THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: April 29, 2014
Guests: Len Elmore, Madeline Cohen, John Harwood
DOC RIVERS, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS COACH: Coach and the team right. And I
actually don`t know who to call if I need something. You know? And so the
quicker that this is done the better for everyone. Having said that, it`s
going to take time. And we all have to be patient.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And can I also ask you, just obviously the players,
yourself, you are very wealthy men. At the same time you`re in a situation
you`re working for a man who has these views. How insulting is it to you
as a human being to be working for a man who expressed these views?
RIVERS: Well, that`s the difficult part. And that`s -- over the last
three or four days it`s been very difficult. You know. Doesn`t matter the
wealth to be honest. You could be making nothing. You want to work for
someone that at least shares your values or respects, and they don`t have
to actually share them. But they have to respect them. And that`s
difficult. You know. And especially when you`re working in a company that
when you do your job you have it on your chest. You know. I think that`s
hard. Like, I got to wear a suit and tie the other night. But I had a
sense that that was very hard for the players. You know. They add to wear
that. And I think that was hard for them. I really do.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Doc, you said -- excuse me. You said that you were
in film, and then you told them about the decision that Adam Silver had
handed down and then you said what you needed to say to them. What did you
need to say to them? What did you tell them?
RIVERS: Well, that will be private, that part. I just -- you know, a lot
of it was just how much I admire them on how they tried to handle this.
And just to let them know that this was some closure. But there is still
work to do. And you know, I just thought that they set a very good example
around the league on how they conducted themselves.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Doc, you said you expected an amazing crowd
tonight. A couple of nights ago you had questions about it. Have you
gotten enough feedback between now and then --
RIVERS: Yes. Yes. Yes. Maybe I`m hoping, too. Maybe that`s part of it.
Yes, I think the mayor has been great, by the way. And what he said today
-- Kevin Johnson, you know, as jokingly, I like him again. You know?
It`s amazing. Like, he`s been great. He was great in what he said today.
I didn`t know he could speak so well, so eloquently. My goodness. But
just that the rallying that this is not just the Clippers or Lakers or
L.A., this is some bigger and support this team. And again I go back to
the 14 guys that we dress or that are -- you know, that are players. They
did nothing wrong. And they need support. And I think that that will
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Doc, would you like to see the Clippers` name
RIVERS: You know, Jim, that`s been asked. I don`t know. I honestly --
someone asked me that today. And it`s the first time I`d heard it or
thought of it. I have no idea. I think wherever -- whatever happens,
whoever -- if there is a new owner or change of ownership I think all those
things would be answered by somebody much smarter than me. I`m not smart
enough to give that answer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last few questions. Right here in front.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I just need some clarification on something you
said before. I thought the union said that if they didn`t like the
resolution from Adam Silver players would consider not playing.
Did your players consider not playing if they did not like the resolution?
RIVERS: They hadn`t discussed it. I think they had the trust that there
would be. I`m glad we don`t have to find out, would be the answer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Doc, you said your players made the right decision
by just not doing anything and waiting for Silver. Why was that the right
decision to not make some kind of major statement or sit out a game before
RIVERS: You know, I don`t know, Mark. Like I said the other day, I don`t
know -- I know what I think is right. And that`s all I can go by. There`s
a lot of people who think we didn`t do the right thing and then there`s a
lot of people who think we did. And all you can go by is what you feel
like you should do. You know, I lean on a lot of things and trying to help
our guys get to the decision.
And like I told you, they did talk about -- you know, when at first not
playing. You know, I thought the black socks and the -- you know, the
shirts and all that was fine. But at the end of the day, you know, I just
-- for me at least I always try to lean back on people that I`ve learned
from. And you know, from Wayne Embry to -- you know, I talked to a lot of
people. You know, and my father who is no longer here, he would have told
me to go do my job and don`t let anyone stop you from doing your job
because of what they think about you.
And you can make a bigger statement by doing your job well. And in front
of adversity. And I know my father would have said that. And so I don`t
know if he was right. I don`t know if I`m right. But I -- the decision I
made is what I thought was right for the team. And that`s all you can do.
And that`s all they can do. And again, the burden shouldn`t be on them to
have a right or wrong response.
They didn`t do anything wrong. And so no one should vilify them, my
players, for making the choice of playing. I think no matter what choice
they made it was the right one because they shouldn`t have the burden of
making a response.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last question here in the back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coach is emotionally drained.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coach?
