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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

March 20, 2014

Guests: Tom Casey, David Rohde, Susan Burke

ARI MELBER, GUEST HOST: The search is on right now off the coast of
Australia for what may be debris in the water.

And someone finally asked Chris Christie why did you fire Bridget Kelly?
That man, Fred Kanter (ph) of New Jersey, will join me for a LAST WORD


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The search fully under way now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now, all eyes are focused on an area of the
Indian Ocean.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Authorities are investigating what`s being called --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A straw of hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The best lead they`ve had in 13 days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For that missing Malaysia air passenger jet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two satellite photos of debris floating in the Indian

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What could be debris from the missing Boeing 777.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The general belief that this was a very big break.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: About 1,500 southwest of Perth, Australia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that they were going to find something relatively

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So far, nothing has turned up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a massive, massive area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In what has been called the most isolated part of the

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Literally in the middle of nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Citing something on satellite and finding it from
ship or plane in the ocean are two very different things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the worst possible location.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Choppy seas, rainy, cloudy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the worst time of year to have to look for aircraft

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s a laundry list of challenges here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to take a lot of time. It will require

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The families of the 239 passengers and crew on Flight
370 are anxiously waiting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just want to know what`s happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Families who have been through an incredible ordeal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have been waiting through all these days.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their hopes having dashed and raised and dashed

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now they have to wait again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and wait and wait and wait.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clearly, everybody is involved in the search, doing
whatever it is they can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must never, never give up hope.


MELBER: Good evening to you. I am Ari Melber, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.

It`s the middle of nowhere. It could take years. That is the warning
about the search for Flight 370 from one expert on Australian oceanography

Today, the search has focused on satellite images originally taken on
Sunday which show what could be debris from the missing plane.

One of the suspected pieces is about 79 feet in length. The other is
smaller, it`s estimated to be about 16 feet and may also be a piece of

So why are we just now seeing these images? Well, Digital Globe, the
company that took them told CNBC this volume of imagery is far to vast to
search through in real time. Instead, they relied on crowdsourcing
volunteers, the companies say those number in the millions, which helped
rule out broad swaths of the ocean.

Now, while those volunteers and professionals continue to hunt,
investigators are honing in on this pinpointed search location in some of
the world`s most desolate ocean.

The NTSB has previously said this was an area of special interest and
that`s because it`s sort of in an intersection of where the jet could run
out of fuel and plane`s likely flight path according to experts who studied
six related satellite pings.

Now, this bolsters the theory after making the 20-degree turn to the west,
Flight 370 went south into the Indian Ocean. Right now, at least four
aircraft are scouring the area. A Norwegian cargo ship is also there and
on the lookout for any possible debris.

It is morning in the search right now, and after enduring high ocean swells
and visibility problems yesterday, conditions in the area are improving,
but only slightly.

Just to reach the sight, in fact, each plane must fly nearly 1,500 miles
each way. That`s equivalent to flying from about Denver to New York. And
what does that mean? Well, after getting into the area, each plane then
only has about three hours of actual search time left before it must turn
right back around.

Family members of the passengers who were onboard Flight 370 are no doubt
watching these developments closer than anyone.


SELAHAT OMAR, FATHER OF MH370 PASSENGER (through translator): I feel very
sad. I cannot run away from it. I accept everything, whatever the result,
whether he`s alive or dead.


MELBER: Now for more reporting and insight into all of this, we turn to
NBC News correspondent Kerry Sanders in our Washington bureau tonight.

How are you?

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ari, there is a fair amount
of hope that the new wave of aircraft that are heading back out to that
location may find whether the -- what the first set of eyes and equipment
over there did not find, which is a confirmation of that debris. So right
now, we have two P3 Orion class aircraft that are over that area. They
left at dawn this morning. It`s 10:00 in the evening on the East Coast.
It`s 10:00 a.m. there in the morning.

So, they left early this morning. And they were also accompanied by a
civilian Gulfstream aircraft. And they have the able to use some onboard
electronics to look in this general suspect area. Later today, there will
be another P3 leaving.

And then finally, perhaps the most advanced piece of equipment which will
leave several hours from now, which is going to be the P8. That is from
the U.S. Navy. That is the Poseidon class aircraft. That has the most
advanced electronics.

Now, there is some weather in the area. The P8 is not affected by weather.
The gear that they can have onboard can see through that weather. And the
bottom line is that these aircraft with their gear onboard are designed to
search for submarines. This is for anti-submarine warfare.

