updated 12/23/2008 2:34:04 PM ET 2008-12-23T19:34:04

Guests: Kent Jones, Barton Gellman, Trip Van Noppen, Laura Tyson, Lawrence Wright

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thanks for staying with us for the next hour.

Dick Cheney is back, back from being a darkly funny punch line to being what he really is, the actual vice president of the United States of America who has really radical ideas about his own power.  Not a punch line.

And, we have a dramatic story for you tonight about civil disobedience—civil disobedience against the Bush administration‘s lame duck gifts to the oil and gas business.  That‘s all coming up.

But first, I here by announce the formation of the “first national bank” of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.  We are turning this television show into a bank, maybe a bank holding company.

And you will be happy to hear that we are in really, really sorry shape as a bank.  We are an awful bank.  We are a terrible bank.  We are totally on the verge of tanking as a bank.  So, therefore, we will need to fill out an application for federal assistance for the “first national bank” of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.

Then, I think, step two, probably we‘ll just go ahead with plans for the big holiday party.  No need to delay.  No need to hold back.

See, the application for free money from the government if you‘re a bank, it‘s quite literally two pages long.  I thought that was a joke until I went online and I downloaded it.  If you google TARP application, it just comes right up first thing and here it is.  All two pages.  The first page consists entirely of lines where they ask you to fill in the name and address of the bank and a primary and secondary contact person.  That‘s half the application done right there.

The second half of the application?  Well, let‘s do it, right?  Ask for the registration number for the company up there at the top, and then the next three lines are essentially questions about how much government money you want.  This next line is, essentially, how is your balance sheet.  Then there‘s a “yes or no” question about whether you have gone online and read the small print at the Treasury Department‘s Web site.  Yes, right, like people read that stuff, like checking that little box when you download software.  Yes, sure, I read all these conditions.

The next line is, essentially, anything else we should know?  And then, down at the bottom, this is—actually, this is a really tough one.  Down at the bottom, they say state the type of company you are.  Oh, proving.

Then, there‘s a line for the date—that‘s a hard one—and a line for the boss‘ signature.  And actually, you don‘t even need to provide the boss‘ signature if you don‘t want to.  It says boss‘ signature or the signature of a designee.  You know, just for hoots, when we do the “first national bank” of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW application, I‘m going to say that Bilbo Baggins was our CEO‘s designee and just sign that name just to see if they even notice.

That‘s it actually.  That‘s the whole two pages.  That is the full application process for a piece of the $700 billion worth of our money that the government is doling out.

Have you ever applied for a loan for anything?  House, car, small business, anything?  Have you ever applied for public assistance, unemployment, food stamps welfare?  If you haven‘t, I can tell you this, the application asks for more of a commitment than name, address, how much do you want, anything else we should know, love, Bilbo Baggins.

For regular humans—that‘s not what getting a loan is like.  It‘s certainly not what getting welfare is like, which is why I‘m going to try to turn myself into a bank holding company.  Then maybe we all should.

You know, since they didn‘t have to disclose much to get the money, the “Associated Press” followed up with some of the banks that received federal bailout money, to ask them what they did with their money.  They asked four pretty darn simple questions to 21 banks that received bailout federal bailout money.  Number one, how much has been spent?  Number two, what was it spent on?  Number three, how much is being held in savings?  And number four, what‘s the plan for the rest?

Seems like a reasonable list of questions, right?  I mean, we gave them the money, shouldn‘t we, at least, get to know how they are spending it?  Not if you ask them.  Some of the nation‘s largest banks told the “Associated Press,” they haven‘t been tracking exactly how they‘re using the money and some just flat out refuse to discuss it at all.

A spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in bailout cash, told the “Associated Press,” quote, “We have lent some of it.  We‘ve not lent some of it.  We‘ve not given any accounting of, ‘Here‘s how we are doing it.‘  We have not disclosed that to the public, we are declining to.”

Oh, you‘re declining to.  Yes, try that with your bank.

The “Associated Press” says not one bank provided even the most basic accounting for the funds.  Some were more evasive than others.  On the one end of the spectrum, the most disclosive, maybe, was Wisconsin-based Marshall $ Ilsley Corporation.  They said, quote, “The $1.75 billion in bailout money” that they received “allowed them to temporarily stop foreclosing on homes.”

Great, tangible results.  Thank you.  I‘d love some specifics, but, hey, you‘re showing the right attitude.

On the way, way, way, way other end of the spectrum, we find the Bank of New York Mellon, which received about $3 billon bailout.  Their spokesman, Kevin Heine, said, quote, “Said he wouldn‘t share spending specifics,” and added, quote, “I would just prefer if you wouldn‘t say that we‘re not going to discuss those details.”

We‘re not going to tell you anything and we‘re telling you, you‘re not allowed to report that we‘re not going to tell you anything.

Now, you can see why we should all become banks. It‘s such a deal, right?  It‘s certainly a better deal than being a car company.  Chrysler and G.M. were just told, “Here, you can have $13 billion from your government but you better deliver us a shiny, new business plan which we, the people, believe will revolutionize your industry within three months, your executives better take pay cuts, you better get rid of those corporate jets, and failure on any of these counts will mean that you owe us the $13 billion back immediately.”

