THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
September 23, 2014
Guest: Laith Alkhouri, Michael Weiss, Jonathan Turley, Bob Costas, David
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. And we
certainly don`t know how long it`s going to last.
MADDOW: Exactly, exactly.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.
O`DONNELL: Bob Costas will join me tonight for an exclusive interview
about the crisis in the NFL.
And last night, America went to war with the Islamic State. And while
we were at it, America went to war with another organization that America
has never heard of.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The enemy is constantly changing here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama delivers on his promise to go
after ISIS in Syria.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Strikes to disrupt
plotting against the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Targeted al Qaeda veterans from the Khorasan
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: This group was in the
final stages of planning attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This group no one had ever heard of. I hadn`t
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A plot that was nearing its execution phase.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wants to bring down airplanes with explosives.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Setting off bombs in Syria to test the design.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very battled hardened al Qaeda terrorists.
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This is a fight you cannot opt
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The massive assault launched by the U.S. and
five Arab allies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The massive assault launched by the U.S. and
five Arab allies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is right to assemble the broadest
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s right. We`re at war right.
OBAMA: There`s bipartisan support.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While there is bipartisanship --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s not a constitutional underpinning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They believe he needs to come to Congress for
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congress should never have left.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish we were having that debate.
O`DONNELL: You may have seen the words "terror alert" on some TV
screens tonight, but not on this one, because there is no new terror alert,
despite CNN`s graphic assistance that there is, a quote, "new U.S. terror
alert after strikes in Syria", end quote.
War hysteria seems to have gripped the TV news world once again here,
with TV news running ahead of the facts once again, as is common when the
United States goes to war. A terror alert is an alert from homeland
security that it is racing the threat level. That has not happened. But
you would never know that if you`re watching one of the news networks
consumed by war hysteria.
Instead of a terror alert, what has actually happened is that the
Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have sent an intelligence
report to local law enforcement advising them to be on the lookout for
potential retaliation for the airstrikes in Syria. But homeland security
and the FBI specifically say they have no information about any such plot.
Notices like this are routine after U.S. military action in that region.
As happened last night when the U.S. military conducted 16 airstrikes
in Syria near the Iraqi border, an Islamic State storage facility and
vehicles were struck. And in north central Syria, an Islamic State
compound was struck multiple times and appeared to be at least partially
Since August, the U.S. has now conducted 194 airstrike against the
Islamic State and we discovered today that a new terror group was on the
bombing list last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Last night on my orders, America`s armed forces began strike
against ISIL targets in Syria. We also took strikes to disrupt plotting
against the United States and our allies by seasoned al Qaeda operatives in
Syria who are known as the Khorasan group.
LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE JR., DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, J-3:
Intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan group was on the final
stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and
potentially the U.S. homeland.
We believe the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase on an
attack either in Europe or the homeland. We know that the Khorasan group
has attempted to recruit Westerners, to serve as operatives, or to
infiltrate back into their homelands. They`re establishing roots in Syria
in order to advance attacks against the West and the homeland.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: In an interview with Katie Couric of Yahoo News, Attorney
General Eric Holder talked about the connection between the Khorasan group
and airplane security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The enhanced security measures that we
took on the aviation sector some months ago was based on concerns we had
about what the Khorasan group was going to do. Now, we don`t have any
specific, credible information about specific plans that they had on. On
the other hand, the intelligence did lead us to believe that they were in
process of getting close to the execution phase of general plans that we
know they were interested in.
KATIE COURIC, YAHOO NEWS: You can`t give us any other information
except to say it was general plans? And if, in fact, it was connected to
the enhanced security on overseas flights, one can only assume that the
planning involved some kind of aircraft terrorism.
HOLDER: I don`t want to go any further than I have. I can say we
have been monitoring them, as I said, for two years. We have been
examining what it is they have been frying to do, planning to do. And when
we decided they were at a point where they were in the process of getting
to what I would call the execution phase, we decided to take military
action against them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, Laith Alkhouri, a terrorism expert and
senior analyst at Flashpoint Global Partners, and Michael Weiss, columnist
for "Foreign Policy Magazine" and editor-in-chief of "The Interpreter".
Laith, if you can put me down as one who`s never heard of this group
until suddenly we are already at war with them.
LAITH ALKHOURI, FLASHPOINT GLOBAL PARTNERS: You and most Americans.
