THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
March 20, 2013
Guest: Richard Blumenthal
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That`s THE ED SHOW. I`m
Michael Eric Dyson, in for Ed Schultz.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.
Good evening, Rachel. And who`s your pick to win it all?
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: You know, my pick obviously is Gonzaga, because
it is the funnest school to say a name of, but I love that you just put out
a nationwide alert that women of America can share your ice cream. This is
going to be on bumper stickers by tomorrow morning, I`m telling you.
DYSON: All right, Rachel.
MADDOW: Michael, thank you very much.
DYSON: Thank you.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us this hour.
Usually when the president of the United States is traveling abroad,
things slow down at home in terms of political news. But that is not true
of today. Yes, the president is in Israel. It`s his first trip there as
president. We`ll have more on that trip in a moment.
But while he is in the Middle East, here at home, the nation is
marking the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq. For example,
neoconservative Iraq war cheerleader Richard Pearl, who was wrong about
Iraq and al Qaeda, wrong about Iraq and WMDs, wrong about Iraq and nukes,
wrong about how easy he said the Iraq war would be -- tonight, Richard
Pearl marked the 10-year anniversary of the war he was so wrong about by
telling National Public Radio that it was not reasonable to even be asked
whether that war should have been waged.
Washington, Congress itself is busy ignoring the anniversary of the
war, since I think neither Democrats nor Republicans who supported it want
to talk about having done that. And the Democrats and Republicans who
opposed the war 10 years ago, they are still not taken seriously in the
Beltway on national security issues, even though they were right and all
the supposedly serious people were wrong about Iraq.
Today, the Congress did hold a hearing on the outrageous and worsening
backlog at the veteran`s administration. Veterans home from Iraq and from
other wars waiting months and even years to hear back from the V.A. in the
claims process. The V.A. insisted at today`s hearing that they have a rock
solid plan to fix the problem. But the Republican chairman of the
veteran`s committee in the House is calling for the resignation of the V.A.
official who is in charge of the claims backlog.
So, there is a lot going on in politics right now. And in news about
politics right now, despite the president`s overseas trip.
But in our news tonight, we begin in Colorado. We begin at the scene
of a rather stunning crime.
Now, it may have been a random act. It may have been an act of
revenge of some kind. It may have been something personal. It may have
been an assassination of sorts and we do not yet know and we may not know
for a long time. And until the police are able to tell us more about what
But here`s what we do know: at 8:47 local time last night, a woman in
the town of Monument, Colorado, called 911. Monument is in central
Colorado. It`s not far from Colorado Springs. It`s in El Paso County.
And the woman was distraught. She told the 911 dispatcher that
somebody just rang her doorbell, when her husband opened the door, whoever
was standing there shot her husband in the chest. He died on the scene.
This is from last night. The El Paso County sheriff`s dispatcher
telling the police what had just happened.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DISPATCHER: A female party saying her husband has been shot in the
chest at this address. Not conscious. Not breathing. Somebody rang the
doorbell, the husband answered and was shot. Unknown if the suspect is
still on the scene.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: No suspect was found on the scene. The man who opened the
door of his home only to be shot in the chest by the person standing there
was a man named Tom Clements.
Tom Clements is the head of the Corrections Department in Colorado.
Tom Clements` title was executive director of the Colorado Department of
Corrections. That is a cabinet level position in the state. At this hour,
there is still no one in custody.
Authorities have released the description of an unoccupied car that
was reportedly seen running, although nobody was in it, near the Clements
home about 15 minutes before the 911 call was made. The car was described
as being a dark-colored or black Lincoln. The car was described as boxy in
shape. They were speculating that was a two-door sedan.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper gave an emotional press conference
early this morning about Mr. Clements` murder. The governor said Tom
Clements was on the verge of retirement. That he had worked in corrections
in the state of Missouri for three decades before coming to Colorado. He
said that he had been about to retire, but that he, the governor was able
to lure him to come to Colorado to take the job running the state`s
prisons, because the Governor Hickenlooper said he knew he was exactly the
right man for the job.
Governor Hickenlooper then took questions from the press. And, right
away, the reporters on scene raised the question of whether there might be
any connection between this murder last night and the gun debate that`s
going on in Colorado right now, with this major high profile political
event that was scheduled for this morning. It`s the governor planned
signing of three major new pieces of gun reform legislation.
