All In With Chris Hayes, Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Read the transcript from the Wednesday show
ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
April 9, 2014
Guests: Paul Butler, Jerry Saltz, Clifford Alexander, Jr., Dick Thornburgh
ARI MELBER, GUEST HOST: Good evening. I`m Ari Melber, in for Chris
And we begin with breaking news in New Jersey tonight. A judge just
dealt a setback, possibly temporary, to the Democratic-led legislative
investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closings. Yet the
judge ruled against the legislative investigations` pursuit of documents
because, because an ongoing federal investigation is reviewing potential
criminal conduct by the same former aides to Governor Chris Christie.
We`re going to report on that issue, the interplay between these two
inquiries in a moment. But first, here`s exactly what you need to know
about today`s ruling.
It addresses two people you may have heard of, two people at the
center of the bridgegate issues. Former Christie campaign manager, Bill
Stepien, whom Christie said he fired for his tone, not for involvement in
these lane closings, and Bridgette Anne Kelly, Christie`s former deputy
chief of staff. Kelly, of course, had a direct link to the lane closings,
because of that infamous e-mail, quote, "time for some traffic problems in
Fort Lee," to which the now former Port Authority official David Wildstein
replied, quote, "got it."
The legislature has sought testimony and documents from both of them,
and Wildstein invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,
refusing to testify.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID WILDSTEIN, FORMER PORT AUTHORITY OFFICIAL: On the advice of my
counsel, I respectfully assert my right to remain silent under the United
States and New Jersey Constitutions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Kelly and Stepien asserted a similar claim, arguing that she,
both of them, really, could refuse the committee`s request for documents.
Their lawyers sought these subpoenas invoking past cases where pretty broad
document requests were found to be a violation of a person`s right not to
The legislative committee asked superior court judge, Mary Jacobson,
in New Jersey to order Kelly and Stepien to hand over a wide range of
documents. The committee`s lawyer insisted, they were appropriately
seeking specific documents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID SCHAR, ATTY., NJ LEGISLATIVE CMTE: This is not, has not been,
and these subpoenas are not fishing expeditions of any sort. It is a
foregone conclusion, based on the type of communications that are going on,
that, in fact, there are additional e-mails that are out there. And I`m
not guessing judge. I know it because I`ve seen them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was the claim in court. But today, Judge Jacobson
rejected that argument, ruling for Kelly and Stepien that the requests here
were just too broad. That may be good news for them, but the judge based
her reasoning on potentially bad news for those former Christie aides,
specifically pointing to the ongoing U.S. attorney investigation, the
federal investigation, as a basis for her ruling today.
Take a look. The judge concluded that they were protected partly
because they are currently in the zone of danger in terms of a subsequent
prosecution. She also wrote, "Indeed, Mr. Stepien and Ms. Kelly could face
prosecution for official misconduct in either state or federal court."
And Judge Jacobson disagreed with the committee`s claim that their
request was not a fishing expedition. "The fundamental problem with the
subpoenas is that they`re overly broad," she wrote. "The requests, as
modified, remain a fishing expedition."
So in the short-term, this means there will be less information
flowing to that New Jersey legislative committee, a committee that we`ve
reported on, but it`s always been the case that the bigger game, and the
bigger investigation, has been the separate parallel inquiry in the U.S.
attorney`s office, the federal investigation, and that, of course, is not
affected in any way directly by today`s ruling.
Joining us now is MSNBC contributor, Brian Murphy, assistant professor
at U.S. political history at Baruch College and former managing editor of
politics at NJ.com. And Paul Butler, professor of law at Georgetown
University Law Center, a former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department
of Justice, specializing in public corruption cases.
Paul, let me start with you. You heard me there give reference to
what we got in this ruling. It is a very big ruling, as I mentioned.
What did you think of what it means right now for the state-level
PAUL BUTLER, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: So, it`s basically
this state judge telling the state legislatures to stay in their lane.
There`s an important federal investigation going on, that has the potential
to send Governor Christie, Bridget Kelly, and other folks to prison.
So, that`s a big deal. They really ought to lay back and let the
criminal proceeding go forward.
Now, the way the judge said that was by saying, I`m not going to let
you have these documents now, because what they`re asking for is too broad.
Basically, she`s saying, you`re amateurs. Let the professionals do their
BERMAN: Yes. Well, that`s more blunt than the way she put it, but
that`s what struck me as well, because near the end of the ruling, she also
talks about whether there are other ways to go at this. And she gets at
that a little bit. Judges don`t love hypotheticals, but she says, look, if
you ask for just the conversation between just Stepien and Kelly and not a
dozen other people, that might be narrow enough that I wouldn`t reject it.
