RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Welcome back, my friend. How was your break?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Yes, it was -- it was great. It was really great. It`s going to be quite a year.
I`m processing the news right now. I`m a little stunned by what appears to have been this airstrike of Qassem Soleimani, which if true is just an enormously consequential deal.
MADDOW: We are -- exactly. And I have to say, watching those ongoing reports as they are rolling in tonight trying to assess whether this really happened and what the sources of information are in here and everything, it`s -- at this point it feels very like potentially huge, also very unsettled --
HAYES: Very unsettled, yes.
MADDOW: -- on the factual basis of what we`re getting.
MADDOW: So, but what we are obviously monitoring that.
HAYES: I just -- I just -- this year is going to be enormously consequential in so many ways, and I just am like -- starting this way is making me wonder what is coming.
MADDOW: You know what? Chin up.
MADDOW: I`m with you, my friend. Thanks, Chris.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It was nice to be away for a few days. It`s also nice to be back. It turns out when you take off at New Year`s in 2019 and you come back to work right after New Year`s in 2019, it turns out it is then 2020. I know that mathematically this should not be a shock, but I -- it does feel like a shock. It does feel 2020 has been looming so large for so long. It does feel sort of shocking it is here now.
We are now officially among other things in a presidential election year. Iowa is a month away. I was up in New Hampshire for part of the break visiting with family members in New Hampshire. We`re already playing that, you know, count the yard signs game in New Hampshire ahead of the New Hampshire primary. We`re also starting to block off the weekends on the calendar in forthcoming weeks when there`s important primaries and caucuses on the weekends. Those are going to be workdays for those of us covering the campaign even though those are Saturdays and Sundays.
It is all here. It is upon us. But for now, at least, it just means there is that much more to keep track of all at once. We`ve sort of have to find a way to keep everything all in frame all at the same time.
Tonight, for example, we have got the Democratic presidential candidates one by one all reporting their fund-raising totals for the last quarter, which is a key demonstration of strength at this point in the campaign. And in terms of, you know, thinking about the year ahead, there`s definitely a story in those numbers, at least the ones that we`ve got thus far.
This, for example, is the lead headline right now at politico.com. Democrats rocket into 2020 with huge donor windfall. Party veterans once worried about Democratic fund-raising are now convinced the eventual nominee can compete with Trump.
Quote: Democrats are riding a massive surge of presidential campaign cash into 2020, boosting the party`s hopes of taking back the White House. Their leading candidates for president faced criticism last year from party veterans alarmed by tepid early fund-raising totals. But the candidates finished up 2019 raking in cash from fired up donors. The current Democratic presidential contenders and the DNC combined raised over $450 million in the last year, more than President Trump`s re-election machine brought in during that same time.
Democrats are encouraged by the money pouring in from both the progressive and moderate wings of the party as well as from Democrats writing big checks and from small dollar donors. The millions of contributions to Democrats in $10 or $20 increments signal massive enthusiasm from the party grassroots heading into the election year.
Again, that`s the lead at politico.com tonight, showing that, you know, Democrats, you know, have good reason to be fired up about those numbers in terms of the overall prospects for their party in 2020.
But in terms of the presidential race, of course, they`ve got to figure out who their nominee is going to be. And within the fund-raising numbers, the biggest news is from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He`s announced a huge haul of over $34 million in just the last quarter, which not only puts him $10 million ahead of his nearest financial competitor, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, it also somewhat incredibly puts him in the same ballpark as the sitting president of the United States.
I know that Trump has raised more money than Democratic candidates at this point, but he is not competing with anybody else in his own party. He is the sitting president and he has the resources of the entire Republican Party behind him. A sitting president should be way, way further out ahead of the field at this point in the race.
I mean, as of tonight even without Elizabeth Warren even announcing her totals yet, the leading Democratic candidates combined are dwarfing what President Trump raised in the last quarter. And I mean more than doubling what Trump has done in the last quarter. Again, without Elizabeth Warren factored in.
And, you know, Bernie Sanders alone is not far off what President Trump has raised. I mean, Trump brought in $46 million in the last quarter. Sanders alone is at $34.5 million, which is nuts when you`re talking about one U.S. senator in a gigantic filled compared to the sitting president. I mean, that kind of ratio between an out of power contender and an incumbent president, that`s very unusual at this point in the race, especially while the opposing party is still fielding a gajillion candidates in their primary.
That Buttigieg number, over $24 million for the quarter, that`s also big particularly for a candidate who had zero national name recognition until just months ago.
The front-runner in national polling is, of course, Vice President Biden. He has announced a $23 million fund-raising quarter. And while that puts him in third place after Sanders and Buttigieg on the Democratic field, this is also the best fund-raising quarter Joe Biden has had since he`s been running, which is the direction you want to be going, right? It shows while he`s been able to maintain his national polling advantage, he`s simultaneously upping his campaign operation and his donor base to give himself further room to run.
And at the same time we`re getting this specific measure of the competitive strength of the Democratic field, there`s also less quantifiable sort of X- factor about the strength of the Republican field, the strength of the president`s re-election effort. And I say that`s a black box, that`s a sort of unknowable, unquantifiable thing, and not just because it`s not just about money, but because never in the history of our country before has a president ever run for re-election after just being impeached. So, we have no -- how do you factor that in?