RIVERS: Yes, I am. I am.
But I`m not drained enough not to go out and coach this game. I can tell
you that. We`ll be ready. And, you know, there`ll be time to get rest.
But this is not the time. And this is not a pity party for us. And I did
tell my players that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coach, when was the last time you had a conversation
with Mr. Sterling?
RIVERS: You know, I don`t even know the answer to that. That`s --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But ballpark it? A week? Like --
RIVERS: Yes, I don`t know. A month? I`m not even sure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And you said earlier --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Thank you, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t know. You said I don`t know who to call if I
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So how does this play out like on your day to day?
How do you -- how do you operate this way?
RIVERS: I`m going to do my job. You know, whatever it takes with the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Mark Jackson is on his way in here. Just
to remind you the locker rooms will be close --
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thanks for staying with us for the next hour.
We`ve just seen a rather remarkable press conference held before the L.A.
Clippers basketball game tonight to address the lifetime ban and $2.5
million fine that was dropped today on the team`s owner, Donald sterling.
The Clippers coach, Doc Rivers, that`s who you just saw there, speaking
tonight in an off-the-cup way so he did not have a prepared statement and
then taking questions for a long time there. And this is only about an
hour and a half before his team`s big playoff game tonight at their home
stadium in Los Angeles.
When President Ronald Reagan was first elected, of course, in 1980, re-
elected in `84, his successor George H.W. Bush was chosen in the elections
that took place in the fall of 1988, so it was January of 1989 when the new
president was getting ready to be sworn in and Ronald Reagan was preparing
to leave office.
On President Ronald Reagan`s last full day in office, this is what he did.
This was Ronald Reagan`s last day as president of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: White House officials said today that President
Reagan has given a full pardon to Yankee baseball owner George Steinbrenner
convicted of making an illegal campaign contribution to Richard Nixon in
1972. White House officials also said it does not appear that the
president will pardon Patty Hearst or Iran contra figures Oliver North and
John Poindexter before he leaves office tomorrow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Sorry, Patty Hearst, sorry Iran-contra guys. Ronald Reagan will
be of no help to you. But as his last order of business as president,
after eight years in office, Ronald Reagan`s parting shot was to give this
guy a hand. Give this guy a pardon.
Around the time that George Steinbrenner was arranging to buy the New York
Yankees baseball team from CBS which had owned the team in the early `70s.
Around the same time that he was buying the Yankees, George Steinbrenner
was also making illegal campaign contributions to the presidential
reelection campaign of Richard Nixon. And he got caught for it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: George Steinbrenner who was chairman of the
American shipbuilding company and majority stockholder of the New York
Yankees was accused by the SEC today of not reporting illegal campaign
contributions. That brings to 11 the number of corporations formally
accused of illegal political gifts in 1972.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: George Steinbrenner, the Yankees owner, was ultimately charged
with 14 felony counts in connection with the part of the water gate scandal
that involved Richard Nixon`s re-election campaign fundraising. Mr.
Steinbrenner was indicted on those 14 counts 40 years ago this month. In
And that story simmered all through the hot summer of 1974. By August of
that year George Steinbrenner had pled guilty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: George Steinbrenner who was co-owner of the New
York Yankees pleaded guilty today to conspiring to funnel illegal corporate
campaign contributions to Republicans and to Democrats. Steinbrenner also
pleaded guilty to telling employees at his shipbuilding firm to lie to the
grand jury and the FBI.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The owner of the Yankees pled guilty to two of the 14 federal
felony charges against him. He was charged a relatively minor fine by the
government for those things that he fled guilty to. But beyond his
criminal punishment Major League Baseball as a business association had to
decide what they wanted to do with this guy as a team owner.
The commissioner of baseball at the time was Bowie Kuhn and he suspended
George Steinbrenner from baseball for two years after he pled guilty to
those Watergate-related crimes. A two-year suspension. At least it was
supposed to be two years. A year and change into George Steinbrenner`s
supposed punishment and baseball decided, oh, forget it. They didn`t
actually keep him suspended for two years even though that was supposedly
his sentence. They waited a year and change and then they brought him
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: November 1974, George Steinbrenner, owner of the
New York Yankees, was suspended from baseball for two years. The reason
was illegal political contributions by Steinbrenner and another of his
businesses. Today Steinbrenner`s suspension was lifted. Baseball
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said the Yankees need him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Forget this punishment. Yes, 14 felony charges and pleading
guilty to two of them and that whole Watergate mess, that`s been kind of a
pain for the country, but you know what, the Yankees need him. So let`s
bring him back. So much for his punishment in the business world.
