ended up on this list. "The New York Times" quickly reported that neither the State Department nor the Defense Department had been consulted by the Trump administration about putting Chad on the list. "The Times" further reported immediately that officials at both those agencies, both at State and Defense, will really opposed to Chad being on this list.
But for some reason the Trump administration did it anyway. And what made it worse was the purported explanation for why Chad was on the list. Out of all of the countries listed in the current iteration of the travel ban, Chad was the only one that`s described by the Trump administration as being on the list because, quote, several terrorist groups are active within Chad. Yes, that`s the only country where that`s happening, right?
I mean, maybe you could make that case that Chad has a terrorism problem. Certainly, they`ve had some attacks, but they`re not the -- if that`s the problem, they`re not the problem. I mean if that`s the reason you end up on the travel ban list, even just in that part of the world, why wouldn`t you pick Nigeria? Why wouldn`t you pick Mali?
I mean, broaden it out a little bit why wouldn`t you pick Iraq? Why wouldn`t you pick Afghanistan? No, Chad`s the country that has terrorism? Absolutely baffling, absolutely baffling. And that is why you got all those quotes from the experts, bewildering, puzzling, no reason, this makes no sense.
The day after the travel ban was announced, "The New York Times" interviewed the man who had been the State Department`s expert on that region, until last year when we got rid of all the experts. He called putting Chad on that list, quote, a knee-jerk move rather than a careful decision, one that could put Americans in harm`s way. He said, there`s no incentive to label Chad as soft on terrorism, which they definitely are not.
Now, I want you just to stick a pin in one part of that quote there. This could put Americans in harm`s way. You see that? That is the guy who used to be the State Department expert on Chad until last year. This decision could put Americans in harm`s way. September 25th, he gave that warning.
On Friday of last week, the government of Chad announced that they had completed the withdrawal of all Chadian troops from their neighboring country Niger, where for years, they have been fighting ISIS-linked Islamic militants as the most battle-hardened, most effective military in the region fighting Islamic militancy.
The "Reuters" bureau in the region reported, that already, immediately upon the withdrawal of those Chadian troops, Boko Haram attacks, other Islamic militant attacks, started to tick up in Niger. Residents immediately started to leave their villages and move out of whatever region they lived in for their own safety because those Chadian troops withdrew from Niger.
Chad announced that their troops were all out this past Friday, but they also announced that the removal of those troops was the culmination of a two-week long process. It took him two weeks to get all those troops out of there. The process was done by Friday, which means they started withdrawing their troops from Niger the last week in September.
We`re going to be literal as to what they announced about the two-week period. That means they pulled their troops out starting Friday, September 29th, which would be the Friday after the Trump administration made this baffling decision to insult and harm our closest military ally in that region and the leader of the regional fight against ISIS and Boko Haram in that part of the world where ISIS has been trying to establish another caliphate.
And you know, I`m sure the family members of those Chadian soldiers were happy to get them home when they all got suddenly withdrawn from Niger after America made this inexplicable decision about Chadian troops. But those Chadian troops were really doing something in Niger. They were protecting those villages in that whole region from ISIS and other Islamic militant groups being able to operate freely there and presumably to take more territory there once again.
And those Chadian troops pulling out immediately had an effect of emboldening and enabling ISIS attacks, and those troops started pulling out best as we can tell last week of September, September 29th. This right after the Trump administration inexplicably what they did what they did.
This troops from Chad got pulled out the 29th -- well, right after that, that`s when four U.S. Army soldiers got attacked by a large contingent of ISIS fighters in Niger, and four of them killed within days of the start of the Chadian soldiers being withdrawn.
So, no wonder the president doesn`t want to talk about it, right? There had been some speculation that maybe the president didn`t want to make any public acknowledgement of the deaths of those soldiers because he didn`t want to talk about U.S. troops being killed by ISIS-affiliated fighters at a time when he wants to be given credit for defeating ISIS. That might be some of it.