So, Khorasan really refers to the area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan
region. So, this group is comprised of pretty much al Qaeda veterans who
have trained in training camps there. So they`re really the true legacy of
bin Laden, and this is really the danger that stems out of them.
It`s not because they`re extremely capable. But because they`ve
received the training, they`ve received ideological training, and they`ve
traveled around certain countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria, where they`ve
gathered kind of a block of support from a number of countries and enable
to recruit jihadists and able to bring money in. So, that`s really the
danger that stems out of this group.
O`DONNELL: How big a group is this?
ALKHOURI: We don`t believe it`s a big group. It might be comprised
of a few dozen.
O`DONNELL: A few dozen and they are worthy of a particular war strike
MICHAEL WEISS, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: Sure. I mean, you have to
understand, the rise of ISIS is not just a terrorist organization, but a
bona fide terrorist army and some would call it a terrorist state, now
expanding the geographic expanse of the size of great Britain has sent
shock waves into the jihadi community, global jihadi community,
particularly core al Qaeda.
They` announced they`re starting a franchise in the subcontinent, in
India, for instance. I think and, you know, unless the United States is
being very cynical and they`re trying to bundle legal justification for air
strikes in Syria on the basis of striking al Qaeda --
O`DONNELL: Well, you can pause there. You don`t have a lot of people
in the audience tonight thinking that`s an outrageous level of cynicism to
possibly apply to the United States government in situations like this.
WEISS: Sure, but also keep in mind, Lawrence, al Qaeda needs to
regain the narrative from ISIS, right? They want -- their thunder has been
stolen, they want it back. So, the easiest way to get that back is to wage
a spectacular terrorist attack on the scale of either 9/11 or to do what
the underpants bomber tried to do several Christmases ago in the United
States, which is blow up an airliner.
So, there`s a real possibility that there was indeed an imminent
attack and the war plans that had been sort of implemented or sort of
strategized by the president and announced a few weeks ago, they said we
have to act now and let`s hit them both at the same time.
O`DONNELL: What about -- Laith, what about that point we were just
talking about. The convenience that this particular group, through a very
legalistic lawyerly reading could be dragged into last night`s action and
justified legally, domestically here in the United States under the
authorization to basically go to war in Afghanistan.
ALKHOURI: Well, I think, you know, listen -- the point is that this
group is ideologically engrossed. The group has received ideological
training under bin Laden. It has received funding. It`s been able to
recruit jihadists to go to Syria. And not only jihadists from the region,
we`re also talking about western jihadists.
We`ve (INAUDIBLE) from Florida commit a suicide bombing using 17 tons
of explosives on behalf of al Qaeda`s link in Syria. And this group is
ideologically connected to al Qaeda in Syria.
And when we have a number of individuals who are -- they`ve received
the training, they know exactly that the focus should be on Western
targets, then there is a level of threat that we have to take into
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what President Bush said in 2005 where he
was actually naming the guy who is the leader of this organize.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: The United Nations added Mushin al-
Fadhli to its al Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee list. This man is a
known al Qaeda operative and Zarqawi associate, provided support to the
terrorists who conducted the 2002 bombing of a French oil tanker, working
together, America, France and other nations will bring him to justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Michael, what is his relationship to this group?
WEISS: Well, if he was a Zarqawi associate, as the president said,
then he was part of al Qaeda in Iraq, which is the predecessor organization
to ISIS. Remember, a year ago, ISIS formally broke away from al Qaeda,
declaring itself a separation terrorist organization.
So, in a sense, I mean, this is kind of muddled and ambiguous, isn`t
it, because this man is technically a disciple, a sort progenitor of ISIS.
What`s also interesting about him, Lawrence, is that, up until a year
ago, according to the State Department, he was in Iran. Not a country you
would associate necessarily most of your viewers would with sort of giving
us al Qaeda operatives. The Iranian regime claims that he was under house
arrest, whatever that means according to their definition.
But whatever the case, he got out of Iran and sort of made his way
into Syria. And this, of course, comes at a time when the president of
Iran, as Rachel said in the prior broadcast condemns these air strikes.
You have Russia condemning the airstrikes.
They seem to make it an authority that the United States partner with
Assad to re-legitimate him as a proper partner on the war on terror,
counterterrorist actor on the ground, rather than taking out these jihadi
elements which goes to the propaganda we`ve seen seeing from Syria`s
O`DONNELL: But, Laith, but how seriously should we take that
statement by Iran? Couldn`t they be saying that while at the same time
silently cheering us on?
ALKHOURI: Well, listen, there has been a number of al Qaeda
operatives who have escaped Afghanistan in 2001 and just remained in Iran.
The Iranian government specifically said a few of them were under house
But, you know, one of the top al Qaeda leaders back in the day, nobody
knows his whereabouts. Last time we know he was in Iran. Is he really
under house arrest? Do we have any information about him?
And he`s a lot more of a senior leader than al Fadhli. But, you know,
al-Fadhli has had, you know, over 10 years of jihad under his belt. He`s
traveled a number of countries, he`s on the topmost wanted list by Kuwait,
by United States and other governments.
So again, when we have somebody of that caliber, he is really worth
100 ISIS fighters, specifically because he`s had that kind of experience.
O`DONNELL: Well, I want to read something from an NBC News report
about a possible knife and gun attack. It says the U.S. and British
sources also have told us that the U.K. and Australia had intercepted
messages, indicating the real possibility of a low-level knife and gun
attack by jihadists who have returned from Syria against the public in
western nation in order to generate maximum fear.
So, Michael, in terms of any leaked information, that`s the strongest
specific indicator of a possible attack that we have.
WEISS: Yes, look, I mean, for the last five years, we`ve been talking
about national security, counterterrorism experts have been talking about
proliferation of lone wolf attacks. It`s not necessarily that you`re going
to see hardened al Qaeda veterans from the Af-Pak region are now from Syria
and Iraq coming to the United States and sort of blow something up on a
grand sale a la 9/11.
They could take a mall hostage or a school. It could actually
originate from people already living in the United States. ISIS recruits
its people, it proselytizes, it propagandizes on the Internet. It`s a very
powerful and sophisticated public relations apparatus. My fear is and the
former deputy of the CIA put this very starkly. He said, I`m surprised
these guys haven`t taken an AK-47 into a school and just shot the place up,
They don`t have to come back. It`s not a matter of crossing the
International Date Line. They could grow up in the United States or
Australia or Europe and simply be converted by watching YouTube and playing
on Twitter, and listening to these guys on Skype.
O`DONNELL: Well, we have had people grow up in the United States and
do exactly that. There`s nothing this government has ever done in reaction
to that, to try to stop that from happening again.
Laith Alkhouri and Michael Weiss, thank you both very much for joining
ALKHOURI: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, what is the legal justification for America`s
latest undeclared war?
And later, I`ll ask David Axelrod what it`s like watching the
president expand the Iraq war in Syria after he helped President Obama win
office campaigning against the Iraq war.
And, it`s a LAST WORD, tonight, Bob Costas is here to talk about Roger
Goodell, Ray Rice and all those different problems in the NFL.
O`DONNELL: Congress has the sole power to declare war. It hasn`t
declared a thing in Syria, but still, we seem to be at war. What is the
legal basis for what we`re doing in Syria? That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Could this take years?
MAYVILLE: I would think of it in terms of years, yes.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: The reality is, is that there is
no legal justification today for the administration to engage in a long-
term conflict with ISIS.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was Lieutenant General William Mayville at the
Pentagon this morning, followed by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy on this
network this evening.
Joining me now to discuss the legal basis for America`s latest
undeclared war, our David Corn, the Washington bureau for "Mother Jones",
and an MSNBC political analyst, and Jonathan Turley, law professor at
George Washington University.
Professor Turley what is your reading of the legal basis for the
action that`s been taken in Syria?
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, there`s
certainly not a constitutional basis. This is yet another undeclared war
from a president who says he doesn`t have to consult, let alone get
approval to go to war.
We are launching attack against a foreign country. We are hitting
targets within Syria. It violates international law and it violates United
You know, the Framers were students of war. They lived through a war.
This is the very danger they wanted to avoid, by requiring declarations of
All these questions you`re having, Lawrence, about how long it will
be, is this a knife and gun attack? Or is there something more serious?
None of those questions are answered because we`ve never had the
debate, let alone the declaration of war.
O`DONNELL: Well, we actually haven`t had a declaration of war, David
Corn, since World War II and yet we seem to be able to -- we have an awful
lot of war dead in this country since then.
The president sent a letter to Congress this afternoon saying that he
says, I directed these actions which are in the national security and
foreign policy interest of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional
and statutory -- I don`t know what he`s talking about constitutional, but
he does say statutory authority as commander-in-chief.
And then in parentheses, including the authority, basically he cites
here the technical language, resolution for military action in Afghanistan
and the one he opposed, the resolution for military action in Iraq. He`s
using that as his justification tonight.
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: You know, the interesting thing is, you
know, there were two targets in Syria for the air strikes last night and
that may still be continuing. One, of course, was ISIS. The other was the
The Khorasan group is al Qaeda cell or offshoot, whatever you want to
call it that`s very directly was set up by al Qaeda. And the
administration may have a better case there on the authorization that led
to the anti-al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere after 9/11
might indeed cover this.
Now, the administration makes the case that it awful covers ISIS
because ISIS is an offshoot of al Qaeda, even though al Qaeda has distanced
itself from al Qaeda.
But I really -- I mean, I agree with Jonathan Turley to the extent
that at this stage, this many years out from the initial authorizations, uh
there really needs to be a true debate in Congress.
Now, of course, one problem is Congress doesn`t want that debate.
Now, some members do, but the leadership of Congress doesn`t, because they
don`t want to accept responsibility for a complicated nuanced war that
might not work. They`d rather stand on the sideline, ready to pounce on
the president if it doesn`t go well, and also then try to share in the
glory if it does. So, there`s an abdication of power on Congress` side and
Obama is being perhaps too clever in trying to find these constitutional
authorities to proceed the way he wants to.
The other thing is, you know, if it was just the Khorasan group and
they were indeed plotting something that was an imminent threat to the
United States, he might not need any authority to go up against that if
indeed it was preventive. But then, of course, we the public don`t see the
intelligence and have a hard time evaluating those sort of claims.
O`DONNELL: Jonathan, David is absolutely right in terms of Congress
just throwing away their authority to declare war, and handing it over to
the executive because they find it too difficult to be politically a vote.
And then we`ve had a series of chief executives in the White House who
appreciate that Congress has surrendered that to them. And that they are
allowed to use military action without any real checks by Congress.
This is -- this is a mutual defiance by the Constitution that we see
here between the presidency and the Congress.
TURLEY: No, unfortunately, I think you`re right. I think David is
This has been the reality of the constitutional history of the United
States. Congress has been rather unfaithful partner in the constitutional
structure that we have.
Having said, I put a lot of blame on the courts. You know, the courts
have removed themselves from this, by the so-called standing doctrine.
They prevent people from challenging wars like this, by saying, you have no
right to be heard in this court. And the result is the two other branches
can blatantly violate the Constitution and we end up in this perpetual war.
I just gave a speech at a university out west, and I realize for most
of the students in the audience, they lived their entire life in wartime.
They don`t know peacetime. We`ve come into this strange parallel universe
where we live in perpetual war. We have this uber presidency, a dominant
president, precisely what the framers told us not to do. And the result is
Wars are always popular to start, and politicians know that. So they
all get on the bandwagon, as long as they don`t have to put their name on
O`DONNELL: I just want to get to the language to both of these
resolutions, just so the audience is clear about this.
The one that the president is pointing to on the Iraq resolution, as
it says in its own language, to authorize -- to use the United States armed
forces against Iraq. That is -- that`s the wording of that particular
And the other one, the one they`ve stretched for 13 years now against
al Qaeda, it says, this is an authorization for use of force against the
nations or persons who did the following, planned, authorized, committed or
aided the terrorist attacks that occurs on September 11, 2001.
And so, according to this justification by the White House tonight,
some of that bombing last night was in direct retaliation to what happened
on September 11.
CORN: It`s certainly a liberal interpretation at best of this. Now,
I think you probably can stretch it to cover the Khorasan group, because Al
Qaeda has not been fully defeated even though they killed Osama bin Laden.
But there does seem to be at some point, a responsibility on the
executive branch, the president to say listen, congress, you guys have to
get real about this. The president kind of threatened that a year ago with
the Syrian vote and then he didn`t have to go ahead with it because they
ended up cutting a deal. But he almost challenged Congress to put up or
shut up on this.
With ISIS in the current fight and particularly strikes against the
Khorasan group, the president obviously feels that he needs to proceed --
and I think unlike the Bush administration, he is not a happy warrior here.
He`s not eager to go to war, although he obviously thinks this is the best
thing to do. He`s stretching the truth because he doesn`t have a partner
to actually wrangle it out and come up with an authorization that will
cover it for it, limited amount of town, Congress in an oversight position.
O`DONNELL: Jonathan, also, they`re leaning on obviously the War
Powers Act of 1973 which basically allowed the president to get away with
interpreting that they never need a declaration of war. But that was
written, the language of that law for national energy created by an attack
on the United States.
And it absolutely did not anticipate a ramp-up like this, which had
weeks of anticipation, public anticipation in Washington in which it could
have been voted on in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
TURLEY: No, that`s absolutely right. Now, first of all, the Iraq
resolution is perfectly bizarre. It`s like using a warrant to go into a
house for a guy that you killed 10 years ago. It makes no sense at all.
Using the other resolution involving al Qaeda makes even less sense
because you`re actually hitting al Qaeda`s most lethal enemy. So, you`re
fighting al Qaeda by fighting the one group that al Qaeda seems most afraid
of. It`s a curious way of defeating al Qaeda.
But putting that aside, it makes a mockery out of legal analysis. You
know, this is not a parlor game for Philadelphia lawyers. These
resolutions were bad ideas when they were passed, but they certainly don`t
have any resilience now.
And you`re absolutely correct about war powers generally. You know,
this was an easy issue to present to Congress. You had plenty of time to
do it. They didn`t. I don`t want to draw distinctions between Obama and
Nixon, Obama or Bush, he`s outdoing both of his predecessors.
O`DONNELL: Let me read you something before we go that the president
said when he was a candidate for president in 2007. He said, "The
president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally
authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping
an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
I`m going to actually ask David Axelrod about that statement when he
joins me later.
O`DONNELL: David Corn and Jonathan Turley, thank you both very much
for joining me tonight.
TURLEY: Thanks, Lawrence.
CORN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming, President Obama`s evolution, I guess you would
call it, on foreign policy and war policy. David Axelrod will join me.
And in THE LAST WORD exclusive, Bob Costas is here to have a
discussion about Roger Goodell and all those troubles in the NFL.
O`DONNELL: There`s now a temporary second fence around part of the
White House grounds after a jumper made it all the way to the mansion last
Friday. The barricade is about eight feet from the regular fence and will
remain in place while the Secret Service finishes its review of current
security protocol which, of course, should include assigning agents to the
front fence of the White House who can actually keep their eyes open and
focused on that fence while on duty, which they obviously did not do last
Up next, a "Last Word" exclusive, you don`t want to miss Bob Costas
will be here talking about the NFL.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS: If something connects Roger Goodell to having
seen this tape earlier before this week, I think it`s a public relations
disaster that he cannot survive.
But, absent that evidence, I think he takes a heck of a hit. Maybe he
goes down, but he gets back up.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: In the spotlight tonight, Bob Costas on the NFL in crisis.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell led a three-and-a-half-hour meeting
today with 11 former NFL players to discuss how to improve the league`s
personal conduct policy.
Joining me now for an exclusive interview is 26-time Emmy Award-
winning NBC broadcaster Bob Costas.
Do you have a whole -- a shed for the Emmys?
O`DONNELL: Because some people need an Emmy shelf, right?
O`DONNELL: But multiple winners, they have got three or four of them.
Twenty-six. A trailer? You got a big trailer?
COSTAS: An annex.
O`DONNELL: Yes, an annex.
COSTAS: We built an annex, yes.
O`DONNELL: In your decades of covering football, professional sports
of all kinds, I think we are now in a place where you, the professional
sports industry, have never been before.
This thing is a cause celebre. And it`s an intersection of a very
serious issue. You have got the specific moment with Ray Rice, but you
have also got the media culture in which it takes place. And it isn`t just
an isolated incident. The NFL has had a problem with domestic violence.
Criminality, obviously, when something happens involving a
professional athlete, it`s going to get attention. But NFL players are
involved in criminal activity much less than the general population.
However, the criminal offense of which they are most frequently guilty is
And, there, the graph moves closer to society overall. And,
obviously, since each of these are generally reported, and this one has
gone viral in every sense, there`s a chance here, no matter how badly they
have dragged their feet in the past, no matter how badly they have bungled
in the initial stages, and right up until this point, there`s a chance that
this could be a cultural turning point, and that they could actually turn
something very bad into something rather good, if Roger Goodell follows
through on what he has said he`s going to do.
The consensus seems to be that he didn`t do too well in the press
conference on Friday. But he did say that everything is on the table. And
he had said prior to that, we got it wrong and now we intend to get it
And he`s formed various committees. He has asked Robert Mueller, the
former FBI director, to investigate what went on in the Ray Rice
investigation and the subsequent punishment. Now, as you said, he`s
brought a bunch of former players in. He`s brought in four women who are
experts in domestic violence.
Now, I`m not saying, based on the past record, that what comes of this
is something we will approve of. But I`m willing to keep an open mind that
maybe this actually is a turning point.
O`DONNELL: One of the things that surprised me has been the energy of
sports journalism, because, you know, at the beginning of this, if I -- I
would have said, well, you know, I don`t expect ESPN and a lot of these
guys to really dig at this...
COSTAS: They have, though, yes.
O`DONNELL: -- because they -- they -- they -- football is what
they`re living for. This is what the -- but ESPN`s report on Friday going
inside the Ravens, inside the team, inside the NFL commissioner`s office,
getting all sorts of sources on this, the way some of our great Washington
reporters in the past have dug inside White Houses and things like that,
it`s a really stunning report.
And it seems to -- it seems to be taking -- basically producing a
narrative that says the team and the NFL deliberately did not want to know.
They wanted to be able to say, we never saw that videotape, and -- because,
in this report, they are told in effect, this is how bad the videotape is,
and then they kind of get together with Ray`s -- Ray Rice`s lawyer and say,
here are the things you might want to do to make sure that videotape never
COSTAS: Yes, it`s a long and extensively reported story, which Steve
Bisciotti, the Ravens owner, yesterday disputed almost point by point. And
people have to read it to make their own judgments.
But the best you can say, the very best you can say about the NFL`s
handling of this and the Ravens at the outset is that it was feckless and
incompetent and curiously passive.
The people who work for NFL teams as security officers or for the
league office are former Secret Service agents. They`re former FBI guys.
They`re former police detectives. They have contacts with police
departments all over the country.
At the very least, if somehow, some way, they couldn`t right away get
their hands on the tape, you pick up the phone, and you say to someone
who`s seen the tape, brief me on this. How bad is it? So that we don`t
stumble here, so that we make the right decision. We need to know.
It`s almost impossible to believe that they didn`t have the essential
sense of it from some source or other, if we are to believe they didn`t see
O`DONNELL: Right. In the ESPN report, they have Ray Rice`s lawyer
himself saying to them: "I have seen the tape. It`s horrible."
COSTAS: "It`s F`ing horrible."
O`DONNELL: Yes, "F`ing horrible."
COSTAS: "It`s F`ing horrible" is what he said.
Plus, let`s go what back to all of us said initially. Even if you
never saw the second tape, even if it never existed, you have a tape of him
walking into the elevator upright, both of them, maybe wobbling a little
bit. They had too much to drink. And then, a minute later, he`s dragging
her out. She`s out cold.
What can you infer happened in there, that she stumbled because she
was drunk and bonked her head against the wall? I don`t think so. You can
infer that something violent and terrible had happened.
And -- and one of the things that seems to be in play here is
something I have seen in politics before, which is, they were relying on
the way this system has worked in the past and the way these cases get
dealt with by fans, by the media, by everybody.
O`DONNELL: The attention just slips away, enough time goes by,
everything is OK.
And you never know. You know, in politics, we all -- if you`re enough
to remember, the rules changed for Gary Hart.
COSTAS: Yes, "The New York Times."
O`DONNELL: And, suddenly, it became relevant if a politician might be
doing something at night with a woman who`s not his wife.
And prior to that, the media -- the political media wouldn`t look at
that. And so you could feel sorry for Gary Hart, but, in politics, it`s
not fair because you never know who the first one is going to be who pays a
price that no one else has had to pay.
COSTAS: Whole new game now in the NFL.
O`DONNELL: And that seems to be where we are here. And it seems to
be the Ray Rice videotape itself inside that elevator that has changed what
this means for Ray Rice, even though it didn`t change what it meant for
people who went before him doing the same kind of thing.
COSTAS: You`re right.
And even before TMZ released the tape on September 8th, Goodell had
said, I got it wrong upon reflection.
He unilaterally changed the policy. First offense going to be six
games, second offense potential lifetime banishment. A cynic will say, he
was aware of the tape and he believed it was going to come out eventually.
That`s what a cynic would say, but you don`t have any ironclad proof of
that. And so he`s trying to get ahead of the story.
But consider Greg Hardy, for example, of the Carolina Panthers. It
was many months ago that Hardy was involved in a domestic altercation with
his former girlfriend. And if we are to believe her account -- and the
judge did -- it was chilling, what he did, threats to kill her, throwing
her into a bathtub, leaving bruises and welts on her, throwing her onto a
couch that happened to have an array of assault rifles and shotguns on it.
