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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW>
Date: May 22, 2015
Guest: Michael Schmidt, Padraic Halpin, Robert Costa

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Good evening. Rachel is off tonight.

This afternoon -- well, this is what every political journalist in
America was doing. They were looking at this screen, the screen you`re
looking at right there on the State Department`s official website. And
they were waiting and they were waiting some more, because at about 12:30,
the State Department posted on its site the first batch of former Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. And every single member of the
political press went there at the same time and the Web site had a little
trouble loading. And so, they had to wait for a long time.

But eventually, there they were: 296 e-mails, 850 pages. All the e-
mails that had been handed over to the congressional committee
investigating the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. And
everyone dug in to see what they could find. And if anyone was hoping to
find some explosive new piece of information -- well, on that front, they
were probably disappointed.

But that is not to say that there was nothing interesting in these e-
mails. We see, for instance, some of the e-mail traffic that took place
the night of the Benghazi attack. This after Secretary Clinton was
informed of the death of the U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, and others.
Secretary Clinton confers with her staff about when to announce his death
and is informed, quote, "We recovered both bodies overnight." There are
the e-mails from long time Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal. These were
first released yesterday by "The New York Times."

The day after the attack, Blumenthal wrote Clinton that his source in
Libya said it grew -- the attack grew out of an angry protest against an
offensive Internet video, which was the description the White House gave
for many days. But the following day, after he sent that e-mail,
Blumenthal e-mailed that, in fact, the attack had been premeditated and
only used the protests for cover. This is an analysis that has since come
to be accepted as closer to the truth.

Then, there are other redactions. Some of them are puzzling. For
instance, here is a text of a public speech that Clinton gave at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies in October of 2012, a public
speech. As you can see, though, that entire speech has been redacted.
Now, you can pop over to the senator`s Web site. You can actually see her
delivering the speech through their Web site.

But the redaction is getting the most attention today is this one.
It was made today by the FBI which decided that these five lines
containing, they say, 23 words are now to be considered classified.

Because all of this e-mail traffic is from Hillary Clinton`s private
e-mail on her private e-mail server, that has set off some alarm bells for
some people. At a campaign event today, NBC`s Andrea Mitchell got
something that is a rare opportunity these days. She got a chance to ask
Hillary Clinton a question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m aware that the FBI
has asked that a portion of one e-mail be held back. That happens in the
process of Freedom of Information Act responses. But that doesn`t change
the fact that all of the information in the e-mails was handled
appropriately.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: But it was a private server, though. Do
you have some concern that it was on a private server, though?

CLINTON: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Hillary Clinton saying she is not concerned.. But should
she be?

We`re going to talk about the politics of all this in just a moment.
But first, joining us now is "New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt,
whose paper obtained and released some of these emails yesterday before the
State Department released them today.

Mr. Schmidt, thanks for your time tonight.

Let me just start with what you see is the headline coming out of
this -- this looks like it`s going to be the first of a series of sort of
rolling releases of Clinton e-mails by the State Department. What, to you,
is the big headline that we`ve learned from all of this?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, as you pointed out, the
Benghazi e-mail two days after Sid Blumenthal is giving his intelligent
account to the secretary of state is significant because it does contradict
what the White House was saying at the time. The White House was saying it
wasn`t a preplanned attack and such. At the end of the day, I`m not sure
where that`s going to go.

The FBI question is interesting, because she also had what`s called
sensitive but unclassified information on the account. This included the
whereabouts of Stevens in 2011, when the security in Eastern Benghazi and
Benghazi in eastern Libya was deteriorating. She had some other very
sensitive stuff of conversations the president was having with foreign
leaders.

So, indeed, there was not classified stuff. There was a little bit,
I guess as we learned today from the FBI, that there was. But there was
stuff that was important. And if anyone, if any foreign government or
anyone was on that server, they would have seen it.

KORNACKI: Let me ask you about this. I`m having trouble
understanding what the sort of standard is here, what the procedure is for
redactions. We gave you -- there`s that puzzling case here of the speech
that`s suddenly redacted, a speech you can go look at right now if you want
to. But also, there`s this whole issue of Sidney Blumenthal.

So, in your reporting, in the emails that you guys in "The New York
Times" were able to put out there, you had Sidney Blumenthal`s name on
them. In these releases today from the State Department, Sidney
Blumenthal`s name redacted. We assumed it`s him because we saw your
reporting and we said, oh, that must be Sidney Blumenthal. But here`s the
State Department saying, no, we consider that redacted.

What is going on here?

