Skip navigation

'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

August 27, 2014

Guest: Robert White

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I will never recline my seat into your show.

that`s my takeaway here, we all recline. That`s life. We all give, we all

MADDOW: My knees to your -- never mind. All right. Thanks to you at home
for joining us this hour.

When it comes to world affairs, all of the best conversations I have ever
had. All the conversations I have learned the most from talking with NBC`s
Richard Engel have begun with us standing somewhere near a map. Richard is
here tonight. He is back in New York. So we have a map ready, it`s always
a good idea when Richard`s around, here`s the issue to ask him about.

The U.S. air strikes right now in Iraq, and with this red-hot debate right
now about whether or not the U.S. should consider air strikes over the
border inside Syria, when the White House talks about the militant groups
that those air strikes are targeting, the Sunni militia effect that they`re
bombing in Iraq, and they may want to bomb in Syria as well. When the
White House talks about that group, they call them ISIL.


ISIL speaks for no religion. ISIL have no ideology of any value to human
beings. ISIL opposes threat to all Iraqis and to the region.

against ISIL.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of terms about ISIL`s vision.


MADDOW: ISIL. When the administration and the Pentagon talk about who
they`re bombing in Iraq right now, and who they may want to bomb inside
Syria as well, they call the group ISIL. Everybody else calls the group
ISIS. Why are there these two different names? Now, the group in question
does not called themselves by either of these names. First of all, they
mostly speaks Arabic, and what they would prefer to be called in English,
they would prefer to be jus call the Islamic state, so that would be IS.

Frankly, I think nobody cares what they would prefer to be called. Nobody
wants to give them anything they want including that. But still, there is
this difference in how they are described in terms of English language
acronyms. And when they are called is, that is sometimes translated as an
acronym for the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, ISIS. That`s not where it
came from.

Where it came from is a related term, ISIS started off as an Islamic state
of Iraq and Alsham. Alsham is the term which means roughly greater Syria,
what we think of as the nation of Syria plus what they believe to be
additional territory that should be part of that same state. Now the
difference of opinion in terms of calling them ISIS as opposed to ISIL, is
that some people look at the idea of the Islamic state of Iraq and greater
Syria, and they don`t translate greater Syria as Alsham. They translate it
as a different word. They somewhat more familiar word, they translate it
as the Lavonte. And yes, that still vaguely means greater Syria, but it
means more than that.

The Lavonte is a region that includes Syria and is probably understood to
include Lebanon and Jordan and the Palestinian territories, including some
parts that are controlled by Israel. That`s the Lavonte. That`s much
bigger. That`s what the administration believes the group is referring to,
and the name they use -- they used to use for themselves, that`s why the
administration is calling them ISIL instead of ISIS.

And you know, one level it`s an Englishized (ph) acronym. What`s in a name
for this sort of thing in the larger sense? Maybe a lot of things here, in
terms of strategy that are implicated in the difference between those two
terms. I mean, the administration is now talking about air strikes against
ISIS or ISIL beyond the borders of Iraq. They`re talking about maybe
striking them in Syria too.

They never talk about air strikes without talking about building some sort
of regional coalition of other countries to be involved in a military
effort like that. So it wouldn`t just be the United States. But if ISIS
or ISIL is a group that doesn`t just have designs on taking over Iraq as
much as they can, and Syria as much as they can, but if this group is a
group that actually wants to take over Iraq and Syria and Jordan and
Lebanon and the Palestinian territories including chunks of Israel, if they
see that as their home base, then who in the world might be interested in
trying to stop that. That`s a bigger audience for hey, who`s in this with
us, right? I mean, in a full blown war effort against ISIL or ISIS, who
would join in that if those are ISIL`s goals?

So far the countries that have signed on the dotted line for part of the
war effort so far, specifically providing more weapons to the Kurdish
persons that are fighting against ISIS in Iraq. Those countries so far are
not much of a Benetton ad, Britain, France, Denmark, Canada, Italy, Croatia
and Albania. That`s who defense secretary Chuck Hagel says is signed on to
the sending arms to the Kurds part of this fight.

But beyond that specific issue of arming the Kurds, when it comes to a
broader fight against this group and everything that means, what about the
Arab countries? What about the other countries in the region, including
the ones that are really rich, and including the ones that have relatively
big strong militaries? Fighter jets and stuff like that?

This is American journalist Theo Curtis. He was freed in Syria this
weekend after nearly two years in captivity in Syria. He was held by a
radical Al Qaeda affiliated group of Sunni fighters that is called the al-
Nusra front. And we don`t exactly know the terms under which he was freed
after being held by that group for so long, but we do know that the
government of the nation of Qatar was the intervener basically on Theo
Curtis` behalf. Qatar negotiated for his release and they were able to
secure it.

