July 16, 2009
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Guests: Pat Buchanan, Jeff Sharlet, James Oberg, Lisa Mascaro, Kent Jones
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Hey, David. Thanks for that. I appreciate it.
And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, which, of course, landed a man on the moon. Did you know that NASA accidentally taped over the original archived footage of the landing? They taped over it. We'll talk about that this hour.
Also, another shoe has dropped in the John Ensign sex and money and ethics scandal. His office finally trying to explain some of the more inexplicable financial details of Ensign's affair.
And breaking late today: an even bigger shoe has dropped. A lawsuit charges that a former congressman and his mistress carried on their affair actually at C Street-at the C Street house where John Ensign and other members of the secretive religious community live.
That is all coming up this hour.
But we begin with remarks tonight in New York City by the president of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No matter how bitter the rod, how stony the road, we have always persevered. We have not faltered nor have we grown weary. As Americans we have demanded and strived for and shaped a better destiny, and that is what we are called on to do once more.
NAACP, it will not be easy. It will take time. Doubts may rise and hopes may recede.
But if John Lewis could brave Billy clubs across the bridge, then I know young people today can do their part to lift up our community.
If Emmet Till's uncle Mose Wright could summon the courage to testify against the man who killed his nephew, I know we can be better fathers and better brothers and better mothers and sisters in our own families.
If three civil rights workers in Mississippi-black, white, Christian and Jew, city-born and country-bred could lay down their lives at freedom's cause, I know we can come together to face down the challenges of our own time. We can fix our schools. We can hear our sick. We can rescue our youth from violence and despair.
And 100 years from now, on the 200th anniversary of the NAACP, let it be said that this generation did its part; that we, too, ran the race; that full of faith that our dark past has thought us, full of the hope that present has brought us, we faced, in our lives and all across this nation the rising sun of a new day has begun.
Thank you, God bless you. God bless the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The nation's first African-American president tonight speaking in New York City, addressing an essentially all black audience for the first time since he has been president. The occasion, of course, is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP-the nation's oldest civil rights organization.
Beyond that huge anniversary, today was a landmark day for civil rights in America as confirmation hearings ended for person on track to be the first Latino elevated to be United States Supreme Court. The hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor closed today with assurances from Republican senators that she will not face a filibuster and that, essentially, will be confirmed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ®, ALABAMA: I will not support and I don't think any member of this side will support a filibuster or any attempt to block a vote on your nomination. I look forward to you getting that vote before we recess in August.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS: Some have been filibustered. I told you when we visited my office that's not going to happen to you if I have anything to say about it. You will get that up or down vote on the Senate floor.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: I hope to have a chance to get to know you better and we'll see what your future holds, but I think it's going to be pretty bright.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All Republican senators speaking there. Probably because of the lack of suspense about the outcome of these hearing, they didn't garner huge TV audiences this week.
If these hearing are going to be remembered for anything other than their obviously historic nature, what they're probably be remembered for is the insistence of the Republicans who did express opposition to Sotomayor.
That the thing to talk about at these hearing, the grounds on which they
wanted to objected to her potential elevation to the Supreme Court was race
race, race, race, and also race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: Have you voted with Judge Cabranes, himself a Puerto Rican ancestry, if you voted with him, could you have changed that case. With regard to the, the "wise Latina" quote where you said that they should make decisions that are better than a white male.
GRAHAM: Reach a better conclusion than a white male.
SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA: Some of the old white guys, the wise "Latina woman" quote.
SESSIONS: The wise Latina.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA: Your wise Latina comment.
JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: If I go home, get a gun, come back and shoot you, that may not be legal under New York law, because you would have alternative ways to defend.
SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA: You have lots of 'splainin' to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn there at the end doing his Ricky Ricardo impersonation for the judge.
One prominent Republican who believes that the Republicans did not make enough of the issue of race at the Sotomayor confirmation hearing is my MSNBC colleague, Patrick J. Buchanan, who argued in his column this week that the hearings should have been seized even more by Republicans to try to win over white conservatives who feel aggrieved by racial issues.
He says, quote, "These are the folks that pay the price of affirmative action when their sons and daughters are pushed aside to make room for the Sonia Sotomayors. What Republicans must do is expose Sotomayor as a political activist whose career bespeaks a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males."
"Even if Sotomayor is confirmed," Pat says, "making the nation aware she a militant supporter since college days of ethnic and gender preferences is an I assignment worth pursuing."
Joining us now is my MSNBC political colleague, Pat Buchanan.
Pat, it is-it's been far too long since you've been on the show.
It's so nice to see you.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, your argument is that Republicans could reap political rewards by making the argument that Sotomayor essentially doesn't deserve to be on the supreme court, that she's only there because of her race. Is that-is that-did I understand your argument correctly?
BUCHANAN: Well, I think I would vote no on Sonia Sotomayor the same way I would have voted no on Harriet Miers-and I said so the first day she was nominated.
I don't think Judge Sonia Sotomayor is qualified for the United States Supreme Court. She has not shown any great intellect here or any great depth of knowledge of the Constitution. She's never written anything that I've read in terms of a law review article or major book or something like that on the law.
And I do believe she's an affirmative action appointment by the president of the United States. He eliminated everyone but four women and then he picked the Hispanic. I think this is an affirmative action appointment and I would vote no.
MADDOW: And what do you-what do you think that affirmative action is for?
BUCHANAN: Affirmative action is to increase diversity by discriminating against white males. As Alan Bakke was discriminated at the University of California at Davis; As Brian Weber, that worker in Louisiana was discriminated against; As Frank Ricci and those firefighters were discriminated against; As Jennifer Gratz, was discriminated against and kept out of the University of Michigan which she set her heart on, even though her grades were far higher than people who were aloud in there.
That's the type-affirmative action is basically reverse discrimination against white males and it's as wrong as discrimination against black females and Hispanics and others. And that's why I oppose it.
MADDOW: I obviously-I have a different view about it, but I want to give you a chance to explain what you.
BUCHANAN: But why do you have a different view? Why is it OK to discriminate against white males?
MADDOW: Well, let me-let me just-let me ask-let me ask you this.
MADDOW: Why do you think is that of the 110 Supreme Court justices we've had in this country, 108 of them have been white?
BUCHANAN: Well, I think white men were 100 percent of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100 percent of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100 percent of people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Probably close to 100 percent of the people who died at Normandy.
This has been a country built basically by white folks in this country who are 90 percent of the entire nation-in 1960, when I was growing up, Rachel-and the other 10 percent were African-American who had been discriminated against. That's why.
MADDOW: But does that mean that you think that there are 108 of 110 white Supreme Court justices because white people essentially deserve to have 99.5 percent of those positions? That there's nothing-that doesn't reflect any sort of barrier to those positions by people who aren't white. You think that's what they've-you think that's just purely on the basis of what white people have deserved to get?
BUCHANAN: I think a lot of people get up there for a lot of reason, but my argument would be: get the finest mind you can get. Get real scholars. Whether you agree with Bork or Scalia or not, they're tremendous minds and I think there are other minds. I'm sure the Democratic Party, I'm sure has women there that can stand up head-to-head with Scalia and make the case, who have got tremendous credential, knowledge, background.
But this one doesn't have that. She was appointed because she's a Latina, a Hispanic and a woman.
MADDOW: She's also.
BUCHANAN: I mean, look at.
MADDOW: She is also the judicial nominee who has more judging experience than any judge has gone up in, say, in the past, I don't know, what is it, 70 years? She has been an appellate court judge of some distinction for a lot longer than Judge Roberts was, Judge Alito was. I mean, it's not like she was-she was picked out.
MADDOW: . she was like picked out of the minor leagues and brought up here, Pat.
BUCHANAN: Listen, it certainly is. Look at her own words in "The New York Times," from the tapes. It's in "The New York Times," June 11th. She said, "I'm an affirmative action baby."
BUCHANAN: I got into Princeton on affirmative action. I got into Yale. I didn't have the scores that these other kids did.
How did she get on Yale law review? Affirmative action. How did she get on the federal bench by Moynihan? Moynihan needs a Hispanic woman just like Barack Obama needs a Hispanic woman.
That is not the criteria we ought to use, Rachel.
MADDOW: But, Pat.
BUCHANAN: ... for Supreme Court justices, conservative or liberal.
That's why I opposed Harriet Miers. I said I know she's going to vote with me. She's a good Christian woman. She's probably a fine lawyer, but she's not Supreme Court material, and neither is Sonia Sotomayor.
And I think-I think you know that, Rachel.
MADDOW: I don't know that at all.
MADDOW: And I would say that if you and I agree that what our country needs is to be able to choose from the largest possible pool of talent in order to be able to pick the people who are going to have to function at the highest levels so that our country can compete and our country to do all the hard things we need do, I would hope that you would see that picking 108 out of 110 white justices.
MADDOW: . to the Supreme Court means that other people aren't actually being appropriately considered. And the reason that you have affirmative action is that you recognize that the fact that people were discriminated against for hundreds of years in this country means that you sort of gained the system, unless you give other people a leg up.
BUCHANAN: It is not. It does not.
MADDOW: . the best schools and the best jobs-hold on, I let you talk for a while.
BUCHANAN: She was put into the best schools. She was put into the best schools.
MADDOW: That's right. She was.
BUCHANAN: Of affirmative action, not because of ability, Rachel. She was put there, she said herself, because of where she came from. She's a Hispanic woman. She's from Puerto Rico. That's why she was passed over. Other students who applied there with better scores who were denied the right to go to Princeton.
MADDOW: Do you think that she got the grades that she got at Princeton on the basis of affirmative action, too?
BUCHANAN: I think what they do in the Ivy League, and you know it as well as I do, that half the class graduates cum laude these days.
MADDOW: How did you do at Georgetown compared to how she did at Princeton?
BUCHANAN: I'll tell you, I graduated higher in my high school, I will bet or as high as she did. And I certainly say, in Georgetown, I did. And I'll tell you, I will match my test scores against her-but I'm not qualified for the United States Supreme Court.
MADDOW: But, Pat, for you to argue that there's no basis on which the United States benefits.
MADDOW: . from having Hispanics be among the people who we choose the best and brightest from defies belief.
BUCHANAN: I don't.
MADDOW: The idea that you think we'll best serve by only choosing among 99.9 percent white people.
BUCHANAN: Hold it. No, no, no.
MADDOW: . to hold these jobs, I don't believe you believe it, Pat.
BUCHANAN: I-hold on-I believe everybody should get a chance to excel and be on the United States Supreme Court. But if I look at the U.S. track team in the Olympics, and they're all black folks, I don't automatically assume it's discrimination. I will say, "I think maybe those are the fastest guys we got, that maybe they're the fastest guys in the country, maybe they're the fastest in the world. If they're all-our Olympic team in hockey is eight white guys from Minnesota, I don't assume discrimination.
Why do you assume discrimination simply because you got one component on the Supreme Court? Where is the genius you think who's a woman and a feminist who sure ought to be on that Supreme Court? Go for her. Don't go for an affirmative action person you know was picked because she's a Latina and because she's a woman.
MADDOW: Pat, when I look at the United States Supreme Court and I see 108 out of 110 white people, I see 108 out of 110 men. I'm-I don't look at that and think, "God, white guys are naturally better at this type of work than other people who aren't getting these jobs." I don't think that way.
MADDOW: I want to hear you-I would love to hear your answer as to whether or not you think that is what explains it, too. Because, I think, what the more obvious explanation is, is that you have to be a white guy in order to get considered for these jobs and has been true since the dawn of time in this country.
MADDOW: That's starting to break up now so that we can tap a bigger pool of talent. You should be happy about that for your country, Pat.
BUCHANAN: I do. I do. I'm happy when you got all 78 firemen can take a test, but if all the guys that win in the test are all white guys and one is Hispanic, I don't say, automatically, the test was fixed, bias, bigoted against black people, because I don't know that, Rachel.
And those guys did well in that test and they are victims of this evil affirmative action policy which says in effect that everybody's covered by the 14th Amendment and the civil rights laws unless you're a white male and your parents and ancestors came from Europe. Then we can discriminate against you. That's what I am against.
MADDOW: Pat, do you-do you-are you happy that we've got a Latino on the Supreme Court for the first time or we're about to? Does that seem like a positive thing for the country?
BUCHANAN: I would-I think the Republicans had an outstanding Latino who had outstanding grades, who was brilliant and was gutted, Miguel Estrada.
MADDOW: Let me just ask you a question before going to talk about some other Latino who's not in question here. Are you happy for the United States of America for our prospect as a nation that we'll be the best that we can be, that there is a Latino on the Supreme Court for the first time ever, that that glass ceiling is broken. Do you see it as a positive thing?
BUCHANAN: If you say, be the best question we can be. We're not being the best we can be with Sonia Sotomayor and I think you know it.
MADDOW: Pat, I couldn't disagree with you more. I tribute-I credit you sticking to your gun. I think you're absolutely wrong about this and I think that by advocating that the Republican Party try to stir up racial animus among white voters.
MADDOW: You're dating yourself.