Then in 1989 Ronald Reagan took care of his punishment in the criminal
world as well when he retroactively pardoned Mr. Steinbrenner for his
Watergate crimes. By that time baseball had a new commissioner. His name
was Fay Vincent. And fresh off George Steinbrenner`s pardon as Ronald
Reagan`s last act as president of the United States, fresh off that pardon
Mr. Steinbrenner got in trouble again right after the pardon with the new
I`m going to show you one more clip from these old news reels. This one I
could not resist because they do not write news like this anymore, which
was probably a good thing. But this is just amazing. Watch right to the
end of this. I can`t believe this exists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: New York Yankees, owner George Steinbrenner, born
on the Fourth of July. But this birthday may not be such a happy one.
Tomorrow he appears before the baseball commissioner to explain some of his
activities off the field. Activities that could lead to his suspension.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Steinbrenner has dictated everything from how long
players can wear their hair to how long managers will survive. Not long in
GEORGE STEINBRENNER, NEW YORK YANKEES OWNER: The only thing that counts to
me is giving the Yankees a winner. And we`ve done it 14 out of 17 years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But baseball commissioner Fay Vincent suspects that
something other than the urge to win motivated Steinbrenner`s treatment of
star outfielder Dave Winfield. The commissioner`s investigator has
questioned the Yankee players and employees about Steinbrenner`s alleged
hounding of Winfield, harassments that reportedly included Steinbrenner`s
payment of $40,000 to this man, Howie Spira, for any information harmful to
Winfield who was traded by the Yankees this year.
STEINBRENNER: You`re always concerned when you`re going before the
commissioner. So, yes, I`m concerned. But I have hopes that I will get a
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But even if Steinbrenner can convince the
commissioner his actions were proper he`ll need to do more to satisfy fans
that he`s restoring the team to its former luster. Only 1 in 10 says he
approves of Steinbrenner`s ownership. A dandy of a birthday present for
this Yankee Doodle who turned 60 today.
Steven Frasier, NBC News, New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A dandy of a birthday president for this Yankee Doodle. Sticking
a feather in my cap and calling it macaroni, I`m Steven Frasier, NBC News.
Why don`t we write news like that anymore? A dandy of a birthday present
for this Yankee Doodle? Seriously?
Why wasn`t I on the news then?
It`s so great. But that meeting between Fay Vincent, the commissioner, and
George Steinbrenner, it didn`t go well for Mr. Steinbrenner that day. The
commissioner of baseball, on behalf of the league, found that not only had
the Yankees owner paid this outside guy to go dig up dirt on one of his own
players to try to hurt one of his own players, but this guy, that guy who
he paid was a known big-time sports gambler.
And being a professional sports team owner associated with professional
gambling on sports, that is a problem for a lot of really obvious reasons.
And so on July 30th, 1990 George Steinbrenner was banned from Major League
Baseball for life.
Or for three years, whichever came first. They banned him for life in
1990, they brought him back in 1993.
What is a life ban that ends after three years? They reconsidered after
three years, caved and brought him back just like his previous two-year
suspension had sort of just fallen apart after a few months and they
brought him back because the Yankees needed him.
You know, if you really want to get banned for life for real in American
sports the only sure way to do it is to be an actual athlete who plays
sports, not to be a rich guy on the business side of things.
Tanya Harding, the American figure skater, she was stripped of her 1994
national championship title. She was banned from skating for life for her
involvement in that lurid plot to hurt her rival skater Nancy Kerrigan.
Lance Armstrong, the legendary American cyclist, he was not only banned
from cycling for life, he had all of his cycling titles retroactively
disqualified. Basically his entire career annulled when he admitted to
using performance-enhancing drugs. Pete Rose had been one of the all-time
greatest hitters in the history of baseball, then he was a manager when he
was found to not only be involved in gambling on baseball but actually
betting on his own teams. Pete Rose was banned from baseball for life in
The commissioner said at the time if there hadn`t been such grave
allegations about gambling corrupting professional baseball since the 1919
World Series when the Chicago White Sox had eight players not just
suspended but banned for life for their involvement in a plot to throw the
World Series that year.