And, yet, Paul, she didn`t go farther by saying, I`m going to alter
this or give you half a loaf.
BUTLER: So, the Fifth Amendment is a beautiful document about the
dignity of human beings. It says that the government can`t force us to be
the agent of our own destruction. So, if they want documents from us, if
they want testimony from us, they have to prove why it`s relevant.
So, they just can`t go out and say, give us everything you have
regarding bridgegate. They`ve got to have specific requests and have a
basis of why they think that the defendant or the suspect has this
MELBER: Right. And that goes to the fact that as we know, in a lot
of proceedings, the Fifth Amendment is the a very significant, very real
bar, and you are not supposed to interpret too much out of it. People can
assert it without having -- especially in a court of law -- in the news, we
can make our analysis. But in a court of law, of course, you`re not
supposed to be prejudice for it.
I want to read the statement from Bridget Kelly`s attorney tonight, a
new statement, they feel vindicated. And they say, "For all the naysayers
who criticize Ms. Kelly for asserting her constitutional rights, Judge
Jacobson`s decision provides a free tutorial on the protections the Fifth
Amendment affords all citizens."
And yet as we`re reporting, that procedural step doesn`t say anything
about being in the clear.
Another interpretation of this is that the judge said to Ms. Kelly,
you get this protection because you`re in so much hot water in a potential
BRIAN MURPHY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s right. And one of the
questions that the judge goes into there is whether or not Bridget Kelly
was entitled to any protection, because she was a state employee, or
whether she lost that when she became a state employee, right? Whether or
not she had to produce, and because she had been a state employee, she
didn`t really have the right to make a Fifth Amendment assertion. The
judge says, absolutely not. She has that right, a person carries that into
whatever employment they go into.
But the broader question you get at is whether or not she`s entitled
to immunity if she does produce these documents. And she`s very clear at
the end of that ruling that the committee has the right to do
investigations, and that`s sort of the legislator`s role here. It`s not to
necessarily get to a prosecution, but find out where the misconduct was and
follow the documents as far as they can go.
And she thinks that the committee, in contrast to what the committee`s
own lawyer said in court, that they have a pretty broad right to be able to
do that. And she was actually a little bit mystified about the argument
that they made.
MELBER: Expound on that?
MURPHY: She said in re-charge filings, they make this very weak case
for being able to offer use and derivative use of immunity for the
documents they`re asking Kelly for. And toward the end of that ruling that
you have there, she`s saying -- you know, she calls it a mystifying
argument that they`re making, she says that under New Jersey state law,
it`s really clear, there`s no constitutional defect -- the legislature, if
offered immunity, they can go after what they would like to get, and they
don`t have to be concerned about the criminal prosecutions all that much.
MELBER: Right. And, Paul, let me broaden this out for all my non-
lawyers out there.
All this talk about immunity, you might start to think, is this Candy?
Is this a mint you get that`s handed out at the end of an interview? No,
neither of the state inquiry nor federal prosecutors are in a rush to give
anyone immunity at this early stage. And if the prosecutors and the
federal investigation, who have reportedly been taking these meetings, if
they`re getting someone, they don`t have to necessarily hand out full
immunity right there.
Tell us as a former prosecutor, there are other tools in their
BUTLER: Oh, absolutely. This is why federal prosecutors just hate
these parallel investigations, because, really, all the amateurs can do is
kind of mess up your criminal prosecution, because, whether they
technically have the power or not, they can practically confer immunity.
And immunity, it`s not candy, it`s like a big double chocolate sundae
for a suspect, because it`s like a get out of jail free card. So you want
people to be very careful about who they give immunity to.
So, rather than immunity, what they`ll do is start, as they did last
week, bringing this low-level guy into the grand jury. That signals
they`re preparing a criminal case, maybe not against Christie, but against
someone. But they`re going to do pyramid prosecution, starting at the
And before immunity for big fish like Kelly or Stepien, they try to
make a deal. They`d say, if you testify, then we`ll prosecute you for
something less than, you know, what we think you`re really guilty of.
MELBER: And so, Brian, let`s go to the politics of this here. It
seems to me if you`re watching all of this from the Christie perspective,
not the former aides, who are in a bit of a dance for survival, but from
the perspective of Chris Christie, the collection of events we`re seeing
over these days, generally suggest an intensification -- I want to use the
words carefully -- but a kind of intensification at the federal level and
if Paul Butler is right in the reading of this case, a state judge
basically saying, because it`s real, in her words, because you`re in the
zone of danger, that is part of days, generally suggest an intensification,
I want to use the words carefully, but a kind of intensification at the
federal level. And if Paul Butler is right in the reading of this case, a
state judge basically saying, because it`s real, in her words, because
you`re in the zone of danger, that is part of the reason why you don`t get
-- you don`t have to give up anything right now.
