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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript - Military Sexual Assault

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MATTHEWS: Wow.

Well, today, the Senate Armed Services Committee supported Levin and voted to keep the prosecution of sexual assaults inside the military within the armed forces chain of command itself.

Senator Claire McCaskill, who has pushed for many reforms to stop sexual assault in the military, voted with Senator Levin, the chair, today. You know, this is a tough one. And I`m learning this. By the way, look at this breakdown, Senator. These sexual assaults aren`t yelling, "Hey, cutie," or something like "Nice dress today" or something. These are incredibly -- a third of the cases involving women involve sexual touching, a third attempted sexual intercourse, attempted rape, basically, a third completed sexual intercourse, rape, in other words.

These charges are almost to the level of capital crime. They`re incredibly serious, sexual assault, certainly felonies. These are not misbehaviors. And can you trust the military to enforce the law here?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Well, you have to understand, Chris, that my decision today was guided by years of experience as a courtroom prosecutor handling hundreds of these cases.

And I believe what we have done today has strengthened the environment for successful prosecutions and it will support the victims. We have taken out of the chain of command the review. So, if a commander doesn`t agree with a lawyer, then it goes straight up to the civilian secretary of that branch of the military. No uniform.

Secondly, if both the lawyer and the commander say we don`t want to handle this, it gets another review. And the most important thing we have worry about in this area is retaliation against the victim. And what we passed today, unlike the previous proposal, it`s a crime to retaliate, and I firmly believe that victims will have less retaliation when the commander has signed off on the case going forward, rather than just lawyers outside the unit that no one knows.

MATTHEWS: Well, what happens if you`re a sergeant and it`s a lieutenant that did it to you and you report to that sergeant -- lieutenant?

MCCASKILL: You know, first of all, do you not have to report the crime to the chain of command. We have lots of places you can report the crime. And you do not have to go through the chain of command. You can go to a health care facility. You can go to a special unit that we have now created in the military to report these crimes. And then the criminal investigators take it. And if at the point in time it`s time to file charges, the commander can either sign off, but if he doesn`t, then it goes straight to the secretary, the civilian head of that armed forces branch.

MATTHEWS: And how would it be different if you had an independent operation, like the one Gillibrand wants, Senator Gillibrand wants?

MCCASKILL: Well, I -- as a former prosecutor, I can tell you, there are a lot of these cases that prosecutors don`t want to go near. And, frankly, we file cases in the military that civilian prosecutors say, no thanks. So if the prosecutor said no under Senator Gillibrand`s plan, it would be over. It would be over. Under our plan, if the prosecutor says no, if the lawyers say no, there`s still another level of review. So what this is doing is basically saying, commanders, you have no business overturning verdicts. We took that away. Victims, you are entitled to more support. We put that in.

But at the same time, it`s saying we`re going to create a culture within the command that if you do not support these victims or if retaliation occurs, you`re going to be relieved of your command and you can be prosecuted for the retaliation.

MATTHEWS: How long are you going to give them to do it? How long are you going to see if this works before you go to a stronger action?

MCCASKILL: Well, as I said today, anybody who thinks we`re going away on this doesn`t know us very well.

MATTHEWS: Good.

MCCASKILL: The women on the Armed Services Committee, we are committed on a bipartisan basis. And, you know, some of us split today. But that doesn`t mean we`re split in terms of our passion or our focus. We`re going to hold these guys` feet to the fire.

This is now their mission to create an environment where successful prosecutions can put these predators behind bars, and we`re not going to give up on this until it happens.

MATTHEWS: You know, these numbers are unbelievable, almost 4,000 rapes, unbelievable, anyway, in the military between enlisted people in the United States military, one doing it to another. It`s unbelievable. Thank you so much, Senator McCaskill.

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