THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
December 13, 2013
Guest: Ted Mann, Michael Lehnert
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for staying with us
as well for the next hour.
This is David Dewhurst. He`s the lieutenant governor of Texas. He
serves under that state`s governor, Rick Perry.
And as lieutenant governor of Texas, David Dewhurst is most famous for
two things. Number one, he is famous for losing what everybody thought was
going to be a gift of a U.S. Senate seat to him. He lost the Republican
primary for that seat last year to a guy named Ted Cruz. Everybody thought
that David Dewhurst was going to get that seat, but he lost it and that`s
why we have Ted Cruz now.
The other thing he`s famous for is using the fact that he is the
lieutenant governor of the state of Texas to try to spring one of his
relatives out of jail when she got arrested for shoplifting this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good evening. Lieutenant Governor David
Dewhurst is taking heat tonight over a phone call to Allen police.
In that call, he says he wants to get a relative out of jail.
LT. GOV. DAVID DEWHURST (R), TEXAS: I would like to find out what I
need to do to get her out of jail, post bond, whatever.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was just a portion of the phone call. But
tonight, critics say the lieutenant governor overstepped his bounds.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Allen police arrested Ellen Beavers at 6:30 on a
Saturday night. At 10:30, this call came in.
DEWHURST: I want to talk to the most senior police officer you have
where you are right now. My name is David Dewhurst. I`m the lieutenant
governor of the state of Texas.
And you have incarcerated my sister-in-law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That kind of petty abuse of power, trying to throw your
weight around and use your stature as an elected official or the things you
can control as an elected official to get stuff for yourself and special
treatment for your family, that kind of thing has existed as long as
elected officials have existed.
But getting caught doing that is a particular kind of failure. That
people tend to remember, because it reflects on your character. And people
tend to remember especially if you try to move up in the world and get even
Take for example Sarah Palin and trooper-gate. Before Sarah Palin was
chosen to be John McCain`s running mate in 2008, I remember saying on some
cable news shows during the sort of veep stakes that year that there was no
chance that the unknown governor of Alaska would get picked for the job
because in Alaska, she had something called the trooper-gate scandal
looming unresolved over her governorship.
Trooper-gate was basically something involving Sarah Palin`s sister`s
husband. Sarah Palin`s sister and her husband, an Alaska state trooper,
they were in the middle of a divorce and child custody battle in 2006 when
Sarah Palin as governor and her husband, Todd, decided to weigh in to try
to get her sister`s husband fired from his job at a trooper.
Ultimately, Governor Palin ended up firing the state commissioner of
public safety in part because he refused to fire her brother-in-law.
Now, there are a lot of reasons why Sarah Palin didn`t end up becoming
vice president of the United States, but trooper-gate did not help. In the
heat of the 2008 presidential campaign, less than a month before election
day that year when the official Alaska inquiry into trooper-gate came out
and it said, yes, Sarah Palin had abused her power as governor in that
scandal, it did not help the John McCain Sarah Palin campaign when their
official response to that report which said she abused her power was the
governor saying she was delighted to be cleared of abusing her power.
It was just terrible news for them at a terrible time. It reflected
very badly on her as a candidate and as a potential leader. And the only
way they could deal with it on the John McCain campaign that year that
close to the election was essentially to pretend that the scandal was not
true, to pretend that the report that said she did it, said she didn`t do
it. Sarah Palin`s abuse of power scandal was not a good thing for that
In the great state of New Jersey, the Republican governor there, Chris
Christie, is the closest thing that the Republican Party has right now to a
sure bet in terms of somebody who`s definitely going to run for president
this time around and somebody who will immediately be seen as a top tier
contender as he jumps in.
Well, Chris Christie has also had repeated, but small scale problems
like this throughout his political career -- little abuse of power
problems, little misusing the perks of the office as personal perks of the
The first problem that he had of this kind related to his terrible
driving record. Between 1985 and by the time that he was running for
governor in 2009, Chris Christie racked up 25 violation points for various
traffic incidents. During that time, he had been in six accidents. He was
cited 13 times for moving violations.
The problem though for his run for governorship was how he tried to
use his public office to escape his responsibility whenever he would find
himself in trouble. In 2002, for example, Mr. Christie turned the wrong
way on to a one way street in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and hit someone. He
hit somebody on a motorcycle and he was going the wrong way.
