THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 30, 2014
Guests: Celinda Lake, Ben Barlyn
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. One of the things
people watch for in the State of the Union address every year is not what
the president has to say specifically about what the State of the Union is.
President pretty much always says it`s great.
The other thing people watch for is what the president`s speech says
about the state of the president. How`s the president doing? Can you tell
from the speech how the president is doing in this point in his or her
Well, one notable feature of this year`s State of the Union from our
famously cool, calm and collective President Barack Obama was that at that
speech, the state of him, the state of the president, seemed kind of
psyched. At least he definitely seemed happy to be there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I ask every
American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get
covered by March 31st. Help them get covered.
Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her
through the application. That will give her some peace of mind, plus
she`ll appreciate hearing from you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Pause for extra laughter. Did you like that one? I thought
that one up myself. Call your mom.
I don`t know why it feels like a surprise to say, but it seems notably
like President Obama was having fun up there at the State of the Union. He
was loose. He was joking around.
And it wasn`t just that night. In the two days since he gave that
speech, President Obama has been out traveling around the country and still
he`s just sounding like he`s having a whale of a good time being president
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: At the State of the Union, I was going to start out by saying
the State of the Union is cold, but I decided that was not entirely
Now, I only finished 12 hours ago, so these remarks will be quicker.
And I need some time to pick up a snow shovel and one of those 50 pound
bags of dog food for Bo and Sunny. I was told I`d get a big screen TV,
too, for the Super Bowl coming up. The 80 inch, 60s not enough, huh? Got
to go 80.
It is funny, though, I was looking, you know -- you can buy a sofa, a
chocolate chip cookies and a snorkel set all in the same.
The sofa didn`t surprise me, but the snorkel set, now that was
impressive. Although I do want to ask, who`s snorkeling right now? How
many of those are you guys selling?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President making jokes about the weird stuff you can buy at
Costco in very large quantities. He went on to say he was thinking about
buying a ten pound bag of pretzels and 500 golf balls while he was there.
Costco, of course, was one of the employers who the president shouted
out by name at the State of the Union address for having made their own
private decision as a company to raise the wages that they pay people who
work at that company. The company benefits from having reduced employee
turnover and so reduced training costs for new employees, in part because
they pay a lot, because they start their cash years and people who stock
their shelves at $11.50 an hour, which is not a ton of money. You`re not
going to get rich on that but it`s better than your average grocery store.
And it works for Costco as a business.
The president at the State of the Union also shouted out a little
company called Punch Pizza in Minneapolis. He invited to the speech the
owner of Punch Pizza on the right there who just raised his employees`
wages and one of Punch Pizza`s young employees who the president said helps
makes the dough. Only now he makes more of it.
Get it? Dough. Like both ways. Yes.
Whether or not you like a happy president, or whether or not you think
the president is good at this kind of humor that he`s been doing a lot of
this week, he does seem to be in a good mood, specifically when he was
talking about this whole minimum wage thing which was unexpectedly the
focus of the State of the Union Address and has been the focus of his
And maybe the reason the president is over the moon when he`s talking
about the minimum wage issue is because what the Democrats have decided to
do on this issue, what the president announced at the State of the Union on
this issue is kind of a killer political move because, yes, it`s
politically advantageous for Democrats to pick a fight with Republicans in
Congress over the minimum wage. Americans generally like the idea of
raising the minimum wage. And so, they will side with Democrats if
Democrats and Republicans are having a fight about that.
But in a fight between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, any
fight about any subject, we know how it ends, right? If it has to happen
through Congress, it doesn`t happen, nothing happens. We`ve been seeing
that for two years now.
Just being on the right side of that fight is never going to be
resolved, right? That only gets you so far.
What the Democrats have decided to do differently this year on this
issue, this year, what the president announced the at the State of the
Union this year and what he is now going around the country campaigning on
is the idea that the fight over what people get paid at work, the fight
over wages, the fight over the minimum wage, is not just a federal fight
that happens in Congress. Turns out it`s a fight that happens everywhere.
It`s a decision for every business owner, from Punch Pizza-sized businesses
in Minneapolis, up to Costco sized, up to the biggest employers in the
The president defined himself as essentially an employer when he
announced his executive order to raise the minimum wage for people who work
for federal contractors. If you want to contract with the federal
government, the head of the federal government, the president, says you can
have that contract but in order to get that contract, you`re going to have
to pay your workers at least $10.10 an hour.
And so, every CEO, every employer now has that decision to make. Also
every mayor, every governor, the head of every agency that has control over
how much its people earn an hour.
The political fight over the minimum wage is now everybody`s political
fight. And it is already starting to work.