They`re now deploying this equipment over the area to see if they can find
that debris floating on the surface or maybe even just below the surface.

I`m going to take a map here and take you down to the area that we`re
looking at. So as you look at the map here, and I just sort of telestrate,
that`s the general area that you see marked there where they`re flying out
to. The debris was actually found on the satellite a little bit further to
the south.

Now, we can call it debris because we know it`s something that doesn`t
belong there. We just don`t know if it`s the aircraft debris.

MELBER: Right.

SANDERS: Remember, in this part of the world, there are these ocean
currents that travel in these directions and they`re called gyres. And
they actually capture garbage in the water and they just flow round and
round. So, what we may discover is when they do, if they do locate this,
that it has nothing to do with the aircraft.

But this is the most hopeful sign that they`ve had so far. Remember, let`s
take you back 24 hours. This is when the authorities from Australia went
forward and announced, the prime minister announcing that what they have
seen is the most promising lead of where this debris might be.

MELBER: Yes, and that`s a lead after said as you mentioned, not
necessarily taking us where we would like to go.

Kerry Sanders, thank you so much for your reporting tonight.

Now, for more, we are joined again by Robert Hager, retired NBC News
aviation analyst. And Tom Casey, a flight instructor, and former
commercial pilot for American Airlines.

Welcome to you both.


MELBER: I want to start with an interview with a former Malaysian airlines
pilot who actually flew this very aircraft. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cockpit voice recorder will be the one that will
tell you what happened in the cockpit. You have 17 days to look for the
thing. >

REPORTER: And is time running out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time is running out, yes. Because the batteries, the
potential location for the box seems to be very, very inhospitable.


MELBER: Robert, we talked about this before. It`s not an exact, hard
deadline. Walk us through this.

HAGER: Well, the spec says it goes 30 days but often times, it`s more than
that. I think routinely they find out that it would go about 35 or so
forth. But occasionally, they have found -- they picked it up where it was
well over 35 days. So, there is some hope of an elapsed time.

And then they have found flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders
in the past without the ping. I mean, long after the ping has run out.
The poster child for that is the Air France accident off Brazil five years
ago. And it took them two years to find that flight data recorder and
cockpit voice recorder. Then it was very valuable when they did find it.

MELBER: Yes, we`re going to be talking to a specialist about that
experience and what it offers today.

I also want to talk to you about specifically the weather situation. We
just did some reporting on that obviously. The search conditions, mostly
cloudy with light showers, winds from the east 10 to 20 miles an hour.
Australian officials say visibility is still pour. These waves, 5 to 10
feet and what they call eddying currents, and enormous waves that can go 20
feet or higher.

This is not, of course, Tom, a normal weather kind of prediction here.
This is weather that has a potential impact on this important search.

TOM CASEY, FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR: Well, yes. This is probably the worst
weather region on Earth. And when you`re talking about nine-foot swells
and 30-foot waves and winds up to 25 to 35 knots, you`re talking about
something that you can`t find debris with just your eyes. You have to have

And we can be encouraged by the intensity of the focus on this satellite
image. We don`t know what it is, but it`s something. We haven`t had
something in 13 days. We don`t have facts. We don`t know what`s happened.

And the mystery is eating away at people. And it`s a human tragedy, too.
I mean, we learned now moving into the next phase. The next phase is the
human dimension of this drama. And it`s excruciating.

MELBER: Speak to that. What do you mean?

CASEY: Well, the people from China whose loved ones who are on this
flight. They are not a sophisticated people. They`re middle class, lower
middle class people who have never been on a vacation. Many of the people
have never been on a flight before. This is something that`s new to them
and all of a sudden it disappears.

Why did it disappear? The rumors about the pilot going rogue or an
intervention, a hijacking, this drives people crazy.

MELBER: Well, I would argue, Tom, your level of sophistication or
education may not matter that much when you`re dealing with something
that`s so harrowing, so terrible. I know plenty of people who are
sophisticated and highly educated, and they get very scared when they go on
planes, even though they know the statistics that the highway may be more

And it`s because you`re in a tube flying over this Earth and it has this
feeling of what could happen.

As to some of these allegations and conspiracies about the pilots, I also
want to play for you, Robert, something from Peter Chong discussing, this
is in a "Reuters" interview, discussing the significance of the fact that
the pilot had this flight simulator.

Let`s listen to that.


PETER CHONG, FRIEND OF MH370`S PILOT: He has never hidden the fact that he
has a simulator at his house. It`s in Facebook, everybody is proud of it.
And I`ve been invited many times to try it out but have not had the chance.

I`ve asked him before why he built the simulator in his home. It`s because
that is his hobby. He enjoys flying and he wants to share the joy of
flying with his friends and having a simulator at home is just the perfect
way to do it.


MELBER: So that`s the perspective of a friend who is obviously sympathetic
to the pilot. But again, put it in context for people who don`t know this
as a part of pilot hobby.

Shall we read anything into the fact that there`s a simulator?

HAGER: No, I wouldn`t -- I wouldn`t think so. You have to find something
when you go into the hard drive, find something suspicious.

The fact that he`s got a simulator in the house, that works for me. I
mean, some pilots want to relax when they`re off-duty, and never want to
see a simulator.

But others are just so into it that they`re going to play with these
things. I have so many friends who`ve got these simulators just because
they`re nuts about them. They love them. So, this pilot is one of those.

MELBER: I think that`s --

HAGER: May have been.

MELBER: May have been, but that`s an important context. It`s got to be
more than just that. Some people thought that was it, just the fact that
it exists. We haven`t seen that be the case.

Robert Hager and Tom Casey, thanks for your time tonight. Appreciate it.

HAGER: Thanks, Ari.

CASEY: Sure.

MELBER: Coming up, we have the man who led the search for Air France
Flight 447 in the Atlantic, joins us to talk about what it will take to
locate the plane in the Indian Ocean, as I mentioned earlier.

And someone finally asked Chris Christie why did he fire Bridget Kelly? It
was a constituent in a town hall and he joins us for a LAST WORD exclusive.


MELBER: For a little perspective on the search for missing Malaysia
Airlines flight 370, it took two years, millions of dollars, and help from
a nuclear submarine to recover Air France Flight 447 when it crashed in
2009. And in that case, searchers found the wreckage of the plane just a
few days after it crashed. The man who helped find it, he joins us next.


MELBER: Malaysia Airlines Flight 307 has now been missing for 14 days, the
longest period for a missing plane in modern aviation history.

The search for possible debris is about 1,500 miles west of Australia.
This is an area of open water that runs up to three miles deep. So, if the
jetliner went down in this remote part of the Indian Ocean and if any
debris is found, it may no the be anywhere near the possible crash site
beneath the surface. That`s because things move very fast on the ocean

As "The New York Times" reported today, median ocean current speed is about
a foot per second. What does that mean? Well, an object moves about 16
miles a day. This plane has been missing for two weeks. So any potential
debris could have traveled 224 miles in any direction.

That was an issue in the last major aviation investigation of this type,
Air France Flight 447 which crashed off the coast of Brazil in 2009.
Investigators found debris from that flight five days after it vanished
from radar about 30 miles away from the point of impact. It only took five
days to find floating debris from Flight 447 but it took another two years
to find the main crash site on the ocean floor.

Now, if the search for that Air France flight is any indication, the search
for missing Malaysian Airlines plane has only just begun.

Joining me now is the man who helped find Air France 447, David Gallo.
He`s the director of special projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic

Welcome to you.

And, given that any possible debris, as we`re reporting, may have traveled
hundreds of miles away from the potential impact site, how do you search
for that kind of thing?

got to start by looking at some of that debris if it is, in fact, from the
aircraft. And then, you know, it`s not just the debris itself, it`s the
shape of the debris. People that backtrack that kind of stuff want to know
is it like a sailboat with a piece sticking up, or is it more like an
iceberg with a keel, so that currents take it more? Is it somewhere in

It`s a very elaborate scientific model being used to backtrack those
things. And we`re getting near the edge of the envelope where, you know,
the models are going to start becoming less and less accurate rapidly.

MELBER: Yes, and how does the depth of the water and the terrain compare
to basically where your team actually found that wreckage of the Air France

GALLO: Sure. Air France was about -- the terrain was extremely rugged,
probably the most mountainous -- rugged mountain terrain on the planet,
with the greatest depth down to about 6,000 meters.

In this case, the -- it`s an east-west trending underwater volcanic ridge.
It`s called the Southeast Indian Ridge. And the top of it is about a mile
and a half, and then on either side goes down to about three, four miles.

It`s a lot less rugged, though. So it`s a smoother terrain. It still has
its lumps and bumps but nearly as challenging as Air France 447 terrain.

