CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You're doing something extremely toxic and destructive, in the aggregate, over the course of time of the last 19 years, it's impossible I think to say that U.S. foreign policy, military policy and the war on terror has succeeded. It really is an addiction.
Spencer Ackerman and Michelle Goldberg, thank you both.
SPENCER ACKERMAN, REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Thank you.
HAYES: That is ALL IN this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris.
Let me tell you that the last two nights you're covering the Iran situation has been enlightening and expiring and you at your best.
MADDOW: I think you're just fantastic, man, hitting on all cylinders.
HAYES: That means a lot to me. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: I have learned a lot.
HAYES: Thank you very much. Thank you.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
There are two reporters in this clip. One from NBC, it's Haley Talbot. And in this footage, Haley Talbot from NBC is competing with but also working alongside another reporter from a different competing news organization, Julia Boccagno from CBS.
And what Talbot and Boccagno are doing here, which you're about to see, what they're doing here is hard. It is hard to walk and film and keep pace and not bump into things and ask concise, pointed questions on multiple, simultaneous, developing governing crises. And while doing all those things simultaneously to keep pushing content-wise in terms of getting an answer while your subject is trying to blow you off, and you have to not get distracted in this instance by the sort of adorable interruption that happens in the middle of you doing your work where we encounter the Republican senator from Mississippi and learn about how lovely his family is as depicted on his Christmas card this year.
It all happens in a short period of time. You're about to see it here. This is hard to do. But Haley Talbot from NBC and Julia Boccagno from CBS, they get it done. They get it done. They nail it.
They get yelled at a little bit for their trouble before it's all over with, but honestly, this is how you do it. If you want to grow up to be a reporter, this is how you do it. Let's roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Speaker Pelosi, can we ask you about your reaction -- the Iran briefing?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm sorry?
REPORTER: Can w ask you about the Iran briefing?
PELOSI: Well, you can, but I can't talk about it. It's a classified briefing --
REPORTER: What did -- how would you characterize it? Did you think its was sufficient?
PELOSI: Well, we're going to have our own introduction -
REPORTER: Some people are calling it the worst briefing they've ever gotten.
PELOSI: Well, there's stiff competition for that honor from this administration. For that designation.
REPORTER: What about articles of impeachment?
PELOSI: Your Christmas card was so memorable!
SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): Oh, thank you, thank you.
REPORTER: Are the articles going to be transferred tonight?
REPORTER: Anytime soon?
PELOSI: Do you listen when I speak? I said, when we saw what the arena is that we would be sending them was in, we would send over the articles. We haven't seen that. So I don't know how many more times I have to say that, or how many more times you want to ask it, but when we see the arena in which this will happen, we will then be prepared to send the articles, the pay-fors, and the managers.
REPORTER: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tonight captured in motion as she moved across the U.S. Capitol. Do you listen when I speak? Do you? Right?
She said, she said, you know, basically, she says there, the answer is "no," you're asking about my decision. I've told at you grounds on which my decision has been made. The Senate will get those articles of impeachment conveyed from me, the speaker of the House, when the Senate declares their intentions for the impeachment trial on those articles.
When they tell me what arena we're going to be operating in here in terms of the next steps in this impeachment, I will then forward them the articles as well as the list of impeachment managers from the House and all the rest of it. That's what I said I would do from the beginning. That is what I will do. Do you listen when I speak?
Because everything is happening all at once now and it is impossible to extricate these crisis that we are having in our government right now, it's impossible to extricate these crisis from one another, in the same unbroken fast-moving trot across the Capitol building, past all the statues through the rotunda and everything, you've also got to get her on the record on the other thing that that is simultaneously unfolding alongside this.
Will you testify about the classified briefing you just received on the justifications for the U.S. military strike on Iran? No, that's classified. Madam Speaker, other people are saying it's the worst briefing they've ever received. She answers, well, there's stiff competition for that distinction around here these days, bucko. Bucko is silent.
I mean, this is the environment you're in right now, right? You're a reporter working in the U.S. capitol. You get 40 seconds, maybe, with the top Democrat in Washington because you're in the right place at the right time. She is in motion and you can physically catch her, literally you can catch up to her and keep up with her while she is moving and she does not slow down. If anything, she starts going faster, but you are capable of doing your job in this way.
In trotting after her, and getting these questions out, you can get her to acknowledge your questions before she dresses you down with them. But, I mean, what you're seeing there from those two working reporters in Capitol Hill extricating that stuff from Nancy Pelosi is that how inextricable these multiple crises are, right? This is all unfolding very rapidly now. There's no break between these two enormous stories.
I mean, how did the Iran crisis start? Well, it was after the president was impeached by the House led by Nancy Pelosi. It was as the Senate was preparing to come back to Washington to reconvene, to make their decision on how they would conduct the impeachment trial of the president.
It was in that interregnum between him being impeached and him starting his trial that the president ordered this military strike which reportedly flabbergasted and stunned Pentagon officials who were advising him on this matter. The president ordered up this U.S. military attack to target and kill the number two most powerful official in the Iranian government, the most powerful official in their military.
And those two stories, right, this happening in the interregnum between him being impeached and potentially removed, that and the military strike he ordered during that interregnum, these two stories will not be disentangled, right? In the history of this moment and the history of this time in our country, the history of this presidency, these things will always be on the books as having happened at once.
And our political leaders are having to confront them both at once. That's why you have Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the house, in one continuous on the move sound bite being asked about both the intelligence briefing on why the president ordered that military strike and when she's planning on sending impeachment articles to the Senate. Yes, there is a brief interlude where he complements Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi on the beauty of his family as depicted in their family Christmas card, but other than that, it's all one big story.
As Iran fired ballistic missiles at U.S. targets inside Iraq last night and President Trump today gave an awe, sort of stumbling speech in which he basically crowed about how those missile attacks from Iran didn't do much damage, the consequences of the president's decision to launch this military strike are starting to maybe come into focus. There's still considerable uncertainty about what might happen next or how big the stakes might ultimately be here, but as that is happening, today was the day that the administration decided they would finally brief Congress on the key question, the question that will loom large in the culpability of this moment which is why the president chose to do this when he did it.
Was there a good reason for the president to order that air strike against a senior Iranian government official when he did it? Was the decision driven by some national security imperative in the interest of the United States, or was it driven by something else? Which avoidably a front of mind question because he ordered that strike somewhat out of the blue, in the middle of him being impeached. Well, it's been almost a week since that strike that killed General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It's been almost a week now.
Today, finally, the administration sent military and intelligence officials to Congress, briefings today for Congress that were designed to convince both the House and the Senate that the strike was legal and it was done for all of the right reasons. Based on what members of Congress said coming out of those briefings, it didn't go well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): This, however, is not the biggest problem I had with the briefing, which I would add was probably the worst briefing I've seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is Republican U.S. Senator Mike Lee from Utah who came out of his version of the briefing today on the air strike against Iran, which again was a briefing designed to reassure the Congress that President Trump launched this military strike against this Iranian military official in the middle of his impeachment, but don't worry, it was for all the right reasons. It was for reasons that were fine, and sound and legal and not at all suspect.
I mean, Senator Mike Lee, again, a Republican, has long been a stickler for the constitutional prerogatives of Congress when it comes to making decisions about war and peace. But his upset today would appear to be sort of his revulsion for what the Trump administration tried to sell him and other senators today. It seemed to go beyond just that concern.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: I went in there hoping to get more specifics as far as the factual, legal, moral justification for what they did. I'm still undecided on that issue in part because we never got to the details. They left after 75 minutes.
Now, I understand these are busy people. They've got a lot of demands on their time. They're appearing before a coordinate branch of government, a coordinate branch of government responsible for their funding, for their confirmation, for any approval of any military action they might undertake, and they had to leave after 75 minutes while they're in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public. I find that absolutely insane. I think it's unacceptable.
I can say that after that briefing, that briefing is what changed my mind. That briefing is what brought me on board together with the amendments that Senator Kaine has agreed to make. I'm now going to support it. I walked in the briefing undecided, I walked out decided, specifically because of what happened in that briefing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What Republican Senator Mike Lee is saying at the end there about him now being decided. He walked into the briefing undecided and he's now decided. He's saying there because of how terrible this briefing was from the Trump administration. Military and intelligence officials from the Trump administration trying to justify to the Congress why President Trump launched this military strike against Iran.
Senator Lee says now, based on how terrible that briefing was, he's now definitively decided that he will support a forthcoming resolution in the Senate to invoke the War Powers resolution and essentially disallow President Trump from continuing any further military action against Iran unless Congress approves. We don't know exactly what that resolution will look like in part because part of what Senator Mike Lee said today is that they're now negotiating with the Democrats about what the amendments might be to that resolution now that more Republicans apparently want to sign on board of it.
But that Senate resolution is coming and we're going to see a different version of it tomorrow in the House. Tomorrow, this resolution will be brought up on the floor for a full House vote. They brought it up in the rules committee today so it could be on the floor of the House tomorrow.
As you see, it's labeled a concurrent resolution. It's pretty simple. Concurrent resolution, quote, directing the president pursuant to section 5C of the War Powers Resolution to terminate the use of United States armed forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran.
Quote, over the past eight months in response to rising tensions with Iran, the United States has introduced over 15,000 additional forces into the Middle East. The killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani as well as Iran's ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases risks significant escalation and hostilities between the United States and Iran. When the United States uses military force, the American people and members of the United States Armed Forces deserve a credible explanation regarding such use of military force.
The War Powers Resolution requires the president to consult with Congress in every possible instance before introducing U.S. armed forces into hostilities. Congress has not authorized the president to use military force against Iran.
Therefore, pursuant to section 5C of the War Powers Resolutions, Congress hereby directs the president to terminate the use of the United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its government or military. Unless Congress has declared war, or enacted specific statutory authorizations for such use of the armed forces, or such use of the Armed Forces is necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack.
That is the resolution that's going to be voted on in the House of Representatives tomorrow according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It's going to be led by veteran national security veteran and a new freshman Democratic member of the House, Elissa Slotkin.
Now, Nancy Pelosi does not have a history of bringing legislation to the floor of the House unless she knows she can pass it. She doesn't tend to make mistakes in that regard. So we should, I think, expect that this concurrent resolution under the War Powers Act will pass the House tomorrow.
The speaker also said today that in addition to that war powers resolution, they will advance legislation in the House to withhold funding for any war in Iran and to try to overturn an 18-year-old authorization for the use of military force which apparently the Trump administration is now citing as the legal basis for what the president did with this strike against Iran.
But again, it's not going to be just the House. That's what's going to happen in the House. In the Senate, there will be an effort led by Senator Tim Kaine, former Democratic vice presidential candidate. He's going to lead a War Powers Resolution sort of moment of reckoning in the Senate in terms of what President Trump just did.
We know as of today that it looks like at least two Republican senators will support that effort. Senator Mike Lee, we know from his impassioned comments today, standing with him there, Senator Rand Paul signaling that he's also in that same position. And again, whatever it was that the administration rolled out in these closed-door briefings today in Congress to try to convince the House and the Senate that President Trump did the right thing for all the right reasons when he ordered this strike against Iran, whatever they were thinking what happened here, it has backfired.
On the House side, you saw people from the Foreign Affairs Committee like Jerry Connelly calling the arguments that he heard in this briefing on the Iran strike today, quote, sophomoric. Decorated Iraq war veteran, Democratic Seth Moulton, said that the briefers themselves couldn't even agree on what it was they were pitching to the Congress, in terms of the explanation for what Trump did and when he did it.
Democratic senators coming out of their briefing on the Senate side also did not mince words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): At least based on the presentation that was made, it does not meet what I consider to be an imminent threat.
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): I would say that the briefing was incredibly thin on facts and to the extent that they provided facts in my judgment, they did not support any claim of an imminent threat.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I was deeply surprised at the lack of information presented by the administration. This appears to me to be a strike of choice by this administration, one that likely would have required congressional authorization. We did not get information inside that briefing that there was a specific, imminent threat that we were halting through the operation conducted last Thursday night. I think it is likely because it doesn't exist.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We had 97 senators there, 15 a got to ask questions as the questions began to get tough, they walked out.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): It seemed to reflect a very rushed and reckless action.
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): It was deeply concerning today.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): I came away from this briefing really angry, deeply dissatisfied that after waiting this long for the facts that justified the killing of the second in command of a foreign government, that the answers were unacceptably vague and unspecific. In fact, my takeaway from this briefing was that it raised more questions than it answered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Again, how we got here is that in the middle of being impeached, the president launched a military strike targeting the government of Iran. Today was their effort to explain that and say that there was a good reason for him to do it and it was definitely in the national security interest of the United States. Wasn't at all motivated by his impeachment concerns or domestic political worries and sure it was legal, right? It was legal?
This is the outcome of that effort to persuade, to show the evidence, to persuade the House and the Senate today that this was all right.
In the wake of this fiasco in Washington today, the administration interestingly canceled its plans to have Vice President Mike Pence give a big Iran speech on Monday. On Monday, Mike Pence was supposed to lay out the Trump administration's policy toward Iran and their strategy toward Iran and what exactly they're planning on doing toward Iran and what was the justification for the air strike.
That was supposed to be Monday. As of tonight, they have canceled that speech. It is indefinitely put off.
Meanwhile, simultaneously, as the effort to try to present some sort of rationale for the president's action fails and falls apart and, in part, is abandoned, Nancy Pelosi isn't yet handing the articles of impeachment over to the United States Senate. And the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is insisting he wants to go ahead with the impeachment trial on his own terms, on his own party's terms, with Republicans only determining the grounds on which the Senate trial of President Trump will be conducted.
Now, it was 21 years ago today, January 8th, 1999, when the U.S. Senate came to a unanimous 100-0 bipartisan agreement about how they would proceed with the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. It was the great Gwen Ifill who reported on that consensus deal that night for "NBC Nightly News."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GWEN IFILL, NBC NEWS: With the rest of the nation's capitol stuck in the snow today, the Senate moves forward, unanimously approving a plan to begin the president's impeachment trial next Wednesday. The Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding.
WILLIAM REHNQUIST, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: The Senate will now resume consideration of the articles of impeachment against William Jefferson Clinton.
IFILL: Senators put aside sharp party disagreements, unanimously setting in motion what they optimistically hope will be a five-week trial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Twenty-one years ago today, following a 100-0 vote in the United States Senate about how they would proceed in the impeachment trial against President Clinton.
In contrast, today, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell who was part of that that 100-0 vote 21 years ago today, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell wants to proceed with the impeachment trial of President Trump under rules that only Republican senators will vote for and that no Democrats support.
So, these two inextricable crises move forward. And as they move forward, you know what? In terms of what's going to happen next and the types of pressures that are going to change here, we don't know what's going to happen with Iran.
But we do have some inkling what's going to happen with impeachment. Because one thing that the Republicans can't control, that the White House apparently can't control, that ultimately it's going to be hard to distract from, no matter else is going on, is the fact that more new evidence and potential witness testimony keeps emerging with each passing day in the impeachment scandal. And that day-to-day is going to change the stakes for the Republican-controlled Senate and them trying to do an impeachment trial that doesn't engage with any emerging facts or witnesses.
I mean, in addition to former national security adviser John Bolton saying he would testify in an impeachment trial, a revelation that reportedly left the White House scrambling in response, in addition to the hundreds of new emails that the Trump administration tried to block from being released to the impeachment inquiry, which were nevertheless later forced into the open by court orders, new emails showing the president's direct roll in ordering military aid withheld from Ukraine.
In addition to the classified supplement that was filed with the Intelligence Committee concerning the engagement of Vice President Mike Pence with the Ukrainian government around the scheme for which the president was impeached, in addition to the recently revealed Pentagon emails which showed the perception at the highest levels at the pentagon that Vice President Mike Pence would be key in securing whatever it was that was being demanded from Ukraine in exchange for them getting their military aid.
In addition to a federal district court judge ordering last week that Rudy Giuliani's compatriot in the Ukraine scheme, Lev Parnas, would be allowed to hand other to the intelligence committee the contents of his new iPhone which he and his lawyers say are materially relevant to this impeachment investigation, in addition to all of that new evidence and that new material about the core impeachment allegations that has surged to the surface since the impeachment articles were passed in the House three weeks ago tonight, in addition to all of that, as of tonight, a watchdog group called American Oversight has just received from the State Department by court order additional documents that have never been seen by the public before that were supposed to be about Rudy Giuliani's engagement with the State Department on this scheme for which the president was already impeached.
Just within the hour, American Oversight announced that they have received these documents. We have just ahold of them ourselves. We are reviewing them now.
I will tell you, though. This is just the first batch. The day after tomorrow, American Oversight is expecting yet more documents to be released, again, from the State Department, things we have never seen before that the Trump administration tried to block from becoming public that pertain to the Ukraine scandal, the Friday documents are expected to pertain specifically to President Trump's special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker.
I mean, all of this stuff is still coming out, which will change the dynamics of the Senate impeachment trial against President Trump and how much Republicans in the Senate are able to constrain it so none of that is discussed, everything all at once.
Senator Chris Van Hollen has helped lead the effort in the United States Senate to try to force a full trial in the president in which witnesses will be heard, in which this new evidence will be heard and examined. Senator Van Hollen joins us live here next.
Lots going on. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN HOLLEN: Mr. President, here's what we saw earlier. This is one of the emails, redacted emails. This is the draft letter I just referred to that had been prepared for the signature of the deputy secretary of defense. It's addressed to Mr. Vogt. He's the acting director over at OMB.
So when the administration first released the emails in response to a Freedom of Information request, something that the administration didn't want to do but it was required by law, they decided to black out this entire email. Redact it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That's this double helix of crises twists its way through Washington today, senators today were briefed by the administration on the purported explanation for why President Trump launched that military strike against a senior Iranian government official last week. On a bipartisan basis, senators expressed dissatisfaction with those briefings today.
Simultaneously, though, there is a joined fight between senators about whether or not the House -- excuse me, whether or not the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump will be conducted along anything that looks like bipartisan lines and whether or not new evidence that has surfaced since the House passed its impeachment articles and new witnesses will be heard in that Senate impeachment trial.
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland who has called for more witnesses and more evidence to be heard at the Senate impeachment trial.
Sir, thank you for joining us tonight. I really appreciate you being here.
VAN HOLLEN: Great. Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: First, let me ask you about my perception, which I've described a couple times tonight already, which is my sense that there are these twin crises right now. There is this matter in terms of what's happening between the United States and Iran, the possibility for further retaliation, the justification for that strike that the president launched against Iran, and there is the ongoing negotiation argument, arguably crisis around the impeachment scandal.
It seems to me like this is a double helix, like these crises are unfolding in an inextricable way. Is that fair?
VAN HOLLEN: That's very fair. And these are two crises that Congress has an obligation to deal with under the Constitution. I mean, Congress has the power to declare war. The president can't unilaterally go out and do that. You are right to describe today's intelligence briefing as a disaster for the administration's position.
First of all, the facts were very thin, and I can tell you that those facts did not support the administration's claim that there was an imminent threat. This was a choice that the administration made, one that has really made Americans less safe and the region less safe, and has given the Iranians a leg up on their major strategic objective in Iraq, which was to reduce our influence and our position there, which we've seen happening.
So you've got this going on, and then the other constitutional duty is, of course, for the Senate to try a case. The word "try" is in the Constitution, and every American knows that in order to have a fair trial, you need to be able to call relevant fact witnesses and get relevant documents. As you've just described, that has become more important than ever with the recent ravings that have come out in the last couple weeks.
MADDOW: Now, you have called aggressively for the recent revelations to be aired out in the Senate trial, for the evidence that has been produced for the witnesses who either newly seemed relevant or who were volunteering now to testify to be actually harder as part of this trial. There's no indication that Senator Mitch McConnell wants to do any of that.
Is it -- is it effectively settled now, the way the trial will convene and the way the trial will proceed given that he says that he can run things however he wants based on the votes of only Republican senators?
VAN HOLLEN: Rachel, I do not think it's settled and here's why. Mitch McConnell, Senator McConnell clearly is trying to rig this trial, right? He's trying to exclude witnesses and exclude relevant documents.
But even if Senator McConnell is to start this trial without a promise to call witnesses, we will have an opportunity to make motions, to call witnesses, and to request documents. And those motions will be subjected to votes. And so, we will need 51 votes.
Now, senator McConnell may want to put his head in the sand, he may want to say he doesn't want to hear or see evidence, but the question is whether all those Republican senators are going to be complicit in trying to cover up the facts. And we need four Republican senators, hopefully more, who will recognize that the American people want to see a fair trial, and that means a trial with witnesses and documents. So, there will be votes. These Republican senators will not be able to escape accountability on the question of a fair trial.
MADDOW: Sir, you came out very early in support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's ultimate strategy here, which was not to convey the articles of impeachment right over to the Senate. Instead, what she has done is she said she wants to know what the arena will be in which these impeachment articles are heard, that she wants to know that before she hands the impeachment articles over and before she picks the impeachment managers from the House side who will effectively try the case in the Senate. I know you were very much in support of that strategy early on.
Has that strategy effectively run its course now, or do you think the speaker is correct to hold out until she has the kind of assurances about how the trial is going to be run that she's been asking for?
VAN HOLLEN: Rachel, I think she was absolutely right to take that position. And I respect her judgment as to what the right time will be to send over the articles of impeachment.
Because of her action, we've had a very public discussion throughout the country about what constitutes a fair trial and the fact that witnesses and documents are essential to that fair trial. I don't think we would have seen that level of attention. What you would have seen if Mitch McConnell had gotten those articles, he would have immediately launched into the proceedings the way he wants to without that discussion.
Now we see a lot more pressure on senators, including Republican senators, to be there to call these witnesses. I mean, my goodness. We had John Bolton, who we know from Dr. Fiona Hill's testimony, describe the president's holdup of Ukraine as a drug deal. And you still got people like Mitch McConnell and Republicans who don't think that the guy who is witness to the drug deal should come and give personal testimony?
Donald Trump, President Trump on December 13th said he wanted Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, to testify at a Senate trial. Well, we do too.
So what Speaker Pelosi has done is focus more attention on this and I would finally say on this point that Mitch McConnell says he wants to do this like the Clinton trial. Well, in the Clinton trial, as you know, all the witnesses they wanted to call had already testified under oath in previous proceedings. In this case, none of the witnesses that we want to call have testified under oath in previous proceedings because the president has blocked them from doing it.
So, at some point, we're going to have a vote on this fundamental issue of fairness in a trial. And I think Speaker Pelosi's strategy has helped highlight the importance of this issue.
MADDOW: Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland -- sir, thanks for making time for us tonight. I know there's a lot going on. I appreciate you being here.
VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We got much more to get to here tonight. Do stay with us.
MADDOW: Here's what we know about the civilian passenger plane that crashed just outside Tehran early this morning, killing all 176 people on board. It was a Ukrainian International Airlines flight. It had just taken off from Iran's capital Tehran and was flying to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
The plane took off at 6:12 a.m. local time. It reached nearly 8,000 feet in what appeared to be a normal ascent. But within two minutes, it had suddenly disappeared from radar. The plane then crashed into fields about ten miles from Tehran's airport.
One hundred seventy-six people on board all killed. They included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, most of the passengers, 138 of them, were scheduled to transfer in Kyiv to a flight that would go on to Toronto and Canada.
The "Associated Press" reports that many of the passengers who were killed were believed to be international students attending universities in Canada returning to school after visiting family in Iran during the winter break. That's some of what we know.
Here's some of what we still don't know. We don't know what happened that caused that plane to crash. And we don't know how we're going to find out what happened.
This is a Ukrainian airliner that took off from Tehran before dawn. It took off on the same night that Iran had just launched a dozen or so ballistic missiles at American targets inside Iraq. As "The New York Times" put it today, just hours before the plane took off, quote, Iran had fired missiles at two bases in Iraq that housed United States troops, and Iranian forces were on alert for an American counterstrike.
The FAA issued a notice last night. You might remember from our coverage, prohibiting civilian airliners from operating in the air space over Iran, that was in over concerns that airliners might be mistaken for military aircraft. After the missiles were launching from Iran, they put out this notice to pilots to stay clear of Iranian air space.
In terms of what we don't know and how we're going to figure out what happened here, there is reason to believe that the plane may have been on fire before it crashed. This video was taken from the ground in Iran. It's been verified by NBC News.
It appears to show the Ukrainian passenger plane on fire, aflame, streaking through the sky before it exploded on impact. Aviation experts are telling reporters today that the crash site bears the hallmarks of a plane that looks like it broke up in the air before it hit the ground. No big central crater, wreckage strewn over a large area.
So, it's not surprising that at a press conference today to mourn the loss of 63 citizen, Justin Trudeau was asked directly the question that's on everybody's minds about this disaster.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Can you say categorically one way or another that the plane was not shot down?
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I cannot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So now the question becomes, how are we going to find out what happened to this plane? Was it shot down accidentally or deliberately? Was it some kind of horrific coincidence that a plane crashed out of that particular part of the sky on that night of all nights just after those missiles were fired from Iran and the whole world was on tenterhooks waiting to see if there would be further military interaction between the United States and Iran or proxies on either side?
Because the crash happened on Iranian soil, it is Iran that will lead the investigation. Iran has already insisted that the crash was a mechanical failure on the plane of some kind. One Iranian official going so far as to plane that the engine exploded and the pilot wasn't able to gain control, even though there's literally no way that anybody could know that at this point.
Iran is also insisting it will not send the airplane's recovered black boxes to Boeing, to the airplane's manufacturer for analysis which would otherwise be standard procedure. But because the manufacturer, Boeing, is an American manufacturer and Iran doesn't want anything to do with America on this or any other matter, that's not going to happen this time.
It's ultimately not clear who's going to get to analyze the evidence from this crash. Iran apparently is allowing a Ukrainian team to participate in the investigation. Again, this was a Ukrainian airliner.
While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he is, quote, confident that Canada will also be a part of the investigation, Canada, like the U.S., has no diplomatic relations with Iran. It's not even clear that Iran will speak to Canada about this, let alone invite them into the investigation. Despite the fact that about a third of the people who were killed on board this flight were Canadian citizens.
So, yes, the question is what happens here, but more imminently, how are we going to find out what happened here? Hold that thought. That's next.
MADDOW: Just hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at bases housing American troops in Iraq last night, a civilian passenger plane crashed outside Iran's capital minutes after taking off. One hundred and seventy- six people on board were killed.
Tonight, we still don't know what happened, whether it was an aviation accident that struck coincidentally last night of all nights in Tehran of all places. For obvious but certainly circumstantial reasons, there's also speculation and concern over the possibility the plane might have been shot down somehow, perhaps accidentally, a case of mistaken identity in the midst of last night's military conflict between Iran and the United States.
How are we going to get those answers?
Joining us now is Jeff Guzzetti. He's a former NTSB investigator and FAA accident investigation chief.
Mr. Guzzetti, thank you very much for being here. This is a very serious and concerning series of events. That's a pleasure and an honor to have you with us tonight.
JEFF GUZZETTI, FORMER FAA & FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: It's good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So looking at this crash from this distance, obviously, we don't know anything in terms of what's been looked at, we don't know anything about what kind of investigation is ultimately going to happen. But you told "The Washington Post" tonight, quote, to me it has all the earmarks of an intentional act. I don't know whether it was a bomb or a missile or an incendiary device, but you said, if the video of the flaming plane was accurate, I can't conceive of a failure that would cause that much of a conflagration.
Can you explain to us your thinking behind those comments? What do you mean there?
GUZZETTI: Sure. Probably, the word "intentional act" would be something I would probably correct in that, but it does have all the earmarks of something that isn't typically an aviation accident failure, like you explained in the opening. The circumstantial evidence that is out there in the public now, basically the radar track, the normal profile right after takeoff, a normal, smooth, within parameters climb to 7,900 feet and then suddenly nothing. There's no more transponder. It's as if the entire electric system of the airplane, to include the redundant battery backup all goes away.
And then when you pair that up with the video, and if you take the video on its face that that's the video of the accident airplane, you got to remember the parallax. That video -- that flame is probably two, three miles away from whoever was filming it. And that was not just a light. That was a large fire ball where chunks of, it appeared chunks of fire was coming off that fire ball. And then it hits the ground and you see this giant plume of flame.
Things like that just don't happen out of the blue in an aviation type of accident. It can, like TWA 800 and other accidents, but that was a while ago. Today's airplanes -- this was a fairly young airplane -- are built to be able to withstand these types of normal failures. A missile or a bomb, not so much.
But an engine -- uncontained engine failure or cargo fire, for example, it takes a while for something like that to turn into a full-fledged flaming fire ball, and that is -- it didn't take a while in this case. It was just two minutes into the flight.
MADDOW: What do you expect in terms of the investigation of this matter? Obviously, there's a lot of unique things about these circumstances, where it happened, the night on which it happened, the immediate and confused statements about what happened here.
What do you think will happen in terms of investigating the cause of this crash?
GUZZETTI: Well, Rachel, I'm hopeful it's going to be a transparent investigation. And quite frankly, you know, the head of the Iranian Civil Aviation Administration actually said that. You know, he doesn't want to speculate, and that's the right thing to say.
They follow the international playbook for aviation accidents. It's called ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization annex 13. It's been in force for decades. Most countries play by those rules. And it allows people to play in the investigation like Boeing or NTSB or FAA.
I think there might be an issue with Iran being a sanctioned country, where there's actual laws in our country that will make it difficult for us to exchange technical information. And hopefully, you know, things can be worked out, waivers can be written for that.
But something like this, it's very tough in the aviation safety world to keep under wraps and to keep a secret. And I think that we will get to the bottom of it eventually. I don't know the mechanism by which that's going to happen, but I think we will know.
MADDOW: Jeff Guzzetti, safety -- air safety investigator and engineering specialist at the NTSB for 18 years before becoming accident investigation chief at the FAA -- sir, thanks for your time tonight. Scary situation. Thanks for helping us.
GUZZETTI: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. More news to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Top of the show I mentioned that new documents were just released by court order tonight to the watchdog group American Oversight. This is the latest addition to the raft of my information about the impeachment scandal that's been pried loose by the courts and oversight groups even since the House passed those impeachment articles against the president three weeks ago tonight.
These new documents just released tonight are from the State Department, 44 pages including an introductory letter from State saying, here are your records. Based on the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that forced this disclosure, American Oversight expected that these documents would include exchanges between the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and the State Department as Giuliani tried to leverage Ukraine into the scheme, to try to help with the president's 2020 campaign.
Even though that's what they were supposed to get, the watchdog group appears to have gotten a bunch of stuff tonight from State that has very little to do with Giuliani. Just to mention here or there, as in this letter from Congress to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
American Oversight says tonight, quote: For a foreign policy initiative the White House claims was totally above board and legitimate, it is highly suspicious that the senior echelons of the State Department have no records of any communications with Rudy Giuliani, the lead trafficker of the bogus conspiracy theory, during the critical months of August and September 2019.
Giuliani himself said he was in contact with Secretary Pompeo in September yet there is no record of it in these documents in contrast with prior calls between the two men.
American Oversight says they are expecting another round of State Department documents to be released to them the day after tomorrow. So, possibly still more to come.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Thank you for being with us tonight. That's going to do it for us. We'll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it's time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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