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2012-08-30

Daughter of Billionaire GOP Donor Sheldon Adelson Pushes Democracy Now! Staff, Seizes Camera at RNC

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When Democracy Now! senior producer Mike Burke attempted to interview billionaire casino magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson inside the Republican National Convention, a woman identified as Adelson’s daughter grabbed our video camera, tried to take it into a private suite and then threw the camera to the ground. While Adelson’s daughter first accused Burke of hitting her, she later came out of the suite to apologize. The incident was caught on tape, shortly after Burke questioned another billionaire GOP donor, David Koch, as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele. Burke files a report and joins us to describe what happened. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, "Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." We’re broadcasting from PBS station WEDU here in Tampa, Florida, as we cover the Republican convention, inside and out. We are doing two hours of daily coverage from the Republican convention. You can go to our website at democracynow.org if your station is just playing one.

We begin today’s shows in the suites. Democracy Now! senior producer Mike Burke filed this report.

ADELSON HANDLER: Respect their privacy. Probably shouldn’t have had—

HANY MASSOUD: We weren’t recording her. We were doing an interview.

ADELSON DAUGHTER: You’re recording right now.

ADELSON HANDLER: They’re in here for a private event, and you stuck—do me a favor.

HANY MASSOUD: Who are you guys? Who are you guys?

ADELSON HANDLER: Do me a favor. Do me a favor.

ADELSON DAUGHTER: Are you recording me now?

ADELSON HANDLER: Do me a favor. Do me a favor.

MIKE BURKE: ...has taken the stage. We’ve been spending the last several hours walking along the corporate suites inside the convention hall on the lookout for Republican politicians and campaign backers. Earlier in the evening, we ran into David Koch, founder of the Koch Industries.

Just on Paul Ryan as VP?

DAVID KOCH: I like Paul Ryan. He’s a superstar.

MIKE BURKE: What do hope to hear in his speech tonight?

DAVID KOCH: Well, good things about correcting the budget deficit and reducing our national debt and keeping us as a country from going bankrupt.

MIKE BURKE: And how has Citizens United affected this year’s campaign?

DAVID KOCH: Pardon me. I’ve got to go in.

MIKE BURKE: And how much money are you going to spend on this election, Mr. Koch? How much money?

Approaching us now is Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Steele, can I ask you a quick question?

MICHAEL STEELE: Yes, sir.

MIKE BURKE: What impact has Citizens United had on this election campaign and the relationship between like these shadowy groups and the Republican National Committee?

MICHAEL STEELE: Well, not just the Republican National Committee, but the Democratic National Committee, as well. Both committees have benefited from the Citizens United ruling, yeah. I mean, there’s—you know, there’s more money coming to one side or the other, but there’s still cash flowing out there. I think—you know, look, my view of it is money is property, and as long as you are properly disclosing, which is the problem with the—with the law that is the—you know, the underlying law in the Citizens United case—you know, if you get that in place, then all of a sudden you know who the donors are, you know what their addresses and their businesses are, and it becomes a different dynamic.

MIKE BURKE: We ran into Newt Gingrich on the fourth floor and asked him about the impact of Citizens United.

NEWT GINGRICH: Oh, I don’t think much of it. I personally prefer a reform that allows everybody to give their money directly to the candidate, as long as they reported it every night on the internet so the candidates are responsible. I think that would be a better system. But I’m not particularly frightened by the current system.

MIKE BURKE: But what about a system that we currently have where someone like Sheldon [Adelson] can spend maybe over $100 million on this campaign?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, you just saw in Indiana, in Nebraska and in Texas, the candidate with the most money lost—and in Missouri. So, I don’t—I don’t think money is the be all and end all. I think that it’s a factor, but I think there are a lot of other things that get involved.

MIKE BURKE: And we’ve just spotted Sheldon Adelson being pushed in a wheelchair down the hall. Karl Rove is right behind him. We’re going to try to follow them to see how far we can get.

Mr. Adelson, your thoughts on the Romney-Ryan ticket?

SHELDON ADELSON: No comment.

MIKE BURKE: We’re trying to follow Karl Rove and Sheldon Adelson as they go down the hallway here in the suites.

Mr. Adelson, how much money are you going to spend on this election?

ADELSON HANDLER: Guys, guys, hey!

ADELSON DAUGHTER: Get off me!

ADELSON HANDLER: Hey! Hey!

ADELSON DAUGHTER: Get off me! I’ll hit you!

HANY MASSOUD: He’s just walking.

MIKE BURKE: I did not touch her. She ran back into me. She just grabbed our camera! This woman grabbed our camera.

AMY GOODMAN: Loud noise was the sound of Democracy Now!'s video camera hitting the ground. Just moments after our senior producer Mike Burke attempted to question the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a woman identified to the Democracy Now! team as Adelson's daughter grabbed the video camera from the cameraman, Hany Massoud, then attempted to take the camera into a private suite. She then dropped the camera on the ground. Our senior producer Mike Burke joins us to describe what happened. Mike, explain.

MIKE BURKE: Well, we were up on the fifth floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. This is the site of the Republican National Convention. And Hany Massoud, our cameraperson, and I—we spent most of the day walking along the hallways where the corporate suites are, you know, trying to find politicians and campaign donors and various other people to speak with. Near the end of the evening, we were walking down the hall, where we see Sheldon Adelson, who of course has played a critical role in this year’s election. He’s already donated tens of millions of dollars, first to Newt Gingrich’s campaign, then to Mitt Romney’s campaign. And so, we attempted to ask him a question, and we got two questions in.

And then what happened, it just—it really shocked me. A woman that was standing right behind Sheldon Adelson, who we later learned that apparently was his daughter, she stopped and then forcibly pushed herself back into me, where I lost my footing. And then, from there, she went over to Hany Massoud, our cameraperson, and actually grabbed the camera. And we were—she was only about two or three feet away from the suite where they were going to be watching the convention speeches. And she attempted to go into the suite, into the door, with the camera. Hany said something along the lines of, you know, "What you doing? This is our camera." And then, at that point, she drops the camera on the ground, and you heard that sound. She goes into the suite, and there’s some commotion outside. We actually have some audiotape—I mean, it’s videotape, but it’s from Hany’s camera. And at that point, we weren’t sure if Hany’s camera was broken or not. And we actually still aren’t sure. I mean, it was—it forcibly fell on the ground. But we have some tape. I think it’s important to hear. It’s a little bit unclear at times who is speaking, but there’s two times in this tape where Sheldon Adelson’s daughter comes out from the suite and actually apologizes to us. And this, of course, is after several—

AMY GOODMAN: This is after she body-slams you, steps back into you?

MIKE BURKE: "Body slam" might be a bit—that might be a bit too much, but she definitely, you know, stopped and then went back with force.

AMY GOODMAN: Into your body?

MIKE BURKE: Right, in an attempt so that I could not ask a question of Sheldon Adelson, who, of course—I mean, regular viewers of Democracy Now! might know, he—very infrequently does he speak to the press. So, for us, it was a very rare chance to speak to such an influential figure. So, I think—another voice we hear on this tape is a top aide of Sheldon Adelson. His name is Andy Abboud. He works for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. This is one of the casinos that Sheldon Adelson owns. He basically came out said, you know, "We’ll take care of it. We’ll take care of it. Everything will be fine." And—

AMY GOODMAN: And who identified this woman as Adelson’s daughter? You certainly didn’t know that was the case.

MIKE BURKE: No, I believe that was Andy, but it was either Andy or someone else.

AMY GOODMAN: Their person that came out of the suite.

MIKE BURKE: Yeah, and there was a very large entourage that ended up responding to this incident. And there was actually a third incident that happened, where another one of his aides ended up grabbing my cell phone and attempting to take my cell phone, because once Hany’s camera was on the ground and we weren’t sure if it was working, I attempted to take out my Android and—because I wanted to record what was happening. He immediately grabbed my hand and grabbed onto the phone and refused to let go. And he held on for about probably 20 seconds or so. You can hear that, as well, in this tape. So, I think we should take a listen.

ADELSON HANDLER: ...their privacy. Probably shouldn’t have had—

HANY MASSOUD: We weren’t recording her. We were doing an interview.

ADELSON DAUGHTER: You’re recording right now.

ADELSON HANDLER: They’re in here for a private event, and you stuck—do me a favor.

HANY MASSOUD: Who are you guys? Who are you guys?

ADELSON HANDLER: Do me a favor. Do me a favor.

ADELSON DAUGHTER: Are you recording me now?

ADELSON HANDLER: Do me a favor. Do me a favor.

HANY MASSOUD: Mike. 571.

ADELSON HANDLER: Do me a favor. Do me a favor.

MIKE BURKE: Sir, you just stole my camera!

ADELSON HANDLER: Do me a favor. Do me a favor, OK? When you run into someone in the hallway—

MIKE BURKE: That’s my camera.

HANY MASSOUD: It’s on camera. It’s on camera. Are you joking? Are you joking?

ADELSON DAUGHTER: I am sorry. I don’t know who. I thought you were hitting me.

HANY MASSOUD: OK, that’s fine. That’s fine. Well, it’s on camera. It’s on camera. We’re not worried about it. We’re not worried about it. I mean, she grabs my camera and tries to run off with it. So how am I supposed to respond to that? That’s exactly my point. It’s on camera. I’m not even near her. I’m behind her. I’m behind her.

MIKE BURKE: I’ve been working on this job for 12 years. I’ve never seen somebody grab a camera like this.

HANY MASSOUD: Is there a spokesperson?

ADELSON HANDLER: She’s his daughter.

HANY MASSOUD: See, I didn’t know that. So that’s why she’s more emotional, you see?

ADELSON HANDLER: That’s his daughter. And they’re giving—and they gave [inaudible]—

HANY MASSOUD: So, she took it personal. She took it personal.

ADELSON HANDLER: She did. Well, it is personal, because they’re private citizens.

HANY MASSOUD: Which I also understand. Until she grabbed the camera, it wasn’t a big deal.

ADELSON HANDLER: I know. I understand.

HANY MASSOUD: That’s what I’m saying. We’re used to handlers bumping us and things like that, and we respect their jobs.

ADELSON HANDLER: Yeah, I’ve got it.

HANY MASSOUD: We respect their jobs.

ADELSON HANDLER: So, but just—the best thing is to back off. Contact me. We’ll fix it.

AMY GOODMAN: There you have this bit of commotion here. Mike, what happened next?

MIKE BURKE: Well, one interesting thing I forgot to mention is, Karl Rove was actually standing by when almost all of this happened. He was walking down the hall with Sheldon Adelson and was going to the same suite as Sheldon. So, he actually witnessed at least the beginning part of this, and I’m not sure how much after that.

Also interestingly, a few minutes later we decided to leave outside his suite. And we were walking down the hallway, and all of a sudden we see Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, former presidential candidate, who is close personal friends with Sheldon Adelson. Sheldon Adelson gave the Gingrich campaign tens of millions of dollars, really helped keep Gingrich in the race earlier this year. So we were able to—once we saw Newt Gingrich, we decided to, you know, follow him and just see where he was going. We weren’t sure if he was going to go into Adelson’s suite or not.

AMY GOODMAN: Into suite 571.

MIKE BURKE: And it turned out, he went into 571, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And that is Sheldon Adelson’s suite. And to explain what these suites are, the corporate suites overlook the arena. And so, you walk in a door as if you’re just walking into an office, but the other side of it looks out. It’s a skybox that looks out onto the arena. And these are where the large corporate donors have their parties and their suites for the evening. Some of these large donors also can sit out on the higher—on the higher bleachers of the arena, and they sit with their wine, and they watch the proceedings below.

MIKE BURKE: We tried to get into several of these suites last night, and every single time we were turned away. But we’ll keep trying.

AMY GOODMAN: Mike, maybe we can talk more about who Sheldon Adelson is.

MIKE BURKE: Sure. I mean, there was a reason we were trying to speak to him. You know, he’s pledged to spend as much as $100 million on this year’s campaign in, you know, an attempt to defeat President Obama. And this is really one of the most significant figures post-Citizens United, where you can now spend unlimited amounts of money, you know, whether it’s the super PACs or the 501(c)(4)s. And, oh, on Democracy Now! , we’ve interviewed one investigative journalist named Peter Stone, who’s—he now is a freelancer with the Huffington Post, several times. And I want to go back to a clip of Peter when he was on Democracy Now! in July, really outlining who Sheldon Adelson is.

PETER STONE: He was the leading supporter of Newt Gingrich’s effort, the outside group that was backing Gingrich. He had longstanding ties to Gingrich and was hoping he would get the nomination. When Gingrich withdrew, he threw his support, initially, reluctantly, to Romney. He felt that Romney was not as decisive as Gingrich and might not be quite as good on certain issues of particular importance to Adelson. Number one on his agenda is strong support for the Israeli government, and particularly the conservative wing of Israeli political parties. He has close ties to Netanyahu, and he is generally considered a hawk on Middle East issues. He opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Gingrich had been, you know, far more outspoken. Romney is strong on these issues, too. And, you know, he is now backing Romney.

His overriding concern is to defeat President Obama. He thinks Obama is weak on Israeli issues, Middle East issues. He also has publicly castigated him for his economic policies, described them, I think, to Forbes as socialist-style economic policies, which he’s worried about, you know, continuing for another four years. So he’s dedicated to defeating Obama. He’s also throwing a lot of money, tens of millions of dollars, into other groups, outside groups, that are playing big in trying to help Republicans win the Senate and keep the House. I reported in Huffington Post a few weeks ago that he has given an estimated $70 million or committed estimated $70 million thus far this cycle. We know about $30 million of that is public at this stage. I learned that he has given at least $10 million to a Karl Rove group that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, Crossroads GPS, and pledged another $10 million for Rove’s operation. Likewise, he has given $10 million recently to a Koch entity, one of the groups backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. So, he is definitely committed to helping get Obama out of the White House and trying to help Republicans make major gains in the fall in the congressional front.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigative reporter Peter Stone, describing the casino billionaire magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is playing such a significant role in this post-Citizens United election, promising to spend some $100 million in this election. Mike Burke?

MIKE BURKE: Amy, it’s fascinating. When we were outside the suite—this is after the camera—after Sheldon Adelson’s daughter took our camera and threw it on the ground, we spent several minutes right outside the suite. And one gentleman—I didn’t get his name, but his—he was kind of urging us just to leave. And he made a comment saying, "He is funding all of this," as if that’s a reason why we should not be questioning him and why we should not be up in the suites.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will continue to be in the corporate suites, covering the streets, and also being on the convention floor. This is a media event that thousands—it’s estimated 15,000—journalists are covering. And it’s very important not to cover—just cover, but to uncover what is taking place, both here in Tampa at the Republican National Convention and also as we move on to Charlotte next week for the Democratic convention. Democracy Now! senior producer Mike Burke, Mike, thanks so much.

MIKE BURKE: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we continue to follow the money. We will be joined by Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi. Stay with us.

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