SCHMIDT: Well, I -- the funny thing is, what you can do, the ones
that we have that aren`t redacted, you`re saying, you can kind of line them
up. There`s the stuff like the head of the National Counterterrorism
Center was e-mailing with Cheryl Mills, one of Hillary Clinton`s deputies.

And his name is redacted in one of the e-mails. Why would the name
of a public official have to be redacted? Why, as you were pointing out on
the speeches would that have to be redacted? It just doesn`t make any
sense. And the State Department not only didn`t do a good job of rolling
these things out, it was difficult to access them on the Web site. But
they didn`t really explain all of these things, either. They just kind of
dumped them.

KORNACKI: So, now, you said just a minute ago, some of the
information in these e-mails that Hillary Clinton is sending from her
private server were at the time she sent them considered sensitive, but not
classified. But if you listen to a lot of Republicans today, they are
saying that the big screaming headline from all of this is that Hillary
Clinton was passing on classified information through her private e-mail
server. Can you explain exactly why they would say that? And is that
true?

SCHMIDT: Well, I`m not -- I`m not sure about the passing on. What
she was doing, she was taking these intelligence reports from Sidney
Blumenthal, things that he was developing on his own, things that he had a
direct pipeline to the secretary of state. And she was sending them on to
Jake Sullivan, her close foreign policy adviser and saying, get this
around. And on that Benghazi account of what happened, she sent it to him
and said, "Get this around ASAP." On one occasion, she even wanted
information passed on to the White House about Blumenthal was sending her
about a possible way that Romney and the Republicans could attack Obama.

That`s kind of funny because what the Obama White House didn`t want
Sidney Blumenthal at the State Department. They actually told Hillary
Clinton that she couldn`t bring him with him. But in the end, he was
passing on advice to them.

KORNACKI: But I just want to be clear on this one point here,
because it`s an explosive charge, if it`s true, this idea that she is --
that there is classified information contained in these meals from her
private server. It`s only, if I`m understanding this right, it`s only
after the fact being deemed classified.

SCHMIDT: Correct. It was just in the past 24 hours that the FBI
made this information classified. What I was told is that for some reason,
it wasn`t made classified back in 2012. It really should have been. The
person I spoke to said. But it wasn`t.

But as the FBI got a chance to take a look at these e-mails again, to
make sure there was nothing on there that was sensitive or classified, they
saw this, they realized it should have been classified. They classified it
and then they had it redacted.

KORNACKI: All right. Michael Schmidt from "The New York Times,"
appreciate you taking the time tonight. Thank you.

All right. So, we`ve been talking about the substance of Hillary
Clinton`s e-mails, what was released today, what was in them, what isn`t,
why it`s in there, why it`s not in there?

But what about they also these e-mails and how they`re being used,
what they actually are, what they mean politically? These are things that
can be very, very different especially in the court of public opinion.

And the aspect of these emails that has gained the most political
traction today is this -- we mentioned this just a minute ago, that one e-
mail in which five lines were classified today by the FBI. This headline
sounds very troubling, at least at first glance. Clinton got now
classified Benghazi info on private e-mail. But that one word there, as we
just said with Michael Schmidt, that word "now" is key, because that
information was not classified when Hillary Clinton as secretary of state
received it.

But it is very easy to drop in that tiny word which is just what
House Speaker John Boehner did today, blasting out this image on Twitter.
Quote, "She had classified info about Benghazi on her private e-mail."

Senator John Cornyn from Texas also tweeting about it, though, he
left the now the classified part in.

And RNC Chair Reince Priebus released a statement, saying, quote,
"What`s clear is that Hillary Clinton consistently played fast and loose
with the rules in the interest of her own political gain. Every new
revelation is a constant reminder that Hillary Clinton can`t be trusted."

Even beyond the specific accusation around classified information,
conservatives and Republicans are just clearly chomping at the bit to use
these e-mails in some politically assailant way. At today`s usual daily
State Department briefings, spokeswoman Marie Harf even took some time to
note some visitors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: And just to remind people
in the spirit of cooperation, we have consistently engaged with and been
responsive to the Select Committee. Since the Select Committee`s formation
less than a year ago, the department has provided seven breathings,
witnesses at each of the committee`s three hearings, 21 witness interviews
since February and provided over 45,000 pages of documents to the
committee, as well.

Now, that the front row is filled out, including with two FOX
reporters, I`m happy to start the briefing off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And sure enough, later in the day, there was FOX News with
its story slamming Hillary Clinton. "Internal e-mails show Clinton got
detailed intel on planned Benghazi hit."

So, conservatives are excited about this e-mail. But is anybody
else? Is there political hay to be made from them?

Joining us now from the North Lawn of the White House is MSNBC
political correspondent Kasie Hunt.

