THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
August 29, 2013
Guests: Jeremy Bash, Bill de Blasio, David Garrow, Jonathan Capehart
ALEX WAGNER, GUEST HOST: A no from the British parliament on military
action in Syria, which begs the question, can the U.S. and President Obama
go it alone?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama makes his case for action in Syria.
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: This crisis in Syria.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama laid down his thoughts.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There needs to be
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: However, Congress right now very reluctant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many members of Congress aren`t on board.
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC HOST: Some members are calling on Congress --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One hundred and sixteen Congress members.
FINNEY: -- to get congressional approval first.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American representatives need to be a part of that
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president believes it`s important for us to consult
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do need to see some proof.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This whole debate is contaminated by the legacy of
DAVID CAMERON, UK PRIME MINISTER: I am deeply mindful of the lessons of
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: British lawmakers are pumping the brakes, as well.
CAMERON: The well of public opinion was well and truly poisoned by the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ground war is under way.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Those weapons of mass destruction have
to be somewhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the old debates are going back out again.
CAMERON: This is not like Iraq.
DAVID AXELROD: There is a broad consensus here.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no interest in any
kind of open-ended conflict in Syria.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re not trying to change the regime here.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS: While Washington is not talking about regime
change, the Syrian rebels certainly are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s going to have to go before the American people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First and foremost to the American public.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do need to see proof.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would the legal justification be?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s the political purpose of what you`re trying to
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president said there has to be consequences.
OBAMA: There needs to be international consequences.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That doesn`t mean there has to be an all-out war.
WAGNER: I`m Alex Wagner, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.
More than 100 people have been brutally murdered in the last 48 hours.
Over 4,000 people have been killed in the past five months. And more than
500 criminals and terrorists are free after al Qaeda exploited a troubled
and untroubled environment.
That is the situation today in Iraq -- the result of what the "Associated
Press" describes as a seemingly unrelenting wave of violence pounding Iraq
a decade after the U.S.-led invasion. That legacy of the Bush
administration which convinced the American people to support a military
invasion on false premises and faulty intelligence, which yielded thousands
of American deaths, no WMDs and a safe haven for terrorists where none
existed before looms over the White House as President Obama considers what
to do next and convince America, Congress and the world that Syria will not
be a repeat of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You know where they are,
they`re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad, and east, west, south and
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: We believe, in fact, reconstituted
BUSH: We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come
in form of a mushroom cloud.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
WAGNER: Today, British Prime Minister David Cameron tried to assure a
skeptical parliament that he and President Obama are not warmongers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAMERON: The president of the United States, Barack Obama, is a man who
opposed the action in Iraq. No one could describe him as a president who
wants to involve America in more wars in the Middle East. I remember in
2003, I was sitting there, two rows from the back, on the opposition
benches, I wanted to listen to the man standing right here, and believe
everything that he told me.
We`re not here to debate those issues today, but one thing is indisputable.
The well of public opinion was well and truly poisoned by the Iraq episode
and we need to understand the public skepticism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WAGNER: That case was not persuasive to the British parliament, which
voted tonight to reject British military action in Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAMERON: I strongly believe in the need for a top response to the use of
chemical weapons. But I also believe in respecting the will of the House
of Commons. It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the
views of the British people, don`t want to see the British military action.
I get that and the government will act accordingly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WAGNER: For his part, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest
firmly rejected any comparisons to Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: What we saw in that
circumstance was an administration that was searching high and low to
produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military
invasion of another country with the final goal being regime change. That
was the articulated policy of the previous administration.
What we have seen here tragically, is a preponderance of evidence available
in the public domain that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against
innocent civilians. We don`t have to search high and low for that
evidence. The evidence exists.
The second thing is that the president is clear he is not contemplating an
open-ended military action. He is contemplating what we`re talking about
here, something that is very discreet and limited.
Thirdly, the president was also candid yesterday in his interview about the
fact that we`re not talking about regime change here, that we are talking
about enforcing a critically important international norm.
So, I thoroughly reject the suggestion that these situations are somehow
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WAGNER: The White House is doing a full-court press with members of
Congress. Earlier today, President Obama persona personally called Senate
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker John Boehner.
And tonight, Secretary of State John Kerry briefed members on a conference
Republican Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told
Andrea Mitchell the president does not need to get their votes in order to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: I do think that legally he needs to come
up and consult with Congress. Again, you know, a few phone calls, those
kinds of things. You have to have a robust discussion. Congress needs to
be involved in this process.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: But you`re not saying there has to be a vote.
