All In With Chris Hayes, Monday, February 17, 2014
Read the transcript from the Monday show
ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
February 17, 2014
Guests: Heather Haddon, Phillip Agnew, Lisa Green, Jelani Cobb, Jim Moore,
Phillip Agnew, Lisa Green, Jelani Cobb, Dorian Warren
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris
Tonight, the investigation into bridge-gate widens. Last night, the
executive director of the Port Authority ordered the Port Authority`s
police chief to investigate the role of some of their own officers in the
Fort Lee lane closures after two eye-opening reports broke this weekend.
One from the "Bergen Record" about police officers on the ground during the
traffic in Fort Lee telling frustrated motorists to complain to the Mayor
And the other from our own Steve Kornacki about an acquaintance of the
governor who was at the scene.
HAYES (voice-over): Meet Lieutenant Thomas Chip Michaels, a police
officer at the Port Authority. Chip was on duty at the George Washington
Bridge on September 9th, 2013. That would be the first day of traffic in
But September 9th wasn`t just a normal day at work for Chip, because
he had a meeting with a high-ranking official at the Port Authority,
according to documents submitted to the New Jersey assembly. You may
DAVID WILDSTEIN, FORMER PORT AUTHORITY OFFICIAL: David Wildstein. W-
HAYES: Yes, according to documents submitted by David Wildstein,
himself, on September 9th, Chip Michaels appeared to be texting the former
Port Authority appointee David Wildstein, "It`s expletive up here."
Later, the two met in person. Michaels took David Wildstein for a
ride around to survey the impact on traffic. In the coming days, documents
indicate that Chip texted Wildstein with updates on the traffic. A message
on September 10th reads, "Local Fort Lee traffic disaster."
And Chip Michaels and David Wildstein had more in common than an
interest in traffic. They both hail from Livingston, New Jersey, where
they attended high school with none other than Chris Christie. In more
recent years, Michaels coached Christie`s kids` hockey team. In a 2010
profile for the "Star-Ledger", Michaels joked about seeing his childhood
friend ascend to governor of his state. "We break his chops a little bit
just saying, you`re the governor? Looking at him laughing."
The Christie-Michaels connection involves more than Chip. Chip`s
brother, Jeff Michaels is a big-time Republican in the state. He advised
Christie`s campaign in 2009.
JEFF MICHAELS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I`ve known him for a long time.
We went to high school with -- our families knew each other from
Livingston, and just stayed in close contact with him over the years, and
was very pleased to help his campaign out with policy.
HAYES: Once Christie was elected, Jeff Michaels went on to form a
lobbying shop, Optimist Partners. In Chris Christie`s first year as
governor, the firm`s earnings jumped by 700 percent. Meanwhile, he was
giving big. In 2010, Jeff Michaels donated $25,000 to a pro-Christie super
PAC. Since late 2012, he`s donated over $20,000 to the Republican
Today, Christie said through a spokesman that he has never had any
conversations with either Jeff or Chip Michaels on this topic. But up
until this weekend, three known Christie associates knew about the traffic
in Fort Lee as it was happening.
This weekend, MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki uncovered a fourth. The question
is now, how many more people are there out there?
HAYES: Joining me now, MSNBC`s resident New Jersey expert, Steve
Kornacki. He`s the host of "UP" which airs weekends at 8:00 a.m. Eastern.
Great reporting, Steve.
STEVE KORNACKI, HOST OF "UP": Thanks.
HAYES: Detective Steve Kornacki.
What`s the significance of this to you?
KORNACKI: The significance is it`s somebody who didn`t just have
knowledge of it, an eyewitness account of the first day, of the first
minutes of the opening moments of this.
HAYES: And who David Wildstein apparently chooses to be the person to
go survey the scene.
KORNACKI: Yes, however that came about, right, David Wildstein, it`s
not just that he`s there and seeing this, he`s riding around with David
Wildstein, giving his impressions and probably getting David Wildstein`s
first impressions about, as you see in those texts what a mess is being
He texts at one point that he has some idea of how we can make this
better. Totally unclear what that means. Does that mean he`s totally
innocent, was not in the planning, just horrified by this and has ideas how
to make it better or, is it like, hey, this scheme you`re working on, I
have ideas --
HAYES: That`s the great ambiguity here.
HAYES: Is he not in on plot? Is he being told this is a traffic
study and seeing this with his jaw, he`s like oh my God, this is a
nightmare, I have ideas to make it better as in, open the lanes, buddy,
KORNACKI: Right. Well, then that raises the other possibility. If
that`s what it is, if he really -- he showed up that day, he`s looking
around and he`s saying, what the heck is going on here? I don`t -- this is
a terrible thing. He has potential access to Governor Christie that your
average Port Authority police officer does not have.
And as this thing starts to, you know, percolate, and then blows into
this national, you know, political scandal, and Chris Christie is out there
saying, there`s absolutely nothing untoward about this, making jokes about
it. Here`s a guy who`s -- as recent as 2010, very friendly with him.