Kasie, thanks for taking a few minutes tonight.

So, I guess, first, I`m just curious, when we -- you look at these
statements coming out from John Boehner, from John Cornyn, from Reince
Priebus, clearly for and excited to have in their minds an opportunity to
attack Hillary Clinton.

But I wonder: who is their audience for this? Is this playing to
their base to sort of get their base riled up, stoked up a bit? Do they
believe there`s an opening with undecided voters, with swing voters, to
even undermine Hillary Clinton among Democrats? Who are they looking at
and saying, this is going to matter to them?

KASIE HUNT, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it`s a
combination of those two things, Steve. I think, first of all, Benghazi as
an issue with the Republican base, it lights them up. That`s part of why
you hear Republicans talking about this so much, so often. They`re very
eager to hit it. You listen to Lindsey Graham talk about Benghazi, for
example, it really hits home with them.

But I also think particularly that statement from Reince Priebus hits
on the overall idea, that the Clintons play fast and loose with the rules
is what he said in a way that`s not -- you know, they hold themselves to a
different standard than they would hold other Americans.

And I think that particular idea is the one that could ultimately
undermine Hillary Clinton over the course of the next year and a half as
she campaigns for president. You know, I think that they have this fine
line to walk because, at a certain point, it does turn off independents
would say, you know what? You`re just beating up on Hillary Clinton
because that`s what you like to do.

But I think there is this -- you know, people remember the late `90s
when they weren`t really sure what they were getting with the Clintons and
I do think there is some resistance to going back to that. And if
Republicans can sell it that way, it might hurt her.

KORNACKI: That`s interesting that you say that. We can put some
poll numbers up that kind of speaks to that. So, on the sort of literal
issue of e-mails, this whole e-mail story, this was a poll from a few
months ago. I think this is from March, from Pew, saying 17 percent of
people, a very small number, saying they were following this closely.
There was an "A.P." poll that found that number at about 20 percent who
said they were paying close attention. So, not a lot of people close
attention.

On the other hand, there was a Quinnipiac poll from last month that
asked the basic question, do you think Hillary Clinton is honest and
trustworthy? Look at that, a clear majority there, 54 percent saying no.

Kasie, I wonder how you interpret that number, because obviously, on
the surface, that is a very bad number for any politician. I guess sort of
the Clinton crowd would say, hey, look, that number was just as high for
Bill Clinton and he got re-elected in 1996.

HUNT: Well, that is the question. Can you -- can you be considered
untrustworthy and still be somebody who people want to see in the White
House?

And I think, Steve, we also have to take a step back and remember
that while I do think, as we were discussing, that that is a risk tease
built into this for her. It`s those numbers drive far enough up, it
becomes a defining character issue. It certainly could hurt her.

But she still has to come up against an opponent who is capable of
beating her. And I think we`re a long way from this Republican field
showing the kind of strength that regardless at this point of how high that
untrustworthy number goes, who you can really take her on legitimately. I
mean, I think, you know, you pay as close attention to this as I do and
we`re seeing a lot of scrambling around and all of these candidates
struggling to become essentially big enough to stand up to her. And I
think they`re going to have to prove that before that polling gets to be
the main question.

KORNACKI: I wonder how her campaign is thinking about this, too.
The issue of the e-mails, for instance, the issue of the e-mails, the issue
of dealing with this Benghazi committee in the House, but also the issue of
dealing with the press, the fact that she did take time today, five, ten
minutes, I think.

But for her, let`s face it, that`s a lot of time in these last few
months. She took about five to 10 minutes to take, I think about five
questions from the press up there in New Hampshire, that`s actually a
significant departure from what she`s been doing. Do we read anything into
that, about her campaign looking at their approach to the media any
differently or is this -- do they go back to sort of silence for the next
month now?

HUNT: Well, it is certainly a significant increase in the number of
questions we heard Hillary Clinton take since she did announce that she was
running.

Look, I think that they clearly have made some major adjustments in
their strategy from 2008. You just look at the kinds of people that
they`ve hired, many of who have good relationships with the press. You
look at how they handled, for example, the rollout of that Schweitzer book,
"Clinton Cash". They had that detailed and aggressive point by point
response.

I think in some ways, you`re getting an adjusted response here, too,
to this idea that she doesn`t take questions. Now, I don`t know how much
of that is actually from the press, and how much of it is from her
Republican opponents, because it was becoming very quickly a talking point
on the Republican side. And it was something that they were all using to
define themselves in opposition to her. And most notably, Jeb Bush, who is
telling donors this behind closed doors that him taking questions from the
press, being accessible to voters is a contrast with Hillary that people
ultimately will see.