In Missouri, in the city of St. Louis, the mayor responded to the
president`s State of the Union by announcing a rise in the minimum wage for
people who work for the city of St. Louis. He released a statement saying,
"I hope other employers will follow the president`s example. The city of
St. Louis will. Tomorrow, I will ask the personnel director in the civil
service commission to amend the compensation regulation to ensure all part-
time employees receive a minimum of $10.10 per hour."
In the New York area, the president`s call for raising the minimum
wage dovetails with an ongoing campaign to raise the wage that`s paid
specifically to people who work at the New York City area airports. There
are two New York airports at LaGuardia and JFK, and one airport that is
considered to be in the New York area, but it`s in Newark -- Newark, New
And you know who decides what the minimum wage is for people who work
at those three New York-area airports? It`s these guys. Remember them?
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Yes. Same guys. It`s the
Port Authority of Chris Christie bridge scandal fame.
"The New York Daily News" has been pressing and pressing recently for
airport workers at the three New York-area airports to get a raise,
pressing the Port Authority to do something about that because they can.
Well, after the State of the Union, it worked. Kind of.
The executive director of the Port Authority, who`s not appointed by
Chris Christie, he`s on the New York side who he was appointed by Andrew
Cuomo, Democratic governor of New York. The executive director of the Port
Authority sent this letter calling on the airlines who operate at those
airports to immediately effect an increase in the hourly wage paid to the
lowest paid employees at the airport.
With a phase-in to, say it with me, that magic number, $10.10 per
hour. Quote, "The Port Authority is prepared to use every tool at its
disposal. To achieve these goals, the port will enforce the changes
through revisions to terms and conditions of agreements with the airlines.
Earning good wages and proper training increases job loyalty, reduces
turnover and improves customer satisfaction. This is something that cannot
Quote, "I look forward to working with all of you in bringing the Port
Authority`s airports into the 21st century." That went out basically
simultaneous with the State of the Union address.
"The New York Daily News" promptly declared victory in their fight for
fair wages campaign. But now, it is more than just this newspaper
celebrating and the Port Authority taking action. Now it is a huge
political fight for New York and New Jersey, because the Port Authority`s
decision to raise the minimum wage for people who work at the airports was
made by the New York side of the Port Authority. And it turns out they
couldn`t get the New Jersey side to go along with them.
So, the New York side, the side appointed by Andrew Cuomo, the
Democrat, they`re the ones who are demanding people who work at the
airports get a raise. So, people who work at LaGuardia and JFK in New York
are probably going to get a raise. But the other local airport is over the
border in New Jersey. And the Chris Christie appointees at the New Jersey
side of the Port Authority have decided they`re not going along with this.
So, there`s these three airports within a few miles of each other.
They`re all under the same agency. The two New York ones, everybody gets a
raise. The New Jersey one, no. No minimum wage increase for you.
And so, ergo, politics. "The New York Daily News" posted this
editorial this afternoon. Quote, "Chris Christie says drop dead."
"Governor Christie is giving airport workers the shaft despite Governor
Andrew Cuomo`s timely push to raise their salaries. Get lost says Christie
who is stomping on his own constituents."
Also from the "Daily News" today, "For thousands of low-paid airport
workers in New York, help is on the way. The directive covers 8,000
workers at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports but does not cover 4,000
employees in Newark, New Jersey." And why is that, again? They`re not
going to let you forget, it is because of drop-dead Chris Christie.
No wonder the president is joking about chocolate chip cookies and
sofas and snorkel kits, right? All but clicking his heels when he talks
about the minimum wage now, because the White House and the Democrats --
they have figured out a way to make this fight not about Barack Obama
versus John Boehner. They figured out a way to make this everybody who
wants a raise versus every Republican politician who says no everywhere in
In New Jersey, famously, the night that Chris Christie was re-elected
this past November, New Jersey voters voted on that same ballot to override
Governor Christie`s veto of a bill that would have raised the statewide
minimum wage in New Jersey.
Everybody says, oh, Chris Christie won reelection by such a huge
margin. He won by 22 points. You know what? Same margin by which he was
overruled by the voters of his state on that minimum wage issue.
People like raising the minimum wage. People like raising the minimum
wage almost more than they like any politician in the whole country. And
now as the blessed Port Authority makes news for something other than
purposely ruining the first week of school for thousands of Fort Lee, New
Jersey, schoolchildren on orders from Chris Christie`s office, this minimum
wage issue is becoming a big deal, both in New Jersey politics and around
Now, the president has framed it as a decision not just for Congress,
but for every governor, every mayor, every agency head -- expect everybody
who has that decision to make in the country. Now that that`s happened,
expect them all to be consulting the polling on this issue which happens to
look like this.