If you are a player, if you are an athlete, if you are involved in the
physical performance of the game, there are a million ways to get kicked
out, disgraced, punished, humiliated, suspended, banned for life. But if
you`re the boss, if you`re one of the money guys, the same standards do not
apply to you. Hey, if nothing else the president of the United States
might step in and save you on his last day in office.
The owner of the Lakers gets a DUI conviction, he gets suspended for two
games. The owner of the Washington Capitals gets into a fistfight with a
fan in the stands at one of his own games, suspended for one week. The
owner of the 49ers neglects to mention to the NFL his felony conviction in
a gambling, fraud and extortion case. They let him take one season off and
then came back.
The owner of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953 had to go to federal prison in
order to do a 15-month sentence for federal tax evasion. Major League
Baseball did not see fit to punish him for that although they did find it
embarrassing to have the owner of one of their teams in prison. They found
that embarrassing enough that they gently pressured him to sell his team.
Same deal with Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds. She has the
kind words for Adolf Hitler, the Nazi memorabilia collection, and calling
her star players her million dollar N-words. Yes, Marge Schott had a
couple of one-year suspensions but ultimately they gently persuaded her to
just sell the team to somebody else.
Players get burned for life, right? Players get thrown out, they get
disgraced, they get barred from the sport until they are dead. Owners may
be in the worst-case scenario get quietly pressured to please cash in.
Before today the only time any owner in professional sports had been banned
for life, had been that joke about George Steinbrenner. It was a joke. It
was a life ban where he was back in less than three years. Today that
history apparently changed for the first time ever with a remarkable, terse
and ultimately genuinely shocking press conference by the brand new
commissioner of the National Basketball Association.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: I am personally distraught that the views
expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has -- that
has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations.
And caused current and former players, coaches, fans and partners of the
NBA to question their very association with the league.
To them and pioneers of the game like Early Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweet
Water Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I
Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life for
any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA. As for Mr.
Sterling`s ownership interest in the Clippers, I will urge the Board of
Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do
anything in my power to ensure that happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Unless this turns out to be some fake lifetime ban like baseball
handed out to George Steinbrenner in the early `90s and it only lasted
three years. Unless they`re doing another fake-out here.
What was announced today is an unprecedented moment in the history of big-
time sports in the United States. Not a player, not even a front office
employee or a manager, but an owner. One of the bosses. One of the money
guys actually being thrown out in shame.
The short-term question obviously is what happens next? Will the NBA
owners who have the power to do it in this case, will the other NBA owners
vote to strip Donald Sterling of his ownership of his team, force him to
sell that team? That`s the other shoe that may or may not drop. Lots of
the owners today put out statements today suggesting that that vote is
going to be an easy vote.
The bigger question here particularly for people who don`t necessarily care
about sports as sports, right? But just recognize that sports are an
important part of American culture and that may be a landmark thing just
happened here whether or not you know how many baseball or how many
basketball teams represent Los Angeles. The bigger question in terms of
American culture, American politics and accountability in our country and
our time is why did this just happen?
This is a historically significant moment given what else has happened if
professional sports before this. Why did this just happen now? Is this
something specific to what`s going on in sports right now or is this a
reflection of changing expectations for what`s acceptable behavior in
American big business?
Donald Sterling said offensively racist things about black people in what
he thought was a private context. And then through some machinations
involving with his private life and his mistress, those remarks became
public. But you know in the late 1970s the owner of the Cleveland
Cavaliers spoke publicly about how he didn`t want too many black people on
his team at any one time because if a team looked too black that would be
bad for business.
He said all that stuff publicly, openly. He didn`t get banned for life.
They encouraged him to sell his team eventually but he didn`t get banned.
Neither did Marge Schott with her Swastika armed band and "Hitler wasn`t
all that bad."
The knee-jerk analysis for today is that we`re all offended now by
statements that didn`t used to offend us. And that`s why this team owner
today got banned for life when nobody else before him ever did. But you
know what? The Cavaliers guy in the `70s offended people by trying to
publicly titrate the racial makeup of his teams to be maximally business
efficient. And Marge Schott offended people -- for real. And George
Steinbrenner got freaking convicted in Watergate.
It`s not like these things were laughed off. We didn`t suddenly get
sensitive to things that didn`t used to bother us. What`s different now is
not that we suddenly take offense at things that did not use to offend us.
What is different now is that when we are offended, when we are bothered,
that offense is being expressed in a way that these huge business interests
can no longer afford to ignore.
