THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: February 25, 2014
Guests: Dana Liebelson, John Wisniewski
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ari. Great job tonight.
Nice to see you there, man.
ARI MELBER, "THE CYCLE" CO-HOST: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thanks to now at home as well for staying with us the next
So, this was the top story in the country 10 years ago today. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning. The cultural divide, a nation
split down the middle and the 2000 presidential election could be a house
divided once more. Today`s hot-button issues, constitutional amendment
banning gay marriage.
This morning, we`re going to examine the cultural divide that could
take center stage in this fall`s election. Will President Bush`s support
of the ban on gay marriage be a key wedge issue?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was February 25th, 2004, exactly 10 years ago today,
after then-President George W. Bush made one of the biggest domestic policy
announcements of his first term. He`d been elected in 2000. He was in the
throes of his re-election campaign already. And on February 24th, 2004, so
10 years ago yesterday, he appeared in the Roosevelt room at the White
House to make a statement to the American people.
This was not a press conference. It was not a big event with an
audience like presidents sometimes do. It was just him and a microphone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: We`re going to prevent the
meaning of marriage from being changed forever. Our nation must enact a
constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America. An amendment to
the Constitution is never to be undertaken lightly. The amendment process
has addressed many serious matters of national concern, and the
preservation of marriage rises to this level of national importance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: National importance. The president of the United States
calling for the Constitution of the United States to be changed in order to
protect the nation from the threat of gay people getting married.
He wasn`t saying, like, Congress should pass such and such a law or in
my view, I think the state should do this on the matter or my personal view
on the issue is this. He`s saying as a nation, we should change the
federal U.S. Constitution to keep gay people in their place.
Now, the idea of this happening, the idea that 38 states would sign on
to a constitutional amendment, it was sort of farfetched, right? But 2004
was an election year, and in an election year, you do what you can do. And
that year, Republicans across country were very united on the substance of
this issue. In 11 states across the country, that election year in 2004,
Republicans used anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives to try to drive up
voter turnout for Republican candidates and for the president`s re-
All 11 of those states that voted on the issue that year, all 11, 11
out of 11, voted against gay rights and nine of those 11 states that voted
against gay rights voted for George W. Bush for president while they were
at it. And indeed, George W. Bush was re-elected president.
But before that election had happened, he had promised them while he
was running for re-election, he had promised that he would go for a
constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. "Vote for me and I will
change the U.S. Constitution to protect America from gay rights."
Once he did get re-elected, though, eh, he kind of forget that.
Nothing. Never acted on it.
Republicans never got their federal constitutional amendment that they
maybe thought they were going to get. They maybe thought that`s what they
were voting for when they voted for George W. Bush`s second term. But the
Bush White House and bush re-election campaign got what they want out of
that issue, anyway, right?
For Republicans, campaigning against gay rights, campaigning against
the threat of gay people having equal rights was something that united
basically all Republicans. It excited parts of the Republican base and
made them turn out to vote even if they might not otherwise. And it`s an
issue that divided some Democrats.
It was a perfect cultural wedge issue for an election year in 2004.
And the Republicans knew that that was an issue that worked in their favor.
It won them elections. You put the threat of gay rights on the ballot
anywhere in the country, you campaign against that threat, you win. All
over the country, as of 10 years ago, at least.
Now, though, now, maybe not so much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mounting pressure from John McCain to Apple,
even concern to Super Bowl organizers -- a growing chorus calling on
Arizona`s governor to veto a bill that would let businesses turn away gay
customers. Is her decision near?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Well, that was the top story in the country today.
Republicans under fire in the great state of Arizona for passing a bill
that would allow businesses to refuse to serve gay people as customers.
Republicans under fire in that state for that bill, even from some other
Ten years ago, there was not Republican-on-Republican fighting on this
issue. Ten years ago, this was a straight-up winning unifying issue for
Republicans. They were not only united, they had popular support for anti-
gay positions. They were happy to take these positions publicly and to be
known for them anywhere in the country.
Ten years later, though, it`s an open and really interesting political
question. As to whether those sorts of positions represent both the past
and the future of the Republican Party, or whether that stuff is just the
The question is whether Republicans will continue to be how they have
been on these issues. Or are they going to leave that history behind? Are
they now going to change? Open question, really interesting question.
And today, in the news, that really interesting open question became
very specific, because we are now officially on veto watch in Arizona. As
Arizona`s Republican Governor Jan Brewer decides whether to sign or veto a
bill that was just passed by the Republicans in the state legislature in
Arizona. Stores could refuse to do business with customers who they
believe to be gay. Restaurants could refuse to serve you a meal if you`re
gay or they think you`re gay. Hotels could refuse to rent you a room if
the hotel owner or even the hotel clerk said something about doing business
with you violated their religious beliefs.
Any Arizona business could put up a sign in their window that said we
serve straight people only. Well, on that bill, Governor Brewer has until
Saturday to make a decision. NBC reported earlier today that sources close
to the governor says she`s likely to veto the bill, but likely is no sure
And while we`re on veto watch in Arizona, it turns out this is not
just happening only in Arizona. It`s happening in other places, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Arizona bill is on Governor Jan Brewer`s desk
awaiting her decision on signing it or vetoing it. Now, a similar bill is
under consideration in the Georgia capitol.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s called the Preservation of Religious
Freedom Act. This afternoon, hearings in both the House and Senate
Judiciary Committees were held to debate House Bill 1023.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: House bill 1023 would allow individuals,
government employees to deny services based on religious grounds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, that`s Georgia. Opposite side of the country, same thing
Georgia Republicans in both the Georgia House and the Georgia Senate
have introduced bills like the one in Arizona, almost identical, which
would allow businesses to discriminate if they said they wanted to do so
because of their religious beliefs. Both of those Georgia bills were
debated in committee yesterday afternoon. The Senate bill in Georgia could
reach the floor for a vote as early as tomorrow.
And it`s not even just Arizona and Georgia. It turns out these bills
are like the trendy new right-wing bill all around the country.
In Missouri, a Republican state senator just yesterday introduced a
bill that would allow Missouri businesses claiming a religious objection to
refuse to serve customers on that basis.
In Ohio, a bill like this has also been introduced there in the House.
In Nevada, a bill like this is making its way through a committee.
Same story in Idaho, where a Republican bill has been moved back to
Republicans in Oklahoma have proposed a bill like this.
Republicans in Hawaii have proposed a bill like this.
Republicans in Mississippi have already passed a bill like this
through the state senate and it`s now on the way to the Mississippi House.
Republicans in Utah are trying to pass this measure as an amendment.
Republicans in Oregon are trying to get it on to the ballot.
Republicans are trying to pass legislation like this everywhere in the
country and at lightning speed. So far, at least, though, it has not yet
It`s interesting, for a while it sort of seemed like these bills were
going to pass everywhere, kind of under the radar. But in all the places
where these bills have gone far enough to seem like they might become law,
in all of the places where that`s happened and they`ve attracted national
attention, they have then gone away. It`s like sunlight makes them fizzle
up and die.
Earlier this month, Kansas Republicans passed one of these bills by an
overwhelming margin in the House, but then when it moved on to the state
Senate in Kansas and a whole bunch of national headlines followed about
what Kansas was about to do, the bill in Kansas was quickly killed before
it even came to a vote in the Senate.
A few days later, the eyes of the nation descended upon the state of
Tennessee, which was also takes up a bill like this. It looked like it had
a good chance of passage. It started to get national attention and then
the bill was abruptly delayed for a year by Republicans in the state
The place that has gone the furthest thus far is Arizona, which is why
right now all eyes are on Arizona to see if the Republican bill there is
going to pass or if it`s going to meet the same fate as Kansas and all the
Republicans were really, really sure of themselves on this issue for a
really long time. They knew campaigning against the threat of gay people
having equal rights was great politics for them. Sunlight made them grow.
They wanted to be known for that in these issues. When they got national
attention to their anti-gay fights, they felt like it made them stronger,
not weaker on this issue.
Being anti-gay used to unite Republican politicians. It worked for
hem. It was a reliable vote getter. They used to put it on the ballot
because they thought it would have coattails even in national elections.
They used to know how well anti-gay politics worked for them all around the
Now, today, two questions: do Republicans still think this can work
for them the way it used to? And also, where did all these nearly
identical discrimination bills come from all over the country, all at once?
Joining us now is Dana Liebelson. She`s reporter with "Mother Jones"
magazine. She`s been doing some great work covering these so-called
"Religious Freedom" bills in Arizona and in Georgia and around the country.
Ms. Liebelson, thanks very much for being here.
DANA LIEBELSON, MOTHER JONES: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, you`ve been reporting on these bills that have been
popping up all across the country. Are you able to tell where these are
all coming from? Or is everybody just having the same idea all at once?
LIEBELSON: You know, it`s funny, a lot of the different lawmakers are
pointing to other lawmakers saying, hey, I got the idea from Ohio, I got
the idea from Tennessee.
But if you dig into this more, I think you find there`s a lot of
actually national conservative groups who are kind of working, pushing this
legislation, in some cases even writing the legislation. And although we
haven`t found sort of one group that`s behind all these bills, I think
there`s definitely a correlation.
MADDOW: It seems just watching this from a national perspective, it
seemed to me like Kansas was the place that was most likely to pass it.
There`s been kind of a purge in Kansas legislature where they got rid of a
lot of Republicans who weren`t on the conservative side of the Republican
Party. Obviously, Sam Brownback has been a crusading anti-gay Republican
politician for all his time in public life.
I thought Kansas would do it. Kansas balked and decided not to.
Arizona is very close.
Can you tell how close they are in Georgia? Are they likely to move
it as far as Arizona has?
LIEBELSON: Sure. Well, I think with the Arizona bill -- at first,
people didn`t really realize what the Arizona bill did because it doesn`t
specifically say anything about same-sex couples the way the Kansas bill
does. However, as people sort of look more into the language of the bill
in Arizona, they realize it can be used to sort of justify any kind of
So, once we saw what happened with Arizona, I think when the Georgia
bill came around, it got national attention much quicker and, you know,
last I heard one of the representatives who introduced that bill in Kansas
was -- I mean, in Georgia was thinking of offering amendments to it to make
it less discriminatory.
MADDOW: In terms of the overall idea of, like, the title of these
bills and the ways they`re being marketed, a lot of states have bills
explicitly protecting religious freedom on the books above and beyond, of
course, the federal constitutional protections for religious freedom that
we all enjoy. The idea of doing this through state legislation isn`t a
brand new legal concept.
What is it about these laws that is novel? What is different about
these new measures?
LIEBELSON: Right, so people who defend these bills say, hey, there`s
nothing new to see here. These are the same old religious freedom
restoration acts we`ve always had.
But in fact, the bills we`ve seen proposed in the last couple months
have this very distinct provision where they allow people and in some cases
like the case in Arizona, businesses to use religion as a defense in a
So, to give you an example of how that might play out -- you know,
let`s say you live in a state where it`s illegal to fire someone because
they`re gay. Now, if one of these bills passes, that company could turn
around and say, oh, hey, I think homosexuality is a sin, therefore I`m
going to fire you and I don`t need to abide by this law.
So, you know, that lawsuit provision is a big deal.
MADDOW: And I know in some of the cases, in some of the states where
they`ve been considering this, the lawsuit provision works in such a way
not only can you not sue somebody for discriminating against you, but if
you do, you have to pay their legal fees as well as your own so it`s almost
a punishment for even complaining about being discriminated against.
It`s fascinating stuff and fast-moving story. Dana Liebelson,
reporter for "Mother Jones" -- thanks very much for being here tonight,
it`s nice to see you.
LIEBELSON: Yes. Thanks for having any.
All right. The federal prosecutor`s investigation of the George
Washington Bridge scandal in Chris Christie`s New Jersey has taken a turn
today. We`ve got that story ahead. John Wisniewski is here as well.
And there`s something that`s about to be big news concerning the FBI.
That`s coming up tonight in a big story that we`ve got ahead. It`s right
at the end of the show. You will not see it anywhere else. We`ve got a
big hour ahead tonight. Please stay with us.
Oh, but first, "One More Thing" -- on veto watch out of Arizona. As
we await word on whether or not Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will sign that
state`s discriminate against gay people it`s OK with us bill, well tonight,
Delta Airlines became the latest company to put out a statement condemning
the legislation in Arizona. Delta Airlines now joining American Airlines,
Southwest Airlines, Apple, Intel, Verizon, AT&T, along with both of
Arizona`s professional basketball teams, the NBA`s Phoenix Suns and the
WNBA`s Phoenix Mercury. All of these organizations are now coming out
publicly and saying please veto this bill.
Will Governor Jan Brewer listen?
Veto watch continues.
Stay with us. We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: Absent of
bilateral security agreement, you know, is the military leader as our
country, I can`t ask young men and women to serve in a country without the
protections afforded by a bilateral security agreement.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS: But this is --
MIKLASZEWSKI: You indicated earlier, this is not something you really
want to do.
DEMPSEY: No. Absolutely not.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Would it feel like a loss or defeat? Would you feel
DEMPSEY: No. I would not. I mean, I think I can speak for those who
have served in Afghanistan, just as we did in Iraq.
I, you know, the young men and women who served in Iraq and are now
serving in Afghanistan have accomplished their mission. They have set back
al Qaeda in very significant ways. They have built an institution, the
Afghan security forces, that can, given the proper political structure
around them in Afghanistan, sustain a stable platform in that country.
But, you know, we can`t deliver a political outcome, and so I don`t
consider it in any way a defeat for the United States military, if, in
fact, we don`t achieve a bilateral security agreement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in an
interview with NBC`s Jim Miklaszewski today while en route to Afghanistan.
That was them on the plane.
General Dempsey saying there he does not personally want U.S. troops
to totally withdraw from Afghanistan, but if there isn`t a signed agreement
between our government and the Afghan government about U.S. troops staying
on, then all U.S. forces will leave, this year. The chairman saying today
that after 13 years of that war, U.S. troops accomplished their mission in
Afghanistan and it would not be a defeat to leave.
Something really specific seems to have led to today`s big news about
the war and the end of the war. This is Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
This is him last October in Brussels at NATO headquarters. He was there
meeting with all the other people who have his same job and all the other
NATO countries. It was the meeting of the NATO defense ministers.
And at that meeting late last year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told
all the other defense secretaries in NATO that by the next time they all
got together, the U.S. and Afghanistan would likely have signed a deal to
arrange for some number of U.S. troops to stay on in Afghanistan even after
the nominal end of the war this year. He told the other defense ministers
when we next meet in February, we expect that by then the president of
Afghanistan will have signed this deal.
Well, that next meeting in February is tomorrow. Tomorrow, Chuck
Hagel is meeting again with all of those other defense ministers from all
the other NATO countries. The next meeting is tomorrow and the president
of Afghanistan has not signed that deal, even though the U.S. had told
those defense ministers we expected that by now it would be a done deal.
It seemed like the Afghan president was going to sign it. The deal
was finalized and put in writing in November. The Afghan government
convened a loya jirga for all the tribal elders in Afghanistan to weigh in
on it and they resoundingly said the Afghan president should sign that
But the Afghan president has not signed that deal so now Chuck Hagel
is going back to Brussels. He`s going back to meet with these defense
ministers tomorrow and there`s no deal like he said he thought there would
And if there is no deal to keep U.S. troops there after the end of
this year as the chairman of the joint chiefs said to Jim Miklaszewski
today, if there is no deal, there will be no U.S. troops in Afghanistan
come January 1st.
And the White House double underlined that saying we cannot and will
not have troops on the ground without a signed deal governing the terms in
which they are there. And then the president, himself, apparently triple
underlined that today in a direct one-on-one phone call with Hamid Karzai,
with the president of Afghanistan, after which the White House released
this statement. And, frankly, if you`re used to reporting on this longest
war in American history, this is kind of a breathtaking thing to see.
The president asking the Pentagon today to ensure that it has adequate
plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year
should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
This does not mean for sure that every single American service member
will be gone from Afghanistan by January 1st. But it means that that is
now a possible outcome. The U.S. military will now plan logistically to
make that a realistic option. And that is no small feat given we have been
there in numbers as high as 100,000 strong, plus innumerable contractors
for the length of time that it takes to raise a teenager. Getting out of
Afghanistan after being there so long is, itself, a significant military
and logistical undertaking.
Well, today, President Obama ordered that the planning begin for the
number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to drop over the next nine months from
34,000 where it is right now to zero, no looking back.
Now, the Pentagon is also planning for other options, for the options
of not just leaving zero troops there but the options of leaving anywhere
from 3,000 to 10,000 troops there as a residual force. Karen DeYoung in
the "Washington Post" pointed that out this week.
It`s possible there will be a residual force. That`s part of the
planning there. But as Chuck Hagel flies off to Brussels and the chairman
of the joint chiefs flies off to Bagram and the president calls Hamid
Karzai directly and the statement goes out from the White House today that
no agreement between us and Afghanistan on troops staying means the zero
option is alive and in play. With all of that happening right now, the
possibility of the final end of this war is finally upon us.
The president has said this war ends in 2014. Well, 2014 is here and
the end of the year is coming, like it or not. Time is short and the river
rises. It is time to plan now for how we leave because we`re leaving,
More to come. Watch this space.
MADDOW: A big turn in this story of the investigations into the Chris
Christie administration in New Jersey. A new critical piece of information
about where federal prosecutors are looking for criminal wrongdoing in that
scandal. Also, the man in charge of New Jersey`s legislative investigation
into the scandal and the Christie administration`s role in it is going to
be joining us next.
And still ahead tonight, a story that you will not hear anywhere else,
but it`s about to become a big deal for the FBI. It`s a story that is both
spooky and it is about to be a big national story and you are going to hear
it first here. That`s ahead.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Little Fort Lee, New Jersey, and its mayor, Mark Sokolich,
have been at the center of the bridge lane scandal involving the Chris
Christie administration from the very beginning. But it was not until
yesterday we learned Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had met with federal
prosecutors as part of their criminal investigation into the Christie
Now, it`s never clear what`s going on in any formal criminal
investigation until there`s an indictment or some other public explanation
of what prosecutors have been doing. By design, it`s kind of a mysterious
process. But the news before now about the U.S. attorney`s investigation
into the bridge scandal had made it seem like maybe that investigation was
focusing not so much on the bridge. Maybe it was focusing more on the
allegations about how the Christie administration has dolled out hurricane
Sandy relief money and whether or not those allocations have been based on
something other than need, whether they`ve been based instead on politics.
We knew, for example, that the federal prosecutors office, the U.S.
attorney`s office and FBI agents had interviewed town employees in Hoboken,
New Jersey, as well as the mayor of Hoboken, about that mayor`s claims that
she was essentially shaken down by members of the Christie administration.
Told that her town wouldn`t get additional Sandy relief funding unless she
approved a for-profit development in Hoboken that was favored by some
reason by the Christie administration.
So, we knew that federal prosecutors were looking into that. We knew
that federal prosecutors had conducted interviews on at least those Sandy
Interestingly, we also had statements from two of the figures who were
directly involved in the bridge lanes shutdown, David Weinstein and Bridget
Kelly. We had statements from both of their lawyers that they had not yet
been subpoenaed by the federal prosecutors.
OK. So if they`re not getting subpoenas but Hoboken is, does that
mean that the federal criminal inquiry was not looking at the bridge lanes
and was instead looking at Sandy funding and other parts of the scandal?
No. It turns out because now we know that federal prosecutors have
also interviewed the mayor of Fort Lee. Of course, whose town was turned
into a parking lot by those bridge lane closures.
So, overall, we`re not going to know until they tell us what exactly
is happening with the federal criminal investigation into what happened in
New Jersey. But now, at least we know that they`re talking to Fort Lee as
well as talking to officials in Hoboken. That`s what we know about what`s
happening with the federal prosecutors` side of this. What`s happening
with the state side of it? What`s happening with the state legislative
investigation into this scandal?
Joining us now is New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski. He`s co-
chair of the Legislature Select Committee that`s investigating the bridge
closure and related matters.
Mr. Chairman, nice to see you.
STATE REP. JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: Rachel, good it be here.
MADDOW: Let me -- I know you are not involved at all in the federal
prosecutor`s investigation into what the U.S. attorney is doing, but do you
have any comment on the fact or any reaction to Mayor Sokolich meeting with
the U.S. attorney on Friday it.
WISNIEWSKI: I think what it says is the U.S. attorney`s office is
doing their due diligence. There have been lots of allegations swirling
around what Mayor Sokolich said and what happened in Fort Lee. So, I think
they`re talking to the source. They`re talking to the person who first
raised the argument that this was being done for political retribution in
his letter that was sent off during that bridge closure.
Major Sokolich made that allegation, so I think they`re doing their
due diligence. To what end? Neither you or I could really understand what
they`ll do, as you pointed out until they actually decide to do something
MADDOW: Do you -- I know that your special counsel who`s advising
your side of the investigation has met with the U.S. attorney`s office and
has talked about making sure that these two investigations, your own and
the federal criminal one, don`t step on each other`s toes.
Is it clear to you what you have to do to avoid impeding any sort of
potential federal criminal prosecution here?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think Reid Schar, who`s a former U.S. attorney
out of Chicago has a very good understanding of how they`re going to
operate. And as a consequence, what we need to do to make sure that we`re
not impeding or interfering with their investigation in any way. He`s very
confident in the way that we`re proceeding. He`s not interfering with
anything that they`ve got planned.
And we`re going to continue to seek his advice and counsel as we move
forward, but obviously we do not want to do anything that`s going to impede
a federal law enforcement investigation into any aspect, whether it`s the
bridge or any other issue.
MADDOW: I know that you are still reviewing and still receiving
documents related to the last round of subpoenas --
WISNIEWSKI: Thousands of pages.
MADDOW: Are they still -- do you know when you will have them all?
In terms of what extensions people have asked for?
WISNIEWSKI: I think that we`ll know at some point. We`re getting
documents produced on a rolling basis.
WISNIEWSKI: So every couple days we`ll get some more in. So it`s
hard for me to say now that we`re at 10 percent or 50 percent or 75
At some point in time, those people who are delivering them on a
rolling basis will say, well, you`ve got everything now, and then we`ll
really go into the issue of have we gotten everything? Are there privilege
issues that they`ve raised or are there redactions that might be in the
documents that we want to check into? So, we won`t know until we`re
further down the road.
But it`s a very time consuming process. There`s literally thousands
of pages of documents. Some which may be of interest and some which
clearly are responsive because they mention George Washington Bridge. They
mention Fort Lee. But other than that, really have no bearing on the
MADDOW: So how do you manage -- as co-chair of the investigation, how
do you manage the work load? Do you read stuff as they come in? As things
come in? Does the special counsel sort of organize the reading of it and
show you things that you ought to see? How does it work?
WISNIEWSKI: I`m pretty particular about how this happens. And so, I
know the U.S. -- I know Reid Schar is looking at the documents. I make
sure I look at them all so I have a firsthand understanding of what`s going
on, what`s coming in, what`s not yet in which is probably just as
MADDOW: On the matter of David Samson, specifically, you told "Star-
Ledger" after reviewing some of the documents you`ve received so far from
David Samson, you say he`s intimately involved in the operations at the
port authority. He, of course, is the chairman of the Port Authority.
MADDOW: "The New York Daily News" today has called for him to be
fired. The executive director of the Port Authority today said that David
Samson in his opinion does not have the moral authority to stay on in his -
WISNIEWSKI: I read that, yes.
MADDOW: -- his role as chairman.
What did you mean when you described him as intimately involved in
operations? Why is that important?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, when we first looked at the documents that were
made part of the committee`s record when David Wildstein testified, we saw
some references where Chairman Samson sent an e-mail, essentially
expressing his frustration, anger at Pat Foye, having talked about this
issue of the lane closure. And then, there`s another e-mail that says
Samson`s going to help us retaliate.
I think the documents that have come in subsequently shows an
individual who`s really intimately involved in the day-to-day details of
the operation of the Port Authority. Clearly, this was one of the
operations of the Port Authority, albeit one that was done improperly or
perhaps, you know, not proper motive.
So, it really raises the question of exactly how much did he know
about this operation? How much did he know about the planning? How much
was he involved in the preparation of the story that Bill Baroni gave to
the transportation committee?
MADDOW: Are you finding that Chairman Samson was in close
communication with the governor`s office or with other top officials in the
WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think one of the things I`ve noticed is the Port
Authority no longer was really an independent agency. It really seemed to
be being an adjunct, another desk in the governor`s office and a lot of
correspondence and discussions back and forth, which is troubling because
this agency is not supposed to be a captive of any one state`s governor`s
office. And it really takes it to a different area of accountability when
you have that happen.
MADDOW: Accountability should go both directions.
WISNIEWSKI: Absolutely. We need greater accountability in this
agency. That`s the only way this is going to be stopped in the future.
MADDOW: New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of the
select committee in the legislature investigating the bridge closure --
thanks for being here. It`s nice to see you, sir.
WISNIEWSKI: Thank you, Rachel. Good to see you.
We`ve got lots more to come. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAIN VERJEE: Do you personally dislike homosexuals?
PRES. YOWERI MUSEVENI, UGANDA: Of course. They`re disgusting. What
sorts of people are they? How can you go -- I don`t -- I never knew what
they were doing. I`ve been told recently that what they do is terrible.
But I was willing to ignore that if there was proof that how he`s
born, abnormal. But now, the proof is not there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the president of Uganda speaking yesterday right
after he signed the kill the gays bill for that country which is a matter
we`ve been watching ever since American anti-gay evangelical activists
suggested that law to Ugandan legislators in 2009.
After we covered that bill for so long, it looked like it was gone for
a long time, but the bill came back and it was, in fact, signed into law
yesterday. Now, though, it is no longer a "kill the gays" bill. It`s just
a jail the gays for life bill or jail the gays for life law now in Uganda.
Last week, President Obama cautioned the Ugandan government that if
President Museveni signed the law, it would complicate the United States`
relationship with the country. Now that he`s gone ahead and signed it,
it`s a burning question as to whether or not anything is going to change
between the United States and Uganda, including how much foreign aid we
give them. U.S. foreign aid to that country is about $485 million in this
current fiscal year according to the State Department.
Today in Congress, there was a move toward answering that burning
question about what happens next when the chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee Patrick Leahy said he would oppose any further aid to the Ugandan
government. He said, quote, "Until the United States has undergone a
review of our relationship." Secretary of State John Kerry did say
yesterday the U.S. would begin an internal review of our relationship and
engagement with Uganda, including our assistance programs.
Meanwhile, though, "The Wall Street Journal" reports that other
countries are not waiting. Norway, and Denmark and the Netherlands have
already decided and announced that they will withhold any further aid to
the nation of Uganda because of this issue.
It was a big deal when Hillary Clinton gave her human rights day
speech in 2011 when she said that for the United States, gay rights are
human rights and our country will consider gay rights issues when dealing
with other countries around the world from this point forward.
But that speech was not just a big deal for Hillary Clinton as a
figure in American politics, Hillary Clinton as a potential political
candidate. She was speaking as secretary of state and that was a big deal
for U.S. foreign policy. What we`re seeing right now, today, is a test of
whether or not that was just talk or whether that is the new U.S. foreign
policy and what happened in Uganda is actually going to have consequences,
whether something`s actually going to happen. Watch this space.
MADDOW: OK. This is a big story.
This is James Comey. He`s very tall as you can see here. He`s the
head of the FBI and there have not been all that many heads of the FBI in
The director of the FBI serves for a ten-year term. And James Comey`s
immediate predecessor in that job was Robert Mueller. He was only the
sixth director of the FBI in U.S. history. And he served for even longer
than his 10-year term. His term was up in 2011 but even after that 10
years in office, they extended it and had him serve all the way until 2013.
When President Obama did finally consent to replace Bob Mueller, to
pick somebody new to run the FBI for the next 10 years, he picked a
James Comey is a Republican. He served in the Department of Justice
under George W. Bush. He was the number two official in the Bush Justice
But in that job, he was not, if not a dissenter, at least someone who
would stand up when something seemed wrong. The legend of James Comey and
the Bush Justice Department was the story of him literally racing through
Washington, racing to the hotel room of then attorney general John
Ashcroft, to try to stop White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez from trying
to get John Ashcroft to sign off on one of President Bush`s surveillance
programs while Ashcroft was in intensive care profoundly ill and in his
So, James Comey raced across Washington, raced to John Ashcroft`s
bedside and arrived there just minutes before Alberto Gonzalez essentially
in an effort to protect the attorney general. Here`s how he later told the
story during a Senate Judiciary hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I told my security detail I need to get to
George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on emergency equipment
and drove very quickly to the hospital. I got out of the car and ran,
literally ran up the stairs with my security detail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your concern? You were in obviously a
COMEY: I was concerned that given how ill I knew the attorney general
was that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in
no condition to do that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. OK.
COMEY: I was worried about him, frankly. So I raced to the hospital
room, entered and Mrs. Ashcroft was standing by the hospital bed. Mr.
Ashcroft was lying down in the bed. The room was darkened. And I
immediately began speaking to him trying to orient him as to time to place
and to try to see if he could focus on what was happening. It wasn`t clear
to me that he could. He seemed pretty bad off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s James Comey talking about his time in the Justice
Department under President George W. Bush. That was how he earned a
national reputation for being a guy who wouldn`t just go along to get
along, right? That`s how he earned his reputation for being willing to do
the right thing even when it meant bucking authority, in this case, bucking
Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card and taking a very politically difficult
stand within the administration.
Thanks in part to that reputation that he earned under the previous
administration, James Comey was nominated last year and then confirmed last
year to be the head of the FBI, the head of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation. And now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a problem.
"The New York Times" a few months ago used the freedom of information
act to pry loose these records of the FBI. The records about the 70 people
who FBI agents shot and killed over a roughly 20-year period. From 1993 to
2011, FBI agents shot and killed 70 people and shot and wounded 80 people.
So, 150 shootings altogether.
And every one of those instances, the shooting was reviewed by the FBI
itself internally. And in every one of those instances, all 150 of those
shootings, the FBI determined that the shooting was justified -- 70 people
killed, 80 people wounded, 150 people in total shot by FBI agents, every
single one of them ruled by the FBI to be a justified shooting.
They`re 150-0. They`re batting 1.000. And maybe FBI agents are
angels. Or maybe God has assigned individual perfect angels to guide every
single bullet ever fired by an FBI agent ever, so that those bullets only
ever go exactly where they want to belong every time.
But the fact is that no one else really reviews FBI shootings other
than the FBI itself, other than this internal review board. They`re
federal agents, right? Nobody prosecutes them for shooting people, nobody
.looks into their shootings, except the FBI itself.
And unless you believe in the perfect angels` theory of FBI angel
bullets, you better believe something is wrong at the FBI. Even when games
are rigged, they do not go 150-0. That`s not a real record. That`s not
actually found in nature. Nobody is supposed to be above the law in this
country, even the FBI. And there is something wrong, something obviously
wrong with the way we are handling FBI shootings, if every one ever
reviewed in the last 20 years has been ruled justified.
In January, FBI Director James Comey announced the bureau had
completed its shooting review in this man`s death. He was shot while being
questioned by the FBI and other law enforcement authorities back in May.
I`m going to show you a couple of photos which I warn you are a little
graphic and might be disturbing. But from these photos taken of that young
man`s body in the morgue, it appeared he was shot seven times, including
once in the top of the head.
Law enforcement officials have said that the man was himself unarmed
when the FBI shot and killed him. And although the FBI`s report on this
man`s shooting is reportedly ready to go, according to James Comey, he says
the report on that shooting has been completed. It still has not been
released. The FBI even blocked the county medical examiner from releasing
the autopsy report in this case, even though it was completed and ready to
And again, these images are graphic, I`ll warn you again. But the
reason we have to count these bullet holes ourselves looking at these
photographs, in order to try to figure out what happened here, is because
the FBI won`t let that autopsy report be released. The county is happy to
release it. The FBI is stopping them from doing so.
The reason we have those photographs taken in a morgue because a
friend of the dead man took those photos himself when he went to identify
the body and then he brought the photos to the dead man`s father. And it
was the dead man`s father who then released the photographs publicly,
demanding answers about why the FBI had shot and killed his son, why he had
to get shot apparently seven times including the top of the head, when he
himself was unarmed.
And that is where the story goes from sort of weird and worrying to
intensely weird and worrying, because the man who was killed by the FBI in
this condo in Orlando, Florida, he was an immigrant from Russia. He was
living here legally. But his family is still in Russia. And when he died,
his family held his funeral in Russia.
And the friend who had identified his body in the morgue and took
those photos in the morgue to give to the man`s father, he attended the
funeral in Russia. He left the U.S. to go to the funeral in Russia. Even
though he`s legally allowed to travel in and out of the United States,
after that funeral, he was not allowed back into this country.
The dead man`s girlfriend is also an immigrant from Russia. After
interviewing repeatedly, the FBI had her locked up in an immigration
detention facility in Florida and then had her deported to Russia, even
though federal immigration officials say that she was here in this country
legally and should not have been deported.
Another one of the dead man`s friends was an immigrant from
Tajikistan. The FBI searched out and found an old case that stepped from a
verbal argument after a bar fight. They asked the man involved in that
case who had never known the guy he argued with and had never sought to
press charges in the case, the FBI found that guy, they sought him out and
they asked if he would please like to press charges over that year old
argument that had never been pursued as a criminal matter.
The man agreed to press charges at the FBI`s request and bingo, that`s
what they wanted. That allowed the FBI to have that guy from Tajikistan
arrested and put into jail. The charges about the argument he had been in
were flimsy at best, they were dropped within a month. But it didn`t
matter, during the month they put the guy in jail, his visa expired and he
missed a court date to appeal to extend it. So, they never let him out of
jail, they just deported him out of this country back into Tajikistan.
So the dead guy is dead, shot by the FBI while under questioning,
himself unarmed but parentally shot seven times while in the presence of
multiple law enforcement agencies. So, the dead guy is dead, his
girlfriend and his two friends who were also questioned by the FBI on the
same matter have all now very quickly been deported or kept out of this
country since the FBI killed the guy. And the FBI still says, oh, no word
on what happened here.
The dead man in this case is Ibrahim Todashev. These new details
about what the FBI has done to the other potential witnesses in this case
were all just printed in a blistering new cover story in "Boston Magazine."
Boston has an interest in this case in the FBI shooting this guy in Florida
because the guy who the FBI shot, Ibrahim Todashev, was friends the alleged
Boston marathon bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who you see on the left there.
And there was a question as to whether both of these men may have also
been involved in a triple murder two years before the Boston marathon was
bombed. If that triple murder in the Boston suburbs had been solved before
the marathon, could the bombing have been prevented? Should the guy who
allegedly orchestrated the marathon bombing have already been in jail if
that triple murder had been solved?
But in the wake of the marathon bombing and the wake of that very high
profile case, did the FBI botch the questioning of an unarmed man connected
to the main suspect in the marathon bombing? Did they then prevent the
release of information on his shooting and then deport everyone who could
conceivably talk about it or shed light on what happened? And will the FBI
under this new director exonerate itself again in this shooting the way
they have exonerated themselves in the 150 shootings before this one? Will
they even let us know one way or the other?
And how on earth does anyone around the world or any of us here at
home look at what we know about this case so far and say that the idea of
innocent until proven guilty applies to everyone in this country, even to
This is the cover story in "Boston Magazine" right now. It`s going to
be a new investigatory piece on "This American Life" next week, which is
going to put a hot national spotlight on this story.
The FBI told us today that the release of the report on the shooting
is now in the hands of the Department of Justice. So, yes, we`re waiting
on FBI Director Jim Comey and his reputation for doing the right thing even
when it`s hard.
But if this is now in the hands of the Justice Department, we`re also
now waiting on Attorney General Eric Holder.
This story has not yet been the focus of a lot of national attention,
but it`s about to be. Finally.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Have a great night.
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