THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
March 18, 2014
Guests: Joe Sonka; Lucia McBath; Alfred P. Doblin
ARI MELBER, GUEST HOST: Flight 370 is now the longest disappearance
in modern commercial aviation history. Mitt Romney is now trying to be the
backseat driver for a very challenging aircraft, Air Force One. And Chris
Christie`s old pal, well, he just got a new request from federal
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The mystery continues into the missing Malaysian
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What might have happened to that missing jumbo
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New theories have been emerging around the
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While there are no leads, there`s no shortage of
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Flight 370 theories.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pure, pure speculation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no easy answer here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frustrated families of passengers are pushing for
more answer answers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their patience for the sporadic and conflicting
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Confusing, sometimes contradictory statements --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has begun to deteriorate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thailand said today its radar did pick up a plane.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thai officials say their government didn`t share
that information with Malaysia earlier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When asked why the Thais didn`t offer that earlier
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because Thailand wasn`t specifically asked for
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they weren`t asked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are new details and a wider search area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really has gone from a mystery wrapped in an
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The mystery continues into the missing Malaysian
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So far there`s nothing that conclusively answers
the most pressing question -- why?
MELBER: Good evening to you. I am Ari Melber, in tonight for
Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is now the longest disappearance in
modern commercial aviation history. As investigators continue to dig
through many unsatisfying clues, we do have some breaking news tonight.
Sources tell NBC News correspondent Tom Costello that the airplane`s
western turn, that key turn off the original course, it was programmed into
the jetliner`s computer system before the plane`s communication system sent
out its last known data transmission. Thus a turn was preprogrammed from
Now, what does that mean? The turn was premeditated, it was included
in the final data transmitted before the communication system went down,
and according to NBC News sources, the turn was programmed more than 12
minutes before the last radio transmission when the co-pilot said, quote,
"all right, good night."
We also know the turn to the west, and the use of a new route were
executed after the transponders switched off. After that last radio
transmission on the scale now of a total accident to a deliberate act, this
information does confirm the idea that the plane`s route was deliberately
On the scale of benign action to a criminal or terrorist sabotage,
however, the information does not prove foul play.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREG FEITH, PILOT & FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: The pilot could have
loaded a flight plan into the stand-by system and so when the airplane took
off and was on its way to Beijing, they could have pulled up this alternate
flight plan, made it the active flight plan for one of two reasons --
either to come back because of an emergency or to take the airplane on a
route well away from Beijing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Locating this plane would add a lot more clues, but
investigators are still struggling with an absolutely huge search area --
an area that was once defined by the corridor surrounding the flight path,
you can see it highlighted there in orange. That has not only been
expanding, it has been expanding to a very difficult area, after
authorities learned the plane`s last communication`s ping could have
occurred anywhere along this red line, the area where the plane could have
traveled was expanded here to this broader circle that you see on the
Now, officials are searching in an area today that equals 3 million
square miles, according to Malaysia`s transportation minister. Now, we
compared that to a land mass. It would be an area about the same size as
the entire continent of Australia. With a giant search area that`s only
grown over time, some countries now are already starting to balk at the
open-ended and costly hunt for this plane.
We can report tonight that India and Vietnam are now opting out of the
international search, at least for now. They say they are ending their
involvement until Malaysian officials can at least narrow things down.
Meanwhile, the Australia defense forces, along with some help from
America and New Zealand are combing the southern portion of the Indian
The days of waiting are also taking, of course, a toll on relatives of
those who were onboard Flight 370. In Malaysia today, a vigil was held
just outside of Kuala Lumpur. In Beijing, anger boiled over in a meeting
between family members of missing passengers and Chinese officials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRANSLATOR: Go on hunger strike. Respect life. We need truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: For more, joining us live from Beijing is CNBC senior
correspondent Eunice Yoon.
It is morning there, the beginning of what is now day 12 of this
mystery of this international hunt. What is the latest you can tell us?
EUNICE YOON, CNBC SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ari, the latest from
here is that Chinese families are meeting with Malaysian airline officials
as we speak. This is a regular briefing that they have. But what we are
told is that there`s a greater police presence around the hotel as
authorities here are concerned about what the next step will be for these
Some of them had been threatening a hunger strike. Also some others
have been saying there should be a protest outside the Malaysian embassy.
Now, the source of frustration has been the lack of information. They`ve
been very frustrated and what`s interesting is that that frustration and
anger has also been starting to bubble over into diplomatic circles.