And so all of these sponsors fled immediately from any association with
this L.A. Clippers team which they had previously sponsored once they heard
those words out of the mouth of the owner of the L.A. Clippers and the
players from that team themselves, they turned their warm-ups inside out so
as not to show the name of their team as they warmed up for their own
And then immediately after the commissioner`s announcement today, for all
of its drama today, the true bombshell revelation today came after this
press conference from one of the officials in the NBA`s Players
Association, explaining that the players themselves were ready to express
their own offense at what this owner did by boycotting their own games
starting tonight. If the league did not act.
It is a multibillion dollar business. If the players stop playing, the
business is over. If the sponsors flee, the business is over. And so for
the first time ever, today, a major league sports owner, has been thrown
out on his ear because of his own offensive behavior. And that is not
necessarily just the story about sports. That is a story about American
business and American power and the expression of American power.
And it is a story that is not static, it turns out. It changes over time.
It takes a really long time but these things change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER MASON JR., VICE PRESIDENT, NBPA: Additionally, I have reached out to
other players around the league and made it clear the players were ready to
boycott the games if this type of action was not something that Adam Silver
felt was necessary.
We want a timetable from the owners as far as when this vote is going to
happen. But we feel confident that with Adam Silver`s urging and obviously
we have heard from a lot of the owners around the league, we think this is
something that can be handled quickly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Roger Mason today from the NBA Players Association, one
of the -- one of the top players in the Players Association. That was
immediately following the NBA commissioner -- announcing today that the
L.A. Clippers owner would be handed a lifetime ban from basketball and that
he would be doing everything in his power to ensure that the other owners
of other NBA teams voted to essentially strip him of his ownership of the
Immediately following that announcement today there was that fairly
dramatic revelation from the players union today that there was the very
real possibility that the players would stop playing starting tonight if
the NBA had not taken the action that they in fact took.
Joining us now is NCAA All-American, former NBA player, attorney and now
professor at Columbia University, Len Elmore.
Mr. Elmore, thank you for coming in.
LEN ELMORE, FORMER NBA PLAYER: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Let me just ask big picture, your reaction to the league`s
decision today. If you felt it was the right decision and why you think it
went down this way.
ELMORE: Well, absolutely it was the right decision. And, you know, I`m
very pleased that Adam understands that it needed swift, sure and severe
punishment to be laid down simply because, again, this constituency was
calling for that. Adam in his first year as commissioner had to
demonstrate his strength and more than anything else I think it was also a
reaction to past years when Sterling, without this direct evidence of his
attitudes, was kind of coddled.
The NBA was maybe complicit in, you know, helping him succeed and become
the owner that he is today. And even comfortable in making these
statements as opposed to stepping down and really clamping down on him
MADDOW: When you talk about the commissioner today sort of serving his
constituency, at least recognizing his constituency, do you mean the
players, the fans, the owners? Who is his constituency primarily?
ELMORE: All of the above.
ELMORE: I really think, again, that he had to make a decision what was the
consensus feeling. And once he recognized that, he could come down in the
manner in which he did. I don`t think that if any of these constituencies
had an objection to a lifetime ban relegating him to literally a passive
investor that they -- that he might not have come down as hard. But as the
consensus was exactly what he wanted to hear and he was able to exercise
MADDOW: I -- the reason that I described that press conference today as
shocking is not just because of the bottom line, because of the lifetime
ban. But for me it was the moment -- I was watching in the newsroom. A
whole bunch -- we stopped our news meeting, everybody was riveted to find
out what`s going to happen. And when he got to the part where he listed
that handful of pioneering black players from the NBA and looked at the
camera and said, I apologize.
First of all, we`re just not used to hearing anybody say that. You know,
we always couch those things so directly. But it was also a recognition
that a wrong had been done to the players, to the people whose -- without
whom the league would not exist. That, to me, felt like a new way of
talking about the league that I don`t usually hear. Is that -- was that
new? Does that -- I mean, should that have struck me as much as it did?
ELMORE: I think so. And again, I think when you talk about historically
as you did in the last segment of the different owners who had the same
kinds of transgressions, the difference is obviously you have a league
that`s a majority of color. You also have a society right now that in this
post-racial era that when something like this occurs people are going to
stand up and take a look because it`s so out of the ordinary supposedly
You don`t have a problem with those thoughts. You have a problem
expressing those thoughts. You know, that`s where the problem comes in.
And isn`t it amazing in the last two weeks we have had Cliven Bundy and now
we have Donald Sterling? I think that kind of environment also had an
But most importantly I think it`s the players and the fans that they`re the
ones who essentially put forth the greatest leverage, more than anything
else. And let`s face it. This is a business. And that type of leverage
is going to have impact on decisions. For me it was said that this is a
defining moment for the players. And I have never seen the players so
unified, so galvanized before behind any of the issue besides maybe
collective bargaining as I did today.
And my hope is, going forward, that when you take a look at other issues
that are very important that you can never fall on the wrong side of,
whether it`s gang violence, whether it`s under education of kids, whether
it`s childhood obesity, I`d like to see these players exercise that same
leverage. Gather support from, you know, corporate world and others to be
able to speak out and utilize the same leverage to cure those ills. So
this is a great sign.
MADDOW: The sort of quiet discipline and unity I think exhibited by the
players in this, I think. Struck everybody on all sides of this as being
both remarkable and I think you`re right, hopefully a sign that they could
really leverage the power that they`ve got as stars to a lot of different
MADDOW: Professor Len Elmore, one of the greatest players in ACC history.
ELMORE: My goodness.
MADDOW: Thank you for being here. I was trying to embarrass you. I had
to wait for the end. Thank you, sir.
All right. We`ve got some big news coming up tonight including some very
late breaking, and very disturbing news out of Oklahoma. Oklahoma was
planning on doing something tonight that they had not done in more than 80
years. They tried to go ahead with it and it went horribly, horribly wrong
at the last moment. And we`ve got that story for you next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have breaking news tonight out of Oklahoma. And I want to warn
you at the outset that this is a difficult and shocking story.
The state of Oklahoma had been planning to execute not one but two
prisoners tonight. This would be the first double execution in that state
for 80 years. The last time they did a double execution in Oklahoma was
The two executions tonight scheduled for two hours apart, they were
supposed to be carried out, both of them, by lethal injection. But you may
have read recently that state prison systems have been finding it difficult
and in some cases impossible to get the chemicals that traditionally have
been used for the lethal injection process. The last American manufacturer
of the primary execution drug doesn`t make it anymore. And European
manufacturers don`t want their drug used for American executions.
So it`s been hard for states to get a supply of drugs to kill their
prisoners with. As a result of those difficulties, the state of Oklahoma
recently made a decision that they would keep the source of their lethal
injection drugs secret.
The two prisoners who were expected to be executed tonight in Oklahoma they
had sued the state over that secrecy. They said that because Oklahoma
wouldn`t reveal the drugs to be used or where those drugs were coming from,
the plan for killing them came with, quote, "a substantial risk of
inflicting severe pain."
Last week on Monday the Oklahoma Supreme Court in hearing those objections
decided to stay this double execution. They decided that they could not
allow the executions to go forward until these issues about is the secrecy
were -- were resolved. The day after that ruling a state lawmaker in
Oklahoma said he was going to try to impeach the five justices who voted
for the stay of execution.
And in the governor`s office, Oklahoma Republican Governor Mary Fallin said
she would not abide by the court order. She said she could not abide by
that court order and still keep her oath of office. And she, defying the
court, set a new date for the executions, she set the date for tonight.
And so in the middle of that constitutional crisis, the Oklahoma Supreme
Court decided that they would cave essentially, they would lift the stay
that they had just put in place. And the state moved forward with the
executions. The first was scheduled for 6:00 p.m. local time tonight. The
second for two hours later, 8:00 p.m. local time.
When a state executes a prisoner it`s typical for reporters to be allowed
to cover that punishment and to write about it. They don`t allow cameras
or videotape or anything like that typically into the sight of an
execution. But at least print reporters are allowed to describe what
Well, tonight in Oklahoma the first reporting from that first execution
appeared on Twitter. From an A.P. reporter named Bailey Elise McBride.
Miss McBride tweeted this first. Quote, "The first execution botched. The
second stayed." Another reporter on the scene says that about 15 minutes
into the execution the prisoner sat up and said, quote, "Something is
wrong." Then a couple of minutes later, quoting Miss McBride again, quote,
"Prison officials say they will try to get Mr. Lockett to the hospital to
She described the prisoner like this, quote, "He was conscious and
blinking, licking his lips, even after the process began. He then began to
seize." Meaning have seizures.
Again this is on-the-scene eyewitness reporting from A.P. reporter Bailey
Elise McBride. She went on to report that the prisoner after being taken
out of the prison and rushed to a hospital suffered a heart attack and
This is breaking news tonight out of Oklahoma. The state had scheduled two
executions for tonight by lethal injection. Back to back. The first did
not go as planned. In fact it appears that it went horribly wrong and the
prisoner died of a heart attack after the execution was halted. The second
execution has now been stayed for two weeks.
A short while ago the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections
gave this account of what happened tonight and what went wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT PATTON, DIRECTOR, OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: Those that
were inside witnessed, it was determined that he was sedated approximately
seven minutes into the execution. At that time we began pushing the second
and third drugs in the protocol. There was some concern at that time that
the drugs were not having the effect. So the doctor observed the line and
determined that the line had blown.
It was my decision at that time to stop the execution. I notified the
attorney general`s office, the governor`s office of my intent to stop the
execution, and request for a stay for 14 days for the second execution
scheduled this afternoon. At approximately 706 hours, the inmate suffered
what appears to be a massive heart attack and passed away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oklahoma`s director of corrections explaining tonight that the
condemned prisoner had some sort of vein failure that prevented the drugs
from properly entering his body.
Again, this is breaking news out of the state of Oklahoma. This has just
happened tonight, just in the last few hours. The state had planned to
execute two prisoners tonight. The first of those executions had to be
stopped after it appeared not to be working, after it went on for a very
long time including the prisoner saying, "something is wrong," after the
prisoner had what they`re describing as vein failure.
According to reporters on the scene, officials considered trying to revive
the prisoner. He instead eventually died of a heart attack. And that is
how the second executive was postponed.
Governor Fallin has now issued an executive order officially postponing the
execution of the second prisoner who was scheduled to be killed tonight.
His name is Charles Warner. The stay is for 14 days. The governor has
ordered a, quote, "full review of the state`s execution procedure."
Joining us now live is Madeline Cohen, she is the attorney for Charles
Warner. He`s the prisoner who was scheduled to be the second man executed
this evening. He has just received a 14-day stay after the first executive
was botched. I should tell you that Miss Cohen was at the prison at the
time with her client tonight when all of this happened.
Madeline Cohen, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I know this
is a very hard time.
MADELINE COHEN, CHARLES WARNER`S ATTORNEY: Hi, Rachel. Thanks for having
me on the show.
MADDOW: First of all, let me ask, I`ve just summarized this as best as we
can tell from here. Obviously this is still a breaking news story
nationally. Is what I just explained what you understood -- what you
understand happened tonight?
COHEN: What you reported is what I have heard. I have to say that I have
spent time with Clayton Lockett. My colleague Dean Sanderford, who`s
sitting next to me right now, is Clayton Lockett`s lawyer. We`ve spent
time with him, we`ve seen him, we know what he`s all about. He did not
have vein failure. And that is dissembling by the Department of
Corrections to cover up a horribly botched execution.
MADDOW: Why do you say that you know that he wouldn`t have had vein
COHEN: I can`t say that for sure without an independent autopsy which
should be the next step. But he was a guy with healthy, bulging veins. He
was not an I.V. drug user. He was not unhealthy, dehydrated. He was a
very, very fit, strong guy with, you know, big arms and bulging veins.
It`s just not remotely likely that that would have happened.
MADDOW: You filed suit against the state of Oklahoma earlier this year
around this secrecy about the procedure they want to use to kill prisoners
including your client. You argued that this new method of execution that
they`re planning carried a substantial risk of inflicting severe pain.
Obviously it`s hard, I think, for people outside of a direct legal context
to get their heads around the idea that there is a prohibition on cruel and
unusual punishment that would still allow for executions. That people
could still be put to death but there would be reasonable constraints on
the way in which people could be killed.
Did what happened tonight affect your overall understanding of your legal
arguments for your own client? And will you re-file on that claim?
COHEN: Well, what we have been asking for all along is for transparency in
the process. For information about the drugs that are being used and where
they come from. Because, as you pointed out earlier, the sources of those
drugs have diminished. And so the states have turned to, in many cases,
And this certainly and very, very unfortunately reinforces our concern
about the source of the drugs. Are they safe? Are they legal? Have they
been imported from back alley suppliers as has happened in some cases?
Have they been made by underregulated (INAUDIBLE) pharmacies?
This is the thing that we never want to happen that it`s us here and the
reason that we need to have complete transparency in the process.
MADDOW: In terms of -- I just have to ask you tonight, with this trauma
tonight, this traumatic failure in the process, just have to ask if your
client -- your colleague who was representing Mr. Lockett and indeed your
own -- your own client, I just have to ask about personal reactions to what
happened tonight and how you`re receiving this information?
