Guest: Charles Swift, Jeff Sharlet, Travers Mackel
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: And now, to discuss why Senator
Tom Coburn will ever regret calling her emotional—ladies and gentlemen,
here with ice running through her veins, Ms. Rachel Maddow.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Keith, I‘m simultaneously so hysterical about,
you know, everything, but also very distracted because I‘m trying to follow
you on Twitter right now and I can‘t get through the traffic.
OLBERMANN: Wow. Well, good luck to you, Luddite.
MADDOW: Thank you. Thank you, Keith.
And thanks to you at home for tuning in tonight. We‘re coming to you
tonight from Orlando, Florida.
And we can report some new outrage over C Street tonight. The outrage
is coming from C Street. We will try to figure out how that‘s possible.
Senator Tom “C Street” Coburn has declared himself a hero for cutting
people off of their unemployment benefits. He‘s also declared me emotional
for calling him out on it. A very sober analysis of all that is
forthcoming provided I can hold it together.
And our geekiest “Moment of Geek” ever is going to happen on this
That is all ahead this forthcoming hour.
But, we begin with President Obama making history in Prague, signing
on to a landmark agreement with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to
dramatically cut both countries‘ nuclear arsenals. The treaty the two
presidents signed today commits both us and Russia to cutting the number of
nuclear warheads by a third. It‘s the biggest nuclear arms treaty in a
For President Obama, it‘s also a major component of what he appears to
want to be his signature foreign policy accomplishment, the reduction of
the nuclear threat to both the United States and the world. The Cold War
is over, the threat now is nuclear terrorism and rogue states, and
recognizing and neutralizing that threat has been Barack Obama‘s passion
since his time in the Senate. Now, as president, he is prioritizing it.
Meanwhile, as the president was taking on that heavy task on the world
stage today, the opposition party back here at home has tried to figure out
who will lead them in the next election against President Obama. Today was
day one of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference; this year being
held in New Orleans. It‘s an all weekend long affair running through
Sunday. It‘s being billed as the most prominent Republican event until the
Addressing the event on opening night were former Republican House
Speaker Newt Gingrich and pressure group founder and daughter of a former
vice president, Liz Cheney. Before the weekend‘s over, attendees will get
a chance to hear speeches from almost every Republican who‘s ever been
mentioned even once about maybe running for the Republican nomination in
2012, including Sarah Palin, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Texas
Governor Rick “Gee your hair smells terrific” Perry, Texas Congressman Ron
Paul, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty—lots of them.
Of course, RNC Chairman Michael Steele is also scheduled to speak.
Everybody is very much looking forward to that.
And, also, of course, there‘s a Sean Hannity book-signing. It
wouldn‘t be complete without it.
But while the foreign policy work of the presidency and the political
work of those who would hope to take over the presidency in the next
election precedes a pace, today‘s headlines are a reminder that news does
not always fit well on to the political axis.
Last night, if you watched the second edition of this show, which airs
at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time, you would have seen a very different show than
our first run, which aired at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. And that‘s because
at roughly 10:00, as soon as we finished the first edition of our show,
news broke of a disturbance on board a plane bound from Washington, D.C. to
For that first hour or so after the news broke, the story had a lot of
worrying components. Early reporting was that a man from Qatar, a diplomat
from Qatar‘s embassy in Washington have reportedly tried to light an
explosive device from inside the plane‘s bathroom while it was in the air
and that man was subdued by at least one U.S. air marshal.
Now, before midnight, most of that have been dialed back. And we were
left with a much less dramatic, much less dire portrait of what had
actually happened onboard that plane. The diplomat from Qatar had not been
trying to light an explosive device. He didn‘t have an explosive device.
There was no explosive device on the plane.
He was, however, apparently smoking in the plane‘s bathroom. He
subsequently was involved in some sort of confrontation with a U.S. air
marshal on board of plane. That resulted in the scene we saw last night.
The plane, having been escorted to the ground by F-16 fighter jets,
sequestered on the runway, surrounded by emergency vehicles at Denver
By the time today‘s news cycle came around, the story was not only not
as worrying anymore, it was almost the subject of ridicule.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: When all is said and done, authorities look at
this as just a phenomenal act of stupidity?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think that‘s a good way to put it, Harry.
I talked to a number of top officials last night, nobody was laughing at
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s unclear whether or not he was joking or if
there was a possible language barrier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s—by the way, that‘s an unfortunate
language barrier if, in fact, that was the case.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And even more unfortunate joke.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Smoking on a plane.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, TV HOST: -- that people like me undeterred from
smoking in the bathroom, and then, you know, when I open the door and I
say, he, he, he, my foot was hot, and they‘ve, you know?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: It was almost a punch line today—which was pretty much
warranted by the way the news turned after those initial scary reports.