HAYES: Right. Could be like --
KORNACKI: Yes, you ask around Trenton, you know, Jeff Michaels, what
lobbyist has Chris Christie`s ear more than any other? The name that comes
back to you is Jeff Michaels.
HAYES: Jeff Michaels is the guy who calls him on election night in
2009 to say, you won. Congratulations, you`re the new governor of New
So, there`s a pathway there to get this information.
HAYES: Like, hey, Gov.
I want to bring into the conversation Heather Haddon who covers New
Jersey for the "Wall Street Journal."
And what I thought was interesting today and the reason I wanted to
have you here, Heather, Patrick Foye says today -- executive director of
the Port Authority -- we want to look into this. There`s this "Bergen
Record" reporting. I want to give one little hint of their reporting about
the level of activity of the Port Authority police on the ground at the
time telling people to blame the mayor. So here`s a clip of that.
One motorist recalled an officer approached his vehicle without
prompting, told the driver, roll down his window and deliver the message,
"Are you frustrated?" Private Robert Miche: said the officer asked,
"What`s going on?" Michel replied. Call the mayor`s office to complain,
So, we got some reporting now that The Port Authority police were much
more involved on casting the blame on Mayor Sokolich before. Patrick Foye
is ordering an investigation.
Where do you see Foye in all this?
HEATHER HADDON, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I think this brings up the
inherent tensions in the Port Authority, right? It`s a bi-state agency.
Both New York and New Jersey have a lot of stake in this agency. There
have been tensions throughout the year. Who gets what, what airport gets
subsidized, what one doesn`t?
So now, Foye has been a real part of this investigation going forward.
HAYES: We know about what we know because Foye, of course, sent this
e-mail which is the bureaucratic version of a nuclear weapon over to the
other side basically being like, you`re lucky you didn`t kill anyone.
HADDON: Right, and put that in writing.
HAYES: Exactly. Put that in writing.
The reason I wanted to have you here specifically, you`re one of the
reporters who reported this piece that has sort of since kind of
disappeared down the memory hole. Full screen, "Wall Street Journal"
report that Cuomo and Christie spoke about the traffic in Fort Lee at the
HAYES: You reported that. That has since been denied. It seems by
both parties. What is the deal with that?
HADDON: So, Governor Christie firmly denied it and made a joke about
it at the time saying I asked Governor Cuomo, did we talk about this? He
said, no. So he said, I don`t remember any conversation about this.
Governor Cuomo has since sort of danced around the issue a bit more.
He`s been evasive about it. He`s said they have talked about the airports
but he says not the George W. Bridge issue. He`s also -- he does not seem
comfortable when he`s asked questions about this call. So, clearly there
are more questions to be asked.
HAYES: That, to me, is why it seems to me that the Port Authority
ordering this investigation, Patrick Foye in response largely I think to
your reporting, Steve. It`s always seemed to me if Andrew Cuomo wants to
destroy Chris Christie, he may be able to. I mean, I have no idea what he
knows. But we do know the New York side, across the river, is holding some
cards on this thing.
KORNACKI: Well, what we know is the unique nature of bi-state agency
is there`s the New York side and the New Jersey side. There are generally
people who are sort of understood by each side to be the voice of the
respective governor. You know, Cuomo speaking through Pat Foye.
When you talk to people on the New Jersey side, the impression was
Bill Baroni had the title of deputy executive director. He had a title
higher than David Wildstein. But the impression you get when you talk to
people on the New Jersey side and the New York side in the Port Authority
is, when those decisions had to be made that required gubernatorial input,
that it would be David Wildstein who would go and make the phone call to
Trenton. Whether he`s talking to Christie, himself, or somebody, he would
HAYES: He was the eyes and ears.
KORNACKI: Right. It raises the question to me, a guy like Chip
Michaels who knows Christie better than your average Port Authority cop who
might know Wildstein from Livingston better than your average Port
Authority cop, seeing this stuff first hand.
What I`d be interested in asking him, isn`t your impression that
Governor Christie wanted to happen? Is it your impression he knows about
HAYES: Right, you`re going to want no know as this fight is
happening, as this fight is escalating and Christie, himself, said the life
in this agency is basically a universe of unceasing warfare between New
York and New Jersey. I mean, that is what life inside the Port Authority
is. It`s a bizarre agency. There`s lots of money on the line. And the
two sides are fighting each other tooth and nail every day.
As this thing`s erupting, you`re going to want to know on the other
side of this thing, am I dealing with the governor here or not? Right?
KORNACKI: Right. No, and so that`s the surprising thing, as I say,
Bill Baroni technically should have been in the position where everybody
would assume he`s the point of contact. The impression that everybody, or
most people in the Port Authority had, though, was that David Wildstein was
the point of contact.
That`s why I just say, with Michaels, knowing Christie, you know,
himself, knowing probably through his brother, Christie that well, I`d be
curious to ask him. We put in a request for a comment. I`d be curious to
ask him, was it your impression when David Wildstein was telling you this
that this was David Wildstein speaking for the governor?
