'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, December 15
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Guests: Richard Engel, Kent Jones, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Harry Shearer, Thomas Tamm, Harry Shearer
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: God bless you for never forgetting, Keith Olbermann.
All right. Rod Blagojevich, even if he is only number three on Keith‘s list, he is holding steady at number one right now on the list of “creators of drama” for Barack Obama. We‘ll be talking about that this evening.
Also, Harry Shearer will be here to speak of the magical history tour President Bush is putting us all through.
But first, psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross famously theorized that human beings experience five distinct stages of grief. They are five emotional giant steps that lead us to the ultimate resolute mortal flints of forbearance and humility—acceptance.
Well, tonight, we, here at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW hereby offer up our own five stage progression. The five stages of “Bush Got a Shoe Thrown at Him.”
The first stage is denial. Admit it. Your first reaction when you heard the news was—no way. No way. No way that actually happened. A shoe? Two shoes? I don‘t believe it. Show me the tape.
So then, you went on the Internet and you surf the TV machine until you saw the video evidence over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And denial was cured. Holy mackerel—yes—there oh, and number two there—it actually happened. Denial was over.
That led us, I will admit ever so briefly to our next stage which was
humor. Hey, Bush has good reflexes. Hey, that guy has got a great arm.
The Red Sox could really use that guy. The humor stage inspired many, many Internet spin offs like this one of “Bush dodging a pie” ala Larry, Curly and Moe. But humor was just step two.
I personally moved pretty quickly to the next stage of “Bush Got a Shoe Thrown at Him.” And that was the stage of fear—specifically, fear for the president‘s safety. What if it hasn‘t just been a shoe? What if he didn‘t have that good of reflexes? And no matter how you feel about this particular president, hey, that‘s the president of my country getting bombarded with Buster Browns. I don‘t care who he is, that‘s out of line. You don‘t throw shoes at an American president.
Security breach, right? Big time.
OK, now, that said, it was clear immediately that the president was unharmed by the shoe-throwing. And so, we got to stage four. Fear gave way to acceptance. Yes, this was Bush. He was in Iraq. Bush and America aren‘t winning popularity contests in that part of the world anytime soon. I guess this sort of thing was bound to happen.
That led immediately to stage five—outrage, which in this model is the final stage. President Bush, after all, went to Iraq over the weekend as a victory lap, an attempt to shine up his legacy, and maybe rewrite a little history along the way, too. He was there to pat himself on the back for liberating 25 million Iraqis as he likes to say, to highlight how the Iraq war or as he calls it, “the battle of Iraq,” has been such a huge success and Iraq is now safe and free.
Awkward, of course, that the trip to highlight the great security progress in Iraq had to happen in secret. Reporters who went with him were only allowed to tell their spouse and one colleague. There‘s been so much security progress in Iraq that seven members of one family were killed in Mosul the same day he was speaking. Sixteen more were killed today after he left.
And for all the James Bond under the radar super-secret stealth planning, Bush was there to highlight so much security progress that an attack by a shoe-welding journalist 12 feet away from him could not be prevented. But ask President Bush about the attack, and what you get from him is that whole “freedom is untidy” line. That Donald Rumsfeld made famous during the looting that followed our Iraq invasion.
The “New York Times” reported it this way, quote, “Bush called the incident a sign of democracy, saying, ‘That‘s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,‘ as the man screaming could be heard outside.” Minutes earlier, security pounced on the journalist—as you can see there sort of sat on his head to keep him down, quite untidy indeed.
The president has tried to laugh off the incident and downplay its significance, saying, quote, “You can‘t take one guy throwing shoes and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq. You can try to do that if you want but I don‘t think it would be accurate.” Fair enough. One guy does not a movement make.
But how about thousands of guys—as in the thousands of Iraqis who took to the streets today in support of that one guy, the Iraqi journalist who they proclaimed a hero? Not the image the White House was going for when they dreamed up this victory tour. This was President Bush‘s final attempt to resell us the war in Iraq, to cast it as a success story, to say, “I won, I won.”
During an interview with ABC News, shortly after the shoe-throwing, the president even tried to define the war in Iraq as a victory against terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC NEWS)
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they‘re going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: But not until after the U.S. invaded.
BUSH: Yes, that‘s right.
BUSH: So, what?
BUSH: I mean, the point is that al Qaeda said they‘re going to take a stand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, so what? So what? So what if we made al Qaeda in Iraq come into existence by invading Iraq and having no plan of what to do after? So what? Is that your final answer?
The difficult thing about a victory lap is that: (A), there needs to be, you know, victory; and (B), the people you are triumphantly visiting should be probably be happy to see you. We know about point two, the shoe hurling debacle is bound to be a staple on whatever the future‘s YouTube is for generations to come. But lost in the middle of this is point one, the idea of a victory, a clear-cut victory, right?