Then there were further new developments today. We learned why this
diplomat from Qatar was going to Denver in the first place. He was going
to Denver to meet with a man named Ali al-Marri. Mr. al-Marri is also from
Who is al-Marri? Why is this name ringing a bell? It‘s because Mr.
al-Marri was arrested in 2001. He was ultimately declared by the United
States to be an enemy combatant. He was held without charges for more than
five years before eventually being moved into the criminal justice system
and pleading guilty to terrorism charges last year.
Mr. al-Marri is now being held at the supermax prison in Florence,
Colorado. Now, the Qatari diplomat from last night‘s “smoking in the
bathroom” incident was scheduled to meet with Mr. al-Marri in prison at
11:00 a.m. today. Now, there‘s no reason to suspect that meeting was
anything other than what it was billed as.
If you are an American arrested and imprisoned overseas, under the
Geneva Conventions, officials from an American consulate get to visit you.
And, likewise, if you are a foreigner citizen arrested and jailed in the
U.S., consular officials from your country get to visit you here.
Mr. al-Marri, specifically, has been getting visits from Qatari
consular officials since the middle of last year. Nevertheless, cue the
political freak-out in four, three, two—yes.
Joining us now is Charles Swift. Mr. Swift is a former judge advocate
general and lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. He represented
Salim Hamdan in a historic U.S. Supreme Court case, Hamdan versus Rumsfeld.
Thank you so much for being here. Appreciate your time tonight, sir.
CHARLES SWIFT, RET. NAVY LAWYER: Yes, I‘m really glad to join you,
MADDOW: In terms of what I said about the consular visits, as I
mentioned, this Qatari diplomat on his way to visit Mr. al-Marri at the
supermax prison in Colorado. Do all foreign-born prisoners in this country
have the right to consular visits? Is that true everywhere?
SWIFT: That is true. You got one thing wrong—you have the wrong
treaty. It‘s not the Geneva Conventions. It‘s the Vienna Convention on
Consular Relations that permits the visits. But it‘s also the treaty
that‘s been signed by the United States and ratified by the Senate.
And, yes, all foreign nationals. It‘s not foreign-born. It‘s whether
you‘re a citizen of a foreign country.
MADDOW: Do you agree with my characterization—although, I
apologize for mentioning the wrong convention—do you agree with the
characterization that they are essentially normal regular and routine, this
is not something that should jump out as any sort of red flag because he
was getting these visits?
SWIFT: It‘s absolutely normal. And the right has been absolutely
recognized by the Supreme Court in several fairly historic cases in the
last decade. And those visits go on around the United States every day.
They also go on around the world where we visit our citizens with our
MADDOW: One Republican congressman today suggested that Qatar pay the
United States back for the trouble that was caused by the actions of this
diplomat on this plane and the reaction to him. How are these things
normally handled? Is there an accepted protocol, an international
protocol, for dealing with incidents like this?
SWIFT: Presuming, and I would assume he does, have diplomatic
immunity, normally there‘s not a payback. What happened is the individual
is recalled to their country. Qatar is embarrassed. He goes home.
But under diplomatic relations around the world, we give—our
diplomats receive immunity from prosecution, and we give that same benefit
to the diplomats that come to the United States. That‘s what happens.
MADDOW: Despite the rather routine nature of these arrangements as
you‘re describing it, today—just this afternoon, we‘re already seeing
some sort of pundit quackery, trying to cast the diplomatic visit itself as
a red flag. Do you—do you think that there is a distance between the
politics and justice issues here? Because broadly speaking, even people
involved in politics don‘t really understand how detainees are treated, how
prisoners are treated, how the justice system works.
SWIFT: And, yes, absolutely. And this crank-up of fear and other
parts prevent the system from working. And it‘s been going on now since
President Obama took office, is that this constant quackery on things that
are very routine and the law and handling of situations which have all been
handled properly, is spun out of control. And it makes it impossible to do
your job if the law and the methodologies in which we operate are
constantly under attack. And we‘re not under attack, mind you, the
procedures are under attack.
MADDOW: In terms of those procedures that you think are sort of
unjustly under attack, would you include among them reading Miranda rights,
for example, to people who are under arrest? I expect that we‘re going to
get people attacking the idea of consular visits some time soon—what
else would you put on that list?
SWIFT: Handling a criminal case in a criminal court, in federal
court, trying terrorists in federal criminal courts when we‘ve been
extraordinarily successful; the intelligent methodologies that work.
Instead, we argue for a lawless regime that has absolutely no history of
being effective. And all of that comes out each time when one of these
situations happens. And we make a mountain out of a mole hill. And I
think—while it was stupid to smoke in a bathroom, what happens
afterwards is extraordinarily absurd.