But, boy, when you go to the grand jury or anything else, you`ll be in
a different situation. So, does that politically spell more concern for
folks who are still working for Chris Christie?
MURPHY: I would imagine so. I mean, if you thought this ruling was
going to provide evidence that there wasn`t anything there or this was just
going to stop Kelly and Stepien and people might not be motivated to take
it any further, you`ve got to be pretty unhappy with what you`ve seen over
the last few days, because presumably, if what they have is that good.
And there`s any interest at all on the part of the state prosecutors
or the federal prosecutors, in taking this beyond Kelly and Stepien, which
everybody has sort of thought that it`s unlikely that this plan was hatched
out of their offices, without anyone else knowing, then you`ve got to be
pretty worried about who else -- there are that night many places to go
upward when you`re going up that pyramid.
MELBER: Right. So, Paul, briefly, the other thing I have to ask you,
looking at this now is, do you think that the legislative committee
slightly chastened will still be in a position where they`ll say, OK, let`s
closely read those rules, right? A lot of times judges give out narrowing
prescriptions and they can come back with a much more targeted subpoena, or
from your experience, reading something like this, would you say, let`s lay
back completely and see what happens?
BUTLER: I think the U.S. attorney is going to get on the phone and
say to someone in the legislative committee, guys, please let us handle
this. But it`s their prerogative. It`s the legislature`s prerogative.
And the judge, at the end of the opinion, basically gives them a recipe for
this is how you do the subpoena to make it constitutional. You have to
make it much more narrow, and she didn`t say she would turn it down then.
She just asked them to go back and do it right.
MELBER: Right. You mentioned that, and that kind of coordination or
discussion. And we know from this ruling as well as other reporting, they
have had conversations between that committee and the feds, previously.
So, it`s not at all farfetched that they might debrief on what we learned
MSNBC contributor Brian Murphy and Paul Butler from Georgetown
University Law Center, thank you both. Very interesting breaking news
Now, coming up, what the real scandal in Washington is. And here`s a
hint, it is not Benghazi. That straight ahead.
MELBER: It is pretty rare to have all the living U.S. presidents in
the same place at the same time, but they are gathered this week in Austin,
Texas, to celebrate a momentous event in our nation`s history. We`re going
to have some pretty special guests here on ALL IN to talk about it, ahead.
MELBER: There are two realities in Washington these days. You
already know the first one. It`s actual reality.
Where we use information and evidence to reach conclusions about
what`s happening, where one plus one, look at that, it equals two.
And then there`s that other reality where you start with a conclusion
in your mind and look for anything to confirm it. That may not literally
include unicorns, look at that. But it is a place where reality is a
conclusion often uninterested and unmoved by new evidence.
That second reality is where more and more House Republicans seem to
live. And after several years of GOP-led hearings, targeting President
Obama in which actual reality was ignored, it`s starting to look like
Democrats have had enough.
Take Benghazi. Even after that February report, which was from
Republicans knocking down the Republican talking point that the Obama
administration had held up a military response to the Benghazi attack, and
have been after independent investigations found no evidence that al Qaeda
or other terrorist groups planned the tack, the charge that drove
hysterical GOP claims that Susan Rice was lying for political reasons at
the time with House Republicans have refused to abandon their relentless
quest to use that tragedy and claims to score political points.
As Republicans prepared, really, guys, this is real, another Benghazi
hearing, two House Democrats have now hit their limit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: It is time to get past the Benghazi
witch hunt that has happened. It has been relentlessly partisan, and a
relentless effort to embarrass the administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: In another non-reality inquiry, even though claims that the
IRS was only targeting groups for special scrutiny that be debunked, House
Republicans were back it today pushing a criminal inquiry into Lois Lerner,
the charge that she singled out the Tea Party.
Today, Democrat Elijah Cummings accused Republican House Oversight
Committee chair, Darrell Issa, who`s leading the contempt vote against
Lerner for tomorrow -- well, he accused Issa of trying to recreate the
oversight committee in Joe McCarthy`s image. Strong words.
The Republicans` abuse of a serious tool here, holding officials in
contempt, also surfaced this week in testimony by Attorney General Eric
Holder. Republicans tried to tar Holder over that Fast and Furious set of
allegations and held the first contempt vote against an attorney general in
U.S. history based on the issue. The attorney general is still on the job,
but that history was alive in his latest trip to the Hill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: Now, realize that contempt is not a
big deal to our attorney general, but it is important that we have proper
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: You don`t want to go there, buddy, OK?