This is the most recent national polling on the popularity of raising
the minimum wage. It is popular across the country. It is popular among
Democrats. It is popular among independents. It is even popular among
But more directly, look at what this issue looks like when people
actually go out to vote on it. Statewide in Florida, raising the minimum
wage won by 42 points.
In 2006, Missouri was one of several states that voted on it
statewide. Missouri, its margin of victory was 52 points. It did not get
52 percent of the vote. It won by 52 points.
Seventy-six percent of people in Missouri voted to raise the minimum
wage. Clear enough statement?
Statewide in Nevada won by 38 points. Statewide in Arizona won by 32
points. Statewide in Montana, it won by 46 points. A 46-point margin of
victory for raising the minimum wage.
Statewide in Ohio, that same year, won by 12 points. Of course, in
New Jersey, in November, it won by 22 points. While they were putting
Chris Christie back in office.
Whenever you put raising the minimum wage on the ballot, whenever you
give people a choice about whether or not they want to raise the minimum
wage, the answer is yes, they want to raise the minimum wage. That makes
Democrats who support raising the minimum wage happy for a number of
Number one, if you want people at the lower end of the wage scale to
get paid more money, just the raw impact of the policy is a positive thing.
Politically, though, people voting for the minimum wage, it tends to also
encourage them to vote for candidates who support raising the minimum wage.
So, in 2006, when Missouri was voting to raise the minimum wage and
voting for it by a 52-point margin, they also voted into office Claire
McCaskill, a Democrat, to replace an incumbent relatively popular
Republican senator. He wouldn`t say when he thought about the minimum wage
for most of the campaign. She was very much in favor of it.
People like the minimum wage, so they liked her and now she`s the very
popular senator from Missouri.
That same year, Jon Tester was on the ballot in Montana. He was
outspoken in favor of raising the minimum wage. Montana voters liked
raising the minimum wage by a 46-point margin and, yes, they liked Jon
Tester. He`d beat an incumbent Republican U.S. senator on that same
In Ohio, that same year, conservatives fought like heck to kill the
minimum wage ballot initiative in Ohio, but it still won by double digits
and so did Ohio`s brand new Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown.
And that`s part of why a year like that in 2006 was such a good year
for Democrats. Even in a really bad year for Democrats like, say, the
worst possible year for Democrats, like 2010, the first Obama midterm,
where the Republicans just ran the table. They won everything.
You know where they didn`t win? Republicans did not win that year
where they won everywhere else, but they did not win in West Virginia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Should there be minimum wage or not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not because minimum wage is something
that Franklin Delano Roosevelt put in during the Depression. It didn`t
work during the depression. It certainly hasn`t worked now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MDDOW: John Raese, Republican candidate for Senate in West Virginia,
in that very Republican year of 2010 explaining to CNN he does not believe
in the minimum wage. He did not win.
Republicans also did not win that year in the state of Connecticut.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Since businesses are struggling as you all described, would
you argue for reducing the minimum wage?
LINDA MCMAHON (R), FORMER CONNECTICUT SEN. CANDIDATE: Well, I think,
we have got minimum wages in states, we have got minimum wages in the
government, and I think we ought to look at all of those issues in terms of
what mandates are being placed on businesses and can they afford them?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senate candidate Linda McMahon, her very well-funded Senate
candidacy describing the minimum wage as a potentially unaffordable mandate
for businesses that we maybe ought to look into getting rid of. Linda
McMahon did not win.
Up in Alaska that same year, Tea Party Republican Joe Miller came
close to unseating centrist Republican Lisa Murkowski but this,
unfortunately for Joe Miller was part of his pitch. This is part of why he
said he should win.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Should the federal government be requiring a minimum wage?
JOE MILLER: That`s clearly up to the states.
REPORTER: So, there should not be a federal minimum wage?
MILLER: That should not be. That`s not the scope of the powers that
are given of the federal government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Joe Miller. Not a senator then and not a senator
after that election.
Well, now in 2014, it`s time for our next midterm year. And Democrats
and the president have succeed in making the minimum wage an issue that has
not just bottlenecked between the president and House Republicans in
Washington, it is everywhere -- including today becoming the latest
headache for Chris Christie and the Port Authority in New York and New
The person Chris Christie had to put in to replace the guy who got
fired in the bridge scandal, Bill Baroni, the first thing the replacement
had to get done was get a huge horrible round of press for what the "Daily
News" is calling her mealy-mouthed statement, excusing New Jersey`s
decision not to raise the minimum wage when all the other airport workers
across the bridges and across the tunnels in New York are getting a raise.
It doesn`t look good when you do this at the local level. It doesn`t look
good when you do this at the federal level.
And between now and November and beyond, Democrats are going to try to
play the popularity of this issue into not just their political benefit but
into a political headache for any Republican anywhere who finds themselves
having to explain a la John Raese in West Virginia and Joe Miller in Alaska
what it is exactly they do not like about paying people enough to live on.
Pollsters are already looking at the most high-profile senate race of
this midterm year and how the minimum wage may factor into that race. The
highest profile Senate race this year is Mitch McConnell`s re-election race
in Kentucky. A new poll out today aims to show just how badly the minimum
wage issue may factor into that race. The other senator from Kentucky,
Rand Paul, today tied himself into a bow tie with a pretzel on top, trying
to gymnastically evade questions about his own views on minimum wage in an
interview on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: He announced on increasing the minimum wage that
federal contractors would get an increase immediately to $10.10 an hour,
which is not a huge amount of money by any means, but it`s a little more
than the current minimum wage. Are you with him on that?
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: If you increase the price of something,
you`ll get less of it. So, all of the studies, virtually all of the
studies show if you increase the minimum wage, you get higher more
unemployment, particularly teenage unemployment, particularly black --
BLITZER: Do you believe in the minimum wage?
PAUL: Well, I think that when you look at raising, all of the studies
show that if you raise it, you get more unemployment. So, really the
marketplace does a better job at determining what this should be.
BLITZER: So there shouldn`t be any federal minimum wage?
PAUL: I`m not so sure I`m saying that. I`m not sure I have an answer
as far as whether there is a right or wrong --
BLITZER: But you`re a United States senator. You thought about
whether or not --
PAUL: Well, not necessarily.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I haven`t thought about it. I`m not sure I`m saying that.
I`m definitely sure I don`t have an answer. Is it OK if I say I`ve never
thought about this before?
The minimum wage has suddenly become one of the year`s more
challenging questions, and if history is any guide, that question comes
with big, big political consequences. No wonder the president seems so
Hold that thought. More ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Americans understand that some people will earn more money
than others, and we don`t resent those who by virtue of their efforts
achieve incredible success. That`s what America is all about. But
Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever
have to raise a family in poverty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The big pivot that the White House and the Democrats are
right now engineering in American politics is toward the issue of how much
people get paid for their work. The minimum wage issue levered away from
being just a Washington issue to now being a political fight that can be
fought all over the country, with anyone who opposes.
Joining us now is Democratic pollster, Celinda Lake.
Ms. Lake, thanks very much joining us. Nice to have you here.
CELINDA LAKE, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So when you compare how different issues poll right now, is
the White House smart? Are Democrats smart to be trying to put Republicans
on the spot around the country on the issue of the minimum wage?
LAKE: Incredibly smart, for a number of reasons. One, it`s a kitchen
table issue, 2/3 of minimum wage workers are women. So, both parties are
fighting over the women`s vote right now. It`s a great vote to get women`s
It`s also an issue that voters know where they stand. They clearly
support it, as you demonstrated. Only 27 percent of Republicans oppose
raising the minimum wage. Only 45 percent oppose raising it to $10.10 an
So, Democrats, independents, widely in favor of it. This is a great
way to mobilize voters who aren`t really interested in voting, as well as
persuade swing independent voters.
So it`s one of those few issues where it`s a twofer. Get your base
mobilized to turn out and get swing voters on your side.
And as you can see, there`s no good answer about why you won`t do
this. People don`t buy that it`s jobs. People don`t buy that it hurts
businesses. They think if you raise the minimum wage, that money gets
turned around, spent right back at Costco, right back at Walmart, right
back on Main Street.
MADDOW: Are there regional variations in how much people like raising
the minimum wage? Would it particularly help Democrats who support it in
any one region more than other parts of the country?
LAKE: Yes. This is what is so fantastic about this issue is there
are not big regional differences. If you want a Southern strategy which
we`re always talking about Republicans, we need a Southern strategy as
Democrats -- well, the minimum wage is your Southern strategy because
Southern voters vote on this issue even more than Northern and Midwestern
and Western voters.
There are more minimum wage workers in the South because we have less
unionization and it really moves women voters in the south. Watch for a
Michelle Nunn and other candidates to win on this issue because it`s a
Southern strategy for Democrats.
MADDOW: Celinda, when you work with Democratic candidates, when
you`re involved in campaigns, how to you tell candidates you work with to
talk about this issue?
LAKE: I think there are three ways to talk about it. It`s very
strong to talk about it in comparison to the wealthiest 1 percent in CEO
salaries. It`s very powerful to talk about it as a kitchen table issue.
And Americans aren`t good at math. It`s powerful to tell people how
much the minimum wage is. When you tell people they can work full time and
only take home $290 a week, people are appalled at that. And when you have
two people working minimum wage jobs, you can`t raise a family as the
And when you tell people you can make more on welfare than the minimum
wage, they think that`s an outrage. They want to raise the wages.