But this really was the deadliest combat mission of his presidency thus far, and it really did follow just days after a policy decision by his administration and inexplicable, baffling, possibly mistaken policy decision by his administration -- I mean, it`s being called a mistake at best by everybody who knows the region just days after that policy decision by his administration, our best and most experienced and most battle- hardened regional military allies in that part of the world pulled out of that part of the world and went home and then American soldiers were attacked.
The AfriCom spokesman from the U.S. military has said that the ambush that killed those four American soldiers was, quote, not expected. He said American troops had done more than two dozen patrols in the same region over the last six months with no problem. But this one was different. Certainly, in its result, potentially in its cause.
And now, today, in the fourth day of Washington turning itself inside out over the president refusing to speak about the deaths of those service members and why they were killed and where they were killed and what they were doing there today, today, we finally got the first concrete information about why the Trump administration might have made that baffling decision in the first place that`s so upset this military ally of ours, that precipitated their withdrawal from the country where our troops were attacked just days later.
I mean, there had been an initial speculation on this travel ban thing. And indeed, it was just speculation but maybe this had something to do with Exxon. Chad`s a poor country, but it does have oil reserves. Exxon Mobil, more than anybody else, pumps their oil. The government of Chad had recently gone after Exxon, saying they`d been not paying their taxes.
The country demanded something like $70 billion in fines from Exxon, on the tax issue. They wanted hundreds of millions of dollars from Exxon, and overdue royalties. The government of Chad drove this very hard bargain with Exxon. They went after Exxon really hard. And, yes, the CEO of Exxon for most of this time was Rex Tillerson, and maybe that made him mad.
That dispute between the government of Chad and Exxon was settled in June for some undisclosed sum, we don`t know. But -- I mean, but there had been speculation because the weirdness of this decision about Chad, the lack of explanation for how this happened to Chad that they ended up in the travel ban, that maybe this was some excellent business revenge, some Exxon business decision that had leaked into the Rex Tillerson State Department and before all the former State Department experts who`ve been speaking out about how bad and dumb and inexplicable this decision was toward Chad with the travel ban, Rex Tillerson himself has said nothing about it. And, you know, maybe someday we`ll find out if that had anything to do with it.
But today, "The Associated Press" reported something much more pedestrian, that arguably makes it even worse because it`s so stupid. When the Trump administration said about trying to develop a new travel ban, they told countries all over the world, all over the globe, hey, if you want to stay off our travel ban, you have to send the United States a simple passport so the Homeland Security Department here can determine if your passport is secure, so we can determine if your passports are secure and they can`t easily be faked.
That was the across-the-board order from the Homeland Security Department. Hey, country that wants to stay off the travel ban list, we need you to print us up a new sample passport and send it to us. They gave countries a 50-day time limit to submit a freshly printed passport sample.
In Chad, that turns out to have been a problem. Chad recently had to stop issuing passports altogether for about six months. Part of the problem appears to be an office supply problem. They use a special paper like all countries do to print their passports.
Passports to secure documents it often means, there`s a specially-designed, you know, supposed to be forgery-proof type of paper that`s used to print these things up. Chad ran out of that paper, and at the time the U.S. was demanding these sample passports be submitted by every country on earth, Chad was unable to print a new one because they didn`t have the paper.
According to "The A.P." today, they asked the Trump administration if they could they could submit a recently printed passport from before the time they ran out of passport paper. The Trump administration apparently said no, and then apparently, they ignored everything about our relationship with that country, including the fact that they are our most potent regional partner in fighting Islamic terrorism, and we headquarter all of our military efforts in that part of the world in their country because they work with us so well on that issue. They just ignored that, said they -- hey, well, they didn`t get the paperwork in. And so, Chad got on the list.
And then that week, Chad said, we`re pulling out of Niger. And now, we are where we are. Like I said, if I were the president, I wouldn`t want to talk about this either. What we`ve had instead is a four-day long gut- wrenching fight and national discussion about something that should never be discussed in a political context, about the private treatment of military families received from U.S. presidents when their loved one dies in service to the United States.