You`re not saying --
ROGERS: No, under the Wars Powers Act, I don`t believe there has to be a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WAGNER: Tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting, "Obama willing to
pursue solo Syria strikes. President Obama is prepared to move ahead with
a limited military strike on Syria, administration officials said on
Thursday, even with a rejection of such action by Britain`s parliament, an
increasingly restive Congress and lacking an endorsement from the United
Nations Security Council."
Joining me, MSNBC`s Chris Hayes and Steve Kornacki.
Chris, the specter of Iraq has loomed so large, whether rightly or wrongly
over every aspect of this debate. I guess, what are your thoughts as we
find ourselves here on the eve of possible military strikes, possibly going
it alone? I mean, I think for a lot of Americans, that phrase even sends
shivers down the spine.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Yes, we should be clear here what the current
terrain is and what the map looks like. There is no possibility of a U.N.
Security Council resolution, because Russia and China will not stand for
it. There is no hope of any kind of NATO sign off on this activity.
There is not a possibility now of any kind of joint exercise with the U.K.
as we saw in that really stunning, stunning rebuke to David Cameron that
happened across the ocean today. We should know it is very rare under the
parliamentary system to lose a vote like that.
So, we`re down to basically us. And in terms of what the actual
international legal foundation for a military strike is, that is incredibly
unclear. The domestic legal foundation for it is unclear.
So, even before you get to the question about the moral calculation of
whether it is right to do or strategically wise, there is no -- as far as I
can tell, no very clear cut legal rationale internationally or domestically
for a military strike against Syria.
WAGNER: Steve, as Chris points out, the reaction from the British
parliament is worth discussing. And I wonder how you think that informs
congressional reaction. I mean, if David Cameron was basically rebuked and
said to the parliament, I get it, we`re not going to go there, I mean, how
does that inform the dynamic between President Obama and members of
Congress who are already sort of very much in this debate?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Right, and Chris says it is rare for it to
happen in Britain. What`s been rare in modern times and increasingly rare
in domestic politics in the United States has been Congress really
seriously involving itself in making foreign policy and making decisions
like this. Congress really has sort of been happy to sort of yield to the
president, yield to the executive branch, not just with President Obama.
We saw it with Libya and the same thing with the strategic agreements that
President Bush signed during his presidency that were not subject to
confirmation by the Senate. That essentially if it were treaties.
Congress reads the story of the last generation or two, politically, you
have a lot of members of Congress who were not foreign policy experts, it`s
an issue they run on, it`s not an issue they were elected on. They`re
confronted with something this like, and their big fears are something
being put on the record. You know, some kind of vote, to authorize force,
like the 2002 vote in Iraq comes back to haunt them, or maybe conversely,
you think back to the 1991 vote to authorize force in the Persian Gulf,
that was a very contentious vote that didn`t get through, there were
Democrats that wanted to run for president in 1992, and they couldn`t --
where they couldn`t win because a wrong vote on that, they voted against
So, members of Congress just don`t want to be bothered with this generally.
WAGNER: Well, and Chris also, I think we`re in a different place in terms
of where the Republican Party is on foreign policy. And they have these
two wings that are almost at odds with each other. You have the Rand Pauls
versus the John McCains and they have not square that circle.
HAYES: No, but also, let`s be very clearly. I mean, I said this the other
day. I can`t find anyone in my universe, the wide variety of people I saw
on Twitter, people I talk to on the street that come up to me, that I talk
to in a deli or family and friends who really wants to have a military
strike in Syria. I mean, the foundational political fact is that it is
incredibly, politically unpopular. And that political unpopularity has
just manifested itself in a democratic fashion in the United Kingdom. It
is about to manifest itself domestically.
I mean, there is a broad agreement I think across the right and left,
you`re seeing it in the letters that are being sent from members of
Congress, that they don`t want to do this. I think they don`t want to do
this because they think it`s unwise. But I also think they think it`s
politically untenable and unpopular.
And what would be really interesting to see is, John Boehner can just call
a vote. I mean, he could just say let`s have a vote on whether we think
this is a good idea. And I think that would be great exercise in
democracy. I think it would be great to get the Article 1 foundation
institution of this republic on the record on this. And I would think it
would really interesting to see how that vote turn out.
WAGNER: Yes, that vote -- I can`t imagine, I don`t know that John Boehner
would put his own caucus in that potion, though. I mean, I think that
there are a lot of Republicans that don`t now how to really reconcile their
desire to end what is seen as a bad thing over there in Syria, 100,000
people are dead, there are 1.5 million refugees, it is an incredibly
unstable regional conflict at this point, and then the reality of how you
end that and the fact that there is no silver bullet. I just don`t know
that Republicans can even take the votes, Steve, the hawks versus the
I mean, that cleaves the party as much as any other issue today?
KORNACKI: Which is I think what you really have to be looking out for
here, and again, it`s not just -- there is that Republican split. It has
to do with a lot of members of Congress. It is one thing to hear a lot of
noise saying, we want to be consulted. We have questions. We need
answers. That`s sort of standard in modern times.
My question is when it becomes more than that, we want to go on the record,
we want our name saying yes or no to this, because that`s not something
that Congress has wanted to do for the last generation when they can avoid
it. So, my question is, is it different this time? That`s what I`m
HAYES: And, Alex, to your point about this cleavage between the kind
neocons and sort of Rand Paul caucus in the Republican Party, I think there
is a big difference between the Senate and House. I think the Senate, the
Republican caucus is still sort of majority in John McCain`s corner on
these kinds of things. I think that is absolutely not the case in the
House. I would imagine a majority of the Republicans in the House, if we
took a vote right now on Syrian intervention, would vote no.
WAGNER: We shall see.
Chris Hayes, host of "ALL IN", and Steve Kornacki, host of "UP" -- thank
you both for joining me tonight.
WAGNER: Coming up, the pressure is on the CIA to produce the intelligence.
And what happened after the march on Washington? The FBI started looking
very, very closely at Dr. Martin Luther King. Their conclusions are coming
WAGNER: An unprecedented retreat in the war on drugs. The Justice
Department announced today that it will not stop Colorado or Washington
state from implementing their laws to legalize marijuana. Attorney General
Eric Holder told the governors of both states that the department is
reserving the right to sue the states to stop the laws if it believes the
states had not put strong regulatory and enforcement systems in place.
And in other enforcement news, it only took seven years but the ATF finally
has a director. Todd Jones was sworn in today as the director of the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Jones has been the acting
director since 2011 while awaiting Senate confirmation. He was one of the
nominees who finally gained confirmation thanks to this year`s otherwise
not entirely effective filibuster deal.
Up next, the evidence against Syria isn`t a slam dunk. What we do and
don`t know about the chemical weapons attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We have looked at all the evidence. And we do not believe the
opposition possessed nuclear weapons -- or chemical weapons of that sort.
We do not believe that given the delivery systems using rockets that the
opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that
the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that is so then
there needs to be international consequences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WAGNER: Well, President Obama yesterday told the PBS "NewsHour" that the
Syrian government is in fact responsible for a chemical weapons attack that
left hundreds dead. U.S. officials told "The Associated Press" that the
intelligence on the August 21st attack is, quote, "no slam dunk" -- a
reference to the word that former CIA Director George Tenet used to lead up
to the Iraq war.
Intelligence officials say that while the evidence is clear that there was
a chemical attack, according to "The A.P.", they are not certain that it
was carried out under the orders of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Despite the mixed assessment, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power tweeted this
message five days after the attack, "Haunting images of families dead in
their bed. The verdict is clear: Assad has used CWs against civilians, in
violation of international norm.
That same day, her predecessor and currently national security adviser
Susan Rice tweeted, "Only regime has the capacity to launch CW with
Meanwhile, British intelligence officials took the rare step of releasing
an intelligence assessment with reports that it is highly likely that Assad
was responsible for the chemical weapons attack.
Joining me now is Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA, and at the
Department of Defense under Leon Panetta.
Jeremy, there are so many questions here, but given your expertise in the
field, how certain can we be about a chemical weapons attack? We`re
hearing two things, slam dunk, other officials are acting with certainty.
The British Intelligence Service seem to have gathered the evidence they
need, despite the fact that the British seemed like they were not going to
take any action on the issue.
But how close to certain can we even get in weeks after an attack?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF AT THE CIA: Well, Alex, it`s great to
be here. Intelligence is never 100 percent certain, right? In many ways,
you`re trying to put together a mosaic, a picture of a lot of different
streams of information. So, you got human sources on the ground telling
you something. You`ve got signals intelligence, intercepts, phone calls or
other communications by the leadership.
You`re also talking to NGOs, troops on the ground, to witness things.
They`re talking of potentially doctors, also watching open sources in the
And this is a case, Alex, where unlike 10 years ago, where we were ting to
figure out what was Saddam hiding, what were his secrets? Here, we`re
actually talking about what`s open and available for things to observe.
