'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, June 5th, 2014
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
June 5, 2014
Guest: Tommy Vietor, Senator Bernie Sanders
HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening from Chicago. "THE RACHEL MADDOW
SHOW" starts now from New York.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: (INAUDIBLE) Continental, hello.
HAYES: Yes, hello.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
And thanks to you at home for joining us as well.
On January 11th, 2002, the U.S. military started accepting prisoners into a
brand new ad hoc prison that we had just halfway built very, very quickly
on a U.S. military facility in Cuba. There weren`t even cells at the time.
When the prisoners first got there, that first day, January 11th, 2002,
they were just sort of outdoor holding pens like you`d see at a hunting
kennel or something.
That was the first day that the U.S. government took in prisoners that
would become the very famous prison at Guantanamo. And that is the day,
that first day is when this very famous picture was taken showing all the
prisoners who had just been dropped off for day one. This now iconic image
of the prisoners in these orange jump suits crouching with their eyes
covered and their ears covered.
That was the first we saw of them. That was day one, January 11th, 2002.
That was the first image that was released publically. It was an official
U.S. Navy photo that was distributed to the press and that was the very
first batch of Guantanamo prisoners.
Now none of the prisoners who arrived there that very first day were any of
the famous ones. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, for example, he wasn`t even
captured until the following year in Pakistan. None of the guys who were
there in Guantanamo on day one ever became famous. But almost 10 years
later in 2011, December 2011, there started to be a little flurry of news
stories in the United States about three of those guys who had gotten to
that prison on day one when Guantanamo opened.
In December 2011 it started with this Reuters article and then the
following month in January there was another article from the "Washington
Post" and then the following month there was this FOX News article and then
there was this CNN article. There was this a little flurry of coverage 10
years into Guantanamo of three of those guys who got to Guantanamo the
first day it opened and had since been totally forgotten by the press.
And the reason there was that little flurry of coverage of those three
specific guys is because somehow it leaked that the U.S. government had
been in super top secret high level negotiations with the Taliban that
three of those guys who got there on day one at Guantanamo should be
released. And the leak was specific. It named these three guys who got
there on day one when Guantanamo opened.
And also these other two Taliban prisoners who got to that same prison just
a few months later. These five guys were otherwise not famous for anything
as far as Guantanamo goes. But when the U.S. started talking to the
Taliban about making some sort of negotiated progress with them, these five
specifically were apparently the five guys who the Taliban picked. They
were the ones that the Taliban wanted released if the U.S. was going to
release anybody as any sort of deal.
Now these stories at the time, again December 2011, February 2012, at the
time these stories reported the names of those five guys reported that they
were handpicked by the Taliban. That if they were going to be released,
that they would be not going back to Afghanistan but instead they`d be
going to Qatar and Qatar would take responsibility for them not rejoining
the fight against America. That was all reported between December 2011 and
Now what was the United States going to trade for those five guys? That
was not reported at the time. That was not reported until months later.
May of 2012. The parents of American prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl, the
parents themselves, went public saying that this has not been reported
publicly before but there were those press accounts a few months ago about
those five Taliban guys maybe being released from Guantanamo, that was
about our son.
Those five were maybe going to be released in exchange for our son Bowe
from the U.S. Army. And they said they were told essentially to never say
that publicly, keep their son`s name out of the press, but they had hopes,
when those talks were underway, that their son might be coming home and
apparently then those talks stalled. Talks were apparently off and so they
decided to go public.
And Bowe Bergdahl`s parents talked in May 2012 to their local newspaper,
the "Idaho Mountain Express," and they also talked to "The New York Times."
And "The New York Times" confirmed in their article, in their interview
with Mr. Bergdahl`s parents that when the "Times" got that first leak a few
months back about those five named Taliban prisoners maybe potentially
getting a ride home sometime soon, the "Times" said in their article that
they were also told at the time of that leak that the reason those five
prisoners might get out was in trade for Bergdahl.
But the "Times" said in their article that they held that information back
even though they knew at the time that that`s the reason those five might
go. Quote, "The Times learned late last year that Sergeant Bergdahl was
part of those negotiations but agreed to withhold the information at the
request of the administration and his family over concerns about his
So the White House was engaged in those negotiations as early as 2011.