But there was no video of that -- video of that.
COSTAS: And the Panthers were prepared to let him play at the start
of the season.
Everything changed. The scrutiny on Greg Hardy or future Greg Hardys
is going to be different, video or not, because of this pivot point with
O`DONNELL: Bob, we`re going to take a break.
O`DONNELL: -- and come back with more of this.
There`s still a lot more to talk about, including "South Park`s" take
on a certain NFL team.
That`s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the name of decency, I am asking that you
please stop using the name Washington Redskins to refer to your company.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop? But why?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have no right to use our name to get
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The trademark got pulled, so I`m totally free to
use the name, actually.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, don`t you see that when you call your
organization the Washington Redskins, it`s offensive to us?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is it offensive?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s derogatory, Mr. Cartman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It makes us feel like a joke.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guys, guys, I have total respect for you. When I
named my company Washington Redskins, it was out of deep appreciation for
your team and your people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Back with Bob Costas.
Bob, the league is looking back fondly to the days when that was their
COSTAS: Yes. That was a small problem.
COSTAS: And, as I have said before, without going into too much
detail about this, I don`t believe that anyone in 2014 is intentionally
disrespecting Native Americans when they root for the Washington Redskins.
I don`t have any problem with a former Washington player saying, I was
proud to play for the team. I`m proud to hear the fight song.
All that is fine. But things change. And, to me, the argument that
trumps all is just grab a dictionary, any dictionary. It is a dictionary-
defined insult or slur, pejorative, derogatory, insulting, a slur. None of
those definitions apply to Chiefs, Braves, Warriors, nicknames associated
with Native Americans.
And the only reason to object there would be if the symbols or rituals
were out of line. Otherwise, it`s pretty much the same to me as Vikings or
Cowboys or Patriots. And to object to those, absent direct insulting
rituals or symbols, is, to me, political correctness run amuck.
Those who are in favor keeping the name try to dismiss any objection
or any question about it as simply political correctness, and that`s the
end of it. But distinctions can be made. And you can be a reasonable
person who sneers at stupid political correctness and still say, hey,
here`s the dictionary. End of argument. That`s how I feel.
O`DONNELL: Bob, there is a culture of violence in the NFL. It is
celebrated. It`s part of the game.
O`DONNELL: It`s inextricable. A real, good, hard hit is cheered.
You know, half of the stadium goes to their feet over that.
And so, here`s this game that is in many ways built on violence. You
have some violent behavior of players off the field. You have other
players who justify the violent behavior of their teammates.
O`DONNELL: One of Adrian Peterson`s teammates saying, he`s a really
good dad after the whipping of the child comes up.
O`DONNELL: Is there a linkage to this culture of violence, including
men who are getting head injuries on a regular basis?
COSTAS: Yes, I think -- I think, for some, not most, certainly not
most, but for a significant number, there is a connection.
You have to say that many of those who play an inherently violent and
brutal game, not a rough and tough game, but a violent and brutal game,
will not will able to confine that behavior to the field, especially with
what we`re learning about head trauma.
We already know about the long-range effects. The league itself
acknowledges in lawsuits that a considerable percentage of players will
have cognitive difficulties well before their peers as a group will, those
who did not play football, when they get to middle age.
But we also know this, that, short-term, impulse control and
aggression are affected, especially by head trauma. And when you mix that
with perhaps prescription drugs for pain or performance-enhancing drugs,
throw alcohol into the mix and throw the violent culture of the NFL into
the mix, some players are going to act in ways that they might not act were
they not football players.
O`DONNELL: The -- one of the articles I wrote for my high school
newspaper so many decades ago, I can`t remember, head trauma, concussion in
football, helmets inadequate.
O`DONNELL: I was on to that in a high school newspaper almost 40
COSTAS: Well, helmets will protect against a skull fracture, but will
not protect, at least as they`re presently designed -- maybe technology
will advance -- will not protect against the brain rattling around within
And damage to the prefrontal cortex, especially when you`re a young
man and the brain does not fully develop until you`re 25 or 26 can actually
have an effect on how you function, decision-making, impulse control.
O`DONNELL: Bob Costas, we could keep this going all night, but I got
to David Axelrod out here.
COSTAS: I think -- .
O`DONNELL: Thank you very much.
COSTAS: I think you should. I will say this. The Viking teammate
who said of Adrian Peterson.
COSTAS: He`s a great father, statistically, he`s great at fathering
children. That`s not the same thing as being a great father.
And anyone who can`t see the difference between legitimately
disciplining a kid and beating a kid to the point where the authorities
have to step in, and the kid is 4-years-old, no cultural or regional
differences explain that away. It`s a crime, and a horrible crime.
O`DONNELL: Bob Costas, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
COSTAS: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Up next, as I have said, David Axelrod is going to join us
to talk about how President Obama has evolved apparently on war policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: There is no
military solution in Iraq. There never was. The best way to protect our
security and to pressure Iraq`s leaders to resolve their civil war is to
immediately begin to remove our combat troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was Senator Barack Obama in Iowa in 2007, the state
that gave him his first victory on the way to the Democratic Nomination for
Joining me now, the mastermind of that Historic Campaign for
President, David Axelrod, who is now an MSNBC Senior Political analyst.
David, how ironic or awkward or difficult is it for you tonight to be
watching the President who campaigned against the Iraq war using the Iraq
war resolution, specifically citing it as a legal justification for the
action he`s taking in Syria where he is in effect expanding the definition
of the Iraq war beyond Iraq into Syria?
DAVID AXELROD, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all,
what I`m gratified about having been involved not just in 2008 but in 2002
when he opposed the war in Iraq before it was authorized by the senate in
the first place, is that we had 160,000 troops in Iraq when he became
president and there are 1,600 there today.
Obviously, circumstances have changed. One of the reasons, Lawrence,
he opposed the war in the first place was because he said that it would
unleash these ethnic rivalries and would further inflame the Islamic world.
And he was right about that and we`re still paying the price for that
and that`s why we are back there now. But it`s a far different situation
than he faced when he came into office.
Look. I think that, you know I`ve not talked to him about it, and
this is my political analysis, but you know and I know that leaders of
Congress didn`t want him to come to them with an authorization vote and
that`s why there wasn`t.
I suspect an authorization code is kind of ironic because they are
suing him in some cases for overstepping his authority. But on this one
they said you know what you take care of this yourself.
But there is a rationale for operating under that authorization
because there, you know, there`s -- it still involves Iraq, it`s involves
remnants of al-Qaeda. But you know, I believe if Obama -- Senator Obama
were still in the senate, he probably be on the side of those who said we
should have a vote on this.
O`DONNELL: Well, he also said in 2007, the President does not have
the power under the constitution to unilateral authorized the military
strikes in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual imminent
threat to the nation.
And with the -- our intelligence people tell us Islamic State is not a
threat to this nation.
AXELROD: No, although Khorasan group that they also bombed just
apparently was involving in plotting.
O`DONNELL: And David -- and David you know that if George W. Bush did
that, there would be people on your side of the political spectrum
screaming at him today for inventing this fig leaf to justify this little
technicality at the very last minute.
AXELROD: I -- you know, but I don`t think that`s what they -- they
fun of you you`re right in the first instance, which is that they are
relying on the 2001, 2002, I should say authorization. So, you know, I
don`t think they were putting the emphasis on the imminent attack by this -
- by this other group.
Look, as I said, I think that he as a senator would have asked for it.
I`m not sure as a president he didn`t want it. But the leaders didn`t want
it. I suspect they may come back and have a vote now after the fact.
But you know, Lawrence, there`s a difference between being a senator
and being president of the United States, commander-in-Chief. There is an
emergency situation that has arisen there. There is reason to have to act
there. And you know, I thought what he did do rather skillfully is make
sure that the United States was not the point of the spear without allies
there. And he brought five Sunni States with him from the region. So it
was an Arab mission as well, which was an important signal.
But look, it`s a messy situation, nobody would deny that. It`s -- but
do I feel -- I`m disappointed that we have to go back there. I`m
disappointed that Maliki didn`t take the opportunity to do what he should
have done, which is forge a real unity government there. And his failure
to do that and his decision to degrade the military there is why we`re back
there now. But it is what it is. And when you`re president, you`re forced
to deal with a situation as you find it.
O`DONNELL: David Axelrod, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
Sorry we`re out of time. I would love to keep going with this but we`ll
have to keep talking about it on another night.
AXELROD: We`ll have more opportunities, I`m sure.
O`DONNELL: Thank you David. Thank you.
We will have more with Bob Costas tomorrow on our website
Chris Hayes is up next.
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