We don`t know what that`s going to do to the strength of the Donald Trump re-election effort, especially since the impeachment scandal, the impeachment process is still absolutely alive. I mean, the U.S. Senate will be back in session as of tomorrow. Presumably then we will get some kind of word or some kind of hint at least about how they intend to proceed with the impeachment trial of President Trump, which will decide, of course, whether he`ll be removed from office.
If you sort of checked out of the news over the holiday break, you should know that, yes, it happened, it was not the dream. Donald Trump was impeached right before Christmas in the House of Representatives, and you should note that the House still has not conveyed those articles of impeachment over to the Senate, so they can start the impeachment trial in the Senate on those charges.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will convey the articles of impeachment. She will convey those articles. She will announce who the prosecutors will be for that impeachment trial. She says she`ll do that once the Senate announces the rules under which they`re going to conduct Trump`s trial, including crucial decisions about hearing from witnesses and subpoenaing documents and how much each time they`ll have to present their case and how they`ll do so.
Ahead of the holiday, I had been one of the naive Pollyanna observers who assumed that over the Christmas and New Year`s break, there would be some sort of progress toward some sort of Senate trial, that they would at least fight openly or start to work something out about the rules, that there would be some plan or at least some fight that would be starting to emerge. And we do expect to find out more tomorrow when the Senate is back in session, but at this point I was naive. At this point, there does not seem to have been any substantive progress, and so that question of how President Trump`s impeachment trial will be conducted is still totally live, still a totally open question.
And it has no time frame that any of us can discern from the outside in terms of when the rules of his trial will get resolved and when the trial will ultimately take place and how long it will take place. And that timing all matters not only because the start of the presidential primary calendar is upon us and we`ve got this impending election in the fall and we don`t know how the impeachment process may affect the president`s re- election efforts, but it`s also important -- I mean, the timing here and how long it`s going to take for the Senate to get their act together and figure out how they`re going to deal with this, the timing is also important not just because it starts to but up against the political calendar this year, but also just because with each passing day, more freaking stuff comes out in this scandal.
I mean, even though the House has already impeached President Trump for what he did in Ukraine and that is done. And even though, you know, the White House and the entire Trump administration continued to defy subpoenas and refuse witness testimony in conjunction with that whole impeachment inquiry, even as the Senate tonight appears to still be at this odd impasse slash interregnum where we don`t even know how they`re going to put the president on trial, still while all of that has happened and still unfolding, still enterprising reporters and the courts have continued to pry loose new information and documentation that go right to the heart of the scandal. Stuff that in some cases is just as dramatic as any of the previous big reveals in other impeachments including Watergate.
Over the holiday break, for example, the Center for Public Integrity obtained about 150 pages of documents from the Trump administration. These are documents that had been sought by the impeachment investigators. They tried to get this stuff by subpoena. The administration defied those subpoenas.
Nevertheless a federal judge has ordered those documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, and these documents released over the holiday break were sort of shocking enough on their face. Even with tons redacted out of them, I mean you still got in these documents a Trump appointee in the White House writing to the Pentagon within two hours of President Trump making his call to Ukraine where he told the Ukrainian president he wanted him to launch an investigation into Joe Biden, less than two hours after that call was over, a Trump appointee to the White House writes to the Pentagon and they need to hold up military aid to Ukraine and by the way don`t tell anybody about it because it`s super sensitive.
That was from the redacted version of the documents that came out over the holiday break. And then today at Just Security, reporter Kate Brannen essentially pulls the redactions. She pulls those extensive, extensive redactions off those documents. Brannen says she has been able to see the original unredacted versions of those documents that were released a few days ago.
And, you know, in the annals of presidential scandal, if Kate Brannen`s reporting here bears out, if she has actually accurately reported on the unredacted version of those documents, well, what`s in those documents is going to go down as hall of fame stuff in terms of presidential scandal.
For example, August 30th as the Pentagon is repeatedly pressing the White House about the military aid and the fact that holding it up is illegal, and, of course, we now know that the White House would later try to say that holding up the military aid at this point was because of some sort of policy review process or widespread concerns in the administration about corruption in Ukraine or some such other nonsense, we ultimately know they`d try to cook up some sort of cover story here.
But now, we can see from Brennan`s reporting that on August 30th, here`s this dude at Office of Management and Budget, Trump appointee at OMB, telling the person at the Pentagon whose job it was to release this military aid, that the reason she couldn`t release the funding, the reason she couldn`t release this military aid was because the president said don`t do it. Quote: Clear direction from POTUS to hold.
In other words, don`t worry, there`s no ambiguity. Everybody has communicated through official channels that the person who done it is the president, and it`s him personally who did it and is insisting on it even when people in his own administration are telling him it`s illegal.
So, it`s like, you know, it`s a big sign-on the front lawn. Hey, historians, this is going to be an easy one. The documentation proves the president did it and did it alone, despite being told it was illegal.
The reporter who obtained the unredacted versions of these documents, Kate Brannen, is going to be joining us tonight. I`m very much looking forward to speaking with her.