They wanted to keep those negotiations totally secret, because they thought
that publicizing them might be dangerous. Not only dangerous to the deal,
but dangerous-dangerous. They specifically wanted to keep Sgt. Bergdahl`s
name out of it because they worried that if his name was floated in
conjunction with this reporting it might endanger him or at least might
increase the price that was being demanded by the Taliban for his freedom.
Nevertheless, even though the White House wanted that stuff kept secret,
the talks leaked. Somebody talked. It got out to the press and that once
it got out to the presses, those talks fell apart. And thereafter, a few
months later, the Bergdahl family apparently decided since the talks had
fallen apart, they weren`t done anymore since they`d stalled, they would
let everybody know that this had been a possible swap for their son. Since
the talks were off any way, I suppose they decided that maybe talking
publicly might start something. Despite the risks.
And that was where this very dramatic story stood at this time two years
ago in May 2012. That`s when Bowe Bergdahl`s parents talked and said
actually this is about Bowe. And the U.S. had been trying to talk to the
Taliban about Bowe Bergdahl and about stability in Afghanistan, about a
whole bunch of different things, about the Taliban`s own prisoners at
Guantanamo. But the Taliban did break those talks off in 2012. And that
is where things stood. As Bowe Bergdahl`s time in captivity stretched into
year three, and into year four and there was nothing.
There was no word. Until the very end of 2013. This past December the
Pentagon apparently obtained a 90-second video from the Taliban which
showed that Bowe Bergdahl was alive and reportedly that he was not in very
great shape. And that video is apparently part of how we know -- how we
knew not just that he was alive but that the Taliban would still consider
giving him back.
And apparently now we know that the price that they still wanted for him
was still the same price they`d wanted for him all along. The deal for
Bowe Bergdahl was the same deal, it was those same guys, those same five
guys, the three guys who got there day one at Guantanamo and the two other
guys who got there within a few months.
This was not a new deal put together. This was the deal that CNN and
Reuters and the "Washington Post" reported on in 2011 and 2012, including
posting those Taliban prisoners` names and photos. Same guys, same photos,
the exact same deal. Those five Taliban prisoners specifically for Bowe
Bergdahl, that same deal has not only been on the table between the U.S.
military and the Taliban all of this time.
It has been on the table for all of us to see and all of us to consider
including the actual details of exactly who would be traded and the fact
that they would go to Qatar and Qatar would be guaranteeing that they
wouldn`t return to the fight. Exactly the deal that the White House
admitted to. It has been public since late 2011. Public.
Republicans are pretending that this was a complete surprise. That they
had no idea this was coming. And if they didn`t think that any of this was
coming, they certainly didn`t think it was these five Taliban guys
specifically. These ones whose names and photos were published by CNN and
the "Washington Post" and Reuters years ago. That they were all asked to
comment on at the time.
In the most recent round of reporting on this in February, that is
specifically the deal that Senator John McCain was asked to comment on on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, at that time the proposal was that
they would release Taliban, someone really hard core, particularly five
really hard core Taliban leaders as a confidence building measure. Now
this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting men. I
would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So if there was some -- the possibility of
some sort of exchange, that`s something you would support?
MCCAIN: I would support. Obviously I`d have to know the details, but I
would support ways of bringing him home and if exchange was one of them, I
think that would be something I think we should seriously consider.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Well, the exchange being proposed, that John McCain was being
asked about was the exact specific exchange that happened. Those five
named Taliban guys. That was what he was being asked about that`s what he
said I would support ways of bringing him home. And if the exchange is one
of them I think that`d be something we should seriously consider.
I would be inclined to support such a thing. That exact deal. But now
that that exact deal has actually happened, what exchange, I didn`t know
this was coming, what a terrible idea. It`s just amazing.
This is Paul DeMarco. He`s one of the Republicans who`s made it into the
run-off to become Alabama`s Republican U.S. Senate candidate this year.
When the news came out this weekend that America`s POW Bowe Bergdahl was
coming home, Paul DeMarco tweeted this. He tweeted, "Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
has been released after being captive for five years in Afghanistan. A
grateful nation awaits your return."
Representative DeMarco then apparently got the memo that we`re not supposed
to be a grateful nation and we`re definitely not psyched about his return
so he deleted that tweet so as not give the mistake and impression that he
might actually be happy that an American POW is being released.
Republican Congressman Jim Renacci of Ohio on Sunday, he was, quote, "so
glad to hear that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is coming home safely. He is a true
American hero." Until three days later Congressman Renacci learned that he
was not supposed to be glad to hear that an American POW was coming home.
