Guests: Ron Mott, Jeffrey McMurray, Jeremy Scahill, Sandra Bernhard
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you very much for that. Have a great weekend.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you also at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We begin tonight with some very late breaking news in the case of Bill Sparkman, the 51-year-old part-time fieldworker for the United States Census who was found dead in rural southeastern Kentucky‘s Daniel Boone National Forest. Mr. Sparkman‘s death made national news this week after an anonymous law enforcement source told the “Associated Press” that he had been found hanged and that the word “Fed,” presumably as in “federal government,” was scrawled on his chest when his body was found.
Well, tonight, we have brand new details which do not all dampen the worry that Bill Sparkman‘s death was what we first worry appeared to be, violence against a federal employee, because he was a federal employee.
This after, the Clay County coroner confirmed to us what had previously just been the assertion of an unnamed law enforcement source, the fact that the word “Fed” was indeed written on Mr. Sparkman‘s chest. Local media reports are saying that it was written on his chest in felt-tip pen. Now, as we gathered that news, Kentucky State Police told us that they have still not yet determined if Mr. Sparkman‘s death was a homicide, a suicide or an accident. They did confirm yesterday, of course, that the cause of death for Mr. Sparkman was asphyxia.
And then tonight, these new disturbing details have emerged. The “Associated Press” now reporting that one of the witnesses who discovered the crime came upon the crime scene unexpectedly. He‘s a man identified as Jerry Weaver. He was visiting the area although he‘s not from there. He‘s an Ohio native.
This witness says that Mr. Sparkman‘s body was naked, his hands and feet were bound with duct tape. In addition, to people who had briefed on the investigation but who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the “Associated Press” that a Census employee identification badge, the kind that all Census employees are instructed to wear when they go door-to-door, that badge was taped to Mr. Sparkman‘s head and shoulder area when his body was found.
Now, on the record, law enforcement authorities remain cryptic. This reporting however paints a most troubling picture. None of the details of Bill Sparkman‘s death that we have learned since we first found out about this point away from the possibility that he was killed for his affiliation with the United States government.
We are joined now on the phone by “Associated Press” Lexington, Kentucky correspondent Jeffrey McMurray, who has been covering this story.
The big breaking wire service story, “A.P.” story on this day is co-bylined
by Mr. McMurray and by Roger Alford.
Mr. McMurray, thanks very much for joining us.
JEFFREY MCMURRAY, ASSOCIATED PRESS (via telephone): You‘re welcome.
Good to talk with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: This witness, Jerry Weaver of Fairfield, Ohio—had it previously been known that he was among the people who came across the body?
MCMURRAY: It hadn‘t been known. It was something, particularly, my colleague Roger Alford had been working at trying to figure track down for some time in the last 24 hours. What we did know was that the body was found somewhere near a family cemetery. Most of the tombstones with the names “Hoskins” on the tombstones. His name is, of course, Weaver, but we understand he has some relations to some of the people buried there and that there was some activity at the cemetery on Saturday morning when the body was found.
The amazing thing I—that I see having been to the scene myself and realized how remote the area is, is that Mr. Sparkman didn‘t go missing until Wednesday or Thursday in a very remote area of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Yet he was found two days later. It‘s so happened that this family gathering or some members of the family stumbled across a pretty disturbing crime scene.
MADDOW: In terms of circumstances of the body when it was found,
and this is why we are leading with the story frankly right now, and this
is why this is so disturbing, you quote Mr. Weaver as describing in pretty,
in minute detail the condition in which he found the body and the way that
· the way that Mr. Weaver was—excuse me, the way that Mr. Sparkman was bound.
Can you describe that?
MCMURRAY: Yes. You know, I put the premise again that I did not personally speak with Mr. Weaver, my colleague did, but it‘s my understanding that Mr. Weaver, you know, found the body bound, duct-taped, tied to a tree. We were told by law enforcement already that he was tied to the tree. He was technically hanging, but he was not hanging in the traditionally way because his feet were actually in contact with the ground at the time the body was found. It was a very bizarre, strange case.
And while law enforcement is not using the word “stumped,” the fact is, that we are two weeks later and there‘s been no announcement of an arrest and, really, no information other than they believe the preliminary cause of death is asphyxiation.
MADDOW: And, of course, with the confirmation from the coroner today that the word “Fed” was written across Mr. Sparkman‘s chest and then this new information about the I.D. being taped to his otherwise naked body at the time, this is what‘s leading us to worry that he was killed in fact because he was a federal employee.
Now, Mr. Weaver told your—told Roger Alford from the “A.P.” that he saw that there was an identification tag taped—duct-taped to the side of his neck, on the right side, almost on his right shoulder. He said he couldn‘t tell if the tag was a Census Bureau I.D. But you have two other sources, people who were briefed on the investigation who do say that that tag was specifically his Census worker I.D.?
MCMURRAY: I can—without getting into too much detail, I can tell that much of the information that Mr. Weaver provided us, we were able to corroborate with law enforcement sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, with various sources on that. And, you know, that is and the fact that Mr. Weaver was not someone who sought us out, we found him, it‘s the reason that we were able to run with the story and we report the new developments that we reported tonight.
MADDOW: Jeffrey McMurray is an “Associated Press” reporter in Lexington, Kentucky and those new developments you‘ve been able to report seem to be breaking this case wide open for our national audience. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your reporting.
MCMURRAY: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Joining us now is NBC News correspondent Ron Mott. He has also been covering the story. He joins us now on the phone.
Thanks for being here, Ron. Appreciate it.
RON MOTT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): You bet, Rachel.
MADDOW: While you were covering this story in Kentucky, I understand that you found a strong suspicion of government generally among people who live in that area. And, of course, you can‘t generalize everybody who lives in a particular county, but what can you tell us about the overall political atmosphere there?
MOTT: Rachel, we want to be fair, obviously, to all law-abiding citizens of the commonwealth, but one of the things that I think we‘ll begin to come into—clear focus here over the next couple days, perhaps weeks, as this investigation goes forward, is that part of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Clay County, where this body was found, there is a general sense of lawlessness there.
And police sources tell us that because it‘s a dry county, there are some people down there, some unsavory characters who are bringing in alcohol and illicit drugs, and they are selling it to the people in that county. We‘ve told that there are hidden marijuana fields there, that there is a high concentration of methamphetamine production there. And so, law enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Agency, has had a presence there, and if there is any sort of anti-government sentiment, it is probably borne out of that.
Now, whether Mr. Sparkman was killed because he‘s a federal employee or if he was, in fact, killed, is yet to be seen. He may have, in fact, stumbled onto a scene that someone did not want him to see and maybe that is why he was killed if he was killed.
So, there‘s a lot of lingering questions here. I get the sense that the officials know a lot more than what they‘ve said publicly. And some of this information is starting to filter out because of good reporting from Jeffrey McMurray and his colleagues and others. So, we‘ll just have to see what the coming days will bring.
MADDOW: Indeed. All of these new details do create the expectation, I think, that we will hear something more specific from law enforcement. As you know, Ron, we‘ve been hearing recently that they haven‘t even determined whether this is homicide, suicide, or an accident. To found a body that was bound hand and foot, gagged and with a federal employee identification tag taped to the body and then it defaced with the word “Fed,” we‘re starting to get to a point where it‘s hard to imagine that this could be anything other than a homicide.
That said, we‘re still waiting for law enforcement conformation on that, aren‘t we?
MOTT: Absolutely. Yes. And maybe sometime before that confirmation comes, I think it also should be noted that today, the Census detector, out of abundance of caution for that particular area and because this case is starting to generate a lot of interest, has pulled back and has temporarily suspended door-to-door canvassing. And whether that is going to spread around the country, we‘ll just have to see. But clearly, there are people in this country who have some disdain for government of any kind, and particularly the federal government.
And so, it‘s going to be interesting to see how this all proceeds going forward. It‘s a very sad story on the base level that a family has lost a member. And a lot of people in the community in Laurel County where he was a part-time school teacher, they really missed him and they are saddened that his life ended this way.
And here‘s a man who is a cancer survivor, who went back to college at the age of 47 to earn a degree, got his degree and gave the commencement speech, to try to encourage all of his fellow teachers. This is a big teaching institution out west. All he wanted to do was be a full-time teacher. And because that job, that opportunity has not yet presented itself, he was trying to earn a little extra money by taking the census for the U.S. government, and apparently, he has lost his life as a result of doing so.
MADDOW: Ron Mott, NBC News correspondent, thank you very much for your reporting, Ron. Thanks for joining us tonight on short notice.
MOTT: You bet.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
MOTT: You bet.
MADDOW: There is much more ahead tonight, including more about the truth about the lies about ACORN. That‘s a TRMS investigation. It‘s next. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Tonight, more into our continuing investigation into the witch-hunt against the community activist group ACORN, the corporate groups of that witch-hunt, its boldly dishonest tactics and its ultimate dislocation from the warranted facts. The ongoing effort to destroy and demonize ACORN has been for the most part by conservative media outlets. And its biggest accomplishment so far has been the decision by Congress last week to strip ACORN of all federal funding. The Defund ACORN Act of 2009 passed through both houses of Congress with big bipartisan support.
That said, one problem with the Defund ACORN Act is that it appears to be really, really unconstitutional. In constitutional terms, the Defund ACORN Act has what‘s called a bill of attainder problem. Don‘t worry if you don‘t know what that is. It‘s one of those things from constitutional law that sounds really obscure and impenetrable like the commerce clause or the privacy penumbra. But it‘s actually sort of easy.