President Bush made his secret trip to Iraq to hail the passage of the new Status of Forces Agreement that will allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past the end of this month. The agreement specifically requires that U.S. combat troops be out of Iraq‘s towns and cities by the end of June. The day before Bush arrived, his top commander on the ground there, General Ray Odierno, basically laughed off that idea, telling reporters, quote, “We believe we should still be inside those cities after the summer.”
The Bush administration has also pledged the complete troop withdrawal by the end of 2011 in this agreement. Odierno‘s reaction? Maybe that will be renegotiated. He says, quote, “Three years is a very long time.” Good-bye transferring power to the Iraqis, hello occupying army definitely.
Tell my again why President Bush is on a victory lap here? Maybe he‘s still stuck on stage one, denial?
Joining us now is NBC chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.
Mr. Engel, thank you again for joining us tonight.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Very nice to see you, Ms. Maddow.
MADDOW: Let‘s begin with the shoe hurling incident yesterday.
ENGEL: Well, of course.
MADDOW: I understand you have spoken to a senior Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Maliki about that incident?
ENGEL: I have. And he just came out with a meeting with Prime Minister Maliki. And he—what I was told is that the prime minister is very, very upset by this incident and was—the heads were rolling today in this meeting. And he wanted this journalist who threw the shoe to be sent to jail for as long as possible and they thought that it would be seven or eight years. It‘s what Maliki would pursue.
There‘s not guaranteed that he‘s going to get that. They have to figure out exactly which laws they are going to charge him or which punishments to draw up. There‘s a difference for throwing an object or insulting a foreign leader versus a domestic leader. Throwing one at domestic leader would be more severe but they could charge him with both. And that‘s where you would get the maximum punishment.
MADDOW: Is it possible that Bush could himself decide that charges shouldn‘t be pressed against this guy? That this man‘s fate could sort of be in Bush‘s hands?
ENGEL: I spoke with a former member of the Secret Service about that, he said the U.S. government could have some jurisdiction issues and ask for him to be extradited to the United States and they could begin that proceedings, but he didn‘t expect that will happen. That the United States frankly, wouldn‘t want to deal with him and it would be better just to leave him with the Iraqis.
MADDOW: Right. Well, obviously, it‘s an incident that was shocking to everybody who saw it. It didn‘t have an element of humor to what I think because the president wasn‘t harmed then, because it was so shocking. But then today, we saw, not only in Iraq, but sort of across the swath of the Arab world, we saw a lot of support for this fellow, didn‘t we?
ENGEL: Yes and no. We saw a lot of curiosity in the event the same way I think it was on a lot of—there‘s a lot of curiosity in the American media. Al-Jazeera today was playing it all day long, in slow motion, analyzing it, the duck.
And there were some relatively small demonstrations in Baghdad. There was a few, upper hundreds, maybe a few thousand, but it was in particular area called Sadr City. This is a different part of Baghdad. It‘s a very radicalized area. It loyal, particularly, to one Shiite group and it is a slum that has a lot of people that are living in the margins of society, under-employed, under-educated and has seen a tremendous amount of violence.
The journalist who threw the shoe spent most of his time reporting in this area. And he, himself, had been detained by U.S. forces then released. He‘d also been kidnapped. He had relatives killed. His relatives today were telling reporters that they were proud of him.
So, I wouldn‘t say across the broad spectrum of society you‘d find people saying, “This was a great idea.” But there are many people in Iraq who empathize with this, who understand his frustrations, who understand the things are not going very well in Iraq. The country is hopelessly corrupt. People still live in fear. People don‘t feel that they have the correct political representation because of the rampant corruption.
So, there is still a tremendous amount of anger on the streets. And it is a country that hasn‘t healed. There are no exact death tolls, but it is probably, according to many officials I‘ve spoken to, well over 100, 000 people who‘ve been killed in Iraq, 100,000 Iraqi civilians, let alone the Americans. And they haven‘t had a chance to comprehend that and to come to terms with it. Families are still torn apart. Many are living outside the country.
And according to one of these journalist‘s colleagues, who we spoke to today, he snapped.
MADDOW: President Bush went to Iraq over the weekend, in part, to celebrate the Status of Forces Agreement. The day before President Bush had this incident with Prime Minister Maliki, General Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, essentially said that this idea that U.S. troops will be out of Iraqi towns and cities entirely by the summer, which was very clearly stated in the agreement, that‘s not going to happen. Does that seem important?
ENGEL: That is very important and I think it‘s also very realistic. What we saw in this agreement is a war plan. And that sounds good. It sounds good in particular here in New York and in Washington. But on the ground, war plans don‘t last very long.