Let alone the hero part, oh god that`s so embarrassing, and so
Representative Renacci, Jim Renacci of Ohio deleted his gladness after
As we mentioned last night, Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi did the
same thing. "A grateful America, thank you for your service." For three
days. Then he deletes that sentiment. No longer grateful. No longer
thanking you for your service, you are no longer welcome home.
Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for Senate in Ohio -- excuse me, in
Iowa, she sent out her thoughts and prayers to Sgt. Bergdahl and his
family. That was nice. And then she deleted that sentiment resending her
thoughts for the Bergdahl family and apparently stopping praying for them,
although I don`t think you can take prayers back.
Same goes for the conservative Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch in
Massachusetts, for the Republican Congressman Lee Terry in Nebraska,
Republican Congressman Mark Amodei in Nevada did the same thing. They`ve
all had to unmake their gratefulness that an American prisoner of war is
coming home because conservatives say we should not be happy about that
And if that`s not weird enough, they`re now turning that crazy spin up to
puree speed with not just unhappiness that an American POW is being
released. Not just condemnation of the U.S. government for getting him
safely out, not just professions of surprise for what the deal was, even
though everybody has known what the deal was going to be for months, if not
years now, the exact terms of the specific deal have been published
Now there are new claims that the whole Bergdahl thing is a hoax. It`s
made up, it`s a weather weapon or a false flag or actors or whatever.
Republican Congressman Steve Womack of Arkansas tells his local paper in
Arkansas that this Bergdahl thing, quote, "It causes one to be very
suspicious of the timing of this whole episode. Is this nothing more than
an opportunity that the president took to get the public`s attention away
from the V.A.?"
The whole thing just smells bad. Says Congress Steve Womack in Arkansas.
Smells bad to him in Arkansas. You wouldn`t believe how it smells here.
You can also access that particular conspiracy theory across the street at
the home of our friends at the FOX News Channel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Here`s the bigger concern for me. And I
really would like for somebody to take a look at this and answer it. Was
this done to take the V.A. off the front page in the newspapers?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Actually, the V.A. story was doing a pretty good job getting off
the front page of the newspapers on its own. We`ll have more on that later
in the show tonight. But the conspiracy theory drive, it`s like a gear
that the Republican Party can`t get out of. They got rid of the clutch and
didn`t notice they still had a manual transmission. We going to be stuck
on this forever?
Senator Lindsey Graham who`s facing a whole clown car of Tea Party
challengers on his right in his primary next week in South Carolina,
Senator Lindsey Graham has a theory as well. Senator Graham tells
Politico.com, quote, "Is it an accident that in the same week the president
announces the end of hostilities, the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan
by 2016, he also retrieves the one captive?"
Now Senator Lindsey Graham thinks he has arrived at his own conspiracy
here. But the great thing about what Senator Graham said is that he is
actually right. It`s just not a secret that he has uncovered, that he has
to let us all in on. This is happening in very plain view. The end of the
war being connected to getting Bowe Bergdahl home. This is how the
president explained what happened all along including today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you been surprised by the backlash that`s whipped
up by your decision to do a deal to free Bowe Bergdahl? And what do you
think is motivating that? In retrospect, do you think you could have done
more to consult with Congress or announce the deal in a way that might have
spared him and his family being caught up in the political crossfire?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m never surprised by the
controversies that are whipped up in Washington. Right? That`s par for
the course. But I`ll repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic
principle. We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind.
We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply
concerned about and we saw an opportunity and we seized it and I make no
apologies for that.
We had discussed with Congress the possibility that something like this
might occur, but because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing
with and the fragile nature of these negotiations we felt it was important
to go ahead and do what we did and we`re now explaining to Congress the
details of how we move forward. But this basic principle that we don`t
leave anybody behind and this basic recognition that often means prisoner
exchanges with enemies is not unique to my administration. It dates back
to the beginning of our republic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The president went on to say that he absolutely defended his
decision to involve the Bergdahl family in the announcement that their son
was coming home. He said, "I make absolutely no apologies for making sure
that we get back the young man to his parents and that the American people
understand that this is somebody`s child and we don`t condition. We make
the effort to try to get them back."
But what President Obama said today about the whole idea of prisoner
exchanges, that that is an old idea that dates back to the founding of our
republic, this is what happens in wartime, particularly at the end of
wartime, that`s not a secret that Senator Lindsey Graham has uncovered as a
conspiracy. That`s the way that the White House has explained these
negotiations to free this POW and what they were about, going back years.