The governor responded by saying that as a cabinet member, Tom
Clements had been supportive of the bills, but not in a particularly active
Until there is a suspect or any other explanation of what happened,
nobody has any idea what motivated this murder. Law enforcement at the
scene today said they are not jumping to conclusions as to whether Mr.
Clements job in the cabinet, or his job as head of the state`s prisons, or
his job as head of the state or as second in command of state prisons in
Missouri before he came to Colorado, whether any of those job titles had
anything to do with his murder last night. They said they are keeping an
open mind as to the possibility that what he does for a living had nothing
to do with why he was killed.
But in response to the killing, at what is already a heightened time
of political tension in the state, Colorado officials have responded by
increasing security for other top government officials in the state. They
have also increased security at the governor`s mansion.
This is happening in Colorado at an already heightened time. The
Colorado legislature in recent weeks has been debating and passing gun
reform legislation and that debate has been unusually contentious. Those
votes have already been along party line. Some Republicans in the Colorado
Senate who opposed in the gun reforms have pledged on the floor of the
Senate that they will disobey them. They will disobey the state`s new
Democratic lawmakers in the streets have received threats for their
support of gun reform. Criminal charges have been brought against people
for making death threats against pro-gun reform legislators. The debate
has been marked by sheriff in some Colorado counties vowing not to enforce
the new gun laws. That was after Republicans in the state legislature said
they would not obey the laws.
The sheriff in El Paso County, which is where Tom Clements was killed,
his office is the one in charge of the investigation of Tom Clements, the
sheriff at El Paso County is one of the sheriffs who has been highly
critical of the gun legislation.
So, all of that pre-existing tension and those threats and that
political battle on a day when a member of his cabinet was murdered by
means of a gun, Governor John Hickenlooper in Colorado today did not
reschedule. He went ahead and signed those three new pieces of gun
legislation into law.
Universal background checks, a law that requires customers to pay for
the cost of the background check, and a law that limits magazines to 15
rounds or less. When the governor sat down to sign the bills on this
incredibly difficult day, after the news of the death of his cabinet
secretary last night, after everything that led off to this day, the
governor did not just sit down and sign right away. It was an interesting
moment when he sat down to sign these bills.
I think he was taking a minute to let it sink in. Watch.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: Historic day today in Colorado as those new gun reform -- gun
law reforms are signed into law. Of course, it will also be remembered as
a tragic day because of what else has happened in Colorado at this time.
Meanwhile, this is the front page the people woke up to of "The New
York Daily News" today, "Shame on us. Shame on U.S., assault weapons bill
As we reported on the show last night, Senator Dianne Feinstein said
yesterday that her bill to bring back a version of the assault weapons ban
that had been in effect from 1994 to 2004, a bill to ban the sale of high
capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets at a time, that bill will
be left out of the Senate Democrats` broad gun reform package that they are
moving to the floor of the Senate. That is a decision made by Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid who says that the assault weapons bill does not
have the votes to make it past what he says is an inevitable filibuster by
the Republicans. He says that if he were to include the assault weapons
ban, that would just sink all the other proposed reforms an they would get
So, that is what we reported yesterday. And all of that is still
true. Senator Feinstein`s bill is still not going to be in the Democrat`s
gun reform package in the Senate.
But if you ask Senator Dianne Feinstein, that fact that it`s not going
to be included in the overall package of bills that goes to the Senate
floor, that does not mean that her bill is dead. According to her, it may
not be a part of that overall comprehensive bill, but she is not going to
play dead on this subject, and she insists that it will be voted on by
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR: Now, Senator Reid, Senator Feinstein, had said before that
you deserved a vote. But it`s appearing that it could be an amendment,
that it could ultimately just be a symbolic vote. What`s your response to
this new --
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: No, if it`s an amendment, that
is not ha symbolic vote. I did the bill in 1994 on the floor as an
amendment. It enacted a law. It went on to the House. It was enacted.
What Senator Reid told me is that I would have an opportunity for a
vote. I take him at his word.
This is very important to me, and I`m not going to lay down and play
dead. I think the American people have said in every single public poll
that they support this kind of legislation. It`s aimed to protect
children, to protect schools and malls.
It`s aimed to dry up the supply of these over time. And it came out
on a 10-8 vote of the Judiciary Committee.
Not to give me a vote on this would be a major betrayal of trust in my
-- as I would see it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Dianne Feinstein saying her bill will be voted on as
an amendment, even if it is not included in the main package of legislation
sent as one piece to the Senate floor.