MELBER: Yes. And, David, we`re reporting earlier in the show on how some
of this equipment, military and otherwise, is being used, but isn`t
necessarily designed explicitly for this purpose, which makes sense but
also leaves you wondering, OK, how good is it?

Can you give us any insight into that? How much of this equipment is
tailored towards this kind of search? Versus being sort of dual use?

GALLO: Sure. I can`t speak too much to the military hardware, but
listening, I think the military hardware is mostly listening for the pinger
and identifying objects on the surface of the ocean. You know, radar is
pretty good.

In terms of the scientific equipment, I can tell you that this is exactly
what we do as scientists. In fact, there was a survey at the top of this
very ridge -- I don`t know who did it yet, I`ll check that out -- but these
kinds of terrains and this kind of mapping is not unusual for us, except
normally we`re being driven by scientists asking questions. In this case,
it will be an investigator, a team of investigators asking questions.

MELBER: And, David, just briefly, compare this effort to the international
cooperation in your effort, because we`ve seen both excitement and interest
in people around the world trying to work on this but obviously also a lot
of frustration.

GALLO: Yes. You know, in the early days of the Air France 4477
investigation, there was a -- some similar confusion. We didn`t join the
fray until months later.

But there was always that question about were we getting the right news and
how much of it was misinformation. And was there something here behind the
scenes that no one knew about. In the end, being on the inside of that
circle, I can tell you that it`s not easy to do the job you`re supposed to
do when the whole world is looking at you and criticizing your efforts.
So, I`ve been there and not a pleasure.

MELBER: No, certainly not. And yet, at the same time, there`s, you know,
there`s a great deal of concern when people look and they say even
countries that are nominally allied or supposed to be cooperative have a
hard time actually trading the information because they want to hold things
back. They don`t want to give up their security standing, that kind of

David Gallo, thanks for joining us tonight.

GALLO: Thank you, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely.

Coming up, President Obama is this close to an Iran nuclear deal. And
Vladimir Putin is threatening to sabotage it -- yes, over Crimea and
Ukraine. That`s next.



gather around the table, I want to extend my best wishes on this new spring
and new year. As I have every year as president, I want to take this
opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of the Islamic
Republic of Iran.


MELBER: That was President Obama today with a video message to Iran`s
people and its leaders for the Iranian new year, a tradition he started in


OBAMA: When this season of new beginnings, I would like to speak clearly
to Iran`s leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time.
My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full
range of issues before us and to pursuing constructive ties among the
United States, Iran and the international community.

This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement
that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.


MELBER: That appeal may sound like common sense and it`s yielded dividends
recently, but it was actually controversial at the time. Quote, "Happy new
year, Mullahs." Obama`s message of weakness was the headline in the
conservative "Weekly Standard" back then. It`s the same criticism, of
course, leveled against President Obama by his Republican opponents in both
of his presidential campaigns.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Senator Obama, without precondition, wants
to sit down and negotiate with them, without preconditions. That`s what he
stated again, a matter of record.

we`ve had with Iran is they looked at this administration and felt the
administration was not as strong as it needed to be. I think they saw
weakness where they had expected to find American strength. We`re four
years closer to a nuclear Iran.


MELBER: Except we`re not.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nuclear deal. An historic agreement is preached with
Iran that President Obama says will make the world more secure.

OBAMA: For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress
of the Iranian nuclear program.


MELBER: That`s exactly what President Obama was able to recount in his
message to his Iranians today. Diplomacy is tough, diplomacy can be slow,
but it can also work.


OBAMA: Last fall, I spoke with President Rouhani. It was the first
conversation between an American president and an Iranian leader since

Since then, we`ve made progress. Under the initial agreement we reached in
November, the Iranian government has agreed to limit key parts of its
nuclear program. Along with our international partners, the United States
is giving Iran some relief from sanctions. Now, we`re engaged in intensive
negotiations in the hopes of finding a comprehensive solution.


MELBER: That is progress, but now that solution could be jeopardized by
this current standoff between the West and Russia over Ukraine. Despite
the events unfolding in Crimea, all five permanent members of the U.N.
Security Council, including Russia, have continued with these scheduled
talks on the Iranian nuclear agreement this week in Europe.