And I think it plays into that wider narrative of this idea that they
are keeping secrets. And I think if you combine those together, it`s
dangerous. So, you know, I don`t know that this is necessarily about the
media. Oftentimes, reporters like to make things about reporters. I think
it might also be about her opponents. But as you point out, it`s
definitely a shift.

KORNACKI: I got to -- I`ll make a prediction. You`ll still be
hearing that line from Republicans tomorrow and a week from now or a month
from now. I think that`s probably here to say.

But, anyway, Kasie Casey hunt on the north lawn of the White House,
thank you for taking a few minutes tonight. Appreciate it.

HUNT: Thanks, Steve. Great to see you.

KORNACKI: All right. And much more ahead tonight, including a 2012
Republican front-runner crying foul over the FOX News plan to limit the
number of candidates who get to debate.

And report from Ireland has voters there decide whether that country
should become the first in the world to vote to legalize gay marriage.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: We have a big show still ahead tonight. There is a new
development in the fight for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, a
development that could have a big impact on who gets to debate and who
becomes the nominee.

Also today, some pretty stunning images out of California in the wake
of that disastrous oil spill out there.

Plus, a lot of people flew to Ireland today and not because it`s
tourist season. We`ve got a report from Dublin in just a minute.

And new questions for the guy who may soon be leading U.S. armed
forces all around the world.

Lots to get to tonight. Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: By 12:00 noon Eastern tomorrow, we`re going to know if
Ireland has made history as the first country in the world to legalize gay
marriage by a nationwide popular vote.

Heading into the referendum, the news looks very promising for those
who support marriage equality. Polls released on Sunday showed that 69
percent of the voters in Ireland were expected to vote yes on this
referendum.

Of course, as is the case with any election, turnout is key,
especially in a country known as being historically conservative and for
more than 80 percent of the population identify themselves as Catholic.

We can tell you as it turned out does appear to be through the roof.
Multiple sources telling NBC News that more people voted in this referendum
than in any other referendum in Ireland in the last three decades. In
fact, this could be the largest turnout in history.

In the last few weeks alone, more than 60,000 people have registered
to vote. And what is probably most encouraging for gay marriage supporters
is that one of the groups that seems to be turning out in big numbers is
young voters. Young voters were noted across the country with cues or
lines reaching outside the door at several polling stations during rush
hour periods.

And they weren`t just coming from local towns and villages. Voting
is only allowed in Ireland so people travel from around the world to make
their voices heard. This week, they returned home in droves to cast their
ballots in person.

Like many others, these people traveled by boat from the U.K. This
woman, she returned home to Ireland from Sweden. Not to be outdone, we
have another voter from Abu Dhabi. And this gentleman, who came more than
10,000 miles to vote, came from Australia.

On social media, people are tweeting about their return from San
Francisco, to Germany, to Thailand, even Kenya, all to be part of history
in a country where just two decades ago, homosexuality was a crime.

Now, we will wait to see if history has been made by the voters in
Ireland. We should know in just a few hours.

Joining us now is Padraic Halpin, "Reuters" chief correspondent in
Ireland, he joins us tonight via Skype from Dublin.

Padraic, thank you for taking some time.

Well, let me start with this issue -- it`s interesting to watch an
election in Ireland because it`s different in the United States in that as
soon as the polls close in the United States, we get a wave of exit polls,
we have all sorts of projections. We get numbers coming in right away.

A little different in Ireland. The polls are closed. We still don`t
know. What`s the process? When do we find out?

PADRAIC HALPIN, REUTERS CHIEF IRELAND CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So the
polls closed two hours ago in Ireland about two hours ago. And the
counting doesn`t begin until the morning. So we go to bed, we get up and
there will be initial indications into the count.

I think the key takeaway tonight is, like you pointed out, the
turnout was very high. The turnout up here is above 60 percent, which will
be one of the highest in recent referendums and the key again is among the
turnout is big turnout in urban areas, a big turnout among young people.
In fact, a prominent note, no campaigner -- few members of parliament who
is backing a no vote told "Reuters" tonight that indeed, the high turnout
among young voters would tend to favor the yes vote.

So, as it stands, it does like there`s a pretty good chance Ireland
will be the first one to lead same-sex marriage in a referendum.

KORNACKI: So, we say in the introduction, 20 years ago in Ireland,
homosexuality was considered a crime. Now it may be the case where voters
are legalizing gay marriage. We talked so much in this country about how
quickly attitudes have changed on homosexuality and gay marriage in
particular, just in the last 10 years or so.

Can you talk about that transformation in Ireland? A very Catholic
country, certainly in the United States we look at and we think of it as a
culturally conservative country. What`s that transformation been like in
terms of public opinion there?

HALPIN: Yes. There`s a sea change in society in Ireland in the last
20 years, like you pointed out, homosexuality was going to criminalize in
1993, we had only voted by referendum to legalize divorce in 1995.

One thing that`s happened is the Catholic Church has had previous
control over our (INAUDIBLE) most notably in the last decade or two, quite
a number of abuse and stories and just society has moved along quite
quickly. And I think whatever the results tomorrow, there`s been quite a
very mature, very engaged debate in this issue which I think many
commentators would have said would have been impossible ten years ago.

KORNACKI: And in terms of -- I`m curious, too, all these people
coming from around the world to vote in Ireland, how exactly did this work
in terms of the rules? Who was eligible who does not live in Ireland right
now to come in and vote?

HALPIN: So, you`re eligible if you have only left the country within
the last 18 months and you intend to return. And within that cohort, it
would be a number of young immigrants who left the country to find work.
Obviously, unemployment is still quite high in Ireland following the
financial crisis. So those people are eligible to vote. And also, some
people, their names might not have fallen off the register, which I think
strictly speaking maybe they shouldn`t come home to vote, but their names
are still there.

As you see on social media today, people have come back from all over
the world. It`s really taken over Twitter and it may have been an impact
tomorrow.

KORNACKI: All right. Padraic Halpin, "Reuters" chief correspondent
in Ireland, we will wait and see what the result is, how long with the rest
of the world. Thanks for your time tonight. Appreciate it.

HALPIN: Thank you.

KORNACKI: And next, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world
dripping with sludge.

And later, America`s most profound holiday tradition.

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: This video was shot last night at SeaWorld in San Diego,
California. The workers in this video are examining and cleaning a baby
sea lion covered in crude oil, who was rescued this week in the waters off
Refugio State Beach near Santa Barbara.

Today, staff members of the International Bird Rescue group helped
clean six pelicans who were also drenched in the stuff. Officials have
been reluctant to give the full number of animals hurt or killed by the
spill. But the pictures we`ve seen over the past few days show just how
much of an impact Tuesday`s giant oil spill has had on the wildlife off the
coast of Santa Barbara County.

Cleanup operations continued today along the beach. Officials say
they upped the number of workers trying to clean up the spill to around
700. They`ve also been using shovels and plastic bags as well as 7,000
feet of boom to collect 10,000 gallons of oily water mixture.

Officials today reiterated that it could take weeks or months even to
fully clean up the land around the ruptured pipeline and the beaches. And
as Rachel noted on the show last night, a number of local volunteers have
decided they don`t want to wait that long and they`ve decided to take
matters into their own hands, despite pleas from authorities to stay away
from the toxic oil.

But as both the unofficial and official cleanup operations are
playing out, the other big thing that`s going on is the investigation into
how and why this happened in the first place. On that front, today, the
California attorney general`s office said that they are, quote, "working
closely with state and federal partners on an investigation of this conduct
to ensure we hold responsible parties accountable."

Meanwhile, the federal agencies in charge of overseeing the pipeline
that caused this spill issued what they call a corrective action order to
the operator of that pipeline. The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety
Administration told the company that owns that pipeline, Plains All
American is its name, that not only does the pipeline need to be drained
immediately, they also need to physically send the ruptured section of the
people pipe out for testing and conduct what is called a root analysis of
the spill, and also involve a third party outside to review the results of
previous pipeline inspections.

But as of tonight, it is still a mystery as to what caused the
pipeline leak in the first place. Local papers have been digging into the
safety record of Plains All American, trying to look for clues.

The "L.A. Times" reporting that since 2006, the pipeline company has
received 175 safety and maintenance infractions, including pump failure,
equipment malfunction, pipeline corrosion and operator error. The company
has had to pay over $23 million in property damage over the last nine
years.

Last week, the head of the Santa Barbara County energy division said
that he was curious as to why the pipeline leak didn`t trigger an automatic
shutoff of the pipeline. The system that is required for pipelines under
the county jurisdiction.

Well, it turns out that the reason that automatic shutdown didn`t
kick is because it didn`t exist. "The Santa Barbara Independent" reports
that the pipeline that ruptured and released an estimated 105,000 gallons
of crude oil on Tuesday is the only pipeline in Santa Barbara County that
is not equipped with an automatic shutoff system. It has to be shut off
manually, which means that someone has to notice something is wrong and
then shut off the pipeline themselves.

The head of the country`s energy division telling "The Independent",
the fact that the pipeline didn`t have an automatic feature comes as a
shock, quote, "I just found out," he said. "We had no regulatory
authority."

The story is not going away anytime soon. There will surely be more
updates in the days and weeks to come as we learn more. Until then, enjoy
the view.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN: As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC
News and another to "The Washington Post", and the story has now gone viral
on the Internet. In it, she says you came to her in 1999, at a time when
you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an
open marriage. Would you like to take some time to respond to that?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, but I will.

(CHEERS)

GINGRICH: I think -- I think the destructive vicious negative nature
of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to
attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you
would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: That is arguably the most memorable moment from the
Republican debate leading up to the 2012 election. And definitely the most
memorable moment from Newt Gingrich`s presidential campaign. His debate
performances in South Carolina provided a gigantic bump for him. NBC-
Marist polling showing Gingrich surging to second behind eventual nominee
Mitt Romney, cutting the lead in half and helped to power him to a win in
the first in the South, South Carolina primary.

When you`re the front-runner, national presidential debates are your
chance to lay out your platform and to look presidential. But when you`re
a lesser known candidate, it`s a big deal just to get your face seen by a
large number of voters. The wider the field, the more important that
exposure becomes.

So in a year where the potential candidate spool is currently
hovering around 20 on the Republican side, you can understand why that real
estate, why a place on that debate stage is so important, because in all
likelihood, we are not going to see a stage with 15 or 20 candidates on it.

So, how do you decide?

Well, FOX News this week announced its criteria for debate selection.
They`re going to use the top ten candidates according to an average of the
most recent FOX approved public opinion polls.

It`s a decision that has caused Rick Santorum to lash out, saying,
quote, "If you`re a United States senator, if you`re a governor, if you`re
a woman who ran a Fortune 500 company and you`re running ago legitimate
campaign for president, then you should have a right to be on stage with
everybody else. The idea that a national poll has any relationship to the
viability of a candidate, ask Rudy Giuliani that, ask Phil Gramm that."

Strong words there from Rick Santorum, but he`s right. He knows from
experience. He was polling in the single digits before he broke through
and won the Iowa caucuses at the start of last cycle.

Sure, the difference between first in the polls and fifth in the
polls may be significant, but the difference between eighth place and 14th
place in this current field is minuscule. Right now, according to the last
five polls at NBC News recognizes, Santorum falls outside of the top ten.
He`s even behind Donald Trump.

Let`s take a look at the Real Clear Politics average as an example.
Here, Santorum would be tenth at 2.3 percent. He`s 0.1 percent behind Rick
Perry for ninth place; 0.3 percent ahead of John Kasich, who would be out
under this criteria.

After Kasich, it`s Carly Fiorina, Governor Bobby Jindal, Senator
Lindsey Graham, all tied at 1.3 percent, all of them one point from getting
into the debate, one point. With that difference between being out and
being in, so infinitesimal, all they would need is a one-point bump in a
couple of FOX-approved polls, and then they would get a seat at the table,
a place on that stage in those debates.

This is a system with a lot of turn in the last few debate slots,
which could lead to a lot of candidates desperately doing whatever they can
to get that one-point bounce, one outrageous comment maybe about bombing
Iran or about Saudi Arabia or about President Obama being a socialist,
anything that could get them some attention, that would draw a lot of
criticism on the one hand, but also, it could get them that 1 percent
bounce they need to get on the debate stage.

Joining us now is Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The
Washington Post."

Robert, thanks for taking a few minutes with us tonight.

So, let me ask you first about Rick Santorum`s criticism here. So,
depending on which polls you throw in right now, Santorum, would -- maybe
he`d be out of it, may be he`d be right in it. But, clearly, he`d be right
on that cut line for this crucial FOX News debate.

Is his criticism having any impact? Is FOX maybe getting cold feet
about this criteria at all? Any sign of that?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s fascinating to watch because
the party wanted more control this time around. They wanted to make sure
the debates weren`t as sprawling of a process.

But it may be just that. It could be a mess. Santorum and other
conservative contenders, if they`re not going to find their way on to that
official stage, look for a lot of these outside groups to have their own
forums, to try to invite some of the candidates to speak elsewhere.

And there`s also going to be pressure for top tier contenders to not
participate. Is it fair for someone who is right on the cuff to be left
out?

KORNACKI: It`s an interesting dilemma because I feel some sympathy
for the organizers, whether it`s FOX or anybody else trying to put one of
these things on, because the logistics of having 15 or 16 candidates on the
debate stage and trying to have anything intelligible or coming out of it
seems impossible.

So, if it seems like there`s 10 candidates that seem like the worst
possible solution except for all the others.

COSTA: And there should be a lot of pressure on the media
organizations who are hosting these debates because everyone is coming up
with their own rules. Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, is not really
having a firm hand when it comes to setting the terms of the debate.

So, FOX could have 10, CNN could have two tiers, NBC could do three.
No one really knows exactly how it`s going unfold.

KORNACKI: So what happens, though, if we`re -- let`s try to play
this out. We`re getting close to the first FOX debate that is going to be
in Cleveland. And you`re looking at a group of -- you know, I don`t know -
- seven, eight candidates who are all, as we say, the difference between
being at 3 percent or 2 percent in the polls is the difference between
getting in this debate and getting shut out.

Is that going to put sort of an incentive, sort of a premium on doing
something outlandish, something outrageous, just to get attention and just
to make sure you`re on stage?

COSTA: It`s going to be in a spectacle perhaps unlike anything we`ve
ever seen. I mean, the 2012 experience haunts the Republican Party. They
want to move beyond it. But now, it`s not just about getting to that first
debate in Cleveland, it`s about sustaining your candidacy by making sure
you`re on stage. And to do that these days, you talk to every campaign,
you have to find a way to go viral and you have to find a way to have that
Newt Gingrich moment.

KORNACKI: Yes, I mean, that`s the thing, you can see from Newt
Gingrich, the potential. If you can get in the debate, if you can have a
moment like that, you can zip up from 10 percent in the polls to winning
South Carolina. You can have that sort of incredible game. But let me ask
you this, from the flip side. So, a name out there, you always say in the
media, should we take him seriously, Donald Trump?

I wonder if this criteria has been put forward for being in a debate,
you got to file as a candidate, you got to do all the necessary paper work,
you got polling at X percent.

Do you think this could almost flush Trump out, this could sort of
force his hand earlier than he wanted to show it?

COSTA: I`ve spoken with Mr. Trump several times over the last few
weeks and he assures me that he`s very close to getting in. That`s
something he said many times before.

But if Trump does formally get in, he could self-finance. He says he
may have an announcement at Trump Tower in New York City. If he gets in,
that makes it very difficult for someone like Jeb Bush, because some of you
have a wonkish personality, a personality that is more low key and you`re
up there with Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, even if you`re full
of money in your campaign and you`re a high profile person, you`re not
going to have the energy and the buzz.

KORNACKI: We`ll await what Rick Santorum has to say if Donald Trump
gets into the debate and Rick Santorum is left out, I`d imagine he`d an
interesting comment on that.

Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post,"
thanks for your time tonight. Appreciate it.

COSTA: Thank you.

KORNACKI: All right. Ahead, how much a $35 million of your tax
dollars can buy or in this case how little.

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: So, this turned up in a lot of inboxes this week. If you
care about your safety, stop what you`re doing right now and watch this
short independent documentary with the door shut.

That bar the doors e-mail went out this week from the campaign list
for Herman Cain. And you may remember that Herman Cain enjoyed a brief
moment as a front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Well, the new e-mail to his supporters links to a video, which explains
that President Obama and church leaders are covering up a biblical prophesy
that Vladimir Putin is going to attack the United States with an
electromagnetic pulse bomb. They`re going invade and 80 percent of
Americans will not survive. This is going to happen by January 2017.

But there is something that you can do about it. You can get out
your checkbook.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: For just $49, you will get the "Survive the End Days"
program. You can only get "Survive the End Days" program here if you click
the "add to cart" button now.

I`d hate to be that father who looks in his children`s eyes powerless
because he had no preparation in place.

Click the add to cart button and I`ll meet you on the other side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: So, there it is, for just $49, you can survive the Barack
Obama/Vladimir Putin biblical prophecy apocalypse. We thought you`d like
to know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: The idea of wasteful spending by the military has been a
national punch line since the days of crazily expensive screw drivers and
toilet seats. But the war in Afghanistan in particular has been this never
ending font of ever more astonishing stories about stuff that we, the U.S.
taxpayers, have built, that we physically created or bought or arranged to
be procured for this war that are absolutely unneeded. That are in some
cases worst than wasteful.

For instance, the incredibly melting Afghan police training center
that we spent half a million dollars of it. It melts when it rains.

Then, there`s a fleet of airplanes we bought for Afghanistan for $468
million and then ended up shredding into scrap for 6 cents a pound. That`s
a loss of 99.93 percent on that investment.

And there were the giant incinerators we installed on a U.S. base for
$5 million that never incinerated anything because they never worked. So,
the base just torched all its waste in an open air burn pit next to the
incense raters.

But one of the most expensive of all these was this marine
headquarters in Helman province. It`s larger than a football field. It
has elaborate state of the artwork spaces for 1,500 people. It has a state
of the art briefing theater and a military operations center that included
stadium-style tiered seating. It cost $36 million to build and it has
never, not once, been used.

Look, you can see the plastic wrap is still on the chairs. What sets
this boondoggle apart, what was particularly inexplicable about it was that
the military said no to building it, repeatedly. Not one, not two, but
three generals on the ground requested that the projects be canceled before
construction had even begun.

They said, please, don`t build this. We don`t need it. By the time
it`s finished, we`ll be drawing down from Afghanistan, anyway.

In fact, construction didn`t even begin until troops were about to
start heading home from Afghanistan. But even as the base emptied out,
construction continued for two years until it was 98 percent complete and
furnished, despite all those people saying no. So now it`s sitting there
vacant and ready for someone else to get presumably some new U.S. taxpayer
contract to knock it down. It`s never been used.

Now, on the one hand, this is one story among many. On the other
hand, though, there is this remarkable implication of the chain of command
in this debacle that seems different about this story. And it`s made worse
by the fact that the military, when they realized the special inspector
general was likely to start sniffing around the giant fully furnished multi
million dollar headquarters that had never been used, the military did its
own internal report to determine that everything was fine, that there was
nothing wrong in this process and that no one did anything wrong.

When the special inspector general did indeed start poking around,
the legal adviser to the commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan
encouraged officials to slow roll the request for information.

Now, how do we know this? We know this because the legal adviser e-
mailed his colleague saying, quote, "I wanted to slow roll these a bit
more."

Whatever it is, it has set this situation apart, the special
inspector general who has been tenacious and undaunted in tracking this
stuff down decide this is the one he`s going to lose his mind over. For
the first time, he is recommending disciplinary action for high ranking
officials, including the general who overruled his commanders and build the
building anyway, the general who conducted the investigation that
determined everything was fine, and the legal adviser who interfered with
the inspector general`s investigation.

The Pentagon, by the way, did not agree with those recommendations
and declined to discipline anybody. But even beyond the magnitude of this
screw-up, that alone, that aggression from the inspector general is getting
attention.

And that means there two things to watch right now. First, this is
getting attention from a senator who you do not want to mess with. That is
Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. This is what she is to say about
these deliberations.

Quote, "This is one of the most outrageous, deliberate and wasteful
misuses of the taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan we have ever seen. When it
was clear this building wouldn`t be used, and when three commanders
requested its cancellation, the army not only built it, anyway, but failed
to hold any officials accountable after all the facts came to light. So,
I`ll now fully be expecting answers from the army.

Claire McCaskill is the top ranking Democrat on the Senate`s
Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and she sits on the Armed Services
Committee, and she has a history of going after this stuff effectively.
So, keep an eye on that. When Claire gets into something, it usually
doesn`t end well for her adversaries.

But the other thing to keep in mind is one of the three officers who
the inspector general recommended be disciplined for all this, the legal
adviser who wanted to slow roll the investigation, that colonel is the top
legal adviser to the man that President Obama has just put forward to be
the next chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. And those confirmation
hearings for General Joseph Dunford are expected to start next month.

General Dunford is the man who ordered that internal investigation
that cleared the military of any wrongdoing. Though to be clear, the
inspector general did not suggest that Dunford did anything wrong. So,
yes, this is another story among many of jaw dropping waste in America`s
war zones. But it also has the potential to become a much larger political
story and to trip up the confirmation hearings for the nominee to be the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Watch this space, this 64,000 square foot empty space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Arlington National Cemetery sits across the Potomac River
from our nation`s capital. If you ever get a chance to say, it is worth
spending some time there.

You can visit President Kennedy`s grave. You can see the eternal
flame there, visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and see the hourly
changing of the guard, or you can just walk among the many rows of graves.
There are 270,000 markers in Arlington for trip troops whose final resting
place is this place.

Every year on the Thursday before Memorial Day, a regiment of the
U.S. Army, the old guard, they`re called, goes out and sets one flag in the
ground by each and every one of those markers. It takes a thousand
soldiers working four hours to finish that task. They call this job "Flags
In".

Because of this work, because of flags in, family and friends who
visit Arlington this weekend for Memorial Day will find a visible, tangible
sign that their loved ones are remembered by their country.

While we`re all making plans for Memorial Day, it`s kind of cool to
think of this other planning that`s being done on our behalf for the people
at the center of the holiday.

That does it for us tonight. Rachel is going to be back next week.
I will see you just a few hours from now on my show "UP."

And now, as Rachel would say, it`s time for you to go to prison.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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