MADDOW: Charles Swift is a former judge advocate general attorney and
lieutenant commander in the United States Navy, represented Salim Hamdan in
a landmark Supreme Court case, Hamdan versus Rumsfeld—Mr. Swift, thank
you very much for your time tonight. I really appreciate it.
SWIFT: You‘re very welcome.
MADDOW: If you were a congressman paying way below market rent for a
swanky D.C. apartment, and you were paying that way below market rent
because your rent was subsidized by a secretive religious group—would
you step up and defend your insultingly low rent and claim you‘re being
victimized by anybody asking you about it? You might—and in one case,
you just did. We‘ll have details next with our friend Jeff Sharlet.
Please stay tuned.
MADDOW: In the world according to Senator Tom Coburn, he is a
courageous hero for cutting off benefits for unemployed people and I have
made him out to be a demon, just because I‘m so emotional, I can‘t keep
myself from making hysterical accusations based purely on emotion. The
cold, uninflected, unfeeling truth about all of that and more—coming up.
MADDOW: As we‘ve reported, the ethics watchdog group CREW recently
filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee and the Office of
Congressional Ethics against Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas,
Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, John Ensign of
Nevada; also Republican Congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee and Jerry Moran
of Kansas; and Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Bart
Stupak of Michigan and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania.
The allegation is that all of these men paid or are still paying below
market rates for their housing in Washington—reportedly $600 a month in
2002 and also, reportedly, $950 a month last year.
All these men live or have lived at C Street, a 12-bedroom, nine-
bathroom, $1.8 million town house with housekeeping services and meal
services available. It‘s run by a secretive Christian organization that‘s
known as The Family.
Now, this ethics filing has led to a bunch of local press coverage in
these politicians‘ hometown newspapers. And one of the targeted
congressmen is now lashing out. Congressman Jerry Moran of Kansas is
quoted in the “Topeka Capital-Journal” today as telling a student who asked
him about C Street that any complaints about him living at C Street are
rooted in, quote, “a national effort to exclude matters of faith by public
servants.” He added that, quote, “I don‘t think that my interest in
studying the Bible with other colleagues of mine in Congress ought to be
seen as anything but good, or at least personal.”
Agreed. One‘s interest in studying anything, including the Bible, is
emphatically personal. But no one‘s complaining about Jerry Moran‘s Bible
studying. The complaint is about Jerry Moran‘s rent. About the evidence
that he is an elected official, getting his rent subsidized, and he‘s not
reporting that subsidy either as income to the IRS or as a gift, like he‘s
supposed to to Congress.
It‘s not religion that is at issue here. It is ethics and money. And
the threat that‘s at the root of all the rules about ethics and money,
which, of course, is corruption.
Bible study away, Congressman. Who‘s paying your rent?
In his own defense, Congressman Moran also tried to downplay his
living circumstances, telling the “Capital-Journal,” quote, “I have a small
bedroom and a bath I share with other people.” He also says his rent is
market based, not subsidized, and he says he brought his own bed with him
to C Street.
As to the merit of his claim that he is paying what anyone else living
in a 12-bedroom, nine bathroom town house close to Capitol Hill with
housekeeping services and meal services would pay—as to the merit of
that claim, let‘s turn to someone who has actually been inside the house on
C Street, Jeff Sharlet. He‘s author of “The Family: The Secret
Fundamentalism at the Heart o American Power.”
Jeff, it‘s nice to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
JEFF SHARLET, AUTHOR, “THE FAMILY”: Hi, Rachel. Good to talk to you.
MADDOW: I assume that you haven‘t been, and I haven‘t been, neither
of us have been in Representative Moran‘s bedroom. But from what you have
been—what you‘ve seen and what you‘ve been able to report about the
facilities at C Street, do you believe that he and these other members of
Congress were really paying market based rent?
SHARLET: Oh, absolutely not. It‘s a beautiful place. And, in fact,
you go in, there‘s—as you mentioned, there‘s maid service, there‘s a
cook. They‘re hosting diplomatic meetings there. And, you know, they‘re
not bringing in ambassadors from around the world to sit on Jerry Moran‘s
box spring. It‘s a luxury place.
And the fact is, they know that. If you go back in 2002, Louis
Sheldon, a Christian right leader, said, a lot of congressmen don‘t have
$1,500 to pay for rent, so, C Street does that for them. For those who are
members of the Fellowship, it provides this subsidized housing.
MADDOW: When we talked to Senator Coburn‘s office about this last
week, his spokesman defended the C Street rent situation for Senator Coburn
by saying, “He hasn‘t received subsidized rent. He pays more than $10,000
a year for a room and bathroom only.”