Now, Qatar have faced some international criticism for funding and
supporting these radical Sunni militias fighting in Syria like al-Nusra
front and like ISIS. Qatar has faced criticism for funding these radical
Sunni groups that are fighting the Assad regime in Syria, so has the nation
of Saudi Arabia, so has Kuwait, so has the united Arab emirates. Honestly,
in practical terms, maybe it`s because of Qatar`s relationship with groups
like that, that they were able to get Theo Curtis free.

As the U.S. considers what to do next against ISIS if anything, who else
would be part of any U.S. led effort? Or if the U.S. wasn`t going to lead
it, who would -- who else would potentially lead that fight against them
that the U.S. might participate in? I mean, would a country like Qatar,
which is a very rich country, a very resourceful country. Should we see it
strategically important that they intervene to get the journalists freed
from the Nusra front? If Qatar and emirates and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,
have been funding some of these radical Islamist militia groups to fight
against Assad and Syria, these groups which include ISIS, is it reasonable
to expect that those countries that have been supporting those militias
might also join a fight against one of those militias?

Even just take the nation of Turkey, Turkey basically has held open part of
their border with Syria, to allow foreign fighters including westerners to
flow into that country to join the fight against Assad. Does fighting ISIS
mean that Turkey needs to be persuaded to stop doing that, to close the
border? Is the United States likely to persuade to do that? Keeping in
mind that we don`t have an ambassador to Turkey right now? We don`t have
an ambassador to Turkey right now, but because the United States Congress
is a worthless nonfunctioning pathetic excuse for a branch of government.
We have rally important business to do with Turkey, we have no ambassador,
that`s not anybody else`s fault, that`s our fault, amazing.

But meanwhile, the defense department today announced that they`re in full
swing. Another series of air strikes against ISIS inside Iraq today with
today`s three declared air strikes. That means there have now been 101
declared U.S. air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq just since August
8th, that`s not to mention the U.S. unmanned aircraft drones, and manned
aircraft. Planes with pilots in them, that are currently flying over Syria
doing surveillance flights. Possibly in advance of U.S. air strikes there
too, depending on how the debate goes in Washington.

Adding to the whole emotional pressure of this debate, today an American
mother named Shirley Sotloff, She released this video just over a minute
long in which she appealed directly to the leader of is, she called him by
his chosen, self-bestowed title, Caliph of the whole Muslim world.
Basically asked him, pled with him in religious terms that he should please
show mercy, please free her son. Her son is a 31-year-old journalist who
ISIS is believed to be holding somewhere inside Syria, Steven Sotloff.
He`s the second man who ISIS pictured in the execution video of James Foley
the posted online last week. At the end of the execution portion of that
video, they threatened to kill Steven in the same way if U.S. air strikes
against ISIS targets did not stop. U.S. air strikes against ISIS targets
have not stopped.

Joining us now to show us how maps and understanding that part of the
world, can help us make sense of all of this, is NBC chief foreign
correspondent Richard Engel.

into this, this is complicated stuff. And I commend you for taking the
time to think this through, to break it down, because I think we`re about
to get involved more deeply into a military conflict because of all of this
stuff which is very poorly understood by the general public.

MADDOW: The way that I was explaining the role of different countries
there and how they`ve been involved so far and whether they might be
amenable to U.S. overtures right now, now that the U.S. is feeling more
animated about this conflict, is that jive with how you see it or would you
add anything to that?

ENGEL: ISIS -- ISIL -- I think, by the way, the administration got stock
calling them ISIL. Once you call it that, you can`t help it. ISIL and
ISIS are basically mean the same. And it is just a matter on how you
translate it. And you once start calling it ISIL or ISIS, it just kind of
stick to it.

You know why we started calling it ISIS? Because it`s easier to say.

MADDOW: Right. And it is the English -- acronym that don`t --

ENGEL: ISIL is not easy. But anyway, it doesn`t have very many friends,
if you asked -- a few countries raised their hands, who wants to attack is?
Everyone would raise their hands. The problem is, who do you do the next
day? Because you attack is, we`re going to create a failed state in --
standing between Iraq and Syria, we`re going to have a black hole in the
middle of the country, a whole that is filled by this disgusting group
called ISIS.

We start attacking them. First of all, the group is going to attack back,
this is a vicious group, so it will attack back. But that`s to be
expected. What do you fill it with? Do you make a deal with Bashar al
Assad? Do you say, OK we`re sorry we tried to topple your government. We
know we`ve accused you of using chemical weapons and we have a pretty good
case that you did. We`re just going to look past that. And we`re going to
accept you, and we`re going to make amends and we are going to help you re-
concur your territory, are you going to do that? Maybe.

Now, I don`t think as many governments are going to sign on if you say,
that`s the goal, certainly not in the Arab world. A few might. But that
would be an enormous crow sandwich for the administration to eat, which I`m
not sure they want to do, after all the problems they`ve had in the Middle

So you attack ISIS, everyone wants to do it, but I don`t think there`s at
all in consensus on what you`re supposed to do the next day to fill that
gap. And the U.S. policy by the way, for the last couple years, the last
three years really, for Syria has been, that is a mess, that is a horrible
disastrous situation, let`s close that door.

MADDOW: Right. We can`t fix that, let`s not try to do anything?

ENGEL: Let`s not even look there. And until we knew it was rotting
inside, stink was coming out, 200,000 people have been killed according to
the U.N. we closed the door, we didn`t look. And you know what, it didn`t
get better over time. It wasn`t getting better over time. And the
execution of this poor guy, James Foley brought it to the forefront. And
now I think a lot of people are finally having to say, well, what are we
going to do about this? We have a dangerous group there.

MADDOW: If U.S. drones did start dropping bombs on ISIS targets in eastern
Syria, the way they are in northern Iraq and these other places, is there a
risk in the immediate sense that ISIS would try to essentially change the
way it`s operating? That they would try to invent themselves in population
centers that it would make it more dangerous for Syrian civilians?

ENGEL: I don`t know how more dangerous for civilian possibly could be? It
is an absolute mayhem in Syria right now. The government is dropping
barrel bombs. You know what a barrel bomb is? It`s a barrel, (INAUDIBLE),
like a metal steel can, filled with explosives, you open the door of a
helicopter and push it out, and what it falls on, it falls on. All the
time they`re dropping these things, which are not precise. They`re firing
scud missiles, they are firing artillery, that`s what`s coming in from
above. Then what`s on the ground is militants like ISIL or ISIS, who will
beat you, whip you, force you to accept Islamic law, if they want one of
the women from your family, they will take them as a bribe, that`s what`s
going on now. So then you add to this some drone strikes and air strikes.
Does it make it more dangerous? I don`t know how -- I mean, how do you get
-- where do you go from 10, you know? How does it get worse than that?

MADDOW: Can I ask you also, Richard? You were abducted in Syria, and you
were held for a number of days by one of these militant groups, when you
look at the family of Steven Sotloff trying to appeal for his release, it`s
so heartbreaking. I didn`t play the audio --

ENGEL: I thought about that.

MADDOW: It is personal decision I can`t do it. I have seen it, I can`t
it. How do you -- I mean, is his mom saying things that will resonate,
that will be heard? Will it matter?

ENGEL: Maybe it matters to her, that you can`t do nothing. She`s trying.
She`s appealing to these people, please be reasonable. And you didn`t play
the audio, what she says in the audio, that it`s very polite, that it is
very reasoned. It says you Baghdadi, you are the Caliph. The Caliph means
the successor of Mohammed. You are the leader of the Islamic empire. We
are giving you the title you like. You have the power to grant amnesty,
because you`re the commander. Give amnesty to my son who has no dog in
this political fight, is not in charge of U.S. foreign policy, please do
this for our son so I can hug him again.

It`s very difficult to listen to. And she seems to, you know, have almost
no emotion as she`s saying it, she`s somewhere else. She`s out of her body
as she`s speaking. Will it help? I hate to say, I think it`s tough,
because this group, especially if it starts getting attacked right now, is
going to see it has some Americans, it`s going to try to use them for
political gains and I`m not sure that it wants to show how merciful it is
right now.

MADDOW: Yes. NBC New chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, I`m so
glad you could come in and talk to me.

ENGEL: Thank you.

MADDOW: It`s great to see you, my friend.

ENGEL: I think we`ll be talking more because this is an incredibly
important subject we`ve been ignoring. I think of it by policy ignoring,
not on your show, but as a nation, because it`s so ugly, and now it`s just
-- it can`t really be ignored any more.

MADDOW: And the debate on this has to get a lot smarter, a lot faster than
it has been.

All right, thank you, Richard. It`s great to have you here. We`ll be
right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Watch this. This is dash cam footage taken from a police car,


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While we`re doing this, put your hands behind your
back. Where`s the syringe that cap came off of?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That syringe is literally a week old.


MADDOW: That was an incident between a (INAUDIBLE) Texas police officer
and a suspect and it looks pretty clear as to what happened there, right?
At least how it resolves, and it does not resolve in a good way. But wait
until you see it from a second angle because it turns out there were two
cameras on that incident. And that ends up being really important for that
incident and maybe now for the whole country. It`s fascinating. Stay with
us. That story is coming up.


MADDOW: Legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
That was the demand on one of the very first petitions to the White House.
To the Obama administration, we, the people program. The asked for it.
Starting in 2011, the White House developed this program where if you could
get 5,000 people to sign up with you on your petition, the White House
would promise to respond in writing and in public on the White House Web
site. And it turns out that not just for legal pot but for lots of things,
it`s really no problem to get 5,000 people to sign on to something if it
comes with a promise that the White House will then pay attention to your

So after that initial launch and after the White House answered lots and
lots of questions about legal pot, they then decided they were going to
raise the threshold from 5,000 signatures to 25,000 signatures. But still
a lot of proposals and causes really had no problem at all hitting even the
new threshold.

For example, this petition for the U.S. government to build a death star,
more like star wars. That proposal met the new 25,000 signature threshold.
That official respond from the White House. And yes, thereafter the White
House did moved to make the threshold rise higher again. Now you need to
get 100,000 signatures tin order o get the White House to respond to you,
and you have only 30 days to get those 100,000 signatures. A serious
petition has blown by the 100,000 signature threshold in less than a week.
As far as we can tell that is almost unheard of.

The new petition is demanding something called a Mike Brown law, a national
law, a federal law that would do one seemingly simple thing, require all
state, county and local police to wear a camera while on duty. The
petition now has over 149,000 signatures, so it is way over the threshold
from earning a response from the White House and still they have two weeks
left on the clock to collect more signatures.

But judging anecdotally from those signatures in the petition, this
relatively simple idea is very popular, and lots of police departments are
already using cameras, either or both on patrol cars or on officers
uniforms. It`s not a radical idea for police to have cameras at the local
level. It would however be a radical change for there to be a single
federal standard requiring that of all cops at all levels of policing all
across the country.

Had the Ferguson Missouri police department been using cameras during the
police shooting, who knows how that would have affected the case itself,
who knows how it would have affected the weeks of unrest that follows that

This is footage from a body camera worn by an officer at the Rialto police
department. Rialto is about an hour east of L.A. A couple of years ago,
the Rialto police department participated in a landmark study about the use
of body cameras on police officers and their effects on both officer
behavior like the use of force, but also the public`s behavior, including
public complaints about the use of force.

The results of that study, the power of the cameras, the results were a
shock even to the department itself. The study found that one year after
officers started wearing the cameras, use of force by those officers
declined by 60 percent. People complaining about the use of force, members
of the public coming out to say the police had wrongfully used force
against them, those complaints declined by 88 percent in a year. After
that study, body cameras became a department wide policy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every uniformed officer is assigned one of these right
now. This is actually the camera, it`s pretty small, it is very
lightweight, it has the lens, it actually has the storage system in it, and
also has a small microphone and small speaker system in it, to let the
officers know what amount of ton they`re recording. The great benefits for
me is that it shows what we`re doing realtime. It`s kind of like
documentation of our actions and it`s -- I mean, it`s recorded, it`s video,
it`s kind of almost indisputable.


MADDOW: And yes sometimes that indisputable record can work to the benefit
of a member of the public to corroborate the citizen`s version of events if
the citizen has a dispute the officer in which the officer misbehaved or
the officer themselves committed a crime, right? Sometimes it benefits
victims of police abuse. Sometimes it is the other way around. Sometimes
it clears police officers who really were just doing their jobs despite
complaints to the contrary.

In the town of Celina in Texas, population is 6,000 with 9,000 -- excuse
me, nine police officers on the Celina police department, they have been
wearing body cameras for about nine months now.

Last week they released the Celina police department released a kind of a
remarkable video on their You Tube page. Here is how they described it.
Celina police officer fights suspect high on heroin. It appears the
officer jumped on the suspect for no reason. But from body camera, shows
what really happened.

Celina starts showing the dash camera angle of the encounter, just the
angle taken from the video camera and the officer`s squad car. And you
can`t see much at first. But from this angle it looks like the officer
attacks the suspect out of nowhere for no obvious observable reason.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While we`re doing this, put your hands behind your
back. Where`s the syringe that cap came off of?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That syringe is literally, probably a week old.


MADDOW: Video shot from the squad car. What the dash cam was able to
capture sheds very little light on why that officer all of a sudden leapt
on that man and forced him to the ground. And you hear calm voices and
then boom the officer is on top of the suspect. That`s what the camera in
the squad camera recorded from that one angle. But because the officer was
also wearing a body camera, we have another angle on that encounter, which
the Celina police say shows that the suspect actually charges at the
officer in that incident. It goes by fast, we`ll slow it down in a second.
But here`s the realtime, the fast version. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While we`re doing this, put your hands behind your
back. Where`s the syringe that cap came off of?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That syringe is literally, probably a week old.


HAYES: That`s the real time version.

Here it is slowed way down. You can see that moment when the suspect turns
around and that encounter changes. In a split second from something that
sounds calm to what appears to be a violent physical altercation.

Body cameras can shed light on encounters between police and the people
they are there to serve. That can work in anyone`s benefit, depending on
what they show and depending on what happened. They just provide
additional information.

In Celina, Texas, according to that police department and that video, which
they have been promoting, the officers camera on his uniform happened to
work in the officer`s benefit in terms of making a public case that the use
of force was justified in this incident.

That said, there`s yet another side to this. I mean, having a police
officer record every point of contact with members of the public while on
duty means that there`s a lot of video of police officers contact with the
public and it`s all a matter in some ways of public record. And that might
make sense in cases where there are criminal charges involved, but it does
raise privacy concerns.

What if in this video, one of the suspect`s friends was standing in the
background, somebody who wasn`t the target of the police action that night,
not charged with anything, didn`t want to be associated with this incident,
what if the person was a juvenile? I mean, how would you handle those
issues if the video was going to be released publicly, like this one was?

In part because of those concerns, the issue of police using cameras, it
would benefit from a lot of public notification about the fact that police
are doing that, and it would also benefit from a lot of public debate.

The police department in Denver, Colorado, today, held a big press
conference announcing that they, too, would be launching a pilot program
with police body cameras, in the hopes that all of their officers would be
wearing these cameras by the end of the next year.

The Denver Police Department also released this PSA type video, basically
advertising the new policy, showing the police chief in Denver and the
mayor of Denver, walking around the city telling people about this plan.


Denver, how are you?

I have a question for you, we`re out testing something. You notice the
glasses I have on in.


HANCOCK: This is a camera.

We`re considering fitting all of our police officers with body cameras.
What do you think about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it`s a good idea to protect both sides. The
question that I had is about the recording because it doesn`t actually
record the entire time, you have to turn it on and off?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a policy that will say when you can turn it on
or off. If you`re on a crime scene or making a traffic stop, they`re
required to have it on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I think -- I think it`s a good idea, absolutely.


MADDOW: There are real potentials for up sides here, in terms of
transparency and accountability on both sides of the relationship between
the police and the public. But whether it`s a federal law or a local
police department by police department movement to add these cameras to
every police interaction, there are potential risks involved with turning
our every interaction with a police officer into more or less a recorded
matter of public record. Hold that thought.



OFFICER: While we`re doing this, go ahead and put your hands behind your
back. Where`s the syringe that that cap came off of?

SUSPECT: That syringe is literally probably a week old.


OFFICER: While we`re doing this, go ahead and put your hands behind your
back. Where`s the syringe that that cap came off of?

SUSPECT: That syringe is literally probably a week old.



MADDOW: Two very different views of that same police incident in Celina,
Texas. In the first shot it`s unclear what led to the officer leaping on
the guy. In the second shot from the body camera of the police officer, it
looks like the suspect wield around on the officer. And that`s why the
police department is publicizing that video.

Our next guest is aiming to outfit his entire city police force with body
cams by 2015. Today, his department has 125 of them in place.

Joining us now is the chief of police of Denver, Colorado, Robert White.

Chief White, thank you very much for being with us.

ROBERT WHITE, DENVER POLICE CHIEF: Good evening. Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: So, your department already has about 125 of these body cams on
your officers on the street. Why did you decide to do that?

WHITE: You know, we`ve been actually talking about body cams now for
almost two years. From my perspective, it`s a credibility issue, it`s a --
it`s important that we`re very transparent. And key to our success is
preventing crime from occurring. And the greatest resource we have are
actually the citizens. The citizens are more willing to work with us if
they believe that we`re a department that will acknowledge when we`re
right, at the same time, acknowledge when we`re wrong, and that we`re a
credible department.

I think the body cams is just one of the tools that will speak to our
commitment to being transparent and establishing and doing a better job and
establishing credibility within the community.

MADDOW: It sounds like you -- you`re part of this decision, you agree with
this decision. Have there been concerns with rank and file officers, among
resistance or worry among your force about what this will mean for them?

WHITE: Well, actually, we have it as a pilot project in one of our busier
districts. And the feedback thus far has been very positive, positive from
the community and also positive from the officers.