HAYES: Right. Now, have you gotten response, Christie folks have
basically said, we never had a conversation about this.
KORNACKI: No conversation with Chip, no conversation with Jeff about
HAYES: Right. And have you gotten responses from Chip and Jeff?
HAYES: The Michaels brothers.
KORNACKI: Have not heard from either of them, no.
HAYES: Heather, this story in which you guys reported out that
Christie called Cuomo amidst this to complain. Again, we know from the e-
mail traffic there was this huge eruption to push back on New York for
having the temerity to end their traffic study, right? To blow this thing
all up. There was outrage, in fact, indignant outrage from the Jersey
operatives on the side of this being like we`re pushing back, we`re getting
You guys reported this. You guys reported -- is this report still
stands, right? You guys stand by this reporting.
HADDON: We do.
HAYES: So you -- you reported out and you had evidence this was
talked about in the conversation, you stand by that. It has been denied by
Christie and sort of denied or waved away by Cuomo.
HADDON: Yes, we stand by it.
And, but one thing I just want to add on what you`re saying before
about the power struggle and, you know, Governor Cuomo`s role in the agency
is New Jersey`s lost some big guns at the Port Authority now, lost David
Wildstein and lost Bill Baroni. So, they`re in much more weakened position
going forward, and it`s going to be interesting to see how that affects
future deals. I mean, there`s a lot of things on the table.
HAYES: About to get rolled by the New York side on everything. Do
you suspect that we will see -- were you surprised by the "Bergen Record"
reporting about the level of involvement apparently of the Port Authority
KORNACKI: We always had that. There was always that document from
Mark Sokolich at the middle of all this and saying he`s here. I`m hearing
from residents they`re being told by port authority cops to blame the
mayor. So, that question has always been sort of out there and unexplored.
This was a really valuable report this weekend.
And I was surprised they were actually able to track down commuters
who had --
HAYES: The "roll down the window" moment is, like, that has come from
someone. That`s not someone that you`ve heard it being floated around that
if people give you a hard time, tell them it`s the mayor. That is someone
that`s told you, go out make sure people know.
HAYES: That`s right.
Steve Kornacki, you can, of course, catch his show "UP" weekends at
8:00 a.m. Eastern on MSNBC, and Heather Haddon from "The Wall Street
Journal" -- thank you both.
On the eve of what would have been his son`s 19th birthday, a father
in Florida had to remind us of what the law is supposed to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD DAVIS, FATHER, JORDAN DAVIS: We don`t accept a law that would
allow collateral damage to our family members. We raised them not to fear
each other, we raise them to be good citizens in America. We expect the
law to be behind us and protect us. And that`s what I wanted the law to do
is protect Jordan as we protected Jordan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: What the verdict in the Michael Dunn case means and where we
go from here, next.
HAYES: Oh, what`s that? Who`s the worst president ever, you say?
Well, I`m glad you asked because that`s what we`re going to be talking
about later in honor of this Presidents` Day.
Our researchers are still poring over data to determine the answer to
that question. We need your help. Tell us who you think is the worst
president of all-time by tweeting @allinwithchris. We`ll be checking them
throughout the show.
And we`ll be right back.
HAYES: The verdict in the murder trial, Michael Dunn, has many asking
just what the heck was the jury thinking? And more to the point, just what
does it take to convict someone of murdering an apparently unarmed black
teenager in the state of Florida?
Another young black man dead, another armed defendant pulling the
trigger and telling a Florida jury he feared for his life and another
verdict that sends waves of anguish and frustration through a community
hoping this time the law would deliver justice, that this time the jury
would say to the parents of this young black man and the parents of young
black and brown men and women and kids across the country, we see you?
This jury deadlocked on a first-degree murder charge in the killing of
17-year-old Jordan Davis.
Judge Russell Healey declared a mistrial on the first-degree murder
count. The defendant Michael Dunn was, however, found guilty of three
counts of attempted second-degree murder. One for each of the living
victims of his shooting and one count of shooting or throwing a deadly
missile. You will recall the November 2012 dispute over loud music at a
convenience store in Jacksonville, Florida, resulted in Dunn firing 10
shots at a red Durango SUV with four teenaged occupants.
Davis was struck in the back and groin by three of those bullets and
died a short time later. The defendant says Davis verbally threatened his
life and claimed Davis was holding what looked like a gun. That claim was
unsupported by any other witness. There were no weapons found in the
vehicle and the defendant`s fiancee said under oath that Dunn never
mentioned seeing him with a gun. After the shooting, Dunn left the scene
with his fiancee and ordered pizza, he did not call police.
Jordan Davis` parents offered a measured a response to a verdict that
failed to deliver justice to their son.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LUCIA MCBATH, MOTHER OF JORDAN DAVIS: We are so grateful for the
truth. We`re so grateful that the jurors were able to understand the
common sense of it all. And we will continue to stand and we will continue
to wait for justice for Jordan.