COHEN: It`s horrible. We never want this to happen. As Dean put it to me
just a few moments ago, it was like watching somebody be tortured. And
that`s the farthest thing from a constitutional execution that we can
imagine. We just have -- we have to have an investigation. We have to
have transparency in this process.
MADDOW: Madeline Cohen, the attorney for Charles Warner who tonight under
incredibly difficult circumstances was granted a 14-day stay of execution.
He had been scheduled to be killed by the state of Oklahoma tonight.
Miss Cohen, I know this is a very difficult time. Thank you for being with
us. I appreciate it tonight.
COHEN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. We`ll be right back. Much more to come.
MADDOW: Amid lots of other news tonight, not just from the NBA but lots of
other news tonight, the White House today received some very, very good
news. News that is both very good for the White House on its face and that
must be terribly frustrating for them at the same time.
That news is coming up with NBC`s John Harwood. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Good news for the White House. Turns out that what the
administration is doing on the Ukraine issue is being appreciated by the
American people. First, we know that the administration`s position to not
go to war in Ukraine, that`s very popular. The last polling from Pew shows
74 percent of Americans agreeing with President Obama that we shouldn`t
send U.S. troops to Ukraine.
Now today new polling from Pew and "USA Today" asks specifically about the
things that President Obama is doing instead of having a war there. The
president is increasing diplomatic sanctions on Russia, turns out that is
very popular, 53 percent of Americans approve of increasing sanctions on
The president`s Republican critics like John McCain keep demanding that we
send weapons to arm the Ukrainians. President Obama has rejected that
advice. He said no, we`re not going to send military supplies and weapons
to Ukraine. Turns out that decision by President Obama is even more
popular than the sanctions thing, 62 percent of Americans approve of us not
sending weapons to Ukraine.
So between the U.S. not starting a new war ourselves, not sending weapons
to Ukraine, and pursuing sanctions instead, all of those policies are
popular, popular, and more popular. And here`s why stepping into the White
House makes your hair turn gray instantly. Because even though all of
these things that the White House is doing, all of the major decisions they
have made on Ukraine are hugely supported by big majorities of the American
people, look, the president`s handling of Ukraine is very unpopular.
New polling today from the "Washington Post" and ABC News shows that only
34 percent of Americans approve of President Obama`s handling of Ukraine
even though Americans like every specific thing the president is actually
doing on Ukraine.
Is that a total paradox? Yes, it is. Does it make the White House crazy?
I`m sure it does. But that ridicules paradox is the way it is. Chart
Joining us now is John Harwood, political writer for "The New York Times".
Chief Washington correspondent for CNBC.
John, thanks very much for being here. It`s good to see you.
JOHN HARWOOD, NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL WRITER: Hey, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, I have to imagine that this recent polling makes the White
House crazy. Do they deal with this by going into denial and refusing to
believe that people dislike them even though they like everything they`re
doing or do they have a strategy for handling this paradox?
HARWOOD: I think, Rachel, they understand it`s measuring two different
things when you ask about specific steps. And the same is true of the
president`s economic plan, they`re popular. But when people are asked, do
you approve how his handling his job performance on that issue, it`s really
a question about are things going well or not? So you could support all
the items the president`s for in Ukraine, or on his economic plan, and say
he`s not doing very well with Ukraine or the economy if they don`t feel
like those situations are being -- if events are going well. That`s what
that question measures.
MADDOW: John, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you about this is
your own reporting on President Obama`s strategy for dealing with the last
few years of his second term and how he is trying to handle essentially
management issues within the executive branch.
How does that jibe with problems like this that he`s facing in terms of his
public approval rating?
HARWOOD: The most important things to Barack Obama is legacy and success
in the remainder of his presidency, are managing the thing he`s already got
going. The part of his presidency that`s about passing new laws through
Congress, yes, maybe they could get immigration, it`s possible. But that`s
mostly faded. This is about now making the health care law work so it
can`t be pulled out by its roots later.
Making Dodd-Frank, the financial regulation law, work, making other aspects
of the president`s policies. Climate change where there`s executive
orders. If he can do those things that`s more important than any relations
with Congress right now or even the midterm elections for that matter.
MADDOW: John Harwood, political reporter for "The New York Times," with
CNBC as well.
John, thanks for being with us. It`s nice to see you.
HARWOOD: You bet.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
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