You know, I tell you what happens is, we go to hundreds of thousands of
calls every year, and it`s inevitable that something controversial is going
to happen. In many times, when you have no evidence other than he said/she
said, he being the suspect or the plaintiff, and the other party being the
police officer, you come up with a not sustained allegation. And that
doesn`t help the individual that`s making the allegation, it certainly
doesn`t have the officer that feels that he or she is doing the right
thing. The body cam clears up those conflicts.

So, I mean we`re excited about it. The officers are pretty much excited
about it, and I think the citizens are relatively supportive of it and also
excited about it.

MADDOW: When -- we saw that tape that played a moment ago of you and
Denver`s mayor, Michael Hancock, out on the street talking to just Denver
residents, not to police officers, but to just residents of the city about
whether they like the idea and basically letting them know that it`s coming
and looking for feedback. Are you hearing privacy concerns or other
worries from citizens?

WHITE: No. It`s relatively new. You know, one of the reasons we did the
press release and the mayor and I decided to go out to the community is,
you know, it`s an important decision, and I think it`s a decision where we
get to buy in from the community. And, thus far, it appears we`re getting
that buy in.

As our policies evolve, and concerns will come about, we`re certainly in a
position to kind of change those policies and make sure they`re mitigating
any serious concerns the citizens might have or that the residents might

MADDOW: As the White House now has been forced to responds to one of these
citizen petitions, about whether or not this ought to be a federal
standard, that police officers at every level ought to basically be
required to have cameras on them, do you feel like this is something that
should be handled town to town, department to department, chief to chief,
or do you feel like it makes sense that there maybe should be a federal law
considered on something like this?

WHITE: Well, yes, I`m not so sure it should be a federal law, but I think
departments will be well-advised across the nation to seriously consider
body cams. It`s a win-win situation for the officers and it`s certainly a
win-win situation for the residents that they`re responsible for providing
public safety to.

MADDOW: Robert White, chief of the Denver, Colorado Police Department --
Chief, thank you for helping us understand your decision on this. Thanks
very much.

WHITE: Thank you for having me.

MADDOW: Thank you.

All right. We got much more ahead, including some breaking news that may
affect the control of the United States Senate.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: We`ve got one major story still ahead on the show tonight and it
is a doozy. It`s the story of how a surprise guilty plea and a federal
bribery case today could conceivably change the outcome of who controls the
United States Senate this year. This is a big deal story, nobody else is
covering it in the national news. And we`ve got it here, next.


MADDOW: OK. It was December 28th, 2011, six days before the biggest event
in all of Republican presidential politics, six days before the 2012 Iowa
Republican caucuses, the political ground shook beneath the state of Iowa.
We led our show with it that night as breaking news, watch.


MADDOW: We actually do have some legitimate breaking news to report right
now, out of Iowa. With six days to go until the Iowa caucuses, there has
been a rather dramatic development just moments ago tonight in the
Republican race for president.

What you`re looking at right there is a campaign event that is underway
right now in Des Moines. It`s a chain event for Republican Congressman Ron
Paul of Texas, who you see speaking there. The two latest polls out of
Iowa show Congressman Paul in first place in the PPP poll and in second
place in the CNN poll. More on that in a moment.

But the breaking news tonight is that Ron Paul appears to have scored a bit
of a coup in his effort to win Iowa. Shortly before Dr. Paul took the
stage there in Des Moines tonight, an Iowa Republican state senator who`s
named Kent Sorenson was introduced to the Ron Paul supporting crowd.

Now, up until tonight, Mr. Sorenson had been serving as an Iowa state co-
chair for the Michele Bachmann campaign. The reason he was being
introduced at a Ron Paul rally was to announce that he`s switching sides.


MADDOW: Six days before the 2012 Iowa caucus, the co-chair of Michele
Bachmann`s presidential campaign in Iowa switched teams on the eve
essentially of that election, the Bachman campaign chair announced that he
was leaving the Michele Bachmann campaign and instead throwing his support
to Ron Paul.

Now, that defection itself was news. We covered it as breaking news that
night. As you can see, I was wearing the same jacket.

But the allegation from Michele Bachmann that followed that news, that
ended up being a real political bombshell that`s taken a few years to go

Now, because it`s Michele Bachmann, I have to tell you, the delivery of her
big news that night, it was a little Bachmann-esque. But still, you`ll get
the point.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Kent Sorenson personally -- let`s
see -- excuse me just a moment. Kent Sorenson said to me yesterday -- here
we go, sorry about that. Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a
large sum of money to go to work for the Ron Paul campaign. Kent
campaigned with us earlier this afternoon in Indianola, Iowa, and then he
went immediately afterward to a Ron Paul event and announced that he is
changing teams.

Kent said to me yesterday that everyone sells out in Iowa, why shouldn`t I?


MADDOW: Everyone sells out in Iowa, why shouldn`t I?

That allegation that hilarious Michele Bachmann leveled against Republican
State Senator Kent Sorenson that night, it was that he had been paid to do
this, right? He cut a secret deal of some sort with the Ron Paul campaign.
He traded his Ron Paul endorsement for cash.

That is an allegation that would violate Iowa state law potentially, it
would violate federal election law, as well.

And that night, the night that he switched sides, one of our own NBC
reporters, Anthony Terrell, tracked down Kent Sorenson to get his reaction
to those charges.


REPORTER: So, Kent, you`ve probably seen what the Bachmann campaign that -

STATE SEN. KENT SORENSON (R), IOWA: I just heard, yes.

REPORTER: That you personally told her you were offered a large sum of
money by the Ron Paul campaign. How do you react?

STATE SEN. KENT SORENSON (R), IOWA: Look, that`s absurd. Like I said
before, the people on this campaign supported me, my aides (ph), they
worked tirelessly for me, they stuffed envelopes, they door knocked for me.
I feel like I`m coming home to them.

REPORTER: Have you spoken to Michele Bachmann about this at all? She said
you personally told her that you were offered a sum of money.

SORENSON: No, that`s not true.

REPORTER: It`s not true at all?


REPORTER: Were you offered any money?

SORENSON: Absolutely not.


MADDOW: Absolutely not. I was never offered any money from the Ron Paul
campaign. I never accepted any money from the Ron Paul campaign.

Kent Sorenson -- deny, deny, deny, that anything like that happened, as did
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul himself on national television a
few days later. Ron Paul told "Fox News Sunday" that did not happen. And
for a time that was sort of the end of that scandal.

A wounded Michele Bachmann went on to place sixth in the Iowa caucuses a
few days later and then she dropped out of the presidential races the next
day. Ron Paul finished third, which is good enough to send his campaign
unto New Hampshire.

But when the political storm left the state of Iowa, what it left behind
were these salacious allegations that there was basically a market in Iowa,
a market in which Republican presidential endorsements for the Iowa
caucuses were being bought and sold for cash.

After the dust had finally cleared in the 2012 presidential race after
Barack Obama had been sworn in for a second term, there was still this
hangover in Republican politics and in Iowa politics, this hangover worry
about the all-important Iowa caucuses, which have such an important role in
choosing presidential candidates in this country. Do the Iowa Republican
caucuses have a bribery problem?

About a year later in February 2013, a former staffer for Michele Bachmann
filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. And while Michele
Bachmann had claimed right before the Iowa caucuses, the night she lost her
campaign manager to Ron Paul, well, Michele Bachmann had claimed the only
reason she lost him was because Ron Paul was paying money to that guy to
get his endorsement, what Michele Bachmann`s former staffer claimed in this
complaint was actually that Michele Bachmann was paying, too. Michele
Bachmann also had that guy on the payroll for his endorsement.

That complaint was filed February 2013. Later that year, October 2013, the
Iowa state ethics commission concluded an exhaustive investigation into
those allegations about bribery in the caucuses, and on that specific
complaint that the Michele Bachmann campaign did pay this elected official
in Iowa for his support, the state ethics commission basically found that
claim to be substantiated.

In that same day, the same day the report came out, the bribee, the Michele
Bachmann campaign manager, he resigned his seat in the Iowa state senate,
although I should mention that he declared in an e-mail to his supporters
that he had done nothing wrong, that it was a straight up political witch
hunt and that the whole thing was probably because he was so verbally
against gay marriage. Sure, whatever.

Interestingly, though, in that more than 500-page report from the Iowa
Ethics Commission, they were mostly looking into that Michele Bachmann`s
campaign had been paying bribes. But they also noted, almost as an aside,
that it did appear that in addition to what he had got from Michele
Bachmann, that this Iowa senator also got money from somewhere else. They
noted $73,000 that had been paid to that same guy in the form of suspicious
wire transfers, deeply suspicious they call them. What`s that`s all about?

The next month, November 2013, FBI agents executed a search warrant at that
state senator`s home and then, four months later, so in March of this year,
that Michele Bachmann staffer who filed the original complaint about bribes
being paid for endorsements in Iowa Republican caucuses, that staffer
amended his complaint this year to say there was evidence that not only was
the Michele Bachmann paying bribes, so too was the Ron Paul campaign.

Now, Ron Paul had denied this publicly. His campaign denied it publicly,
right? It was just crazy Michele Bachmann scrolling around on her iPad
saying this thing that nobody believed because it`s something that came out
of Michele Bachmann`s mouth.

But once that formal campaign was made, hey, Ron Paul was bribing, too,
there was an investigation of that formal complaint. There was public
reports of grand juries in Iowa looking into this allegations.

And today, in a surprise move, in what may turn out to be a bombshell, not
just for Iowa politics, not just for a presidential campaign that`s already
over and people like Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul who are already out of
politics, but in what maybe a bombshell for Republican politics now and
specifically for Republican efforts to take the Senate now this year,
today, the surprise news is that this has all been resolved. Apparently,
it wasn`t a political witch hunt because this guy was against gay marriage.
It wasn`t just kooky claims from kooky Michele Bachmann.

Today, former Iowa Republican State Senator Kent Sorenson pled guilty in
federal court on two charges. He has yet to be sentenced, but he`s facing
between five to 25 years in prison and $500,000 total fine. He posted his
plea agreement online, if you want to read yourself. It`s fun reading.

But the bottom line is basically that he admits to having taken bribes for
his endorsement. He was bribed by the Ron Paul for president campaign.
They paid him a total of $73,000 for his endorsement in Iowa, where he pled
guilty to, was working with the Ron Paul campaign to lie about the bribe
money they paid to him, when the campaign wrote up its expenditures and
disclose its expenditures in a federal document.

He also pled guilty to lying about it to investigators, which is the
obstruction to justice charge in this case.

But you know, primary is one of those political crimes that takes two --
takes two to make a tango, right. Which is why this is a bombshell that
reaches way beyond this one Iowa state senator and Iowa Republican

This is a statement that Kent Sorenson`s attorney released when the plea
agreement was announced today. It says, quote, "Mr. Sorenson`s pleas are
part of the process of taking complete responsibility for the series of
compounding errors and omissions he engaged in, aided and abetted, and
participated in with others."

Oh, yes, right, you can`t bribe yourself. If you`re guilty of taking a
bribe, then that means somebody must have -- I mean, he didn`t trick the
Ron Paul campaign in describing the bribes they paid to him as payments to
some film company. They didn`t think they were actually getting film
production for the price of $73,000, which is what they fold the FEC. They
were bribing him.

He`s now going to go to prison for 25 years because he got caught for
taking a bribe and for covering it up. He`s pled guilty to helping them do

But what about them? Who was in charge of the Ron Paul campaign when this
was happening? Who done it?

This man is the campaign manager now for Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell, the Kentucky senator who`s embroiled in a very tough reelection
race right now. He`s the top Republican in the Senate. He will become
Senate majority leader if he succeeds in his plan for Republicans to take
over the Senate in this fall`s elections.

His campaign manager is named Jesse Benton. Jesse Benton, at the time the
Ron Paul campaign was bribing people for their endorsements in Iowa in
2011, at that time, Jesse Benton was in charge of the Ron Paul for
president campaign.

That October before the Iowa caucuses, this is the e-mail from the Kent
Sorenson camp laying out Kent Sorenson`s demands how much he wanted to be
bribed, how much he wanted to be paid to switch his endorsement from
Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul. Here`s the reply from Jesse Benton in
November of that year, following up, saying he really wanted to get Kent
Sorenson on board.

The following month, December 26th, a Ron Paul campaign staffer handed Kent
Sorenson a check for $25,000 in the bathroom of an Iowa restaurant. Two
days later, Kent Sorenson announced his change of heart. Now, he`s
endorsing Ron Paul.

Shortly thereafter, Kent Sorenson wondered on the phone whether or not the
candidate himself, Ron Paul, knew about this bribery that had happened. He
says he didn`t know about Ron Paul himself, but he knew for sure that Jesse
Benton knew that the Ron Paul campaign had paid him that bribe.


SORENSON: Do you think the whole Ron Paul and like all of them know? The
inside group?

FUSARO: Sure, I`m sure Jesse Benton knows. He`s a scum --

SORENSON: Oh, I know Jesse does. I know Jesse knows.


MADDOW: Does Jesse know? Does the Mitch McConnell re-election campaign in
Kentucky have a problem here? If the Mitch McConnell campaign manager also
ran a presidential campaign two years ago that was bribing people for their
endorsements, and now, people are looking at 25 years in prison for
accepting those bribes?

We called Mitch McConnell`s campaign today asking if they or Jesse Benton
himself wanted to give a statement on this matter. We have not heard back.
I do not know if we will. But I live in hope.

Watch this space.


Good evening, Lawrence.


<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2014 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2014 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>


Rachel Maddow Show Section Front
Add Rachel Maddow Show headlines to your news reader:

Sponsored links

Resource guide