'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, May 30th, 2013
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
May 30, 2013
Guests: Michael Rezendes
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thanks to you at home for staying with us for
the next hour.
Honestly, I`m kind of excited about our show tonight. Not because the
news itself is exciting and a good news sort of way, but because there`s a
lot of really interesting news going on. And I think this is going to be a
good show. Anyway, thanks for being here.
As we reported last night, it looks like President Obama has picked
somebody with a remarkable and dramatic political past as his nominee to
run the FBI. His name is James Comey.
He prosecuted the Gambino family in New York City. He investigated
and brought the indictments in the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in
1996. He`s one of the people who helped pick Patrick Fitzgerald as the
special prosecutor who went after the Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, Valerie
Plame outing the CIA officer investigation, that bombshell investigation
back in 2003.
Most famously, James Comey was the guy who had the car chase to the
hospital room and then the middle of the night hospital room stand-off with
George W. Bush`s chief of staff and his White House counsel. When they
ambushed John Ashcroft who was basically half dead from acute pancreatitis
in the hospital at the time, and they tried to get him to sign off in the
hospital on a surveillance program that he believed to be illegal.
That was James Comey at the stand-off in the hospital room. And that
was him threatening to quit in protest. And that was him then telling the
whole sordid story under oath. That was him.
In NPR last night and "The New York Times," they were the first to
report it but it looks like James Comey is going to be tapped by President
Obama to lead the FBI. And, yes, that makes him the latest in a long list
of Republicans who this Democratic president has appointed to high-ranking
positions in his administration.
There`s former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel leading the Defense
Department. And before Chuck Hagel, President Obama kept on President
Bush`s Republican defense secretary, Bob Gates. Former Republican Governor
Jon Huntsman was brought on as the ambassador to China. Former Republican
congressman John McHugh was brought on as the secretary of the Army.
It was former Republican Congressman Ray LaHood, who the president
appointed to be his secretary of transportation. He put former Republican
Congresswoman Ann Northrop as head of the Consumer Product Safety
Commission. Former Republican Congressman Jim Leech, he installed as head
of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
You might also remember that President Obama tried to nominate
Republican Senator Judd Gregg to be commerce secretary, but then Judd Gregg
freaked out and changed his mind and said he didn`t want it after all and
quit the Senate and now he`s a lobbyist. Class act, Judd Gregg.
You know, who knows how the Republicans in the senate are going to
react to the James Comey nomination when it happens? Who knows how
Republicans in the Senate will react to yet another Republican being
appointed by this Democratic president to another high profile
It`s interesting. Democrats don`t seem to much mind their Democratic
president appointing members of the opposite party. But the opposite party
sometimes does seem to mind when Republicans are becoming part of this
Given James Comey`s reputation, though, I think anybody is going to
find it hard to make an issue out of the FBI nomination. I mean, this is
the kind of thing that gets thrown into standard news profiles of James
Comey, age 52, established a reputation as a fierce defender of the
law and the integrity of the Justice Department, regardless of the
political pressures of the moment. Or this one, same idea: Mr. Comey was
widely praised for putting the law over politics. Or this one, Comey`s
reputation as a principled lawyer who would not bend the law just to please
his superiors in the White House. That`s the way people talk about this
guy who apparently is going to be President Obama`s nominee to run the FBI.
And if you care about integrity in office and you care about guts and
all the rest, it is nice to see a guy who has displayed those
characteristics in office get rewarded for them and t this big high-profile
promotion. It is as nice to see James Comey out for the head of the FBI
given what he has been through. It is as nice to see him up for that
nomination as it was sickening to see President George W. Bush pass him
over in favor of Alberto Gonzalez for attorney general.
Alberto Gonzalez, the guy to whom Jim Comey had to stand up to and
physically block from doing wrong in the middle of the night in that
hospital room so long ago.
President Bush rewarded the bad guy in that fight -- the guy who
showed up at the hospital room to try to get his way with the sick guy.
President Bush gave that guy the attorney general job and passed over Jim
Bush rewarded the bad guy in that fight. President Obama is now
rewarding the good guy in that fight. And right now the FBI, honestly, has
a really big mess on its hands, so maybe it is good that the FBI is about
to get somebody new in charge for the first time in 12 years.
The mess right now is about the Boston bombing. And the FBI`s mess
here is not just about the bombing itself. It`s not just that they
apparently closed their file on one of the two suspected bombers and then
lost track of him before the bombing.
The mess for the FBI here is also now about this. This is another
young Chechen man who was reportedly not linked himself to the bombing or
to radical ideology of any kind. But he did know the older of the two
Boston bombing suspects when he lived for a time and practiced mixed
martial arts at the same gym as one of the suspects in Boston.