Now, if somebody wants to make the case that this is a fraud, this is a
hoax, this is perpetrated by someone other than the regime, I`d like to
hear that. But for right now, we`ve got solid intelligence. We`ve got an
assessment by a very respected nonpartisan intelligence committee in
Britain, with whom we share a great deal of information, saying it is
highly likely it was the Assad regime.
So, I don`t think there are going to be too many doubts about who did this.
The real question is what do we do about it?
WAGNER: Yes, I sort of want to focus on that, because, you know, unlike
Iraq, where the administration was looking for a reason to go in, this
administration seems like they really don`t want to find that the red line
has been crossed, right? I mean, they`re going in sort of highly
skeptical, given the fact that they are finding the evidence. It`s putting
the president in a very difficult position.
And I guess the question is, if this is all about a deterrent, right, the
red line has been crossed. In as much as we are not trying to affect the
situation in Syria, we are trying to assess the bad actors from using their
own chemical weapons. What does -- what does the United States need to do
in order to make sure it is an effective deterrent, whatever military
strike we order?
BASH: Well, Alex, the president has been really careful here, right? He
doesn`t want to get us into an open-ended conflict. In fact, if you look
at the instance in which he applied the military force, putting a surge of
troops into Afghanistan, participating in the coalition operations against
Libya, and putting our special forces into Pakistan to get to Osama bin
Laden, those were cases where the president wanted to be careful, he wanted
to be circumscribed and he wanted get to a specific end game.
Here, I think we`re not looking for an open-ended military conflict. But
the military strategy is I think is probably on the president`s desk, that
the joint chiefs are probably looking at right now, and I`ve been in some
of the rooms where the military options have been discussed. The number
one reason, to punish Assad for breaking international norm, to degrade his
capabilities, to take down his abilities to do this, and to deter him from
doing this again.
And we have lost some of the deterrence, and what is deterrence?
Deterrence is to hold at risk something that Assad values. So if we can
put in our sights those things that he values, his military command in
control, his military headquarters, his rocket-firing positions, his
chemical weapons abilities, and some of his enemy air defenses, that`s
going to reestablish deterrence in a major way.
WAGNER: Can that be accomplished with limited military strikes?
BASH: It can be accomplished because we`ve got a lot of great firepower, a
lot of accuracies of that firepower. We just put on station a fifth guided
missile destroyer, the USS Stout came to the eastern mid today. We`re
going to have enough fire power.
And while we would love to have allies like the Brits, we don`t really need
them for fire power. We need them for political support, for diplomatic
support, for intelligence support, and by the way, we may get that.
Today`s vote wasn`t about those things. It was really about military
We don`t really need them for that. But we will have enough fire power to
bring to this problem.
WAGNER: Jeremy Bash with a really helpful and granular assessment of what
we might actually do. Thank you so much.
BASH: Thanks, Alex.
WAGNER: Former chief of staff at the CIA. Jeremy Bash, thanks for joining
Coming up, who wasn`t marching on Washington yesterday? Republican
leadership. Karen Finney and Jonathan Capehart join me next to discuss the
elephants not in the room.
WAGNER: On Monday, the Republican National Committee held a lunch
commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. Chair of
the RNC, Reince Priebus, said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: What lessons we can learn? What I can learn
as chairman of the party? You know, you can`t make the sale if you don`t
show up and ask for the order, right? And this is a good example of
something that a few weeks ago said, you know, we need to be a part of
this, we need to commemorate this historic day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WAGNER: You can`t make the sale if you don`t show up.
In the spotlight tonight, not one Republican invited to speak at the actual
commemoration of the march on Washington actually showed up. Every
Republican that was invited had a scheduling conflict, except former
President George W. Bush. The former president is recovering from a
procedure to clear a blocked artery. So, organizers invited his brother,
former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who also then declined.
House Speaker John Boehner couldn`t attend because he is on a 35-day bus
tour raising money for incumbent Republican House members. House
Republican majority member Eric Cantor was also invented but declined again
because of scheduling. Cantor was in North Dakota touring oil and
According to "Roll Call", Senator John McCain also declined because he had
public events in Arizona. Michael Steele, the first black Republican
lieutenant governor of Maryland and a former Republican National Committee
chair assessed the situation in the pages of "The Washington Post."
He said, quote, "It`s part of continuing narrative that the party finds
itself in, with these big deals from the minorities around the country and
how they receive our response to them." In other words, you can`t make the
sale if you don`t show up.
Joining me now is MSNBC`s Karen Finney, and Jonathan Capehart.