BUCHANAN: I say, you know, I think what they ought to do-they ought to defend the legitimate rights of white working-class folks who are the victims of discrimination, because that's the right thing to do and because it's the politically right thing to do. It so happens that here, that doing the right thing is the right political thing, standing up for Frank Ricci. We saw the face of-the face of a victim of these policies.
Rachel, you and your friends admire up there and in New York and you never look at these guys who are working class guys with their own dreams, just like Sonia Sotomayor.
MADDOW: Pat, I don't need a lecture from you about whether or not I know what working class.
BUCHANAN: You certainly do, Rachel.
MADDOW: I really don't need a lecture from you about what I think about working class Americans or what anybody else in New York, including Sonia Sotomayor who grew up in the Bronx thinks about working-class Americans.
BUCHANAN: What do you think?
MADDOW: A lot of things divide us, Pat. Race is one of those. But there's a lot of other ways in which we just gratify as a country, and for you to privilege race and say that what we really need to make sure we tap, politically, is white people's racial grievances, you're playing with fire and you're dating yourself. You're living in the 1950s, Pat.
BUCHANAN: Maybe I'm dating-I'm dating in the 1960s when the civil rights act was passed. Do you think Frank Ricci and those guys were treated justly when they were denied that promotion because they were white?
MADDOW: Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst-I'm very sorry that we're out of time. It's nice to have you back on the show, Pat. Thanks.
BUCHANAN: I've enjoyed it. As I always do, Rachel.
MADDOW: We will be right back.
MADDOW: Another story about congressional adultery, hypocrisy and the secretive D.C. group known as the Family has broken late this afternoon. As we reported, the recently disclosed extramarital affairs of both Republican Senator John Ensign and Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford are linked to this group the Family through a house in Washington, D.C. that's called C Street. It's operated by the Family. It's described in tax records as a church, although it functions as a residence for a number of members of Congress, including Senator Ensign.
Senator Ensign and Governor Sanford both reportedly disclosed their extramarital affairs to the residents of C Street months before they were forced to disclose them publicly. Although both men called on other politicians to resign because of having affairs, neither Ensign nor Sanford has moved to step down himself.
Well, today, late this afternoon, the soon to be ex-wife of former Republican Mississippi Congressman Chip Pickering filed an alienation of affection lawsuit against Mr. Pickering's alleged mistress. Mrs. Pickering, in other words, is suing the other woman.
Here's why it's news. First, another moralizing C Street-connected politician has a personal hypocrisy problem. As a congressman, Chip Pickering lived at C Street-which members call a Christian fellowship house.
On his Web site at that time was this message to his constituents, quote, "Mississippians know my leadership is grounded on our principles of faith, family and freedom, and when in Washington those are my guiding values."
In 1998, Congressman Pickering said of President Clinton, quote, "I think for the good of the country and for the good of his own family, it would be better for President Clinton to resign. When someone puts himself forward for public office, then his personal conduct does become relevant."
The timing of Congressman Pickering's only alleged extramarital dalliance is still unclear, but he and his wife filed for divorce in June of last year. Congressman Pickering left Congress in January of this year in order to become a lobbyist for the firm that represents Cellular South. That's a telecom owned by the family of his alleged mistress. A woman named Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd.
Mrs. Pickering also makes allegations in her lawsuit about C Street itself. Point four of her complaint against the other woman alleges that, quote, "some of the wrongful conduct on the part of Creekmore-Byrd occurred and accrued in the first judicial district of Hinds County, Mississippi, as well as Washington, D.C. at the C Street complex." By wrongful conduct to the lawsuit is presumably not talking about cheating at pinochle and it allegedly happened at C Street, as in, in the building, the church.
We reached Mr. Pickering's office early this evening seeking comment. We were politely told that he was out. Phone calls to his alleged mistress went immediately to a full voice mailbox.
Now, personal hypocrisy by politicians who campaigned for office on the basis of their own purportedly superior morality, who call for resignations over the marital sins of others, even as they stayed in office during their own, that sort of hypocrisy is newsworthy on its own term.
But in this case, it ties into what's turning out to this political story of summer. It ties into and further flushes out the picture of this secretive religious group. This-that's tied overtly to two political sex scandals and allegedly to another. A group that literally provided facilities in which members of Congress could be counted on to keep their affairs out of the public eye.
Joining us now, once again, is Jeff Sharlet. He lived with members of the Family for a year as part of reporting he did for "Harper's" magazine. That reporting turned into the book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," which is out now in paperback.