DAVIS: There are a lot of good kids out there, a lot of good nephews,
a lot of good grandsons, granddaughters, nieces. And they should have a
voice that they shouldn`t live in fear and walk around the streets worrying
about if someone has a problem with somebody else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Florida state attorney and lead prosecutor Angela Corey said
the state planned to retry Dunn on the first-degree murder charge. Not
only to seek justice for Jordan Davis but get another conviction in the
event the attempted murder convictions are overturned on appeal. Corey
also expressed concerns about the jury instructions in this case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA COREY, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: One of the things we`ve
had a lot of problems with are the jury instructions. They`re about to
change. They justify the use of deadly force instructions on us again.
They also just changed the manslaughter instructions in the middle of this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining me, Phillip Agnew, executive director of Dream
And, Phillip, you and I have been speaking for a while on the program.
We were talking about the work the Dream Defenders are doing, taking on
stand your ground, criminal justice system in Florida, in the wake of
Trayvon Martin`s death.
How are you feeling about this verdict?
PHILLIP AGNEW, DREAM DEFENDERS: Chris, thank you for having me. It`s
sad but we`re not disappointed at all. When you look at the cast of
players in this case and many others cases in the state of Florida, there`s
only one conclusion you could have drawn.
So, we`re not confused. We weren`t surprised. You`ve got state
attorney with a history of incompetence and with ill intent. She`s
railroaded young people of color into the justice system with adult charges
and adult prison.
So, you`ve got her over the case. There`s to surprise there. You`ve
got a governor in our state that goes around the state talking about job,
jobs, jobs, but what he really means is jails, jails, jails.
So, you`ve got two players in a case there. You have the puppet
masters in our state. You`ve got the NRA, you`ve got Marianne Hammer.
You`ve got the Geo Group. You have YSI in our state. All headquartered
And so, as a young person growing up in the state of Florida, it`s
very easy to see that Florida never loved us. We understood what the
verdict would be before the verdict ever came out.
He was guilty of murdering a young man who is guilty every day, the
portrayals of young black people, of guilt and of criminalization every day
led to this death. And so it was easy to see that Michael Dunn would get
off when you`ve got have that cast of players and people that make money.
Every single day, Chris, by showing young black and brown people as
criminals, as menaces to society.
And so, Jordan Davis was found guilty that night when he was killed,
but Michael Dunn in a case that should have been open and shut could not be
found guilty by a clearly incompetent state attorney who seems to find it
very easy to put young black people in adult prison, but can`t convict
somebody for killing one.
HAYES: You use that phrase, "Florida never loved us." I saw the
hashtag that you were using, #neverlovedus. What does that mean to you?
Florida never loved us, what does that mean?
AGNEW: Again, what we`re talking about now, it`s very clear. You`ve
seen in the case of -- we can go as far back as Casey Anthony, we can go to
Trayvon Martin, we can go to this recent Michael Dunn verdict. It shows
very clearly that veneer of great Florida, the palm trees and beaches is
starting to erode away under a correction system that is misplaced and that
puts people in adult prisons, young people in adult prisons.
And so, when we say Florida never loved us, when we say America never
loved us, it`s quite clear to us, and it has been quite clear to us that we
live in a state that doesn`t care about us.
And so, it`s important that when we lay out our case against a state
of Florida, that the state of Florida understands that we have a common
understanding, that we live in a state that has caused our education system
to hemorrhage. We arrest more kids and put them in adult prisons than any
other state. And so when tourists come here and they go to Disney world
and they see a place where dreams come true, that`s basically the only
place in Florida where that happens.
And so, Florida never loved us, America never loved us is our clear
proclamation that we have an understanding that we live in a state that
shows no care for young people of color.
HAYES: I want to bring in legal analyst Lisa Green, and Jelani Cobb,
associate professor of history, director of Institute for African-American
Studies at the University of Connecticut.
Lisa, here`s what I think, from -- to get to the technical aspect of
the trial. There are so many different things that led to this verdict,
particularly on the mistrial and the hung verdict. What I keep coming in
on, and Phillip talked about Angela Corey, whether the state did a good job
of prosecuting the trial, the broader context of Florida, I keep coming
back to this part of the jury instructions -- the use of deadly force is
justifiable if Michael Dunn reasonably believes the force is necessary to
prevent imminent death, or create bodily harm to himself while resisting
another`s attempt to murder him or another. Reasonably believed.
Now, the stand your ground law means he has no duty to retreat. That
was in the jury instructions as well.
How -- how -- what is going on that this definition of "reasonable" is
producing an inability to convict on what seems so clear?
LISA GREEN, LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Chris, it`s why I would say that
it`s possible this case was lost at the voir dire. All you needed was one
juror who listened to the prosecutor actually do a very careful job of
explaining the reasonableness standard, went into that jury room and
replaced it with a subjective standard saying, you know what, that sounds
right to me.
HAYES: That is so important. I think, Jelani, the kind of profound
core of this verdict, and I think the reason it has struck people so
horribly -- even though he`s looking at a lot of jail time, even though
he`s not getting scot-free, he`s not walking out of that courtroom -- is
the idea that both in the Trayvon Martin -- in what happened to Trayvon
Martin, what happened to Jordan Davis, some official body of the law has
said, when you encounter an apparently unarmed young black man during the
night, it`s reasonable to fear for your life. That is what is being
JELANI COBB, UCONN: So, I mean, Chris, the thing that strikes me
about this verdict is this. You know, the constant question is, what if he
had not fired additional rounds after he killed Jordan Davis? So, had he
not done that, under this decision, this verdict, he would have done
nothing wrong. He would have been allowed to just continue as he was and
this would have been deemed a justifiable shooting.
And so, what we`ve actually done is codify people`s prejudices.
Codify their worst instincts inside the law. I came up in activist
communities. I remember the Amadou Diallo case where we were in New York
and talking about specific police, you know, malpractice and their
behaviors. And we thought this was an issue that needed to be addressed
through the courts and we were skeptical that we`d actually get justice
Now, what we`ve seen with the laws is the removal of those kinds of
presumptions of kind of carte blanche on the part of law enforcement and
placing those in the hands of everyday citizens.
HAYES: Yes, Phillip, stand your ground law got a lot of attention
last year in the George Zimmerman trial. I want to hear what your plan is
next in the state of Florida, right after we take this quick break. Don`t
HAYES: We`re back.
I`m here with Phillip Agnew, Lisa Green and Jelani Cobb.
Phillip, there`s been some research into how racial bias works in
justifiable homicide cases. And one of the things you see is in cases of
white people killing black people and using justifiable homicide as a
defense, self-defense, you see much higher rates of not guilty verdicts.
That is then exacerbated by stand your ground laws. So there`s
already -- without stand your ground laws, there`s already a very
significant gap, as you see from the data we`re putting on the screen
there, between what juries do when confronted by a white person killing a
black person claiming justifiable homicide and the reverse. And then that
then is exacerbated by stand your ground.
It seems like there`s so much operating before you even get in the
courtroom in a case like this.
PHILLIP AGNEW, DREAM DEFENDERS: The law is bad, Chris.
And we shouldn`t mince words. The numbers show it. We had
representative Matt Gates (ph) on television this morning spouting
statistics that had no cause and effect. The law is bad and it leads to
death and leads to violence.
And so we have an opportunity here to remove this law, but we cannot
do it in the state of Florida, because, as I said before, and I love to
reiterate, there is money in politics. There`s money from the lobby that
ensures that if you murder someone and you murder someone of color, that
you will get off for it.
And it`s very intentional. It`s not accidental. The system isn`t
broken. It was designed this way. And so, as you said, the numbers are
overwhelming. We can go back and forth about the statistics, but people
are dying, young people are dying based on a presumption of murder -- for a
presumption of menace and a fear.
And that fear is implanted in people. And so the law should go. We
know that. We can keep having the discussion, but until we talk about the
systems that are supporting this law, and the people that are behind it,
we`re not going to get anywhere.
HAYES: The state has said they`re going to do a retrial. And given
what Phillip is saying, given the fact you have the same jury instructions,
you have got the stand your ground law, we apparently now -- there was
some, one or more jurors on that who looked at the set of facts.
I wanted to scream today in the editorial meeting. Jurors, you are
overthinking this. You`re overthinking this. It is not the case that this
was a justifiable moment in the first volley of shots that turned into
attempted murder a second later when he squeezed another one into the car.
Don`t overthink it.
LISA GREEN, LEGAL ANALYST: Right. I totally understand your
It`s a justice swift system, not a swap meet. The people who are
really happy about split the baby verdicts are missing a larger point,
which is to me a week ago, Dunn takes the stand in his own defense, highly
unusual. He finishes testifying. How many people thought that was a slam-
HAYES: No one.
GREEN: ... that would lead, granted, not an acquittal, but in a
mistrial? Very few people thought that.
HAYES: You think that that does not bode well for a retrial?
GREEN: It`s too soon to tell. I also know that Dunn`s attorney was
on television this morning talking about all the grounds he might have for
appeal. That`s pretty typical defense talk.
Some of them really didn`t pass muster with me. Because we`re just
closer to the beginning than the end.
HAYES: Jelani, there was this amazing hashtag that started going in
the wake of the verdict, #dangerousblackkids. And people were tweeting
pictures of their kids to try to just kind of take this idea of the
presumption of menace that seemed to be operating here. The kids are in
the car. They`re playing loud music. I fear for my life automatically.
And blow that up.
What will it take to blow that up? How do we blow that up?
JELANI COBB, CONTRIBUTOR, THENEWYORKER.COM: I mean, Chris, I wish I
You know, what I think, I feel like in looking at this circumstance,
we have taken the Trayvon Martin situation and then just run it through a
thesaurus. And so we can find different words and say the same thing over
and over again. And this is not atypical.
Outrage has to be recycled every six months or shorter or a few months
longer than that. Or if it`s Florida now, or it`s San Francisco in a BART
station or is it New York City with a young man on the way to his wedding
the next day, Sean Bell, this is not atypical.