After the Boston bombing, this young man, Ibragim Todashev was
questioned multiple times about the bombing itself and about his ties to
the bombing suspect. But last week, while being questioned again in
Florida, something went very, very wrong and he ended up dead.
Law enforcement, including FBI agents, were questioning him in his
home in Orlando last Wednesday when something happened, and this 27-year-
old, who was being questioned, this Ibragim Todashev ended up dead.
Well, today in Moscow, that man`s family held a press conference at
which the dead man`s father held up and distributed photos -- I have to
give you warning that these images are a little graphic -- he distributed
photos that he said were taken of his son`s body after it was autopsied.
We are being told that the autopsy report is not likely to be released for
months because of this ongoing investigation, but we now have these photos
because the body was released from the morgue to the next of kin in Florida
and his son`s friend, the young man you see here who is also Russian, who
was also questioned by the FBI, he says he took these photos of his
friend`s body. And he gave those photos to the guy`s family in Russia.
And that led to today`s press conference in Moscow, with the family
showing these photos and demanding answers for what happened to their son.
Now, we have not been able to authenticate these photos, nobody has.
And the medical examiner did not confirm to us by the time we went to air
that these photos are actually of these guy and that these are real photos.
But if these photos, and again these are graphic images, if these
photos are him, if these are his post-autopsy photo, if these are him and
they are real, then something weird is going on. Because they appear to
show that he was shot six times in the torso and once in the back of the
head -- the rear of his head, sort of at the crown of his head.
How does that comport with the FBI`s story that he was killed during
questioning by armed agents who were only acting in self defense? Shot
seven times, including in the back of the head?
After the Boston bombings and the killing of the older of the two
suspects in the Boston bombings, and the capture of the younger one, after
that happened, the one real mystery that emerged in conjunction with this
case was about another crime -- a crime that happened in 2011.
On the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, September 11th, 2011, a quiet
neighborhood in greater Boston that`s called Waltham suffered a really
atypical crime. Three young men in Waltham, all fit, strong young men --
they were all find in a Waltham apartment with their throats slit. Their
bodies were covered in marijuana, it had been thrown all over the bodies,
and $5,000 in cash was left untouched at the scene.
After Tamerlan Tsarnaev was implicated in the Boston bombing, that
cold case triple murder from 2011 in Waltham, that cold case got hot again
when investigators realized that this guy, the bombing suspect, had been
very close friends with one of the young men who was killed that night in
People who knew the victims also told local reporters they always
thought it was strange that Tamerlan Tsarnaev didn`t attend the funeral of
his murdered friend. They thought it was strange he didn`t go since they
were so close.
Could the Boston bombing suspect have been the perpetrator of that
unsolved triple murder as well as the Boston bombing? Was it just a
coincidence that he was a link between these two crimes, or were they
connected because he did both of them?
That was the remaining mystery, right after the Boston bombing
suspects, one of them was killed and one of them was arrested. That was
the remaining mystery. And then after this other young man was killed last
week in Florida during questioning by the FBI, unnamed law enforcement
sources started leaking an elaborate story that not only made it seem
justified for him to have been killed during questioning, but also -- drum
roll please -- it was an elaborate story that basically solved that
unsolved triple murder in Waltham.
Two unnamed law enforcement officials saying the dead man had
implicated himself and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the Waltham murder, right
before he was fatally shot during questioning. Quote, "He appeared to be
on the verge of signing a confession to those murders. He was about to
Sources say that Todashev snapped as investigators pushed him toward a
confession. He lunged at the interrogator with a blade or maybe it was a
knife. He lunged at an FBI agent with a knife.
So that was the story that we heard. That`s how we learned that the
FBI had been questioning this guy in Florida and that they had killed him
during questioning. That is the story that we were told when we learned
that he existed, that they were questioning him and that he was now dead.
But since then, in the week since, starting even before the family
showed these photos today, saying he was shot in the back of the head and
six others times, since the initial story of what happened in Orlando when
this guy died first came out, that initial story has fallen apart. Within
12 hours of the initial reports, two of e initial three law enforcement
sources who had described the dead man as having a knife said they were no
longer sure about the knife. So, what was three sources is now one source.
Then, yesterday, WESH in Orlando and "The Washington Post" both cited
multiple law enforcement sources saying in fact the young man was unarmed.
Then, yesterday, law enforcement sources says he might have been -- said he
might have been lunging for a sword that was in the room where he was being
questioned. And that he pushed a table and possibly threw a chair.