The motorcyclist was injured. Christi Christie`s car had to be towed
away, but when police arrived on the scene to investigate and decide what
to do and what tickets to issue, Chris Christie started to throw his weight
Quoting from "The New Jersey Star Ledger" at the time, when an officer
arrived at the scene, Chris Christie explained what happened and said he
was on his way to the swearing in ceremony of the Union County prosecutor,
quote, "He did identify himself as U.S. attorney to the cop on the scene".
And, yes, then, wouldn`t you know, although his car had to get towed from
the scene and the motorcyclist who he hit was injured and had to be taken
away in an ambulance, Chris Christie after saying, hey, you know what, I`m
the U.S. attorney here, he was allowed to continue on his way to the
swearing in and he was never even given a ticket for the incident.
It emerged during his campaign for governor that that was not the only
time Chris Christie had been pulled over for a traffic incident and had
avoided getting in trouble after telling police officers that, hey, I`m the
U.S. attorney here.
In 2011, Governor Christie had another little abuse of power scandal
when he had New Jersey state troopers fly him to his son`s baseball game in
a state police helicopter at state expense. Governor Christie initially
refused to apologize, refused to reimburse the state for the cost of the
helicopter ride, but he eventually relented, yelled at the press that it
was a joke, the scandal was being driven by political hacks who were just
out to get him and it was a distraction from real issues, he did in the
end, though, agree he should pay the money back and he did.
Earlier this year, there was another incident where Governor Christine
was seen as potentially abusing the power of his office when he decided to
spend an extra $24 million in state money to set up a whole separate
election day for Democrat Cory Booker`s Senate election, so that would not
occur on the same day as governor Christie`s own re-election effort. He
spent all of that money, more than $20 million in taxpayer money that had
to be spent to do a whole separate election, but hugely inconvenient to
everybody in the state. It was of no benefit at all to anybody except for
Chris Christie, who was trying to rack up a huge margin in his reelection
victory. But he did.
And in the closing days of that re-election campaign, something else
happened, that now turns out to be the most serious of all the abuse of
power, potential problems that Chris Christie has had during his political
career, and that might be a problem for him if he does in fact try to run
for president. This most recent, potentially most serious problem
ironically started off as the one that seemed to be the most ridiculous.
It involves this bridge between the state of New Jersey and New York
City. All week long, I`ve been calling this the busiest bridge in the
country. It turns out, I have been understating the fact. If you go to
the official New York and New Jersey Web site for that bridge, they`re
proud to tell you it is not just the busiest bridge in the country. It is
the busiest bridge in the whole world. You say so.
The bridge is huge. It takes it more than $600 million every year in
revenue in tolls. That`s how busy it is, $600 million. And that`s how
rich the agency is that runs it and that takes in the tolls. That`s why
it`s a real perk of the job of being governor of New York or governor of
New Jersey that you get to appoint people to the agency that runs this
bridge, which meant money like a mob up casino.
Well, Chris Christie was trying to maximize his margin of victory in
his reelection effort this year, trying to sort of stage-manage his
reelection as New Jersey governor so it would set him up to run for
president. The governor`s campaign put a big emphasis on trying to make
sure that he had bipartisan appeal, really trumpeting every endorsement he
got from New Jersey Democratic Party officials.
One of the New Jersey Democrats who reportedly was asked to endorse
Chris Christie but who said no, was the mayor of Ft. Lee. Fort Lee
geographically is basically right at the spot where that busiest bridge in
the world connects to New Jersey from New York City. Two weeks after that
Democratic mayor reportedly declined to endorse Chris Christie, a long time
friend and political alley of the governor who had been appointed to the
agency that runs the bridge, that long time friend of Chris Christie`s
personally gave an order that two of the three lanes to the bridge from the
town of Ft. Lee should be closed off.
"The Bergen Record" newspaper later published these e-mails showing
that traffic engineers for the bridge have warned that if those lanes got
shut down, lines of cars 600 cars long would back up into the town of Fort
Lee and totally gridlock that town. They said if you shut down those
lanes, that`s what`s going to happen.
But Christie`s high school friend upon getting that advice about what
the consequences would be said go ahead and do it any way, and what they
predicted about the traffic the what happened. Fort Lee got gridlocked.
It essentially completely shut down the traffic in the town and it was not
just for one day. They started it on the first day of school on a Monday
morning. It went on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. It was
not until the executive director of the whole agency realized what was
going on and sent an angry e-mail telling them to open up those lanes that
the situation got resolved.