You don`t want to go there.
GOHMERT: I don`t want to go there?
GOHMERT: About the contempt?
HOLDER: You should not assume that that is not a big deal to me. I
think it was inappropriate, I think it was unjust, but never think that
that was not a big deal to me. Don`t ever think that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Translation, it was a big deal and a shame, but for
Republicans, not for the attorney general.
And today, Eric Holder brought up that exchange in a new speech to Al
Sharpton`s National Action Network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: Forget about me -- you look at the way the Attorney General
of the United States was treated yesterday by a House Committee. It had
nothing to do with me, forget about that. What Attorney General has ever
had to deal with that kind of treatment? What President has ever had to
deal with that kind of treatment?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joining us now, MSNBC contributor and former Democratic
congressman from Massachusetts, Barney Frank.
BARNEY FRANK, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening.
MELBER: What you heard there was Attorney General Eric Holder saying,
take him personally out of it, and he`s being treated differently and this
president is being treated differently. When you look specifically at
these investigations that we`re reporting on, how do you deal with one
that`s not really about pursuing the facts at all?
FRANK: You say what Elijah Cummings and others have said, that this
is a political mugging. Frankly, I have had my own experience with Darrell
Issa, the committee chairman. He put out a report about housing a few
years ago, with a very blatant error.
And I saw him in the hall and said, this -- let me prove to you how
wrong this is. And he shrugged his shoulders and he said, well, that
happens. No regard for the truth.
You talked about a double standard. How we treated them. Take
Benghazi and take Libya. When many more Americans were killed, it was
early on -- I mean, Lebanon -- early on in my congressional service.
Under the presidency Ronald Reagan, there were a couple of hundred
marines in a barracks in Lebanon, that had been sent in there to try to
stabilize the situation. And the place was unprotected. And a truck full
of explosives drove in, and I don`t know -- I think it was 280 marines, a
terrible tragedy were killed.
We Democrats were in control of the Congress. Ronald Reagan said,
well, you know, it wasn`t ready, but sometimes, when you`re building a
house, it takes longer to finish the kitchen than you thought. We didn`t
engage in the kind of demagoguery that they do.
What`s striking to me, if someone does something terrible to
Americans, these people want to blame the Americans, these Republicans.
They want to make it the fault here. And I just urge people, someone
should go back and compare the response of the Democratic majority to the
much greater tragedy, when many more brave Americans were killed by
murderous terrorists in Lebanon in `83, I think it was, and the demagoguery
of the Republicans in this case.
Well, you know, in 2008, I had people say to me, whatever happened too
bipartisanship? Very simple, Barack Obama got elected and these people
decided they would go after him.
In December of 2008, when George Bush sent his leading Republican
appointees, the secretary of treasury and the federal head to Congress and
said, the economy is about to meltdown, and we need to work together on
something that we know is going to be very unpopular, the TARP, Nancy
Pelosi, Harry Reid told Chris Dodd and me, look, we`ve got to do what we
can to save the country. The Republicans -- that was a very bipartisan
MELBER: Yes. You know --
FRANK: A couple of months later, that collapsed.
MELBER: Well, and, Barney, what you`re speaking to, something that
comes up a lot. The false equivalence, or, don`t both sides do this, or
isn`t this just politics?
And sure, there`s a certain amount of politics we all know in
Washington, but you`re speaking to specifics with examples of what a
contrast there is. Let me ask you about the way the Democrats are dealing
with it, because one view is, well, just stonewall, just kind of let them
do their thing, and don`t let them get a rise out of you.
What we saw with Attorney General Holder there, saying, hey, don`t go
there, being aggressive, and bringing it up himself today is a different
sort of strategy. What is your view of that?
FRANK: I think that`s absolutely the right thing to do. You cannot
engage in unilateral rhetorical disarmament. Look, in fairness to the
public, if they hear people who are supposedly respectable, they don`t know
that -- in my judgment, Darrell Issa is kind of a thug in the way he acts,
they don`t know how to automatically discount that.
So, if they hear supposedly responsible people say things and no one
rebuts them, they`re going to stand. I think you have to fight back. And,
look, I was asked when -- by people, well, do you retire because there was
too much rancor?
And my answer was, no, as a matter of fact, I`m pretty good at rancor.
I think it`s important for us, as I said, not to have that kind of
We -- and I just, again, we have to stress, and I`m glad that you said
that, about a plague on both your houses. By the way, there was
bipartisanship. George Bush was president and there was a Democratic -- a
Republican Congress and then the last few years, a Democratic Congress. We
worked with him on things. We worked with him on his stimulus in 2008.
We worked with him on the repair. And, by the way, Bill Clinton had
better response from a Newt Gingrich-led Congress and a Tom DeLay-led
Congress. This isn`t just partisanship --
MELBER: Before we go, Barney, I wanted to ask you, when you say
Congressman Issa is a thug, what do you specifically mean by that?
FRANK: That he has no respect for the truth. That he is a bully.
That he uses his authority in inappropriate ways, like cutting off Elijah
Cummings, that -- no, he doesn`t hit people, he doesn`t use a gun on
people, but he uses tactics that are inappropriate to a democracy, that
disregard the kind of basic respect for the truth that make the process
MELBER: Yes. I hear you on that. And some of his work in Congress
and running that committee lately has drawn a lot more scrutiny, that may,
if nothing else, politically present some problems for him and his
leadership there on the oversight committee. We will keep an eye on it.
And former Congressman Barney Frank, thanks for sharing some of your
stories with us tonight.
FRANK: You`re welcome.
MELBER: Coming up, former President George W. Bush is a painter now,
and that has us wondering if he`s ever gotten any inspiration from this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never learn it all in painting, never. If you
paint for a million years, you`ll always know that your next painting is
going to be even better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This is not a joke. And we do have an art critic in the
house. We will review president bush`s latest works with a real art critic
next here on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: You know, I wanted to make sure
that the last chapters of my life were full and painting, it turns out,
would help occupy not only space, but kind of open my mind. I paint a lot,
because as you know, I`m a driven person. And I want to get for the. A
whole new world has opened up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: All righty. Suddenly, everyone is talking about former
President George W. Bush as the artist, the painter.
Now, at first, we should remember, Bush didn`t come out to the world
with his paintings. Instead, last year, his early work was actually
leaked. The only reason we`ve seen many of his most intimate paintings is
because of a 40-year-old Romanian hacker who goes by the name, Guccifer.
Last year, Guccifer reportedly hacked several e-mail accounts that
belonged to Bush family members and personal pictures and private messages
were published on a Web site called "The Smoking Gun."
There were a few private pictures in particular that almost broke the
Internet. Pictures that revealed George W. Bush had taken up painting in
his free time, quite seriously. A self-portrait, showing the former
president showering, his reflection seen in a suggestive mirror there.
Another appears to be from his own viewpoint in a bathtub, the faucet
Predictably, the Internet and the art world went wild, asking, what
does this all mean?
One critic mused the shower painting depicted a self-cleansing, while
"New York" Magazine art critic, Jerry Saltz declared, "George W. Bush is a
good painter." He wrote that his two bathing paintings border on visionary.
The absurd, the perverse, the frat boy, each echoes, the same isolation in
small space, rumination without guilt. And since, Bush`s artwork was
revealed, perhaps prematurely to the world. Now the former president is
coming out of the artistic closet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I want to share something
JAY LENO, LATE NIGHT SHOW HOST: Yes?
BUSH: I do take painting seriously. It has changed my life, and I
brought a painting for you.
LENO: You did?
LENO: Did you paint that? Look at that!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This is all really happening. Now, over the past weekend,
Bush reached a milestone many aspiring artists could only dream of. And, I
do not know if this has to do with him being president or not, but he got
his first solo exhibit. It was held at a place called the George W.
Presidential Library and Museum.
And, the exhibit features 30 of the former president`s portraits of
world leaders and set off another artistic discussion across the country.
An art critic for "The New York Times" Magazine, wrote -- or "The New York
Times," I should say, "Mr. Bush has an uncanny ability to translate photos
into more awkward images, enlivened by distortions and slightly ham-handed
Jerry Saltz of the "New York" Magazine, for his part wrote, "The
bizarrely obscured portrait of Vladimir Putin makes no pictorial sense
whatsoever, but somehow coheres as a painting." And, he added, "I would buy
the one of Tony Blair that looks like it is a face painted over another
face and really pinkish lips than my stars speaking."
Saltz`s initial excitement about Bush`s potential talent has seemed to
have faded, though, and he is here with me. He wrote, quote, "Bush has
returned once and probably for all to aping the idea of what a painter
does. Now, as during his presidency, he acts the role, he lacks his own
ideas and substitutes a notion of how past leaders have acted. Joining us
now, my honor to have here, Jerry Saltz, senior art critic for "New York"
Magazine. How are you?
JERRY SALTZ, SENIOR ART CRITIC FOR NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Hi, Ari. Good
to be here.
MELBER: We are having fun with this. The president is obviously
having fun with it. It is a great hobby. But art can speak so much more.
I want to put up on the screen, his self-portrait.
MELBER: We had the bathing ones already. This is the newer self-
portrait. Walk us through it.
SALTZ: Well, in the bathing pictures, I thought it was just
astonishing to have a man that had seen the whole world. And, when he got
a chance to show what he saw, he depicted himself naked, alone, enclosed.
It was deeply strange, but had I seen these paintings at a yard sale, I
would have bought one for $15, $20. I like this kind of, almost, this very
amateurish, bizarre art.
MELBER: Let`s pause on the nudity. There is a famous "Simpsons"
episode where Marge has to paint Monte Burns.
MELBER: And, because he is a villain in the story, the way she
ultimately decides to make him human is to paint him naked or nearly naked.
Are you speaking to that desire to humanize himself? Because when he first
painted this, he may not have a plan to show it to anyone.
SALTZ: Well, I think it was very freakish and showed a bizarre lack of
imagination, of a man just cloistering himself off from the whole world.
Now with these portraits, it gets stranger still. Instead of painting his
real world, he goes to the internet and gets pictures.
The self-portrait of the president, very telling. The least focused,
the most fuzzy, the most unfinished of all the paintings. I think that is
sort of telling. It tells me that that is how he sees himself. Good or
bad. I never liked him as president.
SALTZ: I did like some of the paintings, but these are showing weaker
and weaker and sillier, more vision.
MELBER: When you say lack of imagination, they looked into this
because of all the paintings he made of the world leaders, and it turns out
when you go into Google and pull up these different leaders, they are all
the top hits, OK? Merkel, Putin, Karzai, all of the photos that he based
the paintings off of were literally the first selection on Google.
SALTZ: Well, I mean there is nothing wrong with painting from
photographs. People have been doing it for century. However, it again
shows this bizarre thing about this person, first picture up, first picture
chosen, nothing personal in the pictures. It is just taking the ease way
out, acting like this is a portrait of a fellow world leader, when, really,
it is just this kid trying to make good, probably, just trying to make it
seem like he was a likable doofus, easygoing guy.
But, I think it shows anything but that. Again, I liked the early
work, but this, honestly, shows -- just imagine, had Bush painted the
people that were really around him. This work speaks volumes with what he
did not paint.
MELBER: So, let me dive in on that. You mentioned that, that is sort
of the negative space of this entire historical painting here. These are
not pictures of people at Abu Ghraib or Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice.
He is positioning himself, as you said, either at the most personal or at
the diplomatic level with foreign leaders. We are not seeing any sort of
focus on other worst parts of his legacy.
SALTZ:" What he is not painting is speaking volumes, exactly. This is
what we would call negative content. And, it leaves a kind of evidentiary
trail to him. Imagine him painting his view of the 2000 election. His
view of flying over Katrina. His view of Colin Powell talking about yellow
cake aluminum -- or excuse me, uranium.
To me, this tells me that Bush is in a way covering his tracks yet
again. Painting is a way to know yourself and know the world. That was
the bizarre hope I had for this strange president. But, what he is done is
he is taken the exact opposite path. Instead of knowing himself more, he
knows that he cannot know himself. So, he is kind of shutting off the real
truth. A picture of Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney, that would be intense.
SALTZ: And, he knows it. He knows it would show too much of how bad
MELBER: Right. And, in a sense, that aspect, coming from a successful
politician like himself, is not that surprising, because he is always had
an ability to craft a narrative, regardless of the facts or the record.
You see that in the libraries, these presidents often build for themselves.
You see it in the biographies they write after the presidency. Art being
something more abstract, but to your point, really hits some of those same
themes. Jerry Saltz, "New York" Magazine, thank you. This was an
SALTZ: Thank you.
MELBER: Coming up, could the civil rights act of 1964, a very
important piece of legislation, do you think that could pass today? The
answer might seem obvious, but it is not. And, we will look at why,
MELBER: If you have been missing Chris Hayes on "All In" this week,
and who has not, check out this video we just found on the internet.
MELBER: That is odd. Chris Hayes will be back. We promise and he
will bring an explanation for all of that. It is tomorrow night. You do
not want to miss it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We are here because the civil
rights act and the voting rights act made it possible for Jimmy Carter,
Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama to be president of the United States. Now
we can look back over five decades and see the results when a government of
the people extends its promise to all the people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was President Bill Clinton tonight at the civil rights
summit, which is taking place in Austin, Texas, all this week as a
celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights act of 1964.
An unprecedented piece of legislation, signed by President Lyndon Baines
Johnson. It`s also a rare gathering of all the living U.S. Presidents.
Former President Bill Clinton, as you saw there, delivering remarks.