Now, tonight NBC News was told by the FBI that the young man was not
unarmed but he didn`t have a knife either. He had a metal rod of some
kind. And the law enforcement officers shot him because they thought he
was reaching for a gun from somewhere. And so, they shot him seven times,
including in the back of the head?
We do not know precisely that that is the number of times he was shot,
but that is what the family is saying based on photos they say were taken
of his body post-autopsy. No one will confirm that or deny that
officially, whether that is the actual nature of his wounds.
And through all of this serial unnamed source leaking, including not
just generic law enforcement sources but also FBI sources specifically,
through all of this, the FBI`s stance here has been privately multiple
contradictory but always self exculpatory leaks.
And, officially, publicly, their stance has been basically silence.
Ongoing investigation, we`ve sent a review team, there will be no further
And meanwhile, the family in Russia is holding a press conference,
distributing what they say are the death photos, demanding justice, saying
that no one from the U.S. has contacted them at all since the killing.
They said they have no explanation and so, they are seeking an explanation
by media circus.
And in Orlando, yesterday, the widow and family and friends are
holding a press conference saying they, too, do not understand. They have
no information officially. And honestly, if you look at their comments
both at the press conference and other remarks they have made since this
happened, they`re all drifting into conspiracy land in which they think the
FBI is the American version of the secret police back home and this must
mean there`s some bloody conspiracy of American law enforcement to wage
unjust war on the Chechen people just like they do at home in mother Russia
-- which is ridiculous.
But until we hear some real information from law enforcement about
what actually happened here, instead of this mess that they`re giving us --
of sometimes false, always anonymous, usually inflammatory, unofficial
leaks, with that being the only side of the story we`re getting from law
enforcement, what we`re left with here is a baffling mess, and a story that
does not make sense and a million questions not only about what happened
last week in that apartment in Orlando, but what happened in that triple
murder in Waltham? And are we any closer now to solving it?
Joining us now is Michael Rezendes. He`s a investigative reporter for
"The Boston Globe." He`s been reporting on the murders in Waltham since
they took place in 2011.
Mr. Rezendes, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I
appreciate you joining us.
MICHAEL REZENDES, THE BOSTON GLOBE: My pleasure.
MADDOW: What us the status on the Waltham murders? Again, we have no
official word on what the status is. But as far as you understand it, are
we any closer to knowing what happened there?
REZENDES: Officially, I don`t know that we`re any closer. It would
seem that we`re closer because we have a suspect that`s been named at least
off the record. But the status of the investigation is ongoing. And there
are as many questions about Waltham as there are about Orlando.
There are lots of missing pieces and in many ways, the stories that
are told and circulated simply don`t add up for a variety of reasons. So,
it remains a mystery with coincidence after coincidence after coincidence
that lead people to suspect that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was one of the killers
and now, perhaps Ibragim Todashev was the other.
MADDOW: In terms of the sort of unofficial naming of at least
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect, as again unofficially a
suspect in the crime, do you know from your -- from your reporting on this
over the years, do we know if police in Massachusetts ever questioned him
or interviewed him in conjunction with that murder? Did his name ever come
up with conjunction with the crime?
REZENDES: Well, we don`t know whether he was ever interviewed. And
it`s probably the most important question to have answered right now if one
wants to assess the job that the police did at the time. Even that basic
fact, we don`t know.
Now, the day after these three gentlemen were murdered, the district
attorney said that -- essentially he said there were two suspects. He said
there were two people who were in the apartment just before the triple
homicide took place, and he promised that there would be more information
and there was never any more information.
But he did say at the time that there were two, and now we do have two
names that are being circulated as suspects and I think surely that they
are suspects. Whether they did it or not is another question.
MADDOW: Well, when you heard about the shooting in Orlando and the
subsequent statements, again all unofficial from law enforcement that this
man was on the verge of confessing in writing to the Waltham murders and
that he had implicated Tamerlan Tsarnaev, did that -- as somebody who`s
been covering this, did that development make sense to you given your
previous reporting on Waltham? Did it seem like things were going that
REZENDES: Well, I had a couple of reactions to it. I guess the first
reaction was that someone like Ibragim Todashev as a suspect does make some
sense because one of the mysteries about the Waltham triple homicide is
that two of the three gentlemen who were murdered were experts in the
martial arts. They were very fit, they were very strong and it would have
taken some expert fighters to be able to overpower them without a single
shot being fired and then to kill them.
So if you talk about Tamerlan, he was a very accomplished amateur
boxer, also a mixed martial arts fighter. And you have Ibragim Todashev as
also an accomplished mixed martial arts fighter. Suddenly, it begins to
make some sense.
