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UP, Transcript 1/10/2016

Guests: Mike Pesca, Basil Smikle Jr, Amy Holmes

Show: UP with STEVE KORNACKI Date: January 10, 2016 Guest: Mike Pesca, Basil Smikle Jr, Amy Holmes


[09:00:00] AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Sean Penn`s secret interview with El Chapo.

Good morning, everyone. I`m Ayman Mohyeldin. Thanks for getting with us this Sunday morning. Many people are waking up to the stunning news that actor Sean Penn interviewed one of the world`s most notorious drug lords while that drug lord was still on the run. Did the secret meeting help authorities capture El Chapo? Those details in just a little bit.

Also, this hour, three weeks before the voting starts, who wins Iowa or New Hampshire is still anyone`s guess. Will it be Trump or Cruz in Iowa? We`ll take a look at the brand new polling numbers that show just how tight this contest is, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders neck and neck on the Democratic side.

Plus, many have then died flying for their country. So why are the female pilots of World War II banned from burial at Arlington Cemetery? Our special interview is coming up.

And if tomorrow were the day you weren`t going to show up for work because you thought maybe that you`re going to win the Powerball jackpot? Well, the good news is you have a chance at $1 billion on Wednesday. But we begin this morning with brand new polling information from NBC News, the "Wall Street Journal" and Marist.

Remember, we`re only three weeks away from the Iowa caucuses on February 1st. And in the Hawkeye State, Ted Cruz is maintaining his lead at 28 percent, but that`s only four points ahead of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, fighting to round out the top three. Jeb bush is out of the top five with just 4 percent, trailing Rand Paul.

Lots of establishment Republicans it seems are stuck in the single digits. But that`s a poll of likely voters. If you poll the potential Republican electorate at large in Iowa, the numbers change a little bit and Donald Trump then leads Cruz with 26 percent, meaning if Trump is able to mobilize new voters, it could go a long way to helping him win in Iowa.

In New Hampshire, Trump is far ahead of his nearest challengers, more than double Marco Rubio and Chris Christie who are battling for second place. And Jeb Bush is still in the single digits in that state as well, tied with Ohio`s John Kasich.

Donald Trump telling NBC`s Chuck Todd this week that even if he loses Iowa, he`s, quote, "Going all the way."

Take a listen.


CHUCK TODD, NBC HOST: You know there`s this running conventional wisdom about you with some in the establishment that now say, OK, he`s here to stay, but if he doesn`t win Iowa, he`ll leave, he`ll leave the race.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I`m not leaving. No, I`m not leaving. You and I had this discussion about two months ago where you said would you leave. I was in number one. I`ve been number one just about since I joined up, right? June 16th. Amazing. We had a lot of fun.

But you ask me that question and I started talking about well, maybe here, maybe there if this happened.

TODD: There are no maybes anymore.

TRUMP: There`s no maybes. There`s no maybes. I`m not leaving.

TODD: You`re going straight to the convention.

TRUMP: All the way.


MOHYELDIN: The numbers for the Democratic side are just as interesting. We`re going to get to that later on in the show. But we want to start with the Republican side for a bit.

Joining us now is our panel for the show: NPR contributor and host of Slate`s podcast "The Gist," Mike Pesca; Executive director of New York State Democratic Party, Basil Smikle Jr., and anchor for "The Blaze," Amy Holmes.

Thank you so much for getting up this Sunday morning for us.

So let`s talk a little bit --


AMY HOLMES, ANCHOR, THE BLAZE: Oh, they`re not rich yet.

MOHYELDIN: Not yet. Wednesday, Thursday morning, we`re going to check in with you. That`s if you even answer our calls Thursday morning.

But let`s start with Donald Trump and what he`s been doing in particular in Iowa against Ted Cruz. You know, really going after him about this birther issue and whether or not he`s even eligible to become president.

I want to play you this sound bite and we`ll get some reactions. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Because some people say I have to be born on the land, OK. You have to be born on the land. That`s what I always thought before. You can`t have a person running for office, even though Ted is very good, that he goes out and he says, well, I`m a natural born citizen. The point is, you`re not.


HOLMES: You`re not.

MOHYELDIN: Do you think that this is helping Donald Trump in Iowa. Is this resonating with voters?

HOLMES: I don`t think it`s resonating with voters necessarily, but it is getting Donald Trump out front talking about him as usual. If anything, I think Ted Cruz should feel flattered that he`s in Donald Trump`s crosshairs because it means that Ted Cruz matters, that Donald Trump is scared of him and Donald Trump sees the number still.

BASIL SMIKLE, JR., EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NYC DEMOCRATIC PARTY: I absolutely agree. Donald Trump is great at getting media attention. It drives daily conversation, but the reality is even though he`s doing well relative to the other candidates, I think in the intro, the key word is mobilized.

I don`t know if he can actually do that. Most of Donald Trump`s supporters are people that don`t vote regularly. So I think for a lot of Republicans whether it`s Iowa or New Hampshire, Ted Cruz might actually be the compromise candidate.

MIKE PESCA, SLATE: Can we also just go back a second and say Donald Trump is wrong? Sometimes we don`t even think it`s necessary to say that. Oh, yes, that`s right, he`s totally wrong. But, you know, George Romney was born in Mexico and as you know John McCain was born in the Panama Canal zone.


[09:05:04] PESCA: But Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona before. It`s never -- it`s always been fine before. There won`t be an issue now. I think he`s trying to appeal to the sort of voters who might want to look at --


MOHYELDIN: So why would John McCain, who has also been somebody who is questioned, whether or not Ted Cruz is running. It`s fair to say, OK, Donald Trump to say something wrong, but it doesn`t seem that everybody is convinced of this argument. Do you think that`s --


HOLMES: No, no, no. I think in John McCain`s case that he has a longstanding, you know, sort of animosity toward Ted Cruz.

MOHYELDIN: Right. So it`s politically motivated.

PESCA: Yes, he`s not.

MOHYELDIN: But not legally based?


SMIKLE: So let Cruz candidacy just for wisdom.

MOHYELDIN: Let`s talk a little bit of Marco Rubio. Obviously, if he is going to -- If he wants to win New Hampshire, he`s got to beat Chris Christie. Take a listen to what he said about this really quickly.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R-NJ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You want someone on that stage against Hillary Clinton who had been through the worst, not somebody who`s a first-term United States senator who has never had a tough race in his life. This guy has been spoon-fed every victory he`s ever had in his life. Is that the kind of person that we want to put on the stage against Hillary Clinton? I don`t think so. She`ll pat him on the head and then cut his heart out.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R-FL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Chris has a very liberal record for a Republican. I mean, he supported Common Core. He ran for office as a supporter of gun control. He personally gave a contribution to Planned Parenthood so I`m sure he doesn`t really want to have a conversation about the issues.


MOHYELDIN: So how do you see this playing out? It`s getting nasty between these two so-called establishment candidates in New Hampshire. Everybody saying it`s going to come down to the establishment candidates if they want to make a run.

MOHYELDIN: Well, it looks like it is getting nasty and Chris Christie is doing very well in New Hampshire. And you could see that he`s attacking Marco Rubio over the issue of experience. And Chris Christie, obviously, as an executive governor of New Jersey, I think that is the right ground for Chris Christie to be attacking Marco Rubio because Marco Rubio is right when it comes to Chris Christie`s record for conservative voters.

And a lot of conservative voters are still -- you know, they still flinch when they see that picture of Chris Christie hugging Barack Obama.

PESCA: But of all the senators running, Marco Rubio sponsored more legislation with Democrats. And Chris Christie has executive experience, but he`s extremely unpopular. So he`s experienced but he hasn`t done well. Maybe they are great talking points, but there are flaws in all of them.

SMIKLE: Yes. One of the things that I always thought is that Marco -- that Rubio could be the Bill Clinton of the Republicans. Bill Clinton `92 of the Republican Party.

Bringing more people in, sort of inject the youthfulness into the race. He hasn`t really done that. He`s attacking, too, right a bit now. Well, what`s interesting is that this is a race where governors really aren`t on the platform in an interesting way. The voters are looking at legislators, I guess, because they think that through Washington is where they`re going to make their rules.


HOLMES: (INAUDIBLE), and I`m not sure being Bill Clinton in `92 is a great idea, considering Bill Clinton only won because there was a third candidate in the race.

MOHYELDIN: All right, guys, you`re with us all hour. We`ve got a lot more to talk about. We`ll get to the Democratic side. We`ll get to El Chapo`s arrest so stay with us.

Before voters in Iowa, New Hampshire choose who they want to be our next president, though President Obama will deliver his final state of the union address this Tuesday night.

The White House says this year`s address will focus more on the president`s legacy than his legislative agenda for the upcoming year. A legacy that now includes executive actions on gun control, which he laid out only days ago. President Obama, though, planning to leave an empty seat in the House gallery to symbolize the victims of gun violence.

Joining us now to discuss Tuesday night`s address is David Kusnet, who was President Clinton`s chief speechwriter from 1992 until 1994. He`s now with the Podesta Group and is joining us this morning.

Sir, thank you very much for having us, for joining us -- with us, I apologize.

How important is this state of the union address anymore? I mean, do you think that it`s lost some of its relevancy?

DAVID KUSNET, PODESTA GROUP: I think it`s still very relevant. It gives the president their best opportunity to be presidential. The president is speaking in the nation`s capitol before all three branches of government, both houses in Congress, the members of the Supreme Court, the members of his cabinet. And most important, he`s talking to the country. And I think that`s what President Obama is going to do on Tuesday night, speak directly to the American people.

MOHYELDIN: And when it`s your final speech, your last year in office, a lot of sides are expecting you to say a lot of things. What are the Democrats you think hoping to get out of President Obama`s speech for this year that could have an impact on them going forward?

KUSNET: Well, I think by telling his own story and the country`s story, he also tells the story of what governance by his party has accomplished for this country.

I think that the president may take a leave from President Reagan. President Reagan used to say after several years in office that he had brought America back and I think President Obama may also say that America has come back.

I think he`s going to begin by referring back to the condition of the country when he took office, the terrible economic crisis that we were in. I think he`s going to talk about jobs created, about business starts, about the rescue of the auto industry, as he did in his radio address yesterday. And then I think he`s going to take the country forward both in the short term and the long-term.

[09:10:03] I think he`s going to talk about his agenda for the year ahead. And then he`s going to talk about America`s agenda for the many years to come. And I think he`s going to do what he does very well, which is situate the last seven years and the coming years in terms of America`s journey towards an even better more inclusive society than we have been.

MOHYELDIN: Do you envision that, because it`s his last year. He`s not running in any more races. You know, it`s going to be an uphill battle for him legislatively this year?

Do you think that the gloves may come off in the tone of the speech, that you may hear something that you haven`t heard in the past seven years in terms of how aggressive he is on some issues?

KUSNET: Well, I think it`s going to be a very presidential speech. I think in a funny way the most effectively partisan a president can be is by being non-partisan.

I think what they tend to do, keeping in mind that this is not just a speech but a visual event is say things that they know the American people agree with, and then the American people will see whether the members of the opposition party in Congress stand up and cheer or whether they sit on their hands.

So the best thing that he can do is speak, not only speak to the country but for the country and implicitly challenge the members of both parties to agree with him.

MOHYELDIN: All right, David Kusnet, former chief speechwriter for President Clinton, thank you sir for joining us this morning.

And a reminder that you can watch Tuesday night`s "State of the Union Address" right here on MSNBC. Our special coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Turning now to the incredibly long odds of waking up an instant millionaire. Unfortunately, Amy did not do that.

If you`re nursing some disappointment about not winning the Powerball this morning, well, at least you`re not alone. There wasn`t a single winning ticket which means that jackpot rolls over to Wednesday`s drawing and it will be worth at least $1.3 billion. That number could go up between now and Wednesday.

NBC`s Kerry Sanders is live in Hallandale, Florida, for us who is also one of the non-winner this morning.

Right, Kerry?

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: We still got a chance, Ayman? Nobody won.

MOHYELDIN: I`m sending you my bets.

SANDERS: Look how much money we`re talking about. It doesn`t even fit on the billboard, you know, $1.3 billion. So it`s been sort of an insane last couple of days of people buying tickets and I can`t imagine where it`s going to go.

I mean, you can buy this ticket in 44 states. They`ve been breaking records by the number of tickets being sold every second. We`re now into another day. The poll is not until Wednesday evening at 10:59 Eastern Time.

I was trying to do a calculation here. And so if you win this absurd amount of $1.3 billion and you`re a sole winner, you get $806 million as a cash payout. If you decided, hey, I`m going to take that in dollar bills and just stuff it under my mattress, your mattress would be 17,000 feet up in the air. That`s how much money we`re talking about.

Or to give you one more sort of calculation, if you said to your daughter or your son, and you said, I want you to start counting to $1.3 billion, one, two, three, and they counted each number for a second, it would take more than 41 years before they reached $1.3 billion so an insane amount of money. Obviously, it`s a world record. Nobody`s ever seen anything like this before.

MOHYELDIN: I can`t even imagine the frenzy that`s going to grip this country for the next 72 hours or so.

Kerry sanders, make sure you get your numbers. I`m sure you`re going to be playing it. You do have to come back and report on it for us, though, Thursday morning.

SANDERS: Good deal.

MOHYELDIN: NBC`s Kerry Sanders in Florida for us, thank you very much.

Up next, what Joaquin El Chapo Guzman told actor Sean Penn in the interview that has really caught everyone by surprise. Stay with us.


MOHYELDIN: All right. Just when you think the story of El Chapo`s recapture couldn`t get any stranger, it has. Overnight, the stunning news that the Mexican drug lord is speaking out in just a released "Rolling Stone" interview conducted by Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn.

NBC`s Gabe Gutierrez is live outside Mexico City where El Chapo is being held.

Gabe, thanks for joining us.

GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Ayman, good morning. You`re exactly right. As if this could not get any strangers, this is believed to be El Chapo`s first public interview in decades. Sean Penn now claims that he spoke with Joaquin Guzman several months ago.


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): The stunning interview with the world`s most wanted drug lord posted online overnight by "Rolling Stone" magazine.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman responding to questions submitted by Sean Penn and Mexican soap opera star Kate del Castillo. After the actor say they secretly met with the drug kingpin following his daring escape from a maximum security prison last July.

Guzman admitting that drugs destroy, but saying that unfortunately, where he grew up there was no other way to survive.

Asked if he`s prone to violence, El Chapo says all he does is defend himself. Nothing more.

The videos were taken by his associates after an hour`s long face-to-face meeting with Penn and Del Castillo, atop a mountain at an undisclosed location in Mexico. Penn says this photo was taken to authenticate that meeting.

I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world El Chapo has quoted as telling Penn. Meantime, a trusted source tells "NBC News" that authorities were aware Penn and Del Castillo were in Mexico to meet with Guzman. That raised concerns because authorities were in the process then of trying to locate and capture El Chapo. So a plan to arrest him was delayed to ensure the two would not be harmed.

(on-camera) When the October raid took place, El Chapo and his security team are believed to have escaped having been alerted by local residents. We`re told authorities now believe that delay may have cost them the element of surprise. We reached out to Sean Penn, but he was unavailable for comment.

It wasn`t until Friday morning that the Mexican Navy captured El Chapo following a bloody shoot-out in his home state of Sinaloa. This is the first look inside the drainage tunnel where Guzman tried to make his last ditch effort to escape. Mexican officials are moving toward extraditing Guzman to face drug charges in the U.S. though the process could take months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: El Chapo Guzman is going to be fighting extradition with every resource that he possibly has.


GUTIERREZ: As for the "Rolling Stone" piece written by Sean Penn, it was agreed that it would be submitted to the subject before publication for approval. "Rolling Stone" says that the subject, in this case, El Chapo, made no changes.


[09:20:00] MOHYELDIN: All right, NBC`S Gabe Gutierrez outside of Mexico`s City. Fascinating report there. Thank you very for that.

I want to discuss this with our panel.

So, obviously, I mean, this is an incredible story. "Rolling Stone" said that they were going to publish this interview regardless of whether or not El Chapo was captured.

It`s almost coincidental that he was just captured the same week that this article was coming out.

What do you think the reaction would have been in the public had this interview come out and he was still on the run?

PESCA: I mean, it would have been how can you -- how can Sean Penn get to El Chapo and not the authorities? And I read the interview, I think maybe Sean Penn captured his subject more than the Mexicans did the first two times, but there is still not only the construction of the interview, the actual way it`s written is pretty risible.

I mean, this is a terrible guy, obviously, though he is, you know, a by- product of the entire system in the war on drugs. But there`s just something so markable about everything about him and Sean Penn was the guy to crack the case. I can`t believe it.

SMIKLE: I don`t know what good can be gleaned from doing this kind of story. I love Sean Penn. I love Sean Penn, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Great movie. I love Sean Penn. I really do love Sean Penn.


HOLMES: I think drugs were featured in that.

SMIKLE: But, you know, what he`s done in Haiti, what he`s doing in New Orleans, I think that`s great. But I don`t know why this particular interview needed to happen right then and there when you have the authorities bearing down on him.

MOHYELDIN: Do you think that it was El Chapo`s ego that led to his downfall? Authorities say that they were tracking him and that Sean Penn`s movements and the suspicious activity around them led authorities to El Chapo.

HOLMES: It sure sounds like it that for his 15 minutes of fame, he`s going to get a life in prison if he doesn`t escape. I`m no fan of Sean Penn`s politics. This is the same person who said that Hugo Chavez was a "model Democrat" and that any journalist who called him a dictator should go to jail.

So it`s no surprise that Sean Penn didn`t use journalistic ethics and standards when it came to interviewing El Chapo. I haven`t read the interview. Oftentimes, actually, softball interviews can glean a lot of new information, because that person feels so comfortable. I`m not sure if that was, you know, achieved in this case, but you know, to give Sean Penn a little bit of credit, let`s face it, guys, it takes a lot of courage to go up into the mountains and sit across from a vicious drug dealer and conduct an interview.

MOHYELDIN: So let`s talk about that issue about the journalism aspect of this a little bit.

PESCA: Sure.

MOHYELDIN: One is, do you think that journalistically speaking, I don`t know if you had a chance to read the piece, but journalistically speaking, was there any journalistic value in that interview?

PESCA: Yes. I disagree a little bit. I think that it shows moxie and most journalists would not break rules or ethics, and I don`t know that Penn did it. I mean, to get the interview is a coups, it`s a get.

HOLMES: Absolutely.

PESCA: And the things just to hear El Chapo in his own words talking about his life story is interesting. You know, there`s a value to that. And journalists needn`t work with the authorities. It doesn`t matter who it is.

You know, journalists interviewed Osama Bin Laden, right? So I think if there is some value to it, I think it`s more mockable than anyone behaved unethically. I think that the actual language that it`s written is so overwrought, like a really bad screen play. So that`s the thing that made me laugh the most, not the facts of what he reported, but the fact that --

HOLMES: So you`re saying that Sean Penn is a bad writer.

PESCA: Sean Penn is a bad writer, but you know, his dad was a great journalist, actually, and he had this in his blood. And he, obviously -- think about the roles he plays. He`s attracted to complicated, interesting figures. So there`s a lot of, you can understand why he`d be compelled to do it. You could also understand why El Chapo would talk back.

MOHYELDIN: And at least reach out and try to bring him into Mexico for that interview. All right, stay with us. We got a lot more to discuss particularly in politics.

Still ahead, starving in Syria. The Assad regime using famine as a weapon of war against his own people. Now relief is on the way for those suffering in at least one war-torn city. Stay with us.


[09:26:52] MOHYELDIN: This morning, a humanitarian aid convoy is due to reach the besieged Syrian town of Madaya. The shipment of much-needed food and medical supplies has been delayed and it`s hoped it will provide some relief for tens of thousands of people, many of them children, who are literally starving to death.

We warn you that some of these images are difficult to watch.

NBC`s Kelly Cobiella has our story.


KELLY COBIELLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the town of Madaya, it`s come to this, salt for a meal. A boy begging for food.

"I`m sorry to ask, he says, but i haven`t eaten in three days." And babies slowly starving to death. 7-month-old Hara is living on salt and water with milk every ten days. These pictures and video taken by medical workers who live in the village. Hundreds here are suffering from malnutrition, many are on death`s door.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have seen 23 of our patients, children and adults, die of acute malnutrition. Our doctors are feeding the children medical syrups, just desperate attempt to get some sugar into them.

COBIELLA: Madaya on the outskirts of Damascus has been surrounded by government troops for months. No one getting out. No food getting in.

In Northern Syria, opposition fighters are doing the same to two pro- government villages. Innocent civilians caught in the middle.

Human rights groups say a quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria`s five-year civil war, and now entire towns are being starved to death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be anything from 100,000, maybe up to 200,000 people across the country.

COBIELLA: Some hope, a final deal to allow aid convoys to Madaya and the two towns in the north.

(on-camera) Are you confident you now have safe passage to go to Madaya and these other towns?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re cautiously optimistic that we are expecting as early as Monday to get into all of these besieged areas.

COBIELLA: But deals have been made and broken before. For some, it`s already too late. "Every day they say help is coming," this man says "and it never does."

Kelly Cobiella, NBC News, London.


MOHYELDIN: We`re joined now by Bill Frelick, director of the refugee program at Human Rights Watch.

Thank you very much for joining us this Sunday morning.

Let`s talk a little bit about the plight of these people. This story really exploded on the international stage within the last week or so, but how did the plight of these people escape the world`s attention for so long?

BILL FRELICK, DIRECTOR OF THE REFUGEES PROGRAM, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Well, it`s actually been known to the U.N. security council. There have been three different resolutions demanding that all parties to the conflict allow access of humanitarian aid and food to besieged areas.

And we`ve known for some time that there are 15 different locations with about 400,000 people that are trapped in them from either government and government allied forces or rebel armed groups.

So it`s really not new. The problem is, of course, out of sight, out of mind. The very fact that these are besieged areas means that there`s very little access to them for journalists, or for human rights organizations for that matter. We`ve been in touch with the residents of Madaya and the other locations. We`ve been talking to them by telephone and we`ve heard, you know, graphic descriptions of trying to keep alive by boiling roots from trees, eating dogs and cats.