Skip navigation

'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

  Most Popular
Most viewed

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: March 18, 2015
Guest: Eugene Robinson, Blake Zeff, Susan Crabtree, Gordon Gray, Holly
Otterbein, Caitlin Flanagan

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Ari Melber
filling in for Lawrence.

Good evening Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC: Good evening Rachel, thank you --

MADDOW: Indeed --

MELBER: We start with this. It is President Obama`s fault, the President
came out on offense in a big way in Cleveland today, finally taking, yes,
credit for all the good things happening in the country right now.

Also new video surfacing showing whether Rick Santorum is prepared to run
for president and the reporter who got one of the members of the Penn State
fraternity at the center of this Facebook controversy to talk is here to
tell all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Terror in Tunisia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gunmen opened fire at a museum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They killed at least 19 people and wounded around 50.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tunisian forces finally killed two gunmen, but others
may still be at large.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel`s right wing won big in
elections yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He basically won by cannibalizing voters from the other
right wing party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first thing, his commitment to a Palestinian
State --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it may have just sent American peace plans in the
region back to the drawing board.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Death threats against U.S. Ambassador to Japan
Caroline Kennedy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The motives may be blackmail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Japan is a safe country, so everybody is surprised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First lady Michelle Obama touched down for her first
visit to Japan, where she`s expected to meet with the ambassador.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New to west to talk about today, in the murder
investigations surrounding real estate heir Robert Durst.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Police retrieved $42,000 and a latex mask from
Durst`s New Orleans hotel room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tonight, Durst is in a mental health facility, law
enforcement officials here say, he is a suicide risk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yet another fraternity is accused tonight of bringing
shame to its campus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A criminal investigation is underway --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now for pictures of nude and sometimes unconscious
female students were discovered on two private Facebook pages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re embarrassing and illegal photos and that`s
unacceptable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s more upsetting is Polet(ph) doesn`t surprise
me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama launches a full court press.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m going to take a little
credit.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking at a town hall, manufacturing and middle class
economics --

OBAMA: There`s this thing called the Affordable Care Act, it`s working
better than even I expected.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama unveiling his NCAA bracket this morning on "Espn"
--

OBAMA: That is going to be the year, guys, I`m winning the pool.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: This was interesting. The President had an economic event in
Cleveland today and he decided to fact-check his critics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: And at every step that we take and over the past six years, we were
told our goals were misguided, they were too ambitious, that my
administration`s policies would crush jobs and explode deficits, and
destroy the economy forever.

Remember that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes --

OBAMA: Because sometimes, you know, we don`t do the instant replay. We
don`t -- we`re on the take-back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: But we do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: One Republican in Congress warned our policies would diminish
employment and diminish stock prices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the stimulus did for jobs, the diminishment of
employment in America.

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Seems stock has dropped
about 10 percent.

OBAMA: Stock market has doubled since I came in office. One Republican
senator claimed we faced trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can
see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re running trillion dollar deficits as far as the
eye can see.

OBAMA: Another predicted my re-election would spike gas prices to $6.60 a
gallon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he`s re-elected, gas prices will be up at around
$6.60 per gallon.

OBAMA: Six-sixty. My opponent in that last election pledged that he could
bring down the unemployment rate to 6 percent by 2016.

ROMNEY: Six percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People all across the country this morning, governor,
are saying 6 percent, that sounds pretty good.

OBAMA: Six percent by 2016, next year, at the end of next year, it`s 5.5
now.

(APPLAUSE)

And right here in Cleveland, the leader of the house Republicans, a good
friend of mine --

(LAUGHTER)

You know, he captured his party`s economic theories by critiquing mine with
a very simple question, where are the jobs? He said, where are the jobs?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:
Where are the jobs? Where are the jobs?

OBAMA: Well, after 12 million new jobs, stock market has more than
doubled, deficits that have been cut by two-thirds, healthcare inflation at
the lowest rate in nearly 50 years.

Manufacturing coming back, auto industry coming back, clean energy doubled,
I`ve come not only to answer that question, but I want to return to the
debate that is central to this country.

And the alternative economic theory that`s presented by the other side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: There you have the tape, joining me now to discuss, Susan
Crabtree, White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner", Eugene
Robinson from the "Washington Post" and Msnbc analyst, and Blake Zeff,
political editor for Salon, and a former Obama presidential campaign aide.

Good evening everybody, Gene, let me start with you. What we did was add
the facts that the President was referencing, but in his argument, he had
the facts speak for themselves.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, and you know, one can
understand the President taking something of a victory lap right now.

The economy by any measure is doing much better, and a whole lot better
than the President`s critics and opponents predicted. And so, you know,
it`s time to crow a little bit and that`s what he`s doing.