The general manager of the bridge later testified that when he got the
order to shut down the bridge, he was told to keep it quiet, to not make
any sort of public announcement about the lanes being shut down, to not
warn Fort Lee that they were about to have traffic Armageddon visited upon
them, he was told to not even tell the local police. He said he knew it
was wrong. Certainly unprecedented in all of his years at the agency, said
he didn`t feel like he had any choice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question to you is, the reason you chose not to
exercise discretion because you feared for your employment?
ROBERT DURANDO, GWB GENERAL MANAGER: I was concerned about what Mr.
Wildstein`s reaction would be if I did not follow his directive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Wildstein, Chris Christie`s long-term friend and
political ally who ordered the lane closures has now resigned. This
morning after refusing to answer questions about this matter for weeks,
Governor Christie also announced that Mr. Wildstein`s boss has resigned.
Chris Christie`s reaction to the whole matter today was, quote, "I`m
bothered when people make mistakes that end up reflecting poorly on their
performance." He`s still saying that he had nothing to do with it.
The issue here though, not just for New Jersey and certainly not for
Fort Lee, but for potentially the whole country and Chris Christi
Christie`s national role as a political leader, it`s not whether the
busiest bridge in the world is being administered poorly, or being
administered by people who make mistakes under the Chris Christie
The question, the reason why this is an important national story and
why Democratic groups and the Democratic National Committee are getting on
board on this and make it a Chris Christie political issue, the question is
why did this all happen in the first place? What was the motive for doing
this in the first place? Was it political retaliation? Was it Chris
Christie abusing the powers of his office to get ahead politically or at
least to get revenge politically?
I mean, as fascinating as the details have been on this story and the
new details are better than like every episode of "The Sopranos" except
where Carmelo pulls the AK-47 out of the ceiling, with the gold bars,
remember that one? As amazing as the details of this story are, the basic
issue here and the reason it`s a national story and not just the most New
Jersey story of all time is because of what Governor Christie has still not
As "The New Jersey Star Ledger" put it today, quote, "An explanation
that one seemed utterly ridiculous, that lanes were closed to create
traffic havoc in the town of Fort Lee as some sort of political retribution
against the town`s Democratic mayor, that has actually emerged as the only
logical explanation" for what happened here.
Democrats in New Jersey are starting to call this trooper-gate on the
Hudson, calling back to the Sarah Palin that almost upended her chances in
2008. Are they right to call it that?
Joining us now is Ted Mann. He`s been covering this story intensively
for "The Wall Street Journal" and the lot of the main scoops in this story
that has advanced the story as far as we know it have come from him.
Mr. Mann, thanks very much for being here.
TED MANN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks having me.
MADDOW: So, everybody loves a good mystery, but in terms of what you
have been able to report so far, and how this story is going, do you think
we will ever have an answer as to whether or not this was a politically
MANN: That`s going to be a hard question to answer especially as
governor Christie said today, that he didn`t know this was being done. He
categorically rejects this idea that there was anything politically
motivated about this and he`s reiterating what Bill Baroni and David
Wildstein, the departed officials, said, which is that they just took a
very unusual attempt to study traffic way too far.
MADDOW: And there are assertions that this was part of a traffic
study, and you ferreted out a lot of these details. First, it seemed very
damning that the executive director of the agency said, I don`t know
anything about new traffic study. We`ve seen evolution that they did
something that look like a study, and that continues to be their political
explanation to what they were doing.
The study itself, such as it was, though, does seem completely unusual
and completely unlike anything else the Port Authority has ever done.
MANN: Yes, the actions produced no study, no report, and Mr. Baroni
and he said when he testified that simply had ended it too soon, so there`s
no data to report with.
It`s also important that Pat Foye when he testified under oath, didn`t
just say he knew of no study. The first question that he was asked by the
assembly who was talking to him was, did he buy this explanation, and he
said I don`t.
So, he thinks there was no study. That any claim there was a study is
not the answer, that there`s some other answer.
MANN: It`s very similar to something we were told by someone familiar
with it very early on who said they`re calling it a study, but there was no
study. It`s something else.
MADDOW: If there was no study and if your source is correct and if
the executive director of the agency is correct, is there any alternate
explanation being put forward that would explain why they did it other than
MANN: I mean, certainly, I can`t rule out, you know, some other
MADDOW: But nothing`s been advanced so far.
MANN: You know, yes, nothing`s been advanced. There are several
versions of the study. The first thing that was said by the press office
when a couple of reporters called was this was about traffic safety. Since
then, it has been turned into a study about traffic fairness, whether it
was equitable to have three lanes set aside the way these were.