President Jimmy Carter spoke yesterday, warning that complacency on
civil rights has set in, in the United States. President George W. Bush is
scheduled to speak tomorrow. His father, President George H.W. Bush is
also there, as an honorary co-chair of the event, although he does not have
a speech. And tomorrow, President Obama will give the keynote address.
The effort and determination that LBJ brought to the civil rights act
struggle remains an inspiring model, I would argue, for all of those
presidents. And, while the LBJ library is the perfect place to reflect on
this kind of seminal achievement. Now, joining us tonight to discuss it is
Clifford Alexander Jr. He was associate special counsel to President
Lyndon B. Johnson and played a critical role in passing and implementing
the civil rights act of 1964. An honor to have you here tonight.
CLIFFORD ALEXANDER JR., ASSOCIATE SPECIAL COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT LYNDON
B. JOHNSON: Thank you, Ari, appreciate it.
MELBER: When we look at this achievement, and you look at all these
presidents from both parties down there, what do we learn today about this
period of history and tell us what you were doing when you were serving LBJ
at that time?
ALEXANDER: At that time, I was on his staff welcome working on
administration. I was there in the room, and he gave me one of the pens
that he used to sign the civil rights act. And later on, I continued to
work with the civil rights leadership, I was their liaison for President
Johnson, and he made me head of the opportunity commission in 1967.
ALEXANDER: Which was title 7 of that act. But, I think most
importantly, that some revised history that comes out of this. I saw the
elder Bush, he voted against the civil rights act. So it is nice to see
that people are coming together. But, it would be very good, I think, if
either the elder Bush or his son, put some pressure on the people in both
the senate and the house who have opposed the kinds of legislation that
would help to give equal pay to women, which is title 7 of the act, would
help to give voting rights act, that are now being eviscerated in states.
So, I think the real spirit of this is not just some speeches down at
the library. The real spirit of it would be if those who have power within
particular the Republican Party talked to those people and some democrats
ought to talk to him too, about the decency of including people, according
to their skills and abilities and the decency of using this fundamental
right, the right to vote, not doing anything to mess with that.
MELBER: So, you know, you are speaking there, sir, to something that
is so important, as you mentioned people in both parties, going down there.
And, many of them may have great reasons and feel pride about this notion
and this history of civil rights.
MELBER: But, you are speaking to whether it is the paycheck fairness
act, the gender parody, or they also had a session this week there on
marriage equality and gay rights and understanding that in the context of
civil rights, something you have also spoken about.
What is the challenge there? What did you learn from your work for
LBJ, about how you can take something that`s become popular in spirit, and
try to enact it so it is popular on the floor of the congress?
ALEXANDER: There was, at the time I was there, a live, live energy
about getting these things done. That energy is not there today. It is,
in theory, the right thing to do. But, we do not hear people saying, this
has to be done for the good of this country. We will give up this or that
in order to achieve it.
We have the opposition of basic rights being treated the same as
giving as those basic rights. Part of it is the fault of the media, for
not really exercising as they should, part of it is the fault of democrats,
who do not push hard enough. I mean, it seems to me, it is kind of silly
to be comparing Barack Obama to Lyndon Johnson.
That does not get anything in particular done today. What we have to
think about is what we do now in the year 2014, in order to reach those
folks who have their heads in the sand, about civil rights and about the
rights of women and the rights of people who want to have only just the
right to live in a society that is supposed to be a democracy.
MELBER: How much, when you were there, was President Johnson speaking
about the outside pressure, about Martin Luther King, about core, about
ALEXANDER: Well, I think that is a very good point. He saw that
outside pressure. I worked with him. There was Dorothy Hyde from the
national counsel liberal women. There was Roy Wilkins. There was Whitney
Young. There was John Lewis. There was Jim Farmer from core. Martin was
a very important part of it, but also extraordinarily important, as
important as Martin was A. Phillip Randolph, who was a moving force and
actually was the head of the White House civil rights conference that I ran
for the president in 1966.
Those are the people along with many white people, along with men and
women of character, who stood up for the rights of black people in
particular in the civil rights act was passed.
MELBER: And, a final thought and question is, if we did the same
anniversary for the voting rights act, I wonder whether we could have as
many leaders from both parties there. Because the republicans will not
even hold a vote on the simple bill from Lewis and Sensenbrenner to renew
parts of the acts that were overruled in the Shelby decision last year?
ALEXANDER: Well, I think, unfortunately, that is the truth. We do
have to get passionate and we do have to stop thinking that somehow they
are going to talk to us. We do have to continue to be critical of them.
But, we obviously also have to sit with those who we are critical of.
I mean President Johnson, I was with him when he nominated Thurgood
Marshall. He called up, all of the people on the judiciary committee told
them about their good record. This means the president in the room. And,
he told them what he was going to do, that he is going to nominate him.