And that culminated today in an incredibly emotional appearance in the briefing room from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who lost his son in Afghanistan, and with a quivering jaw, he walked the press corps through the path that the bodies of deceased service members take from the battlefield through U.S. military facilities in Europe, home to Dover Air Base, and then home to be interred and he explained what he personally was told when he got the notification that his son had died in combat. And he attacked a congresswoman who had heard President Trump`s call to a widow of one of the soldiers killed in new share, he attacked her because the widow put the call on speakerphone and allowed that congresswoman and one of her own relatives to listen in.
And it feels disgusting for us as Americans to have any of the private grief of these families or president`s handling or mishandling of it in public discussions at all, right? it`s inconceivable that the president might have directed the public discussion of these private matters by his senior staff.
But the only reason the subject matter is being discussed in any political context at all, it`s because the president still will not talk about what happened in Niger, and how and why those American troops lost their lives there.
We knew from reporting in "Politico" last night that national security staff prepared the president a statement for him to give the day after the deaths happened in Niger. He didn`t give that statement. He still hasn`t. He still won`t talk about it.
Now, when he was pressed on it after two weeks of ignoring those deaths, the president diverted the public pressure on that matter into instead this discussion and these attacks about notifications and condolences for the bereft. The only reason that public discussion has happened now for four straight days with all of the emotional strain it has caused to the country and caused to so many hurting people is because of the president`s diversion of questions about what happened in Niger.
Well, now, we`re starting to figure out why he might not want to talk about that.
MADDOW: Right after Chief of Staff John Kelly gave emotional remarks at the White House briefing room today after he talked about the ways presidents talked to grieving military families, after he talked about how he was told about the death of his own son who died in combat, John Kelly opened it up to questions. And this was the first question he got from the briefing room.
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REPORTER: Why were they in Niger? What was -- we were told they weren`t in armored vehicles and there was no air cover. So, what are the specifics about this particular incident and why were we there? And why are we there?
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I would -- I would start by saying there is an investigation.
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MADDOW: Why were they there? Why were they in Niger?
Before this became a political discussion about the families of fallen service members, one started by this president, what this actually started out as was the worst combat fatalities of the Trump era, the story of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers killed in the line of duty in the central African nation of Niger.
The reason it became a White House story is because the president made no public acknowledgement of those deaths, again, the deadliest combat incident of his presidency. He still hasn`t talked about it. He won`t apparently.
NBC News reporting about the swarm of unanswered questions that the Pentagon is still trying to get answered on this attack. The things as basic as where the attack happened or whether those soldiers had the right protective equipment. One official telling NBC news today that the level of confusion during and after the mission was, quote, tremendous.
Joining us now is Courtney Kube. She`s a national security and military reporter for NBC News.
Courtney, thank you very much for being here. Really appreciate your time.
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND MILITARY REPORTER: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, have there been any additional updates since this afternoon. Obviously, General Kelly gave those very emotional remarks about condolence processes for service members -- the families of service members who were killed. But when it came to explaining what happened in Niger, he was pretty circumspect and put most of this off to there being an ongoing investigation.
Have you been able to flush anything else out at the Pentagon in terms of knowing what happened?
KUBE: And General McMaster, the national security advisor, I asked him about Niger at an event in D.C. this afternoon, and he also was relatively circumspect. I mean, the incident is under investigation, so that`s one reason that we aren`t hearing a lot of very specific facts yet. At some point, AfriCom, U.S. Africa Command, is going to have to put out more details but about what happened.
And -- but right now, they are -- they`re really hiding behind the fact that it`s under investigation, to give us any real specifics. Well -- I mean, one of the things you know you talked about in the intro, the confusion. That`s -- a theme that people have really been stressing with me over the past two weeks since this happened was that they were not expecting this patrol.
This is a patrol they had done times in the past six months. They were not expecting trouble. They went to see some leaders, some local leaders and pay their respects and visit with them and they were ambushed. It was very unexpected.
So, this -- there is always whenever there`s a death of a service member like this, there`s what`s called a line of duty investigation. It`s a standard investigation. And then now, there`s this more informal one that`s also ongoing which includes looking at the very basic facts of what happened here -- everything from who was actually there when the gunfire and the RPG started coming in, why were they at the village for as long as they were there, why were they visiting these leaders as long as they were. You know, everything.
And then, of course, it led to one of the soldiers -- one of the support soldiers, Sergeant Johnson, he wasn`t found immediately when they all left, when they left the scene.
MADDOW: Courtney, in terms of the handling of this issue in Washington, obviously, what has led this to splay into such an emotionally fraught and far-ranging discussion about service members families and all of these things has been the president`s reluctant to -- reluctance to acknowledge publicly these deaths, to put out even a statement written by somebody else about what happened, to explain to the American people the basics of the fact that these service members were lost or the circumstances in which they were lost.
Do you have any insight -- does the Pentagon have any insight into why people like General Mattis have been willing to spell out the basics here and talk to reporters about this, but the president himself has been either totally mum or diverting questions to other matters?
KUBE: I don`t know why to be honest with you. I mean, we are -- we don`t have a lot of facts from the Pentagon or from U.S. Africa Command. So, after -- in the first 48 hours or so after this attack occurred, details were very, very scarce and that was because there was an American soldier who was missing.
KUBE: In the confusion on the battlefield, you know, he was -- they were evacuated, both the injured, the killed and the uninjured, and he was still there, and there was an extensive search for him. So, in those first 48 hours, we didn`t get a lot of details because there was this desperate hope by the U.S. military that no one would find out that he was missing.
They were worried that some terrorist group in the area would find him, dead or alive. You know, fortunately, local forces found him and he was returned home as we all saw in that just got wrenching video of his widow this week meeting his remains. But, you know, in the aftermath of that, they initiated this investigation and the U.S. military just has not been terribly forthcoming.
And part of it is, I don`t think in the first week or two, they knew much about exactly what happened there. There was confusion about basic facts like who was flying the medevac helicopter. There have been three different scenarios and Secretary Mattis laid out a you know one today that we think is the most accurate or the most up-to-date and that was that there was a French military helicopter and a contract helicopter that both came in and picked the people up.
MADDOW: Again, but also raising the question of, if, you know, not in armored vehicles, there was no U.S. search-and-rescue air cover available for these guys, a lot -- a lot of unanswered questions about the intel that led to this patrol happening, whether or not there was a regional support issue here, a lot still to learn and a lot of curiosity about the president`s reticence, at least on my part.
Courtney Kube, NBC News` excellent national security and military reporter staying up late for us tonight -- Courtney, thank you very much.
KUBE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. There is a developing story right now that is getting very little attention outside the communities it most affects. It actually affects the whole country and that story`s coming up next. Heads up.
MADDOW: This is just a heads up on something we`ve been tracking for a little while now that hasn`t really made national news.
A couple of weeks ago, you might remember that the secretary of veterans affairs, David Shulkin, got caught up in the kind of scandal Trump cabinet officials keep getting caught up in now, when he took a 10-day taxpayer- funded work trip to Europe with his wife that included trips to four palaces, a river cruise, lots of days with no work on the schedule at all, and a trip to see the Wimbledon Women`s Final -- taxpayers paid for.
The V.A.`s inspector general is investigating that trip. Fresh off that, the V.A. is now out with their proposal to overhaul health care for America`s veterans. This has been a very controversial issue for veterans, for the V.A. and for all of us for a few years now.
Ever since it emerged that veterans were waiting too long to see their V.A. doctors and some documents were being falsified to cover up those long wait times, conservative groups who have long wanted to get rid of the V.A. because they see it as socialism, conservative groups capitalized on those reports in that scandal to propose their own solution. Their solution is to dismantle the V.A., privatize the V.A. Health care system put veterans into the private health care system that everybody else is in and just have them pay insurance companies for whatever courage -- whatever coverage they can get.
Whatever problems the V.A. health system has had, by and large, it is a system that veterans don`t want taken away. So, veterans groups have raised alarm bells about conservative efforts to privatize the V.A. in the past, notably in 2015.
You might remember when Republican candidate Ben Carson proposed privatizing the V.A. as part of his run for the presidency. That got him an angry personalized letter from eight of the country`s leading veterans organizations.
Well, now, heads up. Now, the Trump administration`s V.A. is out with this brand-new, vaguely worded health care proposal. They`re calling it the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences Act.
Largest federal workers union in the country which represents a quarter million V.A. employees, they say this is basically euphemistic code for privatizing the V.A. They call it a total dismantling of the V.A. It`s taking resources out of the V.A. and shifting them into the private sector. It`s voucherizing veteran`s health care.
Now, this is just arisen -- this has just been proposed by the Trump V.A. The veterans organizations have not yet come out and full force to say whether or not they agree with this, but next week, the Veterans Committee in the House is going to review this plan and other V.A. reform proposals in a hearing. That`s next Tuesday. We expect that veterans groups will be on hand to testify.
But if you`ve been like me watching this for the past few years, seeing conservative groups circling V.A. health care, trying to figure out how to get rid of it, this appears to be the first one of the efforts to do that that is coming from inside the federal government, from inside the Trump administration. This could end up being a very big deal.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: This was "NBC Nightly News" September 1st 2005.
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REPORTER: It`s a profound humanitarian crisis that grows deeper by the day, tens of thousands of hurricane refugees trapped in a city, that`s dissolving into chaos.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We haven`t eaten here like five days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) be able survive out here with no milk, no water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No food, no water.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We get nothing (ph).
REPORTER: But victims who`ve suffered for days say they need help now and want to know where it is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is wrong. We have no water. You could have dropped it from the sky from the helicopter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The failure to get water, drinking water to the people of New Orleans became one of the lasting images, a still searing detail about the response to Hurricane Katrina, a symbol of the failure of our federal government in the wake of that storm. At the time, FEMA hand-picked one company to deliver bottled water to people who survived Katrina. They were called Lipsey Mountain Spring Water. FEMA paid them $81 million to provide bottled water during Katrina.
There were problems with that. The inspector general at the Department of Defense concluded that Lipsey Mountain Spring Water, quote, did not consistently meet time performance requirements of the contract. Lipsey missed nine out of deadlines. They were paid nearly $900,000 in mysterious unsupported costs. And we know the people of New Orleans didn`t get the water.
But apparently, FEMA believes in second chances, because after that experience with that company just over a decade ago, FEMA has just granted Lipsey, now going by Composite Analysis Group, they`ve just granted them a new contract for $215 million, this time to deliver bottled water after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.
Data like this was scrupulously compiled by reporters at "Bloomberg BusinessWeek". They found this week that FEMA has awarded $2.2 billion dollars in new contracts since August 25th when Hurricane Harvey. And you might expect a lot of outlay like that in a hurricane year like this.
But would you expect that money to be spent this way on September 5th, Give Co LLC, you got a $70 million award to build mobile homes for Hurricane Harvey victims. Give Co`s only public presence is a Go Daddy Website which lists neither a phone number, an email address nor information about who runs the company. The address listed as its headquarters belongs to a house in a residential neighborhood in Longwood, Florida. A phone call to a number associated with the company was answered by a man who refused to provide his name or answer questions. He referred questions to FEMA which declined to answer them.
Again, they got a $74 million award from FEMA to build housing for Harvey`s victims.
Joining us now is Matthew Philips. He`s a politics and policy editor at "Bloomberg Businessweek".
Mr. Phillips, thank you for being here.
MATTHEW PHILIPS, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK POLITICS AND POLICY EDITOR: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: How`d you find this stuff?
PHILIPS: We have great analysts at "Bloomberg". It`s a big company. We have an entire team of data analysts who go through federal contracts every day. They scrub this stuff that was coming out of the GSA, and we put it in a spreadsheet. We`ve got a great reporter named Chris Flavelle down in Washington who reports on climate change, has been doing a lot of work on FEMA recently, put it in a spreadsheet, started looking at it and stuff started looking a little funny.
MADDOW: I am finding sort of -- dubious seeming companies getting large contracts is one thing and I expect that we`ll learn more about those types of contracts as we see with their responses like, and whether a little seeming companies actually maybe have surprising resources to really provide these things they`ve been contracted for. What I am -- what I am surprised by now is companies that have negative documented track records from previous similar disasters getting even bigger contracts now. There`s no blackball system?
PHILIPS: That`s right. FEMA keeps a long list of vetted contractors that they have to deploy when disaster strike, like we`ve seen in the past month. When you see three hurricanes hit in the span of a month, they quickly blow through that and then they need to turn to whoever is next in line. And sometimes, in this case, the person who`s next in line if they`ve changed name their company, for example, has a previous track record.
It doesn`t seem like there`s a system in place to vet that or that whoever was in charge of giving that contract gave it much mind and cared about it, because the impetus here for obvious reasons is to get money out the door and on the ground and get supplies delivered. That`s tricky when you have to do it so quickly and you don`t have the system and process in place to do this properly and to vet these companies.
MADDOW: Obviously, FEMA is a great concern right now because we`ve had this terrifically terrible hurricane season and because of what persists in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in terms of really dire conditions there. There`s more FEMA personnel in Texas right now post-Harvey than there are in Puerto Rico, even as Puerto Rico goes to a month without drinking water. It`s very hard to sort of get your head around.
Is there anything from this reporting that tells you in a holistic sense whether or not FEMA is well-run right now? Whether they`re doing a good job?
PHILIPS: Look, they are under tremendous pressure. Brock Long, who`s the head of FEMA right now, is a seasoned, lifelong emergency management guy. This is what he`s done his entire professional career. Do -- does the reporting that we`ve done indicate that they are aware of any problems in- house about their procurement situation, it does not.
MADDOW: Well, we`ll see.
Matthew Philips, politics and policy editor for "Bloomberg Businessweek", I think this is a wake up call and it`s really good, good, well done reporting. Thanks for helping us, Alex.
PHILIPS: Thanks for having us.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
All right. We`ll be right. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Can you say with absolute certainty that the election results were not skewed as a result of Russian interference especially given what we`ve learned just in the last few weeks?
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Yes, the intelligence community`s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s not true.
Today, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency said something that was untrue, very important and not true. He said the intelligence community`s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of our election. Not true.
Quoting from the intelligence community`s January report, quote: We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.
So, the CIA director made exactly the opposite statement to what the intelligence community put in writing just a few months ago. He got blowback from those comments and then the CIA had to put out a clean-up statement.
This was their clean up statement, quote: The intelligence assessment with regard to the Russian election meddling has not changed and the director did not intend to suggest that it had. Except for what he said directly on tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POMPEO: Yes, the intelligence community`s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s not true. The CIA director insists the director didn`t really mean that when he said it. Let`s make you kind of wonder why he said it then, right?
MADDOW: Something a little weird happens in Wisconsin last election day. The state had ranked second in the country in voter participation in the previous two presidential elections in 2008 and 2012. But in 2016, Wisconsin saw its lowest voter turnout in nearly two decades.
In a new piece for "Mother Jones", reporter Ari Berman offers one theory as to why. This was the first big election under a new Wisconsin law that made voting harder. They have a new voter ID law in Wisconsin.
After the election, the University of Wisconsin surveyed voters in some of the Democratic strongholds in Wisconsin, they found that over 11 percent of registered voters who didn`t vote in 2016 were, quote, deterred in some way by the voter ID law either because they lacked ID, they believed they lacked ID, or they were told at the polls their ID didn`t qualify as valid.
Well, 11 percent in those counties, that translates to as many as 45,000 people in those Democratic strongholds in Wisconsin, who might have been discouraged from voting by the new voter ID law, 45,000.
Hillary Clinton lost Wisconsin by 22,000 votes. So voter ID might account for more than double the margin of votes by which she lost.
In July 2014, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called Wisconsin`s voter ID law pernicious and misguided. He said it was likely to, quote, impose significant barriers to the most basic right of our democracy.
Here`s a programming note. Monday night, I am pleased to say, Eric Holder will be here live for the interview on this show. I had a ton to ask him about. This is his first live television interview since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Monday night, 9:00 p.m., Eric Holder right here. Seriously.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll 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
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