MADDOW: Michael, can I just ask you in reporting on Waltham, I mean
trying to get something out of the Middlesex County D.A. on this is like
trying to crack a safe. Like there`s no official information at all and
never really has been.
In your reporting on this, have you had to deal with the same kind of
unnamed law enforcement leaks of contradictory information that we`re
seeing coming out of this case in the Orlando part of it? And how do you
handle that when that is the way that law enforcement is sort of refusing
to talk about these stories?
REZENDES: Well, it`s very, very frustrating and very, very difficult.
And I think part of what`s going on here is that there are a lot of
reporters dealing with a lot of law enforcement sources.
And the thing about law enforcement sources is they`re people and
they`re like everyone else, which is to say they gossip and they speculate
and they kibitz. Not all of them have access to accurate information
So when you`re dealing with a story like this, it`s very important to
assess the information that comes your way and to try to figure out where
it`s coming from, and to assess the track record of the person that`s
giving you the information. And it can be a frustrating and time
consuming, but it is very important to get it right.
MADDOW: In this case, watching this case run away from the FBI and
from American law enforcement even now in an international context with
this press conference, this unbelievable press conference with the death
photos in Moscow makes clear to me that there ought to be some more
official information on the record, but we shall see.
REZENDES: Yes, I would agree with that.
MADDOW: Michael Rezendes, investigative reporter for "The Boston
Globe" -- thanks for helping us understand this. I really appreciate your
REZENDES: My pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. So how are your summer plans shaping up thus far?
Are you thinking about maybe spending some time interrogating your
political opponents with the same inane questions that lead nowhere for
months at a time? It turns out somebody has already beat you to that
particular plan and that`s coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: We`ve got a photo now of the ricin-laced letter that was sent
to Mayor Bloomberg that we also now know was sent to President Obama. It
turns out ricin does not look like I think it would in a letter. Anyway,
we`ve got that photo and new news on that coming up.
MADDOW: We now have a picture of one of the anonymous ricin-laced
letters that was sent to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and to his
gun control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. We`ve got the shot of the
inside letter too. Yes.
"You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns.
Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face. The right to
bear arms is my constitutional God-given right and I will exercise -- he
did not spell that word correctly -- that right until the day I die.
What`s in this letter is nothing compared to what I`ve got planned for
you," end quote.
It`s amazing how frequently "I want to kill you" combines with "I
can`t spell." I don`t know if that should be worrying or reassuring. I
find it kind of both.
We learned about the Bloomberg letters yesterday and today we learned
an identical letter was sent to President Obama. Now, all the letters have
been turned over to the FBI joint terrorism task force for testing and
There were some early reports tonight from "The New York post" saying
there had been an arrest in the case of these ricin-laced letters. "The
New York post" appears to be wrong about that, no surprise.
NBC News reporting tonight that the reports of an arrest are not true,
but the FBI is questioning a man who has connections to both Texas and
Louisiana, to see if he has any useful information about the ricin letters.
The ricin letters appear to have been sent with a Shreveport,
Louisiana, postmark. The Shreveport Postal Center reportedly handles mail
from Louisiana but also from Texas and Arkansas. So, conceivably, the
letter might have been mailed in any one of those states.
This news, today, of course comes on the heels of the other ricin-
laced letters that were sent to President Obama and other officials. Last
month, the FBI arrested a Mississippi martial arts instructor in connection
with those letters.
And, last week, a Washington state man was charged with threatening to
kill a federal judge, also in a letter that was laced with ricin.
And while `re on the subject, just yesterday a federal judge sentenced
a North Carolina man to prison for threatening President Obama over Twitter
during the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The man admitted to using
his Twitter account to post five threats to President Obama, including this
one, "Plotting President Obama`s murder. I`m going to assassinate
President Obama this evening and the Secret Service is going to be
defenseless once I aim the assault rifle at Barack`s forehead."
Again, the spelling thing, but also according to authorities, the man
was super, super high when he made those threats. He did later end up not
being as high and he wrote an apology letter to the president. But now,
high or not, he is going to do six months in jail after today`s sentencing
for making those threats.
And you know what, whether you are super, super high or you`re an
aggrieved martial arts instructor or you`re some gun guy who can`t spell
who hates New York City`s mayor, honestly you put this many stories in the
mix and there are others that we didn`t even include here, it`s kind of
getting out of hand. This intimidation thing, it`s ridiculous.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Good news for modesty tonight. And it has to do with
The technology known as backscatter radiation can be used to produce
super detailed X-rays of things and of people. It works by shooting low
energy X-rays at something and then those X-rays are scattered back into
radiation detectors. The result is a very, very, very thorough picture of
the object or the person being imaged. This is the kind of X-raying that
does not just show like metal, it shows everything.