Now, $10,000 a year works out to like 830 bucks a month, which is
still incredibly cheap for a room in a fancy town house with meals and
housekeeping. But other people who lived at C Street or who live there now
keep saying this, “It‘s just this room. I just have this one room there.”
Is it your understanding that they have access to all the common space
of this giant mansion, too?
SHARLET: Yes. There‘s a big, beautiful—big screen TV down in the
main common space. There‘s a beautiful dining room which is used for
hosting formal banquets. There‘s a lovely breakfast nook that is also sort
of a conference room. There‘s a beautiful kitchen.
It‘s really a space that almost doubles as a conference center. And
also doubles, frankly, as a hangout. For Washington Congressman Zach Wamp,
a longtime resident said, this is the place to hang out, to talk policy, to
watch sports. It‘s a great place.
I recently spoke to a young woman who—a young evangelical woman
thought she was going to do an internship in Washington, found herself
recruited into C Street and turning down sheets for John Ensign, and she
said, it really sort of galled her that it wasn‘t just those congressmen.
It was also people like Oliver North hanging around, and she was expected
to be at their beck and call.
MADDOW: And just to be clear, people who think they‘re getting sort
of internships are the people who are providing essentially maid services
at no cost to the members of Congress for maintaining these facilities that
they live in.
SHARLET: Sure. And there‘s men who are part of The Family who live
at the house where I lived for a while called Ivan Walt, who brought over
when I went over there. I was expected to be—I was told that my job was
to be there as a servant for these congressmen.
So, you know, whether Tom Coburn is paying $800 or twice that, that‘s
the best bargain in Washington.
MADDOW: Finally, Jeff, any—briefly, any reaction from anybody in
The Family that you can report as to this complaint by CREW, the complaint
to the IRS by these clergy members in Ohio who are upset about The Family
and C Street‘s tax status and ethical status of these members of Congress
SHARLET: Yes, a very puzzling reaction. I managed to get Tim Coe,
one of the leaders of the organization on the phone today, I wanted to talk
to him about the Ohio pastors‘ complaint. I told I wanted to get his
perspective and represent him fairly. His first response was he didn‘t
know them from Adam, and then he acknowledged that he had, in fact, try to
talk with them despite the fact the Fellowship Foundation‘s official
response is they have nothing to do with C Street.
And then he said that he had decided that they were crazy because they
expected him to apparently abide by some standard of transparency, to allow
a reporter in the room for that conversation—and he said, that‘s just
crazy, that he should be expected to be publicly accountable.
MADDOW: While he‘s subsidizing the rent of members of Congress.
Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the
Heart of American Power”—thank you so much for your time, and your just
invaluable reporting on this, Jeff. Really appreciate it.
SHARLET: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, yesterday one of the leading C Streeters, Senator Tom
Coburn of Oklahoma, went after me out of the blue and accused me of being
overly emotional. And, of course, he‘s right. I am a hysterically flighty
girl, and I couldn‘t even finish my segment about him last night. I had a
good cry. I have a pint of Haagen-Dazs, and now, I think, maybe I‘m ready
to talk about Senator Coburn. I will try to hold it together. That‘s
next. No promises on the crying thing.
MADDOW: Across the country tonight, hundreds of thousands of
Americans who are out of work will be going to bed lying awake, wondering
how to put food on the table and take care of themselves and their
families. How to pay the mortgage or the rent, now that they‘re not only
unemployed but their unemployment benefits have been unexpectedly cut.
Paying unemployment benefits isn‘t just a nice thing to do. It‘s one
of the single most economically stimulative things that government can
spend money on. And with a horribly high unemployment rate and an economy
still in need of stimulus, and a lot of people and families in desperate
need right now, keeping unemployment benefits going is a no-brainer.
Democrats have pledged to extend unemployment benefits.
Even top Republicans have pledged that their party is in favor of
extending unemployment benefits. But it turns out they‘re really not.
Republican Senator Jim Bunning single-handedly stopped the extension of
unemployment benefits last month—at one point yelling on the floor of
the Senate, tough—that ends in “it” and starts with shh.
Now, unemployment benefits are being blocked by another single
Republican senator. It‘s Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. For close to three weeks
now, Mr. Coburn has objected to the Senate passing and extension of
unemployment benefits. And he has done so with the ostensibly principled
basis that these benefits are not explicitly paid for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA: I‘m going to stand up every time—we
must pay for it rather than charge it to our children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We must pay for it rather than charge it to our children.
That is the hill that Senator Coburn is planting his flag on right now.
Yesterday, he told “The Hill” newspaper that he would object not just
to unemployment benefits, but to every future spending measure that isn‘t,
in his words, paid for—which is neat and which would be totally
principled—that if were not for Senator Coburn‘s history of voting for
plenty of things that aren‘t paid for. In 2005, for example, Mr. Coburn
had no problem voting in favor of an emergency war supplemental bill that
directed $82 billion unpaid for dollars toward the ongoing wars in Iraq and
Perhaps sensing the hypocrisy in that, Senator Coburn has more
recently tried to explain away that vote by saying, well, he was new to the
Senate then at that time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COBURN: Well, that was—I think, it was the first year I was here.
But go look at who hadn‘t. I‘ve not—I‘ve not voted for one since,
because it wasn‘t paid for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I‘ve not voted for one since. Not voted for one since.
Except for that other one he voted for. Mr. Coburn also voted for the
emergency war supplemental bill in 2006, which is also a multibillion
dollar bill that was not paid for.
See? There it is. Coburn, R-Oklahoma. “Yea.”
Senator Coburn also voted for the bank bailout, despite a lack of
spending offsets for that. He voted for tax cuts that just got tacked on
to the deficit without offsets. He has done this a lot.
Earlier this year when the Senate voted on instituting pay-as-
you-go rules, the concept that he says he supports of not spending without
offsetting the spending except in emergencies, Senator “Everything must be
paid for” Coburn voted “no” on that. “Senator “Everything must be paid
for” voted “no” on the legislation that was required stuff to be paid for.
So when Sen. Coburn says he is blocking unemployment benefits or blocking
funding for wounded veterans caregivers like he did last year, or anything
else that he now says he‘s going to block, not because he wants to block
those things but because of his unyielding principle that he won‘t vote for
anything that isn‘t paid for, when he says that, he doesn‘t really mean it.
He‘s voted for plenty that wasn‘t paid for. But the senator has
not let that hypocritical record get in the way of feeling great about
himself for standing on his fake principles.
He told “The Hill” newspaper about himself yesterday, quote, “The
easiest thing in the world is to pass this bill unpaid for. But consider
the millions of Americans whose financial futures would be damaged versus
the relatively small amount of people who will be affected by this delay.
Now, you tell me which vote takes the most courage.”
Here‘s a hint. If you‘re complimenting yourself on your own
courage, something else might be at work here other than just your sheer,
selfless humble bravery. Last summer, you may recall, his house mate at
the C Street, Sen. John Ensign, admitted to having an extramarital affair
with his staffer‘s wife who was also his staffer.
You may also recall that Sen. Coburn got wrapped up right in the
middle of that whole thing because of allegations that he secretly helped
negotiate a cash payoff, essentially hush money to be paid by John Ensign
to the mistress and her family.
At the time, Mr. Coburn categorically denied doing any such
thing. He told reporters, quote, “I never made any assessment of paying
anybody anything. Those are untruths. Those are absolute untruths.”
That was Mr. Coburn‘s official line until he finally decided to
come clean to the “New York Times” a few months later, acknowledging to the
“Times” in October that he was, in fact, Mr. Ensign‘s affair intermediary
despite his earlier vehement, self-righteous categorical denials of that.
Sen. Coburn was in fact the personal negotiator for Sen. Ensign
in the hush money discussions with the mistress‘ lawyer. In fact, Mr.
Coburn is the one who personally rejected an $8.5 million settlement
request from the mistress‘ lawyer describing it as “ridiculous.”
Despite being up to his eyeballs in the classy, classy details of
this deal by a married sitting senator to pay off his secret mistress who
he was still sleeping with at the time, Sen. Coburn also found it in his
heart to cast himself again as the upstanding heroic man of virtue who no
one should dare question about his involvement in what he definitely was
He told reporters in July, quote, “I was counseling Sen. Ensign
as a physician and as an ordained deacon. That is privileged communication
that I will never reveal to anybody. Not to the Ethics Committee. Not to
a court of law. Not to anybody.”
It‘s heroic, right? Tom Coburn providing mistress payoff
haggling services in his capacity as a deacon. In his capacity as
physician, Tom Coburn providing obstetrical and gynecological advice to
John Ensign, bravely refusing to disclose anything on those conversations.
Actually, Sen. Coburn about-faced on that, too. He happened to
tell the “New York times” how stupid John Ensign had been and how Sen.
Ensign‘s judgment had been impaired by his arrogance. So much for never
disclosing anything to anybody.
Totally regardless of the Ensign affair, Mr. Coburn‘s time living
at C Street has also put him at the center of an ethics and IRS complaint
concerning that house. It alleges that C Street residents like Sen. Coburn
have been receiving way below market value, subsidized rent for a long time
Instead of paying about $4,000 a month, which seems to be the
going rate for the kinds of digs and kinds of services that C Street
residents receive, they‘ve only reportedly been paying $950 a month.
A spokesman for Sen. Coburn confirming to us that he pays not
much more than $10,000 per year, which would be about $833 per month.
Senator‘s spokesman‘s statement to us is that he pays more than $10,000 a
Now, perhaps as a result of all of our questions about this, Sen.
Coburn has now gone out of the blue after me, gone after the way that I
have talked about him and these problems on this show.
Mr. Coburn told the Web site “The Daily Caller,” quote, “Look at
Rachel Maddow. She comes at me on the basis of emotion. She demonizes me.
I don‘t want conservatives to win on the basis of emotion. If we lower
ourselves to the level they operate on, we hurt ourselves and our
He does have a point. I am notoriously, historically histrionic.
He is so calm, so cool. So even keeled.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): I can‘t tell you how worried I am about what
this bill is going to do to my senior patients. I have a message for you.
You‘re going to die sooner. What the American people ought to pray is that
somebody can‘t make the vote tonight. That‘s what they ought to pray.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I have been known to burst into tears randomly just for fun.
But Sen. Coburn is the guy who is urging people to pray that a fellow
senator might die or at least be incapacitated ahead of the health reform
vote last summer - last December.
Before that, we heard him telling seniors that they‘re going to
die if health reform passes. During the Senate confirmation hearing for
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005, Sen. Coburn, who again
now accuses me of being too emotional, managed to pick his head up from the
crossword puzzle that he was ostentatiously working on during the hearing,
long enough to give this assessment of our current politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COBURN: When I ponder our country and its greatness, its weaknesses,
its potential, my heart aches for less divisiveness. Less polarization.
Less finger-pointing. Less bitterness. Less mindless partisanship. Which
at times sounds almost hateful to the ear of Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Noble sentiment. Hard to take from the guy who prays for
fellow senators to die ahead of votes and tells seniors they‘re going to
die because of health reform.
Senator, I understand you are an emotional guy. I don‘t begrudge
you that. I actually sort of admire that. But I think you might be
projecting here. I don‘t feel at all emotional about you.
I just want to know how you can stop people‘s desperately needed
unemployment benefits by claiming a moral high ground principle of not
voting for things that aren‘t paid for when you voted for plenty of things
that aren‘t paid for.
I want to know, senator, who pays your rent. If you just live in
this humble one bedroom and one bathroom, I want to know what room you were
sitting in at C Street when you were John Ensign‘s financial negotiator for
secretly paying off his mistress.
It‘s not personal, senator. I feel no emotion about it. I am
reporting on your record. And this is what that feels like.
MADDOW: A man in Texas has been indicted and charged with possession
of an illegal firearm or destructive device. The destructive device in
this case was allegedly a bomb. His name is Larry Eugene North. He‘s
suspected of planting 36 explosive devices in mailboxes in east Texas, the
last ten of which were pipe bombs.
Now, thankfully, no one was injured in any of these incidents.
According to the Justice Department, quote, “On the morning of April 7th,
2010, Mr. North was observed placing such a device in a collection mailbox
leading to his subsequent arrest. Following his arrest, a search of Mr.
North‘s vehicle revealed an additional destructive device.”
An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosive told the Associate Press today that Mr. North was motivated by
some unspecified anger toward the federal government which may have had to
do with a court case.
For the record, his arrest follows the arrests of people who have
been threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Patty Murray and House
Republican Whip Eric Cantor, not to mention the arrest of nine members of
the Michigan Hutaree militia, who allegedly plotted to kill a law
enforcement officer and wage war on the U.S. Government.
At the request of his attorneys, the judge in Mr. North‘s case
has ordered a psychiatric evaluation. We will stay on this story for you.
MADDOW: Tonight‘s “Moment of Geek” is so geeky that even geeks are
likely to say, “Dude, that‘s some geeky geekiness.” We will actually be
discussing the periodic table of elements. The periodic table. The
periodic table, yes! The periodic table, yes! It‘s coming up.
MADDOW: Less than a week after Hurricane Katrina struck the city of
New Orleans on Sunday morning, September 4th, 2005, an NBC news camera crew
was on a bridge over the industrial canal when they heard a commotion on
the next bridge over.
Here‘s what NBC‘s cameras caught that day. Police officers in a
rental truck not marked as a police vehicle, firing their weapons at
something, impossible to tell what from that news crew‘s vantage point.
Within hours, New Orleans police were giving their version of
events. They said police had confronted a gang of armed men, that the men
had shot at the police first and the police had returned fire.
A very different story emerged later. The people on the
Danzinger Bridge that day were unarmed. They were crossing the bridge
apparently to try to find food and a safe place to stay as their city
But a police call came in saying that officers were being shot at
on that bridge. They weren‘t, but seven officers responded to that call.
And when the smoke cleared, two civilians were dead and four wounded. None
of the victims were armed.
Yesterday, one of the seven officers there at the bridge pled
guilty to helping cover up those shootings. He is the third officer in the
past month and a half to plead guilty to covering up what happened with
those shootings that day on the bridge, a cover-up that involved a planted
gun, phony witnesses, falsified police reports and lying to a state grand
jury that convened to investigate the case.
In the course of entering his guilty plea, prosecutors revealed
that Officer Michael Hunter‘s - they revealed Officer Michael Hunter‘s
chilling account of what happened after the police began firing.
According to the account, quote, “Defendant Hunter saw several
civilians who appeared to be unarmed, injured and subdued. Sergeant A
suddenly leaned over the concrete barrier, held out his assault rifle and
in a sweeping motion fired repeatedly at the civilians lying wounded on the
The indictment also describes what happened when Officer Hunter
and Sergeant A drove to the other side of the bridge in pursuit of three
men who were running away from the scene. One of the men was a severely
mentally disabled man named Ronald Madison.
Officer Hunter‘s account continues as follows, “Officer A,
without warning, fired a shotgun at Ronald Madison‘s back as Madison ran
away. As Ronald Madison lay dying on the pavement, Sergeant A ran down the
bridge toward Ronald and asked an officer if Ronald was one of them. When
the officer applied in the affirmative, Sergeant A began kicking or
stomping Ronald Madison repeatedly with his foot.”
Ronald Madison was 40 years old. He later died, as did 19-year-
old James Brissette. Four other people, all unarmed, were wounded on the
bridge that day. Murder charges were brought in this case initially. They
were dropped in 2008. There is now some speculation that those murder
charges may resurface.
Travers Mackel has been covering the story of the Danzinger
Bridge shooting since 2005. He‘s an investigative reporter with NBC‘s New
Orleans affiliate, WDSU. He‘s also a New Orleans native. Mr. Mackel,
thank you very much for joining us.
TRAVIS MACKEL, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WDSU-TV - NEW ORLEANS: Thanks
for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: What‘s the broad context of what was happening on the bridge
that day? How many people were on the bridge that day? What do we know
about what they were doing?
MACKEL: Well, it seems right now that they were just trying to get
out of New Orleans. We all know that New Orleans was under water. You
know, conditions were not good. Times were dire. This is when
communication was completely cut off.
This is just a couple of days after the storm. It‘s believed now
that these people were just looking for a dry place, a safe place to go,
possibly air lift or a ride out of the city of New Orleans.
It was painted in a different light in these police reports. In
the police reports, officers initially said that the people on the bridge
were armed and were firing at them.
Now, defense attorneys for the police officers involved in this
still stand by that story. They stand by the fact that these officers had
to retaliate because they were fired at first.
But as you just pointed out, several officers have now flipped
and are working with the government saying that they falsified their report
and that a lot of what happened on that bridge was made up to protect these
officers who are, in their own words, out of line.
MADDOW: Well, what was the source of the reported police call that
officers were being shot at on that bridge? Has that ever been cleared up?
And has it ever been proven that officers were ever shot at?
MACKEL: You know, it‘s unknown at that point. Obviously defense
attorneys for the officers - they were known as the Danzinger seven,
because these seven officers responded to the call on the bridge.
Michael Hunter has since pleaded guilty. The other six officers
remain and maintain that they are innocent and did nothing wrong. But as
for the police call, there is still a lot of questions on this how this
call came in.
It came in as officers in as officers in jeopardy - shots fired.
So officers - I know you‘ve been showing the video - jumped into that
rented truck. You know, remember, police cars were flooded. Officers
didn‘t have a lot of easy ways to get around the City of New Orleans.
They were commandeering anything they could get that was still
drivable. They jumped in that moving van and headed out to the Danzinger
Bridge, and from that video, started shooting. They say they were fired at
But like I said, police reports say they were fired at first.
But now, the court documents that have recently been revealed prove a
different story and tell a different story, as these officers are now
starting to plead guilty and work with the government in saying - admitting
that they falsified the police reports and that these civilians were, in
MADDOW: And Travis, it‘s not just that the story is changing, it is
that we are learning about this cover-up. And it was an elaborate cover-
up. I mean, planting evidence, falsified reports, fake witnesses being
With so much effort put into this cover-up effort, why did it
fall apart? How did it start to fall apart?
MACKEL: You know, the feds started looking at it. I think they
started squeezing a lot of people. They thought that the story didn‘t make
sense for about two years following Katrina. And they really started
asking some hard, difficult questions.
A lot of things didn‘t add up. And you know, we should point
out, Rachel, that two other officers, Mike Lohman and Jeff Lehrman have
pleaded guilty. They were not on the bridge.
They pled guilty for conspiring after the fact, as you said,
making up witnesses, planting the gun, having late night meetings to get
officers‘ stories straight so they could tell federal prosecutors and state
prosecutors the same story and make it seem like everything was aboveboard
and it seem like these officers were doing their jobs, protecting their
lives with what these officers say was not the case, these three officers
who have since pled guilty.
So there are still a lot of questions. But the case started to
fall apart when federal prosecutors really started digging into this.
MADDOW: Travers, briefly, one last question about this. I understand
that one of the victims‘ - brother of the man who was killed - the 40-year-
old man who was killed, a man named Lance Madison was actually arrested by
New Orleans police in connection with this shooting. What happened in his
MACKEL: Those charges have been dropped. He was initially arrested
at the scene for attempted murder of police officers. And in fact, that
turned out not to be true. Those charges were later dropped.
It turns out that his brother was the mentally handicapped man
who unfortunately was killed that day on the bridge. And it seemed like
they were just trying to get help in getting out of the city of New
Orleans. But those charges against Mr. Madison have since been dropped.
And you know, we should point out, you know, you touched on the
fact that powers of the city of New Orleans handling this - you know, I
think a lot of people are shocked and distraught in the City of New
They have can‘t believe that this is going on. And you know, New
Orleans is a city that sometimes has some distrust in its police
department. This only lends itself to that. They have 1,500 police
officers, the bulk of them good law-abiding cops.
And it‘s unfortunate when things like this go down. You know, it
gives a black eye most people in the City of New Orleans feel to the entire
Travers Mackel, investigative reporter with NBC‘s New Orleans
affiliate, WDSU. Travers, thank you very much for your reporting on this.
Appreciate your time.
Coming up you on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith finally and properly joins
Twitter. And he asks my friend John Hodgman to help him figure it out.
Next on this show, a “Moment of Geek.” Please stay with us.
MADDOW: Tonight‘s “Moment of Geek” is about this - in case it‘s not
totally clear to you what that is, it is a tattoo of the periodic table of
elements, the iconic chart that hangs in every high school science lab and
that gets a private place on flyleaf of every science textbook.
There is the famous Tom Lehrer song about the periodic table
which Xeni Jardin found last week hidden inside the iPad version of the
Tom Lehrer may have to add another verse or two to that song
because a whole lot of new elements have been discovered since he wrote
that in 1959. But this guy with the tattoo of the periodic table clearly
got that since 1959. And even he may be headed back to the tattoo parlor
for an addition some time soon because a new potential addition to the
periodic table has just been heralded by the Joint Institute for Nuclear
Research in Russia.
A joint team of American and Russian scientists say they‘ve
created a new element over a five-month period. They managed to create six
atoms of it using a particle accelerator to smash an atom of calcium into
atom of berkelium.
Now, here‘s the part that‘s both super geeky and super simple.
Calcium has an atomic number of 20. Twenty protons there in its nucleus.
Berkelium has an atomic number of 97. You smash them together - you smash
20 into 97 and what do you get? 117.
The new element has an atomic number of 117. And for now, it‘s
actually just being called element 117. Actually, in kind of fake Latin
for 117, for 1-1-7, they‘re calling it ununseptium, which of course, cannot
What happens next is that if another lab (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
replicates their success at creating this thing, ununseptium will become a
real element and finally get to move to its square on the periodic table
forever. And then they won‘t have to call it ununseptium anymore.
Researchers will get to give it a real name. For scientists,
getting to name an element is beyond the Nobel Prize. You‘re part of
history. You are on the flyleaf. You‘re on the tattoo.
The “New York Times” tried to get some of the researchers who
were involved in creating element 117 to speculate about what they might
name it if their research is confirmed. None of them would say anything
One researcher, a chemist named Dawn Shaughnessy, told “The
Times,” quote, “We‘d never discuss names because it‘s sort of like bad
karma. It‘s like talking about a no-hitter during the no-hitter. We‘ve
never spoken of it aloud.”
Of course, we never want to jinx it either, but I‘m just saying that
right now, this element is being called 117, simply the number of atomic of
117. I‘m just saying.
There is a P.S. 117, Public School 117 in Jamaica Queens, pre-K
through sixth grade. Wouldn‘t it still be sort of label scientifically
kosher to keep 117 in the name to name it after the school to get a whole
lot of little American kids psyched about physics and smashing atoms
together? Come on, P.S. 117-ium, anyone? Come on. P.S. 117-ium.
That does it for us tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.
“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Have a great night.
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