MADDOW: Whether For Lee should be allowed to live, right.
MANN: Right. And I think Assemblyman Wisniewski certainly has
indicated recently as this afternoon after Bill Baroni resigned that he`s
not done here, that he thinks there`s more there, and he wants to keep
issuing subpoenas and maybe getting testimony from people who know.
MADDOW: Ted, let me ask you about specific thing that you reported
that really seemed to get Governor Christie excited and not in a good way.
And that was your reporting that Governor Christie as he`s been joking
about this and making it light of it in public before today, had earlier
this week called New York Governor Andrew Cuomo essentially to say listen,
your New York appointees on this are pushing too hard for answers. Why
don`t you get them to lay off.
Governor Christie is now denying that that call ever took place.
MANN: Right. And Governor Cuomo`s spokesman did, too. We stand by
that story. That story is right.
MADDOW: All right. Ted Mann, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal"
-- boy, am I looking forward to reading your next piece on this.
Thank you very much for being here. Appreciate it.
All right. Did you see the big publicity stunt that`s been mounted
all week long in Washington this week collapse at 3:00 a.m.? Collapsed at
3:00 a.m., the only camera running was C-Span, and it`s some of the most
amazing C-Span you will ever see and we`ve got it next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Congress is trying to wrap it up for the year and they`re
really getting antsy about it. I mean, usually, by the time it`s not
Thanksgiving anymore, these guys are already home for Christmas.
But this year, the Senate is still there. They are trying to leave,
but have not figured it out yet. And the fact it`s really contentious and
uncertain as to when they get to leave and under what circumstances, and
how much they have to work before they get to leave -- right now, that is
making the news out of Washington more unpredictable and more interesting
than it usually is this time of year.
And it is also making the C-Span right now the best C-Span ever,
because C-Span has to come up with ways to show, to make sense of the total
nonsense happening in Congress right now that explains why Congress is
still there even though they are not doing anything at all.
On Wednesday, this week, you`ll remember that the top Republican in
the Senate, Mitch McConnell, he sprung a diabolical scheme on everything.
He said he was so mad at Democrats that the not only would the Senate not
be allowed to go home early for Christmas, the way they always do, he said
they wouldn`t be allowed to go home at all that whole night. He said he
was going to force the senate to stay in session all night Wednesday night,
then all night Thursday night and all night tonight, Friday night, as well.
He said they would go all the way to Saturday. We`re never going to
let the Senate leave!
That was Mitch McConnell`s I`ll show you plan to try to make the
Democrats mad. To hit back at the Democrats because Democrats changed the
rules about how nominations get voted on. So, in order to vote on a list
of 10 outstanding nominations this week, none of which were controversial
at all, Mitch McConnell`s big idea was that he would make it as hard as
Republicans would insist that every possible minute of debate time
would be used and that would mean holding votes on these rub of the mill
nominations like 1:00 in the morning and then 4:00 in the morning and then
4:00 in the morning next morning, too. They wouldn`t let anything be done
easily. They would create a giant spectacle by keeping the Senate in
session for four straight days at least with no breaks all night every
night. That will show them. Nobody sleeps.
Now, as publicity stunts go, this one must have sounded really good on
paper, must have sounded really good when somebody first proposed it at the
staff meeting. In practice, though, the weakness of this as a publicity
stunt is as that nobody cared. This is what it looked like. God bless
you, C-Span, you were there for every minute of it though nobody else was.
And if you want to know why this failed and why Mitch McConnell has
now caved and decided to give up on it and call it off early, there`s no
better way to see the failure than by watching the genius of C-Span late
last night covering the failure as it happened.
This is Republican Senator Pat Toomey, just after 11:30 p.m. last
night. He`s on the Senate floor talking about how horrible the health
insurance law is. It`s latish. He`s wrapping up his comments, maybe ready
to pass the baton to the next Republican who`s supposed to be taken an all
night stand on the Senate floor. But instead of handing off to whoever the
Republican is who`s supposed to be next, instead, he says this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I note the absence of a quorum.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Absence of a quorum.
The Republicans forgot to send somebody else to go after Pat Toomey.
The whole idea was relay, right? You always got to send somebody up, it`s
like you and you and you. They forgot. There was nobody for Pat Toomey to
hand off to.
So, then, yay for C-Span, the next thing that has to happen is that
the clerk has to take attendance. The clerk has to call the roll, watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOOMEY: And I know absence of decorum.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clerk will call the roll.
CLERK: Mr. Alexander?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Alexander? Mr. Alexander? Hello?
And the camera pulls out, revealing oh, look, nobody`s in any of those
desks. There`s some staffers leaving, one guy is carrying around like a
white board or something. But none of the people you can see there are
Republican senators. There are no senators on the floor. There`s nobody
The Republicans forgot to show up, oh, there goes the board.
Republicans forgot to show up for their own protest. There`s nobody there.
At one point, this guy, he stands up, looks around and then puts his
hand in his pocket and sits down and just puts his head in his hands.
That`s pretty much all the action. Our blessed C-Span stays on it
until the bitter end. When eventually, finally, they are forced to go to
this. This was supposed to be the Republicans big, all night stand, but
when they forgot to show up, C-Span decided they couldn`t just keep the
camera running on an empty room full of sad staffers, so they started
playing some of their greatest hits. They went into rolling Senator James
Inhofe reruns, showing old Inhofe speeches for a long time, while they
waited for a live Republican senator to show up and get on the floor of the
Senate and get back to e business of what was supposed to be a publicity
stunt to make Democrats rue the day.
Just before 3:00 a.m., the most junior senator in the whole body, New
Jersey Senator Cory Booker, started presiding over the Senate, but because
the Republicans all went home, Cory Booker had nothing to preside over. So
finding themselves again with some time to fill, C-Span started talking
about Cory Booker`s tweets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey won a special
election of October. He spent a tweet saying, pulling the graveyard shift,
now presiding over the graveyard shift.
And you can see Senator Booker there sitting on the dais in the middle
of your screen, and a number of people responded to his tweet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And that is essentially how the big publicity stunt ended.
At 3:00 in the with C-Span talking about what Cory Booker tweeted that day,
and how a number of people responded to his tweet. After that fiasco,
early this morning, Mitch McConnell agreed to give up the fight. He met
with Harry Reid, and then Harry Reid made the announcement that the Senate
would not stay in session all night again tonight and everybody could go
home starting at about noon.
And it gets better. Initially, it looked like they might adjourn just
for the day to get some rest, and maybe get some rest and remind who was
supposed to take over for Pat Toomey, what this thing means. Initially,
this was going to be one day, and they were gong to back to work this
weekend. But then the Republicans decided, you know what, if we`re caving
on this thing, let`s really cave on this thing.
And, so now, they`re not even coming back until Tuesday. So, the
"we`ll stay in session all night every night through Christmas to make you
sorry" publicity stunt today dissolved into, hey, it`s Friday and let`s
leave early and then let`s have a long weekend.
The whole failure was probably best summed up by Republican Senator
John McCain who told "The New York Times," quote, "Come on! The zeal
sometimes dissipates when you get into Thursday and by Friday, the zeal is
So, apparently, that was it. The zeal is gone. That was the
Republican Party`s big, angry campaign against the rules change in the
This means that the Democrats could have made this rules change years
ago? And probably had hundreds more of President Obama`s nominees
confirmed over the years.
The reason they didn`t years ago is because they were so scared of how
upset the Republicans would be and what the Republicans would do in angry
Now, we know what the Republicans would do and it turns out their
angry response is sort of angry, but it was not strong enough to withstand
the desire on the part of U.S. senators to go to sleep, and to not work on
Constitutional crisis averted. Human nature for a fight (ph).
MADDOW: At about 12:30 local time this afternoon, a high school
student apparently opened fire at this school in Centennial, Colorado. The
teenager reportedly entered Arapahoe High School with a shotgun, saying he
intended to confront a specific teacher. Ultimately, the student did use
the gun, but not against a teacher. His shots injured two fellow students,
before he then turned the gun on himself and took his own life.
The identity of the young shooter has not been revealed.
Upon hearing the shots, teacher and students at Arapahoe High scurried
to the exits. The left the building with law enforcement orders with their
hands on their heads. Of course, now, it`s an eerily familiar scene.
Today`s shooting was just 10 miles away from the Columbine High School
shootings which happened in 1989. It`s also only about 16 miles away from
the Aurora theatre mass shooting which happened last summer.
And, of course, this all too familiar story comes on the eve of the
one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in
Newtown, Connecticut. And we`ve got more on that ahead.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Before the House of Representatives left town, they passed a
new defense bill. Every Congress for the last 50 years, every Congress
through thick an thin, wartime and peacetime and times of scandal and times
of shutdown, in years where there were impeachments and associations and
terrorist attacks and everything else we`ve been through for the past 50
years, every Congress for 50 years has been able to get it together to pass
a defense bill.