If you have been through airport security and gone through one of
those scanning machines where you have to empty absolutely everything out
of your pockets and you have to hold your hands above your head and not
move, you have experienced backscatter radiation. And a very, very,
detailed image of your body has been created for your friendly neighborhood
Well, today the TSA announced that all of the machines that produce
the extra revealing images of travelers have been removed from U.S.
airports. It`s not going to happen anymore. You still may have to stand
there with your pockets empty and your hands up holding still, but now
apparently TSA screeners will just see an outline of your body instead of
every gory detail.
So, now, we can all go back to the old system where if you wanted a
TSA officer to know that much about you and your body, you would have to
date them and maybe buy them dinner rather than just trying to board your
MADDOW: Behold, the official White House Christmas card from 1993.
1993 was the first year of the Bill Clinton presidency and this year`s
Christmas card featured the president and the first lady and a Christmas
tree in the state dining room. This Christmas card from 1993 was seen by
Republicans in Congress at the time as a scandal, as evidence that Bill
Clinton was corrupt and criminal and was guilty of abusing the office of
It was all evident right there in the Christmas card, because the way
the Clinton White House addressed its Christmas cards was that they used a
computer database. A database set up in the White House social office that
included the names of everybody the Clintons came in contact with once the
Clinton presidency started. It was a database of about 350,000 names.
If you were on that list, you got a Christmas card. And although the
White House social office contended that the database was only used to
figure out who should get Christmas cards, congressional Republicans knew
it was a scandal. They suspected something nefarious. They thought the
Christmas card list was somehow corrupt, criminal, it was an abuse of
So Republicans held hearings into the Christmas cards. Clinton
administration officials were hauled before the House Government Reform and
Oversight Committee to answer for this evil White House Christmas card list
and explain how it was evidence of improper partisan campaign activity or
Republicans called up 34 witnesses to give depositions about the
Christmas card list. They demanded more than 40,000 documents about the
Christmas card list. They held days of hearings on the Christmas card
list. And, you know, they accused liberals of waging a war on Christmas?
Despite all the hearings and the depositions and all the rest of it,
the Republican investigations into the White House Christmas card turned up
nothing. Sometimes a Christmas card really just is a Christmas card.
Officially, that scandal-seeking fishing expedition from the Clinton
era is known as the investigation of the conversion of the $1.7 million
centralized White House computer system known as the White House database
and related matters.
Unofficially, though, it is known as the time that House Republicans
spent years investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton`s Christmas card.
The guy who led that committee that investigated the Clinton Christmas
card was this guy. His name is Dan Burton. He was a Republican
congressman from the great state of Indiana.
And for years, Dan Burton`s whole reason for being was to try to find
a way to take down the presidency of Bill Clinton using the powers of his
own office in the House. He once described President Clinton as a scum
bag. He said that on the record.
To give you a little taste of the Dan Burton mindset, he convinced
himself that the president and the first lady, Bill Clinton and Hillary
Clinton, were not just bad people, they were killers. He decided that they
murdered their deputy White House counsel, a man named Vince Foster.
And to help prove it, Dan Burton went into his backyard with a gun and
shot at either a watermelon or a cantaloupe, depending on who you believe,
in order to prove that Vince Foster`s death was a Clinton hit. It was a
murder and not a suicide, which he could tell because of something about
shooting a watermelon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAN BURTON (R), INDIANA: We at my House with a homicide
detective tried to recreate a head and fired a .38 four-inch barrel into
that to see if the sound could be heard from 100 yards away, even though
there was an earth mover moving around in the background making all kinds
of racket and you could hear the bullet clearly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, obviously, Bill Clinton is a murderer.
Dan Burton`s committee investigated claims that the Clintons were
traitors, that they were selling information to the Chinese government in
exchange for money. He held hearings alleging that the Clinton
administration was selling burial plots in Arlington National Cemetery in
exchange for campaign contributions.
He held hearings alleging that the Clinton White House was
surreptitiously altering videotapes of fund-raisers in order to hide some
sort of wrongdoing that Dan Burton imagined was happening at the fund-
raisers. Dan Burton suggested at one point that he should hire lip readers
to examine those tapes to find the photo-shopping.
During his tenure as chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight
Committee, Dan Burton issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to 141 different
Clintonites. In one case, Dan Burton`s investigators even managed to
subpoena the wrong man. That one was really embarrassing. Dan Burton`s
committee was so busy passing out subpoenas like party favors they
accidentally subpoenaed the wrong guy by confusing two similar sounding
Asian names. Yes, that`s nice.