MELBER: Blake, you worked on campaigns for the President and for Hillary
Clinton in 2008. Is this something of a happy campaign nostalgia moment
for someone who`s worked on one of these to think about all these debates?

Somewhat resolved according to the President.

BLAKE ZEFF, POLITICAL EDITOR, SALON.COM: Yes, it`s actually really
fascinating. You watch this clip of this Barack Obama, need to laugh a
little bit. Where was this Barack Obama in 2012 and 2014?

I think Democrats were really encouraging the president to sing his own
praises and to talk about the results of the policies that he had enacted.

He was a little reticent, you know, you remember that terrible debate
against Mitt Romney in 2012 --

MELBER: Sure --

ZEFF: You remember in 2014 that, you know, that the Democratic party was
running away from the record a little bit, so I think it`s very heartening
for a lot of Democrats to see him.

And you see he`s a real hop to a step now, he`s really light on his toes, I
think the President is starting to think of his legacy now and trying to
make sure that the story of his administration and his term in office is
written by him.

MELBER: Susan, do you see anything wrong with this picture, a sort of a
happy economy, happy Obama, happy America?

SUSAN CRABTREE, WASHINGTON EXAMINER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I
think it`s interesting the same day that he`s making these claims and he --
and the economy has improved, so he has some claims to make.

But the Fed decided not to increase interest rates because they`re still a
little bit uncertain about the stability of the economy.

And I think also you have, what he didn`t talk about, of course, is the 30
million Americans who have dropped out of the workforce and who are -- that
-- I mean this is according to Gallop, this is not a partisan survey.

Thirty million that aren`t counted in that 5.6 percent that he mentioned in
terms of unemployment.

So I think you have to look at the full picture of the unemployment and
like the state of the economy and if the Federal Reserve is not ready to
hike interest rates a little bit as expected.

That might be a sign that the economy is not as strong as the President is
indicating.

MELBER: Do you think he`s overselling the rebound?

CRABTREE: I think a little bit. This is all about setting the stage for
2016. This is a campaign tactic, he wants to really retain his legacy and
cement it.

And he does have some things to crow about, certainly things are going in
the right direction, but it`s been a very slow evolution here. And if you
--

ROBINSON: Just to point out -- just to -- Gifty -- I`m sorry, Susan, just
to point out one thing, though. You mentioned the 30 million people who
have dropped out of the workforce.

You know, people drop out of the workforce for various reasons and always
have. And so, but we have a standard way that we have measured
unemployment for many --

MELBER: Yes --

ROBINSON: Decades. And I just think it`s funny that all of a sudden, a
lot of people want to measure it some different way, now that the numbers
seem to be tending in the way President Obama said they would turn.

In fact, this is the way we measure.

MELBER: Yes, and I`m not sure, Susan, we all are guilty of thinking about
2016 too much. It is in our nature, I suppose. But I`m not sure that this
is all about 2016.

Blake, it seems to me that in part, you know, the Republicans putting out a
budget, you have a president obviously taking what everyone would agree are
extraordinary measures, and many of them legal.

Some tied up in the courts, to try to advance the rest of his economic
agenda this term. As this is much about him getting it done as it is about
whatever successor he may have?

ZEFF: Oh, yes, I mean I think this is a good conversation for us to be
having. We so infrequently do have a conversation about results.

MELBER: Right --

ZEFF: We talk about the process all the time. Barack Obama had a
healthcare plan, can he get it through Congress? Is the website working
when he tries to do it?

Well, let`s have the conversation about whether or not the policy actually
worked. And if the policy worked, what does that mean moving forward for
actual Americans.

So I think absolutely part of his positioning, of course, about the
politics moving forward, but another part of this is about telling the
story of what actually happened when you put certain policies into place
and what that means moving forward.

MELBER: Susan, what do you think of that? I`m sure you also heard him say
in conjunction with these new numbers this week. Sixteen-point-four
million Americans now have some form of insurance through the ACA.

Which means whether you like it or not, this was a wide ranging, highly
impactful policy reform just as the President promised.

CRABTREE: Well, I think also in that state, there is some dispute over
those numbers. I trust the Gallop numbers a little bit better.

They put the -- last year they put a rate of uninsured at about 8 million
to 9 million. That is progress when you look -- if you support government-
run healthcare.

For those who do not support government-run healthcare, they want to look
at the broader picture. The problem with that rising healthcare costs were
because people weren`t paying their bills.

You had people coming into emergency rooms and creating havoc because they
didn`t have -- they were uninsured.

So now, with the biggest problem with the rollout, one of the biggest
problems with the rollout substantively, not other than the healthcare.gov
fiascos, were the problem is that the premiums, well, there was sticker
shocks on the premiums.

And now we`re going to have to see if these premiums actually get paid.