And the idea that, yes, they‘ll all be back to the cities by June 30th and then by the end of 2011, all troops will be out—that a lot can change between even now and June. You could have one cataclysmic event, the murder of a senior official, the blowing up of an embassy—I‘m just naming things that have been thought about as possible, triggers from major changes, and then you are suddenly dealing with a new situation in Iraq.
So, I think he‘s trying to couch and protect himself saying, our troops are here on the ground, U.S. troops. And they will act to continue this mission which was to stabilize Iraq and to protect themselves. If they have to be handcuffed by an agreement operating as a babysitter for a government that seems not able to protect the president on a state visit, I think that‘s a very position for commanders like Ray Odierno to be in.
MADDOW: And then we‘ll see what the Iraqi people think about that one when they get a chance to vote in a referendum this summer.
Richard Engel, NBC chief foreign correspondent, nice to see you.
ENGEL: Good to see you, again.
MADDOW: Who knew empty Senate seats could be so dramatic. There‘s probably a new one in Colorado, we have just learned. Caroline Kennedy wants Hillary Clinton‘s in New York. Then there‘s Minnesota and, oh, yes, Illinois. Who knows who, how, whom or when in Illinois. Melissa Harris-Lacewell will join us next with the latest on the wild Senate scramble, including the latest Blagojevich, which today is Serbian for big electoral mess.
And he‘s the man who blew the whistle on the government‘s warrantless wiretapping program. Without him, we might have never known what the NSA was up to. Thomas Tamm joins us later this hour for his first ever television interview.
But first, one more thing about President Bush‘s top secret unannounced for “security reasons” victory lap through the war zone. After Iraq yesterday, Bush was in Afghanistan earlier today. The defense (ph) in need of whitewashing was the fight against the Taliban. Nobody threw a shoe at him in Afghanistan, but he did get a tough question from an Afghan journalist to which president responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The Taliban was brutalizing the people of Afghanistan and they are not in power. Now, is there more work to be done? You bet. I never said the Taliban was eliminated. I said they were removed from power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “I never said the Taliban was eliminated.” Wait a minute. Why was that ringing the big “you‘re telling a libel in my head”? Was it 2003?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: In the battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And I‘m almost sure—oh, yes, 2004. He also said, quote, “As a result of the United States military, the Taliban no longer is in existence.” Isn‘t it maddening how the records of things the president says messes up a perfectly good revision of history?
MADDOW: So, the 2008 Senate elections were really important. Voting on saving the American car industry, anyone? The Senate elections were sort of exciting, Jets-Patriot exciting. I mean, cab drivers in New York were not talking about Mitch McConnell v. Bruce Lunsford or anything. But the post-election Senate scrum has been pretty riveting actually.
Somebody‘s got to fill Hillary Clinton‘s seat in New York for one. And Caroline Kennedy, we learned overtly today from Caroline Kennedy, she wants it. She‘s hired a political consulting firm run by Chuck Schumer‘s former chief of staff.
The A-lister political drama about this development according to MSNBC‘s “First Read,” is that this is Hillary Clinton‘s seat. And Hillary Clinton herself may not be all that psyched about Ms. Kennedy as the choice since Ms. Kennedy quietly pointed and publicly endorsed not Hillary Clinton for the presidency.
And late-breaking tonight, we are learning of another possible legacy appointment. The “Associated Press” reports an Obama transition source is saying that Colorado Senator Ken Salazar will be named interior secretary. That would leave an open seat for Democratic Governor Bill Ritter to fill in Colorado. And, of course, the speculation is already hot and heavy that the appointment could go to Senator Ken Salazar‘s big brother, Congressman John Salazar.
If we‘re going to stick with the banking on a family name thing, could we just make the Senate the “House of Lords” and stop pretending?
In Minnesota, the whole Al Franken-Norm Coleman thing is still moving at the same phase at which cars ruff which in Minnesota in the winter is sort of fast. But finally, on the eve of the canvassing board‘s review of ballot challenges, an “Associated Press” review of the challenged ballots found that Franken could get about 200 votes more than Coleman out of the challenges. Since Mr. Franken is now trailing by 192 votes, that means—oh, yes, Franken could win that race by eight votes. More to come, soon.
And then, there‘s Illinois—land of Blagojevich. With the governor too crooked seeming to appoint Barack Obama‘s replacement, the one whose shiny new lawyer just told the press, quote, “He‘s not stepping aside. He didn‘t do anything wrong. We‘re going to fight this case.” The one who‘s own speaker of the House tonight says he is appointing a special committee to review the case and recommend whether the governor should be impeached.
How is that Senate seat going to get filled? By whom or what means? It seemed a special election was the preferred path to fill the vacancy left by Obama, following charges that Governor Blagojevich used pay or play tactics to choice Obama‘s successor. It sort of intrinsically felt more fair, I think, to have an election than to have one person, especially one person named Blagojevich, have the power to choose that next senator.
But here‘s the problem, the warm fuzzy of a small “d” democratic process like a special election, the thrilling way to take power away from a bad man, could be bad news for the big “D” Democratic Party. Do you want to know how we know? Well, The Illinois Republican Party is totally excited about a special election. They started running this new TV ad calling for a special election to fill Obama Senate seat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)
ANNOUNCER: You deserve to be heard. You deserve a special election. Leaders, major newspapers and watchdog groups agree, it‘s time for a special election. Give the people‘s seat back to Illinois.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So says the Republican Party of Illinois. If there‘s a special election, the Republicans can run against Blagojevich, can run against Chicago corruption, they can run against he former state senator from Chicago, Barack Obama, and if they were able to pull it off, they could maybe win an enormous symbolic victory, a Republican senator from Illinois.
Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.
Melissa, thanks very much for being here.
MELLISA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: It‘s my pleasure.
MADDOW: You spent a longtime in the hurly burly of Chicago politics, I know. Do you see any chance that at the end of the day here, Obama‘s Senate seat is going to go to a Republican?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Oh, certainly. In fact, if I were a young, ambitious Republican, particularly a young, ambitious Republican of color, I would make it my business to make Illinois my state of residency right now.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: The reality is that in our current situation in Illinois, you have a Democratic governor who clearly cannot appoint the next senator. Even if he does appoint a Democratic senator, that new senator is going to be very open to challenge in the coming election simply because it was a dirty process. Even the Lieutenant Governor Guinn has made himself appear sort of childish and potentially politically dirty because apparently, he hasn‘t spoken to the governor in more than a year, has a little bit of anxiety about this and might be working out his own political anxieties in making this appointment.
So, I think there‘s going to be a lot of pressure to put in a special election on this case.
MADDOW: I will say that the fact that Lieutenant Governor Quinn hasn‘t spoken to Blagojevich in more than a year, I thought was sort of heart-warming about him, but I understand where you are going with that.
Barack Obama‘s transition team says that they have finished their official report on contact between the Obama folks and the Blagojevich folks, about this scandal. They say nobody did anything wrong even though the prosecutors in this case have asked them to hold their results until next week. Do you think that the Republicans are overreaching in their attempt to play the guilt-by-association here with Obama and Blagojevich?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, they are overreaching in the sense that this isn‘t going to sully Barack. He‘s not even in the White House yet. And American attention spans are, you know, pretty short. We‘ve got another month before Barack Obama is even the U.S. president. But they‘re not necessarily overreaching in the context of Illinois politics.
Listen, the Illinois GOP is a bit of a mess. Judy Baar Topinka who was, you know, maybe a potential candidate for this Senate seat ran against Blagojevich and couldn‘t beat him, trying to run a clean government campaign. You know, they brought in Alan Keyes to run against Barack Obama. So, really, it‘s the Illinois GOP that gave you your current president of the United States because they gave us Alan Keyes.
So, you know, any option they get here, where they can maybe get a reasonable young candidate in that seat, you know, ultimately, they are not overreaching from a state perspective, but it‘s going to sully Obama.
MADDOW: Democrats are so praying right now that they‘ll bring back Alan Keyes to run for that seat.
MADDOW: Let me ask you one last thing. I wonder if you see that this might be a growth-process moment, in the sense that this maybe turning into sort of a small “d” democratic moment. There starting to be a public pushback, not only against Blagojevich, his apparent corruption, but against a process that would let one person appoint a U.S. senator. That may be the reason why there is some enthusiasm for this special election idea. Do you think there are any reformist winds blowing here in a way that isn‘t partisan?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, maybe. I mean, if Barack would stop gutting the Senate to fill his cabinet, something which could potentially be troubling for the big “D” Democratic Party, and then this might come up a little bit less. But I don‘t think it‘s inappropriate to imagine, you know, a governor in a circumstance of appointing a senator, you know, when we expect it to happen once, you know, maybe twice. But again, with Barack choosing so much of his talent out of the Senate, it is creating this situation.
What I will say is it seems to me, everybody in Illinois and probably everybody in the Obama administration should spend the holiday season watching every episode of “The Wire.” Come on people.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: You know, there are some ways to not behave this badly in public.
MADDOW: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, it‘s always so great to have you on the show. Thanks a lot.
MADDOW: So, it took a shoe-throwing journalist to direct world attention to President Bush‘s attempted victory lap of all his war zones. How long before he turns up at Guantanamo, I wonder. Beyond the glowing self rewrites of our wars and our economy, Bush‘s “love me again” campaign includes his dog, Barney, who in retrospect was a loving pooch who celebrated the holidays for all of us and never, ever bit an innocent White House reporter last month.
At tonight‘s lame duck watch, we will try to re-correct the record with Harry Shearer, author, comedian, direct-actor (ph), bon-vivon (ph), and Nigel Tufnel from “Spinal Tap.”
MADDOW: A little later on in the show tonight, we got Thomas Tamm, a former Justice Department official who blew the whistle on the warrantless wiretapping program. He has just gone public, for the first time to “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff. We have the first television interview with him in just a moment. It‘s a very big deal.
First, though, it‘s time for a couple of underreported holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. One of the things that Congress stumped its feet about, and opined on television about, and made sure we all knew they were very concerned about, was the prospect that CEOs and bank executives would take the federal bailout money they were being offered and they would run with it. We‘d be suckered into thinking we are saving the whole economy when really we‘d just be fattening up those Wall Street fat cats even further.
Because they were concerned about this prospect, Congress insisted, that any financial firms that accepted any of this $700 billion bailout fund would have to limit executive pay. No more gazillion dollar salaries. No more bazillion dollar bonuses or golden parachutes. Not with public money, you don‘t. That would be an outrage. Congress got it in writing. Yes.
Except, according to today‘s “Washington Post,” the Bush administration beat them in the fine print. They changed one sentence in the bailout bill so that the executive pay limits only applied to firms that sold their troubled assets to the government in auctions. That, after all, was what the Treasury said they wanted to do with the bailout money.
But the Treasury didn‘t actually do that at all - $355 billion spent, zero of it spent at auction, buying troubled assets, which is the only thing the executive pay limit applies to.
So even though the limits on executive pay are right there in the law, right in black and white, they are not actually enforceable at all. As my friend Steve Benin at the “Washington Monthly” said today, the relationship between Lucy and Charlie Brown keeps coming to mind.
Finally, in an obvious effort to pander to people me who love Amtrak, Obama‘s inaugural committee says he and his family will take the train to Washington, D.C. to his swearing on. They‘ll take the train.
They‘ll start at Philadelphia at a kick off even on Saturday, January 17th. Then they will take a special chartered train to Wilmington, Delaware to pick up Vice President-elect, Joe Biden and his family. The two first families will travel to Baltimore, Maryland and hold another event before finally arriving in Washington, D.C. on Saturday night.
Now, to a public service event on Monday, the Martin Luther King holiday, then the swearing in is on Tuesday. This train trip is supposed to give Americans who cannot attend the inauguration a chance to see Obama and his family along the ride.
I might also mention that it will afford the whole Obama family a chance to enjoy some delicious microwave food in the cafe car.
MADDOW: Break out the cake and ice cream, everybody and say happy birthday to our awareness that the Bush administration listened in on our phone calls without the constitutionally mandated warrants.
Yesterday is the third birthday of this “New York Times” story, dateline, Washington, December 15th, 2005. the first story to expose the NSA‘s warrantless wiretapping program, the one where the government listens to calls made by American citizens without the court approval we all thought they needed to do stuff like that. When the story first broke three years ago, President Bush assured us, he was only spying on bad people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Somebody from al-Qaeda is calling you, we‘d like to know why. This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Of course, that line of reasoning kind of fell apart when a second round of NSA whistleblowers emerged.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADRIENNE KINNE NSA WHISTLEBLOWER: Rather than targeting military entities in the Middle East, we were actually listening to a lot of everyday ordinary people, who really, in many ways had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But the president‘s other mantra, in the wake of the wiretapping story was designed to cast the original whistleblower and the reporters who made these concerns public as enemies of our national security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Helping the enemy? So being a whistleblower is not easy. It is not fun and frankly, it‘s all that safe. U.S. Army specialist Joseph Darby, the man that turned in the photos of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib. He had to be flown out of Iraq on an hour‘s notice and moved immediately away from his hometown.
Joseph Wilson the former ambassador who debunked the uranium in Africa claim from the Bush administration‘s case for invading Iraq, the same Joe Wilson who wrote about his findings in the “New York Times” and accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence? Well, now, we all know the name and face of his wife, who used to be a covert CIA officer before she was outed by the Bush administration.
Those are the ones we know about where the retribution was public and obvious. So what about the NSA wiretapping whistleblower, the one President Bush accused of committing a shameful act and helping the enemy? We now know that man was Thomas Tamm, a former Justice Department lawyer who first called the “New York Times” from a subway phone booth to tell them about the NSA‘s illegal spying program.
Mr. Tamm reveals himself as the whistleblower this week to
“Newsweek‘s” investigative correspondent and our frequent guest, Michael Isikoff.
And tonight, for the first time on television, he‘s here to talk to us about what made him become a whistleblower and what has happened to him since.
Joining us now is Thomas Tamm, former prosecutor, former Justice Department official. Mr. Tamm, thank you so much for coming on the show.
THOMAS TAMM, WHISTLEBLOWER AND FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: I know you come from a long line of Tamms who served law enforcement. Your father and your uncle are senior FBI officials. Your brother was an FBI agent. You, yourself, a prosecutor, a Department of Justice official. What was the tipping point for you? What made you feel like you needed to tell the press about this secret program?
TAMM: Well, it was a number of things. I had the privilege and honor of meeting with the 9/11 victims families when I was with the capital case unit in the Department of Justice, preparing for the prosecution of Masali(ph), and they were really inspirational.
And I also, as a result of that case, I had the opportunity to review documents - CIA cables at the CIA. And I learned that we were secretly rendering suspects, people to states that would likely torture them. I heard my government say that we were not doing that and that we would never do that.
And I just ended up feeling like I was aware. My entire life really was based on trying to enforce the law - my entire career. I believed that the law was being broken in the place where I was working.
MADDOW: I was struck by the way Michael Isikoff wrote about the discussions of the legality in your workplace. He describes a senior counsel in your office telling you that she assumed that some of the activity happening from the NSA was illegal.
The deputy counsel told you that the attorney general might end up getting indicted because of the program. But they didn‘t speak up. I imagine that must have been very difficult in the office to have people acknowledging overtly that there was illegal activity happening. But nobody was willing to publicly come out about it.
TAMM: It was very difficult. And I don‘t mean to - I mean, they are really fine public servants that work in OIPR where I was. And I do believe that lawfully, they helped keep our country safe from terrorists and from foreign intelligence like Russia that we traditionally surveilled(ph).
But I‘m going to just - it struck me. I said, “Wait a second. We assume that what they are doing is illegal? I don‘t understand that. Why are we part of that? Are we aiding and abetting the violation of a crime? I was stunned when I heard that something from this special program - they have gotten into a regular FISA warrant and learned that for the first time ever, that a sitting attorney general was going to be indicted.
And when I was told that, I thought, wasn‘t John Mitchell indicted when he was sitting? But then, I just stepped back and said, this is crazy. This is not what the Department of Justice is about. This is not what the Constitution is about.
I remember when I was figuring out something was going on extra-judicially, I looked at the NSA Web sites. And they proudly talked about the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, the right of the people to be secure in their persons and their places. And that‘s part of the reason that we fought the revolutionary war.
And then they took the Fourth Amendment down from their Web site. And we learned that the only way that we can be kept safe is for the government to break our laws? I just disagree with that. I think we are stronger and better as a nation when we follow the Constitution, when we follow the statutes and when we follow the rule of law.
MADDOW: Mr. Tamm, when we think about trying to make the country whole again, when we think about trying to bring us back to those ideals that you are discussing with such passion, the idea of being a country ruled by law. As far as I understand it, the FISA Act establishes a five-year imprisonment penalty for having done surveillance without getting the appropriate permission from the FISA court.
And that is what the NSA program was designed to do and there were whole other elements that were designed to cover up the fact that that‘s what the NSA program was doing. Do you think in order to move forward and to pay tribute to the rule of law that there ought to be prosecutions?
TAMM: I certainly think it ought to be looked at. I mean, I really do. I‘ve heard talk about a commission to try and determine the truth. And then I heard the flipside is that what happened is in the past. But when I was a prosecutor, I‘m pretty sure that every criminal case that I prosecuted had happened before I walked into that courtroom and stood before the jury and the judge.
It offends me that we feel that we are not strong enough as a country, that our laws are not strong enough, that Congress is not strong enough, that our courts are not strong enough to protect us.
And I personally - I‘m a prosecutor, although a defense attorney at the moment. I think it should be looked at very seriously.
MADDOW: Thomas Tamm, I know that this has been professionally and personally very difficult for you since you came out and did this. Thanks for joining us tonight and thanks for what you have done.
TAMM: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thomas Tamm is a former Justice Department official. He is the whistleblower on the warrantless wiretapping program. He came out publicly to “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff this weekend. This has been his first television interview. We‘re very lucky to have had him.
In just a few minutes, being a lame duck means image makeovers for everybody, and I mean everybody. Dick Cheney gets a well-deserved pat on the back from Dick Cheney. President Bush salutes his own liberation of millions of people. And Barney the dog is a huggable bowser(ph) once again, not the snarling press-biting Cerberus you remember. Harry Shearer, who was not as we reported, is not Nigel Tufnel, but in fact, Derek Smalls and Spinal Tap. So embarrassing! He will be with us in just a moment to assess the Bush administration victory lap in just a moment.
MADDOW: The crack White House legacy polishing team - emphasis on crack - is now using advanced video technology to further its goal of image restoration and wiping your memory about what the last eight years have really been like. How deep does the image problem run?
Well, it includes the president‘s dog, Barney. Today, the White House released another installment of Barney cam. In the video, the Bush message gurus would have us believe that Barney came up with the holiday decorating theme, the share for the White House and that he and his fellow Scottish Terrier, Miss Beasley are sharing the decorating duties. Very nice.
Except that the video is Barney‘s first public appearance since he bit the finger of a White House reporter. Event the White House dog is getting a makeover.
Wow, comprehensive lame duck effort here. And so with but 35 days left in the Bush administration, it is time o once again for the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s “Lame Duck Watch,” because somebody‘s got to do it.
Over the weekend, President Bush continued his campaign to spin the past eight years into gold with a surprise trip to Baghdad. He spoke to troops at Camp Victory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Twenty-five million Iraqis are free. Thanks to you, Iraq is no longer sponsoring terror; it is fighting terror making American people safer as a result.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Remember, Iraq, the big sponsor of terror? Wasn‘t the Iraq War an awesome idea in retrospect? Also on the legacy front, the still-president gave an interview to ABC News in which he gushed about his record on the economy.
He said, quote, “We have accomplished a lot in my administration like No Child Left Behind, 52 months of uninterrupted job growth.”
Wait, wait, wait - 52 months of uninterrupted job growth? You really brought that up? Because as soon as you bring that up, any sane person thinks about the 1.9 million jobs lost so far in 2008.
The economy? Jobs? Are you sure you want to go there? The problem is, if you don‘t go there, what‘s left? Letting vice do the talking?
During a recent and rare interview, Vice President Dick Cheney was asked if he agrees with Karl Rove‘s assertion that if the intelligence had been correct about Iraq, we probably would not have gone to war.
Cheney said he disagree with that, and he goes on to say this, quote, “As I look at the intelligence with respect to Iraq, what they got wrong was that there weren‘t any stockpiles. What the after-action reports found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. They also found that he had every intention of resuming production once the international sanctions were lifted.”
That is a very impressive rewriting, Mr. Vice President. They trained you very well.
Here now is Harry Shearer who is the voice of over a dozen characters on the Simpsons including the beloved Mr. Burns.
Mr. Shearer‘s latest Grammy-nominated comedy album is called “Songs of the Bushmen.” It is available now. Harry, thank you so much for being here.
HARRY SHEARER, “SONGS OF THE BUSHMEN”: Thank you, Rachel. It‘s a pleasure. Congratulations on the wonderful work you‘re doing.
MADDOW: Well, thank you very much. Thank you. Back at you.
SHEARER: And I‘m great fan of Dick Cheney, too. I think if we‘re looking for a car czar, we couldn‘t do better than him because he could convince everybody that a Hummer is actually a stealth hybrid.
MADDOW: It‘s amazing to me that they‘re making Cheney available for the
press right now. I mean, I‘ve always -
SHEARER: Touche. It‘s he - he is making he available.
MADDOW: I guess that‘s true. I‘ve always felt like the best job in all of Washington is being Dick Cheney‘s press secretary.
SHEARER: Because you have nothing to do.
MADDOW: Nothing to do all day every day.
SHEARER: You don‘t answer the phone and you don‘t go out.
MADDOW: No. The answer no. Let me ask you about the shoe-throwing incident with Bush in Iraq this weekend. Is every political, physical joke now going to be throwing a shoe at something?
SHEARER: I‘m just waiting for the Johnnie Cochran footage to come out. You know, if the shoe fits, you must wear it, you know. Actually, this record that you were talking about is - I used to call it a musical impeachment. But now I‘m going to call it a set of musical shoes thrown at these people because nothing else is going to happen to him, I guess, unless they try to go abroad.
I think it‘s an amazing piece of television imagery that this guy stumbled on, that the shoes thrown at Bush are going to be the image of this war long after everybody is back in Crawford hunkering down.
MADDOW: Yes. And it may cost him - we heard from Richard Engel - it may cost him eight years of his life in terms of prison time.
SHEARER: Oh, yes. The guy -
MADDOW: They‘re going after the guy who did it. It‘s incredible.
SHEARER: But, on the other hand, I think it means that one of the other things that Bush can look forward to in his post-presidency is maybe a shoe endorsement with Nike, you know, “These are the one that weren‘t thrown at me.”