But yesterday, Russia`s deputy foreign minister issued this warning, quote,
"We would not like to use these talks as an element of a stakes raising
game, but if we are forced here, we will take the path of countermeasures,
the historic value of what has happened in recent weeks and days from the
point of view of restoring historical justice and reuniting Crimea with
Russia is incomparable with what we`re doing on Iran. The decision is down
to our colleagues in Washington and Brussels. It depends on whether or not
these talks will be successful whether or not we, that is Russia, will take
the path of countermeasures. That is the choice entirely on their side,
not ours."

Now, this is a real problem. Diplomatic observers are taking the warning
very seriously. Russia pulling out of the Iran nuclear talks would
undermine the unified stance of the P5 and Russia could theoretically use
its veto power to block enforcement mechanisms should Iran fail to hold up
its end of the agreement.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration today announced sanction against 16
more Russian government officials as well as a Russian bank.

Joining us now for all of this is Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to
the Russian federation and MSNBC distributor, and David Rohde, a Pulitzer
Prize-winning reporter for "Reuters".

Welcome to you both.

Ambassador, first give us the context here as I`ve laid it out in this
report. These threats, and how much danger there really is here of these
sort of, the Crimea problem spreading.

disturbing, because what you have from the deputy foreign minister is
explicit linkage, that is to say that if you don`t stop harassing us, if
you don`t stop escalating in one front with respect to the crisis around
Ukraine, we are going to link our cooperation in Iran.

And in the five years that I was in the Obama administration working with
the Russians on Iran and many other issues, we tried very hard to delink
these issues. And I think we were quite successful at it. This was a shot
across the bow to say beware.

I think they don`t as have as much leverage as they`re threatening. I want
to be clear about that. I think this negotiation ultimately is one between
Iran and the United States, but Russia has made it clear that they want to
complicate things with this statement today.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes, that is well put. Appreciate that.

And David, let me go to you here. Ultimately, we care a great deal more as
a country about the security interest in Iran than Crimea if it`s limited
as such.

DAVID ROHDE, REUTERS: Yes. And actually for Obama politically, a deal
with Iran the biggest element of his sort of second-term foreign policy
agenda. He really, really wants this to happen. So, it is a very serious
situation. And this is all about sanctions, frankly. We, you know, Obama
was mocked during the campaign, but the U.S. with Russia`s help had the
toughest economic sanctions ever against Iran pit`s cut off their oil
supplies. They can`t use international banking system. And that`s what
led to negotiations to get this far. And that`s what Obama is threatening
to do to Russia. So, that is what`s happening . It`s all very high
stakes, particularly for Obama.

MELBER: Yes. And so, let me go back to the ambassador on that angle, that
point. Because Ambassador, when you look at Russian, clearly Putin`s view
of Russia in a strong and expansionist mode, how much of his mindset has to
do with Russia as basically a free-reigning economic power with its allies
including Syria and some sway in Iran potentially? And how much is just
the fact that when we want to do anything through the U.N., Russia has the

MCFAUL: Well, it`s both. But I point out a couple of important facts that
David alluded to. One, we already have the U.N. Security Council
resolution. It was 1929. I personally worked on it. It will not be
overturned. So, we are not seeking new sanctions through the security

And after that was past back in the spring of 2010, we, the United States,
together with our European allies increased the financial sanctions that
David was talking about. And that`s what Iran wants lifted. And Russia
can`t lift that. That`s something that`s between us, the Europeans and the
Iranians where Russia can promise new trade, maybe could break the
sanctions that`s listed in the U.N. security council resolution, 1929. But
that`s peanuts compares to what they could get if we could get our
sanctions lifted against them.

MELBER: David?

ROHDE: But what Russia can do is they could have a barter agreement which
would allow Iran to sell all its oil to Russia and help break the
sanctions. And more importantly, one of the key things Russia agreed to do
was not sell very sophisticated long-range anti-aircraft missiles. They`re
called s-300 system. And that sale was frozen by Putin in the past. And
the Russians, if they went ahead with that sale it would make any attack
against Iran very dangerous for Americans or Israeli aircraft.

MELBER: And so, Ambassador, briefly, we go back to your old boss President
Obama, how much is on his mind as something he has to worry about or have
they put together in motion a set of sanctions they`re going to put in
motion, a counter motion of sanctions that they are not going to second
guess regardless of these kinds of threats?

MCFAUL: I think they`re very worried about it because as David rightly
said, this is the most important foreign policy issue for the
administration right now. And those threats that David alluded to,
especially the sale of the s-300`s could change the balance of power there.
But at the same time, the threat in Europe is also very serious. I think
it really changes the post cold war order in Europe. So the president has
to weigh the right strategy in both of these places without the right
strategy in both tangling up where you get neither. Effective strategy.