You have a lot of people getting -- going on the healthcare exchanges and
saying, well, I want to pick this plan because they have a high premium --
excuse me, has a lower premium like the pair.

So, you know, I think that it doesn`t show the big picture here, you really
need to --

MELBER: I --

CRABTREE: Take a look and that`s going to come from months ahead.

MELBER: I hear you on the premiums and that`s certainly of an issue. I
don`t think the numbers on the 16.4 million are wobbly.

That state and federal data, that is authorized, that is nonpartisan data.
Gallop is asking people to self-report whether they`re insured or not when
they pick up the phone.

I think that, that kind of number comes far secondary in terms of polling.
But I do want to get to one other thing that is not as positive certainly
for the White House.

The new developments regarding the President`s security itself. Secret
Service Director Joseph Clancy now saying some of those surveillance tapes
of the two Secret Service agents who reportedly drove on the White House
grounds after a night of drinking.

Now, we`re learning those tapes that it may have been erased. Gene
Robinson, just to start with you, this is not OK, this is supposed to be
the new Secret Service, seems like the old Secret Service.

ROBINSON: No, this is not OK at all. And I think President Obama really
has to take a look at the decision he made.

You know, when we had all the problems a few months ago with the Secret
Service, he put Joseph Clancy, a veteran whom he trusted and knew in charge
of the Secret Service and now we have this new problem.

If in fact surveillance tapes were erased, if evidence was not only not
preserved but in fact intentionally destroyed, you have to wonder, number
one, if Clancy is up to the job.

And number two, if the people who were saying at the time a few months ago,
that what we really need is an outsider to come in and clean house the
Secret Service, if that person -- if those people weren`t right.

And because this is really troubling.

MELBER: Yes, and --

ROBINSON: It`s not just his security, it`s all the other people who are
protected by the Secret Service as well --

MELBER: Certainly, and Susan, you`re there covering the White House day-in
and day-out, what do you make of these new revelations?

CRABTREE: I thought they were absolutely revelatory. You know, Jason
Chaffetz was talking about this today, and he was saying that it doesn`t
make any sense at all for you to erase the tapes.

But here is the problem, the people that I talked to in the Secret Service,
the sources I have say that they do keep the surveillance tapes if there is
a problem cited.

If there is an investigation --

MELBER: Sure --

CRABTREE: But in this case, as we know, the supervisor on hand that night
waved us off, and let the two senior agents go. So of course there was
going to -- at that point, they weren`t going to be ready to preserve the
tapes.

So that`s the problem here, the supervisor.

MELBER: Yes, I think that`s right, it`s a huge problem, they`re saying,
oh, well, we do the 72-hour wipe, sure if there is no incident, this was an
incident by any fair estimation.

But you have some management there that are trying to let people
reportedly, apparently off the hook. We have a lot more to get to tonight,
so stay with me.

We`re going to talk Rick Santorum`s recent somewhat bizarre day in South
Carolina, a voter railing about President Obama destroying the nation and
we`ll show you Santorum`s answer.

Also an exclusive interview on that deadly terrorist attack in Tunisia
today, well, we`re going to talk to the former ambassador from there.

And later, the latest fraternity scandal, this one hitting Penn State and
for the first time, we`re hearing from a member of that fraternity in
question, you will not believe what he`s saying now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Rick Santorum spoke this weekend at the South Carolina National
Security Action Summit and he took questions from the audience.

A woman who identified herself as a retired school teacher went on quite a
rant during her question time. Now, here is part of what she said to
former Senator Santorum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The American people put Republicans back in office,
in the house, and the Senate, and the two things we asked you all to do was
shut down Obama`s executive amnesty and shut down Obamacare.

And you didn`t, you let us down on both issues. Why is the Congress
rolling over and letting this communist dictator destroy my country?

You all know what he is, and I know what he is, I want him out of the White
House, he`s not a citizen. He could have been removed a long time ago.

Everything he does is illegal, he`s trying to destroy the United States,
the Congress knows this. What kind of games is the Congress of the United
States playing with the citizens of United States?

I don`t think country will be around for the next election. Obama tried to
blow up a nuke in Charleston a few months ago and the three admirals and
generals, he has -- he has totally destroyed our military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma`am --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This man is a communist dictator. We need him out of
that White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: It was a long and winding address, and Rick Santorum, a potential
GOP presidential candidate, did have a thorough response. What did he say?
Well, we`ll play that after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The American people put Republicans back in office,
in the house and the Senate, and the two things we asked you all to do, was
shut down Obama`s executive amnesty and shut down Obamacare.

And you didn`t, you let us down on both issues. Why is the Congress
rolling over and letting this communist dictator destroy my country?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That was part of a nearly two and a half-minute question and
comment that Rick Santorum parred at the National Security town hall event
this weekend.

Now handling live and unpredictable questions is an important test in
modern politics. Here is how Santorum responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR: First off, I take somewhat
offense of referring it to you, because I`m not a seeing member of the
Senate, so I`m not taking blame for any of this stuff, right.

I mean there --

(APPLAUSE)

But I will tell you this, you`ve hit on one point that I absolutely agree,
this is a complete lack of leadership.

The bottom line is that what -- and I can tell you when President Obama
issued that executive order, I don`t care what the executive order was
about.

When he issued an executive order or executive action that said that he`s
not only not going to enforce the law, but he is going to actively change
that law and make new law and be able to act and enforce the agencies to
act.

And pursuant to that law, he did something that as you mentioned, the word
tyrant comes to mind. That is not -- the President does not have the
authority to do this.

It is the most dangerous -- the President has done a lot of dangerous
things. This is the most dangerous thing the President has done, because
what he has done has set a precedent, he has set a precedent for the -- how
the executive can act unilaterally.


(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, Santorum`s entire answer run just over four minutes, and
while he offered plenty of legitimate policy criticism of the President, he
never addressed or corrected the false allegations about President Obama`s
citizenship.

Back with me here, Gene Robinson, Susan Crabtree and Blake Zeff. Gene, let
me start with you, what did you think of that exchange?

ROBINSON: Well, number one, and I`m pretty happy that this retired school
teacher is no longer in the classroom, filling impressionable kids heads
with that nonsense.

And second, you know, that tells us something about Rick Santorum. I mean
this could have been a moment for him and it wasn`t.

He could have taken the opportunity to tell the truth, and to explain to
this lady that she was -- she was living in some parallel universe that`s
not the one we are living in.

And he didn`t. And you know, and that way he took the, you know, the sort
of easy and critics might say craven approach as opposed to the -- to the
forthright approach, which he should have taken in my view.

MELBER: Susan, can you speak to that point? Because we hear so much from
modern conservatives about personal responsibility and also about standing
up to problems in the culture, be they in music or popular culture or
coarseness or language.

Do you think that a senator, a former senator like Santorum here should
take this moment to exercise some of that?

CRABTREE: Most definitely. I think that the best political candidates,
even hardened opponents would in that moment say, let me take a moment to
correct the record.

We do not believe that -- we don`t buy into the birther argument, we
believe that Obamacare is about this country, I think it was a real moment
that left.

He seemed more concerned about his own culpability that he wasn`t in the
Senate and he was getting blamed for these things, than actually you know,
being a -- showing a bipartisan moment of civility that people in the
country just so desperately need.

ZEFF: Well, here is the problem, and you know, with all due respect to
Susan. This is not just a story about Rick Santorum or about that, I will
say crazy retired school teacher.

To me, this is a story of the Republican party, OK. Rick Santorum won
eleven states in 2012. He represents a huge part of that party.

Well, that person who was asking the questions was saying, they`re not
things that are just totally, you know, off the radar for most Republican
primary voters.

For -- that`s -- it`s in line with what many of them think, it`s in line
with where the Congress has actually been behaving with respect to that
base, and it`s in line with where many of the candidates in this Republican
primary as we head to 2016 --

CRABTREE: Let me just --

ZEFF: Or going to be --

CRABTREE: Address --

ZEFF: Substance wise.

CRABTREE: You had mentioned that somehow -- how I will take offense to
that. And you know, I used to work for "Salon" as a freelancer, I worked
for "Talking Points Memo, I`m a straight news reporter, I just feel like I
should bring other facts to the table.

Then what -- what the -- you know, the rallying around President Obama all
the time. My job is to critique the President --

MELBER: Of course --

CRABTREE: And to provide other facts. So I just want to clarify that --

MELBER: Sure --

CRABTREE: For the record.

MELBER: All right, we got that on the record here. The other thing I want
to get on the record with all of you is Aaron Schock.

Now his dad Richard Schock has been talking to local Chicago news stations
about, of course Congressman Shock here resigning.

Here is what his father had to say about why he thinks this is all
happening to his son.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD SCHOCK, FATHER OF AARON SCHOCK: Aaron is a little different, you
know. He wears stylish clothing, and yet he`s not gay.

And it makes people -- and he`s not married. And he`s not running around
with women. So, you know, everybody is throwing up their arms, they can`t
figure out Aaron.

So he must be crooked. You know, so attack him, bring him down, because he
doesn`t fit into our picture. He hasn`t done anything to hurt people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Gene, what did you make of those comments?

ROBINSON: Well, it`s -- and you know, it`s touching, I think, to hear a
father defending his son. And I think that`s you know, that`s great that
he stands by his son and defends him.

That`s not what the Aaron Schock`s resignation is about. It`s not about
whether he`s gay or not or whatever, I mean who cares?

What it`s about is, you know, improper spending of funds and claiming
mileage expenses that perhaps he didn`t actually incur.

And you know, those are the reasons that he had to resign. And I think,
you know, ultimately, the family has to look that in the face.

MELBER: Blake, you worked in the Congress. What did you make of these
comments, as best I can tell, and this is speculation.

But it seemed like an impromptu or unrehearsed statement from the father,
as Gene said, perhaps, you know, from the heart and trying to defend him.

And yet it comes at a difficult time after the Congressman is already
resigning.

ZEFF: Yes, you know, I`m with Gene, you know, as a father, I think you
feel for someone. I know the father is recently divorced and this is a son
who is resigning from Congress, it`s obviously a very sad, emotionally
trying time for him.

He mentions in that interview that his son was in tears, so he gave a lot
of sympathy for the father. But I think the point that you`re getting at
is, it can`t be helpful to the son`s legal defense or a public defense --

MELBER: Right --

ZEFF: Now the father coming out saying these things in an unrehearsed
manner. I think at some point in the interview, he actually says that his
son may have broken the law, may well be in jail within the next couple of
years.

I don`t think that, that was very helpful to the son. Although, you know,
again, you have some sympathy for the father during this difficult time.

MELBER: Susan, your view on this in a case that is twisted and turned? And
as many viewers who follow politics know, this is someone who was going to
be the future of the Republican party and had a lot going for him.

And now wrapped up in these allegations of financial impropriety.

CRABTREE: Right. Well, I think that this interview was sort of cringe
worthy, but maybe it`s the kind of thing that journalists look for.

His car -- Aaron`s Schock`s car was parked right out front of his dad`s
home today. But I covered the Ethics Committee for many years for the
"Hill" newspaper.

And it seemed like Aaron Schock came to Congress and threw the ethics
manual right out the window.

He had, you know, lavish trips, he had -- he redecorated his -- this all
started with the redecoration of his office with the "Downton Abbey" theme.

He -- this is just -- honestly, it really seems like he did not care about
the ethics.

MELBER: Right, and that he clearly, very quickly got caught up in sort of
doing what people resent so much about people who`ve been in office for a
long time.

Which is only thinking about themselves, using the office for perks, that
kind of thing, those were the allegations.

Gene Robinson, Susan Crabtree and Blake Zeff, thank you all for joining us
tonight. Now, up next, a big story, the manhunt in Tunisia for accomplices
in today`s bloody terrorist attack.

Former U.S. ambassador to Tunisia joins us to talk about this new front and
the war on terror, and later, what is being done in Japan to keep
Ambassador Caroline Kennedy safe from death threats?

Investigators think someone there might be trying to blackmail her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We turn to some developing news tonight about that horrific terror
attack at a museum in Tunisia today. Now a North African media group that
backs ISIS is releasing more details about this attack. The group
asserting the original target was not that museum but rather a nearby
parliament building. But there were concerns that area simply had too much
security to attack. And instead, the decision was made to kill as many so-
called infidels at the museum as possible.

As many as five gunmen murdered 19 people and wounded 50. The port police
killed two of them and at this moment tonight we can tell you the manhunt
is still under way for the others. Meanwhile a Spanish tourist recounting
how he and his wife hid behind a pillar during the attack as the
terrorists, he said, shot anything that moved.

After police evacuated the hostages and the wounded, a group of people
outside began singing Tunisia`s national anthem in a show of solidarity.

Joining me now in THE LAST WORD exclusive is Gordon Gray, the former U.S.
ambassador to Tunisia. He was there during the Arab spring.

Good evening to you.

AMB. GORDON GRAY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO TUNISIA: Good evening.

MELBER: What do you make of this attack and what should Americans be
concerned about here with any links to ISIS?

GRAY: Well, what I make of it is that whoever was responsible, whether it
was ISIS or another group, was clearly trying to target Tunisia, not just
for Tunisia`s sake but because it`s a symbol of a successful Arab spring
country, that is in the process of making a transition to democracy. And I
think since we support that transition to democracy, not just in Tunisia
but elsewhere, this is indirectly an attack on the United States and on our
values.

MELBER: I hear what you`re saying there and I think anyone would hope that
you`re right about the progress. But you know better than anyone, having
been there, there is another layer to the Arab spring story there in
Tunisia, which is that it had been a highly forcibly secularized government
country before that revolution, right?

And there`s been an upsurge in Muslim activities, including some apparently
terrorist activities and immigration since that including over 3,000 people
allegedly leaving or working from Tunisia to join ISIS, one of the highest
numbers of any country in the region.

GRAY: That`s certainly true, but I`d be careful about drawing a
correlation between the number of Tunisians going to Syria to join ISIS as
a result of the Arab spring or the revolution. When there were foreign
fighters streaming to Iraq eight, 10 years ago, unfortunately Tunisia was
at that time the -- on a per capita basis, the second largest supplier. So
this is a phenomenon that has continued and it`s just not started with the
Arab spring.

But it`s definitely a source of concern from a security perspective for the
Tunisians because a certain percentage, and I don`t think we know or I
don`t think the Tunisians know either, but a certain percentage are
undoubtedly coming back to Tunisia and neighboring countries and that
endangers their security.

MELBER: Yes. Appreciate the point on the historical context. We`re going
to put up on the screen another thing we were looking at about this today
from Rand Corporation that`s charted exactly what you`re talking about, the
foreign fighter flow. Early on we saw a lot more folks trying to go to
Afghanistan until 2000. And then more folks going to Pakistan, then
Somalia. And then over time, what our viewers will see on the right side
of their screen, a lot more folks since 2012, these foreign fighters are
going to Syria.

So for Americans who are really concerned as they`re told more and more
that there`s an immigration of foreign fighters to ISIS including of course
an American combat veteran who was picked up on the Turkish border and
charged just this morning in Brooklyn.

Are you saying, and do these numbers show, that actually there`s always
some immigration, it`s just a question of where the battlefield is?

GRAY: I`m saying that`s been the historical trend, at least as far as Iraq
eight to 10 years ago, and then what`s happening today unfortunately.

MELBER: Does it mean that there`s little we can do to stop it?

GRAY: Well, I think there`s some that we can do to help stop it. But at
the end of the day, people are not transmitting through the United States.
What we can do to help is through intelligence exchanges, through training
and things like that. Not just with Tunisia and other countries that are
suppliers, if you will, but also with bordering states.

MELBER: I know you served during President Obama`s administration. I also
want to ask you, you said don`t over-read any impact of the Arab spring. I
want to ask you about Dick Cheney`s new comments in the "Playboy" magazine
interview whether he`s over-reading the policies of President Obama.

He says, with respect to the situation in Iraq, Obama`s precipitous
withdrawal and refusal to leave a stay-behind force, to negotiate a Status
of Forces Agreement was a huge mistake, and he says, we`re paying the price
for it now. We`ve created a huge vacuum in that part of the world. ISIS
is moving big time. Now, Dick Cheney says, we have a caliphate in Syria
and Iraq.

Is that right?

GRAY: I don`t read "Playboy," I just look at the pictures.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: Spoken like a diplomat.

GRAY: Yes, thank you. I`m going to get in trouble at home with my wife,
but it is true, I don`t read "Playboy." I think with all due respect to
the former vice president, it`s a bit of an exaggeration to say that a
caliphate has been established in Iraq and Syria. That being said, ISIS`
control of territory in those two countries is a security concern, not just
for Iraq but also for our neighbors, the neighbors of Iraq, many of whom
are friends, and then therefore, for United States` security as well.

MELBER: Ambassador Gordon Gray, thanks for sharing your expertise with us
tonight.

GRAY: Thank you for having me.

MELBER: You bet.

Coming up, police are saying possible criminal charges could be coming for
members of a Penn State fraternity accused of sharing pictures of naked
women on Facebook, allegedly without their consent. Some of them
reportedly unconscious. Well, tonight, a member of the fraternity in
question is speaking out in defense of those actions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: First Lady Michelle Obama has arrived in Tokyo and is having an
event right now with U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. The first
lady arrives as U.S. authorities and Japanese Police are investigating some
death threats against the U.S. consul general in Okinawa, Alfred Magleby,
and Ambassador Kennedy, who is of course the daughter of JFK. Also the
target of chilling phone calls.

Now NBC`s senior White House correspondent Chris Jansing has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: She is arguably
the most recognizable U.S. ambassador anywhere in the world. And today,
Caroline Kennedy kept up her public schedule with a speech. Last night,
dinner with Bill Clinton and the Japanese prime minister. Even as Japanese
television reported that she got a series of death threats last month.

HIROAKI KONNO, NTV WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Japan is a safe country so
everybody is surprised.

JANSING: Police say the phone calls were made by a man who spoke English,
and the motive may be blackmail. Threats were also made against the U.S.
consul in Okinawa, Alfred Magleby.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We`re working with the Japanese
government to ensure that necessary security measures are in place.

JANSING: The reports came as First Lady Michelle Obama touched down for
her first visit to Japan where she`s expected to meet with the ambassador.
Kennedy, who is now 57, came to Japan in 2013.

CAROLINE KENNEDY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN: I can`t imagine a better job
than being ambassador to Japan.

JANSING: She`s well known there and is often out in public, in large
crowds, so all threats are taken seriously.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: You have to moderate and
change your patterns of travel. And just simple things, like going out
with your family for dinner suddenly takes on a new meaning.

JANSING: Diplomatic security in Asia has been under increased scrutiny
since that knife attack in South Korea put U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert in
the hospital.

I`m told President Obama is aware of threats against Ambassador Kennedy.
State Department officials say there`s been no change in how the embassy is
guarded but won`t comment on the ambassador`s personal security detail.

Chris Jansing, NBC News, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MELBER: And up next, the Penn State student anonymously defending his
fraternity. That unbelievable report is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Another fraternity is in trouble this week. And there are signs
of some accountability on campus. It all started when members of a Penn
State fraternity, Kappa Delta Rho, began posting pictures of drugs, hazing,
and potentially illegal nude photos of women on what they thought was
apparently some sort of private Facebook page. But one former fraternity
member was so disturbed by these practices he took the pictures to the
police.

Now there`s an investigation and today university president there said the
fraternity`s suspension is just the beginning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC J. BARRON, PRESIDENT, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: I think there are
criminal implications here. And the police force and state college is
investigating. The fraternity is suspended. The university will go
through its process of examining the evidence, and what`s most important in
my view is that we do it right, that we understand exactly who is
responsible. And then we pass judgment on those individuals or the
organization for that behavior, because it is simply unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now according to the police investigation, that behavior including
sharing and publishing photos of, quote, "nude females in sexual or
embarrassing positions," end quote. Police believe the photos were taken
and shared without those students` consent. And even as the outcry builds,
the national fraternity has ordered reorganization. One fraternity member
now telling Philadelphia magazine this conduct is just business as usual
and that it`s OK.

Here`s the quote. "Here`s a quick reality check. Everyone, from Bill
Clinton to your grandfather to every Greek organization in the nation does
the same old stuff, just as they have been for the entirety of human
history. It`s laughably pathetic to see the media spring on an occasional
incident such as this. The fire of indignant, misplaced self-righteousness
that looks to ruin people`s lives and unjustly ruin reputations is the
abuse," he says. "And that should be at the center of discussion, not the
humorous, albeit possibly misguided, antics of a bunch of college kids,"
end quote.

"Philadelphia" magazine`s Holly Otterbein who interviewed that fraternity
has been covering the story is here to join us.

What`s he talking about?

HOLLY OTTERBEIN, PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: He said that he doesn`t believe
that the fraternity has done anything that`s so wrong that they should be
punished for it in a court of law. I think he thinks that bad behavior was
done, but he doesn`t believe that, you know, it should rise above any
inter-fraternity punishment.

MELBER: Right. And I want to read from another part of your exchange,
where you said, you regret being part of the group? Good question. And he
says obviously retrospectively, with this having happened, sure. But the
thing is, it was a satirical group. There`s literally sites like that
millions of people access, whether it`s -- and he mentions a site -- or any
other thousands of sites that post pictures of girls or funny text
conversations, and Snapchat stories and things like that. He`s referring
to, you know, different Web sites.

It was a satirical group, he says. It wasn`t malicious whatsoever. So it
seems that even as we show the university president cracking down on some
of the initial accountability, you`ve got some of the members of this
fraternity that are still operating in this bubble or think this is OK.

OTTERBEIN: Well, no one has been charged yet. And I think that
fraternities across the country sometimes may have somewhat insular
cultures. So I don`t think it`s necessarily a shock that some of the
brothers apparently have not be too impacted by what the outside world is
saying.

MELBER: Yes. You mentioned the insular culture and the fraternity
culture. A lot of these schools is now getting more scrutiny and obviously
they`re getting caught with a range of different misconduct, as you point
out. Some of these, still an investigation not criminal charges yet.

"The New York Times" had a big story that got a lot of attention about a
site people may not have heard of unless they`re young or listening to
their students in college, it`s called the Yik Yak, which basically
guaranties the kind of anonymity. They call it the wild west of anonymous
social apps. It`s been increasingly used by young people in an
intimidating and destructive way.

When you look at that kind of thing, is that an Internet sort of -- an
Internet reinforcement of that insular culture, do you think, or are these
two different dynamics?

OTTERBEIN: Well, when you have a site that is, you know, quote-unquote,
secret, that is an invitation only, I think that certainly it can reinforce
that insular culture. You don`t have anyone from the outside questioning
or criticizing people, and it can build and build and build upon itself
without anyone from the outside world really, you know, speaking up and
letting people know what others might think.

MELBER: In some of the reporting on this, we`ve heard from women on
different campuses, female students saying, look, not surprising, and you
referenced that earlier, all too common place. When you look at the
criminal investigation as it proceeds, will there be anything surprising
here in terms of this finally being more punished than apparently it
typically is.

OTTERBEIN: Well, I can`t comment on how the criminal case is going to
proceed. I mean, we may very well see surprising things from here on out.
I mean, right now all that we really have is a police warrant, and we have
statements from the police that the investigation is ongoing. So, I mean,
from the police warrant, we were told that the printouts that were in the
warrant were just a fraction of what was on the site. So we might see lots
more from here.

MELBER: Yes. And I mean, I read the warrant. It described the kind of
photos and referred to objections to the photos that would suggest there
was a lack of consent, which definitely could build a case. As you say a
lot more investigation to be done.

Holly Otterbein, thank you for your time.

OTTERBEIN: Thank you.

MELBER: Next, we will go inside fraternity life culture.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: The year was 1857. That is how far back some are tracing
misogynistic fraternity behavior. Now fast forward to today and there are
three new headlines about hazing and other inappropriate actions by
fraternity members across the whole country. And that`s today alone.

We`re about to go inside fraternity culture right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Penn State`s decision to shut down its chapter of Kappa Delta Rho
is just the latest in a string of scandals involving fraternities. Today
the University of Houston suspended its chapter of Sigma Chi over hazing.

In less than two weeks five national fraternity chapters have now been
suspended in school all around the country, and that includes that racist
incident at the University of Oklahoma. The trend leading many to ask, why
so many fraternities appear to be so unethical and why now there seems to
be a little more outrage?

Joining me now from Los Angeles is Caitlin Flanagan from "The Atlantic" and
she recently reported about fraternities after a yearlong investigation.

Good evening to you.

CAITLIN FLANAGAN, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: Good evening. Thanks for having
me.

MELBER: Absolutely. You`ve spent a lot of time on this. There`s a chart
in your article that we`ll put up that dispels one of what you say is a
myth that people think hazing is the main problem here. In fact the
largest part of the bar graph there on the left we see traditional
violence, assault and battery, and sexual assault being two of the most
common liability claims here.

What did you learn in your breakdown?

FLANAGAN: Well, an awful lot of dangerous events take place in fraternity
houses. I don`t think that`s a surprise to any of us who went to college,
where there was a Greek system. What was more of a surprise was how little
things have changed. You know, I went to college over 30 years ago and we
were talking about all of these problems then that were going on within
fraternities. Sexual assault and hazing, and assault and battery, and
alcohol abuse. Now there are many good fraternity chapters that add a
tremendous amount to their campuses.

But we also have a really serious problem that doesn`t seem to be going
away. And I think America has a strangely high tolerance for bad behavior
in its fraternities.

MELBER: Yes. You mentioned the generational sort of history there. Let
me read from your article where you write, "The students of the new era
after the `60s fought to rid themselves of various curfews, dorm mothers,
demerit systems, other modes of institutional oppression. And it was a
turning point. American colleges begin to regard their students not as
dependents whose private lives they must shape and monitor but as adult
consumers whose contract was solely for an education, not an upbringing."

What did you mean by that?

FLANAGAN: Well, what I meant is that, you know, before the late `60s, if
you went away to college, it was more like going away to boarding school is
today, particularly if you were a young woman. There were curfews, there
were dorm mothers, there were chaperones at dances including fraternity
dances. So there was some layer of protection, an oversight from the
university in the private lives of the students.

But of course, all that`s gone now. So the university isn`t in the
business of supervising the private lives of its students, and consequently
when things become dangerous in campus clubs, they can become really
dangerous.

MELBER: And Caitlin, speak also about the basic operating model here,
which is gender segregation. A lot of people feel that at this point in
history when you go into a gender -- you know, a gender diverse workplace
or other things, people are more sensitive, plenty of men consider
themselves feminists. And yet in these places that are just all men, parts
of the military, parts of these fraternities, they seem locked in a
completely other era.

FLANAGAN: There is something that`s not modern about fraternity life. You
know, as robust as it is, and as popular as it is these days, and it is
more popular than ever, there`s something a little preserved and amber
about it. It doesn`t seem to be telling us what the future of America is
going to look like because we all know the future of America is
multiethnic, multiracial and does have genders living and working side by
side in all kinds of context.

But as I say, it`s not going away. It`s more popular than ever. So I
think, in a way, we need to reconcile with one another. How are we going
to demand that the fraternities live up to the kind of behavior that they
promised are their own ideals?

MELBER: Right. And how do you -- and how do you dispel some of the group
think that we`re seeing and reporting on some of these incidents.

Caitlin Flanagan, thank you for your time.

FLANAGAN: You bet.

MELBER: And that is THE LAST WORD tonight. You can find me on Instagram
or Twitter @arimelber. And Chris Hayes is up next.

END

<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2015 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2015 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.>







Watch The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell each weeknight at 10 p.m. ET


Sponsored links

Resource guide