I love the fact, by the way, that his reaction to all of it is, “Bring them on,” like, “Bring in more shoes.” Didn‘t that kind of not work?
MADDOW: Throw some shoes at American troops while you‘re at it.
SHEARER: Yes. Richard Ramirez, throw that exploding shoe while you‘re at it.
MADDOW: The Bush legacy project - do you agree with me that he is sort of spending the waning days of his presidency just trying to make us feel better about the last eight years?
SHEARER: Well, I think they‘ve selected the perfect target market for this project, i.e. amnesiacs. And I‘m proposing in all the talk about President-elect Obama - the phrase occurred to me, President-reject Bush, because that‘s really what he is, you know. The vote for Obama was really a rejection of this.
But, you know, it‘s assuming that Americans have this remarkably short attention span or that, you know, we were fed by something other than reliable media that didn‘t tell us that there were people in the intelligence services of America, Britain and Australia, that said before the war, that‘s not what the intelligence says.
MADDOW: I was thinking about Bush today saying, “So what?” to Martha Raditz about the fact that al-Qaeda wasn‘t in Iraq before we invaded, reminded me of Cheney back in March saying, “So?” when the same reporter, Martha Raditz, said, “What about the American people being against this war?”
SHEARER: There‘s something about Martha Raditz.
MADDOW: She gets them to admit what they really think. I mean, Martha is a great reporter but it just made me realize - you know what? It is easier to do a lot of evil, I think, as a public official if you really don‘t expect anybody to like you ever.
I mean, I think Dick Cheney - it‘s been a great political advantage to him that he never assumes that anybody is going to like anything he does.
SHEARER: Well, that was the great power that he got - was by saying early on, “A, I‘m going to choose myself. And, B, I have no aspirations to be president.”
SHEARER: Because he already of course was. But, yes, that gave him tremendous liberty to take liberty literally.
MADDOW: So Barack Obama and Joe Biden - people kind of generally like them. Is that going to be a problem for them?
SHEARER: I think the problem for them is that the - and I‘m sure it‘s occurred to Mr. Obama, there‘s an unprecedentedly(ph) large crap pile being dumped on his desk January 20th and an equally large pile of hopes on the other side the table. And those don‘t fit very well.
MADDOW: Yes. Speaking of the big pile, do you feel better about Barney, now seeing his holiday video?
SHEARER: You know, it‘s interesting to me that certain humans need to have cute dogs around them to be humanized. I wonder if Barney feels the need to be caninized(ph) by being around a cuter human.
MADDOW: Harry Shearer, it‘s very nice to see you. Thanks for coming in.
SHEARER: Great to see you, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: Harry Shearer has a new Grammy-nominated comedy album which is called “Songs of the Bushmen.” It is out now just in time for the holidays.
Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” only 12 folks left on Keith‘s list of the most corrupt politicians of all time. Where is Blagojevich on that list? You will be surprised. Stay tuned.
Coming up next here, I get just enough pop culture from my friend Kent Jones - Obama‘s inauguration day fashions. Shoes will be worn, not thrown.
MADDOW: Now, it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend, Kent Jones. Hi, Kent. What have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. It seems like everybody loves this new movie, “The Wrestler,” with Mickey Rourke as a washed-up pro wrestler trying to make his comeback - everyone except the Iranian media. The problem? In the movie Rourke‘s character, Randy, “The Ram” Robinson, breaks a pole with an Iranian flag on it across his knee after his arch enemy, the Ayatollah - he‘s the one in the back - tries to use the flagpole to put the Ram in a stranglehold.
Subtle stuff - wrestling. Some newspapers and Web sites in Iran are upset, calling the movie another insidious western plot to insult Iran. No, wrestling is an insidious western plot to insult us. Into the turnbuckle, brain.
Finally, the fashion world is atwitter about the upcoming Obama presidency. The guy can actually wear clothes. “Women‘s Wear Daily” asked men‘s designers what they thought our lean 44th president should wear on Inauguration Day. First, here‘s Brooks Brothers‘ concept for the evening, rocking the vest, if you‘ll notice.
MADDOW: It‘s a little too Hoover for me.
JONES: Here‘s daytime look from Nautica - businessman, clean. Here‘s Sean Jean for evening - white jacket, very Puff Daddy, “I am King.”
MADDOW: If he stands that way, it would work.
JONES: Yes. And finally, here‘s an idea of what Obama should wear when dealing with Senate Republicans - right there. That can go from day to evening. But in Washington, this one‘s never really incorrect, is it?
MADDOW: No. I feel so good about him being safe, yes.
JONES: I would, too. I‘m on Capitol Hill.
JONES: Warning, warning.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. And thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you here tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now. Good night.
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