Cost of living is going up. Look at food, look at fuel. Look at
everything this winter. Wages are stagnant and have been for years. This
is a great issue for Democrats.
MADDOW: Celinda Lake, Democratic pollster, thank you for helping us
understand the palpable Democratic glee right now. I really appreciate it.
LAKE: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thanks very much.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: When you think of the SPCA, the Society to Prevent Cruelty to
Animals, I don`t know exactly what you think of, but I bet it is not
heavily armed officers in cop-like uniforms. Unless you live in certain
parts of the great state of New Jersey.
In Chris Christie`s New Jersey, the story of the SPCA, of all things,
winds all the way around to grand juries and attorney general and
administration of the current governor and sniper rifles, tear gas and
bulletproof vests. Oh, my. And it`s happening right now.
And that whole really weird amazing story is coming up next.
MADDOW: OK. Here`s a story about Chris Christie`s New Jersey that is
rather mind bending. You have probably not heard this story before and I
find it amazing. You ready? OK. Go.
In the year 2000, the state of New Jersey`s Commission on
Investigation launched an extensive probe into a New Jersey state
institution that was long rumored to be rife with corruption, an
institution with practices that were totally opaque to outsiders, cordoned
to the New Jersey Commission on Investigation. This was an institution
that was a danger to the public safety of the people of New Jersey.
They described it essentially as a rogue paramilitary above the law
organization called the SPCA. What? The New Jersey chapter for the
Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. No, I`m not kidding.
The New Jersey Commission on Investigation issued 172-page report
about the SPCA in New Jersey in the year 2000 because it turns out the SPCA
had been given an unbelievable amount of power by state laws that dated
back more than a century. Strange old New Jersey state laws made the SPCA
basically a law enforcement agency in the state, but one that operated
outside all the oversight mechanisms that all the other law enforcement
agencies in the state had.
Ostensibly, they were a law enforcement agency in charge of policing
the treatment of animals, but in the end, not really. The commission found
that the SPCA in New Jersey -- in part of New Jersey, at least -- had
evolved into something that was above the law. They answered to, quote,
"no governmental agency."
You think of the SPCA as nice old cat ladies and people who work at
shelters because they love dogs, right? But in New Jersey, the commission
found SPCA officers carrying guns and other weapons, under a guise of
governmental authority but with no governmental oversight at all.
The state investigators singled out one particular county branch of
the SPCA for particular scrutiny. It was Warren County, New Jersey. And
the commission said, quote, "It is the paradigm of a society that is out of
control and that exists for the personal benefit of some of its
participants. It has wielded its authority in highly inappropriate ways."
Citing, quote, "The arrogant display of weapons and citizens`
complaints about intimidation tactics, the commission found of the 12
officers of the SPCA in that county, six carried guns they had issued to
themselves in the name of the SPCA. Between 1991 and 1998, this one county
branch of the SPCA purchased for itself 65,000 rounds of ammunition,
including sniper ammunition for the sniper rifle the SPCA had purchased for
themselves," because apparently they needed that?
They also purchased for themselves bulletproof vests, night vision
goggles, laser sight kits, Apache ankle gun holsters and tear gas.
The SPCA, arming themselves with tear gas, sniper rifles and ankle
holsters for their guns and 65,000 rounds of ammunition. Seriously.
Quote, "There are no records to indicate who was assigned these
attempts or when they were assigned. But whoever was getting this stuff
and whatever they were doing with it does not seem to have anything to
actually do with protecting any animals."
Quote, "The society also exemplifies one where the motivation in
joining has nothing to do with an interest in detecting animal cruelty or
in the welfare of animals."
This is Michael Russo (ph). Michael Russo is one of the people in
charge of that Warren County chapter of the SPCA back in its sniper rifles
and tear gas days. He was one of the three original members. He was
president for a time.
When Mr. Russo was asked to testify before the investigations
commission about all this weird stuff his county chapter had allegedly
being doing, he pled the Fifth. And the things they wanted to ask him are
fascinating. For example, Mr. Russo and his colleagues tried to make SPCA
uniforms look just like New Jersey state trooper uniforms. They did, in
fact, look exactly like state trooper uniforms except for an SPCA patch
that they were supposed to wear on one of their arms, but some of them
didn`t wear that part of the uniform. They just didn`t sew that patch on.
Eventually, the state SPCA came in and took over the Warren County
chapter. But Michael Russo of paramilitary prevention of cruelty to
animals fame, he did not go away. A few short years after the whole sort
of terrifying sniper rifles for the SPCA situation in Warren County, New
See this is Warren County, we`ve got that marked there up top.