Why they were talking to the Taliban at all including about Bowe Bergdahl.
This is how the White House has explained why we should understand the
lengths they went to to get Bowe Bergdahl home now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule, and that is
we don`t leave our men or women in uniform behind. And that dates back to
the earliest days of our revolution. This is what happens at the end of
wars. That was true for George Washington, that was true for Abraham
Lincoln, that was true for FDR, that`s been true of every combat situation
that at some point you make sure that you try to get your folks back. And
that`s the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The president speaking on his European trip this week about the
release of Bowe Bergdahl.
He is America`s last prisoner of war and one of the things that happens at
the end of wars is that you make sure you get your prisoners back. Not a
new idea. Not a Lindsey Graham conspiracy.
Senator Harry Reid, in his own quiet furious way, Harry Reid made the same
point today in the U.S. Senate. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Let`s assume he was in vibrant
health and he was faking all this. It doesn`t -- he`s an American soldier.
He`s been in captivity for five years. The war is winding down. Let`s
bring him home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Reid spoke in his patented angry whisper of today about
how the Republicans have been denying they knew anything about this deal
that`s been public for years and how the same Republicans who were
criticizing President Obama for getting Bowe Bergdahl home were the ones
who had previously beaten the administration up for not doing enough to get
Bowe Bergdahl back.
Senator Reid today read Republicans` past statements calling on the
administration to get Bowe Bergdahl home and then he called them out for
their hypocrisy now, now that they are criticizing for the administration
for in fact getting Bowe Bergdahl home.
In terms of what happens next the head of the Armed Services Committee,
Carl Levin, says that there`s going to be a full briefing of the Armed
Committee on this issue on Tuesday. Now I think that is going to be a
classified briefing, a closed briefing which means we the public will not
have access to it, but it probably means that senators will probably get a
lot of new information and as we know they all leak like sieves.
There`s also reporting today that the White House may release publicly the
90-second video that they got from the Taliban in December that apparently
restarted the negotiations with the Taliban about getting Sgt. Bergdahl
home. And despite FOX News and the Republican Party trying to make this
into a scandal by treating it as one, it is interesting to see the White
House and the administration broadly parrying the criticism, fighting with
their critics, but not backing down on this at all. Not stepping back an
I mean, the president insisting with some emotion today, I make no
apologies. I think that is a signal of where the administration stands on
this. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, he`s also in Europe this week
overlapping with the president`s trip this week. He did an interview with
the BBC today while he was in Romania. And in that BBC interview he made
clear that not only did he, as defense secretary, support and sign off on
this decision to do the prisoner trade for Sgt. Bergdahl, but he says it
was a unanimous top tier national security decision.
He says that he as secretary of defense and the secretary of state and the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of National
Intelligence and the attorney general all came to the same unanimous
conclusion on this one. They all OK`d the deal and they all stand united
But Paul DeMarco in Alabama, he is having second thoughts. And John McCain
apparently doesn`t remember that he had OK`d this deal live and on tape
before he decided it was a travesty. And that balance apparently makes for
a national scandal.
There are some signs, however, that the right wing contention that it`s bad
news that an American prisoner of war has come home, there`s some signs
that that right wing contention is starting to crack and fall apart. And
I`m a little surprised that it took this long. I will tell you from a
personal perspective it`s my view that if your contention on one side
stands opposed to the centuries old military credo that we do not leave a
man behind on the battlefield ever in any circumstances, if it`s you versus
that, you`re probably going to lose.
So I don`t know how long it`s going to take and I don`t know how deep this
initial visible crack runs. And I don`t know if the right and FOX News is
still going to keep trying to ride this as a scandal for however long, but
today the very deeply conservative Republican congressman from Idaho, Raul
Labrador, and perhaps it`s because he`s from Idaho where the Bergdahl
family lives, Raul Labrador came out in an interview with a radio station
in Idaho today and gave some remarkable comments. He said he was disturbed
by his own side on this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: I`m a little bit disturbed by some of the
Republicans out there who keep saying that this has never happened before.
I would suggest that anybody who`s being hyper critical about this that
they look at the history. This has happened before. I`m delighted he`s
coming home. I`m so happy for his family. I was able to talk to his
parents on Sunday and they are very excited.