The Chinese ambassador to Malaysia yesterday had stressed that China
wanted to see more accurate and prompt information. He had said that
already the rumor mill as well as all the other information that has been
coming out has been very chaotic and that the Malaysian authorities needed
to do a better job.
Now, the Chinese government and state media has also been very
critical of the Malaysian -- the way they`ve been handling it. The state
media, one in particular had been questioning why the prime minister of
Malaysia had been, what they believe to be too slow to announce this
airline diversion could have been a deliberate act.
There`s also been some this morning and yesterday on local media here
in China calling for China to impose sanctions, economic sanctions --
MELBER: All right, thank you, Eunice. Giving us a live report in
Beijing. A little bit of transmission problems there at the end.
But we`re going to turn to Robert Hager, retired NBC News aviation
correspondent, and Don Borelli, NBC News terrorism analyst and chief
operating officer of the Soufan Group.
Welcome to you both.
Robert, let me play something from Tom Costello who`s done a lot of
work that you`ve done, which is keeping an eye on these kinds of stories.
Take a listen to a bit more from his report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We knew whoever made the U-turn
in the plane did so with the help of the onboard computer. Tonight, we
learned when the turn was programmed in -- at least 12 minutes before the
co-pilots calmly said good night to air traffic controllers. That would
further indicate the U-turn was planned and executed in the cockpit before
the controllers lost contact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This is the part of the story that people are focusing in on
ROBERT HAGER, RETIRED NBC NEWS AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Sure.
MELBER: What do we know about that decision, what do we interpret
about that turn?
HAGER: Well, I think we said to them early in the program, this would
indicate, now indicate, because it`s just one little miss of information
that it was premeditated. That it wasn`t a response, that means it wasn`t
a response to a sudden emergency, which is still something that`s batting
around, particularly around the Internet tonight.
So it looks like this was an intentional act, human input. And it`s
just one more piece of evidence. But boy, we need a lot more evidence
before we can say anything conclusive.
DON BORELLI, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: And that`s exactly what the
goal of the investigation is. Is to try to figure out if going under the
assumption that it was an intentional act, was it intentional criminal act?
Was it nefarious or was it done for another reason?
And that`s what`s going on in the background of all this -- trying to
piece together all of the electronic data, the information that comes from
the navigation systems. And then overlay that with what`s going on in the
background of the pilots and anybody else on that airplane that could have
had access and knowledge of that navigation system to see if there`s
anything that would lead investigators to think that this was a deliberate,
MELBER: So, Don, walk us through that from a criminal or terror
investigation approach. That you sort of have a decision tree here of each
act and weighting the evidence to see whether the act was something
suspicious or some sort of other benign activity.
BORELLI: Well, you`re going to start doing a very deep background
investigation starting with the pilots. And you`ll be looking at things
like their telephone records, their computer records. Not just the flight
simulator, but e-mails, interviewing their colleagues, their family, their
friends, to see if there`s any shred of evidence that might link them to a
You might also be looking for things of mental instability, financial.
I mean, just -- really looking for anything that might trigger this
MELBER: So on that point, let me read a little bit of what some of
the investigation of Chinese passengers turned up, which to your point was
not those kinds of leads. Quote, "None of the Chinese passengers aboard
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 played any role in the disappearance last
week." That what the Chinese ambassador to Malaysia said today.
The ambassador said China, quote, "conducted a meticulous
investigation into all the Chinese passengers and have been able to, quote,
`rule out the suspicion of any Chinese passengers engaged in terrorist or
sabotage activities` on board the flight."
Is that good enough?
BORELLI: Well, the passengers are one aspect of this, but I think
really the focus at this point must be with the pilots and anybody else,
part of either the crew or somebody that had the knowledge and capability
to do those deliberate actions that enabled the plane to go just course.
The likely place starts right in the cockpit itself.
And so you` really got to drill down hard, not that that`s the only
place that that could happen, but to me, that`s where I`m putting a lot of
resources right now into the background of those pilots or anybody else on
MELBER: Yes. And, Robert, I want to play for you, a little bit of
White House spokesman Jay Carney today because he`s speaking to the
frustration. I mean, the eyes of the world are on this mystery, and yet as
you were mentioning, so few really strong leads.
Take a listen to Jay Carney here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Malaysian government has
the lead in this investigation. U.S. officials are in Kuala Lumpur, as you
know, working with closely with the Malaysian on the investigation. This
is a difficult and unusual situation, and we are working hard in close
collaboration with the Malaysian government and other partners to
investigate a number of possible scenarios for what happened to the flight.
Our hearts, of course, go out to the families of the passengers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Robert, he doesn`t have a lot to offer there.
HAGER: Well, the buzz was kind of in the early stages, the Americans
were really having a difficult time getting much information out. You
know, a crash in a foreign country, we go as observers, that is as
Americans. You`ve got Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration, the
National Transportation Safety Board.
So, the foreign country as a lead in it, but our people are brought in
and they offer their expertise, which is really good expertise.
But so -- as I say, the buzz was that we were not getting the usual
cooperation from Malaysians that we have had in other foreign countries.
But now, they`re saying this is getting better, that we`re beginning to get
MELBER: And, Don, just briefly -- what do you see as the timetable in
the coming days? How concerned are we to have countries dropping out of
the search because it`s so unwieldy?
BORELLI: Obviously, that`s the decision for each country to make
based on their resources. That`s not going to stop the investigation. The
investigation will continue.
I know the U.S. is going to keep lending its assistance. FBI has a
good relationship with the royal Malaysian police. I`ve actually met with
some of the royal Malaysian police in the past and I know some of the FBI
people that have been on the ground there.
The level of cooperation -- I can`t speak to what`s going on right
now, it`s a crisis situation -- but I know they do have a good working
situation on the ground.
MELBER: Right. They have that coordination and you have those
countries saying they will come back in if they think there`s a way they
can play a meaningful role, but with some boundaries.
HAGER: But, boy, you need some wreckage or black boxes or something
like that. It doesn`t look like we`re going to get them.
MELBER: Right. Something that gives you a lead.
Robert Hager and Don Borelli, thank you both. Appreciate your time
Coming up, the backseat driving styles of Mitt Romney. And we have a
LAST WORD exclusive, the reporter who was literally barred from attending a
press conference on the campaign trail with Senator Mitch McConnell. He is
here with a fullback story.
MELBER: When Arizona backed off a bill that would make it easier to
discriminate against gay Americans earlier this year. Many celebrated, but
a few people pointed out a problem with all the Arizona bashing. It`s
still legal under federal law to fire someone for just being gay. Really?
Now, for years, the Obama administration urged Congress to change
that, with the ENDA bill, and it passed the Senate last November. And
while 10 Republican senators joined that Democratic effort, Speaker John
Boehner declined to hold a vote in the House.
He said the protection against discrimination would, quote, "increase
frivolous litigation and cost American jobs."
Now, there`s a new letter from over 100 Democrats in Congress, sending
pressure back towards the White House. They say that even if Republicans
won`t hold that vote, President Obama should now sign an executive order
applying ENDA to federal contractors. I think that would be a start.
Coming up, if you thought there was a big rivalry between Putin, Obama
and the neo-cons in Congress, just wait until Mitt Romney gets involved.
Vladimir Putin annexes the Crimean Peninsula and Republicans blame the
president. That is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Putin rears his head and
comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go?
It`s Alaska. It`s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we
send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful
nation, Russia, because they are right there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was one former governor with no foreign policy
experience sharing her expertise.
And Mitt Romney came out today with a new op-ed in "The Wall Street
Journal" on his core expertise, the history of Crimea and post-Soviet
conflict. Well, no, that`s not actually Romney`s expertise, or the
article`s focus. It`s really actually about President Obama`s failed
Mitt Romney writes today that the president`s failure to act when
action was possible diminished respect for the U.S. and made troubles
Romney gets it wrong in three ways. On Crimea, he argues Obama had
bad timing. When protests grew and violence ensued, it was certainly
evident to people in the intelligence community and to the White House,
Romney writes, that President Putin might try to take advantage of the
situation to capture Crimea or more. That was the time to talk with our
global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity
and communicate these to the Russian presidents.
These steps, Romney argues, plus assurances that we would not threaten
Russia`s influence in Kiev might have dissuaded him from invasion.
Translation, folks -- Putin wouldn`t have invaded Crimea to secure his
only warm water port if only the U.S. gave him assurances about a naval
base and a sovereign country and influence over a sovereign nation`s
government. Those are some assurances.
In reality, Putin stayed out of Crimea, I think, as long as his ally
ran Ukraine. And when Yanukovych was ousted, all bets were off.
Romney`s idea that earlier warnings of sanctions and empty assurances
about Ukraine`s actions would prevent invasion makes him look pretty out of
Then, his op-ed argues bad timing was also the problem in Syria.
Quote, "As the rebellion in Syria erupted, the time was right for us to
bring together moderate leaders who would have been easy enough for us to
identify, to assure the Alawites that they would have a future post-Assad
and to see the rebels were well armed."
One problem, Governor Romney, there are very few moderate leaders in
Syria. That was true even back when you thought the time was right.
Syria`s civil war is, of course, between the backers of a dictator who
gassed his own people and rebels who want to impose extreme Sharia Law.
Finally, and we will end here, Romney writes that Obama and Hillary
Clinton travel the world in pursuit of their promise to reset relations and
build friendships across the globe. Their failure has been painfully
evident. Quote, "It`s hard to name even a single country that has more
respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took
Is it? Let`s help you out, Governor Romney. When you compare Pew`s
global polls between 2007 and 2013, countries with more favorable views
include allies like France, Poland, Canada, Israel, Argentina, South Korea,
and even that adversary Russia.
Now, whether you think those global polls matter or not, the fact is
that even with tons of spare time, Mr. Romney can`t be bothered to get the
basics right. That may be why President Obama got the better of him in
their last real foreign policy debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The challenge we have -
- I know you haven`t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy,
but every time you`ve offered an opinion, you`ve been wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joining me now are Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser of the
2008 McCain presidential campaign and an MSNBC political analyst, as well
as David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening.
MELBER: Good evening.
STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to be with you.
MELBER: Steve, let me start with you. If you have any responses to a
coup of those holes I tried to poke in the op-ed, I welcome them. And
also, if you would, politically put the op-ed on the couch, is it written
by someone who`s just sounding off on policy because he`s free and
independent, or someone who might have yet another campaign inside him?
SCHMIDT: Well, look, I think the Democrats were wrong when they said
that we would have a Russian policy reset on the basis of the president`s
personality, that George W. Bush was gone, so the Russians would act
differently. I think it`s wrong when Republicans say that Putin is doing
the things that he`s doing in reaction to things that the president has
said or done.
Bottom line here is Vladimir Putin is a Russian nationalist. He`s a
serious global strategist. He`s a tough leader. He`s asserting his
prerogatives over what the Russians refer to as the newer broad.
This is a destabilizing situation of course because the predicate that
he`s using to lay out the intervention is protection of Russian-speaking
populations, of which there are many in Moldova, in the Baltic countries.
The Baltic countries, of course, covered under Article 5 as NATO allies.
So, it`s a serious situation and the United States needs to develop a
bipartisan consensus of how to deal in a tough, sophisticated way with a
resurgent Russia led by a modern day czar. And we`ve always had a
bipartisan tradition in this country when it comes to our relations with
the former Soviet Union, and now Russia. And I think we should hopefully
look to the president and members of Congress to hopefully move in that
direction where we can see a resurgence of that bipartisan foreign policy
because they are an issue this country has to deal with.
MELBER: David, let me bring you in. Go ahead.
CORN: Yes. I was just saying, Steve, are you one of those state
where is they`ve legalized marijuana? Because I think -- I agree with you
wholeheartedly. It would be great to have this bipartisan consensus with
what to do with this very dicey foreign policy challenge.
But what you see is Mitt Romney and John McCain and a lot of people on
the right just -- whatever Barack Obama does, they believe in the opposite.
Mitt Romney, who was at the beck and call of the neo-cons in 2012, beating
the drums for war now says oh, with all these (INAUDIBLE), you know, Barack
Obama or me, if I had been there, we would have avoided all this trouble.
I mean, he`s not playing by the facts. I mean, I have the same list
of countries that Ari just showed on the screen. But also, another example
from the op-ed is he says Barack Obama was behind when it came to Egypt.
I don`t know, you know, hold Mitt Romney responsible for not reading
my book or other things about this matter, but actually for 10 months prior
to the Arab spring, Barack Obama had conveyed an interagency group to try
to deal with what he thought would be transformations in the Middle East in
the Arab world.
So, I mean, he`s been trying but yet it doesn`t matter. Mitt Romney
and all the others use any opportunity not to band together and try to
figure this out collectively, but to just fire away again and again and
name calling. He`s weak, he`s feckless, you know?
So I think you`re sort of in the dark here.
SCHMIDT: Well, look, I think that what you`re seeing happening in all
these countries across the broader Middle East is a fraying of the
boundaries that were drawn across religious lines, ethnic lines. Of
course, you look at the Crimea given to the Ukraine by Russia under
Khrushchev in 1954.
And so, Russia historically, you look at Tennyson`s poem "Into the
Valley of Death, rode the six hundred." I mean, the Europeans have
experienced war in Crimea against Russia. When we blame the president
entirely, that everything happening in the world is the fault of him not
moving enough and that all events in the world are derivative of what the
president is doing or not doing or what the United States policy is at any
given moment, totally ignores the powerful forces of history, of culture,
of ethnicities that operate in this part of the world.
MELBER: Yes. So, Steve, let me jump in on that.
SCHMIDT: It`s very explainable what Vladimir Putin is doing here.
SCHMIDT: And we need to have a long-term policy.
CORN: Well, it`d be great.
MELBER: Let me jump in on that there, gentlemen, isn`t that part of
the problem with Mr. Romney`s op-ed. He`s picked a pivotal time to weigh
in. He`s tried to very quickly stitch together a critique of global
standing, that the facts don`t back, of Syria, that seems drastically
oversimplified and to your point right now, of Crimea that seems to focus a
lot more on whether Barack Obama had good timing, like this is some sort of
poker game than the actual strategic and historical pieces underneath it.
I mean, do you think in that respect, this op-ed is probably unhelpful
for foreign policy and Republican politics?
SCHMIDT: Look, I think that blustering is as bad as dithering in
these types of crises. The great secretary of state, George Shultz, said
the most important foreign policy decision Ronald Reagan ever made was
firing the air traffic controllers. It showed he was a man who did what he
said he was going to do. That was understood in the Kremlin at the time.
There`s a lot of legitimate Republican criticism, for example, with
regard to the red lines that the president, I think even they acknowledge
talked about so inartfully in Syria. But do I think that`s the cause of
what`s happening in Crimea, what`s happening in the Ukraine? I don`t think
And I think the attempts to project everything that`s happening in the
world on to the policies of whether it`s a Republican administration,
Democrats did this with President Bush, whether it`s with President Obama,
Republicans, some are doing it now -- I just think is such a simplistic
analysis of really deep things, deep trends that are occurring right now in
complicated parts of the world.
MELBER: It is. Let me jump in, Steve.
MELBER: We`re almost out of time. It`s not only simplistic, it`s
also interesting coming to a party that used to associate itself as the
most sophisticated, serious arguments on national security.
Before we go, Steve, I did want to get your answer on Mitt Romney in
2016. How shall we view the op-ed?
MELBER: You know, there`s something alluring about it. Look, I think
that there`s a -- you know, Mitt Romney, you know, he wouldn`t be the first
person to run for president for a third time.
I think the Republican field is as wide open as it possibly could be.
You know, if Mitt Romney were to run a race that was different in construct
from last one where he had already lost once. It was a fearless campaign,
taking on some of the elements of the Republican Party that need to be
You know, I would love to see it. I think that Mitt Romney`s public
service for his country isn`t done yet. I think he`s a serious substantive
guy. I have no idea if he`s going to run for president, but in the field
constituted the way it is, I think anyone would win it.
MELBER: All right, that`s an interesting point. And it`s an open
Steve Schmidt and David Corn, thank you both for joining us tonight.
Coming up -- the biggest trouble for Chris Christie may not be
actually those lane closures. It might be all about his guy at the Port
Authority, David Samson. There are developments in a separate
investigation. We`ll bring them to you, straight ahead.
MELBER: Chris Christie was confronted by protesters during a town
hall today. While some of the protesters yelled about appointees at the
port authority, Christie was not asked a direct question about the George
Washington bridge scandal. But it did come up sort of indirectly if
Christie was asked if he could expedite a state legislature investigation
into a possible corruption case in Newark, Christie said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Whatever senator Wisniewski
decides to spend his time on is, as we`ve seen, completely up to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It`s a brief reference. But what Christie is doing there is
referring to John Wisniewski who helped lead the committee investigating
lane closures. The investigation has run into some uncooperative witnesses
and is now trying to convince a superior court judge that Christie`s former
campaign manager, Bill Stepien and his former deputy chief of staff,
Bridget Kelly, must turn over the documents requested.
Yesterday, the committee filed over a dozen previously un-released e-
mails and texts and their supposed to demonstrate that Bill Stepien was in
the loop all along in the traffic scandal as it developed.
Tonight on MSNBC`s "Politics Nation," Wisniewski emphasize that this
kind of flow of information itself was suspicious.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASSEMBLYMAN JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: Those communications
were not within the port authority. westbound the port authority.
Remember, this was supposed to be a port authority traffic study.
Remember, this was supposed t be a port authority traffic study. But these
were communications that went to the governor`s campaign manager, Bill
Stepien among others.
And so, it really shows that there was a significant political
component to what was going on here. We don`t know why. We`re trying to
get that answer. But clearly, involving all of these folks in the
campaign, running by them, the press strategy indicates there was some
political element to this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Some political element. Now, that is all about the state
investigation. If the court doesn`t force those witnesses to turn over
documents, part of the trail may go cold. But then there is the separate
independent federal investigation.
Tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting, quote, "federal
prosecutors in New Jersey subpoenaed records relating to potential
conflicts of interest involving the port authority of New York and New
Jersey. Chairman David Samson focusing on two bridge contracts worth $2.8
billion that he voted to award to construction companies represented by his
law firm. The article continues that the inquiry those people said would
focus on potential conflicts of interest between his public actions, as the
authority`s chairman where he had power, and his private law firm`s
representation of companies doing business with it.
Samson`s lawyer did decline, we should mention, to comment on that
Joining us now is Alfred P. Doblin, editorial page editor for "the
Bergen Record" and a man who has been tracking this story for some time.
ALFRED P. DOBLIN, EDITOR, THE BERGEN RECORD: Thank you.
MELBER: Let`s start with David Samson and his role here. Why is it
of such interest?
DOBLIN: Well, he`s the chairman of the port authority of New York and
New Jersey. He is a key adviser to governor Christie. I mean, he led his
transition team. He is the co-founder of one of the most politically
influential law firms in the state of New Jersey. He`s also a former state
So before all this story broke, I mean, he was seen as certainly a
very ethical, smart savvy lawyer. As this is starting to unfold, we`re
seeing a lot or obvious conflicts of interest. I wouldn`t say anything is
criminal happening here, but the fact that the U.S. attorney is look into
this is certainly adding another red flag to go up there.
But this is someone who should recognize that if you`re going to vote
on something like raising the Beyonne (ph) bridge, or rebuilding the
Gapple`s (ph) bridge or the records reported about there`s a parking
facility in North Bergen that used to charged New Jersey transit $900
million after year, and they got a deal now for $1 a year.
And David Samson is saying well, I voted for it, then I didn`t really
vote for it. And now they`re going to do a do-over kind of vote.
I mean, a lot of it is just very gray for a very smart, very savvy
MELBER: Right. And you mentioned, at least those two bridge
contracts. The "Times" is reporting that is over $2 billion on the table
there. And the line here is a lot of folks are skeptical about politicians
in general. And quite frankly, New Jersey in particular, no offense to
you, sir. And yet, this goes beyond just saying OK, there`s some back and
forth, there are some relationships. This is a federal inquiry, right,
that is looking at the potential violation of federal law in these funds.
DOBLIN: Well, and it`s interesting that, you know, maybe at the end
of the day, a year from now two years from now, whenever this whole thing
plays out, the actual lane closures may be the smaller component of the
MELBER: Right. Absolutely.
DOBLIN: Because with what the U.S. attorney is looking at now is
really a side issue. They started cutting open this particular sausage.
And all of a sudden they found all of these questionable dealings by the
chairman of the port authority. And so, they`re really looking at the
whole culture of the port authority, which has also been very well seasoned
with Christie people.
MELBER: Yes, and look, that`s something Lawrence and I have talked
about which is a lot of times prosecution isn`t always about crime.
Prosecution is about evidence. And whatever the bridge scandal started
with, the best evidence that these prosecutors at the federal level may
have of crimes that they have jurisdiction over is a lot of money sloshing
around. They are not necessarily the interstate crime of traffic.
DOBLIN: Well, and it`s huge amounts of money. I mean, when you look
at what the port authority can fund, I mean, when you`re talking about
billions of dollars, but it`s not even just money that the port authority
is spending. I mean, if David Samson`s clients can benefit from these
deals, whether it`s a bridge deal here or it`s an airport deal in Atlantic
city, you know, this is very much the way politics sort of works, some of
the time. Some of the time it ends up in Americans like "American Hustle."
However you look at it, it`s not a very pretty -- it`s not a very pretty
MELBER: Alfred, I was wondering if you were going to bring Jennifer
Lawrence into this and you did. `
DOBLIN: Well, you know, I figured I had a responsibility here.
MELBER: Alfred P. Doblin, "the Bergen Record." Thanks you again.
Thanks for sharing your expertise with us tonight.
DOBLIN: Thank you.
MELBER: Coming up with you in a "Last Word" exclusive. I mentioned
earlier, The reporter denied access to Senate minority leader Mitch
McConnell, despite them holding a press conference.
And later, the mother of Jordan Davis, Lucia McBath joins us to
discuss her home state of Georgia`s new push for even looser gun laws.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really do want you to win. I really do. If
that isn`t what you want, I`m OK with that. You know, I will tell these
guys to pack up and leave today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it`s not the that I`m not ready to do that.
I do want to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need cut the (bleep), you really do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Lindsay Lohan is not the only one getting help from Oprah
Winfrey right now to win. Oprah will appear to fundraiser next month for
Lavern Chatman, the former president of the North Virginia Urban League who
is running congressional seat in Virginia.
Now, she is running in a Democratic primary to replace Jim Moran, a
Democrat who is retiring. The winner of that primary will be likely to
hold a seat. It`s a blue district where about seven of ten voters backed
President Obama in 2012.
Up next, Mitch McConnell doesn`t mind if you want to make fun on his
Web video as we have been talking about. But asking questions in a press
conference, well, that`s a different story, sir.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
MELBER: That is what the kids are calling McConnelling with a little
Lionel Ritchie in the mix. And everyone has had fun with McConnell`s
smiling web videos lately. But a new political story has broke about a
Kentucky reporter who said he was McConnelled in a whole new way.
Reporter Joe Sonka said McConnell`s campaign manager barred him from
attending a press conference of all things if he wanted to ask questions,
which is usually the point of press events. Now, Sonka put the word out on
the internet. He tweeted the Louisville metro police officer cut me
officer cut off as I enter the presser. He said he would arrest me if I
walked past him on orders of team Mitch.
When asked that the presser why Joe Sonka couldn`t attend, the issue,
of course, came up there, the Senate minority said he didn`t know.
Now here`s how McConnell`s campaign manager, Jesse Benton explained
the situation. Quote "our campaign held a private event in a hotel today
and select members of the media were invited to attend for an intimate
question and answer session. Mr. Sonka was not invited and therefore was
asked to leave. When he refused, the matter was turned over to the hotel
staff who followed their internal protocol."
Joining us now for an exclusive interview about all of this is Joe
Sonka, news editor for "Leo Weekly" at Louisville, Kentucky alternative
JOE SONKA, NEWS EDITOR, LEO WEEKLY: (INAUDIBLE).
MELBER: Absolutely. So at first, Jesse Benton apparently told you
there wasn`t actually enough room at the event. Then the story evolved
into what I just quoted.
Number one, do you believe they are being truthful about this sort of
hotel policy and protocol? And number two, do you think it`s fair to have
sort of press events that are only open to selective press?
SONKA: Well, the campaign definitely lied to me about the limited
space excuse for not letting me in. That he eventually changed his story a
couple of times. And at one point, he said well, I`ll let you in, but --
as long as you don`t ask questions. The ore reporters can ask questions,
but you can`t.
I told them that I would like to ask questions and that`s when he said
he would call the cops and tried to arrest me if I entered and he -- the
policeman was there in the door when I tried to walk in with the other
journalists. So, it was kind of amazing.
MELBER: Yes. I mean, that`s pretty intense. Let me ask you -- let
me jump in and ask you another question. For folks who are watching at
home and are thinking, well, maybe they followed politics but it never
heard of you, right. One question would be, why is the McConnell campaign
going to such great lengths to keep you out?
SONKA: Well, they are going to great lengths. I`m critical of
McConnell just like I`m critical of just about every politician who`s ever
been in Kentucky. There were even journalists who were critical of
McConnell who were allowed in. It`s kind of a mystery to me. I think it`s
interesting that Mitch McConnell has always portrayed himself a great
champion of the first amendment. He was against the flag burning
amendment. He`s famous for saying that money equals speech. But when it
comes to a reporter wanting to enter a press conference and ask him a
policy question, apparently the freedom of speech and freedom of the press
goes out the door.
MELBER: You know, yes, you say that and also it was a classic
political error, because as we mentioned, and maybe this wouldn`t be true
in sort of a pre-Internet era, but you were able to catalog it in real
time. I saw online today. Other reports, both local and national dipping
in on it. Then of course as we reported, the senator was asked about it.
So, politically it`s weird.
And I wonder if it goes to some of the problem he`s having in the
race, which as you reported on, I want to get your thoughts running here
against Allison London grimes as the Democrat. And she has now pulled up
by some polls by 46 to 42, close there within the margin of error. How is
SONKA: It could be the fact that the McConnell campaign is panicking.