Karen and Jonathan, it was a real, I will say magical moment on the mall
yesterday. But also, in some ways, really disheartening, no leadership
from the Republican part of the aisle showed up. And, Karen, I must read
you a statement that Eric Cantor made just moments ago, underscoring the
importance of civil rights, commemorating the bloody Sunday march in Selma.
He said, "I am proud to participate in this year`s civil rights pilgrimage,
alongside Congressman John Lewis. We have the opportunity to come together
and celebrate this powerful moment in history. I look forward to visiting
the sites of so many landmark civil rights events and reflecting on the
sacrifice that shaped the great democracy that we live in today."
And yet, apparently, yesterday`s events?
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC HOST: Not so much.
I mean, here is the thing, if there was a political concern about what they
say, if you can`t show up and just say something nice about your colleague,
John Lewis, who got his head beat in for fighting for rights, maybe
something nice about MLK, the change that this country has seen -- I mean,
that`s a problem. That is a slam dunk kind of event.
There is no reason that they shouldn`t have gone, particularly because
while it is true are people going to remember this a year from now, no.
But it would have been a check mark in their box. It would have made some
of the rhetoric that we have been hearing since the start of the autopsy, a
little bit more credible if they actually said, you know what? We`re going
to go to this event, and we`re going to say some nice things about some
really important people. And it`s not partisan.
WAGNER: You know, Jonathan. I think of Reince Priebus as sort of like a
Sisyphean character, sort of rolling this boulder up the hill, only to have
it fall back on him. Trying to say we need to -- you can`t make the sale if
you don`t show up and then nobody shows up.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right.
And also, another thing that he says in this clip is, you know, we have a
great story to tell, we Republicans, about what we have done in regard to
you know, civil rights. Well, you know what? You haven`t done a whole lot
since about 1960.
CAPEHART: So if you have to go back almost 60 years, certainly 50 years to
talk about the great things you did, you kind of got a problem. I mean,
let`s -- we have to bring some context here. The majority leader Cantor,
Speaker Boehner, all those guys will come back and say you know what, we
did commemorate the March on Washington an event at the capital in late
July and early August. So they did do something.
The problem is, as Karen said, by not showing up, yes, they didn`t check
the box. They didn`t say anything nice about their colleague. They didn`t
commemorate the moment, but what is missing is statesmanship.
FINNEY: That`s right.
CAPEHART: That`s what is missing.
WAGNER: And I will -- I mean, two things to add to that. One is, this is
not just any old convention, right?
WAGNER: This is former President Clinton and former President Carter,
President Obama standing on the steps of the national mall. This is a
moment to really truly honor on a national scale the legacy of Dr. Martin
And Karen, you know, Republicans do show up for certain events. And as
Alex (INAUDIBLE) right in today`s "Washington Post," Republicans had no
problem appearing in droves at a hastily organized tea party rally. And
two, where GOP lawmakers sweltered in a long line, waiting to take the
stage. Some were not even invited, but just showed up hoping to get a
chance to speak to the people.
FINNEY: But also, think about it this way. So, it didn`t occur to someone
back in even June, you know what is coming up in August? What is that?
That 50th anniversary thing. Yes, we should see about. We should have
somebody go to that.
I mean, if you have to be told that this event is coming up, I mean, that
goes to sort of part of the problem in terms of the sort of tenure and sort
of the not paying attention.
WAGNER: I actually think that is more insidious that it take. Here it is,
the tea party is our base, we`ll cater to the base. People of color,
people who are progressive, this is not part of the base. Never mind the
fact this is something much, much bigger than that. This is the legacy --
FINNEY: But here is the thing. We have seen this attitude from the time
President Obama was elected and got received the Nobel Prize. That should
have been a moment of pride for American. Regardless of whether or not you
support President Obama, the world looked at the country and said wow, you
did that. And we, as a country, had had a moment to be proud of that. And
Republicans chose to be bitter, angry, lots of excuses. Instead of saying
yes, you know what? We didn`t win, but this is a great thing for the
CAPEHART: You know, the thing here is, it is not only a commemoration of
the speech, a commemoration of the man, the civil rights icon. That march
was a Seminole moment in American history. The world changed after that
speech. The idea that the speaker of the House of Representatives, the
house majority leader couldn`t bother to show -- OK, fine. If you can`t
show up, you got a scheduling conflict, fine. How about send a letter, a
proclamation, something where your presence is felt.
WAGNER: And there were some statements released. Although I have to say,
Karen, probably the best one from any Republican was George W. Bush who
said our country has come a long way since that bright afternoon 50 years
ago, yet our journey of justice is not complete. Just to the east of the
Lincoln where President Obama will speak on Wednesday stand the Martin
Luther King Jr. memorial there on the national mall, our president, which
is an important caveat whose story reflects the promise of America will
help us more the man who inspired millions to re that promise. George W.