In Article One of the Constitution, it says bills of attainder are banned. And that just means that you can‘t pass legislation that directly targets one individual or one specific group of people. In this case, the Congressional Research Service looked into the Defund ACORN Act of 2009 to see if it specifically targets anyone. And, of course, they found probable cause that it does.
So, there‘s a good possibility that this legislation which Republicans are so excited to be touting, which they‘ve even got all this Democratic support for, there‘s a good chance that it is really Article One-styly unconstitutional. It‘s embarrassing. They‘re going to run on the anti-ACORN platform all the way to 2010 if past is any prologue.
So, what to do, how to save, how to salvage the Defund ACORN Act? Well, they‘re going to need to make sure that it doesn‘t violate the Constitution as boldly as it seems to now. So, where the Defund ACORN Act says it‘s going to cut off funding for an organization that‘s ever been indicted for breaking campaign finance laws or that‘s ever filed fraudulent paperwork with any state or federal agency, if this is going to be constitutional, that can‘t only be enforced against this one group, can‘t only be enforced against ACORN. It‘s got to be for everyone.
So giant government defense contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, it looks like you‘re out of luck. Lockheed Martin has been forced to pay at least $68 million for getting caught 11 separate times committing government contract fraud. Northrop Grumman has had to pay around $500 million for getting caught nine times for contract fraud. Sorry, guys, but if we‘re going to nail ACORN here, you‘ve got to go.
And if—and if fraud is going to be the new issue in our newfound enthusiasm for defunding people, then Blackwater is going to have a problem, too. In just one of Blackwater‘s many government contracts, they were recently found to have defrauded the government to the tune of $55 million. And that‘s just one Blackwater contractor, and they‘ve got lots of contracts.
But if fraud is not bad enough for you, how about murder? Because five Blackwater employees have been charged with murder during the course of their government contracted duties in Iraq. Is murder enough to defund Blackwater?
How about if people they‘re killing, the contractors killing aren‘t just Iraqi civilians or somebody else we don‘t know, how about if they‘re U.S. troops? Because KBR, with its government contracts, is under investigation for killing 16 American troops who were electrocuted through KBR shoddy works supposedly building and maintaining living quarters for our troops in Iraq.
I mean, to be fair, I will admit that if we are talking about behavior by contractors that warrants them being defunded by an outrage Congress, none of those things I just described from those other contractors are prostitution specific, like the Republican and conservative media ACORN case has been. Ever since two activists dressed up in pimp and hooker costumes and then went from ACORN office to ACORN office with a hidden camera until they got a reaction out of ACORN employees that would play well on FOX News.
If the hidden camera stunt induced prostitution angle is what it takes to get a government contract defunded, then I guess we‘re going to have to talk about prostitution broadly and the government contractor known as ArmorGroup, part of Wackenhut, in Afghanistan. Their employees, you‘ll recall, were made famous earlier this month after the release of these pictures that show the contractors barely clothed and shooting vodka out of places you wouldn‘t expect.
The same ArmorGroup personnel who, again, were being paid by you and me were also allegedly engaged in a prostitution ring in Kabul. That‘s according to an ArmorGroup whistleblower. The State Department is investigating ArmorGroup now.
But if we‘re going to talk contractors and prostitution, we‘re also going to have to talk about DynCorp, which is always been one of those horror movie U.S. contractor cases. In the year 2000, at least 13 DynCorp employees were sent home from a U.S. government contract in Bosnia after they were found to be taking part in a Bosnian sex slave ring involving underage girls, not a fake prostitution ring that never actually existed like the one in the activist hidden camera costumes stunt, but an actual forced child prostitution ring, an actual U.S. government contractors from DynCorp.
In the absence of any defund DynCorp uprising, DynCorp still gets a lot of government money. In fact, today, DynCorp landed a brand new $230 million contract with the U.S. Air Force. That‘s on top of the $915 million contract they got from the State Department in June.
ArmorGroup, the prostitution/vodka-shooting contract in Afghanistan at the Kabul embassy, they still got that nearly $200 million contract in Afghanistan with the State Department. But that is currently under review.
Blackwater still has multimillion dollar contracts with the State Department, the Defense Department, as well as the CIA, even as five of their employees face murder charges.
KBR was just awarded a new $19 million army contract in February, despite being investigated in the deaths of those 16 U.S. troops.
Not only have these contractors not been defunded by outraged members of Congress, they all continue to get spectacularly lucrative government contracts even after all of these things have been exposed. I‘m not reporting any of these things for the first time. They‘re all known.
So, sure, if you want to defund ACORN, go for it. ACORN has definitely done some indefensible stuff over the years. They are an imperfect organization, to be sure. But if this isn‘t just a witch-hunt against ACORN, if Congress is actually just going after government contractors who commit fraud and worse, then we can all look forward to the explanation from the fake outrage Republicans and the cowering Democrats about why nothing ever inspired them to defund anyone before ACORN. After that, by all mean, cut them all loose.