And even though this Congress has been the least productive of all
time, the House at least did at the very last minute before they left, they
did pass a defense bill. And the Senate says they, too, at the last minute
will pass a defense bill. It will be the last thing they do on Wednesday
of next week before they go home for the year.
And as part of the "by the skin of their teeth" strategy that has them
passing the defense bill at the last possible second, negotiators from both
parties and from both houses of Congress have agreed that basically, no one
would be allowed to make any changes to the bill, so even though there had
been talk of putting an amendment to go after Iran in a way that would have
screwed up the new nuclear deal with Iran, even though there have been talk
of putting in an amendment to have the Congress weigh in on when we are
leaving Afghanistan, instead of only the Afghan government weighing in on
Even though there have been talk of an even stronger set of new rules
about sexual assault in the military and how it`s prosecuted, by virtue of
the fact this is a must-pass bill and that time is running out, none of
those changes is going to be made, not yet, not this year, not with this
bill. We know what`s in it and we know it won`t change and we know it will
pass and don`t tell the Beltway press. Seriously, don`t tell them, because
I don`t think they`ve noticed it yet and they can only screw it up.
Don`t tell the Beltway press, but the new defense bill that is going
to pass on Wednesday is almost secretly going to pave the way to empty out
roughly half of the prison at Guantanamo.
President Obama`s campaign promise and then his order to close
Guantanamo have been stymied all these years by Congress. Congress refused
to appropriate funds to close the prison. They refused to let prisoners
there be transferred to the real court system here. They passed confusing
restrictions on even transferring prisoners to third countries or back to
where they came from.
And those restrictions on transferring prisoners are why the majority
of the prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared for transfer to some other
country, but they`re still languishing in Cuba at our strange prison there
at an average cost of $2.7 million per man per year indefinitely.
That last category of congressional mucking it up, those restrictions
on prisoners getting transferred to their home countries, sort of other
countries that will take them, those are the restrictions that are
essentially getting fixed and the bill that is about to pass Congress and
be signed into law by President Obama.
President Obama gave a speech in May saying that he would renew
efforts to close the prison. After that speech, his White House chief of
staff Denis McDonough took a field trip to Guantanamo, along with
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican Senator John McCain.
They all pledged while they were there that the prison would be closed
President Obama then appointed a White House senior staffer and envoy
from the State Department and an envoy from the Pentagon, all with the same
mission, get this closed down. They administration has sense started what
are essentially parole board hearings to clear more prisoners for release
after careful review by all the top tier intelligence agencies and security
agencies in the government, including the military.
When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, it wasn`t just him and
all the candidates for the nomination who said they wanted to close that
prison. It was also the current at the time who said it should be closed.
It was also the Republican candidate who Mr. Obama was running against in
that election. Everyone agreed that it should be shut down.
And so, if you told anybody back then that five years later, in 2013,
that place would still be open, nobody would have believed you. But it`s
still there, and the new defense bill will not shut it down, but it will
allow for it to start to shutdown.
It should clear the way for about half those prisoners to leave, it`s
finally happening. And the political momentum to do it got a huge shove
this week from an unlikely source.
When the U.S. government decided to open Guantanamo as a prison in
late 2001 and early 2002, they called on a U.S. Marine Corps general who
had experience at Guantanamo before, I the early `90s, running that site as
a camp for Haitians and Cubans who`ve been intercepted while trying
immigrate to the United States.
After 9/11, General Michael Lehnert got the call again. He was given
four days to set up the first 100 prison sells on the island. Within seven
days of that initial order, the first prisoners were on site and he was the
first commanding officer of America`s newest offshore prison at Guantanamo.
Now, 12 years later, retired Marine General Michael Lehnert is
speaking out. He wrote this op-ed for "The Detroit Free Press" this week.
saying that as a first commander of the U.S. detention facility at
Guantanamo, he now believes that not only is it time to close that facility
down, he says that it never should have been opened in the first place.
Joining us now for the interview, for his first television interview
since retiring from the Marine Corps after 36 years is Major General
General Lehnert, thank you very much for being with us tonight. It`s
a real honor to have you here.
MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL LEHNERT (RET), MARINE CORPS: Thank you, Rachel.
It`s good to be here.
MADDOW: What are your impressions of the steps that may be able to be
taken in the next year or so to try to get Guantanamo closed down? Is it
your impression that do you think the facility could be closed under the
legal authorities that exist now?
LEHNERT: Rachel, I think that right now, we`re at a moment in history
where we have an opportunity to close Guantanamo for good.
The National Defense Authorization Act is a great first step. Senator
Levin wrote some very practical language into the act that would have
allowed us to completely close it a you`ve pointed out. What we`ll be able
to do is to have simpler rules in order to move those detainees that have
been languishing for some cases up to 10 years.
And get them back to their country of origin. He was joined by
Senator McCain who brought in bipartisan support. As you`ve already
pointed out, we have envoys and representatives at the White House to make
this happen and now is the time in history that we can reverse this plot on
MADDOW: To hear your describe as a blob on our history and to read
your op-ed this week, I was struck that you as the commanding officer who
was in charge of setting up the facility in the first place thinks now that
it never should have been set up. It never should have existed. Why do
you believe that?
LEHNERT: Well, Rachel, I think that there`s a number of reasons, and
it starts with our Constitution. Every service, every officer in every
branch of the service takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution
of the United States. It`s my belief that the Constitution does not end at
the water`s edge and that as a nation, we have to walk the walk not just
talk the talk.
MADDOW: Do you think that if the political steps and the logistic
steps were taken to shut it down, that could happen over the course of the
next year or so, do you think that there would be resistance within the
military? Do you think that having seen so many members of the military
served there and the kind of capacity that you served there, people working
as guards there, the kinds of detainees who have been held, do you think
there would be a sense within the Pentagon or within serving forces that
the kind of political decision ought to be resisted?
LEHNERT: Rachel, the military is the least of my concerns. First
off, we have the greatest military in the world. The one concern that I`ve
heard expressed obviously is the potential for recidivism. And it is
certain that if we release those detainees that have been already
designated for release that we`ve had a certain percentage in the past that
have gone back to the fight.
But our military is the best in the world and is fully capable of
finding those that elect to go back to doing bad things. Quite candidly,
the military was not designed to be jailers. We fight our nation`s
battles. We`re ready to see Guantanamo closed down.
I`m speaking for myself, but many, many senior military leaders have
shared with me they feel it`s time to close Guantanamo.
MADDOW: Retired Major General Michael Lehnert of the United States
Marine Corps, the first commander of the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay --
thank you very much for your time tonight, sir. Your contribution to this
debate I think is really a landmark thing and I know it took bravery.
Thank you for being here, sir.
LEHNERT: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In the summer of 2011, President Obama wanted to give an
address to the joint session of Congress on Wednesday, September 7th. He
wanted to talk about the issue of jobs.
Well in advance of the date, the president asked John Boehner if that
would be OK and every time in the history of the country that a president
has asked Congress about delivering a joint address, the Congress have
said, sure, see you then, Mr. President, every time in history.
But not John Boehner -- John Boehner made history when he said no to
President Obama. He said the House wasn`t planning on convening that day
until 6:30 p.m. and there wouldn`t be enough time to get ready for the
Perhaps not incidentally, there was also a Republican presidential
debate scheduled for that night. So, John Boehner made the president move
his speech to the following night, the 8th. On which there was no
Republican debate scheduled, but there was the first game of the NFL
season, at the exact time the president would be speaking.
So the president spoke not on Wednesday, but on Thursday, during the
game, because John Boehner said so. It was unprecedented political
effrontery. Considering that path, tonight, we can report some progress.
Today, Speaker John Boehner formally invited the president of the
United States to deliver the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, January
28th. And the president said yes. So civil. And so it will be.
And the only football game scheduled any day near it is the Super Bowl
which is five whole days later you. So, you will be allowed to watch both.
Progress. Baby steps.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Consider Amsterdam, capital of Holland, land of tulips and
canals and very tall children. The Dutch are sort of famously tall. Also,
Amsterdam and much of the Netherlands really, it`s the land of bicycles.
Next time you jump in your car to go somewhere, consider that the
Dutch on average make one out of every four trips on a bicycle. Old
people. Young people. Little kids. People who sometimes drive cars.
People who never drive cars. It doesn`t matter they all ride bikes.
When Americans go to Amsterdam for a visit, they tend to be amazed by
the sheer number of bicycles and by how old bikes and cars weave around
each other in traffic rather seamlessly. Now, the Dutch do still get into
conflicts on the streets. Some times, they crash their perfect bicycles or
careful cars. But, the Dutch have somehow reached an equilibrium, a sort
of agreement in their society, with rights and privileges and limits and
rules and compromises.
And the end result is that it works. Their new way of doing things
overall is safer, and if you are willing to slow down in your car and on
your bike, the new ways also freer. It gives you more choices, more
options, more ways to do things.
The Netherlands have not always been like that. For a while in the
1960s and 1970s, Dutch streets looked more like this with more people
driving and some people still trying to ride bikes without much success
among the increasing car traffic.
Now, look at this. See the sign on the right there, "stop kinder
moord," literally means stop murdering children. It`s essentially a slow
down, be careful sign for drivers. A simple message, very clear. Stop
killing kids with your cars.
The effort was to try to remake the whole Dutch approach to traffic.
So it would be safer for kids, for kids on bikes, and ultimately for
everybody on bikes. That movement was started in the Netherlands by kids.
This boy lived in an Amsterdam neighborhood called the Fijp. In this
old documentary, you can see him walking along asking why his city street
cannot be a safer place. And then he asked his friend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED KID: The state of Fijp: the autos. All these cars are
unbearable. There is no space left. Thousands die in accidents and air
pollution increases. Everything is devoted to parking. Why don`t we all
ride bicycles? I do agree with that. Yes, I do agree with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Those grade school kids, 9, 10, 11 years old, they started a
petition drive in their town to create for themselves a place where they
could play on the streets, essentially, cars out, kids in. And when they
first blocked off their streets, so that kids could play, the drivers did
not want to go along. They did not want to give up anything. Compromise
did not seem possible.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: That was 1972 in the Netherlands. They`re off to a rough
start. The drivers, at least some of them really did not want to yield.
But that movement started by the kids did not go away. And slowly small
things in that country started to change.
People realized for instance that lowering the speed limit was not
itself a fatal thing. You could lower the speed limit and still drive.
Look at that that same street today. It still has cars, but it also has
bicycles, and trees, it is a nicer place and a safer one.
Those first ambitious neighborhoods got the kind of change that they
were working for. It started with the kids -- these kids with their, their
teachers smoking cigarettes in class. Their giant class rabbit, all of the
other weird things about seeing kids in the Netherlands at this time of the
world, right? The kids who were so industrious and determined and so
smart, they were right.
And their kids started movement changed their whole country in a way
that is globally celebrated. Kids did it. They have thought it up. They
have far sighted wisdom to not only be right, but to make it work.
Our nation -- tomorrow, it is going to mark the one-year anniversary
of the loss of six school staff members and 20 kids in Newtown, Connecticut
-- kids who could have become anything, done anything, had that day not
The people of Newtown, Connecticut, have asked the media and public to
please leave them alone as the anniversary has approached and as it arrives
this weekend. They said they need their time to themselves. And it is
hard to understand how anybody could fight them on that or fault them on
But the national discussion about where we are as a nation a year
after Newtown is a discussion that feels like futility. At our network Web
site at MSNBC.com, a reporter named Mischelle Risnik (ph) has written
beautiful individual profiles of American kids who have all been killed,
who have all been shot to death just since Newtown.
She got up to over 50. But that`s scratching the surface. It is
barely a quarter of the number of kids who have been killed in the past
Here, "Mother Jones" magazine portraits of nearly 200 American kids
all under the age of 12, who have been shot to death in our country since
Newtown. After Newtown, even off to day, it is some times just feels
impossible that the same scenes are just going to keep playing out year
after year after year, school after school.
This was Arapahoe High School today, not 10 miles from Columbine. The
gunman killed himself after shooting and wounding two students.
It some times feels impossible. There may be no safe place to be a
kid. Whether you`re a kid in suburban school, or in your home, or in a
city park, the conventional wisdom says the country can do nothing more
against gun violence, and even specifically nothing more about protecting
kids from gun violence.
You can`t get people to give up access to guns. Guns are part of who
we are, how we live. Get over it. Get over it.
Or don`t get over it. Don`t get over it. Don`t believe when they say
that there can be no changes to what we`re used to, that there`s no
compromise that can be lived with, that the repeated and frequent murder of
children has to be normal and there`s no way to stop it at all. We have a
choice. As to whether we accept that or whether we see a way to make
And if we adults do not see the way to do it, our best hope is that
the surviving kids are smarter and braver and more clever and more
committed than we are.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again Monday. Have a
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