Also, yesterday, this man, the White House chief of staff, Denis
McDonough, said that as far as the White House was concerned, they consider
this assault weapons ban to be very much alive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We`ll see what happens
in terms of what bill comes to the floor. We think it`s really important
and a good step that several of these measures were passed out of the
Judiciary Committee last week, that the Senate has now dedicated time as
soon as they come back from this next recess to address the gun issue.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: But Harry Reid says he`s not going to bring it up.
MCDONOUGH: No, he says it`s not going to be on the base bill and
there will be amendments I`m sure from Senator Feinstein, who`s been a
champion of this now over the course of decades.
So, we`re going to work on this. We`re going to find the votes. And
it deserves the votes. Let`s see if we can get it done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We are going to find the votes, says the chief of staff.
Also today, the vice president, Joe Biden, repeated that very claim.
What everybody says is impossible is not impossible, he said. He said, we
are not giving up on this assault weapons ban.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am still pushing
that it pass. We are still pushing that it pass. The same thing was told
to me when the first assault ban was in `94 was attached to the Biden crime
bill, that it couldn`t possibly pass. It was declared dead several times.
I believe that the vast majority of the American people agree with us.
The vast majority of gun owners agree with us.
So I haven`t given up on this.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: I have not given up on this. After news broke yesterday that
the assault weapons ban would be dropped from the broad gun reform bill in
the Senate, the junior senator from the state of Connecticut, Chris Murphy,
said that he wants to be able to get a vote specifically on the high
capacity magazines, a ban on high capacity magazines as a standalone
The senior senator from Connecticut is Richard Blumenthal. He is a
sponsor of the assault weapons ban. He says that while he supports a broad
gun measure, the ban on assault weapons is the single piece of legislation
that is most relevant to what happened in his state to spark a new round of
national interest and reform on this measure. To what happened in his
state, which, of course, was the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary
School in December.
Senator Blumenthal says that if we are to address what happened that
day, the assault weapons ban is a must for how to do it.
Joining us now is Senator Richard Blumenthal, the senior senator from
Connecticut, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Blumenthal,
thank you very much for be being back with us tonight. I appreciate your
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you.
MADDOW: The headline in all the Beltway press is that the assault
weapons ban is over, that it`s dead, it`s not going to move forward at all.
Senator Harry Reid says it won`t get past a filibuster. But Dianne
Feinstein, the White House chief of staff, the vice president are all
saying do not proclaim it dead already. This can still happen.
What do you think?
BLUMENTHAL: Reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. I think
that it still is very much alive. And the reason that I think so is that
the vast majority of American people want this provision of law, because
they know that an assault weapon, an AR-15 was used in Newtown magazine, as
was as a high capacity magazine. The two provisions are joined together
for a reason. They both attest to what we must do to stop more Newtowns
and Newtown is a call to action.
So I think what has to happen, the silent majority, up to now silent,
to become a lot less silent and to tell their congressmen and their
senators in the next two weeks when they`re home, what they think is
necessary. Now, the bill right now, as it`s been described, the base bill,
has a lot of good elements -- the illegal trafficking ban, the straw
purchase prohibition, the requirement for background checks of all purchase
of firearms and, of course, the school safety provisions, all very, very
But I think we need to keep fighting.
MADDOW: Do you think that this is an issue -- specifically on the
assault weapons ban which right now includes that extended magazines ban --
do you think this is going to make a difference on the pro gun reform side
of it? The NRA says that the pressure from its members are what stopped it
in its tracks.
Do you think that members of the Senate who have been on the fence,
who would not feel particularly inclined to stick their neck out on this
issue could be pushed by their constituents?
BLUMENTHAL: Very much so. Three and a half months ago, this issue
was thought to be politically untouchable. The whole issue of gun violence
prevention was thought to be politically so risky that no one would get
But this time really is different. And we`ve made a lot of progress
so that the public sense of urgency has really tipped. It`s changed
viscerally and seismically.
So I think that as long as we can sustain that sense of urgency, as
long as people in Congress hear from the country, I think it can be passed.
We knew it was going to be an uphill job. It was always going to be a
marathon, not a sprint.
And the assault weapons ban was always the most ambitious, the
politically toughest of all these provisions. And I am looking forward and
I will be proud to be with Dianne Feinstein in supporting this measure when
it`s offered as an amendment and I hope that it will pass.
MADDOW: Today, the news out of Colorado was so shocking in terms of
the death of the corrections commissioner last night, shot on the doorstep
of his home. That happening just hours before the Colorado governor was
due to sign three new pieces of gun reform legislation into law.