And he said, after he finished his monologue, he hung up on a Sparkman
or someone who might oppose him and said, "You know what I am going to do?
I am going to put him on the Supreme Court today." And, that is, indeed,
what he did. What Obama is doing, I think, is important as well. Not just
a few of these executive orders, but using his bully pulpit, getting in the
face of people. Talking to white business leaders about full opportunities
for black and Latino people. Talking about the rights women, not in
theory. I mean Lily Ledbetter is only a procedural part of title 7. We
cannot get too excited about that. There is much more than needs to be
MELBER: And, I know as we go I know you brought the actual pen and a
piece of living history for us here.
ALEXANDER: Yes. This is the pen that was given to me by President
MELBER: Yes. So, it is an honor, and you are one of the perfect
people to reflect on this. So, I appreciate your time, Clifford Alexander,
former associate special counsel to President Johnson. Appreciate it.
ALEXANDER: Thank you so much.
MELBER: Coming up, I will be joined by former Attorney General of the
United States, Dick Thornburgh, for his perspective on this anniversary of
the civil rights act. That is straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: My fellow Americans, I am
about to sign into law the civil rights act of 1964. I want to take this
occasion to talk to you about what that law means to every American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We are back, reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the civil
rights act. Joining me now to help illustrate how this historically
important piece of legislation was made possible by a bipartisan coalition
of republicans and democrats is Dick Thornburgh. He was a U.S. Attorney
General under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Former U.S.
Attorney General, thanks for being here.
DICK THORNBURGH, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good evening, Ari.
MELBER: Tell me your thoughts here, as we reflect on the anniversary.
THORNBURGH: Well, this is a hallelujah day, I think, for American
citizens. We have labored for almost a century, trying to get some flesh
and blood into the constitutional amendments adopted at the end of the
sieve war, and it was not until 1964 that that bipartisan coalition was put
I have to say, I was someone amused by Mr. Alexander`s
characterization of the republicans as being the bad guys in this scenario.
In point of fact, there would be no civil rights act of 1964 if it had not
been for the support coming from republican house members under the
leadership of president -- of Senator Hugh Scott and Senator Everett
Dirkson, and others.
The fact is that 27 out of 33 republican house members voted for the
civil rights act. So, times change and the attitudes of the parties
change, but this was truly a bipartisan effort and it is probably a
landmark bipartisan effort. Nowadays, we find ourselves bogged down in a
great deal of partisan bickering and inability to agree. And, it is just a
reminder that as Jefferson once said, eternal vigilance is the price of
MELBER: Well, and I appreciate the point. I think, historically, it
is one of the examples of what the congress can do and what the federal
government can do when you have that kind of bipartisan collaboration.
That is why it is significant, seeing, as we mentioned, that the president
is down there from different parties.
I think Mr. Alexander, also, though, was speaking to today and the
lack of action today. Let me put the question to you. Do you think a
piece of legislation like this could pass today? And, do you think the
Republican Party needs to root itself more seriously in equal protection
work in the congress?
THORNBURGH: I think a Republican Party that wants to be taken
seriously has to be attentive to the civil rights and civil liberties of
all of its citizens. That is always within my sense. I was involved
intimately in the last major bipartisan civil rights legislation passed,
and that was the Americans with disabilities act in 1990. And, I saw up
close, precisely, how men and weapon of good will can rally around an issue
that has finally arrived and the ADA passage was just such an occasion.
MELBER: And, when you look in the voting rights context, why do you
think that issue has become so politically controversial, especially for
the GOP today?
THORNBURGH: It is about voting. What is more controversial to sitting
office holders or aspiring politicians than voting rights? And, I think
that sooner or later, they are going to work out a compromise on some of
the minor technical points of which they have differed. But, I have
supported the voting rights act, both as attorney general and as a private
citizen, and I hope and expect that it will remain an important part of our
MELBER: And, do you think Speaker Boehner should hold a vote on that
voting rights act?
THORNBURGH: It will come, sooner or later.
MELBER: All right. Well, that is an important place to -- I think
look at the future and the actions that the congress can still take.
Former U.S. Attorney General under Reagan and Bush, Dick Thornburgh,
thanks for your time tonight.
THORNBURGH: Good to be with you, Ari.
MELBER: Absolutely. That is "All In" for this evening. I am Ari
Melber in for Chris Hays, who is back tomorrow. You can find me on
facebook at facebook.com/arimelber. "The Rachel Maddow Show" starts right
now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Congratulations on a great run in that
chair, Ari. We are all excited to have Chris back, but you have just been
MELBER: Thank you.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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