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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Friday October 24, 2008

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Hollis French, Melissa Harris Lacewell, Ana Marie Cox, Ken Salazar

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith, and thank you.And thank you for sticking around on Friday night.Things could be going worse for the McCain campaign.  But, they probably couldn‘t be much more embarrassing.  Standby for more.

(voice over):  If the contest were for the most embarrassing campaign, this thing would be over as of today, with Barack Obama visiting his ailing grandmother, John McCain releases the most shocking presidential campaign TV ad in at least 40 years.


SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Mark my words.  It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama.


MADDOW:  On the same day they released the most pathetic ad of the campaign, we learn that the entire McCain-Palin campaign‘s highest paid staffer—is Palin‘s makeup artist? And then, there‘s this little embarrassment.


OPERATOR:  Sir, are you calling 911 to complain about traffic?



MADDOW:  That‘s “Joe the Brother,” Senator McCain‘s brother losing it to a 911 operator because he was stuck in traffic.  Ana Marie Cox joins us to review the complicated embarrassment and the soldiering on of John McCain. In battleground Colorado today, McCain rips Obama in front of 4,000 local supporters.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘ve seen the wrong response from him over and over during this campaign.


MADDOW:  Colorado Senator Ken Salazar is here, to talk about the Rocky Mountain vote on a day when McCain campaigns and Obama is busy. Sarah Palin left the campaign trail today, too—to testify in the investigation she calls Tasergate.  Who said anything about tasers, governor?  How Sarah Palin may have incriminated herself with the Freudian slip for the ages.  Hollis French, the head of the troopergate investigation joins us live from Alaska. And, it was worse than a hoax.  The alleged assault of a McCain volunteer by an attacker she described as a huge, brutal African-American Obama supporter in Pittsburgh, as sad and twisted and bizarre as it comes.  Melissa Harris-Lacewell assesses the story as it unfolds tonight. All that plus the meaningless and amazing electoral map of the world that has John McCain trailing everywhere but Cuba.  And well—Sudan is leading his way.  Still, lots of undecided Sudanese?

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. (on camera):  The McCain campaign officially turned from troubled to cringy today, wherein a mustard on the shirt, toilet paper on the shoe, sending out e-mails in all capital letters territory.  Don‘t believe me?  I have a list. First, that Senator Obama off the campaign trail to visit his ailing grandmother, McCain launched what is possibly the most grievously fearmongering ad since Lyndon Johnson‘s “Daisy” ad—the one with the mushroom cloud.  Except this time, it‘s 2008, not 1964, and being that obvious about how desperate you are in your fearmongering-ness is pathetic instead of just scary.


BIDEN:  Mark my words.  It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama.  The world is looking.  We‘re going to have an international crisis to test the mettle of this guy.  I guarantee you, it‘s going to happen.

NARRATOR:  It doesn‘t have to happen.  Vote McCain.


MADDOW:  Elect me or you‘ll die.  You stay classy, Senator McCain.  Try maybe to avoid obvious signs of desperation?  Particularly when your guy, Joe Lieberman, said exactly the same thing about you, potentially, getting elected.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, MCCAIN SURROGATE:  Our enemies will test the new president early.  Remember that the truck bombing of the World Trade Center happened in the first year of the Clinton administration, 9/11 happened in the first year of the Bush administration.  John McCain is ready to take the reins on January 20 of 2009.  He doesn‘t need any training.