That was the summer of subpoena. That was 1997. That was how
Republicans thought they would use control of the House to try to destroy a
presidency that they did not like as well as some watermelons.
Well, now 16 years and one Democratic president later, the Republican
summer of subpoena appears to be back. The Republican who has Dan Burton`s
old job as chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee
is now this man on your right, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of
But if you saw this whole thing unfold the first time, the plot this
time will seem familiar, even if some of the faces are changed. Some of
the faces are changed.
One of the latest targets of the Republicans latest round of subpoenas
in our new subpoena summer is Hillary Clinton`s former chief of staff when
she was secretary of state, a woman named Cheryl Mills.
Cheryl Mills it turns out is no stranger to this committee that`s now
investigating her. Here he is in 1997 testifying before the same house
committee on the great White House Christmas card scandal that was supposed
to drive Bill Clinton out of office once and for all. Cheryl Mills was
Bill Clinton`s White House deputy counsel at the time and now, House
Republicans say they would please like to talk to her again.
It`s going to be a long, hot, stupid summer. The summer of subpoena
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: This isn`t the end of the line, this is
just the beginning. I`ve got a good feeling that Darrell Issa is going to
be having quite a summer in reviewing what`s been going on here in the
White House as far as this scandal is concerned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Quite a summer.
Our Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on FOX
yesterday previewing what we are about to experience, another subpoena
How did that work out last time?
Joining us now is Steve Kornacki, the host of MSNBC`s excellent
weekend morning show "UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI." Steve is also a senior
writer at "Salon."
Steve, thanks for being here.
STEVE KORNACKI, HOST, "UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI": Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So the summer of subpoena, you could maybe put it on 1998
too, but 1997, I think it was really the heyday. How did that work out for
Republicans last time?
KORNACKI: It was -- yes, I think it was part of -- it was a part of a
pattern that went back to when Clinton took office in 1983. I always tell
people, I can remember a month into his term being a kid even in
Massachusetts and seeing a bumper sticker in front of us that said "impeach
Clinton", and that mindset was there that was sort of animating the right
for the entire time he was president. So there was sort of this endless
search we`re going to get something, we`re going to get something, we`re
going to get something.
After the `96 campaign, I think it accelerated a bit: A, because
Clinton had been re-elected so you`re not going to be able to beat him at
the polls and he`s not going to be in the ballot again. B, you had, you
know, the Whitewater independent counsel, they are on their third
independent counsel at that point. It was Ken Starr. We know what that
ultimately progress to.
And then you also had fund-raising controversies that came out of the
1996 campaign about, oh, did China try to influence the election and
Republicans convinced themselves that Clinton got re-elected because China
put money into the election. And so, that really I think kind of added oil
to the fire or gas to the fire, whatever the expression is.
And so, we got to the summer of `97 and into `98, I think Lewinsky
kind of fed off of that. It was reaching what Republicans thought was
critical mass in what that point had been sort of a five-year campaign to
find, you know, the smoking gun to take Clinton out of office. Again, I
think what really -- it was six months after the summer of `97 when you got
the Lewinsky thing. That`s when it went really berserk.
But, yes, the end game to all of this was, in the 1998 midterm
elections for the first time since James Monroe was president, the White
House party actually gained seats in a six-year election. Nobody saw that
coming and I was so shocking to Republican that say two days after that
election, Newt Gingrich had to step down as speaker.
MADDOW: So they went completely hog wild. They were presumably
encouraged by their base to keep going -- in Republican land, which
actually was more porous than it is now, now it is even more isolated from
the rest of media and the rest of political discussion, there was something
going on in the internal Republican feedback loop that told them they were
both onto something and that this was a good thing to do politically, but
the electorate totally disagreed.
KORNACKI: That was it. I think -- I think because that mindset
existed from basically the start of the Clinton presidency, that this is an
illegitimate president, that was basically the mindset on the right, there
was this assumption that eventually if we keep digging, we`re going to find
something that will make the rest of the country see it.
And I think, yes, this sort of closed information loop that exists on
the right wasn`t as developed in the 1990s as it was today, but it was very
similar in that you had talk radio, you had Rush Limbaugh and probably more
listeners in the `90s than he had today. So, if you were a conservative in
the 1990s, you were going to be celebrated, you were going to be able to
raise big money in the grassroots, you were going to be, you know,
celebrated on talk radio. You didn`t really have FOX News until the second
But that basic, you know, problem that I think exists on the right
that isolates the right from sort of more mainstream public opinion, that`s
been amplified today and so it`s reached a point today for Republicans
where either, you know, there`s an incentive to cater directly to it.
