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Juneteenth TRANSCRIPT: 6/19/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Regina Goodwin, Karen Kornbluh, Ryan Crocker

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel. Happy Friday.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Happen Friday as well, have a very good weekend. I want to tell you, Chris, that the -- between the thunder and lightning thing that you were talking about in terms of case numbers and death numbers from the coronavirus resonate so perfectly for me in terms of how I have been feeling and how I have been dreading these last few weeks and rising case numbers. I feel like I`m both mad at you for putting that in my head and also thankful to have it, that was very clarifying.

HAYES: Thank you. Yeah, it`s really worrying.

MADDOW: Yes. All right, thanks, my friend, I appreciate it.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you here this Friday night.

It was not raining in Dallas, Texas, today but lots of people held umbrellas outside anyway, big umbrellas, bright yellow umbrellas painted with the names of African American men and women killed by police. The local artist who designed them said the yellow symbolizes hope and liberation. They paraded them down the streets of Dallas today on this Juneteenth.

They celebrated Juneteenth in Oakland, California, today. This was the port of Oakland. Look at this, thousands of people, peaceful protesters, joined by the longshoreman`s union, commemorating the end of slavery in this country. As part of this Juneteenth action today at Oakland, they shut down the operations of the port of Oakland today.

This was across the bay, in San Francisco today, people holding a socially distant Juneteenth protest outside San Francisco city hall. There were more than a dozen different Juneteenth rallies and demonstrations and celebrations just in Washington, D.C. today. Thousands of people crowded around the memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King and also the Washington Monument, and also the Lincoln Memorial and in Malcolm X Park and in front of the White House.

A group of hundreds of people marched in the rain to the steps of the mayor`s office at the Wilson Building demanding the mayor defund D.C. police. To commemorate Juneteenth in New York today, demonstrators crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, some on foot, some by bike, with signs taped to the handlebars.

There were thousands of people in the streets of Atlanta today, that city, of course, still grieving the police killing of Rayshard Brooks this past week. Atlantans marched from Centennial Olympic park to Atlanta City Hall, the small replica of the Statue of Liberty looking over home to.

There were Juneteenth celebrations all over the place today, just huge numbers of people. In Chicago and in St. Paul and in Denver and Los Angeles and Galveston, Texas, today, the birthplace of Juneteenth, where General Gordon Granger first delivered the news in 1865, the belated news that all enslaved people were free. The civil war was over.

The war in fact had ended more than a month prior. Slavery had been illegal in America by then for 2 1/2 years, ever since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

In Galveston today, they did a dramatic reading of the order today in the same spot it was first read 155 years ago. This time, though, of course they had to wear face masks while reading it and while listening.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves --


MADDOW: Right now, 47 states and Washington, D.C. recognize Juneteenth as either an official state holiday or as a day of observance.

As part of the sea change that we are experiencing and living through in this country right now in the wake of multiple police killings of African Americans and this wave of protest and outrage that has washed over the country, part of the change we are living through and making happen right now includes a renewed push to make Juneteenth an official holiday all over the country.

Today, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called on the state legislature in Minnesota to make that happen in his state. Earlier this week, the governor of Virginia announced that Juneteenth would henceforth become a paid state holiday in Virginia. Both the state of New York and the city of Portland, Oregon, did the same for public employees.

There`s a push on the federal level too, and it is a bipartisan one with two bills being put forward, one by a group of Democratic senators, another by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, both of which propose to make June 19th a national federal holiday, recognizing the end of slavery.

In some parts of the country though, federal holiday or not, celebrating and honoring Juneteenth is already embedded into the cultural fabric. Take Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example. Tulsa, of course, was the site of the horrific race massacre, the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, the massacre of African Americans by a group of white people who attacked an affluent African American neighborhood in Tulsa. They destroyed businesses. They attacked the black residents. They burned the whole community to the ground. Hundreds of African Americans killed in that attack. Thousands of people displaced.

Well, today, Tulsa held a fairly massive Juneteenth celebration 99 years after the Tulsa race massacre. There was a march through the city of Tulsa. There were speeches and music. There were art lessons for the kids.

In one of the more somber moments today, protesters walked an empty casket through the streets to remember the people who died during the race massacre almost a century ago. The importance of marking Juneteenth has been enshrined in Tulsa`s culture for a long, long time now.

Community organizers had long planned for today to be a big Juneteenth celebration in Tulsa. They initially had canceled today`s event, though, because of concerns about coronavirus.

Of course shortly after that, though, the president decided that coronavirus be damned, he wanted Tulsa to be the site of the first big rally for his re-election effort at a 19,000-person arena in Tulsa. The president`s campaign announced initially that that rally would be held on June 19th, on Juneteenth.

When that announcement was made, it came as this like remarkable slap in the face, right? Deciding to hold it on Juneteenth but in Tulsa of all places, the site of one of the worst incidents of racial terrorism in American history, that massacre of African Americans, of which we are entering into the centennial year, right? Widely considered to be the single worst incident of racial violence in American history, and he wants to go there on Juneteenth, especially after what he`s been saying recently on racial matters.

Faced with that announcement from the Trump campaign, community organizers in Tulsa did what they thought needed to be done. They un-canceled. They rescheduled Tulsa`s previously canceled Juneteenth commemoration basically as a way to counterprogram what the president was doing in their town. Given the widespread backlash that that announced Trump rally caused, the president was forced to move it off Juneteenth and moved it to tomorrow night instead.

But regardless of that late concession, there`s a movement that is happening in Tulsa right now that has a totally different cast than it otherwise would have had. Trump`s decision to hold a rally there on Juneteenth as amplified celebrations that just until a few weeks ago had been called off because of COVID.

Given how bad things are in Oklahoma right now in terms of the epidemic, community activists elsewhere in the state have postponed events that they had scheduled even for this weekend. There was due to be a Black Lives Matter event scheduled to take place in Oklahoma City tonight. It was called off at the last minute because they didn`t think it would be safe.

Organizers said they expected 10,000 people to turn out for an event in Oklahoma City tonight, what they were calling a solidarity event with 10,000 people on hand. They thought it would be impossible to hold it safely in terms of concerns about the virus, and so they canceled tonight`s planned events in Oklahoma City.

But not in Tulsa. Given everything that`s happened around Tulsa and the president`s decisions and all of this, that event was seen as simply too important to put off to a later date.

It`s against that backdrop that we heard from the Reverend Al Sharpton just a little while ago tonight. Reverend Sharpton was the headline speaker at today`s Juneteenth celebration in Tulsa, and here`s part of what the rev had to say.


REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We celebrate the day and all this country those that are humane and those who are committed to decency should celebrate because Juneteenth represented the first day in this country that you did not have legalized slavery.


When members of the Senate proposed making a federal holiday out of Juneteenth today, it ought to be a federal holiday because it`s the first day this country stepped toward living up to the motto that it had announced, that all men were created equal.


Don`t forget that most of them that wrote that owned slaves. Most of them that wrote that didn`t even respect their own women. Women couldn`t vote until 1920.

That`s why I`m a little puzzled when I hear people walking around talking about "Make America Great Again."

Give me the date that America was great for everybody.


It wasn`t great for blacks when we were enslaved and then had to fight Jim Crow and then fight for the right to vote. It wasn`t great for white women, who couldn`t even vote and was reduced to staying in the kitchen. It wasn`t great for those of Latino and Asian descent who were not welcome here even though you had a statue in the harbor saying "bring me your tired and huddled masses that yearn to be free."

When was America great? For everybody?


MADDOW: Reverend Al Sharpton speaking tonight at Juneteenth commemoration in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the eve of the president`s rally there that has caused so much consternation in that city, in that state, and even around the country.

As that event, that Juneteenth celebration, starts to wrap up tonight, the city of Tulsa has to prepare for tomorrow`s event with the president. And to be honest, the convergence of all these people in Tulsa, folks out celebrating Juneteenth and people who have been camping out, waiting in line to make sure they can get in to see the president, it`s already led to some confusion.

Last night, the mayor of Tulsa imposed an overnight curfew for downtown Tulsa. He imposed the curfew for Friday and Saturday nights based on what he said were projections that 100,000 people were expected to converge in the area surrounding the BOK Center where the president`s going to hold his rally.

But today, the Secret Service apparently told the mayor or asked the mayor to lift that curfew. So they announced the curfew last night. Now the mayor has lifted the curfew even as the president has been stoking tensions as best as he can on Twitter. The president threatening today, threatening any protesters who might show up at his event tomorrow, threatening that they wouldn`t be treated nicely.

There`s also been a little bit of confusion over where overflow crowds might go tomorrow night. For weeks, the president and his campaign have been touting the huge response they`ve had to the announcement of this rally, saying they`ve been scoping out overflow space for all the hundreds of thousands of their supporters who are going to turn up but who won`t be able to get into the main event.

Nobody knows if that`s actually happening. "The Tulsa World" reports today it`s unclear where all these supposed extra supporters are going to go if they don`t make it into the BOK Center.

Quote: Contrary to previous reports, the convention center will not be used for overflow. It was unclear whether other overflow arrangements were being made.

According to "The Tulsa World", it was also not year when the BOK center will actually open up and start letting people in tomorrow.

Quote: The Trump campaign`s website and BOK management say the doors will open at 3:00 p.m. but an ad that ran in yesterday`s "Tulsa World" newspaper says the doors will open at 10:00 a.m., five hours earlier. That could make a big difference depending on how many people are in the streets and how well they get along.

On top of all of that, there of course are concerns over whether this event or any event like this should be happening anywhere in the world, especially in Oklahoma, where there has been a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases recently, where Oklahoma has seen a spike in terms of record numbers this week, but where Tulsa is actually the worst part of the spike in Oklahoma.

Yesterday, the Oklahoma state Supreme Court heard arguments about whether to require the adherence to CDC guidelines at the Trump rally tomorrow. An attorney for local residents and businesses that brought this case argued that going forward as is, going forward with the Trump rally the way they`re planning to do it, would pose a huge risk to the public in terms of health.


PAUL DEMURO, ATTORNEY: We would be seeking the same relief no matter if this was a concert, no matter if this was an NBA game, or no matter if this was another political candidate. This has nothing to do with politics. This has everything to do with public safety.

This is not a question of whether additional people will be infected and die in Tulsa, it`s just a question of how many. People are going to be allowed in and to sit as closely as possible to each other, 19,000 people chanting and screaming and yelling in a big box in the middle of the worst pandemic we may have ever faced as a country.

It`s madness to let this event go forward.


MADDOW: It`s madness to let this event go forward.

I will say that the residents who brought that case also proffered to the Oklahoma Supreme Court that if somebody had tried to intentionally design a delivery system that would maximize the communal spread of this deadly virus, the president`s rally tomorrow is what somebody would design to do that.

Nevertheless, today, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected that bid, and so the Trump rally will be allowed to go forward without following the Trump administration`s own CDC guidelines about how to keep people safe. CDC guidelines describe this type of event, a large group of people indoors for a prolonged period of time as the highest risk event that you could design when it comes to the potential spread of the virus.

Oklahoma`s a state that has now recorded four straight days of record numbers of new coronavirus cases. Tulsa has been hitting new records itself this week.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, tonight is the center of two crucially important stories, both coming to a head, both very much live right now.

Joining us now is Democratic Oklahoma State Representative Regina Goodwin, who represents the state`s 73rd district. That includes the part of Tulsa where Juneteenth events are going on at this hour. She`s also a native of the historic Greenwood District, which, of course, was the site of the Tulsa race massacre in 1921. It`s a place where her grandfather in 1937 took over "The Oklahoma Eagle" newspaper. That paper still in her family to this day.

Representative Goodwin, thank you so much for making time to be here tonight. I know this is a fraught and fascinating day in the city of Tulsa.

STATE REP. REGINA GOODWIN (D), OKLAHOMA: Thank you, Rachel. It is a fraught and fascinating day, but we`re here.

MADDOW: Tell me about how these multiple strands are coming together for you. Today being Juneteenth, the presence of the president`s supporters, the planned event for the president tomorrow, coronavirus crisis right now in Oklahoma and Tulsa specifically. How are these things coming together for you and your constituents right now?

GOODWIN: So what we have here, as you said, is it`s a unique situation. We`re in Tulsa where we`re accustomed to challenge, and no one would ask for this. But we felt that we`re going to have to deal with this situation and do what we`ve always done. What we`ve always done here is take care of each other. We`ve always fought for justice, and we`ve also hopefully done our ancestors proud in terms of lengthening their legacy.

So, we have to continue to focus on justice, equity, and all things that have always mattered. We have never actually received justice in Tulsa, Oklahoma. So that`s an ongoing fight for us.

MADDOW: What do you think will happen tomorrow in the city when the president`s rally happens? We don`t know, and we can`t at least tell from a national perspective how many people are actually going to turn up and how -- what proportion of those people are going to be able to get inside the venue.

We don`t know what will happen if there is a significant number of people who can`t get inside the venue who are left outside in Tulsa with no overflow capacity.

Do you -- what are your expectations of what`s going to happen tomorrow? It seems like - it seems like a tinderbox.

GOODWIN: So what we expect here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as we`ve always done, we`re not going to be distracted by the divisiveness of racism. We`re going to be distracted by the foolishness of double talk.

We`re going to continue, Rachel, to do what we`ve always done here. What we`ve got to do here is have an overflow of justice. What we`ve got to do here is vote come June 30th as it relates to Medicaid expansion.

There are real issues in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they`re going to be going on. When this all blows over, we`re going to be here, and we`re going to hopefully handle what we do with dignity and grace.

MADDOW: There has been consternation, I know, over some of the mayor`s decisions. I know that there has been a lot of heartache and a lot of concerned voicing including by health workers, by doctors in Tulsa about the event that`s happening tomorrow and about how things seem to be going really in the wrong direction in terms of coronavirus.


MADDOW: Can you talk to me at all about how you feel about Oklahoma`s leadership right now on coronavirus and whether smart decisions are being made? I`ve been very concerned, for example, to see the governor say at this point in the epidemic in Oklahoma that people can go back into nursing homes and start visiting in nursing homes again, which seems like a very risky decision.

How do you feel about leadership in your state on that issue?

GOODWIN: I can tell you unequivocally that I thought that the governor opened Oklahoma up too soon. The numbers have been much higher than had been basically toned to the public.

So the numbers are increasing. We didn`t really get the real data that we should have gotten. And in Oklahoma, they just picked a date, and it was not according to data, and they opened Oklahoma back up too soon.

And I think we have found ourselves in this predicament because of that leadership. I`ve not been quiet about that, and I think this is evidence what we`re seeing today with the numbers peaking. It makes no sense that we talk about the nursing homes. It makes no sense that we talk about our testing as what it should be. We were never caught up with testing in Oklahoma.

We were never caught up with tracing. It has not been handled well, and I don`t know why anybody in America was told that story.

MADDOW: Oklahoma State Representative Regina Goodwin, represents the good people of Tulsa -- Representative Goodwin, I know this, as I said, is a tough time, and it`s a time for leadership right now in Tulsa. Thank you for taking some time out to help us understand. Good look to you and your constituents tonight.

GOODWIN: Rachel, I want to thank you for just shining a light on Tulsa. We`ve got institutions here that we`re going to continue to move forward, and we thank you for shining a light.

MADDOW: Absolutely. Thank you, ma`am. I much appreciate it. I will say that Tulsa has a -- oh, I`m sorry. Go ahead.

GOODWIN: Yes. I was going to say to you that we stand here in the heart. Your crew is here right in the heart where our ancestors bled and died, right? This is really sacred ground, and we considered this area really our jewel, our crown jewel.

We`ve got the Greenwood Cultural Center. We`ve got the Mabel Little House. We have institutions here that need to be protected, and we just ask everybody to support the keepers of our culture and our history, generations from years ago.

We draw on their strength to move us forward. And, again, we just thank you. We`re going to stay focused.

We`re not going to be distracted. We`re not going to be distracted. Rachel, we are not going to be distracted.

MADDOW: State Representative Regina Goodwin -- ma`am, thank you. Thank you so much.

GOODWIN: All right. We`ve got much more ahead tonight. Up next, we`ve got a story you are not likely to have heard anywhere else, but it bodes -- well, I`ll just -- it`s worrying. We`ve got an exclusive on that coming up here next.

Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The news was bad. America had been at war just 79 days. A U-Boat had fired on California, and the president struggled to improve arms production.

ANNOUNCER: This is a voice speaking from America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Voice of America was born.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Broadcasting in German to an occupied Europe, it reported the bad news and was later believed when it told of Allied invasions and victories even though the Nazis made listening to shortwave punishable by death.

HENRY CHAMP: Shortwave radio did help sap German resistance, but many Americans and particularly those in Congress felt very uneasy about a service they equated with propaganda, and they wanted it closed down. But peace didn`t follow war as everyone had expected.

The Iron Curtain fell on information and people, and the service had a new job, keeping a democratic voice alive in the communist world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The eagle has landed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It had the world`s largest audience ever when it reported in 46 languages man landing on the moon.

It earned trust when it reported on Watergate and the anti-Vietnam protests. In 1968, Czechs battled Soviet tanks in the streets. When Soviet troops forced a Czech dissident broadcaster to sign off, he told his audience, listen to the VOA.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Czech broadcasting was never trusted again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were lying, and if we wanted to get some information, we had to listen to Radio for Europe, or Voice of America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the wall eventually came down, new leaders, Czechoslovakia Havel and Poland`s Walesa, were quick to give the VOA enormous credit for their peaceful revolutions.

CHASE UNTERMAYER: The testimonials were truly touching as to how much people were motivated by what they heard over international radio.


MADDOW: That was 1992. That was NBC News, "Nightly News", marking 50 years from the founding of Voice of America during World War II. Listen to the VOA. If you wanted to get information, you had to listen to the Voice of America.

And the gentleman you saw there at the end of that news clip, that was the guy who was the head of Voice of America at the time under the first President Bush. His name is Chase Untermeyer, which is a great Washington name.

But Chase Untermeyer successor as head of Voice of America is Amanda Bennett, who until this week held that same job. She was head of VOA under the Trump administration.

Amanda Bennett is a big deal. She`s a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. She was also an editor at "Philadelphia Inquirer" and the "Lexington Herald Leader" in Kentucky. She was also an editor at "The Oregonian" in Portland.

Did I mention the two Pulitzer Prizes?

This is who has been running the Voice of America for the past two years. But as of this week, she is gone. She resigned suddenly, along with her deputy and without much of an explanation at the beginning of this week.

If that wasn`t interesting enough, within 48 hours, all the network heads were fired within the agency that runs Voice of America. Voice of America is just one network that runs alongside all the other international broadcasting entities in the U.S. government. You know, they`re all ultimately derived from that original mission set in World War II.

It`s Voice of America, but it`s also Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia. There`s a Cuban Broadcasting Service, the Middle East Broadcasting Network. They`re all run by the U.S. government. They`re all supposed to be totally insulated from any domestic partisan politics in this country.

They are supposed to be straight news organizations that bring both the values of the free press and actual free, un-bossed journalism to the world, courtesy of the American people.

But this week, it has all gone haywire. The VOA chief, Amanda Bennett, and her deputy, resign suddenly and without notice. Then two nights after that in what`s being headlined as a Wednesday night massacre, the heads of all those other networks all get fired all at one as well. Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Cuban Broadcasting Service, the Middle East Broadcasting Network, fired, fired, fired.

No reason given for any of those network heads being fired. They were all just wiped out.

So what`s going on here?

A couple of months ago, the president started denouncing the Voice of America as, in his words, disgusting. And that seemed kind of out of the blue, but, you know, welcome to the Trump era.

But then the White House also published like a blog post, a newsletter item. It`s hard to tell exactly what this is. But they published this thing denouncing the Voice of America, specifically because VOA had the temerity to run an "A.P." article on their website about China lifting its lockdown in Wuhan for the coronavirus.

All sorts of news organizations run "Associated Press" news stories, and in fact the Wuhan region did lift its lockdown, and that story was true. So why has the White House and the president been bending over backwards to like gin up some kind of bottled outrage about this?

Well, you may remember this guy, Steve Bannon, was the head of the right- wing blog Breitbart, and then he leaped from there to be CEO of the Trump campaign. Then he was a senior adviser at the White House, and then, God, who even remembers what happened to him there and why he had to go.

But before all of that, Steve Bannon`s previous career was that he was a ham-handed, super, over the top, right-wing filmmaker. His films included one that tried to make Sarah Palin into an object of national veneration.

There was also this really weird one where Bannon tried to make the case that the old guy from Duck Dynasty was maybe like a prophet, like kind of a new Jesus or something? You see what I mean? It`s hard to figure out.

It has been a weird ride for old Steve Bannon. But along the way Mr. Bannon has picked up acolytes including apparently this man, Michael Pack, who has also made a career out of making right wing movies. He describes Steve Bannon as his mentor.

And this is the guy who Trump nominated -- the guy who says Steve Bannon is his mentor, who spent his own career making weird right wing movies of his own about things like the tyranny of the gays on college campuses and how white male Christians are the only people who are really discriminated against anymore.

President Trump has nominated that guy, the Bannon acolyte guy who makes the anti-gay documentaries about the oppression of Christians -- President Trump has nominated him, Michael Pack, to take over the agency that oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Middle East Broadcasting Network and all the rest.

Now, it is widely perceived in Washington that the president started attacking Voice of America and calling them disgusting and denouncing them literally as communists, not because of anything particularly interesting or outre that VOA had done. It`s widely believed in Washington that the president started mounting that criticism of Voice of America because he wanted to goose momentum to get that guy`s nomination through, to get his guy installed as the head of the agency that oversees all of these broadcast networks.

Among other things, I should tell you the White House criticism of Voice of America led the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control of all places, to formally blacklist Voice of America reporters so they could no longer get interviews with CDC officials.

Think about that, right? The president and the White House start denouncing Voice of America because they want to get this guy in there. They want to create some controversy and get their new guy in there. The denunciations of Voice of America end up resonating at Centers for Disease Control.

I mean, the fact that the CDC has time to play these kind of reindeer games in the middle of a fricking pandemic that has killed nearly 120,000 Americans already kind of tells you what the CDC has been reduced to in this administration, right, at a time when it`s supposed to be the premier public agency, not only in the country but in the world, it`s instead spending its time blacklisting Voice of America reporters so they can`t get CDC official interviews anymore because the White House says they`re communists.

That`s the CDC doing that. Seriously. It`s just incredible.

But the White House criticism, the president`s criticism, all this effort to goose interest in this agency, to boost the momentum for this Bannon acolyte who the president wanted to take over all these networks, it worked. Senate Republicans dutifully obliged and even though Michael Pack`s nomination had been languishing for a very long time, he was confirmed a couple of weeks ago.

So now he`s in there, and immediately upon arriving, he`s just fired everyone there. He`s fired the heads of all of those networks. He`s also just fired all the boards of directors that advised all those networks.

So the way these things work, the structure has changed a little bit over the years in terms of where all these agencies are headquartered and how exactly, who reports to who. But basically they are advised, these networks are advised by senior and bipartisan people who are experienced in journalism and diplomacy. That has been true from the very beginning.

He`s just fired all of those people in all of those advisory roles for all of the networks, and he has replaced them with a handpicked bunch of winners. For example, an anti-transgender activist who writes for a right wing blog. Also, an anti-gay activist lawyer. Also an adviser to Ben Carson, who already has a full-time job in the government and somebody who also works full-time in Mick Mulvaney`s office.

Also, he named himself, Michael Pack picked himself to be the chairman of all of those boards, advising all of those networks where she`s just fired all of the heads of the networks and fired everybody who was advising them and put in his little club full of cub scouts who he handpicked to advise them instead. None of the people who he has picked to be on these boards advising these networks have any journalism experience whatsoever or any State Department experience, any diplomacy experience, anything like that.

So, the Trump administration hollowing out, destroying, attacking an institution of government, I know it`s a day that ends in "Y." But think about what agency, what part of government this is. Think about the potential implications here.

If you have ever wondered what the Trump presidency might be like if in addition to the traditional powers of the federal government, the president also commandeered control of a media empire for his own purposes, an empire with a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars with hundreds of staff, with a huge reach that not only spans the global, it also of course now broadcasts into the United States, if you`ve ever wondered what a Trump presidency might be like with a huge media outlet added to it -- well, let`s see because what just happened this week in the middle of everything else was a hostile takeover of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, a sudden decapitation of all of its leadership, the removal of all experienced advisers and the installation of Steve Bannon`s guy to run it all.

Here we go. And there`s a new important piece of this that is just happening tonight, and we`ve got that piece of it next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Subject line was, thank you. The email was sent Wednesday night by Michael Pack, Donald Trump`s new head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. The recipient was Karen Kornbluh, former ambassador and member of the agency`s board.

Here`s what it says, quote: Dear Mr. Kornbluh, thank you for your service on the board of directors of the Middle East broadcasting networks. Pursuant to my authority as CEO and the bylaws of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, I have terminated your membership on the board effective immediately. The agency appreciates your contributions and wishes you all the best in future endeavors. Sincerely, Michael Pack.

That`s it. Thank you, get lost. That was the whole thing.

That email or a personalized version of it was sent Wednesday night to all members of the governing board for the U.S. agency that runs Voice of America and the other international broadcasting networks for the U.S. government. It was sent by the newly installed CEO Michael Pack, who was picked for the job by President Trump and just recently approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

It was Republican appointees to these boards that got this letter, Democratic appointees got it. They all got it. Everybody out, effective right now.

Mr. Pack also then fired the heads of the company`s news divisions, including Radio Free Europe and the Middle East Broadcasting Network.

Why did this newly appointed Trump appointee, who says that Steve Bannon is his mentor -- why did he just come in and take a machete to this particular part of the U.S. government? Is there reason to worry that this could be the opening salvo of an effort to try to twist this media agency with its budget of hundreds of millions of dollars and his global reach including into the United States? Is there reason to worry that this might be the first opening salvo of an effort to turn that network into something that serves the president instead of serves the purposes laid out in the charter of these networks?

Tonight, some of the unceremoniously fired board members are responding. In a letter to this new CEO, Michael pack, four board members, two Republicans and two Democrats write this in part, quote: We call on you to respect the firewall guarding the editorial independence of the agency and grantees and their adherence to the highest standards of professional journalism, to maintain qualified boards and management, and to continue the nonpartisan legacy.

They continue, quote: You have inherited a critical U.S. asset and we urge you to protect it by respecting the firewall, maintaining qualified boards and management, and continuing this nonpartisan legacy.

Joining us are two signers of that letter, two newly former members of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, who served in the Obama administration as ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who`s Republican, who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations as ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, Lebanon and potentially others that I have forgiven.

Ambassadors, thank you both so much for joining us. I really appreciate you being here tonight.



MADDOW: It`s nice to have the both of you here with us tonight, both a Democrat and a Republican who can personally symbolize the fact that these advisory roles and these agencies that you have served have been nonpartisan. I mean by definition, media always has some sort of controversy around it.

But is it fair for those of us looking in from the outside to say that there has been a legit bipartisan tradition here and a legit insulation from American partisan politics?

CROCKER: Rachel, first just to correct what you said there, I am not a Republican, nor am I a Democrat. I`m an independent, and I made that clear when I was asked to come on this board. I was a --

MADDOW: Forgive me, sorry.

CROCKER: If you look at the six embassies that I was privileged to serve in, three were under Republican administrations and three under the Democratic administrations. So that`s bipartisanship.

MADDOW: Absolutely, embodied in yourself. I apologize for having introduced you in that way.

But let me ask you and Ambassador Kornbluh, if it is fair to look at this agency and the advisory roles you have played in this agency as legitimately bipartisan, nonpartisan experience?

KORNBLUH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean we were appointed to what`s considers a bipartisan role to fill Democratic seats and Republican seats, but we function together in a completely nonpartisan way. And the agency had support from appropriators and authorizers on the Hill from both sides of the aisle. The secretary of state sat with us on the board, and all supported the mission of the organization and the independence of the networks and the new entity, the Open Technology Fund because there`s this appreciation, just as you laid out beautifully, that these entities are key tools in our soft power toolbox.

And perhaps even as important now as in the cold war when we`re fighting this information war against disinformation and authoritarians, these organizations are getting out the U.S. message, VOA, and then the others are getting news and information demonstrating the First Amendment, demonstrating the free press, and getting information into Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, you know, the work that Radio Free Asia is doing in China is amazing. The Open Technology Fund has produced tools, Internet freedom tools that are used by 2 billion people.

Radio Free Europe working with the other entities launched current time, which is a 24/7 global digital and broadcast network going to Russian speakers around the world.

So, these are really important assets, and what`s really troubling is that we may have already done them damage by putting in places as you laid out, you know, seemingly partisan cronies and not respecting the procedures on the books, the guardrails on the books. So, we may have already done some damage, and it`s really, really important that we pull back from that precipice.

MADDOW: Ambassador Crocker, let me ask you what was your reaction to being fired sort of unceremoniously in the way that you were this week. How would you have wanted the incoming CEO to handle taking the reins? How unusual did you find this?

CROCKER: We all knew that with the arrival of a presidentially nominated, Senate confirmed CEO that things were going to change. The overarching board that Karen and I both served on, the broadcasting board of governors, went out of business as soon as Mr. Pack was confirmed. That`s in the legislation.

We also knew that he might want to make changes in the subsidiary entity boards, so we just sat tight on that. We didn`t have any guidance of what he might want. I can`t say I was terribly surprised to get the letter.

But what did surprise me, as Karen alludes to, is the fact that he then sacked all of the entity heads. Karen has described the structural work this board did to make the entire U.S. global media operation better. A lot of that has to do with people.

You mentioned Amanda Bennett. It does not get better than that in American journalism. In addition to the two Pulitzer prizes, she literally saved "The Philadelphia Inquirer" when she was executive editor.

Look at Alberto Fernandez, my former foreign service colleague who ran Middle East Broadcasting in the end. He is a fluent Arabic speaker. Those are rare on the ground, let me tell you as one myself.

Alberto was good enough to go on Al Jazeera, debate some of our adversaries in flawless Arabic, and just create a whole different image for the United States. He remade the Middle East Broadcasting Network, cleaned it up, cleared it out, started over in a lot of respects, and it is utterly unrecognizable from the pretty pedestrian entity that he stepped into.

He got banned in Baghdad. How great is that, for reporting on corruption. The Iraqi government didn`t like it. This information didn`t like it so well either.

The people loved it. We were telling truth to power. As you said earlier, that`s the whole mission of this agency and its subsidiary entities.

You`ve got, you know, Jamie Fly running radio-free Europe. This is someone who has been a thought leader particularly on European matters, comes out of the German Marshall Fund, speaks Russian and immediately got into the faces of some of these autocratic regimes.

So people are everything in the business. These were really great people that we worked really hard to get, and I`m very concerned that we are not going to maintain that level of competence. And I also wonder what`s going to happen to our standards, the firewall in particular.

MADDOW: Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Ambassador Karen Kornbluh, newly former board members of the U.S. Agency for Global Media -- I`ve spelled out, I`ve been open about my sort of darkest worries about what`s going on there at that agency. But aside from that, thank you for the service that you gave to our country by doing this work. And I`m sorry that it has ended in the way that it has. Thanks for helping us understand.

KORNBLUH: Thank you so much for covering this.

CROCKER: Thanks for having us.

MADDOW: I appreciate it.

All right. I will tell you that we actually have some breaking news that we`re going to get to next. A Friday night news dump the administration has just let us know about that legitimately I won`t say shocks -- nothing shocks me -- legitimately surprises me.

We`ve got that breaking news for you when we come back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: We have breaking news from the Department of Justice, specifically from the super important southern district of New York, the U.S. attorney`s office in Manhattan where President Trump had his residence until recently and where all his companies are headquartered. The U.S. attorney in SDNY, Geoff Berman, is out in what appears to be a Friday night news dump. Attorney General William Barr announcing the change late tonight after the close of business, saying, quote, I`m pleased to announce President Trump intends to nominate Jay Clayton to serve as the next U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

What about the one who`s there now? But news like this coming like this on a Friday night, it`s of course drawn immediate questions.

Former U.S. attorney at SDNY, Preet Bharara, saying, quote, doesn`t sound like stepping down. Quote, why does a president get rid of his own handpicked U.S. attorney at SDNY on a Friday night less than five months before the election?

I should mention, SDNY has been in the news related to President Trump this week. In John Bolton`s forthcoming book, the former national security adviser reportedly says that the president was willing to fire the leadership at SDNY as part of an effort to kill prosecutions that he wanted killed so that he could basically give those killed prosecutions as a gift to the leader of Turkey.

The Turkish president wanted a particular prosecution killed, and Trump thought that he could and maybe should do so by ousting the existing leadership at SDNY and putting in different people.

Joining us now by phone is former FBI general counsel and MSNBC contributor, Andrew Weissmann, who knows a little bit about this part of the world.

Mr. Weissmann, Andrew, thank you very much for making time.


MADDOW: Do you know anything about this, and what is your reaction to it?

WEISSMANN: So I know what you know. So there are two reactions I have. One is as you know, the Southern District is known as the sovereign district of New York because it`s fiercely independent. And so, this is a real slap at that independence. It`s the first time I can think of in memory where someone has been nominated and someone`s going to be the acting U.S. attorney who has not actually come from that office.

And the second is it`s pretty -- depending on how you look at it -- ingenious or devious because the nomination isn`t really the key thing because that may or may not go through. But simultaneously, the attorney general has announced that he is going to have an acting U.S. attorney, that`s the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, and that person gets to act for six months.

So if you do the math, that gets them to the election.

MADDOW: Andrew, I`m going to tread carefully here and be very transparent about this. I have heard lots of rumors over the past couple of years, and you have heard lots of rumors that SDNY has received pressure from William Barr since he`s been attorney general, and it`s very opaque. It`s hard for us to know what happens when those things happen.

If something improper happened here either now that led to this ousting of Mr. Berman or the resignation of Mr. Berman or if something improper happened in the past during Berman`s tenure, will he be free to discuss that once he is out of the U.S. attorney`s office?

WEISSMANN: So one way that he could easily be free to do that is he could be subpoenaed by the House, and then any claim of privilege that could be asserted would be on much shakier grounds.

And I also think that there are enough independent career people in the Southern District of New York that you`d be likely to hear about it.

MADDOW: Andrew Weissmann, former Justice Department official, thank you very much for your time tonight, joining us on zero notice on a Friday night. I really appreciate it, Andrew.

WEISSMANN: No problem.

MADDOW: All right. That is going to do it for us tonight. But, you know what, it`s Friday night. Anything could happen.

Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD." Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.

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