MELBER: Yes. I mean, I appreciate the point there. To say something
that`s bordering on glib, it`s why these are tough jobs. Obviously there`s
been a lot of talk about the president doing one thing different or sound
tougher versus Putin. Both of you have explicated some of the complexity
in just how many different parts of the map he has to do in the security
council has to keep in mind.

Michael McFaul and David Rohde, thanks for your time tonight.

MCFAUL: Thank you.

ROHDE: Thank you.

MELBER: And coming up, we do have a "last word" exclusive. The man who
finally asked the question everyone I think should have been asking Chris
Christie about Bridget Kelly. Brad Cannon will tell us if he like Governor
Christie`s answer?

And two cases involving sexual assault in the military came to a close
today. You may not have heard this with all the other international news.
We`re going to go into what happened and what does it mean for the attempts
to change some of these laws?



BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Using comedy to promote Obama care. If
Carney wanted to go on "funny or die" fine. But the president of the
United States? All I can tell you is Abe Lincoln would not have done it.


MELBER: Now remember, Bill O`Reilly wrote a book about Abe Lincoln so he
should know.

Yes, my friends, conservatives are still claiming to be worried that the
president`s highly rated interview with comedian Zach Galifnaikis will
demean the office. I think this is a classic political nontroversy, a
controversy. But it did kick around Washington so much that the president
was finally asked about it in an ESPN interview today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: One network suggested Lincoln couldn`t do
this. It`s obviously a different time. But you embrace young and
different. Why?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, if you read back on Lincoln, if you read back
on Lincoln, he loved telling the occasional bawdy joke and, you know, being
out among regular folks. And, you know, one of the hardest thing about
being president is being in this bubble that is artificial and unless you
make a conscious effort, you start sounding like some Washington stiff.


MELBER: It`s true. Lincoln was actually so well known as a jokester that
in 1864, take a look at this, Democrats circulated a novelty business card
that promised that after he lost the election, he could go back to
Springfield and do what he was known for, quote, "make joke, split rail
fences and dispense law." Of course, Lincoln won, even with the jokes and
kept on telling them in the White House.

Now coming up here on "the last word" we have an exclusive interview with
the man who confronted Chris Christie today and pressed him on why he
really fired Bridget Kelly.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I see said that the most frightening
thing about being governor of New Jersey is you have 65,000 people with
letterhead with your name on it and you don`t know what they`re doing. I
found that out in real time on January 8th.




CHRISTIE: I was at a town hall meeting today in (INAUDIBLE) Township.
Five hundred and twenty-five people there and not one question on any of
this stuff. People want me to do my job. I`m going to do my job.


This stuff. That is governor Chris Christie`s euphemism for the federal
investigation into whether his top aides broke the law by closing the
George Washington bridge in a weird political revenge plot. And the
investigation into whether his political allies broke the law in pay for
play schemes in New Jersey.

And after one marathon press conference when the news first broke, Christie
has avoided doing any general press conferences over the past ten weeks.
Instead, he`s used something that I call a town hall strategy. He
basically appears before crowds, takes plenty of questions but never from
reporters who might push him on discrepancies in his story. The strategy
enables Christie to diminish the Bridgegate story and by implications just
about anyone who asks about it.

As he told "the Washington Post" last month, the topic hasn`t come in town
halls because, quote, "people care about real problems." Well, that
changed today at a town hall in Flemington, New Jersey.

Fred Canter, who lives about 45 minutes from Fort Lee wanted to know
exactly why Christie fired his former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly
who wrote that e-mail, quote, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."


FRED CANTER, RESIDENT: After Bridget Kelly told you that she had lied to
you about her involvement with the closing of the lanes, the next day you
had a press conference and said you fired her because she lied to you. And
I know that if a subordinate lies to you, that`s a big blow to your ego,
esteem and self-respect and everything like that. I think that is a very
self-centered reason for firing somebody.

Her real offense was being involved in the shutting down of the George
Washington bridge. I don`t know if it`s illegal. It sure smells bad. I
would think that you would fire her for what she did, and if she had told
you -- if you came to the conference and she said you know, I did close it,
I told you the truth and you said great, Bridget, you told me the truth,
you get a raise and a promotion and a two-week vacation. If she lies to
you, she gets fired. If she tells you the truth. You made the firing
contingent on the lie. At least, that`s what you said in the press
conference. The firing should be contingent on the involvement in an
illegal act.