But there are a lot of questions. And I think all those questions are
going to need to be answered. But now is not the time for those questions.
I think now is the time for us to all share in the joy of the family, of
the city of Hailey and the state. So I think we need to leave those
questions aside for a couple of weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Fair enough. Also standing in complete and lonely descent from
his own party and from the unified conservative media on this subject.
Standing alone there. At least so far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated. And we
were deeply concerned about it. And we saw an opportunity and we seized it
and I make no apologies for that. We had discussed with Congress the
possibility that something like this might occur, but because of the nature
of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these
negotiations we felt it was important to go ahead and do what we did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama today talking about what he called the fragile
nature of the negotiations to bring home America`s last POW, Sgt. Bowe
Bergdahl, from Afghanistan.
Joining us now somebody who`s had inside access to this story from the
beginning. Tommy Vietor, former National Security Council spokesperson
under the Obama administration.
Tommy, thank you very much for being with us. I appreciate your time
TOMMY VIETOR, FORMER NSC SPOKESMAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: So I`m wondering if you personally were sort of surprised by the
backlash here. I know you worked on this issue at the White House. You
know the ins and outs of the negotiation process. Has it ever occurred to
you that bringing Bowe Bergdahl home would be treated as bad news in
VIETOR: No. I can`t actually believe it. I mean, we worked on this for a
very long time. And I think anyone who did thought about it and thought
about what he and his family must have endured for the last five years.
And I just -- you know, I knew the back story. I knew it was complicated.
But under no circumstances did I think bringing home a U.S. service member
would be treated this way.
MADDOW: Tommy, one of the things that I have been going through in trying
to look at contemporaneous reporting over the course of his captivity and
what we knew when. And I was struck by looking at "The New York Times"
from 2012 after the Bergdahl family themselves decided to come forward and
say, yes, if you have been hearing about those five Taliban prisoners in
negotiation with the U.S., that`s about getting our son home and they made
that decision as a family to do that.
MADDOW: At that time, "The New York Times" said yes, we knew that before,
that had been leaked to us, but we were asked by the administration not to
reveal Bowe Bergdahl`s name. Were you -- were you part of that? And can
you tell us why that strategic effort was made by the White House?
VIETOR: Yes, I mean, I was the guy asking them to do that and a number of
other outlets as well. The reason was the Taliban is not a monolithic
organization. There are different factions. And actually the process of
trying to get these talks going split the Taliban in a number of ways. And
obviously we were talking to more moderate forces within the Taliban that
wanted to see the reconciliation process go forward.
We were worried that if hard liners learned about it, when they may not
know already, they might decide they should up the cost and try to get more
prisoners out or even worse that they could kill Bowe in an effort to
scuttle any chance of starting peace talks between the Afghans and the
Talibans. So there`s an unbelievably sensitive piece of diplomacy that was
MADDOW: Obviously, the name -- the fact that negotiations were underway,
the names of the specific Taliban prisoners who were being considered a
long time ago who ultimately ended up being the ones who`s sent to Qatar
and then through the Bergdahl family, Bowe`s name specifically, that all
did trickle out to the press despite your efforts. Obviously, he was able
to make it back safely into U.S. custody.
How does that make you feel about that secrecy strategy and the way this
was navigated over all those years?
VIETOR: I mean, I think there were a series of talks under way with the
Taliban, with Karzai, with the United States. And the talks ultimately
blew up because the Taliban walked away. So I think what we did at the
time was the right strategy. Ultimately Bowe`s family decided they wanted
to go public and that is absolutely their right. I don`t begrudge them
that at all.
MADDOW: In terms of the Taliban`s decision to hand pick these five guys,
critics of the exchange, they say they are worried that that must mean
these five Taliban prisoners are very, very important and that they were
there -- they will therefore be very, very dangerous to Americans now that
they have been released. What`s your response to that?
VIETOR: These guys are undoubtedly bad people. They were in jail for a
reason. But Republicans treat these people like they`re 10 feet tall.
They make them into something even greater than they are and they buy into
the Taliban propaganda. I mean, rest assured that these individuals are
going to Qatar. They`re not going back to the fight. We`ve asked the
Qataris to keep them there with a travel ban for at least a year while we
wind down the war.
And we`ve learned a lot about the U.S. intelligence community over the last
year. Rest assure those powers will be brought to bear to monitor and
mitigate these individuals. And if they go back to the fight even worse.
So I mean, I think it is absurd to treat five individuals going from Gitmo
to Qatar like it`s some seminal event in this fight. It is absolutely not
and we shouldn`t play into the Taliban propaganda effort to make this
bigger than it is.
MADDOW: Tommy Vietor, former national -- former spokesman for the National
Security Council intimately involved in this story for a very long time.
Tommy, thanks for helping us understand it. I appreciate it.
VIETOR: Thanks, Rachel.
All right. We got much more coming up tonight. Lots still ahead.
MADDOW: Since the return of prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl was announced
this weekend the conservative efforts to turn his homecoming into a bad
news story, it`s been disorienting and alarming. But last night as a
separate matter we`ve reported on the acute significance of the Bowe
Bergdahl story for one group of parents because their kids are still being
held apparently in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
Caitlan or Katie Coleman is American. She`s from Pennsylvania. Her
husband, Joshua Boyle, is Canadian. They were abducted in Afghanistan in
October 2012 when Katie Coleman was six months pregnant. Katie and Josh
have now been in Taliban custody for one year, seven months and 29 days.
If Katie did give birth on schedule, their child is now about one and a
half years old and was born in Taliban custody.
For the time that they have been held, Caitlan and Joshua`s families have
remained relatively quiet hoping that under the radar negotiations would
keep them both safe and also get them home, but the Associated Press
reported yesterday that the release of Bowe Bergdahl and the Taliban
prisoner swap this weekend both renewed these families` hopes for trying to
get their kids home, but it has also caused them to change strategy.
They are now hoping that by talking publicly about their kids` situation
that might somehow shake loose some further information or some new angle
on how to get them home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAITLAN COLEMAN, CAPTURED AMERICAN: I am a prisoner of the Taliban. My
husband and I here.
JOSHUA BOYLE, CAITLAN COLEMAN`S HUSBAND: My name is Joshua Boyle from
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yesterday the families released portions of those videos that they
say they received from the Taliban last year to prove their kids are alive.
Today the families agreed to talk publicly about what they are going
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM COLEMAN, FATHER OF CAPTURED AMERICAN: Last time that we saw them was
July of 2012, early July of 2012. The last time we heard from them was
Josh sent me an e-mail on October 8th saying that he was in a big city and
in Afghanistan, was very uncomfortable, didn`t feel safe there and he
didn`t want Katie out with him.
PATRICK BOYLE, FATHER OF CAPTURED CANADIAN: They crossed from Tajikistan
into Afghanistan, and did it lawfully on foot, got a tourist visa and all
from the Afghan government at the border crossing and they must have
believed that there was a safe part of Afghanistan for them and the people
they traveled with it worked out OK. It didn`t work out well for them and
it was a costly mistake on their part.
LYN COLEMAN, MOTHER OF CAPTURED AMERICAN: They had a return ticket for
December, which for me even though they were adventuresome meant, because
Katie was due, like, the end of January, beginning of February. Meant she
was coming home two months early and they were looking forward to, you
know, having the safe birth here. Unfortunately, that never happened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don`t know anything more than what was in the
video. And we were hoping that we would be able to appeal to get at least
information about our grandchild. To bring them back, but also we need to
know that they are OK and to see them.
J. COLEMAN: We haven`t heard anything about their health or condition in
months. I would like to appeal to the fathers and grandfathers of the
world, everywhere, but particularly in the Middle East, in Afghanistan,
Pakistan, you fathers, grandfathers, I have never seen my grandchild. I
don`t know his or her condition. I haven`t seen my daughter for almost two
years. My grandchild, my understanding is the only toddler being held in
captivity. And please just find it in your hearts to let my kids go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Coleman and Boyle families, what they are going through. Now
they have not seen their kids in more than a year and a half. They`ve
never met their grandchild. Because of the release of Bowe Bergdahl this
weekend, the families have decided to release this proof of life videos and
to talk publicly about their kids being held by the Taliban. The U.S.
government -- the Canadian government still will not comment on the matter.
They are sticking with the strategy of trying to keep this below the radar.
But the families say they are hoping that maybe someone outside the
government somewhere might have information that could help or a new angle
and so they are going public. What a tremendously difficult decision it
must be for those families.
Well, we`ll let you know more as we learn more. Stay with us.
MADDOW: There`s news tonight, developments tonight where it kind of seems
like if the news gets out the news might all fall apart. It may not come
to fruition. At the risk of jinxing it, though, you really should know
that there may be about to get something done in Washington. Republicans
and Democrats both together. And the thing they might get done is not
necessarily something terrible. I know, don`t tell anyone. That story is
MADDOW: Last week before Republicans decided that an American prisoner of
war coming home was a scandal, last week the scandal in the country was the
terrible combination of bad waiting times for veterans at the medical
centers and widespread evidence the VA staff were messing with waiting list
records in order basically to obscure the problem. And try to make those
wait times look not so bad.
President Obama announced last Friday that the VA Secretary Eric Shinseki
was resigning because of the scandal. A new acting director of the VA has
taken over. And the reports this week frankly have continued to come in
about the extent of the problem around the country. But a few days ago we
noted that this Thursday, today, was going to be a banner day for this
issue and for this scandal in terms of figuring out whether people wanted
to just make political hay about this problem or whether we were actually
going to try to fix it.
Because in February, the Veterans Affairs chairman in the Senate, Bernie
Sanders, he had introduced a bill that would have dramatically expanded
veterans` access to health care and as you know, Republicans filibustered
that bill. So we warned at the beginning of this week that Senator Sanders
was going to be bringing back up his bill again, today, on Thursday. So
these senators who have been recently been yelling so much about VA health
care and bad access to VA health care, they would finally have a chance to
put their money where their mouth is, stop filibustering the thing and
actually help fix the problem.
But then there was some weirdness. Look, the news yesterday that the
Veterans Committee wasn`t going to be meeting on Thursday at all. That
their meeting to discuss this bill had been moved, delayed. Well, why,
right? It always happens. What sort of funny business is going on.
Today was supposed to be the day that Bernie Sanders dropped his bill to
try to fix what ails the VA. Why are they delaying? Very worrying, right?
Turns out there was something fascinating going on behind the scenes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: All right. Thank you. And I`d like to say to the senator from
Vermont that I respect a great deal the work that he has done on this
legislation. I respect his commitment and his leadership of the Veterans
Affairs Committee. I respect the fact that Bernie Sanders is known as a
fighter and it`s been a pleasure to do combat with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Apparently the reason for the delay when we thought we were going
to see Senator Sanders drop his big bill to try to fix the VA today, the
reason for the delay was apparently good news, because apparently behind
the scenes Senator Sanders was working out some sort of compromise deal
with a Republican senator, one named John McCain, and because they were
able to come to an agreement, that should mean that it won`t just be
Senator Sanders bringing up his bill again and the Republicans all standing
up against it. This could mean that the Republicans might actually vote
for the bill.
Pinch yourself. Go ahead, I`m quite sure you`re actually awake.
Joining us now is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Chairman of the
Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Well, Senator Sanders, it`s a real pleasure to see you. Thanks for being
SEN. BERNIE SANDER (I), VETERANS AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN: Good to be with you,
MADDOW: So you could knock me over with a feather. But tell me about the
-- how satisfied you are with the deal that you and Senator McCain struck
today, but substantively and whether you think this means you could move
SANDERS: Well, in terms of (INAUDIBLE) point, I think with Senator McCain
on board, I think with a number of Republicans on board, I think we stand a
very good chance of getting something significant passed. To be very
honest with you, this bill does not go anywhere near as far as I would like
to go in addressing the very serious problems within the veterans`
community and within the VA. But it does a lot of very good things.
I think, as you know, Rachel, the issue that we`re mostly concerned about
now, the waiting times that exist in various facilities around the country.
And we deal with that reasonably aggressively. What we say to veterans, if
there is a long waiting period, you can go to a private doctor, you can go
to a community health center, Indiana House Service, Department of Defense
facility, you can get the care you need in a timely manner outside of the
VA. If you are 40 miles away from a VA facility you can go to a private
Importantly, Rachel, what we also did is put $500 million into the hiring
of new doctors and nurses and other personnel. Because at the end of the
day, it`s my view, that in many parts of the country, the VA hospitals and
clinics are simply understaffed. They don`t have the capability of
providing care in a timely manner. We addressed that. We also in this
bill provide funding for 26 new major medical facilities around the country
which have kind of been held on the shelf for a number of years.
We are going to get out and build them. And that should help a whole lot
of communities around the country in terms of providing good care to the
MADDOW: When the House Republicans passed their own piece of veterans
legislation, one of the things that they really foregrounded and pushed to
the top of their priorities list, was essentially making it easier to fire
VA personnel now. Now you had raised the concern that while bad people
ought to be able to be kicked out, you also had to protect whistleblowers
and you wanted to make sure that making it easier to fire people meant that
you couldn`t fire people just for a political reason or to get rid of them.
Did you come to any sort of agreement or compromise on that that you`re
SANDERS: Yes. Again, it doesn`t go as far as I would like it to go, but I
think Senator McCain accepted the language that I offered, which says that
if you have in competent or dishonest supervisors we can get rid of them
immediately. But they do have a right to an expedited appeal. And the
reason that I put that due process language in there is I worry very much
if you have a new president and a new secretary, they could fire hundreds
and hundreds of high-level supervisors for political reasons.
And I don`t want to see the VA become a politically oriented agency. It`s
a major health care facility. We need good people. Politics should not be
involved. Also in terms of whistleblowers. Also in terms if you have
racism or sexism, and somebody gets fired not for right reasons but for
wrong reasons I want that person to be able to have at least an expedited
ability to appeal.
MADDOW: What`s the time frame here? When do you expect there to be a
binding vote here?
SANDERS: The leadership wants to move this very quickly. My staff and
Senator McCain`s staff are writing the language, dotting the I`s and
crossing the T`s right now. And I would hope very much we can get this on
the floor next week.
MADDOW: They said it couldn`t be done.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- not there yet but an amazing
development to be able to report tonight. Congratulations on making it
this far, sir. Good luck. Keep us posted.
SANDERS: Thank you.
MADDOW: Big deal. It`s a really big deal.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: This is the story of an old-fashioned, never quit, tough guy
newshound. But he`s not an old dinosaur from the good old days of
journalism. He`s a young guy who happens to be stamped out of an old mold.
His name is Joe Sonka. He`s from Kentucky. He started out with a blog
called "Barefoot and Progressive." He`s now at a Kentucky paper called
"Leo Weekly." Lately Joe Sonka has been covering the Senate race in
Kentucky. He sent this back from a Tea Party candidate`s rally. If a
handful of people and a couple of protest chickens add up to a rally. He
sent back this video of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell not taking
questions after getting endorsed by the NRA.
A couple of times this year the McConnell campaign is just flat-out banned
Joe Sonka from going to its press conferences. But that kind of thing
can`t stop a guy like Joe Sonka. You might remember that the McConnell
campaign had trouble this year with one of their ads. In March Senator
McConnell ran an ad with lots of Kentucky symbols like the Kentucky derby,
and the University of Kentucky basketball team, except instead of showing
the Kentucky basketball team, the ad showed Kentucky`s arch rival Duke from
North Carolina celebrating their national championship.
Oh, god. Oh, no, quick, some one hit delete. Well, Kentucky Sports Radio
reported at the time, quote, "Fortunately, `Leo Weekly`s` Joe Sonka was
able to grab the video of the ad before they pulled it down."
Joe Sonka preserve Mitch McConnell`s mistake on his own YouTube account.
It was news and he had it. And then this happened. Look. This video is
no longer available due to a copyright claim by the McConnell Senate
campaign 2014. The McConnell campaign blocked that clip. They got YouTube
to turn off the lights on that little matter of the hometown senator
accidentally praising the other guy`s hated team.
So far as we can tell, Joe Sonka`s YouTube clip was just about the only
freely available out in public record of Mitch McConnell`s big embarrassing
mistake. If Joe Sonka could not show that ad then you weren`t going to see
it. And Mitch McConnell would have basically won. But Joe Sonka, bless
his barefoot progressive heart, he did not quit. Last night he got a note
from YouTube saying that he, Joe Sonka, had successfully defended his right
to that clip.
Quote, "This content has been restored. Unless you have deleted the
video," which Joe Sonka most certainly had not, because here is the ad
Mitch McConnell wanted to hide. Now preserved for all to see on Joe
Sonka`s YouTube account. The basketball mistake is so short it takes up
less than a second. Watch. Watch fast.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: This is our time to get it right.
This is the moment. Let`s go out there and do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Put that back up. See, it`s the blink of a mistake. It`s just a
blink. But it is a great big victory for free speech and political
accountability in Kentucky. Might does not make copy right. Should put
that on the bumper sticker. Senator vs. blogger, and at least this time,
Love that story. Congratulations, Mr. Sonka. That does it for us tonight.
We will see you again tomorrow night. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD."
Thanks for being with us.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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