Hunterdon County is right next to it. A few short years after the whole
Warren County, paramilitary SPCA thing, Mr. Russo turned up in the
neighboring county in Hunterdon County. And in Hunterdon County, he was
hired into an actual law enforcement agency as second in command under the
newly elected sheriff of Hunterdon County.
He was hired as an undersheriff and tasked with a job of making sure
all the other officers followed the sheriff`s rules. The new sheriff who
hired him was a Republican named Deborah Trout. When Sheriff Trout became
the new sheriff of Hunterdon County when she was elected, she made
seemingly unusual hiring decisions.
In addition to hiring Mr. Russo fresh off his time at the paramilitary
SPCA, she also hired somebody named Greg Ezekian as an investigator in the
sheriff`s office. Mr. Ezekian had been dismissed from two past jobs at
other police departments and according to the local Hunterdon newspaper, he
was fighting a drunk driving conviction at the time he was hired.
Sheriff Trout then hired another investigator named John Falat who
according to the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper had never had any
position in any law enforcement agency ever before but he had given money
to Deborah Trout`s campaign for sheriff. The one thing the hires had in
common is along with the new sheriff, along with Sheriff Trout, they were
all, quote, "Members of the Warren County SPCA during the years Michael
Russo ran it as a wing of some fantasy cat police military."
The all powerful county branch of the SPCA with the tear gas and
sniper rifles essentially moves over and becomes the actual sheriff in the
Sheriff Trout`s tenure as Hunterdon County sheriff was short and
contentious, a recall effort against her. She was alleged to making her
employees sign loyalty oaths to her. She also became friends to a
contributor of Governor Christie`s campaign, somebody who served on
Governor Christie`s transition team. In return for getting to fly on that
Christie contributor`s private jet, he apparently was given some sort of
pseudo police ID from Hunterdon County that made him look like a pseudo
When asked by "The New York Times" if that Christie contributor, this
very rich guy did in fact get a fake police ID from sheriff trout his
lawyer did not deny it and said, quote, "Let`s assume he did. So what."
Also in Sheriff Trout`s office, background checks for hiring were
often not conducted at all or by strange means. Sometimes the person whose
background was getting checked would be the person overseeing the
background checks on themselves. That`s sort of thing is against the law
in New Jersey. It`s against the law for a sheriff to not do a proper
background check on new employees.
Eventually somebody told. Somebody in Sheriff Trout`s office called
the prosecutor`s office in the county in Hunterdon County to complain of
the allegations of loyalty oaths and fake police IDs for Chris Christie
donors and no background checks and the hiring your friends from the
paramilitary SPCA to come run the sheriff`s office.
On December 22nd, 2008, less than a year after Sheriff Trout took
office, local prosecutors and state police did raid her office and carted
away computers and documents about how Sheriff Trout was running that
office. At which point it may become relevant to mention that Sheriff
Trout was politically pretty well connected.
According to "The New York Times" she, quote, "led an association of
county law enforcement officials that backed the candidacy of Chris
Christie and his running mate, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. The
lieutenant governor herself had, of course, also been a Republican county
sheriff in New Jersey.
Also, according to "The New York Times," Sheriff Trout and lieutenant
governor were friendly. They exchanged chatty e-mails including the
lieutenant governor thanking the sheriff for having dispatched deputies to
help on the campaign trail. According to the local Hunterdon paper at the
time, as the prosecutors were building their case in 2009 and 2010 against
Sheriff Trout, and Michael Russo and the other staff members in that
sheriffs office, Michael Russo, the guy from the SPCA, told a reporter
that, to his mind, he was pretty sure Governor Christie was going to step
in and, quote, have this whole thing thrown out.
And then guess what happened next? Well, on May 8th, 2010, a grand
jury did issue a 41-count indictment against Sheriff Trout and Michael
Russo and other staff members there. They were charged with official
misconduct and other offenses. But weirdly, on that same day, the lead
prosecutor in the Hunterdon County, day of the indictment, lead prosecutor
resigned and the new attorney general of New Jersey who had just been
appointed by Governor Christie took over the county prosecutor`s office.
Three months later on August 23rd, 2010, the deputy attorney general
told the judge that she had reviewed that indictment, she`d reviewed that
case and found it had legal and factual deficiencies, basically asking for
the indictment to be thrown out. The deputy attorney general under Chris
Christie`s office wanted the charges against Sheriff Trout dismissed. And
since they`d taken over the prosecutor`s office, it wasn`t hard just to say
yes to that so the charges went away.
That same day in August, Governor Christie appointed a man named
Anthony Kearns to be the new prosecutor in Hunterdon County. Mr. Kearns is
still the prosecutor in that county.
And maybe this whole insane story would have gone away out of the
public eye if one of the prosecutors who worked on that 41-count indictment
against Sheriff Trout, if he was not suing the state of New Jersey right
now for wrongful termination related to that case.
Bennett Barlyn was one of the prosecutors in the Hunterdon County
office assigned to investigate sheriff trout. He says the Christie
administration wrongfully stepped in and squashed that prosecution against
the sheriff and her gang from the SPCA. Mr. Barlyn says he was fired
because he spoke up and when he spoke up. He says his firing was
Mr. Barlyn is now trying to get confidential grand jury records
unsealed. He contends those records will show this was a real case, that
this was a case with merit and it should not have been dismissed.
A judge ruled in Mr. Barlyn`s favor last summer. Christie
administration appealed that ruling. And this week, three judges heard
from both sides and have yet to decide if the records will be unsealed.
We called the office of the deputy attorney general in New Jersey for
comment. They told us they wouldn`t comment ongoing litigation. Through
her lawyer, Sheriff Trout say she followed protocols for background checks.
She also denies the Christie administration was involved in the dismissal
of the indictments against her in any way.
Joining us next to talk about the lawsuit that he has filed against
the state of the New Jersey is Ben Barlyn who was fired, he says, because
of political involvement in this case.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Even after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to come out
and apologize for the George Washington Bridge lane closure, even though
after he had to admit the order to close those lanes did appear to in fact
come from his own office. Remember, time for some traffic problems in Fort
Lee? Got it?
Even after Governor Christie came out and admitted that, the Christi
Christie administration has been doing damage control in the press about
anybody asking why that closing happened and the theories posited about why
conceivably that closing had been ordered.
The governor`s spokesman saying, quote, "Why not commenting on every
wild eyed conspiracy theory that`s originating on left wing blogs." That
was from the governor`s spokesman. If that sounds at all familiar, it may
be because a Governor Christie spokesman used almost the exact same
language to deflect claims that an indictment was quashed and the whole
Hunterdon County, New Jersey, prosecutors office was effectively dismantled
and taken over by the state in retribution for that county prosecutor`s
office bringing a case against a reported ally of the governor. That quote
from the Christie spokesman was, "This truly is some of the most wild eyed
conspiracy theories I`ve heard in a long time."
Lots of wild eyed conspiracy theories.
Joining us now for the interview is former Hunterdon County assistant
prosecutor Ben Barlyn who filed a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey.
Mr. Barlyn, thanks for being with us.
BEN BARLYN, FORMER HUNTERDON COUNTY ASST. PROSECUTOR: My pleasure.
MADDOW: So, you just clarified for me in the commercial break it was
43 counts, not 41 counts.
BARLYN: That`s correct, 43.
MADDOW: What were some of the charges that were in that indictment?
And how serious a matter was this for your prosecutor`s office to bring
that case against the sheriff?
BARLYN: Sure, it was a serious case. The investigation was two years
in the making and it proceeded like any other criminal case. We collected
evidence, interviewed witnesses.
And it reached a point, Rachel, where there was enough evidence we
could go before a judge, a neutral magistrate and say, look, there`s enough
evidence here to believe that evidence is located in the sheriffs office
and elsewhere, so review the affidavit and issue a search warrant. And the
judge did make a finding of probable cause to allow the case to go forward
and for us to seize the evidence.
Then, it was presented to a grand jury and according to "The New York
Times," the reporter who wrote the story interviewed for the grand jurors
separately. And all four agreed that the case presented to them was very
compelling, very strong.
MADDOW: So for the attorney general`s office. And we should clarify
the attorney general is not an elected position in New Jersey. It`s
appointed by the governor.
BARYLN: That`s correct.
MADDOW: For the attorney general`s office to come in and say we are
taking over this office, we are reviewing this particular indictment and we
find it`s failing. That from the outside at least seems like a very
unusual decision. Is that the kind of thing that has ever happened before
in New Jersey or in your country?
BARLYN: It`s unprecedented. And let me tell you, the three
prosecutors you referenced earlier were all former state prosecutor. We
actually all worked in the attorney general`s office.
So the fact is, yes, it was unprecedented. It was so unprecedented
that a detective wrote an e-mail to the attorneys at one point and it said
forth in our complaint noting how odd it was. And in his 28 years as a law
enforcement officer, he never had seen a prosecuting agency handle the case
the way the attorney general`s office did.
So, yes, it struck us all as very unusual as things sort of unfolded
towards the dismissals.
MADDOW: In terms of the documentation in the case, the evidence that
was persuasive to the judge to the grand jury to order the indictment. The
evidence that the attorney general`s office says was worth taking this
unprecedented step to come in and take over for you guys. Where is that
evidence? And can people judge for themselves?
BARLYN: Well, not a present. The evidence was, during the period of
the takeover, transported from the Hunterdon where we`ve obtained it, to
Trenton. And that`s where the evidence resides now.
MADDOW: They took the evidence back to the state capitol?
BARYLN: Before the dismissal, that`s absolutely correct.
MADDOW: And that`s where it is now?
BARLYN: That`s where it is now.
MADDOW: Is it crucial to your case -- you obviously have a beef about
losing your job during the course of this playing out -- is it crucial to
your case that the indictment was quashed and this prosecutorial, this
takeover of the prosecutor`s office happened because of some political
connection that traces back to the lieutenant governor`s office? Couldn`t
this just be a strange act by the attorney general`s office that is as yet
BARLYN: You know, I`m skeptical of that for a number of reasons.
First, there were so many unusual circumstances beginning with the
Undersheriff Russo`s comment that the governor would step in.
BARLYN: You have the lead prosecutor who handled the investigation, a
man with 20 years experience, removed from the case two weeks before the
dismissal. You have all of these connections that directly lead back to
the governor`s inner circle. You have the relationship, as you noted,
between Guadagno and the sheriff. You have this donor who --
MADDOW: The pseudo police badge.
BARYLN: That`s correct, who was a very generous contributor to the
governor. And then you have interestingly enough, a man by the name of
Richard Bagger (ph), who was the governor`s chief of staff.
Shortly after the indictments were dismissed, Mr. Bagger left his
position as chief of staff and went to work for the same company as the
MADDOW: Went to work for the donor`s company?
BARLYN: That`s correct, a company called Salgen (ph).
And then to bring everything full circle is now also a commissioner
with the Port Authority.
Ben Barlyn, former Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor, currently
suing the state of New Jersey over this matter -- this is an ongoing
matter, I know that you`re waiting to hear on the judge`s ruling on that
evidence, but I hope you`ll keep us apprised.
BARLYN: I will. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
You are going to hear more about this in the future.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: OK. This is a story that starts bad but ends really, really
All right. Listen to this. When the big ice and snowstorm rolled
into the South on Tuesday morning this week, one of the unusually hard hit
cities was Birmingham, Alabama. Like Atlanta and some other Southern
cities, Birmingham was the one of the places where the storm just made
travel impossible, a lot of accidents, businesses and schools closing, no
real public transportation options to get you anywhere without using the
roads, just the sheer difficulty of people driving in icy conditions and
snowy conditions in a place that really isn`t used to it or equipped for
It turned a lot of Birmingham, Alabama, into a parking lot, including
the spectacle of people just abandoning their cars on the roads and taking
off on foot, walking down the interstate.
One of the people who was stuck in this cars going nowhere nightmare
in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, was a brain surgeon. In fact, he was
the only brain surgeon who works in Trinity Hospital in Birmingham. And in
the middle of the mess, in the middle of the storm, in traffic Armageddon
on Tuesday, the one and only brain surgeon at Trinity Hospital got a call
that he was needed urgently for a traumatic brain injury.
And here`s the problem. He was not at Trinity Hospital when he got
the call. He was at a different medical facility about six miles when he
got the call from Trinity. Doctor, we need you urgently.
At first, he tried to drive it. He got in his car heading towards
Trinity. And this grievously wounded person who needed emergency brain
surgery and his help. But like everybody else, the doctor was gridlocked.
He could not get more than a few blocks by car.
The charge nurse and the neuro-intensive care unit at Trinity was on
the phone with him. He said the cell service was bad. It was fading in
Finally, the doctor just decided he was going to go for it. He told
the charge nurse, I`m walking.
At which point the charge nurse at Trinity Hospital has to realize,
oh, my God, the only person on Earth who can save this patient of ours, the
only brain surgeon we`ve got is now out there alone miles from here in an
ice storm walking along the side of the road trying to get here alone.
And the charge nurse called the police and told the police to fan out
and look for the surgeon, try to get somebody pick him up. But no cell
service to reach him, the patient is going to die if the surgeon doesn`t
get there. And the police never found him.
But the Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw walked the six miles through the snow and
the ice alone and he made it to Trinity Hospital and it took him hours to
do it but he got there. When he walked into the hospital, first thing he
said was, what`s the status? Before he then went to go speak to the
patient`s family and went straight into surgery, just like that.
And the surgery was successful and the patient survived. And a
spokeswoman at Trinity Hospital says tonight, that Dr. Hrynkiw is still at
Trinity Hospital tonight, still works on various cases. He has not left
the hospital since his very eventful arrival after walking six miles on
Which means, Birmingham, Alabama, I know you`re watching because I`ve
seen it in the ratings. Birmingham, if you are short a grand marshal for
your next parade, his name is really hard to spell, but it doesn`t matter.
You got one. He`s the brain surgeon at Trinity.
That does it for us tonight. We will see again tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
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