January 22, 2015
Guest: Donna Edwards, Jordan Schultz, Randal Hill, Jim Fassel, Angela Rye,
REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening Ed. And thanks for
We start with breaking news on the super bowl-sized controversy. Did the
Patriots cheat to get into the big game? Star player Tom Brady is breaking
his silent, a day after an ESPN report said that 11 of the team`s game
balls were deflated during the championship game. He says, he has no clue
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BRADY, PATRIOTS QUARTERBACK: You know, (INAUDIBLE). I have no
knowledge of anything. I have no knowledge of any wrongdoing of any --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Nobody did anything wrong.
BRADY: Yes. I`m very comfortable saying that. I am very comfortable
saying that nobody did it, as far as I know. I don`t know everything. I
also understand that I, you know, was in the locker room preparing for a
game. But I don`t know what happened over the course of the process with
the footballs as I would never do anything outside of the rules of the
play. I would never, you know, have someone do something that I thought
was outside of very -- I was very shocked to hear it. So I almost laughed
it off thinking it wasn`t, you know, that was more sour grapes than
anything, and then it ends up being a very serious thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Then he was asked point-blank if he was a cheater.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRADY: I don`t believe so. I mean I feel like I`ve always played within
the rules. I would never do anything to break the rules. And I believe in
fair play and I respect the league and, you know, everything that they`re
doing to try to create a very competitive playing field for all of the NFL
teams. It is a very competitive league. You know, every team is, you
know, trying to do the best they can to win every week. You know, I
believe in fair play.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: So now both Brady and team`s coach say they have no knowledge
about what happened in deflate-gate. The Patriots say they are cooperating
fully with the investigation.
But we`re left with more questions than answers. How did this happen? Who
ordered it? And who might have known about it?
Joining me now former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel, former NFL
wide receiver Randal Hill and "Huffington Post" sports columnist Jordan
Thank you all for being here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for having me.
SHARPTON: Let`s go around the hone on this one starting with Randal. Do
you buy this Brady or the coach had no knowledge?
RANDAL HILL, FORMER NFL WIDE RECEIVER: I buy that the coach didn`t have
any knowledge, but you know, this is like a shell game now. (INAUDIBLE),
who`s on first, what`s on second, I don`t know is on third.
But at the end of the day, I think that, you know, Brady is the Captain
Kirk of that field. And usually, the quarterbacks get in the way when it
comes to game balls.
JIM FASSEL, FORMER NFL GIANTS HEAD COACH: Well, yes, the quarterback is in
constant communication with the equipment people on the balls. You know,
during practice in the week, he might have one that feels real good. He`ll
give it to the equipment guy and say put this one away, I like this ball.
But they communicate with the quarterbacks a lot on the balls.
SHARPTON: Does it seem believable, though, Jim?
FASSEL: Well, no, because you know, I don`t know. You can look at it a
lot of different ways. You know, balls can be put twelve-and-a-half pounds
in there. And with cold weather, it`s like your tires. It is going to
drop a little bit. Now, two -- 12 pounds, I think that`s a little stretch.
SHARPTON: Yes. And I wasn`t called and you are talking about 11 out of 12
JORDAN SCHULTZ, SPORTS REPORTER, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, I
don`t buy it at all. I think Bill Belichick is the CEO of this entire
operation. Tom Brady is his guy. And for the quarterback of all people to
not understand or know or feel the difference, to me, is crazy to me, Al.
SHARPTON: Yes. But they both deny it.
You know, the NFL says it`s investigating, but the league has not contacted
Brady, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: They haven`t talked to you yet?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The league has not spoken to you, contacted
you and got your side of the story?
BRADY: No, but you know, they may. I think that`s -- I think that`s
obviously their choice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Tom, do you find that odd, thought? If they
wanted, like Tom said, to put this behind us, and get ready for the Super
Bowl, they would contacted you by now?
BRADY: Sure. Yes, they might. They might.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: It`s odd that they haven`t. At this point
that you know, you`re the quarterback, and you`re the center of this story
right now, and the league`s officials investigating haven`t talked to you
indicates to a lot of people that they`re letting this drag on, twist in
BRADY: I`m not sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Jordan, how could they have not talked to him?
SCHULTZ: For the NFL, Al, not to send in an investigator in the three days
since to speak to Tom Brady, to me is almost as laughable as the thinking
this could actually happen in an NFL championship game. So I don`t
And Al, I also don`t understand how Brady or more specifically Bill
Belichick, the coach of the Patriots, are not trying to get to the bottom
of this to actually figure out what happened within their organization.
SHARPTON: Randal, how do you react to that they have not contacted Brady?
HILL: Well, I`m still a (INAUDIBLE), so you know, they can contact me. I
will give him a call and investigate him.
But now, I think that they are going to take their time. They are going to
investigate. You have to sit back and wait. But the way it looks from the
outside in, you know, something doesn`t smell right. And you know, the
former players, you know, are looking this and say, you know, this is
definitely an integrity check and has to be done correctly.
SHARPTON: A lot of former players have come out, Jim, and a lot of people
are concerned. I mean, people look up at these gentlemen as role models.
There has been a lot o controversy in the NFL in the last year. I mean,
this is serious. How do you not go to the quarterback if this is a serious
FASSEL: Well, it certainly strikes the heart of integrity of the game.
And they got to figure this thing out. But I think a lot of times, being
on the other side of this, being a head coach, everything is kept quiet. I
don`t think the media gets a real true story on things. They might be
doing certain things, setting things up, finding out a few things. They
are going to want to get to the bottom of it. The NFL will. I guarantee
you, they want to get to the bottom of it.
SHARPTON: Now, Jordan, a lot of people say this is serious, even Tom Brady
said it was serious. And Tom Brady was asked if somebody should be held
accountable. Here`s his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRADY: I`m not the one that imposes, you know, those type of
accountability. It is, you know, discipline and all that. That`s not
really my job. So, you know, obviously, I would like to know what happened
as you all would too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: I mean, disciplined before the super bowl? Serious, he says
it`s very serious. Is it serious? Are they taking it seriously?
SCHULTZ: To me, they are not taking it as seriously as they need to. And
I think part of it is because, Al, we`re talking about the super bowl.
This is the greatest spectacle on sports. You can`t afford to, you know,
hurt that reputation in this game. But I wonder, from a New England
perspective, how long have they been doing this? Because 2007, Spy-gate,
that was a whole other issue. How long has this been going on? Not only
in (INAUDIBLE), maybe it across the league. This is a bigger problem.
This is not just a New England problem. It is an NFL problem. It`s a
Roger Goodell`s problem that needs to be fixed.
SHARPTON: Jim, let me ask you. Do you think anyone will be suspended
before the big game Sunday?
FASSEL: No, I don`t believe anybody will. I think that they are going to
investigate it. They may want to just push this thing past the super bowl,
which I`m not sure that`s right. But at the time right now, I think
they`re going to investigate it, they are going to take their time. They
are not going to just get accusatorial a lot of people. They will get to
the bottom of it. And they will get to the bottom of it in their own time
But I also know, Reverend, I`ve been on the other side of that. And I`ve
seen reports come out that I know were true. And they are going to take
their so they are not wrong with this.
SHARPTON: Randal, can they push it past the super bowl without the super
bowl happening with a cloud over it?
HILL: Well, you got to have a super bowl, you know, without a cloud over.
And you don`t want this incident to be bigger than the game itself. I
think super bowl is the most important right now. But the integrity is
definitely on the line. And I think the guys from the NFL headquarters,
they will get it right.
SHARPTON: Do you think, Randall, that this is cheating. If in fact
someone did this, two pounds, is this cheating, in your opinion?
HILL: Without a doubt it`s cheating. You know, as a wide receiver, you
know, you`re able to grip the ball better. You are able to get, you know,
more service area on that ball. It is definitely cheating. It is out of
the line. Even Jerry Rice has said the same thing, you, as a lot of former
players, it is cheating.
You know, it`s just like Watergate. Watergate, you know, they were going
to win that election. Nixon was going to win that election. So why do you
have to do it anyway? The Patriots are going to win that game. But still,
why go through this nonsense?
SHARPTON: Jordan, I mean, believe it or not, I`ve heard that a lot all
over social media. It has been battered around Watergate, Watergate. I
mean, how do you, on the biggest game of the year, Sunday, have this kind
of situation that will overshadow Sunday afternoons -- I mean, overshadow
SCHULTZ: Especially if New England wins. Now, if the New England wins,
then sports super bowl out of six tries. they won 11 out of 12 division
titles. I mean, if the Patriots actually win this game, Al, can you
imagine the aftermath? Especially if nobody suspended as Jim suggested. I
would have to agree, nobody is going to be suspended if they win the game.
What`s the legacy, then, of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, assuming they
were actually --
SHARPTON: I don`t know what the legacy will be. I`ll be reading Jordan
Schultz on Monday morning a week from now.
But let me ask this. You know, NFL analyst and hall of fame player, Troy
Aikman, he said prior to the press conference, quote, "it`s obvious that
Tom Brady had something to do with it."
How do you respond to that, Jim?
FASSEL: I don`t think it`s obvious that he did. I honestly don`t. I
mean, the equipment people know what he wants on that ball. I don`t think
at that juncture, these guys have been together too long for him to pick
this one game out. I mean, unless it has been going for years.
But they have got an operation between Belichick, Brady, the equipment
people, how they operate. And it isn`t going to come up with one game in,
my opinion, that says you know what, I need like you said, it wasn`t that
called. Well, then that`s not a game you really want to do that.
And so, I don`t think Brady instructed anybody. Could a rogue equipment
guy decide hey, I know that Tom wands them a little softer, I`ll do it on
SHARPTON: Well, you know, it is rare for "Politics Nation" to open on
sports, but it is politics. This is image of America, Biggest game of the
year, everybody is watching including all of us in "Politics Nation." We
are going to follow the story.
Coach Jim Fassel, Randal Hill, Jordan Schultz, thank you for your time
SCHULTZ: Thanks, Al.
HILL: Thanks, Al.
FASSEL: Thank you.
SHARPTON: Coming up, we will have much more on the super bowl controversy
and what it means for America`s most popular sport.
Also behind closed doors, will Mitt or Jeb stand down for 2016 after the
face-to-face meeting tonight?
Plus, the White House responds to Speaker Boehner`s historic snub of
And Mike Huckabee is confronted for his comments about Beyonce by a member
of Destiny`s Child.
It`s all ahead in conversation nation.
SHARPTON: What are Republicans focused on? Jobs? Education? Health
care? Or none of the above. Today they showed they were focused on taking
away women`s rights. We`ll talk about that, next.
SHARPTON: We`re back with a new Republican priority fail. Today,
President Obama warned to the GOP, he`ll veto the newest attack on women`s
rights. A House bill pushing abortion restrictions just in time for the
anniversary of the landmark Roe versus Wade ruling.
Before the vote, furious Democrats took to the shows floor, including
Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: You know, in some respects, you look
around this room and you think, is this a chamber of Congress or is this a
doctor`s office? We might as well have stethoscopes here and stirrups and
speculums, because that`s what you`re doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Today`s vote came after Republicans were forced to ditch an even
more extreme bill, banning abortions after 20 weeks. Sixteen Republican
lawmakers spoke in support of that bill, 15 we are men. Only one was a
woman. Apparently that`s the GOP`s idea of governing responsibly.
Responding to an issue that less than 0.5 percent of Americans listed as
their top issue in the last poll before the new year. Thirty-one percent
wanted to focus on economic issues.
For some reasons, Republicans don`t get it, but President Obama does.
Today, he was in Kansas pressing his case for economic fairness on taxes,
minimum wage, and equal pay for men and women.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress still needs to pass
a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same
work. I mean, come on now, it`s 2015. This should be sort of a no-
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Joining me now is Congresswoman Donna Edwards, Democrat from
Thank you for being here.
REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: Thank you.
SHARPTON: Congresswoman, Americans don`t believe attacking abortion rights
should be at the top of the agenda. So why do Republicans believe that?
EDWARDS: Well, it`s at the top of their agenda. Look. This is the 55th
vote that we have taken to repeal or undermine the affordable care act and
to do it on the backs of women. And women are just not going to stand for
Look, I think every single day that Republicans go without putting a bill
on the floor that will improve the lives of working families, that will add
money to our paychecks every day is a missed opportunity for the American
The president pointed that out today. He pointed it out in his state of
the union message. Democrats and the president are focused on
strengthening the paychecks of ordinary working families. And Republicans
are focus on taking away a woman`s right to make a decision about her and
SHARPTON: You know, GOP congressman Charlie Dent had tough words for how
his own party has started 2015. He said, and I`m quoting him, "week one,
we had a speaker election that did not go as well as a lot of us would have
like. Week two, we got into bit fight over deporting children. Week
three, we are now talking about rape and incest. I just can`t wait for
Are republicans their own worst political enemy, Congresswoman Edwards?
EDWARDS: Well, they are. The polls demonstrates that shown and
demonstrates that the American people want us to focus on rebuilding our
infrastructure, increasing pay and making sure we close that gap between
the wealthiest Americans and those middle-class American who are struggling
to take care of that families.
And so, Democrats are focus on how do we strengthen working families? How
do we rebuild this country and our infrastructure and create good jobs and
send our kids to college?
And look at what the Republicans are doing? They are so divided and
divisive. But they are not focus on working families.
SHARPTON: You know, following up your point there, it seems to me while
the Republicans are attacking abortion rights, President Obama is selling
an agenda that would help families all across America. Equal pay for
women, paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage, child care tax credits.
Isn`t this a better way to give a boost to American families,
EDWARDS: Well, absolutely it is. And the fact is that the president has
recognized that we`ve had income stagnation for working families for
middle-class families. And we need to increase those paychecks by making
sure that we create, you know, jobs pay enough for people to take care of
themselves, give them paid sick leaves so that they take off if the child
is sick or if they are sick, making sure that women make the same as men
for doing the same job.
The president is focused on strengthening America`s middle-class families.
That is what we are focused on as Democrats. I don`t know what the
Republicans are doing, but it`s not the American agenda.
SHARPTON: You know, this caught my eye. GOP congressman Tom McClintock
said today he opposes raising the minimum wage, because many workers aren`t
worth more than $7 an hour. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R), CALIFORNIA: Only if you want to rip the first
rung in the ladder of opportunity for teenagers, for minorities, for people
who are trying to get into the job market for their first job. The minimum
wage is that first job when you have no skills, no experience, no working
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: I mean, this is crazy talk to me, Congresswoman. I mean, how do
you respond to your Republican colleagues saying this?
EDWARDS: Well, he`s got the facts all wrong. I mean, most minimum wage
workers are actually about 35 years old. They are working a job to take
care of themselves and their families.
And as the president said so clearly, why doesn`t he try living on $15,000
SHARPTON: What happened to reaching out? What happened to the autopsy of
the Republican party that they had right after their defeat in 2012 where
they wanted to expand their chant and now this is how they open up the new
session? This is how they open a new year, declaring a war on women`s
rights to choose?
EDWARDS: Well, it is really shocking. And especially when all of us now
that the message that really came out of the election, the president
understands that, is that we need to be focused on middle class and working
families and on strengthening those paychecks and growing jobs that really
are responsive to our future. And Republicans simply aren`t doing that.
And you know what? They have begun January like this. They can continue
this through the whole year. But we`re going to stay focused on rebuilding
and strengthening our middle class and making sure that America gets a
SHARPTON: Congresswoman Donna Edwards, thank you for your time tonight.
EDWARDS: Thank you.
SHARPTON: Still ahead, Mitt and Jeb sit down for a little chat. You think
they have a few issues to work out before 2016?
Also, what we still don`t know about deflate-gate. What will the NFL do
now just days before the super bowl? It`s ahead in conversation nation.
SHARPTON: We`re back with breaking news. Saudi TV is reporting that the
country`s leader, King Abdullah, has died. He was 90 years old. He became
king in 2005 after his half-brother died. Crowned Prince Salman is now
king of Saudi Arabia, the world`s largest oil producer and site of the
holiest site in Islam.
We`ll be right back.
SHARPTON: Let`s just say I`m sure it was an interesting conversation. Jeb
Bush and Mitt Romney, the two most famous republicans considering 2016
campaigns. They met today in Utah. A "Washington Post" reporter says
sources told him the meeting was, quote, "cordial, policy focused and
casual." Earlier the "New York Times" reported, quote, "the original idea
was for Mr. Bush to show his respect for Mr. Romney, but the meeting stayed
on both men`s calendars. Even as Mr. Romney took steps to test the
presidential waters. Moves that could make the meeting awkward." Awkward?
No. I`m sure it wasn`t awkward at all. Right, Mitt?
Yes, I was just kidding. It had to be awkward. And when a reporter saw
Jeb Bush Getting on a flight to Salt Lake City and asked about the meeting,
he said, "I like to ski. I can`t comment." Maybe he can`t comment, but
I`m sure he had plenty to say.
Joining me now are Angela Rye and Dana Milbank, thank you both for being
DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Hi, Reverend.
ANGELA RYE, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Thank you, Rev.
SHARPTON: Gee, Angela, what do you think Jeb and Mitt might have talked
RYE: Well, you said that it was cordial and it was policy driven, Rev. If
it was policy driven, it was an all-out brawl. We know what Mitt Romney
thinks about release of this in this country. And we know that his policy
positions certainly didn`t get him a winning place in either elections that
he ran in. So I can`t imagine that they had a very cordial conversation.
I`m sure John Ellis Bush wanted to know why he decided to test the waters
at this point when he`s been very clear about his own intentions, so I
can`t imagine it was that cordial at all.
SHARPTON: Dana, how do they decide who gets to run and who doesn`t?
MILBANK: Well, I think Reverend they probably spent the first half of the
meeting talking about football inflation and the second half talking about
skiing. But yes, can you imagine them sitting there, what do you think
about education policy, Jeb? What do you think, Mitt? Surely that`s not
what was going on there. And it would be very good to be a fly on the wall
in that room, but maybe they didn`t even sit down. They might have been
just been circling each other with nobody letting the other see his back.
SHARPTON: You know, Angela, no matter what the outcome the GOP decides on
which candidate, a new poll shows them all losing to Hillary Clinton. She
beat Jeb Bush 54-41, she beat Romney 55-40, and she`s up 53 to 40 percent
against Chris Christie. It`s a pretty significant margin. But what does
that say to you at this point?
RYE: Well, I think it says a lot, I think it says that Republicans despite
what happened in November people certainly are not ready for them to be the
commander-in-chief, their policies are not winning and I think that they
trust Hillary Clinton. They know that she was secretary of state under
this president and she could very well continue these policies and continue
to move the country in the right direction. I think that Mitt Romney had
his chance. He`s been tried, tested and lost. It`s time for him to move
on. I think with Chris Christie, we`ve seen Christie-gate happen over and
over again, whether it`s a very awkward Dallas cowboy hug or bridge-gate,
so I think at this point there are no other real credible republican
candidates. I would like to see a Jeb Bush/Hillary Clinton race, but I
think that if Romney jumps in and he gets the backers of all the people
that raised money for him before, it could be a problem and he could
definitely end up being the contender.
SHARPTON: You know, Dana, there`s new footage out, as Angela keeps
referring to Mitt Romney`s other races, there`s new footage out from the
documentary about Mitt Romney. Here he is struggling to get everything
into his convention speech last time. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is a lot of things I
have to cover. I have to cover pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-
religious tolerance, I have to go through Afghanistan, Syria -- if you
don`t mention that, it`s like how come he didn`t mention this? You`ve got
to cover every single topic.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, I disagree.
ROMNEY: You say you disagree, that`s what you have to do, or you won`t be
facing the media as to why --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: I mean, if he were to run again, Dana, could he really be a
different kind of candidate?
MILBANK: The best part of all that Reverend is he spent time thinking
about it, and he gave his speech and he forgot to mention Afghanistan or to
thank the troops. So, I`m not sure why he spent all the time thinking
about it in the first place. You know, I guess the real question is, it`s
possible that the authentic Mitt Romney will emerge in 2016.
MILBANK: Nobody really knows what we have seen before or what`s authentic
or not. But, you know, maybe it will turn out that there`s an entirely new
version Mitt 5.0 now or whatever were up to. But you know, it`s not
surprising that, you know, early polls don`t mean a lot. They`re just snap
shots in time, but it does show you, you know, how solidly the democratic
field is behind Hillary and how uncertain the republican field is about
SHARPTON: I found this interesting Angela, a lot of republicans thinking
about running for president, are going to a summit this weekend hosted by
Iowa Congressman Steve King, who just this week called an undocumented
woman a deportable. Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Rick Perry are all going.
But Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush aren`t going. Are they trying to get some
distance from the more extreme elements in their party?
RYE: If they`re not trying to, that certainly should be the message that
they use, that this is not a group of people that they want to be
affiliated with. Steve King`s reference to this woman as a deportable is
ridiculous. It literally makes me think of a port a potty. He devalued
the life of, I mean, it`s funny, but it`s kind of not, right? Like, this
is someone who is a human being in this country who didn`t come here by any
choice of their own and you can`t continue to refer to people as illegals,
as deportables as anything else. And again, we talk about this all of the
time, but this goes back to that same GOP autopsy concept. Who are you
trying to reach? And how are you trying to reach them? That message is
terrible. And he needs fixing many to silence Steve King.
SHARPTON: Does it mean to you Dana that they are confident if in fact this
is to signal a move away from the extreme right in their party. And we`ve
heard Jeb Bush say things like, you know, winning the general election, the
problem is the primaries, or losing the primaries to win the general.
SHARPTON: What message does this send? Are they saying they`re confident
that the extreme right no longer has the kind of support in terms of
republican voters that we once perceived them to have?
MILBANK: No, I don`t think they`re confident, but they`re taking a gamble.
I mean, it`s an encouraging sign that they`re saying no to Steve King. I
mean, he wasn`t just calling anybody deportable, he`s talking but somebody
there in the First Lady`s bock at the State of the Union.
MILBANK: This is the same guy who was talking about the immigrants with
cantaloupe calves. So, he is far, far out there. So, while it`s
encouraging that these two guys are standing him up, it also shows that the
people fighting for that mainstream, what`s left of the Chamber of Commerce
Republicans risk carving themselves up between Bush and Romney, and Chris
Christie, thereby empowering sort of the Steve Kings of the republican
base. So, it`s a gamble that they`re making form the problem is probably
only one guy can make that gamble, and unfortunately they`re carving that
vote up right now.
SHARPTON: Angela Rye and Dana Milbank, thank you both for your time
MILBANK: Thanks, Rev.
RYE: Thank you, Rev.
SHARPTON: Now, back to the breaking news tonight. Saudi King Abdullah has
died. According to State TV, he was 90 years old. It`s a major political
shift for the country that`s the world`s largest oil producer and home of
the holiest site in Islam.
Joining me on the phone, NBC News foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin.
Ayman, what do we know right now?
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Reverend, we knew
that the king had been sick for some time. And as you mentioned, the
official state news agency has confirmed that he has died now. We know
that for some time, the king as we were saying, was being treated outside
of Saudi Arabia. And for the past several months, really those of us who
have been following it closely knew that there were some works in place to
deal with the issues of succession and transition. These are going to be a
lot of very important questions in the coming days and ahead for the
kingdom. It is widely expected that the crown prince will be named as the
successor, the king. The country is generally very tight-lipped about what
the king was suffering from in terms of his physical or health ailments,
but we do know that he was being treated in the United Arab Emirates
recently, and as a result of that, it was widely expected in the last
couple of days that as his health deteriorated, this announcement was
coming. But in terms of the implications on the region, this is a very
significant development. Obviously Saudi Arabia right now is in the midst
of a lot of regional turmoil. On the one hand the southern border there`s
pretty much a growing insurgency with the Yemeni government that has all
MOHYELDIN: And on its eastern border it is dealing with the instability of
the crisis in Iraq and the rise of ISIS. So not only will the kingdom have
to deal with trying to stabilize the issue of this transition, the
succession of the next king, but it will also have to address some of this
press. Whoever becomes king will have to address some of these pressing
issues on Saudi Arabia`s borders, as well as obviously the implications on
the oil global markets.
SHARPTON: Ayman, tell us about the king`s relationship with U.S.
MOHYELDIN: Well, this particular king had a very close relationship that
goes all the way back for several years, actually goes all the way back to
the time of George Bush in the run-up to the Iraq war. At the time he was
the crown prince and was effectively the ruler of the country, and then
ultimately he became king, but he and previous Saudi monarchs have had very
good relationship with U.S. administrations. This particular king was seen
as a bit of a reformer. He became king. And when he became king, he began
to liberalize the Saudi economy, he tried to ease some of the domestic
pressures, particularly in the economic and education sphere. We saw the
explosion of higher education. Women started attending some universities
as well. He expanded that space certainly.
And so he was seen as a reformer, particularly in the eyes of the west and
inside his own kingdom from some of the power centers. But he did not go
as star as everyone wanted him to go. There were some that wanted this
particular king to lift the ban on women driving, for example, and others,
but it did not happen in his lifetime. That`s certainly one of the issues
where some say he has fallen short. Saudi Arabia and the ruling family,
it`s a very difficult political arena to navigate. There is a lot of
different loyalties and certainly a lot of different power centers within
the kingdom, but this king nonetheless will be seen -- his legacy will be
seen as a reformer, particularly in the economic sphere.
SHARPTON: Now, what does this mean, if anything, to the war on terror?
MOHYELDIN: Well, Saudi Arabia, whoever the successor is, and as I was
saying most likely going to be the crown prince, is certainly going to
maintain the same course that this king was taking. And that is, a very
strong rejection of Islamist groups, particularly terror groups like ISIS
and others, but in addition to that, you`re also going to see that the
Saudi Arabian monarchy is going to remain steadfast to its support of
regional allies. Countries like Egypt, particularly now under the
leadership of President al Sisi, as well as other countries that may be
dealing with the rise of Islamic groups, whether it would be, you know, in
the past like the Muslim Brotherhood, or as we`ve seen in recent years with
more terrorist like groups similar to ISIS and what have you.
You can expect that the Saudi leadership is going to still maintain a very
strong working relationship with the United States and western allies to
condemn and combat that. I don`t suspect you`ll going to see a change of
course when it comes to the issue of the war on terror. But regardless,
the next king is whether or not he will continue to push some of the
internal reforms that this King Abdullah, who recently just passed away,
the same kind of reform that he pushed, or would he slow down some of those
internal reforms within the kingdom.
SHARPTON: Now, they`re a key oil producer, economic impact any on the
MOHYELDIN: In the short term, probably not. The price of oil has been
going down consistently for the last several months, it`s hitting record
lows, in a large part because Saudi Arabia has been stepping up its
production. And that has to do more with the fact that the Saudi
government and the Saudi monarchy has been increasingly trying to undermine
Iran. As Iran continues to feel the pinch of some of these U.S.-led
sanctions and part of the nuclear negotiations, the Saudi monarch kept the
price of oil particularly low. And that creates the big challenge for the
Iranian government which is very heavily dependent on oil. There`s no
doubt about it. You`ll probably going to see a slight spike as a result of
this transition. And that has to do more with uncertainty than it does
having to do with a shortage or increase in the supply.
The uncertainty of transition is always going to be the big central
question about Saudi Arabia and its stability. We`re getting in -- you
know, when you talk about some of the Saudi leadership and their ages, this
current king was anywhere between 90 to 91. The successor is going to be,
as well will be in his late 80s, so there is a serious question about the
aging leadership of that monarchy and what will happen when the subsequent
king takes power, who will become the crown prince? Who will become the
minister of defense? These are a lot of important questions that cut to
the very core of the kingdom and its own stability. And at that situation
becomes more unclear or perhaps more ambiguous, you can start to see having
an implication on global oil prices.
SHARPTON: Well, as we have said here, the King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
has died at 90 years old. And we are talking about his impact and what his
death may mean, the passing of King of Saudi Arabia. The President is
supposed to go to India, what can he expect and what do you expect will be
the reaction worldwide?
MOHYELDIN: Well, you`re going to certainly see a huge turnout in terms of
the funeral for the king. No doubt about it. All of the regional
monarchs. All of the Arab world. A lot of heads of state, particularly
from the Muslim world will attend the funeral.
SHARPTON: Do you think President Obama will attend?
MOHYELDIN: Well, that may be a very difficult question to answer. Given
the President`s schedule and as we`ve heard from previous concern, would
there be a security or not. But I certainly expect a very high U.S.
delegation, if not the President, then certainly the Vice President or
Secretary Kerry. Traditionally the Saudi Arabian monarchy has been one of
the closest, if not the closest Arab ally for the United States,
particularly in the Gulf. They would see it as a tremendous sign of
disrespect if there wasn`t a high delegation that was sent by the United
States to the region. You know, there`s been a lot of controversy in the
past with President Obama when he met King Abdullah, you may remember that
Reverend Al when there were that photo taken of him. A lot of the people
were criticizing him. That it may appear that he was bowing down to the
Saudi king. So respect and tradition play very, very big in that part of
the world, and certainly because it`s a very close U.S. ally, I certainly
expect a very high delegation to attend the funeral that will happen
relatively quickly in accordance with Muslim tradition. The king will be
buried and a funeral will be expected to be held relatively soon.
SHARPTON: We`re being told Friday he will be buried.
SHARPTON: Stay with me Ayman. Let`s bring in NBC Producer Lubna Hussain
on the phone from the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Lubna, what is the scene
there right now?
LUBNA HUSSAIN, NBC PRODUCER: Well, the country is mourning. Because you
have to understand this was a very, very popular king and a very popular
monarch who was loved and adored by his subject. The country has been
mourning over the news of course as you can imagine --
SHARPTON: The main rival to Saudi Arabia was Iran. What will this do, if
anything, to the balance of power there, if anything?
HUSSAIN: In terms of anything happening geopolitically, Saudi Arabia has a
very smooth form of successions. So, I don`t expect that there would be
any kind of sort of power play going on that wouldn`t have happened
otherwise. So in terms of that, I think that the kingdom has assured
itself of a great degree of stability within the region, and often with the
geopolitical situation that exists within the region. So, I don`t see
anything changing as such.
SHARPTON: What do you know, what can you tell us about his successor? Do
you know anything?
HUSSAIN: Well, I do. I have great knowledge of his successor. I can tell
you that if anyone wants to succeed the king, then this is the man.
Because he has proven himself to be a very competent leader. You have to
understand that Saudi Arabia is a very tribal society. And he is someone
who has tremendous respect from the tribes, and he`s someone whose voice is
listened to. He is someone who is incredibly smart, very hard-working, and
like I said, is someone who can really hold the country together. So
people are definitely looking to him as being the next leader, and he is a
very, very competent leader.
SHARPTON: Is he very popular among the population there, as you say, King
HUSSAIN: Well, you know, he has always -- he`s been the crown prince, so
generally popularity is not really afford to do people who are second or
third in line in Saudi. It`s generally about the king and everybody else
is foreshadowed by the king. Like I said, he is someone who is trusted,
who is respected, who is admired, and who is perceived as a very straight
shooter, which is very, very important in a region where corruption is, you
know, is quite rife. So, he is someone who, as I said had tremendous
respect from his subject, tremendous respect from leaders within the
region. So like I said, the most important thing I think the Saudi Arabia
going forward is to have a smooth succession of power. And he is someone
who may not have had that kind of popularity, but you know, you have to
understand that King Abdullah, until he became king, didn`t have that kind
of popularity, either. So I think the proof will be in the pudding when he
actually does officially take over the reins. And I`m sure he will also
prove to be an equally popular leader.
SHARPTON: Let me bring in also on the phone is MSNBC contributor Steve
Clemons. Steve, how will the passing of King Abdullah affect the Middle
East politics right now?
STEVE CLEMONS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that there are two answer
to that, Reverend. I think number one, Saudi Arabia of all the monarchies
in the world has probably the best thought out, most secure transition
scheme for a monarchy. We`ve been meeting with Prince Salman, and now King
Salman regularly in Washington, who was just over here recently, and on a
kind of, you know, great state to Saudi Arabia level, I think that will be
stable and secure. On another level, however, you have incredible
instability in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has played a fundamental role in
driving both of the concerns about Iran`s pretensions in the region, and
it`s been a major player in the efforts against Bashar al Assad in Syria
and the king has been the architect of all of that. One of the his closest
advisers, his real national security adviser has been the ambassador to
Washington Adel Al-Jubeir.
And I think that what this does is at least creates a hiccup in the sense
of the king laid out an architecture for what would happen. Now everyone
is going to wonder what the new king will put into place. And so there`s a
lot in motion, a lot of moving pieces in the Middle East. And I think we
would be remiss and wrong if we didn`t think that there was going to be
some kind of shift and change down the road. We just don`t know what that
will be. So, what it does is creates uncertainty. And Saudi Arabia is a
fundamentally important player in the Middle East game.
SHARPTON: Steve, this is happening right in the middle of the war on
terror. Yemen is right there. I mean, how will this affect the war on
CLEMONS: Well, I think that the big issue on the question of the war on
terror, is what happens inside Saudi Arabia itself? Al, you know, a few
years ago in London, I met an attache who was a general in the Saudi
military, and I said, what is the biggest security concern in Saudi Arabia?
And he was very honest. He said, my concern is that Saudi fighters that
were recruited as jihadist, that were recruited as mujahedeen, who have
been engaged and gone abroad, which -- been trying to shutdown, come back
to their homeland and create instability inside Saudi Arabia. And Saudi
Arabia fundamentally has been in a proxy war with Iran broadly in the
region. And so a lot of the things that we ought to talk about on your
show and other shows are really fundamentally the puppet string pullers are
Iran and Saudi Arabia. So when it comes to the question you`ve asked on
the war on terror, it makes it a lot more complex, because the Saudis are
key in dealing with ISIS.
They`re key in dealing with the Nusra Front and the Wahhabis, the extreme
Islamists have often gotten a great deal of support from within the private
realm inside Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government is often considered more
liberal than its own wealthy sheikhs who have been funding and helping to
support many of the things we`ve seen unleashed in the broader Middle East.
And so I think that it just creates a moment of uncertainty. I think the
professionals in looking at, you know, Saudi, you know, monarchial lineage
and the changes there will say not that much will change. I think this is
a fragile moment and Salman will have to prove himself, he`ll have to prove
himself to allies in the region. We`re on the verge of a potential deal
with Iran in a few months. And that`s going to be a test on Saudi Arabia
on whether the acquiesces or challenges. So the war on terror is a piece
of his puzzle, but it`s only a small piece of trying to prove the
leadership skill and the primacy of the Saudi king as a fundamental point
of authority in the broad Middle East, particularly among Sunnis.
SHARPTON: You know I`m going to ask you what I asked Ayman. How do you
expect President Obama will respond to this news? Do you think he`ll
attend the funeral? Steve?
CLEMONS: Um, I don`t know if President Obama will attend the funeral. He
should attend the funeral. Because I think that as custodian of the two
holy mosques, and as a centerpiece of the entire Muslim world, that -- that
the passing of a Saudi king is, and particularly this Saudi King who had a
rough relationship with President Obama, it was sort of tug and pull at
various points and the Saudis began to doubt America`s resolve in playing
the role it had traditionally played there. I think for the U.S. president
not to go on the verge of a potential deal with Iran, it would convince,
perhaps wrongly, but nonetheless he would send the message to many Sunnis
that they matter less, that the United States is turning over the region to
Shia interests, to Iranian interests and choking in a different direction.
So, I think you know, this is on the verge of this, but President Obama
would make a major mistake, in my view. Not going to this funeral.
Because he has got to make a balanced effort between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Both have to be part of a new compact of stepping forward. And maybe
that`s what King Salman will be able to do, but not to go to this
transition would be a strategic mistake. It`s hard to think of a bigger
error of the White House in dealing with this transition.
SHARPTON: Lubna Hussain, Steve Clemons, thank you both for your time.
Ayman, stay with me. We`ll be right back.
SHARPTON: Breaking news tonight. A death sure to affect the Middle East,
Saudi TV is reporting that King Abdullah has died. No official response
yet from the White House. We expect one soon.
Back with me now on the phone is NBC News foreign correspondent Ayman
Mohyeldin. Ayman, what should we expect over the next few hours?
MOHYELDIN: Well, you can certainly expect a lot of condolences, official
condolences to come in certainly from a lot of the Arab and Muslim
leadership to the Saudi Royal court. You can certainly expect statements
that is also to be made from western European capitals that were close with
the Saudi monarchy, as well as a statement perhaps from the White House and
the coming hours, whether that be an official press statement, or perhaps
even some kind of televised statement. I think it would be important to
note that we should be expecting those in the coming hours. I think that -
SHARPTON: All right. Ayman Mohyeldin, thank you for your reporting
And thanks to all of you for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts
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