Jeff, I know you were trying to go on vacation. I promise I will stop bugging after tonight as long as no more C Street scandals break out, OK?
JEFF SHARLET, HARPER'S MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: They just won't stop, will they? They're not going to let us take a break.
MADDOW: It's amazing.
All right. This lawsuit filed today. It alleges that Congressman Pickering and his mistress had an extramarital affair while living in C Street. From what you know about C Street and the living arrangements there, could people be secretly carrying on an affair actually in the house?
SHARLET: Absolutely. They speak of the house as a-as a refuge, a place that they can go to in Washington where they can have the kind of privacy that they don't have anywhere else in their lives. And at the same time, they combine that with an oath to protect each others secrecy as fellow C Streeter Zach Wamp, we were talking about the other night, has said, "We take an oath of secrecy."
In fact, one article by a former member of the Family talked about the wives of C Streeters and the wives of members of the Family, and one of the wives describes it like this. She says, "You know, I'm very comfortable with the idea that in my husband's life, first come his brothers and the Family and then come me."
So these, you know, the Family calls itself a Christian mafia, but there's a level in which when you're at the C Street house, it's almost like a fundamentalist frat house.
MADDOW: Well, yes, in more ways than one, at this point, if the allegations in this lawsuit are true.
When we talked last about the enthusiastic secrecy of the Family, how that's part not only of the sort of operating philosophy that they have about power but also about their theology, these members of Congress living together, swearing to tell one another their secrets but not to tell anybody outside the group, you and I talk last night about whether, hypothetically, members of this group would feel obliged to report it if one of them confessed to a crime.
Now, I want to know if it's possible that this group and this physical house operating under the secrecy rules could be something like a safe house for things that members of Congress wanted to get away with-whether it was a crime or an affair or something else that they knew was going to be trouble for them?
SHARLET: Well, it's something else that I think we need to be looking at. And yes, I think you're absolutely right.
And, you know, you mentioned that former Congressman Pickering is now a lobbyist for Cellular South, the company of his mistress.
Another C Streeter, Representative Steve Largent, we are talking about the other day, is in the meantime left Congress to become the head of the big lobbying association for that industry. And in that capacity, he's been inviting and paying for Congressman Pickering and Senator Ensign as well to go on trips.
We want to know if these are trips related to their issues so is the mistress going along with this. The bottom line that we see in that is whether it's personal infidelity or any other issue, the Family sees their oath to one another as more important than their accountability to the public.
MADDOW: Yes. Lots of question for you, Jeff, and again, I really didn't expect to call you again, but this is now-this summer's alleged adulterous affair by C Street politician number three.
So-when you were in the Family, when you infiltrated the group in the research for your book, what was the professed attitude towards adultery? Sex is, I think, probably not the most important thing to understand about this group, but it keeps coming up over and over again. And I wonder if they have a professed morality around issues of sexual morality-about sexual fidelity?
SHARLET: No. The Family-and the core of the Family, they actually reject the idea of morality for their members. They believe that morality is a secular construct, that morality is something made by man for little people like us, and that if you're part of God's chosen-as we've been talking about-what the Family believes that they're sort of a new chosen of God, morality, ethics, these things don't apply to you.
That doesn't mean they endorse adultery, it just means that they're just not paying attention as much to it.
And then, you combine that with a-frankly, a fairly misogynist viewpoint; they subscribe to an idea of male headship.
In some of the documents, Doug Coe, the leader of the group was actually advising another member on what to do with his wife who the member felt was demonically-possessed and Doug Coe said that's quite possible. The symptoms were-and there's just no way to make this sound, you know, respectable-the symptoms were that the woman was complaining that she wasn't sexually satisfied by her husband, that was-to them-a symptom of demonic possession.
I mean, it sounds crazy and it would be silly if it weren't happening right in the middle of Washington, with these men who are so powerful, who are congressmen and then lobbyists, and its revolving door that seems to be facilitated by the Family.
MADDOW: Jeff Sharlet, author of "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power"-thanks for coming back on the show. I release you back to your own family now, Jeff. Sorry to bug you. Thanks for helping us out.
SHARLET: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Another member of the family who lived at C Street, Nevada Senator John Ensign, as you know, had an affair with a campaign staffer whose husband he also employed. Beyond the affair, what is now emerging is a big, fat complicated money trail of payments to the mistress and to her family from Ensign and Ensign's family. And that's the part where creepy starts to make googly eyes at criminal.
New news on the Ensign scandal and its finances from an unexpected source-when we come back.
MADDOW: A new can of worms has opened today in the John Ensign sex, money and ethics scandal. Now, here are the basics of this scandal. Sen. Ensign called on Bill Clinton to resign because of his extramarital affair.
And when Sen. Larry Craig got caught in an airport bathroom public sex sting, Sen. Ensign called on Larry Craig to resign as well saying, "I wouldn't put myself hopefully in that kind of position. But if I was in a position like that, that's what I would do," as in, "I would resign."
Regardless, since admitting to his own affair with his campaign treasurer, Cynthia Hampton, who happened to be married to his Senate chief-of-staff, Sen. Ensign says he has no plans to resign and he's going to run for re-election.
Since he disclosed the affair, what's becoming an even bigger issue for the senator than the moral and sexual hypocrisy here is the unanswered question of why, in addition to having a sexual relationship with this woman, he also diverted to her and her family lots and lots of money.
Today, the explanation about who he was paying and with whose money and for what, got a little weird. After weeks of not responding to our phone calls and refusing comment to reporters, Sen. Ensign's office has now finally reached out to "The Washington Post."
Specifically, they reached out to the funny pseudo-gossip column written by Al Kamen in "The Washington Post." Sen. Ensign's office asked Mr. Kamen to run what amounts to a correction concerning one of the big unanswered questions about the money trail left in the wake of the senator's affair.
When Sen. Ensign fired the woman he was sleeping with from his staff, that woman's husband said that she was paid more than $25,000 in severance. That claim raised eyebrows, because Sen. Ensign never reported paying the severance like that. And not reporting something like that would be a violation of federal election law that could get you five years in the pokey.
Now, Sen. Ensign did say that his mom and dad gave $96,000 as a gift to his mistress and her family. Today, in "The Washington Post" Sen. Ensign's office sort of dug an even deeper hole for the senator by telling "The Post" that the $96,000 gift from the senator's mom and dad was at least, in part, a severance payment.
Quote, "Ensign's office says that the alleged $25,000-plus severance payment to the Hamptons that some critics had questioned is part of the generous $96,000 gift Ensign's parents decided to give the Hamptons."
So according to what's in "The Washington Post" today, the senator had his parents make a severance payment to a campaign staffer who he fired - one who he was sleeping with. That contradicts what Sen. Ensign said just last week, that that money from his mom and dad was just a gift to his mistress and her family.
Legally, to count as a gift, a payment has to be made out of detached, disinterested generosity. That's the legal standard. That doesn't usually include severance for somebody getting fired.
We, of course, called Sen. Ensign's office again today to try to clarify whether the money his mom and dad paid to his mistress was a gift, like he said last week, or whether it was severance like his office told "The Washington Post" today. The office then declined to respond our request for comment.
Now, "The Las Vegas Sun" today also published the Senate financial disclosure form that was filed by the husband of Ensign's mistress during the time when all of this money was changing hands. That form asks, "Did you, your spouse or dependent child receive any reportable gift in the reporting period, i.e. aggregating more than $335 and not otherwise exempt?"
Mr. Hampton checked the box marked, "no," in answer to that question. No, in other words, apparently that money was not seen by the Hamptons as a gift. Mr. Hampton already said publicly they didn't see it as a gift. They saw it as severance which, again, isn't the kind of thing a senator usually has his mom and dad pay for for that senator's employees.
Joining us now is Lisa Mascaro. She's the Washington correspondent for "The Las Vegas Sun." She obtained that disclosure report and has been crunching all of these numbers. Lisa, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
LISA MASCARO, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE LAS VEGAS SUN": Hi, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Have you been able to get any direct comment from Sen. Ensign's office about whether this huge payment from his mom and dad was a severance payment or a gift?
MASCARO: Well, you know, right when the, when the gift was announced or payment was announced last week, the senator's attorney did put out a statement where he said very clearly that the $96,000, according to the senator's office, according to the senator's attorney, was a gift. And he said it was made as a gift and accepted as a gift.
Now, in our course of reporting, you know, we've asked, how do you know if something was a gift? How is this determined if Mr. Hampton says it is a severance and Mr. Ensign's office - or attorney's office says it's a gift? How do we know?
And you know, the folks that - we're talking to the tax experts who tell us, you know, this is really what an investigation would have to determine. Just because something is called a gift now doesn't mean that it necessarily was a gift at the time.
There would need to be some contemporaneous evidence explaining what was said at the time, how the gift was given and how it was received, maybe documents, maybe a verbal conversation, maybe a witness, a third-party witness who was aware of these discussions, who could say, you know, what exactly happened at the time.
MADDOW: And which would help us figure out whether or not, in addition to potentially implicating himself on campaign finance law issues, he may have also somehow implicated his parents on tax issues. As I just said, that remains to be seen. And in the absence of any real investigation or any explanation from Sen. Ensign, we don't yet know.
I was sort of surprised to see Sen. Ensign's office talking about this particularly to just a columnist in "The Washington Post." They've declined all of our requests for comment. I know you've been working on the story since it broke.
Does it seem to you that his office is changing their approach to this scandal, that their approach to it, their efforts to talk about it or not talk about it are changing over time?
MASCARO: Well, yes, Rachel. I think that's a good point. And I think you really saw this week an effort by the senator to sort of reassert himself in the public, in the public sphere.
He was very openly coming off the Senate floor today, earlier this week, into a busy foyer. He stopped and talked to reporters a bit. And then you saw that push back against "The Washington Post," sort of a clarification, if you would, of what was being reported.
And you know, I think, initially the senator was maybe sort of waiting to see how this was going to play out, sort of following that rule of crisis management that says - you know, you just kind of - say what you're going to say and then say no more, very different than, in fact, what we saw with the South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who really told us a lot about what was going on with himself.
Sen. Ensign didn't, but has been more reacting and I think reacting to new information as it came out. But this week, we did see a more aggressive sort of reassertion of himself. He was even - one more example was he would be on the floor yesterday delivering a policy speech.
You know, I think it was his first speech in a month, since this whole thing first broke. So I think, you know, you're seeing him do that.
MADDOW: Well, maybe that means he'll clarify some of these conflicting remarks from his attorney and his office and these other people who have been speaking for him about this troubling, strange money trail that followed the affair.
Lisa Mascaro, Washington correspondent for the "Las Vegas Sun," thanks for your reporting, and thanks very much for joining us tonight.
MASCARA: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: So what do the movie "Casablanca" and Apollo 11 have in common? Well, after NASA lost the original tapes of the first moon walk, the same Hollywood film company that restored "Casablanca" did the same did the same to TV video copies of what Apollo 11 beamed back to earth during the mission that began 40 years ago today.
In other words, here's looking at you, Neil. We'll have more coming up on that in our "Moment of Geek" in just a second.
MADDOW: It turns out that still South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's hike on the Appalachian Trail to hook up with his south American girlfriend wasn't the first time he had ditched his duties as governor for the same purpose.
A year ago, in June of '08, Mr. Sanford went on trade mission to Brazil. Argentina being right next door and all, the governor added an Argentinean destination to his itinerary and apparently wound up, as they say, hiking the Appalachian Trail in Buenos Aires.
Along the way, he conveniently missed a flight as well. That's not an urban dictionary reference - he actually missed a flight perhaps to extend his stay. Meanwhile, his staff couldn't find him.
The evidence was obtained by the state newspaper in South Carolina. It's an E-mail from the South Carolina Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor who was looking for the governor but couldn't find him. The E-mail said, "Need contact number for Sanford ASAP."
That E-mail was among the hundreds of pages of E-mails released Wednesday night to the state newspaper, which probably is safe to say now is the official bane of Mark Sanford's existence. He's still apparently not making any plans to resign.
MADDOW: The greatest cliche in American politics is, "We can put a man on the moon, but we can't," insert favorite difficult project here.
In this case, the project in question is preserving the tapes of putting a man on the moon. What you are looking at here is an NBC News recording of NASA's Apollo 11 transmission. We are showing NBC's tape of that because NASA's own original, presumably higher-quality recordings were misplaced.
NASA admitted so three years ago. Today, on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, the NASA engineer who was in charge of televising the mission back in 1969 and who's been exhaustively searching for the missing NASA recordings for several years now finally broke the news that the recordings, again, we are talking about the original recordings of humans first landing on the moon, were probably erased and taped over some time in the '70s or '80s.
But today, NASA did release new digitally restored videos of the moon landing that they culled from other sources, secondary including those from news organizations. The complete, restored moon-landing video from secondary sources is scheduled to be available in September.
Joining us now is James Oberg. He's a 22-year veteran of Mission Control and NBC News space consultant and a man who was once contracted by NASA to debunk the "moon-landing was staged" conspiracy theorists. Mr. Oberg, thanks very much for coming on the show.
JAMES OBERG, FMR. NASA MISSION CONTROL SPECIALIST: Thanks for mentioning that story, Rachel.
MADDOW: Well, I have to ask you about the conspiracy theorists because I am sort of obsessed with them. Do they get more ammo from news like this, that the original moon landing tapes were erased?
OBERG: No, because their ammo works either way. When you have a conspiracy theory, it's fact A or the opposite of fact A. Either one is evidence for the conspiracy, so you can't win.
MADDOW: That's fair enough. There are a lot of little-known idiosyncratic details about this landing. The fate of the original tapes is just one of them. But one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you tonight is that you wrote recently about something that happened involving the audio and the video, the syncing up of the audio and video of Neil Armstrong's first step on to the moon. What can you tell us about that?
OBERG: Well, that's right, Rachel. What we are seeing 40 years after the event is that people have been telling the story again and again. It's like Army veterans. The story keeps getting better or changes.
When Neil Armstrong made the small step out to the moon, he was standing on the foot pad below the ladder and just moved his left foot a few inches into the sand, into the soil.
What people show on most documentaries and describe in most books is him jumping off the ladder going butt forward and end up lying down awkwardly to the surface and then saying that was one small step.
No, that wasn't a small step. The small step was one foot down on the foot pad, looks around, moves his left foot and puts it on to the moon. That was a small step. And you can do this at home. Watch these other shows. Read the other books and see how many people get it wrong because it's easier or it's better TV or it's a bit more dramatic.
MADDOW: So his first - when he first comes off the ladder, he's landing on another piece of the lunar module?
MADDOW: And it's not until he takes a very small deliberate step after that he hits the moon.
OBERG: They didn't have stilts to the bottom of the module going to the ground. They had snowshoes. They had about three-foot wide garbage-can lid size foot pad on all four of the legs. He was standing on that.
We've got some paintings on that. We're going to put them on the MSNBC Web site so you can see where he did that. I like a lot more knowing that because his putting the foot deliberately on to humankind's first alien world wasn't something - wasn't falling off a ladder and saying, oops. He was there. He put his foot down on purpose just like we went to the moon on purpose.
MADDOW: Yes. And it gives so much gravity to the noble thing he said when he did it. It's great stuff.
OBERG: I think it explains it better.
MADDOW: James Oberg, NBC News space consultant, happy anniversary.
And thanks so much for joining us.
OBERG: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up on "COUNTDOWN," Sen. Jeff Sessions says he wants to, quote, "do that crack cocaine thing." Next on this show, my friend Kent Jones shows us some sports for the un-sporty. Stick around.
MADDOW: We turn now to our moderate exertion correspondent, Mr. Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. Yesterday, I was talking about an event in London with a bunch of dapper English chaps gathered to compete in sports for say, the athletically indifferent, perhaps?
JONES: I ran out of time yesterday, but now, here is part two of the chaps Olympics.
JONES (voice-over): The chaps Olympics - glorious gathering of well-heeled British gentlemen taking in the open air, drinking, competing, socializing, drinking. While England may have suffered defeat elsewhere in the sporting world, here, its civilized traditions receive their due respect.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Show me a Brazilian with a sharp (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who can maintain the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) crease during umbrella jousting.
JONES: Did someone say umbrella jousting?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tally-hoo.
JONES: Lance Armstrong, consider the gauntlet tossed. How about the gin and tonic one-leg hop?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a hop, there is a hop, there is a skip.
There's a skippy.
JONES: Steady, old man. No spilling. Finally, a sport with real world applications. Next up, the moustache tug of war. Easy, chaps. It's attached. After such exertion, it's time for the Martini knockout relay. Explains itself, I think.
And finally, the cucumber sandwich discus. As in most things, balance is key. I can tell you who won each of these events, but I suspect no one bothered to write it down - beside the point, really.
MADDOW: Well done.
JONES: Yes. That looks like a good time, doesn't it?
MADDOW: It does. You know, I will say that the one physical feat I learned - I lived in England for three years.
MADDOW: The one thing I learned how to do physically that I did not know how to do before I went was make a Pimm's Cup.
JONES: Well, yes -
MADDOW: Very complicated cocktail.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly. You've got to be really strong. Thanks, Kent.
MADDOW: Thank you for watching tonight. "COUNTDOWN" starts right now. Good night.
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