Also tonight, just as we were getting on the air, a huge new pile of documents was released again by federal court order, again, under the Freedom of Information Act. This time it`s new documentation from the special counsel investigation. And I tell you, this is still live now, too, including in the context of impeachment.
Tomorrow morning in federal court in Washington, there`s going to be two big oral arguments at the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. This is a court one level below the U.S. Supreme Court. One of the arguments is about whether or not Congress will be able to receive all of the grand jury testimony from witnesses who testified to the Mueller investigation.
The other argument that the D.C. circuit court is going to hear tomorrow is whether or not former White House counsel Don McGahn can be compelled to testify despite the Trump White House telling him not to.
Over the holiday break, the top lawyer for the House of Representatives basically warned that federal appeals court in D.C., that there might be another impeachment of President Trump in the works, another one. And that`s part of why they need McGahn`s testimony because they may want to impeach him in addition to what they`ve already impeached him for. They may want to bring additional articles of impeachment against the president for obstruction of justice.
You will remember that in the Mueller report, Don McGahn describes many, many instances of President Trump trying to divert or thwart the Russia investigation. Well, the House says they want Don McGahn to testify about that evidence in part because they might want to impeach Trump on obstruction of justice based on what McGahn saw and witnessed. And this is literally going to be litigated in the federal appeals court in D.C. tomorrow morning, while tonight, we the public for the very first time are getting access to all of these new FBI interviews with Mueller report witnesses, including Paul Manafort and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Michael Cohen and K.T. McFarland and Rob Porter.
You may remember Rob Porter, right? He was fired from the Trump White House in a scandal of his very own. After he had been White House staff secretary, he spoke to the FBI for the Mueller investigation.
Here`s just a sample of what we got tonight. We the public are seeing this for the first time. This is from Rob Porter`s FBI interview as part of the Mueller investigation.
Quote: The president told Rob Porter to tell White House counsel Don McGahn that he should write a letter. The letter should make clear that he, Don McGahn, had never been directed to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
Rob Porter thought the White House communications shop should handle the press response rather than a letter from McGahn, but President Trump wanted a letter, a letter to the file. The letter referred to McGahn as, quote, a lying bastard and said that he wanted a letter from him. The president said something to the effect of, quote, if he doesn`t write a letter, then maybe I will have to get rid of him.
He will fire McGahn if he doesn`t write the letter. Threatening to fire him if he won`t write this letter? I mean, if the top lawyer at the House, if Douglas Letter, the counsel for the House of Representatives, is correct when he tells federal appeals court in Washington that they may also try to impeach President Trump on obstruction of justice, one of the marquee instances of obstruction of justice described in the Mueller report and in Don McGahn testimony specifically is President Trump telling Don McGahn that he needed to go fire special counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn refused to do so.
When news of that directive from the president was publicly reported, the president responded by telling McGahn to write a letter denying that President Trump had ever told him to fire the special counsel. The way McGahn tells it, Trump told him to fire the special counsel, McGahn said no, and then when word came out about that, Trump said, I will fire you unless you write a letter denying I ever told you to fire special counsel.
Well, we had descriptions of that in the Mueller report. We`re now seeing for the first time FBI 302s that corroborate that and lay it out.
In terms of, you know, the importance of this and what this might mean for the president in his re-election year, I mean not only trying to shutdown a Justice Department investigation but then directing a White House official to create a false paper trail to obscure the fact that you tried to shutdown the investigation -- I mean, that`s like the version of obstruction of justice that you can still understand even if you`re only looking at the pictures only waffle house menu version of the penal code, right? That`s obstruction of justice, right? And that is all very, very much live.
You know, new news breaking over the holiday break in terms of White House communications about holding up that military aid. Those White House communications being broken further opened this morning by a reporter who`s able to get access to the unredacted version of those documents. Then we get new documents being forced out by federal court order tonight that might relate to additional articles of impeachment against the president and new litigation tomorrow, potentially hugely consequential litigation tomorrow at the highest court in the land below the U.S. Supreme Court.
We`ve never had a president run for re-election after he`s been impeached, the live issue of the president`s impeachment is still totally up in the air. The prospect of a second impeachment is weirdly more alive than ever. And did I mention that Iowa is in a month? We have to figure out a way to keep it all in frame, right, to pay attention to it all at once.
There will be one more Democratic candidates debate between now and the Iowa caucuses next month. That debate is scheduled January 14th at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Based on the polling and fundraising criteria set forth by the DNC, so far, there are five Democratic candidates who have qualified for that next debate, which again is just ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
Here are those five candidates who are qualified as of right now. Notice anything?
It is possible that other candidates may qualify for that next debate between now and then. But as of now it is just these five, this rainbow coalition.
There were seven candidates in the last Democratic debate, these five plus Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. Andrew Yang, the lone candidate of color in the last debate. As of right now, there`s none going to be in the next debate.
I should tell you Andrew Yang just announced a very healthy $17 million fund-raising quarter for the last quarter of 2019. But so far, he doesn`t have the polling to put him on stage in Iowa next month.
And what that means big picture is that this field of presidential candidates for 2020 which started off as the most diverse racial presidential candidate field ever in any presidential election by either party, it may have started off quite racially diverse but it is not ending up that way.
And today, that dynamic became all the more stark with an announcement by former Housing Secretary Julian Castro that he is leaving the presidential race.
And one way to look at this is that it`s, you know, yet another weird twist, you know, a winnowing of the big Democratic field that hasn`t really followed any of the obvious rules of political science, right? I mean, the field early on shedding charismatic, successful, multi-term popular governors like Jay Inslee in Washington state, hugely successful politician of the Pacific Northwest, national leader on climate change. Also, Steve Bullock, who`s won statewide twice in a red state that elected Trump by a huge margin.
The field has also shed one of the best known senators in the country with a huge national profile, Senator Kamala Harris. As of today, it has shed Obama`s housing secretary, Julian Castro, who was the mayor of one of the largest cities of America before he was cabinet secretary in the Obama administration.
Julian Castro out of the race today, while meanwhile still in contention is a small town mayor from Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and a few different types of business tycoons and entrepreneurs. Some of whom have held public office before, some of whom have not.
But when it comes to Secretary Castro leaving the race specifically, the only Latino candidate in the race now dropping out, it feels palpably different that he`s dropping out. Not just for him in terms of his prospects but also for the Democratic field and for this contest against Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let`s be very clear the reason that they`re separating these little children from their families is they`re using Section 1325 of that act which criminalizes coming across the border to incarcerate the parents and then separate them. Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it. Some like Congressman O`Rourke have not, and I want to challenge all of the candidates to do that.
I just think it`s a mistake. I thought -- I think it`s a mistake, and I think if you truly want to change the system, then we`ve got to repeal that section. If not, it might as well be the same --
BETO O`ROURKE (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me respond to this very briefly. As a member of Congress, I helped to introduce legislation that would ensure we don`t criminalize those who are seeking asylum and refuge in this country. If you`re fleeing, if you`re fleeing desperation and then I want to make sure --
CASTRO: I`m still talking about everybody else.
O`ROURKE: But you`re look at just one small part of this. I`m talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws.
CASTRO: But that`s not true.
CASTRO: I`m talking about millions of folks -- a lot of folks coming are not seeking asylum. A lot of them are undocumented immigrants, right?
And you said recently that the reason you didn`t want to repeal Section 1325 was because you were concerned about human trafficking and drug trafficking. But let me tell you what Section 18 -- Title 18 of the U.S. code, Title 21 and Title 22, already covered --
CASTRO: -- if you did your homework on this issue, if you did your homework on this issue, you should know we should repeal this section.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It just spooled out from there, it just kept going. And the history of the Democratic presidential primary in 2020 will show that it was Julian Castro who drew first blood in the Democratic primary on the Democratic debate stage.
Beto O`Rourke would not last long in the presidential campaign after that first conflict on that debate stage. Tonight, Julian Castro has announced he too is leaving the presidential race after having changed it profoundly by his presence.
Secretary Castro joins us live on set, next.
MADDOW: Joining us now here on set for "The Interview" is Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, former housing secretary under President Obama, and as of today, a former candidate for president in the Democratic primary.
Secretary Castro, thank you so much for being here.
CASTRO: Good to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: You have the choice to not talk to anybody on the day that you drop out of the race. I appreciate you being here. How are you doing?
CASTRO: I`m doing well.
CASTRO: I`m doing well. I`ve had better days, obviously.
CASTRO: But, you know, all things considered, I`m doing well. I`m very proud of the effort of the campaign that we put together.
I said it many times during the campaign but I felt it in my heart and I believe it today that, you know, we helped shape the debate. I said things that a lot of other candidates -- in some cases, all of the other candidates -- weren`t willing to say.
I took on issues that I believed in and I think that our country has to confront, whether that`s boldly putting forward a positive vision on immigration to go against Trump`s dark, cruel vision on immigration, or tackling the fact that we see video after video of, especially, young black men and women being mistreated by police across our country.
And most politicians want to run away from that as if it`s not a problem. I didn`t do that. We didn`t that in my campaign.
The fact that you have more people sleeping on the street at night in America and that it`s been 40 years really since we invested enough resources in making sure that people have a safe, decent and affordable place to live not only in cities like New York but in smaller towns across the country.
I ran a bold campaign. I didn`t compromise on what I believed in. And so, I can hold my head high.
MADDOW: Tell me about the decision that now is the time to get out.
CASTRO: Well, you know, we`ve got about a month until the Iowa caucus, and it just became clear we didn`t have the resources, didn`t have the organization because of the lack of resources.
And I lost the mayor`s race in 2005 when I was 30 years old. And it always -- you know, it never feels good to lose. But one of the things I remember very clearly from back then was understanding that it`s about timing as much as anything else, and this wasn`t my time, it wasn`t our time.
I think that, certainly, there are things that we could have done better in the campaign and we`re going to have a lot of time to think through that, but it also is about timing and the mood of the Democratic Party. And I just think it wasn`t my time.
MADDOW: You have been critical about the process by which the Democratic Party is choosing its nominee. I`d just highlighted, a minute ago, the fact that as of right now, the next debate has five candidates qualified. They`re all white.
The initial long roster of candidates that was running was the most racially diverse candidate field the Democrats or either party has ever put forward. But yet, as it is winnowing down, it seems to be getting whiter and whiter.
You said when Senator Kamala Harris dropped out of the race that she was held basically to an unattainable double standard.
Can -- can you talk a little bit about that -- that critique about what you meant that -- when it comes to Senator Harris and whether you think that also applies to you?
CASTRO: I do. I remember reading about Senator Harris for instance that she -- that some members of the Congressional Black Caucus were not supporting her, as if she would be expected to get the entire Congressional Black Caucus.
CASTRO: You know, in my campaign, we heard a lot, especially at the beginning of the campaign, about the fact that I`m not completely fluent in Spanish as though all Latinos were analyzing my candidacy only through whether I`m completely fluent in Spanish. You know, first of all, more than 80 percent of Latinos in the United States speak English.
And so, there`s just this disconnect there I think in the way some of these campaigns are covered.
But the other thing I brought up was the way that we do this nominating process of starting with Iowa and New Hampshire.
And, you know, putting the race or ethnicity of candidates aside for a second, if I told people out there -- if you didn`t know anything about the Iowa caucus and I said to you, OK, look, this is how we`re going to start the process. You know, you can only vote on one day at 7:00 in the evening, there`s no early voting, there`s no secret ballot, so you can`t -- you know, you can`t have a secret ballot on how you`re voting. You have to declare in front of everybody how you`re voting. People would think that Republicans designed the Iowa caucus.
So I very much see this as in keeping with our push in the Democratic Party for greater ballot access and voting rights, that we change the way that we do our presidential nominating process. I don`t believe that we should have these caucuses. And I also know that our country has changed a lot since 1972 --
MADDOW: You say --
CASTRO: -- when the Iowa caucus was started.
MADDOW: Are you saying that the caucus process itself is inherently sort of small C conservative or that it is -- the caucus process is inherently unfair to specific types of candidates or types of campaigns?
CASTRO: I think all of the above.
CASTRO: For instance, people with disabilities have complained for a while about the lack of accessibility at the Iowa caucuses. Shift workers, somebody who has to work at 7:00 at night and can`t just take off that day. I mean, they have said, how about early voting or some way to vote by mail? That doesn`t exist.
In addition to that, the fact that you start your nominating process in two states that are -- that are some of the whitest states that lack people of color.
I mean, it is very ironic that we keep telling black women, you`re our saviors, you helped us win Alabama, you helped the governor win reelection in Louisiana, you`re our key to 2020, and we see what happened in 2016 that Trump won because African-American turnout fell from 66 percent four years earlier to 59.5 percent, including in places like Philadelphia, in Detroit, in Milwaukee, which are important in those three states, those states that we always obsess about.
And at the same time, you start your nominating process of two states that hardly have any black women, any black people at all. It doesn`t make any sense.
And it was so weird because voicing that opinion was almost considered more radical in the Democratic Party, saying maybe Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn`t go first than to say we should have single-payer health care or something. It doesn`t make any sense.
It`s time for us to grow up as Democrats and to be willing to look at our own house. We have to complain and take action and file suit when Republicans trample on voting rights, but we can`t stop there. We actually have to improve how we do things as well, or else there`s a little bit of hypocrisy there.
I was willing to call that. And you know what? Just because this presidential campaign is over doesn`t mean that I`m not going to continue to call that out.
MADDOW: What else do you think that the Democratic Party should be doing to put together the best shot at beating President Trump?
You have a critique in terms of 2016, in terms of voters of color not being enthused, and that voter turnout dropping off from the Obama years to the Clinton election. Other than the Iowa and New Hampshire factor that you`re talking about here -- I mean, it`s been dramatic to see 20 candidates on the stage at the early debates. Now, it`s winnowed down to five. Obviously, you can`t have 20 candidates indefinitely.
But -- I mean, is the size -- is the angle of the funnel too steep? Are there other things that the candidates -- the party should be doing to treat the candidates more fairly?
CASTRO: Well, and I think it`s not only about the presidential process. It`s also about recruiting candidates up and down the ballot.
And I think to the Democratic Party`s credit, and one of the reasons that I`m proudly a Democrat, is because we are a bigger tent party. We do reflect more of the diversity out there in our country, and we do embrace people of different backgrounds. We need to keep doing that, investing and recruiting for people running for, you know, state assembly, state Senate, for Congress and so forth, all across the board at every state in our country.
But, yes, it also counts in the presidential nominating process how we handle this. The DNC is going to have to go back and look at these thresholds they put in place because I think, clearly, there`s been a misfire on some of this. And we have an opportunity in the future to correct that. There`s nothing sacrosanct about the process that was put in place. In fact, in some very concrete ways, it has failed and we need to improve it.
MADDOW: One last question for you, Secretary -- what`s next for you? What do you want? I mean, I imagine you want to sleep.
MADDOW: And I bet you have a bunch of people to go see and thank and talk to. But what`s next for you?
CASTRO: Yes, and my son just turned 5.
MADDOW: Oh, (INAUDIBLE).
CASTRO: I am looking forward to spending more time with him and my daughter.
CASTRO: I`m going to find a way to make sure that, number one, we replace Donald Trump with a good president in 2021. I`m going to do everything that I can to support the Democratic nominee, to make sure that the Democrat wins in November of 2020 and to encourage others to run. So, we`ll figure that out.
MADDOW: Housing Secretary Julian Castro, as until today, a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2020 -- you had a huge impact on this race. You made the candidates talk about different issues they wouldn`t otherwise talk about and you made them talk about it in ways that were more precise, I think more aggressive and more grounded.
You were a very, very, very substantive member of this field and I think the country is better off for it.
Thanks for (INAUDIBLE) -- thanks for being here.
CASTRO: Thanks a lot, Rachel.
CASTRO: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: So I want to bring you up-to-date on some news that have continued developing over the course of the last hour and as we`ve been on the air tonight. We`ve been monitoring these incredibly provocative but still vague reports that a very important senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the head of the Quds Force in the IRG, Qassem Soleimani, there are reports that`s been killed in Baghdad in either an airstrike or a drone strike or a rocket attack, depending on what report you`re seeing.
It`s very confused reporting at this point, which is at this point why we`ve been monitoring these reports and trying to develop our own NBC News reporting.
The reason this is so important is that Qassem Soleimani is the leader of a powerful elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that is called the Quds Force. Dexter Filkins memorably described the Quds Force as a combined CIA and Special Forces. Soleimani is the long time leader of the Quds Force while the Quds have been involved, deeply involved for example propping up Syria`s dictator in that country`s civil war and mounting militia-led attacks on U.S. forces during the long Iraq war.
Soleimani is Iran`s most powerful and prominent military leader, one of the most influential, individual persons in the whole complex tinderbox of the geopolitics of the Middle East. Now, it is Iraqi state TV that`s been reporting tonight that Soleimani was killed in an airstrike at Baghdad`s airport. Other outlets as I mentioned are characterizing the attack differently.
The press office of the coalition of Iran-backed militias in Iraq is also now saying Soleimani was killed. NBC News has not confirmed any of these reports. But needless to say, if Qassem Soleimani has been killed and if the United States had something to do with it, that would be consequential in its own right, it would also potentially be a pretty massive escalation of tensions between the Iran and the U.S. whose ripple effects are hard to predict and very sobering.
Again, these are unconfirmed reports at this point, but among those chasing this very hard tonight is Courtney Kube, NBC News correspondent covering national security and the Pentagon.
Courtney, thanks for being with us on short notice tonight.
I know that you are chasing this story hard right now. First of all, correct me if I got anything wrong there, and tell me if there`s anything else that we know at this point?
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, that was perfect. And your description of Qassem Soleimani and the Quds Force is spot-on.
So, Soleimani is the head of the Iranian force and the way you described it is perfect. It`s sort of this intelligence unit and they do irregular warfare. One of the things that the Quds Force is known for, though, is supporting these militia groups like Hezbollah, like Hamas. They tie into these militia groups that operate in the region and act in many ways on behalf of the Iranian regime.
The Quds Force also ties directly back to the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
What we do know now, as you mentioned, the Iranian -- I`m sorry, Iraqi state TV, the Iraqi PMF, Popular Mobilization Force, spokesperson, they are also saying that, in fact, Qassem Soleimani was killed in the strike near the Baghdad airport. We can now say Iranian state TV is also saying that.
And I now can say a U.S. official is confirming that in fact the U.S. took a strike in Baghdad tonight and that Soleimani was the target. But they are not yet -- the U.S. officials are not saying that, in fact, he was killed. They are saying he was targeted in this, but they want 100 percent certainty that, in fact, he was killed.
There are also reports out of the region also killed along with him was Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, who`s a very senior Popular Mobilization Force commander with strong ties with Iran and ties with Kataib Hezbollah, who is, of course, is the Iranian-backed Shia militia group who the U.S. is blaming for many recent rocket attacks and who the U.S. targeted in a number of air strikes over the weekend, Rachel.
MADDOW: And, Courtney, in terms of this official saying the U.S. did take a strike in Baghdad tonight and that Soleimani was the target, I don`t know if you know or you can tell us that sounds like that`s an -- anonymous confirmation of a CIA strike, or would this be a U.S. military strike. If it was the CIA versus the U.S. military, would that have different implications in terms of what we the public are ever going to know about this or have confirmed by our own government?
KUBE: Yes to all of that. So, yes, if it was a military versus a CIA strike, we hear very little about CIA strikes versus military strikes. There`s a little bit more transparency.
But I think we need to take a step back and see -- and factor two things into this particular strike. Number one is the fact that President Trump is the commander in chief right now, so I think there`s a higher likelihood we will hear more detail about this, or some kind of confirmation if it was CIA versus a conventional military strike.
The other thing is just the magnitude of what we are seeing here if, in fact, Qassem Soleimani was targeted by a U.S. strike tonight and killed. This is a -- this is very significant step. This is an extremely significant escalation in the tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
Qassem Soleimani, he has -- the U.S. -- U.S. officials I spoke with very clearly say that he has blood on his hands, that he has ordered attacks on Americans and coalitions and Iraqis for years now. So, there`s certainly no doubt he has been an enemy of the United States, that he is the head of an organization that is an enemy of the United States.
But to take him out, someone who if in fact this was a targeted assassination against him, that was a very significant step for the United States to take, something like this would tend to require presidential approval. So this is -- if, in fact, you know, these reports are coming in very quickly and so we don`t want to get ahead of anything here.
As of now, again, we`re still just hearing from the Iraqi and the Iranian state TV. The U.S. is not yet confirming this, but if, in fact, he was killed in this attack, this situation is sure to escalate in the coming days.
MADDOW: And let me just -- let me just talk about that a little bit from a layman`s perspective of someone who observers this from a desk here with no special expertise in the area. I mean, what you were talking about in terms of Soleimani and what the Quds Force has done, there really is no parallel for us to understand in the United States or indeed in the Western world in terms of the kind of figure he is and kind of role he has in Iran, and specifically in the projection of irregular Iranian power around the world. I mean, part of the reason that Iran is seen as such a fearsome and important adversary in the world is not just because of what they can mount in terms of their own military force but because through the Quds Force, through Soleimani`s sort of military genius, as has been described, they`ve been supporting pro-Iranian militias outside of Iran all over the world in some very effective and very murderous ways, including against U.S. forces fighting in the Iraq war for years and years.
MADDOW: So, there`s no -- if in fact he is dead and if a U.S. strike has caused his death, again there`s no analog in terms of us understanding the kind of figure he`d been seen as if he were an American. But what can you tell us how Iran will see his death and how Iran might respond to his death given the power that he`s had and the kind of resources he`s been able to command well outside Iran`s borders?
KUBE: Right. So, I mean, the closest parallel that we would have -- and, again, it`s not really even a direct parallel, is the head of the JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command in the United States. It is a group that does irregular warfare, and they`re the most elite of the special operators in the United States military.
But that is -- you know, most Americans couldn`t tell you who the head of JSOC is right now, whereas Iranians know Qassem Soleimani. He has a direct link to the supreme leader of Iran. He`s an extremely powerful figurehead in Iran and beyond that.
He can -- we know that he has been directing attacks against others, whether it`s in Yemen, in Iraq, in Syria -- against Americans in Iraq and Syria. So, he has a -- he wields a tremendous amount of power.
As far as how this is going to be received in Iran, it`s probably too early to say. I think it`s fair to guess that this could have the affect of coalescing the Iranian people more around the ayatollah and around the regime and against America.
What`s so fascinating about what`s happened over the last several days -- you know, when I was in Baghdad just a few weeks ago, there were these anti-Iranian protests. There was very little anti-American sentiment going at the time. It was against Iran. They tried to torch the Iranian consulate in Karbala.
This is -- the strikes over the weekend, the U.S. strikes against Kataib Hezbollah has had the impact of starting to coalesce the people there more against America and more back in the camp with Iran. So, it`s fair to say that taking -- if in fact again, I want to be very careful because the United States has not yet confirmed any of this, certainly not on the record, but if in fact Soleimani was killed here, this will certainly have an impact on the Iranian people, making them coalesce and rally around the flag. It`s a matter of how strong is that impact and what are the next steps, Rachel.
MADDOW: Courtney Kube, NBC national security correspondent, thank you, Courtney. I know you are chasing this. If you`re able to confirm more of this or the story develops, through your own work, just get right back on the air with us. We will stay with you as soon as we can.
KUBE: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. I want to bring now into the conversation, Ali Arouzi, who is NBC News Tehran bureau chief and correspondent.
Ali, thank you so much for making time for us on very short notice tonight.
I just want to ask you if you can update our understanding at all as we continue to follow these developing reports about -- again, unconfirmed reports that the head of the Quds Force has been killed in Baghdad.
ALI AROUZI, NBC NEWS TEHRAN BUREAU CHIEF (via telephone): Hey, Rachel. Great to be with you.
I`m just getting reports from Tehran right now that state media in Iran and the IRGC, the Revolutionary Guard, are confirming the death of Qassem Soleimani. State TV has now cut all broadcasting off. They are playing photographs of Qassem Soleimani on a loop with prayers being given.
AROUZI: This is official confirmation from Iran and this is going to seriously ratchet up the stakes between Washington and Tehran.
Qassem Soleimani is a revered figure amongst ruling establishment in Iran. He`s a cult figure amongst the militias that operate in that region, and it would probably be fair to say that he is the second most powerful man in Iran after Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader.
MADDOW: Ali, let me just interrupt you just for one moment. We just -- as you`ve been saying that and to that point, we just, just now, got a statement from the Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense, and I`m going to read to you, because this is clearly the U.S. official confirmation as well.
Here`s the statement.
At the direction of the president, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps` Quds Force, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization. General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.
General Soleimani and his Quds Force was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and coalition service member and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months, including the attack on December 27, culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.
The strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.
But again, the bottom line in this news statement from the Defense Department is that the U.S. military has taken decisive, defensive action by killing Qassem Soleimani the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Quds Force.
Ali Arouzi is joining us, NBC News Tehran bureau chief.
Ali, as we were getting that statement, you were describing him as the second most powerful man in Iran after the supreme leader. Now that we`ve got as you described the Iranian government confirming this, Iranian state TV confirming it, and the U.S. government confirming this, what do you think will be the implications of this killing?
AROUZI: I would be very surprised if there isn`t some sort of a very serious reprisal from Iran over this. They`re going to want to show that they haven`t been weakened by the deaths of Soleimani, they want to show that the IRGC is still very strong and operational. So, they will probably strike back. I don`t think this acted as a deterrence. I think this is just going to aggravate the situation much further.
As I mentioned to you, Rachel, he is a cult figure in Iran amongst the ruling establishment. They rely very, very heavily on him. He controls all the militias in that region that have made Iran so powerful in that region. So they are going to take this extraordinarily seriously.
I`m not sure what kind of reprisal they are going to unleash, but, you know, as you well know, they have multiple, multiple groups of proxies spread across the entire region ready for a moment like this. So this has ratcheted up the stakes hugely, and this is probably one of the most significant I`ve seen happen in Iran over the last couple of decades.
MADDOW: And, Ali, in term of this being a sort of decapitation strike because of the power and the really centralized power of Soleimani, as far as we understand the structure of the Quds Force, and how he has -- how he has orchestrated all these powerful militias behind Iran`s borders. Do you expect there will be disorder within the Quds Force, within the Revolutionary Guard Corps, or do you think he would have in place some sort of chain of command, a second in command, a line of succession that would allow for an organized response here?
AROUZI: Well, they are very organized units of the IRGC, very organized fighting units. But to say there`s an obvious replacement for Soleimani, there isn`t. There isn`t anybody comes to mind you`d think has that power to his name, his face is known as well. So, I don`t think we`re going to see any obvious person step into the role. But I don`t think we`re going to see any disarray either amongst IRGC. They`re going to close ranks very quickly and plan their next move.
They are a very, very well-organized force. They are very disciplined, so this isn`t going to break them. I think they are now going to want to show especially the United States that they are a force still to be reckoned with, without Qassem Soleimani.
MADDOW: Ali Arouzi, NBC News Tehran bureau chief -- Ali, thank you. It`s going to be a long night tonight. I appreciate you being here.
AROUZI: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: I want to bring into the conversation now Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Sir, thank you for joining us on short notice.
I just have to get your reaction to this news now confirmed by the Defense Department that the U.S. military has taken action and killed the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps` Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT) (via telephone): Well, there`s no doubt that Qassem Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. He ordered the killing of hundreds of Americans. The question tonight is whether Qassem Soleimani is a greater threat to the United States as a functional head of the Quds Force or as a martyr. The danger here, of course, is that we are going to get into a conflict in the region that will ultimately accrue to the detriment of the U.S. national security interests no matter how good we may feel about the fact that Soleimani is dead this evening.
They have capability to launch assassination attempts right back at U.S. political leaders and, of course, their proxy forces can threaten U.S. forces, Israel itself throughout the region. And, of course, there are potentially grave complications for our relations with Iraq, were they notified of this? If not, how on earth will they continue to allow thousands of U.S. troops to operate inside their borders, a place where ISIS is regrouping as we speak?
So this is a very, very dangerous moment. This could be the most significant foreign political leader that the United States has ever assassinated, and we are very careful about these kinds of things because they often end up and can end up spilling into a set of consequences that ultimately do much more damage to U.S. national security interests in the assassination itself and we will be watching closely. And of course there`s a question of what the authorization is for this, if this is indeed an act of war against Iran. Unless it was done to prevent an imminent attack against the United States, you can`t do this without congressional authorization.
MADDOW: As far as you know, Senator, has there been any notification to the Senate, to the Congress or to the Group of 8, if you would know, about any of this? Or is this something you and your Senate colleagues are learning about along with the rest of us via the media?
MURPHY: I would be surprised if there wasn`t some notification to the Gang of 8. I`m not a member of that group, but this would obviously be the kind of attack, if it was premeditated and planned, it would at least be noticed to those eight congressional leaders.
MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy of Foreign Relations Committee, joining on very short notice tonight to respond to this breaking news -- sir, thank you very much for making time for us. I really appreciate it.
MADDOW: Again, the breaking news we`re following tonight that started with reports from Iraqi state television that Qassem Soleimani, the feared head of the Quds Force, which is a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, had been killed in some sort of strike in Baghdad. We`re watching and monitoring Iraqi state TV reports on that. That eventually escalated tonight to there being Iranian confirmation of this.
And now, just within the past couple of minutes, the U.S. Defense Department confirming that it was a U.S. military strike that has killed Qassem Soleimani as described by our NBC News Tehran bureau chief, Ali Arouzi, here just moments ago, Soleimani is not only a very well-known figure in the Middle East and in Middle Eastern geopolitics, in Ali Arouzi`s telling, he`s essentially the second most powerful man in Iran after the supreme leader.
What the consequences will be of his assassination tonight, which again is being confirmed by the Defense Department in the last few minutes, remains to be seen. And it`s potentially profound.
That`s going to do it for us at least right now.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Rachel.
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