I wanted to also, you know, make the point that the law, as it stands,
this is the intended outcome. What we have actually done is deputize the
citizenship. And so we understand the history of lynching and we saw mob
violence. And Florida has its own particular history, certainly not
exclusive to Florida around this kind of mob racial violence.
And what we have done is kind of create a one-person lynch mob
HAYES: Phillip Agnew from Dream Defenders, legal analyst Lisa Green,
and Jelani Cobb from the University of Connecticut, thank you all tonight.
One quick note before we go: Jordan Davis` parents will be on "THE
LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELLrMD-BO_" on Wednesday at 10:00 p.m.
Eastern. We will be right back.
HAYES: If you spent any part of the past weekend binge-watching
"House of Cards" and think the abuses of power in that show are farfetched,
I would recommend spending some time on this Presidents Day in the bowels
of American presidential history.
I mean, sure, Francis Underwood lies left and right, fudges the truth
whenever convenient. But he`s a biker compared to, I don`t know, James
Polk. Francis hasn`t started any wars, right? Well, as far as I know.
I`m only on episode three of the new season, so no spoilers.
In 1846, Polk told Congress Mexico had invaded American territory and
spilled American blood. Turned out Polk never had any solid evidence to
support his claim, but it didn`t really matter. A couple days later,
Congress declared war, America invaded Mexico. And a few years later,
there was a peace treaty, in which the U.S. gained from Mexico California,
Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, parts of New Mexico, Colorado and
In 1985, President Reagan`s administration sold weapons to Iran in
spite of the embargo of selling arms to Iran. His people lied about it and
then took those ill-gotten gains to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua. His
people lied an that, too.
And then, of course, there`s Richard Nixon, who is 1969 started a
secret bombing campaign that killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians and
sucked that country into decades of unspeakable horror and bloodshed. In a
few minutes, we will bring you our first ever worst presidents competition.
Here`s your chance to get in on the history. Sends us your entry in
140 characters or less. For example, maybe something like this. Nixon
secretly carpet-bombed Cambodia, also thought abortion was necessary when
you have a black and a white. That one doesn`t even mention Watergate.
Will Nixon make our final four of worst presidents ever? It`s a very
crowded field. Stick around.
HAYES: Today is the day we celebrate the birthday of our first
president, George Washington, as part of a holiday that has somehow, though
it`s not quite clear how, been expanded to celebrate all of our nation`s
We have had 43 of them so far. A lot of people think it`s actually
44, but Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms, so he usually
gets counted twice. Any presidential historian will tell you that a lot of
these presidents have been pretty bad.
In fact, some have been downright terrible. And the list of terrible
presidents is actually a lot longer than the list of great ones. So
instead of celebrating our best presidents this year, our Lincolns and our
FDRs, we here at ALL IN decided to truly grapple with the American
presidency by looking at our worst presidents.
I`m not talking about the William Henry Harrison types who just didn`t
accomplish anything, though, to be fair, Harrison didn`t have much of a
chance. He died of pneumonia a month after taking office. No, we want to
gaze into the heart of darkness, the presidents whose corruption,
malfeasance, incompetence, cluelessness, racism, violence, and ethnic
cleansing made the country and the world worse.
Historians actually spend a lot of time thinking of how our presidents
compare to each other. And opinions do tend to change over the years. In
1962, not long after he left office, a panel of historians rated Dwight
Eisenhower as a mediocre to below-average president. By 2012, the
"Newsweek" survey of historians put him in the top 10.
There`s some real consistency at the bottom of the list, however.
Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, Warren Harding consistently rated by
presidential scholars as the three worst presidents in American history in
surveys taken Siena College between 1982 and 2010.
Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin Pierce tended to round out the 25. But
in 2010, the last time the survey was taken, a new face popped up on the
all-time worst list, George W. Bush, who came in at fifth worst president
in American history. According to Siena, Bush rated poorly among
historians in handling the economy, communication, ability to compromise,
foreign policy accomplishments, and intelligence.
Today, I have invited three guests to make their individual pitches
for worst president ever.
I have got my own nominee, which I will share in a moment.
Joining me, Dorian Warren, associate professor of political science,
international and public affairs at Columbia University, John Nichols, my
colleague at "The Nation," where he`s Washington correspondent, and Jim
Moore, communications expert at Big Bend Strategies, co-author of "Bush`s
Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential."
All right, John, I will begin with you. Your nominee for worst
JOHN NICHOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s got to be Andrew Johnson.
I`m not even -- I`m not willing to give an inch on this one.
And, look, I advocated for some pretty tough action against George W.
Bush, and I certainly have no taste for Herbert Hoover and some of these
other folks. But Andrew Johnson, who became president of the United States
because of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, opposed the Freedmen`s
Bureau, which was going to allow African-Americans to begin to have some
sort of economic stake in the country where they had just been released
He blocked the Civil Rights Act, which was to allow African-Americans
basic citizenship rights. He fought against the 14th Amendment, which
brought African-Americans into full citizenship. And he actually vetoed
allowing states to enter the United States because they might have tipped
the balance in favor of civil rights.