MADDOW:  So, why didn‘t the Obama campaign turn out a big B grade horror movie attack ad against McCain when Lieberman said that about electing him?  Oh, because it turns out they‘re not nearly as embarrassing and desperate as the McCain campaign is.  OK.  So, that‘s item number one on our list of the most pathetic ad, ever. Second on the list?  Like Barack Obama, Governor Palin also left the campaign trail today but not to visit an ailing relative.  Now, with 11 days to the election, she spent 2 ½ hours giving a sworn deposition in the Troopergate investigation and to her abuse of power as Alaska governor.  Heck of a way to get out the vote.  We will have much more on that story, which Palin is calling Tasergate, later on on the show. The third item on the sad, sad list of campaign embarrassments today—was the new that the highest paid employee of McCain‘s whole presidential campaign for the whole first half of this month was not his chief foreign policy advisor, clearly not his chief economic adviser—no, it was Governor Palin‘s traveling makeup artist, who also works on the reality show, “So You Think You Can Dance.”  She got paid more than $22,000 for the first two weeks of October, alone.  Good for her. That said, it‘s all the more embarrassing after embarrassing list item number four, the revelations about the campaign spending $150,000 on clothing for Governor Palin.  John McCain‘s response to that embarrassing revelation when asked about it by reporters in Florida?  He said, quote, “She needed clothes.” Well, who among us doesn‘t need $150,000 worth of clothes?  Personally, I need a lifetime supply of tires and Mad Libs and beer.  But I wouldn‘t expect my presidential campaign to pay for those things.  Not if I ever wanted to solicit another donation again ever. Governor Palin‘s response to wardrobe-gate actually made this whole embarrassing thing worse than it needed to be.  She told the “Chicago Tribune,” quote, “That whole thing is just, bad.  Oh, if people only knew how frugal we are.  I don‘t think it was anywhere near.  What do they say -$150 grand?  It wasn‘t anywhere near that.  Those are not ours.  That‘s not even my property.  It‘s kind of painful to be criticized for something when all the facts are out there and are not reported.”It was your campaign‘s report of the spending, governor.  Is there a theme developing here?  Hang on, there‘s more.Item number five on our list of the campaign‘s pimples on prom night?  Well, the “Associated Press” has reported that Senator McCain plans to speak to his debutees (ph) election night via video remote while he stands at an outside location on the lawn at the hotel where his supporters will be meeting.  “Aides said McCain might drop by the election-watch party at some other point.” Thanks for helping out, I‘d shake your hand, but I‘m not planning on going inside. Item number six on this list?  All the McCain staffers and senior Republicans who couldn‘t stop themselves from blaming each other for the campaign‘s decline to Robert Draper of the “New York Times” magazine, and now today, to  The long knives are out and they are sharp, quote, “One well-connected Republican in the private sector was shocked to get calls and resumes in the past few days from what he said were senior McCain aides.” The story also quotes another nameless Republican saying, quote, “The lack of discipline and ability to draft and stick to a coherent message is unreal.” Another senior Republican strategist suggests that McCain should give up on himself and try to save some down-ticket Republicans in congressional races instead, like Bob Dole did in 1996. So, that‘s kind of a bad list.  It was a humiliating, embarrassing, step on a dozen banana peels day for the McCain campaign.  But the kudagra (ph) did not involve Sarah Palin‘s embarrassing habits or the staff‘s embarrassing backstabbing or the graceless fearmongering of the new pathetic ad.  The topper came courtesy of John McCain‘s brother, if you can believe it.



CALLER:  Well, it‘s not an emergency but do you know why on one side at the damn drawbridge of 95 traffic is stopped for 15 minutes and yet traffic‘s coming the other way across the drawbridge?

OPERATOR:  Sir, are you calling 911 to complain about traffic?



MADDOW:  Did he really just—can an entire political campaign just crawl under a big bed and hide for a weekend? Joining us now, Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor of what used to be “Radar” magazine, and the “Time” magazine contributor. Ana Marie, I‘m very sorry about “Radar.”  Do you want me to ask around here for you?

ANA MARIE COX, TIME MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes, if you could.  If anyone needs a campaign reporter, I come pretty cheap.  I also am looking for a job as a personal shopper perhaps for Sarah Palin and, if you‘re interested, I have guaranteed seats on the McCain plane for the last week of the campaign.  I understand there‘s some journalists that can‘t get on, some hoping maybe Maureen Dowd or Joe Klein might be interested in taking them off my hands.

MADDOW:  I can‘t imagine what I could do to help more than what we just did here.  But, if anything to encourage, I hope you let me know.

COX:  I will.

MADDOW:  So, the article about the Republicans blaming each other cites and I quote, “self-serving leaks, an epidemic of incontinence” on McCain‘s own team.  I mean, aside from how embarrassing it is to read the word incontinence in political news, is all this...

COX:  And it‘s actually concerning John McCain.  It‘s OK, Rachel. You can go ahead and you were going to go there, I know.

MADDOW:  I just said it in my head, I let you do it out loud.  Is all this embarrassing stuff happening all at once just as a coincidence or is something new happening?

COX:  Well, I think it‘s something you see in every campaign, really.  It‘s actually the losing ones.  I don‘t know if you‘re paying close attention to the Hillary campaign, but towards the end it became a lot like this as well.  And I think, to be fair, it‘s a very human, you know, kind of reaction. And there is, really, no other kind of leak than a self-serving one and unless you‘re talking about the other kinds of leaks that we‘re alluding to.  But pretty much, anyone who talks to a reporter is doing it out of their own self interest.  And when a campaign is going badly, yes, you‘re going to talk to a reporter and tell them bad things about the other people in the campaign and try to make it look as though you are not a part of it. If things are going well in the campaign, well, you don‘t really talk that much.  And that‘s what you see with the Obama campaign.  They get a lot of credit for being very disciplined.  And they are very disciplined.  But also, they don‘t have anything to talk about. What are they going to tell me when things are going well?  You don‘t go around to reporters and sort of tell everyone, well, it‘s going great.  And, are you going to write that?  You know, I mean, it doesn‘t work that way.

MADDOW:  Does that mean that when people are talking to reporters they are essentially trying to cast the blame on somebody else so that when the history of what went wrong in the campaign is written, they don‘t get cast as the bad guys so that they can get another job someday?

COX:  Again, I think that‘s kind of human, you know, that sort of...


COX:  ... you know, human nature.  I think if you‘re asking me about why “Radar” went down, I‘m not going to tell you it is my fault.  I didn‘t even turn their expense report, yet. I actually think that the McCain campaign, there are a lot of people there that are still very true believers and still really are holding out hope for their guy to win.  I think it‘s not exactly fair to paint the entire campaign as like desperate and cleaving, some sort of whatever bit of reality make them look the best. I think that, you know, we have to remember as sort of a sad and funny as that list that you read off was, like this is still a presidential election.  And there are people with serious beliefs and have some, you know, very serious issues in mind when they‘re looking at these decisions that we‘re making about the president. And there are people who still haven‘t made up their mind.  I mean, I know it‘s hard for us to believe, but there are people who are still making up their mind.  And I think there are people on the McCain and on the Obama campaign who are trying to make a pretty serious case to those people.

MADDOW:  Do you think that Senator McCain recognizes the risk here, that these seemingly small, embarrassing stories, and the leaks, and the way the campaign is conducting itself, even when they have good moments, I mean, they had a good moment today in Denver.  The “Denver Post” writing very positively about that rally today, 4,000 people there, a lot of enthusiasm. They are having some good moments but it is undercut especially symbolically by all these little things.  I mean, he could sort of step in and say, stop leaking or I‘m going to fire you and sort of take to reins, doesn‘t he?

COX:  Well, yes, he could.  I don‘t know if they have that kind of control over their campaign at this point.  I think that‘s one of the problems.  I think it‘s kind—there‘s a very diffused sort of sense of leadership.  And I don‘t know if McCain could really get down on that level and talk to individual people that way.  I mean, if he (ph) should want them to, quite frankly.  That sort of what campaign managers are for.  I mean, I think, they have too many of them on the McCain campaign, perhaps. What I do think is that things are going well in some areas.  And they are having a hard time getting attention for those things that are going well.  And I think that has to do with the fact that, you know, basically, all journalists are frustrated novelists and a lot of these mistakes that you‘re pointing out are things that have this great literary quality to them.  They are sort of symbolic of something larger that‘s wrong with the campaign or they give a flash of poetry to it otherwise a kind of clumsy narrative or, you know, clumsy campaign, as the case maybe. And I think that it‘s really hard to these journalists to not seize upon those moments.  In fact, I actually suspect that McCain himself understands that impulse because he is, you know—remember, he is kind of a literary guy, himself.  His books nothing to be ashamed of.  In fact, they are quite good, I should add.  He‘s praise worthy for that.

MADDOW:  He knows something about and he knows something about the press and what makes a good story.  He was certainly good at keeping the press on his side for a very long time.  That‘s right.

COX:  That‘s right.  He‘s a master storyteller that hasn‘t totally demonstrated that well this time around.

MADDOW:  Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor of the late lamented “Radar” magazine.  She‘s on the job market and has a seat on a plane everybody.  She‘s also a contributor to “Time” magazine, but don‘t hold that against her.

Ana Marie, thanks for being on the show tonight.

COX:  All right.  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The bizarre, shocking story of the McCain campaign volunteer who claims she was attacked by a 6‘4” African-American Obama supporter who carved a “B” on her face.  That story was obviously a total lie. Later, we‘ll be talking about what this hoax says, not only about the specific circumstances around that hoax, but also about the tension beneath the surface of this campaign. And McCain‘s final strategy is becoming clear—drill hard on the swing states including Colorado.  Today in Denver, as I mentioned to Ana Marie, a fiery speech to a big crowd.  Is McCain on a Rocky Mountain High?  Colorado Senator Ken Salazar will try to Talk Me Down. One more thing, though, about that weird Joe McCain call to 911 to complain about traffic.  Do you mind if I play a little more of it?  Because bizarrely, there is more of it.  After he said bleep you and hung up on 911 operator; 911 called him back.  And the reason we know it was Joe McCain who made the call it‘s because the 911 operator got Joe McCain‘s outgoing voice mail before leaving a message.


JOE MCCAIN, SEN. MCCAIN‘S BROTHER:  Hi.  This is Joe McCain.  As most of you know, I am involved in very important family political project.

911:  Mr. McCain, you called 911 to complain about traffic and then cussed at the call taker prior to hanging up on her.  In the state of Virginia, it is illegal to abuse the 911 system.


MADDOW:  That‘s that, right?  Actually, no—not for Joe “last word” McCain.  Joe McCain, John‘s brother remarkably called back again.  He called 911, again.


MCCAIN:  Somebody gave me this riot act about the violation of police.  I want to know what the heck—you have thousand of cars being held up because of this stupid...

911:  Sir, what‘s your complaint?  You haven‘t made much sense to me, yet.


MADDOW:  Joe McCain joining a proud tradition of candidate siblings making a name for themselves.  Remember when Joe McCain‘s last week news when he called Northern Virginia communist country?  Do I even have to tell you today that he was calling and abusing the 911 operators from Alexandria, Virginia?  One of the places he specifically said was commie?  Oh, what a day.


MADDOW:  So, Governor Palin gave her first big policy speech today.  And despite John McCain‘s promise of an across the board spending freeze, she promised to fully fund programs for children with special needs, like autism.  She said she‘d find the funding using—what else—the one size fits all no matter how much it really doesn‘t fit economic idea of the McCain campaign, which is, of course, cutting earmarks.


GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Some of these pet projects, they really don‘t make a whole lot of sense.  And sometimes, these dollars, they go to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good.  Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France.  I kid you not.


MADDOW:  Can you believe that?  Do you (ph) believe those stupid scientists studying stupid fruit flies?  Fruit flies.  We should obviously take away that fruit fly-studying money, the fruit flies don‘t need it.  And instead, we will spend that fruit fly-studying money on stuff that does need studying, like autism. I mean, we‘ve learned a lot about autism from the research that‘s already been done it, like we learn how that protein, neurexin, could be a genetic risk factor for autism.  Yes, that was fascinating.  We learned about that by—by studying fruit flies.  Darn those scientists, contending (ph) our politics again.


MADDOW:  Democrats, generally speaking, are so wary of their own prospects of winning the White House, but it‘s not really possible to describe them now as giddy over Barack Obama‘s chances.  Even confident is a little strong.  It‘s more like they are holding their breath, trying to will the election to please happen sooner than 11 days from now.  Pouring over the latest poll numbers and high level Republican defections and—let‘s admit it—the embarrassing and inexplicable things coming out of the McCain campaign.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Down in money, down in the polls, we got them just where we want them.


MADDOW:  Sure you do, senator. But wait a minute, this is more than just another inexplicable funny from Senator McCain.  Think back to the year 2000, to that picture of George W. Bush at the governor‘s mansion in Austin on election night, after Florida had been called for Al Gore.  Remember how Bush looked like he didn‘t have a worry in the worlds, he sort of looked silly at the time for it. Well, consider this, John McCain sounds silly, but he also could be right.  He will be fighting uphill for the next 11 days, undoubtedly, but he will be fighting. Today, Obama is off the trail in Hawaii with his ill grandmother, and McCain was in swing states territory, running through his talking points greatest hits to a very receptive and enthusiastic crowd of 4,000 in Denver.


MCCAIN:  You know, Senator Obama may say he‘s trying to soak the rich, but it‘s the middle class who are going to get through the ringer because a lot of his promised tax increases misses the target.  He opposed the surge strategy.  He still refuses to admit that it worked.  And it bringing us victory in Iraq and will bring us victory in Afghanistan.  He said he will sit down unconditionally with the worth‘s worst dictators.


MADDOW:  Needless to say, McCain still has some fight left in him.  And if his final push through the swing states wins over some voters, say, the undecideds in Colorado and the handful of other swing states that are currently in the tossup column, on the NBC News electoral map—then look what happens.  Even if he doesn‘t win the coveted Pennsylvania, say, he holds on to states that Republicans usually win, say, he holds on to Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina—say, he wins Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Florida. Not an impossible scenario and one that would bring a President McCain.  Neither side should be coordinating its confetti drop for 11:00 p.m. on November 4th, just yet.  It‘s true that Obama‘s path to victory involves winning fewer swing states.  But there are paths to a McCain victory.  And McCain might just be on one of them. Here to give his very best to Talk Me Down is Senator Ken Salazar from the great swing state of Colorado. Senator Salazar, thank you so much for joining us.

SEN. KEN SALAZAR, (D) COLORADO:  It‘s my honor to be with you, Rachel.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Senator, we just saw clips from John McCain‘s speech today in Denver.  Four thousand people turned out to hear him.  The “Denver Post” said the crowd was, quote, “the most enthusiastic of McCain‘s events in this area.”  “Post” also quoted lots of people attending that rally, echoing the accusation that Obama is a socialist. Do you get the sense that McCain is getting some late traction in your state?

SALAZAR:  Not at all.  You know, we have just been in some of the 51 offices that we have around the state of Colorado for Barack Obama.  I traveled through 34 communities across rural Colorado just in the last week.  And there is great enthusiasm with the crowds of hundreds of people coming out, working every precinct in every county, in every community of Colorado. So, I think we are in good shape.  I think it‘s going to be a close election.  A Democrat has not won in Colorado since 1964.  And so, it‘s a big battle.  But I think we are ahead and I think our ground forces are superior.  And at the end of the day, Colorado, this time, will deliver the nine electoral votes to Barack Obama.

MADDOW:  How would you describe the difference in the ground game?   What does it feel like?  What does it look like at Colorado events?

SALAZAR:  You know, Rachel, we are (INAUDIBLE) up.  The Obama campaign for change has offices in places that are almost unimaginable. In Alma, Colorado, Park County, a heavy Republican county, at 10,600 feet, I was there just a few days ago.  It was snowing.  It is the highest Obama office in the land.  And it‘s located in a rural community, highly Republican community.  But the people there in Park County are very confident that we are going to pull this across the finish line, even in that Republican county. So, all across the state, what I have seen is an outpouring of engagement in this campaign like I‘ve never seen in all prior presidential campaigns that I have been involved in.  And I think that that ground, at the end of the day, has already delivered in some ways and ultimately we‘ll win. I mean, we e have changed Colorado‘s political registration.  In 2004, Democrats were down about 200,000 in Colorado.  Because of the major voter registration efforts, we are now even with Republicans in this state.  But everywhere that I go, even Republicans are telling me that they are ready for a change, they want a new direction for our country and they believe that the plans that Senator Obama has put together, talking about the issues is really the way to go.  So, I think we‘re going to win Colorado for Barack Obama.

MADDOW:  I know that early voting has been huge in Colorado, not just the increase in Democratic registrations, as you described, but a huge number of people already voting.  I think it‘s almost one in five Colorado voters have either early voted or voted by mail.  Nearly half of all the registered voters in Colorado asked for early ballots this year. Does that change the dynamic of race?  Does that change the way that the candidates have to approach these closing days?

SALAZAR:  It does, indeed.  You have to really believe that here in Colorado, the election started on the first day of early voting and will continue on until October 31st, when early voting closes, as well as the mail-in ballots.  I would expect that more than half the people of Colorado will vote by a time we get to Election Day. And so, our ground game with thousands of people involved who are actually tracking voters, and chasing down ballots, and making sure that people are getting to the polls and voting, and it‘s very important when you have this extended time for voting.

MADDOW:  Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado—the first man ever to wear a cowboy hat while being interviewed on this show.  And you wear it very well.  Thank you so much for joining us, sir.  It‘s nice of you to take the time.

SALAZAR:  Thank you very much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Barack Obama was off the campaign trail to be with his ailing grandmother in Hawaii today.  Sarah Palin was off the campaign trail too—being deposed in the ongoing investigation that she abused her power as governor of Alaska. We will have the latest, live from Anchorage in just a second.  But, you know, what the state personnel board finds against Palin—we‘re talking about a wide range of potential penalties here.  A fine?  Theoretically, even jail?


RACHEL MADDOW:  Later on in the show tonight, the disturbing story of Ashley Todd.  She‘s the college Republican and McCain volunteer that told Pittsburgh police and whatever Internet audience she reaches that she was brutally attacked by an African-American man because she was a McCain supporter.  It was all a lie - an unoriginal, race-baiting lie.  Why did she do it?  Why did it work for a second?  Melissa Harris Lacewell will be with us in just a moment.   First, though, it‘s time for a few underreported holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  You know who‘s going to have a bad weekend?  Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota‘s sixth district.  It‘s a really Republican district, historically.  And Bachmann used to be way ahead of Democratic rival Elwyn Tinklenberg; that‘s according to a poll conducted by Growth Insight back in September, that gave her a 13-point lead in the race.   And then a week ago, as you know, Bachmann channeled her inner Joe McCarthy on “HARDBALL” when she called for an investigation of all Congress people‘s possible un-Americanism.  The outburst was Friday.  On Sunday, she said it was just a misreading of what she said in the live, unedited television interview.   On Wednesday, she blamed Chris Mathews.  Then, the National Republican Congressional Committee pulled ads out of her district.  Meanwhile, Elwyn Tinklenberg raised about $1 million off of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  So after all that, why is this going to be a bad weekend for her?  Well, a new poll of the sixth district has Bachmann down by three points.  And late today, she made the only case she could to voters in a new ad. 


MICHELE BACHMAN, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS IN MINNESOTA:  I may not always get my words right, but I know my heart is right.  Because my heart is for you.  For your children.  And for the blessings of liberty to remain for our great country. 


MADDOW:  “Vote for me.  I don‘t always get the words right, but I promise I will try not to the words so much next time.  Not where you want to be 11 days from your election.   And here‘s a humdinger from the Bush administration as it heads toward the exit amidst the economic crisis of the century.  “The Washington Post” examines over 30 contracts for portrait painters to capture the faces of Bush administration officials on canvas for posterity.  Naturally, most of the contracts were no-bid contracts because there‘s no other kind with these guys.  And they cost me and you anywhere from $7,500 to $50,000 apiece.  So who all did we pay to have painted?  How about a second portrait of Donald Rumsfeld who was defense secretary in the Ford administration, too?  The cost of the re-do showing the secretary in late middle age?  $46,790.  Come on.  The guy hasn‘t cost us enough already?    


MADDOW:  So, half the people running for the White House were absent from the campaign trail today for dramatically different reasons.  Barack Obama flew to Hawaii to be at the side his ailing grandmother.  Sarah Palin - she was in St. Louis today, off the campaign trail because she was being deposed.  The GOP vice presidential candidate spent part of a precious Friday afternoon in a battleground state, but behind closed doors giving sworn testimony about her ethics violations and abuses of power as Alaska governor.  It‘s the first time she answered questions about it under oath.  You, guys, still think you‘ve got them where you want them?  Earlier this month, a bipartisan majority Republican Alaska legislative panel ruled that Palin abused her power as governor and violate state ethics law by trying to get former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, fired from the state police force.  Among her reported beefs with Wooten?  Alleged death threats against her family and Wooten‘s Tasering his 10-year-old stepson.  Remember that Tasering thing.  It‘s one of Palin‘s alleged motives for abusing her power by trying to get the trooper fired.  Now, even if you‘ve been half following this campaign, you sure know the media‘s name for this scandal. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER:  She‘ll meet with an investigator for Alaska State Personnel Board which is looking into the troopergate scandal. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR:  Sarah Palin holds a rally in Pittsburgh just hours before her deposition in the so-called troopergate case.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  Sarah and Todd Palin will be deposed under oath in that so-called troopergate case. 


MADDOW:  Yes, troopergate.  You want to know the only person who doesn‘t call it “troopergate?” 

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR:  The trooper Wooten.  If there‘s one thing that‘s followed negatively.



GRIFFIN:  You call it Tasergate, troopergate, whatever.


MADDOW:  Tasergate?  What did Tasering have to do with the firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan and the pressuring of him to fire that state trooper?  This is important.  Sarah Palin has said that she fired Walt Monegan for a myriad of reasons.  But she‘s always insisted it was not because he refused to fire Trooper Wooten, the one who did the Tasering.  But if the governor didn‘t fire the top guy because he wouldn‘t fire the Tasering trooper, if that had nothing at all to do with her actions at all, then why would she call this thing Tasergate? That‘s like if George Bush referred to the terrorist surveillance program as “The Violation of the Fourth Amendment Program.”  Or if Richard Nixon had called Watergate “Secret Slash Fund and Break Into that Guy‘s Psychiatrist Office Gate.”  If she wants us to believe she fired Walt Monegan for budget reasons and not because she was mad about the Taser thing, she should be re-branding this “budgetgate.”  Should she?  And what was probably a political miscalculation on the part of the McCain-Palin campaign, today‘s deposition for the governor is the result of an ethics complaint Palin filed against herself.  She said she would prefer to cooperate with this investigation by the Personnel Board rather than the legislature‘s investigation which already found her guilty.  She did, after all, appoint the members of the Personnel Board.  What she probably did not expect was that her Personnel Board would hire an actual bona fide independent council to do its investigating.  He flew to St.  Louis today to conduct separate interviews today with Gov. Palin and tomorrow with the first dude, Todd Palin for hours during which she should have been campaigning.   The governor could only release a statement through her lawyer, quote, “She‘s been looking forward to this day.  She would like to tell her story and she‘d like people to know the truth.”   Looking forward to this day.  Really?  Because if the Personnel Board finds Palin violated the law, we could be talking about censure, possibly impeachment or if she perjures herself, jail time.  Funny what some folks look forward to.  Joining us now from Anchorage is Democratic Alaska State Senator Hollis French.  He was the project director for the Alaska legislature‘s troopergate investigation.  Sen. French, thank you so much for joining us tonight. 


INVESTIGATION:  My pleasure, Rachel.  Nice to be here. 

MADDOW:  Gov. Palin has just released a statement, which I just got and it says, “I am so pleased to have finally gotten the chance to tell what really happened and get the truth out.  It was the right thing to do to bring this before the Personnel Board and have a true arm‘s length, unbiased and apolitical investigator look into this.” I read that as a direct shot at the investigation that you were part of in the legislature.  What is your reaction to that?

FRENCH:  Well, we have been taking shots about this ever since the governor was named as John McCain‘s vice president nominee.  That‘s really the day when everything changed.  Prior to that, the governor had pledged her unmitigated cooperation with any investigation.  But the day she got nominated was the day that decided that the legislature didn‘t have the power to investigate.  And they wanted to shift it over to this Personnel Board group. 

MADDOW:  Did they want to shift it to the Personnel Board because of some jurisdictional concern about the type of violations that were being investigated?  Or was it because she appointed the Personnel Board?

FRENCH:  Well, they claim that the jurisdiction was with the Personnel Board and wound up filing lawsuits claiming that we - or wound up arguing that the legislature just didn‘t have the authority to investigate the executive branch which really goes against 200 years of history, both in the federal system and in the state system.  Every legislature has the power to look into wrongdoings, alleged wrongdoings, by the executive branch.  What it looked like to us was that they simply could see we were on a fast track to get this investigation done before Election Day.  And they believe that the Personnel Board would take longer. 

MADDOW:  Do you think that the Personnel Board will issue their ruling before Election Day?  As far as I understand it from the reporting that I‘ve seen, these depositions of Gov. Palin and husband may be sort of the last steps in this investigation because so much work has already been done looking into this.  Is that your sense?

FRENCH:  Well, it‘s hard to say.  My guess is that he will not get everything done.  But it‘s worth pointing out that all the work that Mr.  Branchflower did has been turned over to Mr. Petumenos.  He‘s the Personnel Board examiner, the guy that talked to the governor today and will talk to Todd Palin tomorrow.  He has gotten the benefit of the enormous amount of work that Mr. Branchflower did.  Now, if that‘s not arm‘s-length work, if that‘s not reliable work, then he should reject it and start again.  But my guess is that he‘ll find that the facts are the facts no matter who does the investigating.  It really doesn‘t matter who asks the question.  You can‘t change the facts.  And I‘d be surprised if he came to a different conclusion. 

MADDOW:  Has Gov. Palin or the McCain-Palin campaign started to set up Mr.  Petumenos or the Personnel Board investigation at all for the kinds of shots that they took at you guys?  Have they started planting the seeds, the idea that if they come out with a ruling that is unfavorable to the governor, there‘s some reason to question this investigation, too?

FRENCH:  Well, you know, we haven‘t seen that yet.  But you know what?  I would have loved to have been in the room when the questions were asked of the governor.  Because as you mentioned, leading up to this interview, there‘s some severe logical fallacies in their position.  Take for example the idea that this Trooper Wooten was a rogue, was dangerous, was a threat to the public.  Well, why, then, was the governor reducing the size of her security detail.  When commissioner Monegan asked Todd Palin, “Are you afraid of Wooten?  Do you want more security?” he said no.  When the head of security detail went to the governor and said, “Do you want more security?” she said no.  And in fact, they have reduced the size of that security detail to half of what it was in the beginning.  And even going beyond that, stop and think about what good does it do to fire a trooper if you really think he‘s dangerous.  Do you think he‘s going to leave his job and suddenly be docile and happy about life because he‘s just been fired?  It‘s likely to make him more dangerous.  And finally, why didn‘t the governor do something about the policy she objected to, which is the trooper disciplinary policy?  Why not come to the legislature and say, “Hey, I‘ve got an idea to make the State of Alaska a better place and do trooper disciplinary procedures in a better way.  Let‘s change the law.  Let‘s make a policy change that protects everyone.” So I think there are many logical issues and logical problems with the way they have been portraying this case in the media. 

MADDOW:  State Senator Hollis French of Alaska, thank you very much for your time tonight.  I appreciate it, sir. 

FRENCH:  Glad to do it.  Have a good night. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.  That‘s funny.  Every time we have somebody on from Alaska, they are like the most articulate, clear-thinking, clear-speaking person we‘ve yet spoken to.  Very impressive group up there in Alaska.  All right.  Despite a story to the police and some Internet and TV pick up to the contrary, a 6‘4” African-American man did not attack a young white woman and carve a B into her cheek after seeing a McCain-Palin bumper sticker on her car in western Pennsylvania.  The accuser herself confessed to her race-baiting lie.  So what does the story say about the state of the campaign and the state of the country?  And how much harm did it do?  More on that, coming up. 


MADDOW:  It was a horrifying story.  A 20-year-old college Republican and McCain volunteer Ashley Todd.  She reported to Pittsburgh police that a 6‘4” black man assaulted her at an ATM, put a knife to her throat, demanded money, brutalized her.  She said he carved the letter B into her face and sexually assaulted, all while yelling, “You are going to be a Barack supporter.”  Her attacker, she said, had seen the McCain sticker on her car before the assault.  Her picture on the “Drudge Report” with the screaming headline, “McCain Volunteer Attacked and Mutilated in Pittsburgh.”  Sympathy phone calls direct from Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin shortly after.  And Ashley Todd‘s own online expressions of gratitude and calls of support for the McCain campaign.  Except every bit of the story was a lie, Ashley Todd admitted today as the details became flimsier and flimsier.  It remains to be known if Ashley Todd acted entirely alone in this pitiful hoax.  She is not the first college Republican dirty trickster.  But there is something depressingly unoriginal about Todd‘s race-baiting.  1994, South Carolina, Susan Smith blamed the disappearance of her two sons on being carjacked by a black man who drove away.  A lie.  She, herself, had killed the boys by driving the car into a lake.  1989, Boston, Charles Stuart claims that a black man carjacked him and his wife, robbed them, shot his wife in the neck and him in the stomach.  A lie.  Charles Stewart himself murdered his pregnant wife in cold blood.  And I‘m not going to detail the history of lynching and false accusations against black men concerning white women in this country.  I‘m just going to cite it here.  In these cases as with Ashley Todd, what may tell us the most about our country is whether law enforcement and the media believe these stories instinctively.  Joining us now, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.  And Melissa, thanks for coming back on the show. 


AMERICAN STUDIES, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Absolutely.  It‘s always great to be here. 

MADDOW:  A recent Gallup poll says Obama is positioned to win the largest share of white voters of any Democrat in more than three decades.  Same poll shows 44 percent of non-Hispanic white voters presently supporting Obama.  The highest number for a Democrat since 47 percent of whites backed Carter in 1976.  Looking at the numbers, looking at the success of Barack Obama thus far, are you seeing old racism, old patterns, in a new country where they don‘t fit anymore?

LACEWELL:  Well, I mean, certainly what I‘m seeing is a country which is standing on the precipice of something new.  Our country is clearly saying, “You know what?  We no longer want to be motivated by the politics of fear.  We‘re interested in the politics of hope and optimism, a politics of discipline, a politics of vetting our stories and our running mates before we actually announce them to the American public,” you know, a different kind of politics.  So I don‘t see this as meaning the end of American racism.  This is not the end of American racial inequality.  But it is the end, I believe, of kind of a reflexive assumption that African-Americans are always in the wrong, that whites are always in the right.  So it‘s a willingness to recognize a world as a more complicated place. 

MADDOW:  Well, speaking of complications, I mean the reactions to this initially were complicated.  I mean, if you can get a copy of today‘s “New York Post” on the newsstand today, you will see their totally uncritical take on this young woman‘s story essentially repeating it.  We know that the McCain campaign - a Pennsylvania official for the McCain campaign repeated the most inflammatory version of this story to people before any details had been confirmed.  But we also saw local law enforcement issue this woman a lie detector test and not necessarily go out and randomly rounding up African-American men who are 6‘4” to find out if any of them could have this blamed on them.  We did see sort of a mixed reaction.  What does that tell you?

LACEWELL:  Well, I mean, I think your point about local law enforcement is really the key issue here.  The script from which Ashley Todd was reading in describing herself as a young white woman sexually assaulted by a violent black man in the name of sort of black political power like Barack Obama is a very old script.  It‘s at least 100 years old.  And it goes to the racial terrorism in the American south.  But the key in that old-fashioned racial terrorism was that African-Americans were outside the power of the law.  The law didn‘t step in to protect them as citizens.  In this case, what we saw instead was a kind of measured response, a willingness, obviously, to listen to a potential victim.  We don‘t ever want to get to a place where we don‘t listen to, you know, alleged victims of sexual assault.  And that‘s part of why it‘s so dangerous to say it‘s happened when it hasn‘t. 

MADDOW:  Already, by that time. 

LACEWELL:  But it was also sort of - that‘s right.  That‘s right.  But particularly for women around sexual assault.  But that measured response on the part of the police is an indication of just how different our country is now than it was 100 years ago and even 50 years ago. 

MADDOW:  Melissa Harris Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.  I knew there was something more important here than just feeling incredibly sad and mad at that young woman.  Thanks for joining us. 


MADDOW:  Coming up, I‘m going to get just enough pop culture from Kent Jones, the “Sarah Palin Show” coming to a TV near you?


MADDOW:  Now it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones who force feeds me just enough pop culture so I can be allowed out in public.  Hi, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Good evening, Rachel.  Well, Sarah Palin (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has just gotten so huge that a Hollywood reporter asks some producers what showbiz project she might star in after the election, assuming she‘s not too busy being in charge of the Senate.  Many tinsel town players thought Palin could host an Oprah-style talk show or - take a deep breath - a cable news show.  Another producer thought her story would make a buffo(ph) biopic and yet another thought her family would be perfect for a reality show, “The Palins.”  Think the Osbornes meets northern exposure. 

Personally, given Palin‘s role in troopergate, I‘m thinking something like “Ice Road Truckers Meet Cops.”  Goosebumps.  Next, caffeine anyone?  Huh?  Caffeine?  Huh?  “Time” magazine reports that caffeine addiction has grown so bad in the past five years, there have been at least 126 caffeinated food products for sale in the U.S.  Twenty-nine of those were introduced this year alone, including stuff like caffeinated potato chips, jelly beans, oatmeal, sunflower seeds, and something even something called “Shower Shock Soap,” which, when you rub it on yourself, gives 200 milligrams of delicious caffeine, twice the amount as in a six-ounce cup of coffee.  You know, my advice, if you‘re having trouble staying awake, go to the financial page.  You may never sleep again.  And finally, how‘s John McCain doing with the rest of the world?  “The Economist” has the map that shows who‘s leading where and the blue are for Barack Obama and the red ones are for McCain.  Check it out.  Oh.  So, OK.  For the record, the countries that are leaning McCain in pale red are Congo, Sudan, Algeria and Moldova and Macedonia.  And the nations that are leaning strong for McCain in deep read are Namibia, Cuba and Iraq.  That‘s it.  However in those three countries, McCain‘s message really resonates with Macoya(ph) the Plumber, Ignacio the Plumber and Yussef, the Plumber. 

MADDOW:  Cuba, Iraq and Namibia.

JONES:  And Namibia.  Huge McCain strong holds. 

MADDOW:  You know, I‘ve got to think that they love them some Palin. 

That‘s what‘s going to happen. 

JONES  We don‘t have the numbers on that.  But I mean, we could assume that, can‘t we?

MADDOW:  But that‘s going to be, you know.

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  All right.  Thanks for coming.  I appreciate it. 

JONES:  Sure.

MADDOW:  And thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you here on Monday night.  Have a great weekend.  Until then, you can E-mail us, and check out our new podcast on iTunes or at  You can also hear me 6:00 p.m. Eastern coast to coast on Air America Radio.  “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.



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