Joining us now is Jeremy Scahill, correspondent from “The Nation” and author of “New York Times” bestseller, “Blackwater: The Rise of the World‘s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.”
Mr. Scahill, thanks for joining us.
JEREMY SCAHILL, THE NATION: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: I apologize for being a little hot under the collar about this. I‘m riled up by this story.
SCAHILL: Everyone should be.
MADDOW: Yes. If, miraculously, the “defund ACORN” survives as it is, are defense contractors at all worried about Congress actually cutting them off?
SCAHILL: Absolutely not. I mean, look, the fact of the matter is this, the Democrats and there a lot of them that voted with the Republicans on this, in fact, only 75 Democrats voted against this Defund ACORN Act in the House and only a handful of senators voted against it on the other side. The fact is, that some of the best congresspeople on the issue of war contractors have never come forward and introduced a “Defund Blackwater Act” or a “Defund DynCorp Act.”
Claire McCaskill, who actually has been a pit bull in the contracting issue, she voted in favor of defunding ACORN, and yet hasn‘t proposed legislation to go after any of these war contractors.
Look, Rachel, as you know, this is political. This isn‘t really about upholding the law. On the one hand, you have an organization that registered 1.3 million people to vote, 400,000 members, works with the poor and working class people of this nation. They don‘t have lobbying power in the form of massive campaign contributions.
On the other side, you have 600 war corporations right now on the U.S. government payroll. You want to know what an actual election scandal, 25 cents to 40 cents on every dollar we spend on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $2.5 billion a week, that money goes directly to these war corporations who in turn contribute campaign dollars to the Republicans and Democrats who continue to fund their operations. That‘s the real scandal here.
MADDOW: The thing that is, I think, frustrating about ACORN story and that‘s—I think part of the reason that I do have this sort of unexpected emotion about it, I mean, we talk about a lot of outrageous things all the time, but I‘m really—the story really grabs me. It‘s the reason we‘re going to be doing it for a few days, it‘s because there‘s—
ACORN doesn‘t have to be a sainted organization. They don‘t have to be perfect in order for what‘s being done to them to be an outrage. And I guess I‘m trying to contextualize them against other contractors in order to understand whether or not they‘re sins ought to be being discussed before the sins of organizations like Blackwater.
SCAHILL: OK. Let‘s look at this. If there ever was a moment where there should have been a standard where individuals should have been held accountable for the crimes of others, it would have been the Bush folks with it came to the torture program. It would have been Eric Prince when it came to the operations of Blackwater. What we‘re talking about here in the case of ACORN is $53 million in federal funding over 15 years that largely went for low-income housing, poor people housing.
And on the other hand, you‘re talking about an equivalent amount of money that Halliburton got every single day for its operations in Iraq, that Blackwater may have to repay the government for not living up to the terms of just one contract. The fact of the matter is that ACORN got pennies compared to what these massive war contracting firms got.
And as you point out rightly, we are talking about murder. We‘re talking about child prostitution. We‘re talking about all sorts of misconduct against American personnel and against innocent civilians. The crimes compare to the crimes of ACORN if there are those that are litigated in the court of law pale in comparison to the crimes of the war contractors that go un-confronted by Democrats and Republicans.
MADDOW: Do you see Democrats changing their minds on this? We saw such huge Democratic votes in favor of this Republican defund ACORN bills. Do you see that—do you think that sentiment is reversible among Democrats?
SCAHILL: Well, look, if Representative Alan Grayson of Florida is
the only person that‘s going to come forward and say, “Yes, let‘s go after
· let‘s defund all these criminal organizations,” and the rest of the Democrats, like Claire McCaskill, did it as part of a witch-hunt against ACORN, then it‘s a sad day in this country, because what it means is there is no spine in that Congress when it comes to standing up against the real crooks and criminal in this society. It‘s an outrage.
MADDOW: Jeremy Scahill, correspondent for “The Nation,” author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World‘s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” of course, “New York Times” bestseller—Jeremy, it‘s great to have you on the show. Thanks for being here.
SCAHILL: It‘s an honor to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Meanwhile, news of some political movement in Washington on health care. Could the conservadems finally be turning to just Dems? To gain further insight into this important issue, our good friend, the long-suffering health reform bill—will join us next. Stay tuned.
MADDOW: We have a very special guest tonight, exclusive to THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. He‘s been on the show once before and we are very happy to welcome him back tonight. It‘s a really big get for us.
Joining us now is “Health Reform.”
Hi, “Bill.” Last time we talked, you did not look so good. Are you feeling any better?
“HEALTH REFORM”: Yes, you know, fluids, (INAUDIBLE), Max Baucus grew a spine, kind of, baby steps.
MADDOW: Senator Baucus did get testy with Senator Jon Kyl yesterday about trying to slow you down.
“HEALTH REFORM”: Yes, it‘s like lettuce, Rachel. Older is not better.
MADDOW: It seems like that the people though have always supported you, “Bill.” The people supported you. Do you think that conservative Democrats‘ opposition to you is finally starting to dissolve because of that?
“HEALTH REFORM”: Yes. I‘ve been working on my people skills, eye contact, firm handshake, pointing out that denying the will of their constituents—it‘s a process.
MADDOW: Well, you know, it is good to see you back on your feet, “Bill,” and thanks very much for joining us.
“HEALTH REFORM”: Thank you, Rachel. Remember, you can‘t spell team without “M-E.”
MADDOW: I guess. It doesn‘t look like you have much of a team yet, “Bill.” But as you say, it‘s a process. And I really like your attitude. Thanks, “Bill.”
As Bill said, conservative Democrats are suddenly feeling some political heat for opposing their own party‘s agenda on health reform. Congressman Mike Ross of Arkansas, for example, saw his own political difficulties multiply by, oh, about 8,000 or so today when the Associated Press picked up an advanced Pro Publica‘s investigative reporting on the strangely and inexplicably awesome deal that Congressman Ross got from a big drug-store chain that bought his family pharmacy for way above market value.
Congressman Ross has, of course, been fighting against the public option and other elements of health reform. He had already been targeted and threatened with a primary challenge by progressive groups like Change Congress and the FDL PAC, which is linked to the Fire Dog Lake blog, most of which produced ads that point to the more than $900,000 in health industry money that Congressman Ross has accepted over the years and to his opposition to a public insurance option, despite its big popularity in his district.
Well, despite ignoring my increasingly plaintive requests for an interview, Congressman Ross did speak to the Associated Press about these allegations against him, and he declared himself to the A.P. to be the subject of, and I quote, “a left-wing special interest conspiracy.”
This, of course, is a very special left-wing conspiracy, one that involves convincing a drug store chain to pay Congressman Ross extra for his pharmacy. Perhaps also involves convincing 74 percent of the Democrats in the congressman‘s district to say they support more comprehensive reform than he does. It‘s all a conspiracy just to make Mike Ross look bad.
Think about how people are involved in this conspiracy in order to make it work. It‘s mind-boggling.
But even as Congressman Ross fights the left-wing conspiracy, it is starting to look like he is not the only conservative Democrat whose position on health reform is at odds with the people he is supposed to be representing.
Polling of 91 conservative House swing districts, commissioned by a pro-reform group has just leaked onto the Internet machine. And it shows that 53 percent of people in those blue dog districts support a public option.
Nationally, it‘s the same story. The latest “New York Times”/CBS poll, which is out today, shows 65 percent of Americans overall supporting a public insurance option.
And the watchdog Web sites and progressive political action committees are not likely to let any of these conservatives forget it. They‘re the ones who put the Mike Ross story on the map. But they‘re not stopping.
Their latest target is Congressman Jim Cooper, another conservative Democrat, this time from Tennessee. The Accountability Now political action committee has set up a Web site naming Mr. Cooper as a key opponent of health reform even under President Clinton. They‘re threatening him with a Democratic primary challenge.
The group points out that President Obama beat John McCain by 13 points in Cooper‘s district, which means that Mr. Cooper can‘t cite the inherent conservatism of his constituents as an excuse for voting like a Republican.
But the “conservadems” aren‘t just in trouble because they‘re on the wrong side of public opinion in their own districts. They‘re also facing increasing pressure from the progressive side within their own party.
Senator Chuck Schumer told us on this show last night about his and Senator Jay Rockefeller‘s plan to force a vote on the public option in the Senate Finance Committee. We now know that that has been delayed, but it is still expected to happen on Tuesday.
And if you take all this together and look at the big picture, it looks like the prognosis for real health reform is not as bad as it was even a week ago. But we will be sure to check back in with our friend Bill again soon to find out. He seems fragile.
MADDOW: OK. Do not turn your TV volume up. Please. But also, please do not be alarmed by the sound in this little bit of tape that we‘re about to play. This is a sound cannon being deployed against protestors at the G-20 economic meeting by Pittsburgh police.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That bowel-liquefying annoyance is a sound cannon or, in military speak, an L-RAD, a Long-Range Acoustic Device. Being used at not all about longer-range, against Americans protesting at the G-20 summit.
Sound canons can emit noise as loud as 151 decibels, the equivalent of an un-silenced gun shot being fired three feet from in your ear. A hundred and fifty-one decibels. For perspective, they say you can get permanent hearing loss from 110 decibels of sound, even if it‘s just in short bursts, not a constant sound barrage like you get from the L-RAD.
Adding to the cartoon villain effect, Pittsburgh police mounted the sound canons on these menacing black trucks, completely with balaclava-clad ninja dudes, dressed all in black, aiming the thing at the back.
According to city officials, this is the first time the sound cannon had been used for crowd control in Pittsburgh. The police also used tear gas and stun grenades that explode with sharp flashes of light and bean-bag projectiles shot out of guns, and of course, the good, old-fashioned night stick.
Who knows how much world leaders inside the G-20 summit knew of the brute force and intimidation on the streets outside their meetings, but their day began with a rather blunt show of political force.
In a surprise early-morning bombshell announcement by President Obama and his French and British counterparts. While, the networks‘ morning news shows were still on the air, President Obama made an announcement about Iran, an announcement that played to a massive audience as shocking and urgent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are here to announce that yesterday in Vienna, the United States, the United Kingdom and France presented detailed evidence to the IAEA, demonstrating that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been building a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom for several years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The newly-announced secret Iranian facility is pictured here. This photo supposedly shows new above-ground facilities and changes in terrain due to underground construction, compared to earlier photos taken years ago. This photo showing what it looked like before, the other showing what it looked like after.
It emerged during the day today that the U.S. has known about this site for a long time and that Mr. Obama was even told about its existence while he was still president-elect. So why hold this announcement until today, then? I don‘t know. But consider the context.
Just the events of the last two weeks. President Obama pulled back on missile defense, right? Which Russia is saying forged a new cooperative alliance between us and Russia.
Both Russia and France have been really unwilling to go after Iran in the past. But this week the president got everyone in the Security Council, including Russia and France, to go along with his broad declaration against nukes.
And then, right after that—pow, right in the kisser—he hits them with this evidence of secret nuclear activity by Iran that‘s way outside the rules of what Iran is supposed to be doing.
Now—now it‘s a whole new world. Russia‘s saying they feel better about sanctions on Iran. And France, the French president even stood next to Obama going after Iran today. He‘s the one who said Iran is on deadline now, a two-month deadline to shape up or face sanctions.
You know, if diplomacy got reported like war does, I think what we would be reporting right now is shock and awe.
Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.
Andrea, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight. Appreciate your time.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well put. You put it in the right context.
MITCHELL: I‘m glad to be here.
MADDOW: That was my—going to be my first question, because I know you are far more expert in these matters than I am. Is it true that Iran is facing a much more unified—more unified pressure, more unified opposition than they were even a week ago?
MITCHELL: This has never happened before. I mean, we have been plodding along and watching this diplomacy inch by inch for so many years now. And for the first time, Russia has really stood by the president.
Their statement today could not have been better if it were written by the White House itself. Medvedev told some students at the University of Pittsburgh yesterday, last night, that he really likes Barack Obama. So personal diplomacy in a sort of Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev way has a role to play here.
He says, “He doesn‘t lecture to me.” Who do you think he was talking about there? He doesn‘t try to tell me what to think? He listens.
We are of the same generation and I learned that we were studying law at the same time. And I was reading some law review articles that he edited. So you can see, they‘ve talked a lot along the margin.
That said, it sets the stage for the fact that, when Barack Obama took Medvedev aside on Wednesday at the United Nations and told him this news about Iran, that things had changed, that they had more recent intelligence that Iran was moving in a dangerous direction, had stepped it up, was crossing a red line, if you will.
Medvedev listened and took it in. And then they gave him a special, him and his experts, a special experts intelligence briefing. And it wasn‘t just the United States. It was the U.s., France and Great Britain. It made a very big difference.
MADDOW: Strategically, it seems like this is a real diplomatic roundhouse.
MADDOW: I mean, because it seems like a very heavy hit to have landed, given that this was not necessarily new information. It‘s not necessarily all that shocking information, given how deceitful Iran has been about its nuclear capacity in the past. But he has, with timing, turned it into quite a shocking press conference and big diplomatic gains.
MITCHELL: Well, there is something that is new, or at least new as of a couple of months ago. They‘ve seen, in these last few months and recent weeks, that Iran has crossed a line, that Iran was beginning to develop this facility, which was an underground facility that was suspicious, but not necessarily providing the evidence. They didn‘t have, really, the deal nailed down.
And given all the history of Iraq and WMD and bad intelligence and false accusations, you can believe that this new president was going to be very certain that he was not being misled by any of the facts that he was given.
So within recent weeks and months, they believe that they came to a very strong conclusion that this was definitely not a peaceful nuclear facility. That it was of the size and scale as the president said, that could only be a weapons facility, and therefore, Iran was in violation, even for bidding it and not disclosing it, but in dangerous violations, and was now coming close to validating what the Israelis have been saying all along. And that‘s not something that Obama came to—came to very easily.
MADDOW: That‘s important insight. Andrea Mitchell, NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent. Thanks very much for sharing part of your Friday with us. Appreciate it.
MITCHELL: You bet.
MADDOW: The top of the Empire State Building has not been embroiled in scandal and mystery like this since King Kong took Fay Wray up there about 75 years ago.
While the president of Iran was here in town for the U.N., it was supposed to be lit up all green, last night, totally coincidentally, the color of the Iranian opposition movement, except it wound up lit up red instead. Totally coincidentally, not the color of the Iranian opposition. We will get to the bottom of Empire-State-Gate with the great Sandra Bernhard, who‘s coming up.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last night the Empire State Building, about 15 blocks from here, was lit up red. Why is that news? Because it was supposed to be green. Iranian opposition protestors had requested that the Empire State Building be lit up green to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s visit to the United Nations. Green has been the color of the opposition movement, right? And the Empire State Building does light up different colors for different occasions, so they thought, “Why not ask?”
Well, their request was denied. But in what appeared to be a very happy coincidence, the building was scheduled to be lit up in green anyway to celebrate the 70th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz.” You know, Emerald City and all that.
Well, we reported on Wednesday that activists planned to celebrate the happy coincidence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They‘re also planning on cheering at the Empire State Building when it lights up green tomorrow night at sunset.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That didn‘t happen. As of Wednesday night, green was the plan, which I can prove, because I‘ve got this screen shot from the Empire State Building‘s own Web site, saying it‘s going to be green. But then last night it changed to red. What, Dorothy‘s ruby red slippers? Come on. It‘s a big, tall, incandescent thing.
We called today to find out what happened and we received this response from Edelman Public Relations. Quote, “The Empire State Building does not use its iconic power lights to make political statements or support protests of any kind.”
Right. That‘s presumably why they denied the request in the first place. But this would imply that they specifically changed the lighting color so as to not even accidentally be supportive of an unrelated protest.
I would like to speak with the man behind the curtain about this.
Joining us now is comedian, actress, singer, and my pal Sandra Bernhard. Her new album is called “Whatever It Takes.” It is out now. You should buy it. It‘s really good.
Sandra, thank you for being here.
SANDRA BERNHARD, COMEDIAN/ACTRESS/SINGER: It‘s my pleasure. I‘ve been waiting for so long. We watch from our bed, and we wait and we hope that we can get on and talk about all of the great subjects of our times and the day. And here we are, talking about it.
So I‘m excited, because the idea of all the Iranian protestors and those celebrating the 70th anniversary of “Wizard of Oz” will all meet together under the green awning.
MADDOW: It was a happy coincidence.
BERNHARD: It was a happy coincidence.
MADDOW: But now red for the “Wizard of Oz”? I don‘t—is there any plausible way in which that...
BERNHARD: As you mentioned, you know, click your heels three times and say, “There‘s no place like home. There‘s no”—even if it‘s Tehran. So we‘ll get home somehow. It won‘t be quite as, you know, dreamy, and there might not be, you know, a Tin Man. Or maybe there will be a Tin Man.
MADDOW: I mean, even yellow for yellow brick road would have made more sense. Anyway.
BERNHARD: I don‘t mind—I don‘t mind the red, you know, illusion (ph). But I‘m sorry that they didn‘t get what they needed for Iranians.
MADDOW: What do you think about Obama kind of pulling off this coup at the G-20 with the surprise press release, and the surprise press announcement and all this diplomatic maneuvering? I can‘t even keep track of it.
BERNHARD: I think he had to bring some sort of, like, you know, seriousness to the whole event. Because we have people like Berloz (ph) County, like saying to Michelle Obama, “Come to Papa. Hey!”
You know, and you‘ve Gadhafi and Ahmadinejad. And they‘re all—to me it‘s like they‘re all a bunch of jokers plucked from the set of “Batman,” you know, played by Cesar Romero and then Frank Gorshin. I mean, it‘s the Joker. What is going on with the international politicians?
MADDOW: Well, Obama is sort of outsmarting them is what‘s...
BERNHARD: It doesn‘t take much. These people are fools. They‘re buffoons.
MADDOW: Your new record, “Whatever It Takes,” is a little bit of a G-20. It‘s kind of world-music-y.
BERNHARD: Absolutely. It is.
MADDOW: What was the thinking behind that? What was the inspiration?
BERNHARD: Well, the man who co-wrote it with me and presented it to me, Ted Mason, is very plugged into the African music scene and, you know, the Middle Eastern music scene.
And we wanted to do something that was sort of a bridge, you know, to reach out to the world, considering what‘s been going on for the past eight years and the sort of fear of travel and, you know, the doubt about other cultures.
This was like a breakthrough celebration of the Obama administration and just, you know, getting on planes and traveling again, metaphorically and spiritually and physically.
So the music‘s really reflective of—of the things I like to do. I like to go to new cultures and other countries. And—you know, it‘s kind of a beautiful celebration of that.
MADDOW: I will confess, though, that I know—because I know you personally—I know that you have been doing something very American, which is that you are newly obsessed with dancing, “So You Think You Can Dance” with the whoever.
BERNHARD: Dancing. I never watched “Dancing with Stars” until Tom DeLay really lured me in.
MADDOW: I do—I do not think of you as a reality show kind of...
BERNHARD: Well, you know, I‘m not. But how can you resist Tom DeLay in a brown kind of leisure suit, cut off at the—the arms, and a pair of, like, high-heeled boots that Prince threw away?
I mean, he‘s like out there shaking his booty in the face of the judges. I‘m like, this is like a car wreck. You‘ve just got to stop and watch it, the bleeding. You want to help staunch the bleeding, but you can‘t help. But you‘re obsessed with it.
I can‘t wait till next week to see. I think he‘s doing a tango next week.
MADDOW: Oh, my God.
BERNHARD: It sounds sick but it‘s so—it‘s kind of the perfect metaphor for that whole sort of, you know, fundamentalist right-wing, you know, vibe.
MADDOW: Well, he was trying to invade against smut.
BERNHARD: That‘s what I mean. I mean, didn‘t he really go after Bill Clinton for his sexual peccadilloes?
MADDOW: He went after Jerry Springer for being too smutty for that same TV show.
BERNHARD: Well, this is really interesting. Because I don‘t know if you watched it.
MADDOW: I watched it in slow motion, which I thought would make it better. But there it is in slow motion. It‘s worse. It‘s almost...
BERNHARD: I mean, look at that. This is, like, grotesque. This is like somebody‘s disgusting uncle at a—look at him, with that woman.
MADDOW: I think it‘s important.
BERNHARD: Well, it is. It‘s really, really important that, you know, we make sure that after this he goes to prison.
I got you, babe. Got you with my tango moves. Ow. Got you with my tango moves. Woo-hoo! I mean, he is like on fire. He‘s a sex machine.
MADDOW: Sandra Bernhard, comedian, actress, recording artist, person who makes me blush. The new album is called “Whatever It Takes.” It‘s available now. We‘re about to make cocktails. Can you stay?
BERNHARD: Can I stay? I wish I‘d brought the fondue pot and some cheese. We could have melted up some fondue.
MADDOW: It‘s my secret. Do not tell anybody about that. We have actual cocktails in “A Cocktail Moment.” Coming up, we‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: I thought it was important that we do something for a “Cocktail Moment” that was actually green because I‘m so mad that the Empire State Building wasn‘t green.
BERNHARD: You‘re so wonderful.
MADDOW: You don‘t mind having a daiquiri, do you?
BERNHARD: I don‘t mind anything you make. I‘ve had your Manhattans.
And I‘ll take them.
MADDOW: I made—here‘s a little lime juice I prepared earlier.
BERNHARD: You squeezed that?
JONES: Is it revolutionary lime juice?
MADDOW: It‘s Iranian opposition lime juice, Kent.
BERNHARD: Did you actually get this from Cuba?
MADDOW: No. It‘s Cuban style.
BERNHARD: The Spirit of Cuba.
MADDOW: Spirit of Cuba.
BERNHARD: Oh, excuse me from the Dominican Republic.
JONES: You can taste the Cuba.
BERNHARD: Yes. The spirit of Cuba really is alive and well.
MADDOW: Kent, I always thought that we should out you as Bill. I think it‘s time for people to know.
BERNHARD: I was impressed.
MADDOW: He‘s the voice of health-care reform.
BERNHARD: By the DeLay—by the Tom DeLay.
Quick, I need a cocktail! Somebody help me.
MADDOW: Do I have enough time to shake?
BERNHARD: Shake it, shake it up.
MADDOW: I don‘t have enough ice in here so it‘s going to be a little thin.
BERNHARD: That‘s going to be your dance on “Dancing with the Stars.”
MADDOW: This is the only dance I can do.
BERNHARD: Honey, you and me both.
MADDOW: These are “The Rachel Maddow Show” branded cocktail shakers that we hope to someday sell.
MADDOW: It‘s the only product that could ever be associated with me with any credibility. All right.
BERNHARD: All stainless steel.
MADDOW: Because the Empire State Building wouldn‘t do it, we will.
BERNHARD: Here‘s to Dorothy. Here‘s to everyone. Here‘s to us looking to get home again.
MADDOW: Here‘s to green that either is or isn‘t on purpose, but it‘s still happily coincidental with people who want to ruin Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s day.
BERNHARD: Do we really need to? Isn‘t it ruined already by that boxy jacket he always wears with no tie? Can somebody just get him a decent tailor, the poor man?
MADDOW: Sandra Bernhard, Kent Jones, have a great weekend, you guys.
Thanks for being here.
BERNHARD: We‘re going to now, after this drink. Woo!
MADDOW: Good night.
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