CHRISTIE: Well, first off, there were lots of reasons for the firing.
What I said the day afterwards was that I can`t have somebody work for me
who lies to me. Don`t take from the fact that I fired her because she lied
that that means if she had told me -- if she told me the truth, she would
have gotten fired, too, because of what she did. But I never had the
chance to hear the truth. And the offense, the offense first and foremost
is not being honest with the person you`re working for.


MELBER: Joining me now for an exclusive interview, the man who asked Chris
Christie`s about Bridget Kelly`s firing you just saw there, Fred Canter, a
resident from mountain lakes, New Jersey.

Thank you for being here. What did you think of the answer you got from
the governor?

CANTER: A lot of it was a non-answer. Because I asked about firing for a
lie. And why he didn`t fire her for being involved in the lane closings,
and he went forward and said well, after I told you I fired her for the
lie, I would talk about all these bad things and they were terrible and all
that. He didn`t answer the question. He said we should -- it should have
been implicit that that`s why he fired her. Well, it wasn`t implicit to
me. It was very clear that he was avoiding something.

MELBER: So let`s drill down on that, that word you used. It should have
been implicit in his statement or his testimony. I`m going to play it. I
would tell you, I didn`t read that as implicit either. Let`s listen to the
exact statement from the original press conference.


CHRISTIE: This morning I`ve terminated the employment of the Bridget Kelly
effective immediately. I terminated her employment because she lied to me.


MELBER: That was his focus. That she lied to him, as you said to him
today. Looking at him, as we saw there, a couple of feet apart eye to eye.
What did you think of the way he felt about your questioning of him and the
way he sort of teed up to try to broaden it out.

CANTER: I think he handled it very well. I`ve seen many times when he
gets belligerent when he`s asked a question that is unpleasant. I was
ready for it. And if he had gotten belligerent with me, I think I would
have had the upper hand because I have a cool head.

He talked a tremendous amount afterwards when there was really nothing to
talk about. All of that stuff that he said, that he had said after the
firing in the press conference was not relevant. He talked about the
general whole situation. It was terrible, it was bad for the state,
inconvenienced people. Wait a minute. The question is about Bridget
Kelly`s firing.

MELBER: Yes. I don`t want to take too much time so I`m just going to read
part of it. He said I`m not going to prejudge what a prosecutor would do.
You act as a citizen, you come to the conclusion that it was an illegal
act, saying that`s your conclusion. He says it may or may not have been
one. And then he says but when you`re the governor of New Jersey .you
don`t have that luxury. You have to stay back on the investigation. That
may be true that he wants to stay out of the investigation, but the premise
of your question was, as a manager, as an executive, he still has to make
decisions about who stays and goes. So why do you think he was unable to
substantiate why she went, why she had to go be on the line today?

CANTER: Well, he didn`t want to tell us then and he doesn`t want to tell
us now. I think it is our right as citizens of the state to know the full
reasons for government actions. We have an open government, supposedly.
He started today saying we`re open, I`m completely open, I explain
everything. Then I got a question and he certainly didn`t explain it.

MELBER: Yes. You know, Mr. Canter, we don`t know where all of this is
going to lead. And there`s more investigation to be done. But the
governor has made a decision to largely avoid any interactions with
journalists on this issue.

And so I think you have done something very important, and others may
follow in your footsteps which is as a citizen, as a swept, question him
where he has clearly closed the poor to many other types of questions.

Fred Canter, thanks for joining us tonight on "the last word."

CANTER: Thank you. And I think the governor is very brilliant in avoiding

MELBER: Right. As a strategy, clearly a type of brilliance.

Now coming up, as I mentioned before, the military`s handling of sexual
assault cases and some news on that next.


MELBER: For many people, the U.S. military approved again today why
changes should be made to the way military courts handle sexual assault.
That`s up next.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you report something, you better be prepared for
the repercussions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If a man gets accused of rape, it`s a setup. The
woman is lying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could choose to report it, but if I wasn`t -- but,
you know, if they found out what I was saying wasn`t truthful, I would be
reduced in rank.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could lose your rate, you could lose rank, you
could lose your school if you file a false report. So do you want to file
a report?


MELBER: When the invisible war premiered in 2012, the documentary about
sexual assault in the U.S. military sparked a huge debate. The film
followed the cases of several cases who with the help of attorney Susan
Burke sought justice in a system that seemed rigged against them. And that
push for reform has gained some real traction. Two high profile sexual
assault cases unraveled, renewing concerns that the military cannot police
its own.

A mid shipmen was found not guilty of sexual assault while a brigadier
general was fined and spared any jail time, despite admissions of several
violations of military rules including adultery, relationships with
subordinates, disobeying a commander`s order and misusing a government
credit card to trips to see the woman in question. The case was only the
third time an army general of that sort has faced a court-martial in 60
years. While that kind of enforcement may be rare, the crimes against
female service members are not.

Over 26,000 service members say they experienced unwanted sexual contact in
2012 alone. And that, as you see up there on the screen is according to
the Pentagon`s own figures. Last week, the Senate did pass legislation
from Senator Claire McCaskill who establish new rules on how victims and
defendants can be treated and that bill removed the ability of defendants
accused of sexual misconduct to invoke something called the good soldier

But senator Gillibrand`s bill which is considered much stronger, that bill
has still continued to be denied a floor vote. In fact, 55 senators backed
it in early march. But it was still filibustered by a minority of 34
Republicans and 10 Democrats as well as one independent.

Joining us now is Susan Burke, the attorney who represented so many
survivors of military sexual assault, as we mentioned, featured in the

Thanks for joining us.

Thank you for having me.

MELBER: When you look to these cases broadly? What do they tell you about
the need for further reforms?

SUSAN BURKE, ATTORNEY: Well, they tem us the military cannot effectively
prosecute rape and sexual assault. They`re not good at policing their own.
We`ve got to reform the system if we`re going to change these type of
dismal results.

MELBER: Yes. And let me bring from Senator Gillibrand`s proposal and many
of our viewers have seen her on several showers discussing this issue, of
course. She said quote "this case has illustrated a military justice
system in dire need of independence from the chain of command. It`s not
only the right thing to do for men and women in uniform but would also
mitigate undue command influence that we`ve seen when survivors and defense
attorneys both agree we need to reform the system, it should tell us the
system needs reform."

Let me just briefly say for folks who are learning about this, undo command
influence is simply the idea that when the president or other commanders
mention that they want, for example, justice for victims of sexual assault,
that can actually be invoked within the military courts as a reason to
alter or dismiss a case. That`s just one piece of this. The other taking
it out to more independent courts. What do you think could be the benefit
of that approach?

BURKE: We, all know the best justice is blind justice. Decisions by
impartial people who have no involvement. The military system is the exact
opposite. You`re letting non-legally trained people who have their own
career interests at stake make all the critical legal decisions. That`s
the chain of command. The war fighters are actually the ones handling
these legal issues. And so we need to adopt the Gillibrand bill and we
need put these decisions out of the hands of biased people and into the
hands of trained judges.

MELBER: Yes. I understand that, and that`s always been my view, as I
learned about this and saw what kind of exception there really was here.
An exception from what most people would expect when you have serious
charges of rape or rape in a workplace setting, which is really what a lot
of this is.

Having said that, I do want to play some remarks from General Martin
Dempsey who is widely respected and basically argues there`s a national
security reason for this. Let me play some of his statements from a Senate
hearing in June 2013.


GEN. MARTY DEMPSEY, CHIEF OF STAFF: As we consider further reforms, the
role of the commander should remain central. Our goals should be to hold
commanders more accountable, not render them less able to help us correct
the crisis. The commander`s responsibility to preserve order and
discipline is essential to effecting change. They punish criminals and
they protect victims when and where no other jurisdiction is capable of
doing so or awe lawfully able to do so. Commanders are accountable for all
that goes on in a unit. And ultimately, they`re responsible for the
success of the missions assigned to them.


MELBER: Susan, he is arguing that is a life and death issue and commanders
need to be in charge at all times. Your response?

BURKE: Look at General Sinclair. I mean, he was a commander. And under
his command, he forced subordinates to send him nude pictures. He admitted
that he imprisoned one of his subordinates, a female in a hotel room. I
mean, you cannot simply say keep it in the chain of command because then
there will be good order and discipline. That`s not the reality. The
reality is allowing a system to police itself doesn`t work and it is not
working here.

MELBER: Yes. I understand that. Appreciate, not only your response, but
also the work you have been doing.

Susan Burke, thank you for joining us tonight.

I am Ari Melber, in for Lawrence O`Donnell. You can find me in facebook at

Chris Hayes is up next.


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