Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 16, 2018 Guest: David Kirkpatrick, Judith Browne Dianis, James Fallows
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour on what has been a fast- moving news day and what is turning out to be a fast-moving news night.
In particular, you will have noticed as the day went on and into this evening, there has been a ton of news and an increasing amount of news on the case of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi-born dissident journalist who has disappeared. It was sort of surreal to see those images early today of the American secretary of state in Saudi Arabia meeting with that country`s leadership while the kingdom heads into week three now of trying to come up with an explanation for what happened to this "Washington Post" journalist after he walked into a Saudi consulate in Turkey and then was never seen or heard from again. I mean, it`s unsettling enough to see these images, right?
The U.S. secretary of state yakking it up with the ruling crown prince of Saudi Arabia while that crown prince stands fairly credibly accused of orchestrating the murder of a U.S.-based journalist, a Virginia resident, an employee of one of America`s great national newspapers. There is Mike Pompeo, ha ha ha, great to see you, my old friend.
Then shortly after we got those images out of Saudi Arabia, the president himself gave an interview to the "Associated Press" from the Oval Office in which he said this apparent murder case, in his words, is just another case of you`re guilty until proven innocent.
To understand some of what the president is talking about there, I think it may be worth remembering that since Jamal Khashoggi went missing, President Trump has also publicly asserted that the U.S. government has an active investigation into this matter, that in fact we have investigators on the ground where Khashoggi disappeared, looking into this. The president has said that publicly. That does not seem to be the case.
After the president made that public assertion, that there is some U.S. investigation under way where Khashoggi disappeared, the FBI had to clarify to the press that actually, no, we`re not. We`re not looking into this. The FBI has not been invited to investigate this matter in Turkey. They have not been on the ground investigating this matter, despite the fact that the president is saying they were.
But now, it`s clear from the president`s behavior that I think one of two things is going on here. We are facing either the prospect that the president can`t criticize Saudi Arabia and its leaders for some reason, is somehow beholden to them for a reason he cannot or will not explain. He feels bound for some reason to literally let them get away with the murder of a U.S. resident, or there`s the alternate prospect here that there are no ulterior motives driving the president`s behavior, that there is nothing secret or compromising that we need to know about that`s operating behind the scenes here. Rather, this is simply a manifestation of the fact that the president doesn`t think that murdering a journalist for "The Washington Post" is all that big a thing. Why would we care?
I mean, I shouldn`t say that these two prospects are mutually exclusive. I guess they could both be true. He could both be compromised by the Saudis in the sense that he is not free to criticize them, no matter what they do, even when they start killing U.S.-based journalists. And alongside that, he could also not really feel like criticizing this kind of a murder because of who was murdered, and he doesn`t think this kind of a murder is that big a deal.
I mean, they could both exist, right? But it seems to me those are the feasible explanations thus far for the president`s behavior. I have yet to hear any even proposed alternate explanation for the president`s behavior from anybody inside the White House or from the president himself. Not least in this new interview that he has just done with the "A.P." tonight.
So, we`re watching that story. We`ve actually got some breaking news on that story coming up in a moment with "The New York Times" reporter who just broke a really important piece of this.
Before we get to that interview, I want to let you know, though, in terms of what else is coming up this hour, we`re going to know three weeks from tonight whether or not America is going to change up the Congress after these first two years of the Trump presidency. Today was the deadline to register to vote in six more states -- Louisiana, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, and West Virginia. Today is the voter registration deadline in all those states.
We`ve got a couple of big stories coming up tonight on the election, and specifically, your ability to vote in these elections. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp got sued two more times in the past 24 hours over serious voter suppression concerns in his state where he is running the election as Georgia`s secretary of state, and he is also running for governor as the Republican Party`s nominee for that job. We`ll have news on that coming up.
We also just got actually some great voting news out of Georgia. We`re covering a lot of bad voting news out of Georgia. We got great voting news out of Georgia tonight. It`s not at all partisan. It is not a tilt for one side or the other. It`s just really great news from that state. We`re going to have that good news story coming up in just a moment.
But as I said, this has been a day and particularly an evening of continuing breaking news, a lot of which relates to Jamal Khashoggi. Just tonight, "The New York Times" has published the results of basically some forensic video and photographic analysis, digging into the identity of the 15-man Saudi team that Turkey says flew into Turkey and travelled to the Saudi consulate there at the time of the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi. Now, what`s particularly important about what "The Times" has done tonight with this forensic work is that it -- this reporting from "The Times" tonight is going to constrain, I think, and also sort of lay bare Saudi Arabia`s response thus far to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, but also President Trump`s response as well.
I mean, the bottom line here is that we still have exactly no idea what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. Two weeks ago today, he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and he just disappeared, never heard from again. Now, Turkey has been saying that he was lured in to that consulate and then killed by a 15-man team, a kill-team, that flew in from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government meanwhile is denying any involvement.
For days now, president Trump has been telegraphing that he spoke with King Salman and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, MBS, and they both assured him they had nothing do with the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, that they too are concerned about his whereabouts, and they are not only working with Turkey to get to the bottom of this, but they`re also investigating their own internal investigation. Yesterday, President Trump himself decided that he would test balloon one of the newest Saudi talking points about what might have happened to Jamal Khashoggi. So, it might seem like the rulers of that country should be off the hook in his disappearance.
President Trump told reporters yesterday, quote, it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows? It`s literally the phrase he used, rogue killers, who knows?
A few hours later, CNN, then "The New York Times", and then NBC News all reported that the Saudi government in fact is discussing a plan in which they might admit that Jamal Khashoggi was killed in their consulate, but they would say it was carried out by, what did Trump say? Ah, rogue operatives.
Yes, yes, he was killed in our consulate, but it wasn`t ordered by the government. These were rogue operatives who killed him on their own recognizance during an interrogation or a rendition attempt that went horribly awry.
By claiming that this thing was carried out by rogue agents, not controlled by the Saudi government, that would presumably be an effort to absolve the Saudi leadership, particularly to absolve the crown prince, MBS, of any responsibility. It would allow Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, to say that he didn`t order the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Someone went rogue. He can`t be held accountable for it.
Well, now tonight, "The New York Times" has dug in, and they say they have independently verified the identity of at least nine members of this 15- member team of Saudis. They say they`ve confirmed that they`re members of the Saudi security services, the Saudi military or other Saudi government ministries. "The Times" say they compiled this information using a whole bunch of resources, facial recognition software, publicly available records, social media profiles, a database of Saudi cell phone numbers, Saudi news reports, leaked Saudi government documents, and in some cases, the accounts of witnesses in Saudi Arabia and countries the crown prince has visited.
So, "The Times" tonight says they`re able to place a number of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of measure Khashoggi as being in the same place as Mohammed bin Salman, being in the same place as the crown prince, MBS, on several occasions. And this is the guy who is going to haunt your dreams a little bit tonight, this guy on left side of the picture here, this one guy who is identified by Turkey as a member of this 15-man team.
Here he is in a photo with MBS in Madrid, in Spain, in April of this year. Here`s the same guy again with MBS, this time in Paris. Here he is again, again with MBS, this time in Boston. Here he is, again, again with MBS, this time in Houston.
This guy has been seen with the crown prince, MBS, many times just this year by his side as he gets off planes, standing guard. Presumably, if this guy, this same guy was present in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul when Jamal Khashoggi disappeared inside that consulate, then that would provide a direct link between the ruler of Saudi Arabia, the crown prince, MBS, and the disappearance or the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.
It would be a heck of a coincidence if this guy who travels with him and is always seen with him also happened to be in that consulate, and MBS had no idea, really?
It would also shatter the suggestion which President Trump and the Saudis are now trying to float together that Mr. Khashoggi might have died in some rogue operation, right, that wasn`t at all related to the crown prince. Apart from linking at least nine of the 15 Saudis to the Saudi royal court, "The New York Times" also points out the mere presence of an autopsy expert as one of the suspects who was also reportedly in the consulate, suggesting that the killing might have been part of the original plan, not something that happened accidentally.
You don`t bring along the autopsy expert if you`re planning to just ask the guy hard questions. "The Times" tonight details a slew of this guy`s titles, including his most recent where he was the head of the Saudi scientific council of forensics. "The Times" notes, such a senior figure in the Saudi medical establishment was unlikely to join a rogue expedition organized by an underling.
What "The New York Times" is reporting here tonight is if President Trump is going to participate with the Saudi royal family, with the rulers of Saudi Arabia in trying to claim that whatever happened to this U.S.-based journalist is some act of rogue actors totally unconnected to the Saudi royal family and to in particular the crown prince, they are going have a very hard time making that case if they intend to make it based on any evidence, because all of the publicly available evidence compiled by "The Times" and others suggests that at least some of the people who inexplicably, otherwise inexplicably were in the consulate when Khashoggi died seem to be directly connected to the ruler of Saudi Arabia.
Joining us now live from Istanbul, Turkey, where it is past the middle of the night is David Kirkpatrick, international correspondent for "The Times", who is one of the authors of this piece tonight, lead author of this piece that`s just posted at "The Times."
Mr. Kirkpatrick, thank you for staying up so late to join us. Really appreciate it.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Good to talk to you.
MADDOW: So I tried to summarize both the implications and the basic findings of your piece tonight. First, let me ask you if I got any of that wrong or if that adequately summarizes where you have landed with this reporting.
KIRKPATRICK: No, you pretty much got it there. So four of these people appear to be members of the crown prince`s security team, and one of them is a very high-ranking Saudi autopsy expert, maybe perhaps the pre-imminent forensic doctor in the kingdom.
MADDOW: In terms of the autopsy expert, I realize this is morbid, but I guess that`s the point. Can you explain to our viewers and explain to me what the implications are of having an autopsy expert at -- at -- well, on this supposed team? I guess I don`t even really think of it outside of CSI and TV and detective novels, I don`t know where you might see an autopsy expert doctor out in the wild, why they would be traveling with other people from the security forces in the military, what this guy might have been doing there and what this might say.
KIRKPATRICK: It`s ghoulish, for sure. It does look like this -- let me put it another way. Turkish officials who have been -- are sourced from much of this information concluded that this was a premeditated assassination. That the reason why you bring along an autopsy doctor is because there was an intent to cut up and dismember the body in order to dispose of the remains. What`s more, they brought with them, the doctor brought with him a bone saw. So they were certainly ready for the possibility that they would be dismembering a body that day.
MADDOW: One of the things that has been sort of hard to get our hands around here I think in terms of understanding the evidence as it is building in the public reporting around this case, especially in the absence of any official investigation that we can do any sort of accounting for, it`s been hard to know whether or not Turkish officials might have their own equities, might have their own reasons for trying to paint the darkest and most ghoulish possible picture about what happened here.
I don`t understand enough about the relationship and rivalries between Turkey and Saudi Arabia around something like this to know whether or not Turkish officials should be trusted when they tell American reporters what they think happened here. It seems to me that this is a big leap forward for you at "the times" tonight because you at "The Times" have independently verified so much of what Turkish officials have previously suggested might have happened in terms of this -- this kill team for lack of a better term.
KIRKPATRICK: We`re still relying on the Turks for the names of the suspects, the people who got off the plane. They`re the ones who have the passports. But that said, they`ve begun leaking some of those actual passport copies.
And you`ve asked a very good question about the relationship between the Turks and the Saudis, because on the one hand, there is certainly some rivalry between the two governments. On the other hand, the Turks have gone way out of their way to avoid a fight with the Saudis, a confrontation with the Saudis previously.
So, you might ask, why are they disclosing this information? You might also ask, why aren`t they disclosing more of it? Why is it coming so far in the form of leaks to us or to the pro-government media? And why haven`t they turned it over to American intelligence agencies?
There is some -- certainly among the friends of Jamal Khashoggi that the Turks in a sense are complicit in the cover-up if they don`t move expeditiously to make all the evidence that they say they have public. In defense of that evidence, a few days ago, it looked like Saudi Arabia was saying, and even the crown prince was saying Jamal Khashoggi left the consulate freely.
We know nothing about this. They`ve moved. They have begun to come around to acknowledging the central claim of the Turks, which is that Jamal Khashoggi died in the consulate. And that tells me there is something to the evidence.
MADDOW: David Kirkpatrick, international correspondent for "The New York Times." He`s also the author most recently of "Into the Hands of the Soldiers: Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East." Mr. Kirkpatrick, you get a special fake award from THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW for staying up past 4:00 a.m. local time to be with us live tonight. Thank you so much for your reporting.
KIRKPATRICK: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: All right. As I mentioned, tons of new stuff to get to tonight. It`s going to be a busy show. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Hey, check this out.
The great state of Georgia opened the polls to start early voting as of yesterday. Here`s the headline in the "Atlanta Journal Constitution". Turnout soars on the first day of early voting in Georgia.
In the last midterm election in 2014, so four years ago, on the first day of early voting, about 21,000 people voted. Yesterday, look at this, over 69,000 people voted. That`s an apples to apples comparison with the last midterm. Over 69,000 people cast an in-person early ballot in Georgia yesterday, compared to 21,000 on the same day in the last midterm. That`s more than triple the number of people four years ago.
That number is super high, even though some voters experienced the kind of hurdles we have come to expect, particularly this year in Georgia, including people in Cobb County waiting in line for more than two hours to cast their ballot on the first day of early voting yesterday. But people did wait in those lines. People did get out and vote by the many tens of thousands, record numbers.
Actually, when you add in the ballots that were mailed in, so it`s both the people who showed up to early vote in person, you add in the mail-in ballots, more than 129,000 Georgians have voted already in advance of the November 6th election. And again, make the comparison with the last midterm. This time four years ago, the number was just over 46,000. Now look at it.
So mail in and in-person early voting, the numbers combined this year are nearly triple what they were in the last midterm in the great state of Georgia. So, there has been so much controversy around voter suppression in Georgia, around shenanigans happening in the secretary of state`s office, around voter registration.
The Democrats have countered that voter suppressive pressure by saying get out and vote early. We need to register more people than ever. Well need to vote early. We need to get people to mail in their ballots.
We`re now seeing early voting and mail-in ballot voting in Georgia just going through the roof, at least in the early days. On this show, we have been closely covering what is going on this year in the Georgia election. As you recall, the Republican candidate for governor is also the secretary of state.
In his capacity as the state`s top election official, among other things, he has been holding 53,000 applications for voter registration in limbo. Over 70 percent of them are from African American voters. We`ve also been getting reports of absentee ballots being rejected at a disturbingly high rate in one Georgia county that is overwhelmingly black, Latino, and Asian.
Well, that part of the fight, that fight over whether any given person`s vote is accepted for rejected, that fight is very much live right now three weeks out from the election, and that fight got very much bigger today all of the sudden.
We`ll have that story for you next.
MADDOW: This is from the "Atlanta Journal Constitution" tonight. Quote: Gwinnett County has become ground zero in the fight over alleged voter suppression in Georgia, with voting advocates and civil rights groups homing in on what they`ve deemed the excessive rejection of absentee ballots.
Two separate lawsuits filed in U.S. district court in Atlanta named Secretary of State Brian Kemp and the Gwinnett County elections board as defendants. They ask a judge to order that all rejected absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications be reviewed and reinstated.
Election Day is just three weeks away. This absentee ballot problem in Gwinnett County, Georgia, where more than 60 percent of the residents are minorities, this is just the latest fire that voting rights groups are trying to put out in Georgia.
The official in charge of Georgia`s elections is Republicans secretary of state Brian Kemp. He is locked in a tight race for governor against former Democratic leader of the state legislature, Stacey Abrams. Ahead of this election, Kemp has been doing all he can to cut down the number of voters in his state.
This is a state where the last two governors` races were decided by about 200,000 votes. Brian Kemp has taken 670,000 off the voter rolls in Georgia just in the last year alone. He has instituted an exact match program designed to kill voter registration programs if there is even one single digit or character difference between your voter registration application and other records the state has on file for you. So, literally, if there are two spaces in your address where there should be one space, your registration is going get kicked out.
Thanks to that system, Brian Kemp has now put 53,000 current applications for voter registration on hold in his office. Over 70 percent of those registrations he is holding are from Georgia voters who are African- American. That`s also the subject of a lawsuit right now. Right now, there are just three weeks into Election Day. Early voting is under way in Georgia. Apparently, it`s going gangbusters. But that`s happening amid this final mad dash to get every vote counted and to make sure that every person who tried to register is registered and will be allowed to vote and will have their vote counted when it counts.
The game right now is on. It is moving galactically fast.
Joining us is Judith Browne Dianis. She`s executive director of the civil rights organization The Advancement Project`s national office. The Advancement Project has launched a petition calling for Brian Kemp to step down as secretary of state in Georgia because of the registrations he is holding up, and because of his, quote, long history of voter suppression.
Judith Browne Dianis from the Advancement Project, thank you so much for being here tonight. Much appreciated.
JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, there`s a bunch of remedies being sought in Georgia right now. Off the top of my head, I know of like three live new federal lawsuits there over, the absentee ballots rejected in Gwinnett County, over those registrations Kemp is hold up.
Taking a big picture look at, this how do you see the legal landscape in Georgia right now? What do you think of the likelihood of these lawsuits for doing any good?
BROWNE DIANIS: Well, one of the things that`s difficult, Rachel, at this last minute is that courts often don`t like to get involved in election matters this close to an election. And unfortunately, the Republicans know that. They pull these kinds of tricks in just about every election cycle, especially where there is a close election. And they are banking on not only that the courts won`t want to be involved, but that they can create massive confusion at the polling places.
So, not just for the voters whose names are not on the rolls, but also for the poll workers, right? Actually, what should be happening in Georgia right now with the 53,000 people is that people should be allowed to come to the polling place, to make any corrections to their actual registration applications, and to be able to vote. But they know that poll workers won`t be ready to do that, that the courts are trying probably not going to want to intervene.
But, you know, we`re hopeful. I mean, this is an election that is very important. There are African American and Latino voters who are going to turn out in droves. And so I think we`re going see voters turn out anyway. And it`s going to be a fight until the end in Georgia.
MADDOW: Judith, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is I know you have been litigating voter suppression tactics and voter roll purges and all of these other things for decades. I sort of wanted to ask you, I mean, I feel newly alarmed every time I read about any of this voter suppression stuff, but when you look at this stuff, do you feel like there is nothing new under the sun, that it`s always the same old tactics, that it`s always the same playbook and it`s just a question of how much they`re going get away with and in what state this year?
BROWNE DIANIS: Pretty much. It`s the same old playbook. You know, Katherine Harris in Florida in 2000, I was one of the lawyers who filed a lawsuit against her on behalf of the NAACP. And, you know, back then she had a playbook of all -- it was like the kitchen sink of voter suppression.
We saw that again when Advancement Project sued North Carolina on behalf of the NAACP in North Carolina. And so, what they do is that there are several different tricks up their sleeves. And what they do is just pull out one and see what sticks.
And so, in Georgia, you know, one of the things that we do know is that what they did in Florida and what they did here, they`re trying to make it harder for people to get on the rolls, but easier to kick them off. They want them to also have -- to make it harder at the polls so that people are confused, so that poll workers are confused.
So, this is the same old game. Unfortunately, the Republican Party continues to play a game to manipulate what happens on election day when there are close elections, they want to change the rules so that they can make sure that they can solidify their base and that they can win. Unfortunately, what we do need is we need free, fair, and accessible elections, and that`s not what they are about.
MADDOW: Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project at their national office, really appreciate your time tonight.
BROWNE DIANIS: Thank you.
MADDOW: I have a feeling we`re going to be asking you back over the next three weeks as we start seeing acceleration of these tactics. Thanks for being here.
BROWNE DIANIS: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We got one more thing actually that I should mention while we`re on the subject. I mentioned at the top of the show that today was the last day to register in six dates, Kansas, Oregon, Louisiana, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland. That`s true. Today`s voter deadlines in those six states.
Just so you know, tomorrow is the last day to register to vote if you live in Massachusetts, South Carolina, or Wisconsin. Hurry up, you guys. The big vote is just 21 days away. Hurry up!
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: So, President Trump is elected after Barack Obama. Barack Obama is elected after George W. Bush. George W. Bush is elected, barely, sort of, after Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is elected after a single term of George H.W. Bush.
We can all do the timeline, right, in our heads. It`s easiest to do it if you go backwards rather than forwards.
There`s lots of different things that go into the election of any one president. But when you get really reductive and simplistic about it, there is a sort of certain logic that we can at least imagine for how one presidency follows another for how the presidency of one American president creates the possibility for the election of the next one.
When George H.W. Bush was elected president in 1988, he had been Ronald Reagan`s vice president for two terms. George Bush was not seen as a sure bet when he ran for the top of the ticket himself in 1988. It`s hard to get elected president after serving for eight years as vice president.
People get used to seeing you in that subservient or even sidelined role as vice president. It`s a hard place from which to run from the top job. After eight years as Bill Clinton`s vice president in 2000, Al Gore did not make it. In 1960, after eight years as Eisenhower`s vice president, Richard Nixon did not make it.
Running as an incumbent vice president isn`t an easy way to make to it the White House. And so, when George H.W. Bush got the Republican nomination for president in 1988, having just served eight years as vice president, Democrats thought they had a pretty good chance against him. Four years earlier, they had run Walter Mondale against Ronald Reagan in 1984. Mondale, of course, got shellacked by Reagan.
But in 1988, when they knew they were going to be up against Poppy Bush, when they thought they would have a better chance, early on in the `88 campaign, Democrats pretty much decided that they were going run a whole different kind of Democrat to give themselves hopefully a way better shot than Mondale had ever had. Early, early on in the 1988 race, Democrats started to coalesce around a charismatic, strong candidate who was an excellent speaker, who had good defense credentials.
He was a handsome senator from a western state. He was the consensus early front-runner in 1988 for the Democrats against Poppy Bush. His name was Gary Hart.
A couple of years out from that race, 1986, so really the start of the campaigning season, "Washington Post" and ABC started polling on the 1988 race. Quote: Early polls show it`s Hart and Bush for `88. Quote: A public opinion poll shows Senator Gary Hart and Vice President Bush running neck and neck at the head of a pack of would-be contenders. Hart and Bush were shown significantly ahead of rivals for their 1988 party nominations. In a race between the two, Hart leads Bush, 47-46 percent.
Here`s the "A.P." that year. Gary Hart generally perceived as the early Democratic front-runner for 1988.
Here is UPI that year. Hart, quote, the current front-runner for the nomination.
Here is the "Miami Herald" that year during a big profile on Gary Hart. Quote, Gary Hart, the Democratic front-runner for 1988.
Now you know how this story ends, right? The Democrats didn`t run Gary Hart against George Bush in 1988. They ran Michael Dukakis instead. And Dukakis lost, and George H.W. Bush became president, and it`s fun/maddening to play that mental game, right, to think what might have happened had that one election gone the other way, right? Where would we be in American politics now had that one election changed that one time.
If Poppy Bush hadn`t won in `88, you know, it`s hard to imagine we wouldn`t have had Bill Clinton in `92. It`s impossible to imagine that we would have had George W. Bush somewhere down the line. Without George W. Bush, we do elect Barack Obama in 2008? And don`t even talk to me about where we are today.
But in that 1988 race, the reason the early front-runner in the Democratic Party didn`t end up becoming the Democratic Party`s nominee is because of this, which you know, right? This photo that has become part of American history now. Democratic presidential front-runner Gary Hart, what is that woman doing on your lap, right? Gary Hart, Democratic front-runner caught on film having what certainly appeared to be a fair like behavior.
She is sitting on his knee. And of course they happened to be right next to a boat that`s called Monkey Business. Are you kidding me? Too good to be true.
Gary Hart denied having that affair. The woman he was supposedly having the affair with denied there was an affair. But that was the heat of the presidential primary season, ahead of the 1988 election, and Gary Hart was out.
Well, now tonight in October 2018, 30-plus years later, tonight here is a historical bombshell about that story. Reporter James Fallows is at the "Atlantic Magazine" tonight has just reported that, hey, you know what, it was too good to be true. It was a political hit job. It was all a setup, and it didn`t happen at all the way it looked like it happened in that picture and in the press and in the feeding frenzy that erupted around Gary Hart that ended that campaign.
I`m just going to -- we`re going to speak to James Fallows in just a moment. But let me just quote to you what James Fallows has just reported in "The Atlantic" tonight. Quote: In the spring of 1990, after he had helped the first George Bush reach the presidency, the political consultant Lee Atwater learned that he was dying. Atwater who had just turned 39 and was head of the Republican National Committee had suffered a seizure while at a political fundraising breakfast and had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. In a year, he was dead.
Atwater put some of that year to use making amends. In the last year of his life, Atwater told a South Carolina candidate he attacked particularly viciously that he viewed the episode as one of the low points of his career. He also apologized to Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis for what he called the, quote, naked cruelty of the racist Willie Horton ad that Atwater had run against Dukakis in the 1988 presidential race.
And in a private act of repentance that has remained private for nearly three decades, Atwater also told Raymond Strother that he was sorry for how he had torpedoes Gary Hart`s chances of becoming president. What? He did?
Raymond Strother was the media consultant for the Gary Hart for president campaign in the 1988 election cycle. So, on the Hart campaign, Strother was the counterpart to what Lee Atwater did for George Bush.
Here is James Fallows again, quote: During what Lee Atwater realized would be the final weeks of his life, he -- Atwater phoned Strother to discuss one more detail of the 1988 campaign.
Atwater had the strength to talk for only five minutes. It wasn`t a conversation, Strother said when I spoke with him recently. There weren`t any pleasantries. It was like he was working down a checklist and he had something he had to tell me before he died.
What he wanted to say, according to Strother, was that the episode that had triggered Gary Hart`s withdrawal from the race which became known as the monkey business affair, it had been a trap. Strother says, quote: I thought there was something fishy about the whole thing from the very beginning. Lee told me that he had set up the whole monkey business deal. I did it, he told me. I fixed Hart.
Strother`s conversation with Atwater happened in 1991. He mainly kept the news to himself. As the years went by, he discreetly mentioned the conversation to some journalists and other colleagues, but not to Gary Hart. Quote, I probably should have told him at the time, he said recently. It was judgment call, and I didn`t see the point in involving him in another controversy.
But late last year, Strother learned that the prostate cancer he had been treated for a dozen years ago had returned and spread, and that he might not have long to live. Strother began traveling to see people he had known and worked with to say goodbye. One of his stops was Colorado where he had a meal with Gary Hart.
So, just pause for a second. We`re talking supposed death bed confession by Lee Atwater, passed on more than 25 years later by another guy who thought he was dying. And what they spell out, according to James Fallows tonight in "The Atlantic" is this, Atwater`s claim that the whole monkey business weekend had occurred at his direction, contriving an invitation for Gary Hart to come on a boat ride when Hart intended to be working on a speech, ensuring that young women would be invited aboard, arranging for the boat Hart thought he would be boarding with some unmemorable name to be unavailable so, the group would have to switch to another boat with the very memorable name of monkey business, persuading Gary hart`s host on the boat to forget to check in with customs clearance at Bimini before closing time so that the boat unexpectedly had to stay overnight there in Bimini.
And then, of course, the next day, organizing an opportunistic photograph, which ends up on the front page of "The National Enquirer", which ends Gary Hart`s presidential race.
This new reporting from James Fallows in "The Atlantic". It involves dying and/or old guys reportedly confessing well after the fact that the whole operation that took down Gary Hart as a presidential contender was political setup by the George Bush campaign, because they didn`t want to run against Gary Hart. And apparently, it worked and nobody found out about it for 30 years. James Fallows joins us next.
MADDOW: History bombshell, my favorite kind.
James Fallows reports in "The Atlantic Magazine" tonight that the famous supposed sex scandal that ended the presidential campaign of Democratic Senator Gary Hart in 1988, James Fallows reports 30 years down the road from that scandal tonight, that Gary Hart`s supposed affair and the photographic evidence that that supposed affair, that in fact ended his presidential aspirations. James Fallows reports tonight in "The Atlantic", that the former chairman of the Republican Party, a famous political operative who worked for the George Bush campaign that year, Fallows says he confessed on his death bed that he orchestrated that whole supposed scandal to set up Gary Hart so that George Bush wouldn`t have to run against him for president in 1988.
Joining us now is James Fallows, national correspondent for "The Atlantic", who broke the story.
Mr. Fallows, thank you so much for helping us -- helping us through this tonight. Congratulations.
JAMES FALLOWS, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTIC MAGAZINE: And thanks for your extremely clear and helpful setup of the story. I`ve learned a lot for these last few minutes.
MADDOW: Well, thank you.
I mean, I wanted to ask you if I got it right. First of all, I have to tell you that I don`t -- I am not familiar with the name Raymond Strother who was a key player in your account. I`m not even sure if I`m saying his name right. Am I?
FALLOWS: I think since you`re of tender years you would not have been around in the Hart campaign in `80s, when Raymond Strother was a familiar media figure.
FALLOWS: There is no exact counterpart. If there were a benign -- if you could think of some benign version of Steve Bannon.
FALLOW: That would be the kind of -- somebody who has prominent in the campaign, and he`s somebody -- I had covered Hart in the days when he was a leading military affairs expert. So, I wasn`t on the campaign trail in `87 and `88 because I was living in Japan. But I`ve known Hart and Strother earlier in the `80s. And so, I recognized his name when I started hearing about the story earlier this year.
MADDOW: So, the basic kernel of your reporting is that Lee Atwater who had been working for George H.W. Bush, who had been RNC chairman, on his death bed as he`s sort of making up -- atoning for his sins and talking to people about wrongs he had committed in his career, on his death bed, he confesses that he concocted this whole plot, he tells his counterpart from the 1988 campaign, this man Mr. Strother, who worked on the Hart campaign, tells him he did it.
But then Raymond Strother doesn`t pass this information on himself for another couple of decades.
FALLOWS: Right. I think it is important to recognize, this is all in the realm of contingent history. One of the reasons that Raymond Strother did not tell his close friend, the person he worked for, Gary Hart, back in 1991 when the dying Lee Atwater spoke with him is that Strother realized there wouldn`t be any proof. Atwater died almost -- very soon after he talked with Strother. Strother knew that Hart had moved on to other pursuits in life, that this -- and he thought this might just cause him more pain than it might cause him any kind of relief.
And so, until Strother himself earlier this year thought that he was in mortal danger of cancer, he`s now in remission, but he thought he was making his final meeting with Hart earlier this year and he told him what Lee Atwater told him back in 1991 before his death, that, in fact, Atwater wanted to tell him that he, Atwater, set up the Monkey Business crews, the arrangements with Billy Broadhurst and all the rest that flowed from there.
MADDOW: In terms of Strother`s account in terms of what Atwater reportedly confessed to in terms of having set it up, do you feel like it seems plausible? Do you think it seems -- that this is its a plausible explanation --
FALLOWS: I lost the sound.
MADDOW: Sorry, go ahead.
Oh, Mr. Fallows, can you still hear me?
FALLOWS: OK, I can hear you now, I think. So, please repeat if you could.
MADDOW: Sure. I`m sorry about that. I was going to say in terms of what Mr. Atwater reportedly confessed to, how he set this up, does it seem plausible to you that this could have been an orchestrated political hit, essentially by the George Bush campaign?
FALLOWS: Well, either way, it leaves a strange I am plausibility. I talked with Gary Hart and Raymond Strother several times in the last couple of months in reporting this story.
And Hart said there had always been part of him that thought this was too strange and convenient not to have been a pre-planned thing. The way that Billy Broadhurst brought him the one boat and suddenly that boat wasn`t available so they had to go to this other vote called the Monkey Business. They went to Bimini, then suddenly, they forgot to check with the customs officials and couldn`t leave, had to stay overnight.
And then this episode, Hart said, where he was sitting on -- as soon as he sat down on a piling on a pier in Bimini, with a big crowd, suddenly this woman, Donna Rice, ran over as Hart says and sat on his lap, and there was a photo taken and Hart said this was all within five seconds. But, of course, it lasted forever in "The National Enquirer".
So, Hart said it always had made sense to him there had to be some kind of arrangement on the other hand, a sort of Rube Goldberg scheme of making it work also was somewhat implausible. So, I don`t know, but I think the original point you made about the contingency of history is the one that stays with us.
If this were a set-up, think of all the circumstances that flowed from that.
MADDOW: Yes, imagine Gary Hart in `88. What would have happened in terms of that presidential election, imagine American history had that presidential election gone to the other party. It`s a fascinating contribution to what we understand about that bizarre incident.
James Fallows, national correspondent for "The Atlantic", thanks for helping us through it. And again, congratulations on getting this much further into it. Really appreciate it.
FALLOWS: Thank you very much for having me on.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: One last story for you tonight that I do not understand, but you should know about it. It`s 21 days for election day. Not a good day for your running mate to drop out if you`re on the ballot.
But that just happened in the great state of Alaska. Incumbent governor of Alaska is Bill Walker. He`s an independent. His lieutenant governor is a Democrat named Byron Mallott. They`re both running for reelection, both for a second term.
Or they both were until a couple of hours ago when Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott just suddenly stepped down tonight. Nobody really seems to me why.
In a letter he sent to the governor, he said his resignation was compelled by inappropriate comments I made that place a person whom I respect and revere in a position of vulnerability. I take full responsibility for this action and apologize to and seek healing for the person I hurt.
Sounds serious, but we don`t know what those inappropriate comments were. They were inappropriate enough that the lieutenant governor resigned less than 24 hours after the governor found out about them. He`s gone as of now.
Nobody knows what these words were or to whom they were directed. Strange story.
Brief press conference this evening, the governor said he only found out about the incident in question within the last 24 hours. They have since tonight sworn in a new lieutenant governor, the state health commissioner. But there`s no time to take the existing lieutenant governor, Bryon Mallott`s name off the ballot and put hers on instead.
So, if Governor Walker wins reelection, his ex-running mate says he won`t accept his old job back, but, yes, nobody really understands what`s happened here. Like I said, I don`t get it, but you should know what`s happening.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.
Good evening, Ali.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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