HAYES: Yes, we should...
NICHOLS: He also implemented Reconstruction in a disastrous way.
HAYES: Yes, we should give -- the context here is that Johnson is
basically a stone cold white supremacist racist. And I`m not saying as
like hyperbole. Here`s Andrew Johnson: "This is a white men. And, by God,
as long as I`m president, it shall be a government for white men."
Opposed to full citizenship and liberation for the African-Americans
newly freed, put on to the ticket basically just so that there would be a
border state Democrat who could hold the government together, and then
suddenly finds himself president after Lincoln is assassinated.
And there`s a case to be made, John, that if you had someone there, if
you had Lincoln, Reconstruction could have looked a lot different, such
that the entire civil rights era of the 1960s would have happened then.
NICHOLS: Well, understand this.
Reconstruction was supposed to be a project that allowed Southerners
who had supported slavery ultimately to come back into the process to bring
African-Americans. And it was a complex process. You needed a very
sophisticated, but very strong leadership.
In this case, Andrew Johnson refused to work with Congress. He
implemented something he called presidential reconstruction. And he
allowed the Southern states to develop their own constitutions, many of
which had specific rules to disenfranchise African-Americans.
And the last point I will make is, when I covered the Florida recount
of 2000, if you traced back some of the legal structures that made it
possible to upset the real count in that state, and clear the way for
George Bush to become president, you will find that they can be traced back
to actions taken in the late 1860s because Andrew Johnson let it happen.
HAYES: So, Andrew Johnson, the tragedy of Reconstruction, the
unfulfilled promise, basically a white supremacist racist who comes in and
destroys a possibility in that crucial moment for something like equality,
full citizenship in that moment.
Dorian Warren, you have got another nominee. Who is your nominee?
DORIAN WARREN, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, you know,
Johnson is -- he`s close, but, for me, I`m a fellow at the Roosevelt
Institute. So, I have to go with number 31, Herbert Hoover.
HAYES: Herbert Hoover. Put him on the board. Herbert Hoover, you`re
WARREN: Herbert Hoover, who was on watch at midst of the worst
economic crisis in American history, the Great Depression.
He presided as secretary of commerce and then as president over the
so-called roaring `20s, the highest levels of inequality that we have
experienced in the country until very recently, a decade of wage
stagnation. Workers couldn`t afford to buy, you know, products.
HAYES: It all sounds very familiar.
WARREN: It all sounds very familiar. What was his solution to the
Great Depression? Well, the first thing he says, 1928, as he`s running for
reelection, or for his first election, he says, "We`re nearer today to the
idea of the abolition of poverty and fear from the lives of men and women
than ever before in any land."
HAYES: Everyone, look at this quote for a second, because this is a
guy on the eve of the worst economic crisis the country will face basically
being like, it`s just around the corner. Everything`s working great.
We`re driving right in the right direction.
WARREN: That`s right.
And even the Republican campaign slogan for him in 1928 was to put a
chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. That was the slogan.
Black Thursday hits. He actually says -- and this is reminiscent of John
McCain during our own great recession and crisis. He says, after Black
Thursday, "The fundamental business of a country that is production and
distribution is on a sound and prosperous basis."
WARREN: So, he still didn`t get it.
Now, what were his solutions to people homeless, starving, unemployed?
Private charity, not any government intervention. Sounds very similar to
Paul Ryan and others.
HAYES: And so you have massive unrest. You have unbelievable amounts
of misery. The government doesn`t do nearly what it needs to, to pull the
country out of the Great Depression.
WARREN: He`s still in the ideology of laissez-faire economy, that
there should be no government intervention into the economy, refuses to get
-- to do any deficit spending. He was all about balanced budgets.
HAYES: He`s balancing the budget in the midst of mass destruction
across the country.
WARREN: He takes office at 3 percent unemployment. By the time he
leaves, it`s around 23 percent.
HAYES: Yes, that -- it`s hard to beat that record for economic
WARREN: And, by the way, one last political point, he ushered in the
dominance of the Democratic Party in 1932, both in terms of the White
House, with FDR winning, as well as Congress.
HAYES: It`s a total blowout in `32.
All right, we have got Hoover on the board. We have got Johnson on
the board, one for Reconstruction and his role in that, another for
probably the worst economic mismanagement.
There`s someone else more recent who, Jim, I think you want to enter
into the conversation. I have got my own president with the initials A.J.
We`re going to give you both of those right after this break.
HAYES: Earlier, we asked you to tweet us your picks for worst
president ever. We have got a ton of answers, including Caro9 (ph) says --
quote -- "Worst president ever, Dick Cheney," which is pretty good.
Ali (ph) says: "Buchanan. When he wasn`t ignoring the dissolution of
the union, he was actively aiding the South. Should have gone to jail."
Buchanan, a consensus pick among historians, I should note.
Our own Goldie Taylor says: "Millard Fillmore signed the Fugitive
Slave Act. Aside from that, the most ineffectual and forgettable president
HAYES: We`re back duking it out over the worst president ever, a
I`m here with Dorian Warren, John Nichols, and Jim Moore.
And, Jim, you have got a nominee. It`s a guy you wrote a book about.
Who do you think is the worst president ever?
JIM MOORE, CO-AUTHOR, "BUSH`S BRAIN": Actually whoever becomes
president, Chris, thinking they`re going to end up behind Millard Fillmore?
But I come into this with a perspective of former long-haired hippy
Vietnam era war protester. And I think what matters the most to our
country is when a president comes in and executes geopolitics that have
this sort of global impact, but also ruin things for all of us at home.
And I think what happened under George W. Bush is that they cooked
intelligence. They created a case for a war to invade Iraq, to get even
for his dad. And as the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said,
we had no choice. The country floated on a sea of oil. The idea was to
get oil to avenge his dad and hopefully end sectarian violence.
And we look at this years later, and we have hundreds of thousands of
Iraqis, some human rights groups put it at a million-plus, that are dead,
tens of thousands of American veterans who are harmed and whose lives have
been ruined or they have been killed. And then we end up with a Veterans
Administration that can`t handle all of this.
On top of that, as he`s launching these two wars, Iraq and
Afghanistan, he`s administering a huge tax cut. At a time when the
spending is about to go up, he gives a tax cut to the upper income, to
corporations. And then all of this comes home to roost in our economy. We
get a big deficit.
Our country is now still struggling from all of that. So my belief is
that, regardless of any category you might consider, I think the judges
have to give the Oscar for worst president to George W.
HAYES: Yes, I mean, you make a very strong case. And I think one of
the things that`s key to point out about W. is, unlike, say, Lyndon
Johnson, who has this real kind of divided split record in terms of what he
did internationally, the Vietnam War, and what he did domestically, which
was push through and sign some of the most significant landmark legislation
in American history, George W. Bush`s non-war record -- and I mean Medicare
Part D, which is -- sort of works and is extremely expensive...
MOORE: Doesn`t exist.
HAYES: ... and then also overseeing the worst financial crisis, you
know, since the Great Depression, I think that absolutely puts him in the
I would say, from just a pure -- if you want to talk about, like, who
is the most amoral sociopath we ever had as president of the United States,
you got to go with Andrew Jackson. It basically was like the country
elected Tony Soprano, all right, to be president.
The guy -- and this guy personally killed many people, not like
ordered people in a war, like in duels, killed lots of people. We still
don`t know how many, as a soldier, ordered his men to raid and kill women
and children when he was raiding Indian camps.
He pushed through the Indian Removal Act, which was an official state
push of ethnic cleansing that led to the Trail of Tears. He overruled the
Supreme Court, tens of thousands of Indians removed from the South forcibly
in what was one of the most shameful moments in all of American history.
And I want to say this about Andrew Jackson. This is a guy who at the
end of his life says this. He had but two regrets. He had been unable to
shoot Henry Clay or hang John C. Calhoun. By the way, I don`t like John C.
Calhoun, sort of share his feelings, nonviolent myself.
That said, the thing to think about this guy is that he was one of the
most -- like, the idea that this person ran the American state, this
incredibly violent man, who in his personal life, in what he did in office,
was just this omnidirectional maelstrom of violence against people, that he
was just racking up kills -- I mean, this is Andrew Jackson.
WARREN: I`m sold.
Well, the other thing I will say is that he also got rid of the
national bank, which led to massive amounts of crisis.
The big question I think on the table -- and, Dorian, I will put it to
you -- is, is it true -- how do you make the case for Hoover when you look
at these two areas of, like, economic management and the misery it causes,
and then the sheer power and force of violence that a president commands
and the hell that they can unleash in their seat as commander in chief?
WARREN: That -- Chris, that`s an impossible question.
And you have me almost equivocating. But I`m going to give it one
WARREN: Hoover, when he left office, was responsible for the passage
of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Why? We needed -- people were
suffering so much, we had to shorten the time between the election and
Election is in November. Inauguration used to be in March. Hoover
was so awful, people were suffering so much, that we amended the
Constitution to make inauguration January 20, because of Hoover.
HAYES: He was that bad...
WARREN: That bad.
HAYES: ... that we amended the Constitution to get him out.
I do think that you should all, if you get a chance tonight, you know,
root around Wikipedia. Read some of the stuff about Andrew Johnson. Read
Eric Foner`s fine history of Reconstruction, which is not kind to Andrew
Johnson. Relive the Bush period in the many fine books that were produced,
or, you know, go to MSNBC archives, if you can pull up, and the much fine
programming here. And read some Andrew Jackson stuff, too.
It -- really, quite a character.
Dorian Warren from Colombia University, John Nichols from "The
Nation," Jim Moore from Big Bend Strategies, gentlemen, thank you all.
WARREN: Thank you, Chris.
MOORE: Thank you.
NICHOLS: Thank you.
HAYES: All right, now that we have told you our pick for the ALL IN
bad presidents, which one would you pick? Go to our Web site,
MSNBC.com/ALLIN, to vote.
That`s ALL IN for this evening.
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