Bush said that.
FINNEY: He understood something that goes what Jonathan was talking about,
it is statesmanship because what was happening yesterday was an American
moment. It was not a Democratic moment or a Republican moment, right? It
was a very important moment in the history of this country to mark it. We
know that a lot of people who are there yesterday, who had been there in
1963 will never be together again. What a historic moment to see that
group of people together celebrating progress and looking to the future,
and to say, essentially by not showing up, it is not that important. It is
not that important as a moment in American history.
WAGNER: Well, I think they will have a harder time making the sale given
their attendance at the event. So, that`s hard.
Karen Finney and Jonathan Capehart, thank you both for joining me tonight.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Alex.
WAGNER: Coming up, what the FBI thought of the march on Washington 50
years ago and the phrase they used to describe Martin Luther King Jr. after
hearing his speech.
And the man who may be the next mayor of New York City joins me just ahead.
WAGNER: Today, the NFL reached a $765 million settlement deal with more
than 4500 former players over concussion-related lawsuits. The money will
fund medical exams, research, and allow for financial compensation for the
plaintiffs and their families.
Among the plaintiffs, the family of linebacker Junior Sauo, who committed
suicide last year after suffering chronic traumatic brain damage. Super
bowl winning quarterback, Jim McMan is suffering from early stage dementia.
He is 53-years-old and hall of fame running back, Tony Dorsett, had
multiple concussions during his years on the field and says he is now
suffering from memory loss. The plaintiffs accuse the league of hiding the
risks of concussions. The NFL, meanwhile, has denied all wrong doing.
Up next, the man who may be New York City`s next mayor and pushed the
Democratic Party back to the left.
WAGNER: All politics may be local, but no other mayoral race in the
country could mean more for the national political discourse than the one
in New York City. And that race now has a frontrunner with a commanding
lead. A new Quinnipiac poll of likely Democratic primary voters shows that
the city`s public advocate, Bill De Blasio, now leads the pack with 36
percent, a full 15 percent ahead of city council speaker Christine Quinn.
A candidate needs 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
There are 12 days until the party primary, but one-third of those Democrats
say there is a good chance they could change their minds before the vote.
De Blasio has seemingly benefited from Carlos dangers fall from grace. As
Weiner`s poll tanked, De Blasio has shut up. So far, De Blasio has
produced the only memorable campaign slogan going after economic inequality
in New York by borrowing from Charles Dickens (ph) and calling it the tale
of two cities. He has also racked up a slew of celebrity endorsements
including Harry Belafonte, Cynthia Nixon, Susan Sarandon, Martha Plimpton,
Russell Simmons, Alan Cumming, Chris Noth, and Steve Buscemi.
But a great opinion piece by Rich Yeselson in "Politico" today explained
why this race matters outside of the five boroughs of New York City.
Yeselson argued that if de Blasio is elected. It will quote " tell us
something important about the boundaries and possibilities of American
liberalism. Democrats who hold power rarely proposed straight forward tax
and transfer policies anymore. That is why de Blasio`s campaign and his
possible mayoralty could be a portentous episode. If de Blasio is
successful, well Democrats around the country push harder for higher taxes
on the rich and more public services for everybody else.
Joining me now is Democratic candidate for New York City mayor, the city`s
public advocate, Bill de Blasio.
Bill, thanks so much for joining the program.
BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY MAYORAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Alex.
WAGNER: So let`s talk about this bold proposal that at one point in
American politics was not so bold. But the idea that those makes the most
have to share a little bit more with those who are making the least.
In some circles, this seems a fairly radical theory, and especially in a
town like New York City where the discrepancy between rich and pour is so
dramatic. And I will draw to everybody`s attention, the New York
comptroller office used 2009 as a snap shot that to show the problem the
top one percent nationally earned 16.9 percent of this country`s income.
In New York, the top one percent earned 32.5 percent of New York City`s
total income. That is a dramatic, dramatic divide.
DE BLASIO: Well, Alex, we have the worst income disparity in the city that
we have had since 1929, on the verge of the depression. You know, it is
not an acceptable state of affairs. I talk about the tale of two cities
because people are living it. They know it is not the way forward. And
one of the ways you address this is figure out what is going to help people
move forward. Clearly a tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers, a tax on people
who make the half and no more, so that we can work on our public school
schools that need so much help.
This tax would pay for full-day pre-K for every child in New York City and
would pay for after school programs for middle school kids. And it would
help us finally start to address a racial achievement gap that bluntly is
as clear as ever, based on the test scores that came out very recently.
So, this is a fair common sense measure to address a crucial problem and to
really get at the core of inequality because education is one of the tools
we have to address. I think most New Yorkers think it is common sense to
say, hey, folks who are doing well can afford a little more to very modest
increase in taxes, but to give us over half a billion a year to work with
And by the way, I think we have all seen the stock market lately, folks
doing well are doing better than ever, because they are investing in the
stock market. It is the all time high. It is a perfectly fair time to ask
them to pitch in to help other folks.
WAGNER: I have to ask you, though, Bill, you know, if New York city is a
microcosm for the rest of the country, when the president has proposed any
sort of policy that would tax the rich more, to help invest in programs
that might help the rest of the country, which is to say the bottom 90
percent, he is called a socialist, he is called a Swede. He is trying to
redistribute funds. And he is called every name in the book.
And I guess I wonder, to what degree are you concerned that the sort of
money-making power class in New York will hear this message and use every
weapon in their arsenal to prevent you from becoming mayor?
DE BLASIO: I am certain some of those counter efforts will occur, but here
is my message to the progressives all over the country. You have to stare
that down. You got to fight it back and not let people take it away from
us the core common sense of what we are saying.
The people of the city get it. I have seen ample evidence that they
believe. It is fair and just to ask the wealthy to do a little more. Even
wealthy folks acknowledge that our schools are not good enough. We`re not
preparing enough kids for 21st century economy. So, I argue that look,
this is an act of fairness, but on top of that, I would like people doing
well to recognize this is in their interest, too, to try to make this whole
society work better for everyone.
So I think those attacks will come. I`m not going to be surprised by them.
I actually think that people will resent if those attacks are over the top.
They will resent it. And what we need to do in a city and certainly in
this country is build a majority that believes in fair share, that believes
in asking the majority to do their fair share, so we can make the society
fair for everyone.
It is not working. In this approach we are using right now, here is the
other point. This status quo is not working for a huge percentage of New
Yorkers, a huge percentage of Americans. So what is the definition of
insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different
result. It is time for a more progressive approach.
WAGNER: Bill, I have to ask you for talking about a more equitable
society. We have been talking nationally about the policy of stop-and-
frisk. And you have come out with ads saying you`re not OK with it.
You`re saying you`re the only candidate to end the stop-and-frisk era that
targets minorities. At the same time, you have also been quoted of saying
I think you can`t eliminate the basic tactic of stop-and-frisk. So where
are we to believe you land on the issue of stop-and-frisk?
DE BLASIO: Very consistent. You know, when it is used unconstitutionally,
which has been in a lot of cases here in the city as we found out from our
federal core system. When it is used in a discriminatory manner,
absolutely unacceptable. And the fact is that the policies of the city
have supported, our the mayor and police commissioner has supported an
approach that has been discriminatory and has torn apart police and
So, I believe in only using the actual police tactic of when you have, for
example, a suspect description and you are stopping people who fit that
description. That is appropriate. But you can only do it in conformity
with constitutional rights and without discrimination.
WAGNER: I`m sorry to interrupt. But do you think that is feasible, to use
the stop-and-frisk in a limited fashion?
DE BLASIO: Yes, in a limited way. In fact, for many years, even the first
years of Bloomberg administration, was used that in a very limited manner
and crime continued to go down. But we are only going to get there with a
new police commissioner with a strong enforcement of our new racial
profiling ban and with an independent inspector general to make sure there
is oversight of the NYPD.
WAGNER: New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, thank you for
joining me tonight. And good luck in the race.
DE BLASIO: Thank you, Alex.
WAGNER: Coming up, what the FBI labeled Martin Luther King two days after
the march on Washington.
WAGNER: Up next, the FBI`s reaction to the Martin Luther King speech. To
them, Dr. King was deemed dangerous.
WAGNER: Martin Luther King Jr.`s "I have a dream" catapulted him into the
national spotlight and into the history books as one of the greatest
orators of all time. But that speech also put him at the top of another
list, Americans who are surveilled by the FBI`s list.
Just two days after Dr. King`s delivered his speech at the march on
Washington, the FBI`s head of domestic intelligence, William Sullivan
issued a memo saying personally, I believe in light of Mr. King`s powerful
demagogic speech that he stands head and shoulders over all other negro
leaders put together when it comes to influencing the masses. We must mark
him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the
future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and
Just six weeks later, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover pressured attorney
general Robert F. Kennedy to authorized full electronic surveillance of
Reverend King. Senate hearings and the subsequent government report in
1976 later revealed that the FBI`s program to destroy Dr. King as the
leader of the civil rights movement entailed efforts to discredit him and
collected information through an extensive surveillance program employing
nearly every intelligence gathering technique at the bureau`s disposal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the dark side of the activities, were many Americans
not even suspected of crimes. We`re not only spied upon, but they were
harassed. They were discredited and at times, endangered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WAGNER: Joining me now is David Garrow, the author of "the FBI and Martin
Luther King Jr." and the Pulitzer Prize Winner biography, "Baring the
cross, Martin Luther King Jr. and the southern Christian leadership
Thanks so much for joining me, David. I think -- I mean, for a lot of
Americans it is shocking to understand the breathes and depths of FBI
surveillance on Dr. King. And the really dark ulterior motives that they
had in trying to take down, to topple offensively one of the civil rights
leaders of American history.
I guess I wonder what about the speech was most (INAUDIBLE), if you will,
to the FBI? Because on some level, the crowds, their reaction, the
passion, but there is also moments like this, this message of economic
equality. And I want to draw everyone`s attention to this part of King`s
He says, we refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse
to believe there are insufficient funds in the great vault of opportunity
at this nation. And so, we have come to cash this check, a check that will
give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
Preaching a message of economic equality that I think probably sent a
shudder down the spine of the repressive majority that was, I think,
terrified of the black population in America.
DAVID GARROW, PULITZER-WINNER BIOGRAPHER: I think it is striking to
anyone who hears or reads "I have a dream" in the present day to realize
that the top people in the FBI characterized the speech as demagogic.
At the time of the march on Washington and "I have a dream," the FBI was
already wiretapping two of Dr. King`s closer advisers, his lawyer, Clarence
Jones, and another very close friend, Stanley Levison. You mentioned in
your intro how just two months after the march the FBI begins to wire tap
Dr. King himself, both at his office and at his home.
And so it is a very sort of full field coverage that the FBI, with the
authorization of Bobby Kennedy as attorney general, is mounting against Dr.
WAGNER: David, you mentioned Bobby Kennedy. And I think that is also
interesting to a lot of folks who think of the Kennedys as heroes, in terms
of civil rights and equality. The fact that Bobby Kennedy approved the
wire taps what does that prove about the Kennedys and race.
GARROW: The FBI was asserting to the Kennedy brothers, both to the
attorney general and the president that some of the advisers closest to Dr.
King, like Stanley Levison, were communists, or at least former communists.
And both of the Kennedy brothers came out of the anti-communist liberal
democratic mindset of the 1950s. So when one knows the history, it is not
shocking or surprising that Robert Kennedy as attorney general would flinch
and flinch seriously when the FBI warned him that King was subject to
quote-unquote "communist influence".
WAGNER: The other lesson to be learned from this, if there is a lesson to
be learned from this, is the legacy of government surveillance. And how we
seem not to have learned that there could be abuses of justice in
conferring great power on the government to surveil citizens. What
happened with Dr. King seems like it should have been illegal. Was it
illegal? And just how did the FBI have the authority to do this? And what
do you think the legacies are as we talk about the NSA today and the
surveillance tape that we are building in the 21st century?
GARROW: That is exactly the right point to emphasize, Alex. You know,
what we see in the story of the FBI`s pursuit of Dr. King is everyone else
in government who believing the supposed expertise and claims that the FBI
was making about the danger represented by King, based on their supposed
better secret knowledge. The bottom line lesson is very straightforward,
very powerful. People, whether in government, or citizens, should not
defer blindly to the supposed expertise of intelligence agencies.
WAGNER: David Garrow gets tonight`s LAST WORD.
Thanks for joining me, David.
GARROW: Thank you.
WAGNER: I`m Alex Wagner, in again for Lawrence O`Donnell. You can catch
my show, "NOW," weekdays at noon eastern.
Chris Hayes is up next.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES: Good evening from New
York. I`m Chris Hayes.
Tonight on "ALL IN," after days of ratcheting up the rhetoric to intervene
in Syria, our Congress and tonight the British parliament is saying not so
fast. That in a moment.
Also tonight, fast food workers in 60 cities across the country spent the
day on strike, protesting to raise their wage, shutting down some fast food
restaurants. We`ll talk to a U.S. Congress person who joined the workers
on the picket line today.
Plus, my interview with Mayor Cory Booker who`s running for U.S. Senate.
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THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL