Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: February 12, 2015
Guest: Brian Wice, Alfredo Duran, Sylvia Wilhelm, Sebastian Arcos
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: There is a new part-time member of the
Republican congressional leadership. His day job is prime minister of
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: This is not a personal
disagreement between President Obama and me.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: One of America`s strongest allies and its
very existence is under attack.
NETANYAHU: I`m going to the United States, not because I seek a
confrontation with the president.
RUBIO: So, he gets chosen to come before the Congress and I`m glad that
he`s accepted that invitation.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: I would hope we could find common
ground to have bipartisan support. But that takes work. It`s called
BOEHNER: I do have concerns about the president`s submission.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are many questions, I think, that need to be
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Should you trade your liberty for security?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let`s talk about Rand Paul, because he was out today
and playing coy.
PAUL: I`m not promoting any change to vaccine law. So to those who jumped
all over me for this need to stand up and say what they`re for.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Wisconsin Scott Walker dodged a question whether
he believes in evolution.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: For me, I`m going to punt that one as
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, one of the highest profile cases in recent
memory is under way in Stephenville.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And a major ruling in appeals court will hear
arguments in a motion to move the marathon bombing trial out of Boston.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The FBI Director James Comey`s painfully honest
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Many people in our white culture have
unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The hard truth about policing and race relations.
COMEY: Without complete and accurate data, we are left with ideological
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Vladimir Putin needs to know that
unless his behavior changes, the sanctions we have in place won`t be
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There`s nothing special
about foreign policy. All foreign policy is, is the logical extension of
personal relationships. There are a lot less information going.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democrats, they have chosen Philadelphia as their
site for their 2016 convention.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The City of Brotherly Love will host the Democratic
National Convention in 2016.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Philly, bo billy, banana bo billy, Philly. Ha!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think by now, you`ve probably figured out we`re
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Can I live?
JON STEWART, DAILY SHOW: I guess my question to you, did I die?
O`DONNELL: So, if you`re Senator Rand Paul, and you`re running for
president, what do you do when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
in a breach of protocol, is invited by the Republican speaker of the house
to address a joint meeting of Congress? You could check with your father,
who served in Congress for 22 years and ran for president three times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MODERATOR: Congressman Paul, would you cut aid to Israel?
THEN-REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: I would cut all foreign aid. I would treat
everybody equally and fairly. And I don`t think aid to Israel actually
helps them. I think it teaches them to be dependent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Rand Paul could follow his father`s lead and strike out very
boldly where no other presidential candidate would dare go, or, or he could
fall in line with the other Republican presidential candidates, with
Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, co-sponsoring a Senate resolution
welcoming Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.
Rand Paul jumped at the chance of co-sponsoring that resolution himself,
and all but extinguished the hope that we would hear any bold foreign
policy statements from the next Paul for president campaign.
Joining me now, David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones"
and an MSNBC political analyst, Krystal Ball, co-host of MSNBC`s "THE
CYCLE", Eugene Robinson, columnist for "The Washington Post" and MSNBC
political analyst, and Dorian Warren, Columbia University professor and
Gene Robinson, gone are the days of those exciting Paul for president
pronouncements on foreign policy.
EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: That`s done for. I think it`s going
to be rather tame this time around. You know, this is a guy who puts
electability ahead of principle, apparently, or certainly ahead of his
father`s principles. So, he`s going to fall in line.
O`DONNELL: And, Krystal Ball, here we are seeing more respect shown to the
leader of another country than the president of the United States.
KRYSTAL BALL, THE CYCLE: Yes, that`s absolutely right, which is a very sad
state of affairs, and I think fortunately has backfired on both the
Republicans who invited Bibi Netanyahu here to address Congress, and also
on Netanyahu himself.
But on Rand Paul, this is the biggest question in terms of the Republican
primary that they have for him. Can we stomach your views on foreign
policy? And as you`re pointing out, he`s been very quick to move to a
place that he feels the Republican primary electorate will be comfortable
with, contrary to some of his previous statements.
O`DONNELL: And, Dorian Warren, they don`t have all the Republicans co-
sponsoring this yet in the Senate. It`s an interestingly, actually slow
start for it.
DORIAN WARREN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Very slow start, because it`s
unprecedented. And it`s been interesting to watch the interaction between
the president and the vice president. Vice President Biden is going to be
away, the president obviously is going to be away. So, it`s been
interesting to watch the interaction between the White House and the Senate
Republicans, who are slowly moving along in terms of this invitation.
We`ll see how this plays out, especially in the debates for the primary in
O`DONNELL: David Corn, the polling in Israel makes it look like a bad
thing politically for Bibi Netanyahu in Israel, his challenge to the
president. That`s what it`s being perceived as.
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: Well, the prime minister of Israel has two
responsibilities. The first, of course, is to protect Israel. The second
is to protect Israel`s relationship with the United States, which is part
of the first priority.
And by challenging Obama while he is still in office and still has a lot of
discretion when it comes to helping or not helping Israel in all sorts of
manners, has really, to put it technically, freaked out a lot of Israelis
about what Netanyahu is doing, in the middle of an election campaign where
he`s fighting for his life, his wife got involved in a scandal about
returning bottles and getting deposits back, even though they belonged to
the state. And so, he`s in big trouble. It`s backfired on him, backfired
O`DONNELL: Gene Robinson, is Hillary Clinton feeling lucky she`s not still
a senator and has to make up her mind about whether she`s going to attend
ROBINSON: You bet. She can -- you know, she can spend that day, gee, off
giving a paid speech if she wants. She can spend it however she wants.
She doesn`t have to make that decision, and in fact, she is the happiest --
she`s got to be the happiest politician in America right now, because the
strategy of kind of waiting and waiting and waiting and not announcing has
worked wonderfully for her. She`s still the de facto nominee, and she
hasn`t had to come out and state a position on really much of anything.
So, you know, good on her.
O`DONNELL: Yes. And reporters respect finding opportunities to chase her
down, because she`s not out there in the streets of New Hampshire or Iowa.
BALL: That`s right.
O`DONNELL: Let`s take a look at the latest poll from New Hampshire, a
Bloomberg poll, where Hillary Clinton is doing very well against potential
Republican opponents in a general election this. There`s Hillary Clinton
at 50, versus Jeb Bush at 36 in the state of New Hampshire which Barack
Obama won twice. Hillary Clinton 50 percent, Walker at 37 percent, pretty
much the same as Bush.
Rand Paul doing a little bit better against Hillary Clinton in New
Hampshire in a general election. A general election he`ll probably never
O`DONNELL: At 48-41.
And, Krystal, so look, I don`t think there`s any arguing with Hillary
Clinton`s strategy so far.
BALL: Yes, I think that`s right. I mean, she`s not one to really go out
on a limb typically in terms of her policy position. She likes to be tried
sort of threaded carefully and faithfully as she can. So this strategy is
very much in line with that strategy.
In terms of the primary, right now, she doesn`t have a real serious
contender, so she doesn`t feel like she needs to get on the record to
appease any liberal base because there aren`t any real alternatives, that
allows her to set herself up for where she wants to be in the general
I would say, though, one note of caution to my Democratic friends and
allies out there -- those polls can change very quickly and voters don`t
like complacency. They don`t like a inauguration. So, we have to see,
they don`t like, you know, a coronation rather.
So, we have to see that she has a real reason for running, and that she
doesn`t have the same sort of entitlement that voters sensed from her in
O`DONNELL: She does not have any declared contenders certainly, but she
does have Joe Biden in Iowa today.
Let`s listen to what Joe Biden said today about running for president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: That`s a family personal decision that I`m going to make some time
at the end of the summer. I`ve been here a lot. I have a lot of friends.
I`m going to see some of my friends who are still in the legislature that
are here today. But, no, I`m not doing any organization, if that`s what
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: David Corn, he`s just visiting his friends in the legislature
in Iowa, as every vice president does.
BALL: Nothing to see here.
CORN: I was going to do that next week, as well. That`s all he`s doing.
It`s amazing how many friends politicians tend to have in New Hampshire and
Iowa, a few in South Carolina, as well.
I mean, I think -- you know, I hate handicapping these things, but I would
be surprised if he runs. I know people have been part of the Biden
operation in the past. He`s right. He`s not doing anything
organizationally with donors and such. I think he likes to stay in the
mix, though. Who wouldn`t want to stay in the mix? So, why say he`s not
going to do it if he gets cameras following him in Iowa.
O`DONNELL: Scott Walker, Governor Scott Walker, the latest rising star in
Republican presidential hopes, turns out to be not ready for primetime, at
least London primetime. Let`s take a look at how he gets laughed at for
his handling of a question about evolution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: For me, I`m going to -- I`m going to
punt on that one as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, really?
WALKER: That`s a question a politician shouldn`t be involved in one way or
the other. So, I`m going to leave that up to you --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any British politician, right or left wing, they would
love -- and say, yes, of course, evolution is true.
WALKER: To me, I said, it`s one of those I`m here to talk about trade, not
pontificate on other issues.
I love the evolution of trade in Wisconsin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALL: Oh, my God.
O`DONNELL: Dorian, Governor Walker is a college dropout. So it may be
that he didn`t quite get to that course yet before he dropped out.
WARREN: Well, he kind of listened to Kanye West "College Dropout" album
actually and got some advice on how to talk about this. This question is
going to come up again in the Republican primary. Already, his campaign
put out a statement saying that he believes faith and science are
compatible and they`re not against each other. Well, he better massage
that real quickly, as he`s going to get repeatedly asked that question, and
along with the other Republican presidential contenders.
BALL: Lawrence, you`ve got to come up -- when you don`t want to answer a
question, there`s going to be lots of questions you don`t want to answer as
a politician. You have to come up with something better than "I`m going to
punt on that."
BALL: That`s the worst possible answer you can give.
ROBINSON: In this case, the answer would have been yes, I believe in
CORN: Listen, I`ve done that -- that was refreshing to hear a politician
to say, yes, I`m going to punt it, because I have no idea what to say.
But when he says that evolution is not an issue for politicians, he`s
wrong, though, because we have fights in states throughout this country
about teaching evolution or not, and who gets to decide that? The
So, I don`t know where he`s going with that one. He`s trying to absolve
himself of having to have an idea on this important issue.
O`DONNELL: David Corn gets the last word on that one. Thanks, guys.
BALL: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, we have dramatic dash cam video shown in court today
in the American sniper trial. That`s next.
O`DONNELL: The most, the most obstructionist member of the United States
Senate, the reigning king of the fake time wasting filibuster, the man who,
until now, has believed it was his job to just say no said today that he
has finally figured out the riddle of how to make the United States Senate
function as a legislative body.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: The answer is for Senate Democrats not to be
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Coming up, a dramatic video in court today on day two of the American
O`DONNELL: Today was day two of the murder trial of Eddie Ray Routh, the
man accused of killing the real American sniper Chris Kyle and Chris Kyle`s
friend, Chad Littlefield. Texas Ranger Michael Adcock responded to the gun
range where Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield were killed.
And today, with gloved hands, picked through boxed evidence during his
testimony. Reuters quoted Ranger Adcock saying, "The only weapons on the
scene loaded were two 1911 style hand guns." Adcock reportedly said the
guns were on Kyle`s and Littlefield`s bodies, and both had their safeties
Then the jury watched a dash cam video that began at Eddie Ray Routh`s home
after about 20 or 30 minute-standoff with police there. That video was
recorded by one of the responding officers and ends in Eddie Ray Routh`s
arrest. Eddie Ray Routh took a series of fast turns seemingly trying to
evade police in the first minute, then just sped along several residential
Less than three minutes into that chase, a second police car rammed Eddie
Ray Routh as he turns a corner on a four-lane road. The two vehicles
produce black smoke as they continue to scrape up against each other.
Moments later, Eddie Ray Routh leads officers onto a highway and through
high speed traffic. Police say Eddie Ray Routh was rammed for a second
time. Something the dash cam did not clearly capture.
And then the pickup truck slows down. Eddie Ray Routh finally stopped and
simply got out of the truck, with his hands up.
Officers ran toward him with their guns drawn, as he laid down on the
pavement. He remained on the pavement for several minutes until the tape
stopped playing in that courtroom today.
Joining me now is NBC`s Charles Hadlock who monitored testimony for us at
Stephenville, Texas. Also joining us, Brian Wice, a defense attorney in
Charles, the testimony today was just of the officers who responded?
CHARLES HADLOCK, NBC NEWS: Pretty much. A lot of the day was taken up by
the Texas ranger this morning who walked the jurors through what he saw at
the crime scene, at the shooting range, the different caliber weapons, the
bullet shells, the bullet casings, where the bodies were placed.
And he also revealed that both men had their side arms still in their waist
bands with the safeties on. So, they didn`t see this attack coming. Chris
Kyle was shot six times it was revealed today, and Chad Littlefield was
shot seven times. The medical examiner revealed today that any one of
those single bullets would have been fatal to the men -- Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And the "Dallas Morning News" has an account about a second
video that was shown in court, and that has apparently audio on it, and the
suspect, Eddie Ray Routh, talked about hell, voodoo, and the apocalypse,
everything is just happening so fast, I don`t know if I`m going insane.
Routh can be heard telling a police officer this in his driveway, the
conversation was recorded on a body cam one of the officers was wearing and
through the driver`s window that evening, Routh talked to Lancaster police
Detective Jesse Chevara, who was also his neighbor for about 25 minutes.
Chevara tried to coax him out of the pickup truck, repeatedly reminding him
of his parents, his safety and everybody goes through hard times.
Brian Wice, what -- what is the defense burden here in establishing this
insanity defense. You know, you have this testimony that will presumably
come into the court of him talking about hell and voodoo in that situation.
BRIAN WICE, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, Lawrence, because everybody is
presumed to be sane, it`s the defense`s burden when they get the ball,
probably in day or two, to show by a preponderance of the evidence, is it
more likely than not that at the time of this incident, the defendant
didn`t know the difference between right and wrong? And they`re going to
We`ve seen a little bit of it through the state`s case, that now famous
text that Chris Kyle sent describing the defendant as just flat out nuts.
We`re also going to see that burden subsumed by at least one defense expert
who will testify in his or her expert opinion that this defendant didn`t
know the difference between right and wrong.
But right now, Lawrence, the defense is literally playing defense. The
prosecution has the burden of proof, they get to open and close. And right
now, all the defense can do is to minimize the damage the prosecution`s
case in chief is inflicting on it so far.
O`DONNELL: And, Brian, in an insanity defense, does the jury in Texas have
any idea what will happen to the defendant if they find the defendant
WICE: No, and that`s a great question, Lawrence. The short answer is they
do not. This jury can only surmise instructed in the court`s instructions
that that`s really none of their business. But they will not know that
this defendant, if he`s acquitted like any other defendant, does not get to
catch the elevator with the jury when it`s over. That he will be
transported to a locked down facility where he will remain until such time
as this judge, who retains jurisdiction over that case, decides that he`s
no longer a danger to himself or others.
O`DONNELL: And, Charles Hadlock, I heard in the opening, the prosecutor`s
opening statement, listening to the audio of it, which is the only audio
we`ll probably have in the trial, he repeatedly said if he gets away with
this -- he kept using phrases like that in his opening statement. The
defense will have to prove this for him to get away with this, that kind of
phrase. It was clearly designed to make the jury think, as Brian just
said, that if you find him insane, he will walk out of this building with
HADLOCK: That`s right. And as Brian said, that won`t happen. In fact, he
will likely spend perhaps the rest of his life in a mental institution if
he`s found not guilty by reason of insanity.
But a couple of things have to happen, I`ll let Brian explain that. But
one of them being he has to know right from wrong. That`s what they`re
trying to determine right now, the jury is, as they hear this evidence.
Basically, the conversations that they heard today on that body cam were
all over the place. In fact, Routh would not roll down the window of the
truck to talk to the detective because he said he wanted to keep his soul
on this side of the glass. That`s the kind of conversation they were
having for 20 or 30 minutes that night, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, that`s going to have to be the last word on it tonight.
Thank you very much for joining me.
Coming up, the biggest lie the American government tells about Cuba.
O`DONNELL: President Obama is the surprising star of a new BuzzFeed video
entitled "Things Everybody Does But Doesn`t Talk About."
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The deadline for signing up
for -- the deadline for signing up for health insurance is February --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not like any other Wednesday.
OBAMA: That`s not right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wednesday.
OBAMA: February -- man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wednesday.
OBAMA: February 15th. February 15th.
In many cases, you can get health insurance for less than $100 a month.
Just go to healthcare.gov to figure out how to sign up. February 15th.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Obama.
OBAMA: Thanks, Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s pretty good.
OBAMA: That`s pretty good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seconds left in the game, down by one. He gets it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President?
OBAMA: Can I live?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do you.
OBAMA: Yolo, man. All right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ILNYCKYJ: All right.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Netflix is coming to Cuba. Now, all the Cuban
people need is enough bandwidth to actually use it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: States like these and
their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the
peace of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: "Axis of evil" was just a phrase, a dramatist`s touch for a
speech. State Sponsor of Terrorism is an official status.
It is a condemnation the United States puts in writing against other
countries, and it does so very, very rarely. Iraq used to be on the list
of State Sponsors of Terrorism, but not anymore.
So, too, with North Korea, which President Bush removed from the list in
2008. We are left now with only four State Sponsors of Terrorism in the
entire world, according to the United States government. Iran is one,
Syria is another, Sudan is the third.
And the fourth and final member of this very elite group, this group that
is so hard to get into, should be the country that financed al Qaeda`s
successful attacks on the United States on 9/11. Fifteen of the 19 9/11
hijackers were Saudis.
"The New York Times" recently revealed that the official Congressional
Intelligence Committee`s investigation into the 9/11 attacks found that
Saudi Arabia was the principal financier of the attacks.
That information resides in a section of the report that remains
classified. But former Florida Senator Bob Graham insists that the 9/11
attacks, masterminded by Osama Bin Laden, who himself was a Saudi, were
financed by Saudi Arabia.
Former Senator Graham said this about the classified section of his report
"The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11. And they point a very
strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier."
But that wasn`t enough to get Saudi Arabia on the list of State Sponsors of
Terrorism. That`s how hard it is to get on that list.
Financing 9/11 isn`t good enough to get you on that list. So, presidents
of the United States of both parties, continue to treat the Saudi royal
family as if they are not a family of dictators, and as if the 9/11
hijackers being Saudi was just a coincidence.
And instead of putting Saudi Arabia where it belongs on the list of State
Sponsors of Terrorism, the fourth and final slot on that list, the United
States government simply tells the world a lie by putting Cuba in that
No major power has ever been uniformly admired by the membership of the
United Nations. The United States does command some respect and admiration
on many issues at the United Nations.
But it has, for decades, been a worldwide laughing stock for its
preposterous and completely unjustifiable embargo against Cuba. President
Obama is the first American president to even begin to behave like an adult
toward Cuba by working toward normalizing relations.
But every word President Obama says to the world about terrorism, every
attempt he makes to enlist world support in the effort against terrorism is
undercut by keeping Cuba on the list of State Sponsors of
It is simply a lie. And the world knows it`s a lie. Cuba should be
removed from that list immediately, not as a concession to Cuba in
negotiations to normalize relations.
Cuba should be removed because it is a lie. The most important lesson that
the American presidency should have learned by now about conducting a war
on terror is that the worst thing, the very worst thing the United States
can do is lie about who the enemy is and where the enemy is.
President Obama, for his part, seems determined to stop the big lie about
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba`s designation as a
State Sponsor of Terrorism. This review will be guided by the facts and
Terrorism has changed in the last several decades. At a time when we are
focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our
conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, Alfredo Duran, who participated in the Bay of
Pigs Invasion in 1961 and was a prisoner of war in Cuba for 18 months. He
is the former President of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.
Also with us is Silvia Wilhelm, who arrived here in Florida from Cuba as an
unaccompanied child in January of 1961 as part of an operation by a
Catholic charity, which took thousands of children out of Cuba.
Silvia Wilhelm is the President of CubaPuentes, which organizes travel to
Cuba, consistent with current regulations.
Alfredo, I want to get to the current situation involving U.S. and Cuba.
But, as someone who participated in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, it is just
fascinating for us to just imagine what that was like.
What was your role in it. And what was your hope for the invasion.
ALFREDO DURAN, PARTICIPATED IN BAY OF PIGS INVASION: Well, my role in it
was I was essentially a foot soldier. Then our expectations were that
we`re going to win.
O`DONNELL: Did you hit the beach.
DURAN: Yes, I hit the beach and we fought for three days until we run out
of ammunition, and I was captured after spending about 20 days running in
the swamps, and spend 18 months in jail. The -- like I said, the
expectation was we were going to win. But after three days, we ran out of
ammunition or we couldn`t get ammunition --
O`DONNELL: And winning would be what.
DURAN: Winning would be, have the plan being -- it was a great plan. It
just didn`t work out.
Had the plan had gone through, we were expecting that the underground in
Cuba would, first of all, blow the bridges on the way to the front, to the
Bay of Pigs.
Secondly, that there would be an uprising of a sort in every city in Cuba,
which was -- and thirdly, that we would march on to Havana from the Bay of
DURAN: -- without much opposition.
DURAN: It didn`t turn out that way. First, after three days in the swamp,
we ran out of ammunition.
We had one ammunition drop, and they sent us bullets for an M1 rifle. And
we didn`t have M1 rifle. We had Springfield rifles. So, it was complete
debacle from the very beginning.
O`DONNELL: And with the triumphant arrival in Havana, Castro would
DURAN: You know, if I had to do it all over again, --
-- I probably would not have done it.
O`DONNELL: Is that right.
DURAN: At that time, we were sure that we were going to be received as
conquering heroes by a population who wanted to get rid of Communism.
Remember, we were in the middle of the Cold War. A lot of people -- that
confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union was the thing
that was running the world.
And many of us just thought that the people would not stand for a Communist
government, and that our arrival there would be the key to an uprising that
would liberate Cuba from the Communist.
O`DONNELL: And what`s your reaction to the normalization of relations that
President Obama wants to do.
DURAN: I think that, for the first time in 55 years, we have a foreign
policy towards Cuba. Up until now, it`s been an electoral policy towards
It`s been the electoral votes of New Jersey and Florida, and the monetary
contribution. For the first time, we have a policy that is -- you can
consider foreign policy towards Cuba.
It`s about time that it happened. You have to have a communication because
things will be changing in Cuba.
You only have the -- of the historicals, you only have two or three that
are walking around. In very few years, you`re going to have a new
generation taking over.
And the United States should, by now, start having communications with
O`DONNELL: So, get an ambassador, get an embassy, get rid of the embargo,
DURAN: Absolutely. The embargo is a failed policy and hasn`t worked in 55
O`DONNELL: When did you turn on the embargo. Bay of Pigs Invader, you
turned on the embargo at what point.
DURAN: When the Soviet Union disappeared, while we had that conflict -- it
ended in `91 or `92, when the Soviet Union disappeared.
I thought it was about time that we process -- a process of trying to bring
about change with dialogue, with conversations in a peaceful manner,
something that would be good for Cuba and good for the United States also.
O`DONNELL: Sylvia, you came here to Florida as a child, fleeing that
regime and here we are at this point with the President trying to
normalize. What`s your reaction to them.
SYLVIA WILHELM, CUBAPUENTES PRESDIENT: Absolutely delighted. And my
congratulations to the Obama administration for having the guts and the
vision to do like a --
O`DONNELL: Have you evolved on this issue like Alfredo has.
WILHELM: I have evolved on the issue. I started evolving on the issue
when I went to Cuba for the first time in 1994.
When I went to Cuba, I realized that our policy was totally
counterproductive and actually was cruel towards the Cuban people. And I
started getting really deeper into the section.
Alfredo actually is one of the people that convinced me actually to move in
the direction of normalization. He`s been ahead of the game in the
community for years and years and years.
My congratulations to him. So, you know, this is incredible that we are
finally doing what we`re supposed to do.
O`DONNELL: You now organize legal trips to Cuba within the regulations.
What is your impression of the community here in Miami, the Cuban
community`s view of it now.
For many years, decades, and the rest of the country, I think people looked
here and thought, "Well, they`re kind of uniform against any kinds of
dealings with Cuba at all."
WILHELM: We have never been a monolithic community. That`s the bottom
And I think, if you really pay attention to the polls right now, you will
realize that the majority of Cuban-Americans are for normalizing relations
with Cuba, for traveling to the Island, for doing something different than
we have done for the last 54 years, which has been a total failure.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to take a quick break and come back to this. And
there could be some disagreement when we come back. We will be right back.
We`re joined now by Sebastian Arcos, CSD Associate Director of the Cuban
Research Institute. Sebastian was born in Havana, Cuba in 1961, who joined
the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, the first independent Cuban human
rights organization, and was then held as a political prisoner for nearly a
In 1992, he was allowed to leave Cuba for the United States. Sebastian
Arcos, what is your reaction to President Obama`s attempt to normalize
relations with Cuba.
SEBASTIAN ARCOS, FORMER POLITICAL PRISONER IN CUBA: I believe it`s a
mistake. I believe the President is rushing into changing an outstanding
policy without taking into consideration the nature of the regime and the
reality on the ground.
And I think that mistake is going to cost, perhaps, that the Cuban
transition to democracy that we`re all hoping for might be delayed more
than what we would like to.
O`DONNELL: And how do you distinguish between the United States` relations
with Cuba and, say, its relations with Saudi Arabia, which is a much
harsher dictatorship than Cuba is now certainly.
How does Cuba get special and unique status in our diplomatic relations.
ARCOS: Well, you have to look at the history of the conflict between the
two countries. In the case of Cuba, the U.S. policy is rooted on Castro`s
-- Fidel Castro`s hostility against the United States and the confiscation
of all U.S. properties on the island in 1961 over a billion dollars at the
time. The policy solidified after the 1962 missile crisis, when Cuba
became a satellite of the Soviet Union and it remained in place for most of
the last 50 years because Cuba continued behaving as part of the Soviet
And, actually, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba
has continued to be a country that is very hostile to U.S. policy, not only
in Latin America, where it`s hidden guerrilla movements all over the
continent, but also in other parts of the world.
O`DONNELL: And do you think it should be on the list of State Sponsors of
ARCOS: Absolutely, it should be. Cuba supported terrorists all over Latin
America as I explained before.
It supported terrorists from Europe. And just less than two years ago,
Cuba committed the worst violation to the arms embargo against North
Korea with a shipment of arms that was intercepted in Panama. So, they`re
still at it.
O`DONNELL: Silvia, how would you respond to that.
WILHELM: Well, I think Sebastian is still frozen in time. I think we`ve
seen a different rhetoric coming from the government of Cuba, as we have
seen a different rhetoric coming from the government of the United States.
This is a new moment. I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and
see if, by renewing diplomatic relations, we could get to a better place --
relations between the two governments.
O`DONNELL: You know, Alfredo, when I hear Sebastian and others say, "Well,
you have to look at the history of the relationship with Cuba," I think of
-- well, how about the history of our relationship with Germany or Japan,
where we actually went to war or, more recently, Vietnam, where 55,000
Americans were lost at war.
We went to war with Vietnam during the Cuban embargo, where we never went
to war Cuba. We got over that pretty quickly, the war with Vietnam.
DURAN: Listen, the reality is exactly that -- that countries behave in
what is their best interest at time. The Cuba policy has never functioned
Cuba policy has been the embargo policy, which has always been
domestically, politically-orientated -- electoral votes, like I said before
in New Jersey and Florida.
For the past 55 years, we`ve been supporting a policy that has not worked.
If we continue on that policy, we`re going to spend another 55 years with a
policy that will not work.
So, therefore, some changes have to be brought about.
O`DONNELL: Sebastian Arcos, what`s your response to that. I`m sure you`ve
heard many times people saying the embargo in the policy hasn`t worked for
over 50 years.
ARCOS: Well, it`s simply blaming the policy for something that it
was not designed to do. The embargo was not designed for regime change.
The embargo was a policy to contain Cuba. The same way had a policy of
containment against the Soviet Union that lasted for about 45 years before
So, criticizing the embargo for not toppling the regime of Fidel
Castro is like criticizing the Apollo program for not landing on Mars. It
was not designed for that.
It was designed for a different purpose. Now, the rhetoric coming out of
the Cuban regime has changed a little. But listen now to what they say,
look at what they do.
They continue to behave in exactly the same way that they have behaved
before, particularly against the Cuban people inside the island.
When we look at Vietnam, it was Vietnam that approached the United States
with an interest of improving relations.
And there is, of course, a strategic interest for the United States to
normalize relations with Vietnam, Vietnam and China are traditional
So, there is a solid reason there. Vietnam had made tremendous advances
economically by reforming the economy. They have not, however, made any
important political reforms.
But, yet, when we look at Cuba and compare the two countries -- Cuba and
Vietnam, the Cuban regime has not made even a fraction of the reforms, the
economic -- again, reforms that the Vietnamese have made.
O`DONNELL: Silvia, how do you respond to that, especially the question of
"Look at Cuba. Look what they do as opposed to what they say." When you
look at what they do, what Raul Castro has been doing over the last few
years, what are the positive signs that you see in what they`re doing.
WILHELM: Well, I travel to Cuba on a regular basis. I was just back from
And I can just state absolutely, emphatically, that there isn`t a person in
Cuba that I have met -- and I`m talking -- I talk to all kinds of people in
Cuba, all right, that are not enthusiastic about this new moment,
enthusiastic about Obama`s new approach to a policy with Cuba.
And there has been enormous changes in economic reforms in Cuba. Look at
all the people that are now in private industries in Cuba -- from the
paladares, the taxi drivers, the bread and breakfasts.
Every time I go, more and more people are involved in private
entrepreneurship. I think, 40 percent of Cuban economy now is driven by
So, I think, we definitely are seeing a change on the ground in Cuba
towards a more less government-run economic model, and more driven by
Give it time. It will get nothing but bigger and bigger.
O`DONNELL: That will have to be the last word on it tonight. Silvia
Wilhelm, Alfredo Duran, Sebastian Arcos, thank you all very much for
joining me tonight.
ARCOS: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: We`ll be right back.
The Democratic Party announced today the site of the 2016
Democratic National Convention. It is the City of Brotherly Love,
Philadelphia, which will feel more like the City of Sisterly Love when
Hillary Clinton accepts the Democratic presidential nomination there on
July 28th, 2016.
The last nominating convention held in Philadelphia produced this general
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We are now the party of ideas and innovation, the party of idealism
and inclusion, the party of a simple and powerful hope.
My fellow citizens, we can begin again.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Up next, how Lorne Michaels convinced NBC to do "SATURDAY NIGHT
LIVE" 40 years ago.
O`DONNELL: This weekend, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" will celebrate its 40th
anniversary in a special --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
-- Sunday night version of "SNL." In an exclusive interview, the "TODAY
SHOW`s" Matt Lauer asked "SNL" Creator and Executive Producer Lorne
Michaels how he convinced NBC to do the show.
MATT LAUER, NBC HOST: Do you remember the original pitch meeting for this
LORNE MICHAELS, SNL CREATOR AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: There was no original
LAUER: There was no pitch? You didn`t have to go to the network and say,
"Let me tell you what I`m thinking about."
MICHAELS: Yes, but everybody used the word, "bold" and "experimental" and,
you know, "new." And, you know, no one knew what it was going to be
because I had never done live. And they hadn`t done live here since the
LAUER: Why did they trust you.
MICHAELS: I think they --
-- I don`t know why they trusted me.
LAUER: One of the other things that people say about you all the time, --
LAUER: -- you have a brilliant eye for talent.
LAUER: As it always been thus?
MICHAELS: The criteria I used when I was hiring people is, if it was 2:00
o`clock in the morning and I was walking down the hall and I saw them,
would I want to duck --
-- into another office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL