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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 04/01/15

Guests: Michael Aron, Steve Clemons, Kevin Dietz, Garrett Epps, NicholasKristof, Nina Burleigh, Richard Wolffe, Marc Solomon

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: And that does it for us tonight, we will see you again tomorrow, now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell, good evening, Lawrence. LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Rachel, it sounds like that Hillary Clinton and the Republicans on that committee agree on one thing, that when they have those hearings, the Republicans on that committee tend to look silly. MADDOW: Yes, exactly -- (LAUGHTER) And so they would like to do it behind closed doors, and she would like put as many cameras on them as possible, ding -- O`DONNELL: And one more thing -- happy birthday. MADDOW: Oh, thank you, Lawrence, what was that? Another Hillary Clinton thing, oh, man -- O`DONNELL: No, a Rachel thing -- MADDOW: Thank you very much, Lawrence, you`re very nice -- O`DONNELL: OK, well, another day, another Republican governor backs down on so-called religious freedom laws, and Robert Menendez has become the first United States senator to be indicted for bribery in over 30 years. The last senator indicted for bribery, of course, occupied the same New Jersey senate seat that Bob Menendez occupies now. There`s just something about New Jersey. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The firestorm of controversy over Indiana`s religious freedom law -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not the Indiana I remember -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It spreads to Arkansas. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Arkansas has passed its own version of the law, which the governor was expected to sign. GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: I`ve asked them to recall it and change the language on it -- UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hutchinson announced he would not sign his state`s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. HUTCHINSON: My son Seth signed the petition asking dad, the governor, to veto this bill. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Perhaps dad realized he could no longer look the other way. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the negotiators are tired and frustrated. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still no deal tonight of the high stakes negotiation for the Iran over its nuclear program. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The final roadblocks now are few, but very tough to get around. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know what the -- planet you think -- (CROSSTALK) You`re on right now. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An NYPD police officer and the traffic rant that`s gone viral all caught on camera. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Berating an Uber driver appears to mock the driver`s accent -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop it with your mouth -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop it with your `for what, sir, for what sir` -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Calls -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop it with that -- UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The passenger at the backseat recorded the profanity late rant. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn`t important enough for me, you`re not important enough -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, he`s been placed on modified duty, stripped of his gun and badge. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Bob Menendez has been indicted on federal corruption charges. SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: I`m angry and ready to fight. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The allegation is that Menendez used his position in the Senate to do officials sort of government favors. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To help a Florida eye doctor and big political donors, Salomon Melgen -- MENENDEZ: They are dead wrong and I am confident that they will be proven so. This is not how my career is going to end. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: Another day, another Republican governor flip-flops on the so- called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, after having said last week that he would sign the version passed by the Arkansas legislature. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson held a press conference today to announce that he suddenly has problems with the bill. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HUTCHINSON: The changes need to be made. The bill that is on my desk at the present time does not precisely mirror the federal law. I`ve asked that the leaders of the general assembly to recall the bill so that it can be amended to reflect the terms of the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. So it needs to be done by recalling the legislation or having additional legislation that would accomplish those changes. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: The governor`s change of position came a day after the biggest employer in his state, Wal-Mart issued a statement asking the governor to veto that bill. But the only lobbying the governor referred to today was from his son. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HUTCHINSON: There`s clearly a generational gap on this issue. My son, Seth, signed the petition asking me, dad, the governor, to veto this bill. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: The governor`s son, Seth Hutchinson released this statement today following his father`s announcement that he would not sign the current Arkansas Religious Freedom bill. "I am happy that my dad is now calling on legislators to rework HB1228, I have communicated with him my oppositions for the bill, I`m proud to have made a small contribution to the overall effort to stop discrimination against LGBT community, in Arkansas, the state that I love. I love and respect my father very much, but sometimes we have political disagreements just as many families do." Wal-Mart also released a statement following Governor Hutchinson`s announcement saying, "we commend Governor Hutchinson and legislative leaders for reconsidering HB1228. We clearly support the importance of religious freedom and encourage the legislature to make certain any legislation does not encourage discrimination." Joining us now is Richard Wolffe, executive editor of, Nina Burleigh, national political correspondent for "Newsweek" and Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the "New York Times". Also joining us, Garrett Epps, a contributing editor to "The Atlantic" and law professor at the University of Baltimore. Garrett Epps, what does the legislature have to do in Arkansas to meet the governor`s new requirement that it mirror the federal law? GARRETT EPPS, NOVELIST & LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE: Well, the Arkansas Religious Freedom Act is an extraordinary act. It is beyond question the sort of broadest and potentially most discriminatory of any state of Religious Freedom Restoration Act to begin with there -- O`DONNELL: Garrett, more so -- EPPS: Right -- O`DONNELL: Than the Indiana law? EPPS: Significantly more so, yes. In fact, I said today that this Arkansas law makes the Indiana law look like the universal declaration of human rights. It`s very focused on a certain outcome. It -- for -- to begin with, it applies to any corporation, any business. There is no limitation whatsoever as there is in federal law or even in the Indiana law. Beyond that, it says that the burden on someone`s religious rights placed by a state statute has to be essential. That`s a much -- or significantly higher threshold than most of these laws which simply say in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest. And then finally in the end, in section three, the Arizona law says there is not a higher protection offered by this state than the protection of a person`s right to religious freedom. Which is not a thumb on the scales, that is a fist on the scales. Basically telling courts that there are no compelling interests that can outlaw -- outweigh a religious freedom claim, and certainly not an anti- discrimination statute. O`DONNELL: Nick Kristof, it seems that Arkansas at the moment is in an easier position to make their last-minute adjustment here since they haven`t -- the governor hasn`t actually signed a bill. But what do you think will satisfy the critics in Indiana where the question is, are you just going to pass a new bill that amends the old bill? Is repeal necessary in Indiana? NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, I think that they`re probably going to move toward a dramatic revision and that won`t satisfy all the critics, but it will begin to undo a little bit of the embarrassment. Look, I mean, boy, this just underscores how much the ground has moved. And you know, I think for those of us who covered politics a decade ago and these values issues, you know, the -- you know, God, guns and gays seem to be working against Democrats and now to see this kind of reversal in Indiana and Arkansas of all places. The Wal-Mart is the clarion call for a social justice -- O`DONNELL: Yes -- KRISTOF: I mean, boy, things have changed, and it reflects public opinion, which is maybe the most heartening thing. I saw an opinion poll last year that gays and lesbians have a higher approval rating in America than evangelical Christians. And when you have that kind of an outcome, then that`s when Wal-Mart is going to speak up and when Indiana is going to revise its law. O`DONNELL: Nina, this is that face-off that we`ve been seeing over the years recently between corporate Republicanism and these religious-values Republicans. And it seems like, OK, the corporate side of it is now really kind of organized and working. But what took them so long? This might not be so hard now if they had been working on this earlier. NINA BURLEIGH, WRITER & JOURNALIST: Well, what I find astonishing about it is the way that the presidential candidates jumped on to the Pence side immediately. Jindal, Carson, Cruz, and Bush, the front-runner. It was like a premature intolerance ejaculation. And you know, there are pills for that at Wal- Mart -- (LAUGHTER) And you can get them over the counter and you don`t have to have a prescription. Which as you know, the RFRA law and the hobby-lobby bringing that to the -- to the Supreme Court all had to do with women`s right to get birth-control pills from places like Wal-Mart. So what`s really interesting about this, besides this jumping on prematurely, which is so embarrassing for these candidates, is the whole issue of this having been about women`s rights and forced pregnancy. And how what -- the way it`s going to be rescued is through the gay rights issue, right? And that`s a kind of a big deal. O`DONNELL: One of the most -- BURLEIGH: Republicans are going to have to address. O`DONNELL: Yes, one of the most famous sons of Indiana, David Letterman has been talking about this, this week. We have an early clip of what`s going to be on the show later tonight. Senator Al Franken appearing with David Letterman, let`s take a look at this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID LETTERMAN, COMEDIAN & TELEVISION HOST: I love Indiana and probably be buried in Indiana, and I know I`ve embarrassed the state many times. (LAUGHTER) SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Well, and the entire country. (LAUGHTER) But -- LETTERMAN: Well, yes, OK -- (APPLAUSE) What I want to -- FRANKEN: Yes -- LETTERMAN: Know is, what can I do now to make the governor feel uncomfortable? (LAUGHTER) FRANKEN: As a matter of fact, there`s an open seat there, the incumbent senator, the current senator there Dan Coats, he says he`s not running next year. And -- look, when people come to me, they say -- young people, say how do you become a United States Senator? And I say, well, do about 35, 40 years of comedy and then run for the Senate. (LAUGHTER) And it -- (APPLAUSE) You know, it`s worked every time. So I think you should run. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: Richard Wolffe -- RICHARD WOLFFE, JOURNALIST: Senator, you know -- O`DONNELL: Senator, Senator David Letterman. WOLFFE: David Letterman, I -- that would be quite (INAUDIBLE) there -- O`DONNELL: What can we do? (CROSSTALK) WOLFFE: In Indiana of all places -- O`DONNELL: Yes, what can we do to make that -- WOLFFE: A long shot, I think, you`d have to say. Look, it`s hard if you`re a national joke which Indiana is -- David Letterman being a national joke, you know, it`s rare for Al Franken to deploy humor as a senator. So that`s how easy a joke it is. You know, I just want to give some real credit to where it`s due here, and not just Letterman and Franken, but to Wal-Mart. It`s easy to say, you know what? They`re just doing this out of business interest, actually they`re taking a lead here. And yes, of course, people are worried about reputational risk, you know, this kind of politics used to play out in statehouses across the country. And we didn`t know about it, and the corporations didn`t have to care about it. Now they do, we all know about it, and full credit to Wal-Mart for doing it. O`DONNELL: We`re going to take a break here, Garrett Epps, thanks for guiding us in the details of the law once again tonight, thank you. And -- EPPS: Sure -- O`DONNELL: Coming up, we have breaking news. The "New York Times" is reporting that Jeb Bush has changed his position on Indiana`s Religious Freedom law. That`s next. And New Jersey newspaper tonight is calling on their Senator Bob Menendez to resign after being indicted on bribery charges today. The last United States senator indicted on bribery charges resigned only after he was convicted. That senator was from New Jersey and occupied the same Senate seat Bob Menendez occupies today. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) O`DONNELL: Republican governors aren`t the only ones who are back-pedaling on their so-called religious freedom laws. Tonight, there`s a report in the "New York Times", saying that Jeb Bush is shifting his position too. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEB BUSH, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I think Governor Pence has done the right thing. I think once the facts are established, people aren`t going to see this as discriminatory at all. SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I think people have a right to live out their religious faith in their own lives. Though when you`re asking someone who provides professional services to do something or be punished by law that violates their faith, you`re violating that religious liberty that they have. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: What you just heard was what Jeb Bush had to say about this at the beginning of the week, now he`s not so sure according to a report in the "New York Times". "Jeb Bush appeared to modify his public comments about Indiana`s religious freedom law on Wednesday in a closed door Silicon Valley fundraiser, telling a small group of potential supporters that a consensus-oriented approach would have been better at the outset." According to an audiotape of the remarks that were provided to the "New York Times", Jeb Bush said, "by the end of the week I think Indiana will be in the right place, which is to say that we need in a big diverse country like America, we need to have space for people to act on their conscience. That is a constitutional right, that religious freedom is core value of our country, but we shouldn`t discriminate based on sexual orientation." Joining us now is Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry. Marc, I don`t know when I`ve seen anything like this. With these guys being pushed back, that`s a complete reversal for Jeb Bush. MARC SOLOMON, NATIONAL CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, FREEDOM TO MARRY: It certainly looks like it, and I`m hoping what`s next is that he comes out in support of laws that protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. That`s what we need. That`s why I think people are so up in arms right now over what`s happening, is that, you know, 70 percent of Americans support nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people. They`re seeing Indiana and Arkansas actually advance measures that make it easier to discriminate and people are shocked. O`DONNELL: The first thing Mike Pence said at his news conference, said -- (LAUGHTER) Richard was, it`s been a rough week. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes -- O`DONNELL: It`s been a rough week for these Republican presidential candidates, they`ve had the earth movement relief in here. WOLFFE: And they didn`t need to do this. So, I was with George W. Bush back in 2000 when he had to go to Bob Jones University and, you know, stand next to ultra conservatives who, frankly, he didn`t really much agree with, but he had to do it because he had just lost in New Hampshire by 16 points. Now, Jeb Bush is supposed to be the smart politician in the family, he weighs farther than his brother, and here he is, forced into this kind of mistake without real pressure. And it does make you wonder if you buckle under this little pressure, then how are you going to sustain a presidential campaign, never mind what`s going to be like in the oval office. O`DONNELL: Nick, it was Ted Cruz who led the charge of presidential candidates endorsing what Mike Pence had done in signing a bill. KRISTOF: Yes, which -- I mean it was clearly, looking at the constituency he`s aiming for -- O`DONNELL: Yes -- KRISTOF: And, you know, but I think that fundamentally what was going on here was everybody was trying to send a dog whistle to some particular voters and it was perceived as this bullying, symbolic gesture that was just meant to send a signal of intolerance. And I think a lot of voters would be sympathetic if something was genuinely about religious freedom. But when something is about bullying about separating people, then it creates a sort of volition. I think that`s the backlash which we`re seeing. O`DONNELL: Nina, I have the feeling we`re seeing a recurring model for the campaign that something will happen that Ted Cruz jumps on, the others jump on, and then by the end of the week they`re not so sure. BURLEIGH: Well, they -- you know, they seem to think that they can be intolerant whenever the opportunity arises, because they underestimate the kind of changes that have occurred to society. And hopefully that`s going to -- you know, I mean, their supporters have to hope that they`re going to learn from this and that it happened early enough that they won`t jump on the bandwagon next time. O`DONNELL: The only one who has slowed was Scott Walker where he just tried to -- I don`t know, find a special spot for himself on this. Let`s listen what he decided to say about it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: In our state, there`s a balance between wanting to make sure that there is not discrimination, at the same time respecting religious freedoms. We do that in different ways than what they`ve done in the state of Indiana and you know, certainly, that`s going to be part of the debate here and across the country -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So -- (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: Marc, that passes for statesmanship in the Republican Party. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes -- SOLOMON: It does. I mean I think -- I think the difference is, he`s governor of a -- of a relatively blue state where we have the freedom to marry, where there are nondiscrimination protections, so he`s learned to talk. O`DONNELL: And Hillary Clinton got in on this through Twitter saying, "like the Indiana law, the Arkansas bill goes beyond protecting religion would permit unfair discrimination against LGBT Americans, I urge the governor to veto." No question Nick, for Hillary Clinton about how to handle this. KRISTOF: No, of course not, of course not. And I mean she`s living in a different world. I mean one the problems for the Republican presidential candidate, is that they`re living in this bubble and they`re all hearing from people about how this is no different from the federal law, from other state laws. And so they don`t expect to be a problem. And when your news sources are, you know, reflecting your own biases and prejudices, then that`s one risk that you enter into this minefield without realizing that`s what you`ve done. O`DONNELL: Richard, it sounds like the Republican presidential campaigns need a new position, outreach to corporate America. WOLFFE: Right -- O`DONNELL: We thought -- WOLFFE: Right -- O`DONNELL: They were in very close -- WOLFFE: Right -- O`DONNELL: Contacts prior to this week. WOLFFE: And at some point, I felt Hillary Clinton can encapsulate this in a hundred and forty characters alike -- O`DONNELL: Yes -- WOLFFE: Look, I think there clearly is a schism there between the social conservatives, religious conservatives and the main stream business-minded Republicans. And you know, we can enjoy this position right now, but time and again, over the last -- at least two, three, four years, the business Republicans have won this debate. They just did it spectacularly well. What is just perplexing is Jeb Bush who aligns himself with Wall Street and business Republicans miscued it so badly. I would expect others to flub this one, not Jeb Bush. That`s got to be troubling for people who say Jeb Bush is a winner here, it`s really assuming, all he has to do is clean foul is always true. And I think that`s true. O`DONNELL: But Nina, in presidential campaigns, that`s where the mistakes get made. They take the base for granted -- I don`t have to worry about the corporate side, I got to reach out to the Bible side of the party -- BURLEIGH: Right, in his case -- O`DONNELL: And that`s where he needed to stay -- BURLEIGH: The easy thing to do was to pander -- O`DONNELL: Yes -- BURLEIGH: Like the impulse was to pander and -- O`DONNELL: Yes -- BURLEIGH: A mistake -- O`DONNELL: Nick, what does it tell us about -- BURLEIGH: The libertarian -- the libertarians stayed out of it too. O`DONNELL: Yes, Rand Paul tried -- BURLEIGH: We haven`t got -- O`DONNELL: To stay as -- BURLEIGH: Yes -- O`DONNELL: Far away as he could. BURLEIGH: He`s unreachable -- O`DONNELL: What does it tell us about the campaign we`re going to see? KRISTOF: Well, I mean it`s -- we`re going to be I think -- certainly that for the Republicans did, right now everybody in America is talking about this and not about Hillary Clinton issues -- O`DONNELL: Yes -- KRISTOF: I mean it`s created this diversion for them at an unpleasant time. And it does, you know, underscore that even though everybody in the Republican party is incredibly aware of the risk of the party being drawn to the right in ways that antagonize the middle. Even though they`re fully aware of that, that may be precisely the direction they`re headed in for the next year. O`DONNELL: The other wasn`t here, this had nothing to do with the presidential candidates, this was something that bubbled up from the states that they couldn`t have seen coming. They`ve got to stay ready for that stuff. WOLFFE: I -- look, how could they have not seen it coming? This is not one state, it`s not an isolated debate. Governor Hutchinson may say, well, I didn`t know about, they`re saying and they took my son to sign a petition. But I mean thinks he profess too much. That this has been on the cards, it`s only difficult because we`re talking about it, social media is talking about it, and the business groups have said no more. We don`t want this to be taught in the same way. O`DONNELL: Marc Solomon, thanks for joining us on this tonight -- (CROSSTALK) O`DONNELL: Coming up, teachers and administrators convicted in enormous public school cheating scheme. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRISTIAN BALE, ACTOR: We got to grease you directly, no middlemen, no -- it`s the Arab way, that`s it, that`s it. JEREMY RENNER, ACTOR: All right, here, I look up, understand this, it`s a great opportunity, understand this, I got a little blown by going at the meeting with somebody -- BALE: Yes -- RENNER: Being there -- BALE: Very much, I look forward as well, I look -- RENNER: Hey, look -- BALE: Forward as well -- RENNER: Understand, I`ll deal with you directly, no middlemen in here, no -- I`ll deal with you directly -- BALE: That`s right, you owe me -- RENNER: I like you, and I -- we can do business together -- BALE: That`s right -- RENNER: That`s fine. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: That was David O. Russell`s brilliant take on the New Jersey way in his Oscar-nominated film "American Hustle". New Jersey way of politics is all too often involved grease, bribery. "American Hustle" was inspired by the Abscam scandal of 1980 in which New Jersey Senator Harrison Williams was convicted of bribery and served three years in federal prison. Tonight, the current holder of the Senate seat once occupied by Harrison Williams has now been indicted on multiple counts of bribery. Dr. Salomon Melgen paid $500 for his firsthand shake with Senator Bob Menendez in 1993. They met at a fundraiser for Bob Menendez in Florida. Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, they both find themselves charged by the Justice Department with using "Menendez`s official position as the United States senator to benefit and enrich themselves through bribery." The Justice Department says Salomon Melgen gave Senator Menendez lavish gifts including private jet flights, vacations, a Paris hotel suite and contributions to the Senators legal defense fund. Earlier today, Senator Menendez relinquished his position as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then made this announcement in New Jersey tonight. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MENENDEZ: I`m angry because prosecutors at the Justice Department don`t know the difference between friendship and corruption, and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator and my friendship into something that isn`t proper. They are dead wrong and I am confident that they will be proven so. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: Joining me now, the chief political correspondent for NJ TV News, Michael Aron, who attended that press conference tonight. Now, Michael, I know some New Jersey political writer, this is a huge stretch for you to have to talk about political corruption. MICHAEL ARON, NJ TV NEWS CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. O`DONNELL: This is so rare. But you know, let me tell you something about New Jersey. The finest, most honorable and wisest senator I ever worked with outside of the Senate, one I was looking for, was Bill Bradley of New Jersey. And sadly, when you think about New Jersey politics, you don`t think about the Rhodes scholar Bill Bradley, who served so honorably and well. You think about Harrison Williams, Bob Torricelli, another Democratic senator from New Jersey who had to leave in scandal. And now this. This has been an investigation that`s been going on for years, isn`t it? ARON: Well, this one for about three years, and it`s interesting. Harrison Williams` nickname was Pete Williams, and this all began with an anonymous tip from somebody who called himself Pete Williams and who alleged that Menendez, down into the Dominican Republic with Dr. Melgen, slept with an underage prostitute. That was later shown to be bogus. But it set off this inquiry into the relationship between Melgen and Menendez that brings us to this point. O`DONNELL: And there was a separate inquiry on the doctor himself. The FBI looking at his records, over an $8 million building dispute through the doctor`s offices through Medicare. NICHOLAS KRISTOF, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Can I just rise to the defense of New Jersey politicians? (LAUGHTER) KRISTOF: Look, I don`t think that New Jersey politicians are anymore crooked than anybody else. I think they aren`t as careful. I mean, I think they haven`t run things by lawyers because the basic problem here is that Menendez was taking cash in exchange for political favors. I mean, that`s the American political system. O`DONNELL: You mean contribute -- actually contributions, which is what this is. This indictment does not say, here`s the bag of cash. KRISTOF: Absolutely. O`DONNELL: It says, as Nick says, these were contributions to the political campaign. KRISTOF: And clearly there`s kind of a quid pro quo here. O`DONNELL: Yes. KRISTOF: Which is improper but -- O`DONNELL: Yes. KRISTOF: I mean, American business donated $2.5 billion. ARON: It`s not -- it`s not clear that it was a quid pro quo. Menendez says it was friendship and prosecutors are going to have to prove if it`s right or wrong. KRISTOF: But that`s the allegation here. But in a larger sense, I mean, American business donated $2.5 billion in the last presidential cycle to candidates. And I think what was it for? Of course that was for some expectation about political benefit. And so it is a little -- I mean, I think while we try to prosecute individual politicians for corruption, let`s also try to cure the system itself of fundamental engrained political corruption, if you will. ARON: Can I make one more point? O`DONNELL: Sure. ARON: We all in New Jersey are a little bit surprised about this because we thought Bob Menendez is a careful politician. He came up in our most colorful colorful-slash-corrupt county, Hudson County. And he`s been on the clean side of the street all his career. He was investigated once in 2006 by then U.S. attorney Chris Christie. It was always this kind of small-time case. It went nowhere, he got a letter of exoneration three years later. I`m surprised that he hasn`t been more careful in his friendship with Dr. Melgen. O`DONNELL: Yes. I mean, this is all recent, fairly recent activity. This is 2010. This is -- at a point where you`d think if he wasn`t careful earlier in his career, he wouldn`t be careful then. And there`s an interesting thing in this indictment. It does not specify this amount of money got this result. Each one of the bribery counts says that the money was given, quote, and according to the indictment`s language, "in order to influence Menendez`s official acts as opportunities arose." That`s what every political contribution is about. (LAUGHTER) KRISTOF: Right. O`DONNELL: From players like this. RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC.COM EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Right. The challenge here, and it`s clear from the legal papers is that the prosecutors are going for the salaciousness. Right? So there`s a tarnishing of the senator`s character, which is inevitable when you start talking about model girlfriends and people lobbying for individual visas, senators lobbying for individual visas. Clearly it`s tabloid headlines. But prosecutors know what they`re doing here. But Nick is quite right. Proving the quid pro quo, the intent on both sides of this transaction, if there was in fact a transaction, that`s extremely high bar for prosecutors to cross. This is being tried right now in the court of public opinion. And anyone faced with that in public office just like Aron Schock with that decorations that you`re going to find it a tough line to defend. KRISTOF: I think it`s great to have this scrutiny on individual politicians. I just think we also need the scrutiny over the system. WOLFFE: Absolutely. Yes. ARON: If the system is corrupt, up one side and down the other, why is this the only senator who`s taking the fall? O`DONNELL: You know, it`s like -- it`s like speed traps on the highway. It`s one of those things. It`s like, no, they don`t catch every speeder on the highway. But this is, I mean, you read it, an indictment of the system because the practices are so common. But the defense turns on friendship, the trouble is that you and you and the rest of us get to choose who our friends are. Senators don`t. There`s actually a legal definition in the Senate ethics rules about who a friend is, and it`s not someone you meet at a fundraiser. It has to be someone you met long before you were a senator. And so his defense of friendship is going to turn on the Senate definition which doesn`t work for him. ARON: I`m told that there`s also some kind of immunity that senators have surrounding their official acts, the speech and debate clause. O`DONNELL: Yes. That`s a Marvel Menendez interpretation of it. Yes. ARON: I don`t know it that well. O`DONNELL: It tends -- it protects what you say on the Senate floor. It doesn`t protect what you say when you call up a department and say hey, I need a visa for the girlfriend of my campaign contributor. ARON: Right. O`DONNELL: That`s a whole other game. We`re going to have to break this one here. Michael Aron, thanks very much for joining us again. ARON: Thanks, Lawrence. O`DONNELL: And let`s just all remember Bill Bradley and what a great job he did. (CROSSTALK) O`DONNELL: Let`s end our New Jersey segment thinking about Bill Bradley. Thanks very much. We`re going to be back. Secretary John Kerry is negotiating right now in Switzerland, working on a deal with Iran. We`ll be back on that. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, our approach to these conversations hasn`t changed, which is that, as long as we are in a position of convening serious talks that are making progress, that we would not arbitrarily or abruptly end them. But if we are in a situation where we sense that the talks have stalled, then yes, the United States and the international community is prepared to walk away. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: It`s just after 4:30 a.m. local time in Switzerland, and Secretary of State John Kerry is still in negotiations trying to reach a political framework for an agreement to contain Iran`s nuclear program. Among the issues in dispute is an agreement on what -- what any statement announcing a framework would include. The United States wants detailed commitments in writing to help the Obama administration make the case for the deal to Congress and the American people. As to the agreement itself, one major unresolved issue is the timeline to lift sanctions against Iran. Iran wants the financial and oil sanctions lifted immediately. The United States wants them phased out, contingent on Iran, keeping its commitments as well as mechanisms to re-impose sanctions should Iran fail to do as agreed. Earlier, the Iranian Foreign minister offered his assessment of the negotiations. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We`ve been trying for the past several days to make progress. We hope that the political will by all parties exists in order to move forward. There are obviously problems that have prevented us from reaching the first stage of finding the solution. And I certainly hope that our colleagues will recognize the fact that this is a unique opportunity that will not be repeated and they need to take advantage of this opportunity. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: So we`re joined now by Steve Clemons, the Washington editor-at- large for "The Atlantic." Steve, what is your assessment of where we stand now? STEVE CLEMONS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: We`re really close. We have two issues left. One, as you just mentioned, the sequence by which sanctions would be removed with good behavior from Iran, and secondly, a debate over Iran`s modernization program of being able to modernize and enhance the power of centrifuges. Those are solvable in some way, but really it`s the first that`s the most important because Iran doesn`t want to come out of this deal saying we just negotiated away something that`s very important to the Iranian people, and we can discuss why that is, but we still have a boot at our neck. And the rest of the world wants to keep the boot at Iran`s neck to ensure good behavior. So this falls into that complicated political area of Iran being -- feeling as if it`s been humiliated and treated very badly by the West, and I think our side not trusting Iran to behave if those sanctions aren`t there. So it`s very big issue, but ultimately it`s a political one that`s solvable. O`DONNELL: Nina, you know the region much better than I do, as does everyone here. So your take on where we are. NINA BURLEIGH, NEWSWEEK: Well, obviously I`m not in Switzerland and I`m not up to speed on exactly what`s going on behind those closed doors. So very broadly, I can say that America is so often wrong historically. Has been so often wrong on the Middle East. OK. Let`s start -- let`s start there. In 1953, the United States engineered a coup crushing the moment of democracy in Iran. There have been other examples of that, of American behavior in the Middle East like that, and god speed to Kerry and these people who are working with the Iranians now. The Iranians have good reason not to distrust -- sorry, to distrust the United States. And, you know, we have to talk to them. I mean, they are relatively stable. They relatively democratic country in the Middle East. They`re not Saudi Arabia. O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu had to say today about the negotiations. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Iran must stop its aggression in the region, stop its terrorism throughout the world, and stop its threats to annihilate Israel. That should be nonnegotiable, and that`s the deal that the world powers must insist upon. (END VIDEO CLIP) O`DONNELL: Nick Kristof, your reaction? KRISTOF: I mean, look, there are a lot of things that should be in the deal that ideally would be in the deal. They`re not going to be in the deal. There`s only so much that we can get. And I think that, you know, from my point of view, we essentially have three options. One is negotiation to reach a deal. The other is a military strike, and the other is we continue with the sanctions regime and then kind of go on. And those two ways, if we just continue with sanctions or if we have military strike, Iran will have a nuclear weapon within a decade. If there is a deal, it may not. You know, it`s not going to be a good deal, it`s going to be an ugly deal. But it probably presents the best chance to avoid nuclear Iran within the next decade. But it`s going to be hard to sell here. It`ll be hard to sell in Iran. Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, I was once arrested in Tehran. And as far as I can tell, the reason was because Zarif had given me the visa and hardliners wanted to embarrass him by finding something bad about me. So he`s got a lot of people gunning to destroy his own negotiations, too. O`DONNELL: Richard Wolffe, it seems the no-deal crowd maintains that if there is no deal and then if you strengthen the sanctions, make them even tougher, Iran will come begging for a deal. WOLFFE: Well, I think the no-deal crowd on both sides is stronger than the negotiators right there in Switzerland. And that`s why even if they perform the heroic effort and succeed in closing the gap here, there`s going to be so much wiggle room and so much political opposition from both sides that it will fall apart in short order. O`DONNELL: But -- WOLFFE: So I think this is very tenuous. There may be some face saving paper agreement that they get out so they can leave Switzerland. But it`s not going to hold and it`s not going to hold sanctions in place is the most likely scenario from the people around America here in terms of our supporters. I`m pessimistic about this. Even if they can get the negotiation through, and I think blowing through this deadline is a very bad sign indeed. (CROSSTALK) O`DONNELL: Steve Clemons, go ahead. CLEMONS: Yes, what I need is to respond to Richard because he`s made an important point and it`s probably true. But the sanctions, no-deal crowd needs to know the day this doesn`t go forward, that sanctions regime globally falls apart. India, Russia, China, probably a chunk of European countries begin to give a backdoor to Iran. That the way in which Barack Obama has somewhat brilliantly carved together a moment when all nations in the world are together, the notion that that is going to hold beyond this time is crazy. It will not hold. And so we will become less relevant to the direction Iran takes in the future because that sanctions regime is an illusion down the road. KRISTOF: It unravels also partly because it`s kind of meddling, of course. O`DONNELL: Yes. WOLFFE: That`s right. O`DONNELL: That`s going to have to be the LAST WORD tonight. Richard Wolffe, Nina Burleigh, Steve Clemons, and Nick Kristof, thank you all very much for joining me tonight. Coming up, a judge has dropped most of the charges against Floyd Dent after he was beaten during a traffic stop. He was in court again today on that one charge that remains. He took a lie detector test on that charge. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) O`DONNELL: Nearly a dozen former teachers and administrators were convicted today in Atlanta in a cheating scandal involving 44 of Atlanta`s 56 public schools to make sure students passed federally mandated standardized tests. The teachers gave the students the answers, in many cases, students who needed extra help were overlooked because their test scores indicated they didn`t need any help. NBC`s chief education correspondent Rehema Ellis has the story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) REHEMA ELLIS, NBC NEWS CHIEF EDUCATION CORRESPONDENT: It was a stunning verdict. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We the jury found the defendant guilty. ELLIS: Former educators found guilty of racketeering, in an unprecedented case of teachers and administrators charged with fixing test scores and changing answers on standardized tests. PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We`ve been fighting for the children in our community, particularly those children who were deprived by this student scandal. ELLIS: A major victory for the prosecution. Eleven of the 12 defendants convicted on charges typically reserved for monsters and organized crime. GERALD RIGGS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This is the most appalling decision I`ve ever seen. I don`t see how you send educators to prison. ELLIS: The verdict came after months of testimony from more than 150 witnesses, students, teachers, and parents about widespread manipulation of test scores, while some teachers received bonuses to improve test results throughout the district. This 16-year-old, not shown because she`s a minor, testified that a teacher instructed her to change her answers. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They would tell us to erase and put their answer. ELLIS: One former teacher described a so-called cheating party at her home. UNIDENTIFIED FORMER TEACHER: We were changing answers on test documents. I erased and rewrote. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And is that what each of your colleague was doing? UNIDENTIFIED FORMER TEACHER: Yes. ELLIS: The alleged ringleader, former superintendent Beverly Hall was never tried. She died of breast cancer last month and always maintained her innocence. BEVERLY HALL, FORMER SUPERINTENDENT: I`d like to leave it at that. ELLIS: Sentencing is scheduled within the next two weeks. The convicted face up to 20 years in prison. JUDGE JERRY BAXTER: I made myself plain. ELLIS: Late this afternoon, Judge Jerry Baxter denied the request for bail. BAXTER: I have sit here for six months and listened to this whole thing. They have made their bed and they`re going to have to lie in it, and it starts today. (END VIDEOTAPE) O`DONNELL: That was NBC`s Rehema Ellis reporting. Coming up, the man beaten during a traffic stop in Michigan had all the charges against him dropped except one charge of cocaine possession. And now he`s taken a lie detector test about that charge. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) O`DONNELL: Kevin Dietz is going to join me next. He is the reporter who brought national attention to the case of Floyd Dent, who was beaten during a traffic stop and says police planted cocaine on him. Floyd Dent has taken a lie detector test about the cocaine. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) O`DONNELL: In Michigan today, Floyd Dent pleaded not guilty to a drug charge in court. A dash cam video showed what happened in Inkster, Michigan, when Floyd Dent was pulled over by police for running a stop sign, they said. Mr. Dent was placed in a chokehold and punched in the head 16 times during that arrest. Floyd Dent and his attorney say one officer, known locally as robo cop, planted drugs in Mr. Dent`s car at the time of his arrest. Police officers have testified that they pulled Mr. Dent from his car when he opened his door because he yelled at the officers that he was going to kill them. Local and state police are investigating the incident. The officers involved have been reassigned to administrative duties. For more on Floyd Dent`s court appearance today, we again turn to WDIV investigative reporter Kevin Dietz. Kevin, what happened in court today? KEVIN DIETZ, WDIV INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, Floyd Dent was charged today with possession of cocaine charges, but it was interesting because the prosecutor also asked for two weeks to reconsider the charges. They want to take a look at these polygraph tests you just referred to, to see if maybe these charges should be dropped. Floyd Dent, of course, says those drugs were planted and says that he never threatened the police officers. And in these kinds of cases most of the time people believe the police, so he decided to take a lie detector test and he passed on both questions. He passed that he did not threaten police officers. And when asked if the drugs were his or if he had drugs in the car, he said no, and again the examiner said he passed on that issue, as well. O`DONNELL: Yes, his lawyer has been very confident about all of this right from the start, and it is very unusual for criminal defense lawyers to give their -- subject their clients to any kind of polygraph test like this. What was the court`s reaction, the judge`s reaction to the polygraph test? DIETZ: Well, the judge decided to bring everyone in behind chambers today. Judge David Groner, and they had discussions back there about what`s likely to happen. And the indication seemed to be that they very well may throw these charges out if prosecutors are happy with the examiner who gave the polygraph to Floyd Dent. What`s interesting is the lawyer decided to take Floyd Dent to an examiner that the police actually use, the state, local, and even federal law enforcement used this particular examiner when they want to have suspects tested. So this attorney, Greg Rohl, he decided to go to one of their own examiners and he passed quite easily. O`DONNELL: And Kevin, what about the dash cam video? You showed us on that video, there`s a piece of it where it looks like it may be that the officer has some little envelope that might be the cocaine in his hand, but coming out of his pocket. That`s what`s alleged any way by the defense attorney in the case. How is the -- how is that piece of the video affecting these proceedings now, if it is? DIETZ: Well, it`s certainly interesting. And it`s something they want to consider. But because you see that plastic baggy come out of the officer`s pocket but you never see the officer put it into the car. So there may not be any real video evidence of cocaine being planted in Mr. Dent`s car. It may go more to reasonable doubt as to whether or not Mr. Dent ever had any cocaine himself actually. END