Obviously, there`s no reason for us to believe that the incidents are
connected other than the fact that it was a gun murder. Just a remarkable
confluence of headlines though.
I wonder how you view the fact that Colorado and also New York state
have sort of led in terms of the states in terms of passing those extended
magazine bans, is what`s happening in the states giving any sort of
momentum to what might happen at the federal level or to other states?
BLUMENTHAL: I think it does enhance the momentum, these kind of
events which tragically and unfortunately have continued and probably will
continue. And nobody wants them to continue, but they will add urgency.
And the point about Colorado, although we know very few of the
details, but the 2,500 people who have perished, who have been killed by
gun violence since Newtown, 2,500 people, a lot of them were killed with
stolen guns, illegally trafficked guns, straw purchased guns, guns that
would have been stopped from purchases by background checks.
These other measures can make a difference. So we should look for
what is positive and important in the bill that will be presented with the
leadership`s endorsement and try to improve it with amendments on the
floor. That`s the strategy that I think has to be followed using the
momentum that`s generated by unfortunately these continuing incidents.
MADDOW: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, thank you very
much for your time tonight. Sir, I have a feeling we will be in further
touch with you as this stuff moves quickly. Thank you.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: If you were looking for a moment of leverage with your member
of the Senate on this issue, this is probably the moment of leverage. It
has to be said. While they`re making the decision about how to move these
things and in what order and piece by piece, this is the time when hearing
from their constituents makes all the difference.
The NRA certainly knows that or the side knows that, too.
All right. President Obama is abroad. He`s in Israel as we speak.
So, it is ridiculous, self-defeating unnecessary American congressional
MADDOW: President Obama is in Israel tonight. And all day, his trip
got lots and lots of attention. This is what it looked like all over the
Internet machine today, at every new source that starts WWW-dot, it was
blanket coverage, as you would expect president on foreign trips always
gets lots of attention, even more so when the foreign trip is to Israel.
Israel has for decades, of course, been a big boisterous high profile
part of our American politics.
During the presidential campaign Republicans tried to make a big stink
about how President Obama had never visited Israel, not once in his whole
first term, not once. Just hike every Republican president since Richard
Nixon. President Reagan never went to Israel in either his first term or
his second term. George H.W. Bush never went to Israel. George W. Bush
only went at the very tail end of his second term.
So, on a sense, President Obama is breaking with the tradition set by
recent Republican presidents by visiting Israel so early and so often.
Meaning, he`s gone there once.
On his trip today, he planted a tree. He also signed a guest book.
There were plenty of photo ops, the photo ops that you expect.
But this was really the big one. The president today visiting -- see
that big box thing that looks like it`s kind of on the back of a truck
there? This is the big photo-op today. The president visiting the Israeli
air defense system that has a name that sounds like it comes out of a comic
book. It`s the Iron Dome, right? This is a defense system designed to
shoot incoming missiles out of the sky like a fly swatter -- a big Iron
Dome fly swatter paid for in part by the United States.
And that`s where our domestic politics intruded on today`s
presidential trip abroad. Here in the United States, we, of course, are
still trying to wrap our heads around the totally self inflicted
unnecessary designed to be dumb budget cuts, that hack off a percentage of
every line item in every budget in almost every department of the federal
government without any leeway for discretion or prioritization, the
And yes, those cuts include the funding for the Iron Dome.
At his press conference today with his Israeli counter part, the
president oohed and aahed at the technological impressiveness of the Iron
Dome, but then had to go out of his way to say he would try to keep its
funding flowing, but no promises.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re providing more
security assistance and advanced technology to Israel than ever before.
And that includes more support for the missile defenses like Iron Dome. We
will take steps to ensure that there is no interruption of funding for Iron
Dome. We will continue to work with Congress on future funding of Iron
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Taking steps to ensure that there`s no interruption of
funding for Iron Dome.
One of the ways to not interrupt the funding of the Iron Dome would be
to get rid of the sequester. But, apparently, we`re not talking about
that. We`re just talking about trying to mitigate its effects with no
budget-related way to do that.
On a related note, related to those budget cuts at home, here on the
show last night, we spoke to Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth of
Illinois. She represents Illinois`s eighth district.
But before she was in Congress, Tammy Duckworth was a helicopter pilot
in Iraq. She lost both legs. She almost lost her arm as well when her
chopper was shot down ion the war.