You`re going to be a hero within the Republican universe. You`re going to
be safe from a primary challenge if you are actively engaging in this
Or if you`re a Republican and you don`t believe in this stuff or don`t
think this is where the party should be spending its time, you better keep
that to yourself, because if you speak up and say that, then it becomes
like a tribal thing. That`s the mark of a RINO. A RINO would say we
shouldn`t be looking into this, we should be going after jobs, going after
the economy, whatever it is and you`re going to be the victory of the
MADDOW: Well, to Republicans have an alternate history of how this
turned out? Because I mean, I think that`s part of what`s going on with
Democrats when they`re looking at the sort of scandal-mongering that`s
happening on the right, right now, like nobody outside of the FOX-verse
thinks that Benghazi is a real scandal. Democrats aren`t real concerned
about Republicans trying to make it one because they look back and think,
`98, they overreached and actually helped us.
Do Republicans not see it that way? Do they tell themselves a
KORNACKI: Yes. I`ve heard it`s interesting because I have heard -- I
mean, Newt Gingrich actually gave an interview a week or two ago where he
said, yes, I think we overreached in 1998, how`s that for a quote. Well,
you would know, you lost your job because of it.
So I think there are some people in the party who either lived through
it and there are some sort of strategic-minded, pragmatic people in the
party who are trying to put the brakes on this a little bit. But, again,
you run the risk the louder you speak up, it`s very easy.
One thing I`ve learned following, living and covering politics for 20
years is it`s very easy to revise history.
KORNACKI: I see it happen all the time. I`ve seen the history of the
1990s revised where you would never know we had these balanced budgets at
the end of the 1990s that was the result of a tax hike, two tax hikes in
the start of the 1990s. To listen to any Republican tell a story of the
balanced budget at the end of the `90s, it`s because we got a Republican
Congress in `94 and we`ve got some deal in `97.
They forget -- no, there were no Republicans who voted for it in `93
and it was George Bush Sr. who committed treason to the conservative cause
in 1990. But that`s been -- all this history can be revised so easily.
MADDOW: It is easier to revise history than it is to stop the mob
with the pitchforks when it is happening.
MADDOW: Sort of political incentive.
Steve Kornacki of "UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI", MSNBC`s weekend morning
show, and a senior writer at "Salon" -- Steve, thanks a lot. It`s great to
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Best new thing in the world. Ready?
OK. Of the 8 million people jammed into New York City, 150,000 of
them, give or take, live here on that peninsula that`s circled in red there
-- the peninsula at the city`s far southern edge. That peninsula is called
the Rockaways. It`s an 11-mile long Atlantic Ocean beach peninsula that is
part of New York City.
And since peninsulas by definition jut out into water and are
surrounded on water by three sides, lots of peninsulas are pretty hard to
reach. And the Rockaways are no exception. In the 1950s in the Rockaways,
they celebrated when the city finally, finally extended a subway line out
there. Rockaway, here we come.
That subway line, the A train, is the connection for the Rockaways to
the rest of the world. And it is the longest subway line in this big, big,
big city. The part of that subway trip that goes across Jamaica Bay, just
that one part, takes so long that New York City pigeons have learned to
ride the A train so they don`t have to fly across the bay.
They get on the train on one side of the bay, they ride the train, and
then they get off on the other side of the bay, just like normal commuters,
except their pigeons. When you ride that train right out from the city,
out over the bay to the Rockaways, when you get there, what you find when
you get there miraculously, are beaches. New York City`s beaches where you
can swim and surf on a real beach with real waves and lifeguards and
everything. You can chase your mom around the sand.
The Rockaways are a miraculous urban thing, and they belong to the
people of New York, to the people of New York who live there and to the
ones who hop on the A train with their surf boards to go out there and go
And then came hurricane Sandy last October. The storm tore up the
tracks for the A train. It tore holes in the rail bed that were three and
four feet long. The storm surge wrecked the train`s signals and the train
wiring. It dropped boulders and seaweed and gunk of every description on
to the tracks that were left. It just tore everything up.
When they were done sorting through the debris out there, they found a
Coke bottle from 1902. Forty-eight separate boats washed up on to the
tracks, 48 boats. Hurricane Sandy was a giant storm. It affected not only
a large geographical area. It hit the most densely populated part of our
Sandy killed almost 300 people. It disrupted the lives of many
millions of people. Part of what was clear after the storm left was how
hard Sandy had hit places where rich and poor and middle class Americans
all go to play and relax. Places like the Jersey shore, where the
president and the governor of New Jersey palled around this week on the
boardwalk out there. But Sandy also hit places where rich people and poor
people and middle class people live.
We put a call in this week to the congressman who represents the
Rockaways, Congressman Gregory Meeks, and his office told us, listen, you
have to remember the Rockaways are an enormously diverse place with every
income level you can imagine, from the very destitute to millionaires, and
when Sandy hit, the richer end of the Rockaways burned.
Hundreds of homes were lost to fire when wind and waves knocked houses
off their frames and off their foundations, and then cut the gas lines, and
then the fumes ignited and there was no way to put out the fire. The
poorer end of the Rockaways is where the city long ago built nursing homes
and housing projects for people who they thought back then could safely be
isolated out there, people they thought had no particular need of reaching
the rest of the city.
And after the storm, the working class Rockaways found themselves
again cut off from the rest of the world, almost in a world of their own,
with a huge amount of damage over a wide area. And a twisted mess where
their train used to run. The A train was just gone.
Well, after the storm, the city got workers out there in the middle of
the night to hook up new train cars on the part of the tracks that still
worked. They created a new train line called the H Line to carry
passengers through the Rockaways as far as there still was train track, and
then they put a shovel bus out there to go around the busted part of the
tracks and let you off where you could catch the subway again.
So, it took forever commuting that way, right? That H train set-up
was definitely better than nothing, but you might need an extra three hours
to take it from the Rockaways to your job. Think about that for the kids
who live out there, trying to get to school. You live in New York City,
you are staying in New York City. But you`ve got to add three hours each
way to how long it takes you to get to school or to get to work?
And then another three hours added to the time to get home? Think of
how your week goes. Think of how that works for moms and dads trying to
get to their job and then back home again in time for dinner.
Well, today best new thing in the world. Today, our nation`s largest
city announced that six months of the hardest repair work imaginable, six
straight months with workers going seven days a week have brought the A
And now, you have to meet this kid. This is Rory. He is 5 years old.
And Rory loves trains! He loves trains so much he can give Fred Eaglesmith
a run for his money. Today, with the big announcement, Rory and his mom
rushed to the Rockaways to catch the last H train ever. Rockaway, here we
And with the last H train gone, they brought in a vintage train today
for the ceremonial first restored A train trip across. And, of course, all
the city dignitaries piled in for the first ceremonial train, right?
But the track workers were there too and they clapped and cheered,
still wearing their orange safety vests and hard hats. They had just
finished rebuilding three-and-a-half miles of track and rewiring everything
and totally overhauling and repairing the two stations that had flooded
completely. And then here comes the train, the new A train today. This
was shot today.
The new A train comes with a seawall designed to keep a storm even
bigger than Sandy from wrecking the tracks again. When they threw open the
subway turnstiles today, people were still lining up, actually, for the
replacement shuttle buses from the old H Line jerry-rigged thing.
Some of those people told us today that they will miss the weird make
shift system, because it had a side effect of giving people a three shuttle
bus and train around the Rockaways. But a lot of other folks seemed
awfully glad their train was back. The A train is back. And the Rockaways
But, of course, when places come back, they are never exactly the
same. Like any place that is rebuilding, whether it`s New Orleans or
Moore, Oklahoma, the Rockaways now have to wrestle with what kind of place
they want to rebuild themselves into.
Almost $2 billion in federal disaster relief is about to come through
New York City. Some of it for repairs, but some of it to make stronger,
more resilient places that can handle extreme weather, since we seem to
have more of that now. So they have to decide, do they want more ferry
service in the Rockaways, enough to make that a priority, do they want to
focus on housing, housing that more people can afford?
City Councilman Donovan Richards told us this week, he talked to us
about it. He said folks in the Rockaways have not always believed that
government cared about them. But Councilman Richards told us this: "At the
end of the day, because of the storm, there is light, there is hope that we
can change some things."
However, that plays out. Whatever choices the Rockaways are able to
make, they have got their train again. It is running, again, full service,
as of noon today.
But for the workers who should, frankly, go celebrate all night, and
then get cranking on the rest of the safety upgrades after that, and for
the lifeguard standing guard with ruined houses behind them, and for the
nice lady who can now go visit her mom without the trip taking all day --
she told us today -- and for Rory, who loves trains so much, that they let
him have the actual official notice that the A train service was restored,
not a copy, he got the real official notice, and for the Rockaways itself,
which deserves all the help it can get -- that darn train coming back is
the best new thing in the world today.
I have been looking forward to doing that best new thing in the world
for a very long time. Not as long as the Rockaways waiting for the A train
to come back, but I was so looking forward to telling that story.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL"
Thanks for being with us.
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