His campaign has already spent many millions of dollars. He has Pro
McConnell super PACs are already spending millions of dollars. And he`s
gone from an unpopular senator to a very, very unpopular senator. Numbers
have actually gotten worse. Grimes was ahead of him by four points in the
last poll. So perhaps they`re panicking so much they think it`s a good
idea to arrest a reporter who might ask a question that he has difficulty
MELBER: Yes. Well, look, it was an interesting story, that`s why we
wanted to get you on. We will keep an eye on it particularly to see
whether this sort of conduct continues against you or other journalists and
bloggers. It`s at least a weird one.
Joe Sonka of "Leo Weekly," thanks for your time tonight.
SONKA: Thank you.
Now coming up, a story I mentioned earlier. The mother of Jordan
Davis is going to join us to talk about what makes Georgia`s proposed
changes to gun laws in her view just so dangerous.
MELBER: Jordan Davis was shot and killed in Florida at a gas station
by a man whose trial ultimately turned in part on stand your ground laws.
His mother`s home state of Georgia now wants to loosen its gun laws and
Jordan`s mother joins us up ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LUCIA MCBATH, JORDAN DAVIS` MOTHER: Not only did you take Jordan`s
life, but you took my future. I won`t have grandchildren. I will never
have a daughter-in-law. I will never have all of those things that you see
in your children as your legacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was the mother of Jordan Davis when she spoke with
Lawrence a month ago about the verdict in the trial of Michael Dunn who
shot and killed her 17-year-old son at a gas station in Jacksonville,
Florida, in November 2012.
Like the trial of George Zimmerman, the Dunn case sparked national
debates about the laws of self-defense, stand your ground and limits on
access to guns. Lucia McBath responded by working on criminal justice
reform and serving as a spokesperson for moms demand action for gun sense
She is now speaking out against the new bill that just passed the
Georgia house which would allow changes such as carrying firearms in
churches, bars and airports where they were once not allowed, allowing
convicted felons to try avoid prosecution for the use of deadly force by
invoking certain self-defense rules and lowering the age to obtain a
concealed weapon in Georgia from age 21 to 18.
The NRA approves. It says this bill would be quote "the most pro gun
law in the state`s recent history."
Joining us now is Lucia McBath. Welcome to you. Thanks for joining
MCBATH: Thank you so much for having me.
MELBER: Let`s start with what you`re doing in advocacy around this
bill and your views of the bill.
MCBATH: Well, basically in working with moms demand action for gun
sense in America and conjunction with mayors against illegal guns and a
host of coalition members across Georgia, we have been canvassing the state
capitol now for quite some time trying to invoke people to understand,
especially our legislators, trying to invoke them to understand that what
we have on the plate before us now, what we have on the floor before us
now, the guns everywhere bill, in conjunction with stand your ground, these
are bills that would dangerously expand the scope of behavior in the state
of Georgia allowing criminals, felons to be able to use gun, illegal guns,
and still use the stand your ground statute at their immunity. You know,
allowing citizens to bring their guns into bars, into churches,
sanctuaries, places of business. These are very dangerous measures before
our legislatures at this time.
MELBER: Yes. To your point about the impact, "The New York Times"
published editorial on March 14th about these laws, and it noted that quote
"justifiable homicide cases rose 83 percent in Georgia where the house`s
deplorable gun bill has moved to the Senate." And they say it is the work
of the gun lobby." And yet, I also want to note that even in your state,
the Atlanta journal constitution poll conducted in January, when asked
should guns be allowed, for example, in houses of worship, 72 percent of
registered voters statewide opposed including 63 percent of the
Republicans. The stats in terms of the risk to the population would
counsel against this, the public seems to be against it. So, what is going
on in your view?
MCBATH: We don`t really seem to understand other than there has to be
a lot of influence based on the legislators placed by the NRA and Alec
(ph). We really believe that. And so, we`re actually asking the citizens
to take governor deal to task on these measures. Because the public safety
is definitely at risk at this point if these kinds of measures are enacted.
MELBER: Yes. And so briefly, where do we go from here on that
MCBATH: Well, as we speak right now they are actually vote on the
measures. So, it remains to be seen in the next few moments or hours what
actually will happen in the state of Georgia.
MELBER: Right. And then it would go, if it does get it out the other
House, it would go to the governors` desk.
We will keep reporting on and we are going to keep an eye on your
work. I know you have been working on this a lot. We appreciate it. That
and your time, thank you tonight.
MCBATH: Thank you so much.
I`m Ari Melber, in for Lawrence O`Donnell. If you want more, and
wouldn`t you, you can find me on facebook at facebook.com\arimelber. And
stay with MSNBC.
Chris Hayes is up next.
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