She left the service and worked as assistant secretary for public and
intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and then
she was elected to Congress. But last night, on the occasion of the tenth
anniversary of invading Iraq, she told us about efforts currently underway
in Congress to try to protect service members and their families from the
cuts of the sequester, trying to protect benefits already promised to
service members and their families.
One of those promises is that the Defense Department will help out
with tuition assistance for active duty service members. But because of
the sequester, the Army, the Air Force and the Marines have had to suspend
that situation assistance program. The Navy has not yet decided what to do
about it. But the other branches have suspended.
The Defense Department says it did not want to cut that program, but
it finds that it didn`t have a choice because of the way the sequester is
Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth said she would be signing onto a letter
to the secretary of defense asking him not to kill the tuition assistance
program, to try to find some way to keep it going.
But this is only a draft letter. See, no signatures on it yet. It
looks like it will stay in draft form. It may never make it to Secretary
Hagel`s desk, because today, the Senate passed an amendment to another
funding bill that would prevent the Defense Department from killing the
tuition assistance program. The Defense Department could cut some of the
funding, but not all of it. That bill will go to the House tomorrow where
we think it`s got a good chance of passing.
So, in other words, what this all boils down to is that Congress isn`t
fixing the sequester problem that they created. In fact, this Band-Aid
passed today will only last six months.
But on the bright side, this is the way they have to go about trying
not to make it any worse. So, it`s not fixed, but it`s not worse.
I mean, the other option for the Iron Dome, for tuition assistance for
service members, for the educational grants that go to the children of
service members killed in the war, any of these things rub you the wrong,
if any of these things seem like dumb cuts, we could just not do the
sequester. They could just get rid of the sequester altogether. All they
have to do is repeal it.
Hello, Iron Dome funding, hello, education grants to the kids of men
and women killed in combat, hello, all tuition assistance for active duty
service members -- you could bring it all back if you just repeal the
sequester. That`s what you`d call a win, win, win.
But viewers are advised to not hold their breath for that.
MADDOW: Congressman Patrick Murphy was a captain with the 82nd
Airborne. He was part of the initial invasion force in the Iraq war, where
he earned a Bronze Star. He`s here for an interview, next, on a story that
broke today about a big change in direction that could be announced by the
president quite surely. That`s next. Hold on.
MADDOW: From 1966 to 1972 and 1973, the head of the CIA was this guy,
Richard Helms. He was fired as head of the CIA in 1973 by Richard Nixon.
Mr. Helms had been associated with, frankly, a lot of shady things
that the CIA did. But one shady thing he would not do was use the power of
the CIA to stop the Watergate investigation. President Richard Nixon
wanted him to do that and we not do that, and he got fired.
The man who Nixon installed to replace him was this guy, James
Schlesinger. He only lasted six months on the job running the CIA. But
those six months had lasting consequences. For starters, he ordered a
review, a collection at the CIA of anything the CIA had done over the years
that might be seen as embarrassing or illegal or at least in contravention
of the charter under which the CIA was founded. At the CIA they call that
collection of embarrassing and illegal activity, the "family jewels".
In 2007, the agency declassified the "family jewels" when they decided
to publish the 700-page report that resulted from James Schlesinger asking
the agency to self report all heir misdeeds from over the decades.
A lot of it was heavily redacted. But some of had was clear as a
bell, like this. Hey, look. See the numbers on the side there? So who
knows what number one is? That`s totally redacted.
But in number two, they clearly say that the CIA used a member of the
mafia to try to assassinate Fidel Castro. They say so. And then later on
in the report, they go on to give all the details.
The CIA`s mission statement is that it is supposed to collect
information and analyze information and give that information to
policymakers so they can decide what to do with it. The agency even has an
all about the CIA web page that`s aimed specifically at sixth graders to
And they spell out, "Our mission is to provide information or
intelligence to the president, the National Security Council, and all other
officials who make and carry out U.S. national security policy. We provide
these leaders with the best information possible to help them make policy
involving other countries." True.
But also sometimes they send a mafia guy named Johnny Roselli to go
try to kill Fidel Castro in Cuba, which is a heck of a lot different than
providing information to policymakers on that subject.
The CIA has always had its hand in something other than just getting
information. They have taken direct action, helping install the shah of
Iran in 1953, the disaster at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Participation in
lots of bloody civil wars and coup d`etat around the world, sending a mafia
hit man to go kill Castro. They have always done at least some of this
stuff to a certain degree.
But in 1973, the short-lived, 6-month-only director of the CIA, James
Schlesinger, he decided that the CIA needed to warn Congress about
something they were going to do. He went to Congress. He went to talk to
the chairman of the Armed Services Committee to tell them about something
that the CIA was about to do.
But the chairman of the Armed Services Committee said to him, "Don`t
tell me. I don`t want to know." This is now part of the Senate`s official
"In 1973, the CIA Director James Schlesinger told the Senate Armed
Services chairman that he wished to brief him on a major upcoming
operation. `No, no, my boy,` responded the senator. `Don`t tell me. Just
go ahead and do it. But I don`t want to know.`"
Congress did not want to know. Part of the U.S. government was
engaged presumably in using force, presumably, in some foreign country, but
the Armed Services Committee, the part of congress that oversees the use of
force against foreign entities didn`t want to hear anything about t don`t
tell me, because while they did think it was their job to oversee the
actions of the U.S. military, they did not see it their job to oversee the
actions of the CIA, even when they were acting in a rather military-ish
You see the problem, right? No oversight. Our country`s not supposed
to work like that.
In 1975, in the midst of the post-Watergate uproar in Washington, when
Congress decided that it ought to get up on is hind legs and play and role
in governing the country, instead of letting the crook in the White House
run it all, in the mid-`70s, after Watergate, after this upset caused by
Watergate, the Congress decided to do something about this oversight
problem, specifically on these types of actions. They decided that if the
Armed Services Committee wasn`t going to oversee the CIA, then somebody
else should, some other thing in congress should.
So they created something called the Select Committee on Intelligence,
which they gave responsibility for overseeing the stuff that spies do.
Since clearly the spies were doing a lot more than just spying.
Thirty years later, by the time of our post-9/11 wars, the CIA`s so-
called kinetic activities were ramped up to be more than its standard bad
assassination attempts and ham-handed revolt facilitating. By the end of
the George W. Bush administration, the CIA was operating a full-blown air
force of remotely piloted planes.
So, what about oversight, right? Was that committee that they created
back in the 1970s to oversee intelligence up to the job of overseeing this?
The answer seems to be sort of and sometimes.
Look at this. Quote, "Even after drone strikes against militants in
Pakistan were expanded significantly by George W. Bush, in the summer of
2008, the strikes were subjected to little congressional review, according
to former intelligence officials."
Quote, "During my time, the committees didn`t do any oversight on
drone strikes to speak of," said a former senior CIA official who left in
2009." Since 2009, it has apparently gotten better, which is the whole
point of "L.A. Times" report which quoted the CIA official saying the
oversight used to be non-existent.
Overall, it has gotten better. And the members of Congress who chair
the Intelligence Committees in the Senate and the House say frankly they
are overseeing the CIA just fine, thank you very much.
But the broader issue is still this -- what the CIA is doing now,
since 9/11, a big part of what they are doing really isn`t spying at all.
It`s just war. I mean, when it is six straight years now of aerial
bombardment with a death toll in the thousands, this is not sending Johnny
Roselli to Havana to go get Castro any more. This is war, ongoing,
relatively large scale war.
But because it is the CIA that`s doing it instead of the military,
it`s war that is waged secretly with no expectation that our elected
officials will even admit that it`s happening. And there`s no expectation
that it will be overseen by Congress the way that war is overseen by
Congress, the way that military is overseen by Congress.
This isn`t Armed Services. This is Intelligence, and it`s responsible
for keeping safe the "family jewels", right?
One of the interesting D.C. dynamics in the Obama era of national
security is that the CIA, at least a high levels of the CIA kind of seems
like they don`t maybe want this job any more, that although they have been
ramped up militarily to essentially become a covert air force, not
everybody at the CIA is all that psyched up about it.
After David Petraeus had to resign as head of the CIA following
revelations about an extramarital affair, the acting director who took
over, a CIA lifer, was described in the press as concerned about the over-
militarization of the CIA. Quote, "And so are many at the agency who fear
who they have wandered too far from the job of analyzing trends and
John Brennan, who President Obama appointed to run the CIA in his
second term after Petraeus, he told "The Washington Post" in October that
he too was interested in the CIA getting out of the drone business, saying
essentially that that is war and not intelligence and as such it should be
done by the Pentagon and not by the people who are supposed to be our
Well, that transition, that change, that potential change, at least,
is now maybe happening. It`s just a single article, citing three anonymous
sources. But it says the White House is poised to sign off on getting the
CIA out of the war business, putting the CIA back in the business of
spying, putting the drone program fully under the offices of the military,
which would mean that our nation`s war by any other name would be conducted
by the military, which admits to being bound by the laws of war and that is
overseen that way within our government.
Our civilian officials could not deny this part of our warfare to us
anymore and thereby, the line between peace and war would get ever so
slightly sharper than they are right now.
The 9/11 Commission recommended doing this, years ago. The upper
echelons of the CIA say that they would like to do this. Even hawks like
John McCain have been advocating for this kind of change.
Former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told us on this program to
expect this change of the president`s nomination of John Brennan to run the
CIA was successful. But if this happens, if this happens, if they move
drone warfare out of the hands of the CIA and put it under the auspices of
the military, this would not be the end of drone warfare, but it would be
the end of a really big and far-reaching change that we made as a country
after 911 that we never, ever debated. It just happened.
Joining us now for the interview, is -- I`m very pleased to announce -
- MSNBC`s newest contributor, former Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy.
In Congress, he served in both the Intelligence Committee and the Armed
Services Committee. He served in the U.S. Army in Bosnia and Iraq, where
he won the Bronze Star for service.
Congressman Murphy, thank you so much for being here. Congratulations
on the new gig.
PATRICK MURPHY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks so much, Rachel. Good to
be with you tonight.
MADDOW: What do you make of this report today in "The Daily Beast"
that the White House is ready to pull the CIA out of the drone warfare
business and put it under Pentagon control instead?
MURPHY: Well, I`m a little ticked because on my first day on MSNBC I
got scooped by somebody else on a different Web site.
So, in all seriousness, Rachel, this is a big deal. We`re basically
going back to the fundamentals of what the CIA should be. And it should
not be a paramilitary force. It`s clear rules of engagement under Title 50
of the United States Code. The military is under Title 10.
There should be a military operation, a drone, because it is an
instrument of war. And there should be one set of rules and regulations
that we abide by.
MADDOW: When you were in Congress, serving both in Armed Services and
Intel, obviously, there`s a split responsibility between those committees
for the different military actions taken by the intelligence community and
by the military. Do you think that it is as possible for Congress to
oversee the intelligence community as it is for them to oversee the
military? Is it harder to know what the CIA is doing?
MURPHY: It`s much harder, for several reasons. One, all you`re
hearing in the intelligence committee are there`s no staff, you`re there.
I remember I was -- I take copious notes and I took a bunch of notes and I
would have to keep them there. I couldn`t go back and digest them or
rewrite them, because it`s all secret information. But it`s important.
And we had our hands full to be very clear, Rachel. I mean, it was
really the intelligence committee that ended torture or what the Bush
administration called enhanced interrogation techniques. And that was not
an easy task and what we did there, because I think this is very analogous,
what we did there was we made sure that they, CIA and other intelligence
assets that we do, if we do have folks that are detainees that we use the
rules of engagement, we use the law of war under the Department of Defense.
And in that case, General Petraeus was actually one of our biggest
advocates, saying, yes, we should have one standard. Because, Rachel,
you`ve got to look at it from the other perspective. The folks in
Afghanistan and Pakistan and wherever, you know, they don`t say, oh, this
is a intelligence guy. They just know it`s the United States of America.
And that`s why we`ve got to be clear and concise in how we treat
people and how these instruments of war are deployed.
MADDOW: If the White House does make this change, do you think it`s
going to make a difference in terms of the way that our country is
connected to the wars that we are waging overall? I mean, obviously,
there`s the issue of wars going on for 10, 11, 12 years and whether the
country feels connected to them.
But there`s a specific problem with drone warfare when our elected
officials legally have to deny that they have any knowledge that these
things are happening.
Do you think it would make any difference when officials who are
supposedly directing the war to have to admit this stuff to us?
MURPHY: Well, it does give, there is some ability under Title 50,
what the CIA`s under, that because they can basically lie, because it`s a
covert program, they don`t have to be necessarily forthful and they
wouldn`t be perjury, versus under Title 50, they don`t have the same -- I
mean, they can still have clandestine programs, but they can`t lie to the
Congress or they`ll be held in contempt of Congress through other
protections they do not have.
But I do think it`s a shift, Rachel, of President Obama`s war
fighting. He`s going clearly from a counterinsurgency to a
counterterrorism doctrine. He`s being very specific.
As you know, counterinsurgency is a lot of manpower. It`s very
expensive and it`s nation-building.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has been very clear that we`re going
after the bad guys. He`s very clear that he`s an ass kicker and if there`s
someone that`s going to put our families in harm`s way, he`s going after
MADDOW: Patrick Murphy, former Democratic congressman from
Pennsylvania, now, our newest MSNBC contributor, I`m very happy to be able
to announce that tonight -- Patrick, thank you so much.
MURPHY: Thanks, Rachel.
All right. You know, we have the John Boehner is bad at his job
hypothesis, which is mostly about he`s supposed to be the leader of the
Republicans but none of them actually follow him when he leads -- that
hypothesis is about to get a part two, coming up.
MADDOW: The House Tea Party Caucus established 2010 was founded in
2010 and by halfway through 2011 accumulated 60 members, 60. But then
As quickly as it emerged, it appears to have fizzled. Today,
Slate.com`s Dave Weigel observes that the vaunted Tea Party Caucus that was
supposedly shaking up Washington and fundamentally changing our politics,
they have not actually met since July of last year. Their Web site is
still up and running, so somebody is paying web hosting fees but the
membership page no longer exists.
Apparently, the group is refiling to try to make themselves exist
again in Congress, but right now, they`re just not there. Haven`t been
there for months. And until today, nobody really noticed, which is fine,
unless the Beltway wants to keep using their supposed existence as
justification for why no one listens to the Republican Party`s so-called
If you do not have existence of the Tea Party caucus to blame for that
any more, who are you going to blame instead?
That story is next.
MADDOW: Happy vernal equinox, everybody. Despite what the weather
would have you believe, spring has sprung. That means cherry blossoms in
Washington maybe depending on global warm, H&R Block TV commercials that
make you panic about your taxes, and just about everyone taking minutes to
fill out an NCAA basketball tournament bracket. Death, taxes, car
insurance, ketchup, potholes, March Madness -- these are the ties that
bind. This is American exceptionalism.
And the president of the United States is not immune. As he has done
every year since being elected, President Obama appeared on ESPN this
morning to fill out his own NCAA bracket and let us know his favorites to
do well in this year`s men`s basketball tournament.
This time around, he picked Indiana to win the tournament, which is
not an especially daring pick but it`s also not an entirely obvious choice.
Now, in previous years, Republicans responded to the president doing
an NCAA bracket with outrage, as if this is a major scandal that he does
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: You know what, we as a world are going through a
dire state, we need to address it, maybe I am not going to worry about
brackets for March Madness.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president may look a little disconnected
focusing on the NCAA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He is so disconnected. How dare he? Basketball is terrible.
The American people hate basketball. He is so disconnected.
The Republican Party right now is going through a period of
reflection, especially about the issue of its own connection with the
American people. Why is it people see this president and his party as
being more in touch than, say, the stuffy old men of the Republican Party,
which is the term their party chairman used to describe the image of his
party this week.
On Monday, the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, tried
to head off members of his party and the conservative movement from
attacking the president on the basketball thing again this year. He told
Politico.com that his party, quote, "has divorced itself from the American
culture." Mr. Priebus brought up the fact that Republicans have complained
so much in recent years about the president, quote, "talking hoops for a
half hour on ESPN."
He said it is time for Republicans to get smarter about these things.
Quote, "I think we`ve got to get with it."
OK. So right. So the president does something normal and human
relatable to most people in the country, try not to attack him for that one
thing. Take on the president on policy, if you`re going to beat him, do it
on substance. Reince Priebus is getting with it.
The rest of the Republican Party is not getting with this. Soon after
the president appeared this year on ESPN, it was like clock work. There`s
Republican Congressman Steve Scalise, who`s the chair of the Republican
Study Committee issued a statement saying President Obama`s NCAA bracket is
a shocking failure of leadership.
The House Republican Conference put this video on YouTube, echoing the
same complaint. How dare he?
All kinds of congressional Republicans, including House Speaker John
Boehner went on Twitter insisting Obama should stop this outrage of liking
sports. Get off my lawn! It is March Madness, Republican style.
The first day of spring, the annual opportunity for House Republicans
to turn over an old leaf they know they shouldn`t turn over any more but
they can`t stop themselves.
Also, clearly, it`s going to be Gonzaga. But don`t tell John Boehner
because he would be furious with you for caring enough to know that it`s
going to be Gonzaga.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night.
Right now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Have a great evening.
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