The banks on the other hand?  Ha!  The insurance giant, AIG, which, so far, has received about $150 billion of bailout money, your money, they are still be proud owner of seven corporate jets—seven.  JPMorgan which we bailed out to the tune of $25 billion—four jets.  Bank of America, $15 billion of our dollars—nine corporate jets.

The issue here is not just the double standard that exists between the banks and the auto companies.  It‘s the jaw-dropping, knee-buckling lack of transparency that‘s being offered by the banks and that‘s being demanded, not by the government.

Many Americans were scared into grudgingly accepting that we needed to do something and maybe even something really expensive to prevent the collapse of our financial sector and our economy.  We hate the idea of having to do it.  But many of us and a majority of Congress were scared into believing that it was necessary.  And now, frankly, as things keep getting worse, it seems like the government may have to take a lot more expensive actions to try to stave off this economic collapse in coming days, weeks, months, and we hope not years.

So, there is a huge political peril here.  The way this financial bailout is being handled, maybe means the end of public tolerance for politically unpalatable but maybe necessary government economic intervention.  They are blowing it, politically.

The inability of the treasury to explain what it is they are doing with all this money, the plainly observable fact that the financial industry is spending a lot on things that have no relation to the health of the economy—private jets—and the raw disdain with which both the treasury and the banks are treating the true blue, totally understandable, fair and square, American demand that if we‘re giving you the money, we get to know how it‘s being used, if it‘s being used, and that it‘s not just being funneled down some gold-plated corporate rat hole.

That creates political peril and it really, really limits realistic government options for the Obama administration, at a time that, frankly, they‘re going to need all the economic options they can get.

Joining us now is Laura Tyson, professor at the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley, formerly an advisor to the Obama campaign.

Professor Tyson, a real pleasure to have you back on the show. 

Thanks.

PROF. LAURA TYSON, U.C. BERKELEY HAAS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS:  A

pleasure to be with you.

MADDOW:  Is the public anger about the financial industry bailout born of ignorance?  Is it that we just really don‘t understand, or should we expect to have some basic transparency about where all that money is being spent?

TYSON:  You know, I think that this is a huge amount of money and I think we should expect and get greater transparency.  I think the treasury has been very, very remiss here in terms of setting out the rules that were guiding it in terms of making decisions about what kinds of firms would be eligible and about the terms of the deals, you know, the deal that was offered to the financial firms.  Now, they varied over time but the initial deal, which involved several firms, was actually quite a generous deal relative to the conditions on the market at that time.  So, why was it generous?

So, I do think that the treasury dropped the ball here in terms of writing the rules down for us to understand what is guiding its decision and then, of course, it hasn‘t asked for the transparency from the firm.  I actually don‘t place the blame on the firms, frankly.  I think the firms, actually, were negotiated deals with the treasury and are adhering to the deals that they have negotiated.  It was the treasury‘s failure to negotiate and set out rules of transparency.

Now, having said that, I think it‘s very important for taxpayers to understand an important thing, I really enjoyed your discussion about being a national bank—but if the government has essentially become a preferred stockholder, a shareholder in these companies, and therefore what the taxpayer is doing is becoming a shareholder in these companies.  Now, the government would like to be able to do everything it can so that the shareholders, the taxpayers, get a good return, get some money back.

The question is, what rule should they specify at this point.  The one that I like to bring up because it‘s really an ideological split between people is, should we control the dividend payments of these firms?  Now, think about the taxpayer.  The taxpayer is now a shareholder in the firm.  If the government says, “We‘re going to put a limit, we‘re going to force you to pay no dividends,” that sounds pretty good to a taxpayer.

On the other hand, what that is likely to do is drive out other shareholders and drive down the share values of the firm that the taxpayer is a shareholder in.  This is a very complicated situation where there‘s no clear one right answer about what requirement should be set.  But what I will say for sure is right, is we need transparency and we need consistency.

We need a set of rules which are consistent.  So we‘re not veering all over the place so Citigroup doesn‘t get one deal, AIG doesn‘t get another deal, Bank of America doesn‘t get another deal.  We need to know the basic guidelines so a taxpayer can understand what‘s going on.

MADDOW:  While I am heartened as a taxpayer to know that I‘ve got an equity stake in some of these industries that—some of these institutions that have received public dollars, I‘m not in this deal to make money as a shareholder.  I am in this deal because I was forced to by tales of Armageddon.

TYSON:  OK.

MADDOW:  I was forced—we felt politically forced into it by this idea that not, not that we wanted the banks to do well, but that if they failed, we would all pay a price that we could never ever recover from.

TYSON:  That is correct.  And one and there are several—you‘re absolutely right.  The main rationale for doing this was because the capital market was freezing up.  The banks had declining asset values, they had to call in their loans, they couldn‘t issue more loans. So, that was the rationale.

The question, how should the government address that problem?  One way, and it was the original proposal, was the government could come in and buy up some of those declining value assets and hold them in the interest of the taxpayer, separate from the bank.  The government chose not to do that.

The second way would be to buy some equity in the banks.  That‘s the capital injection into the banks.  The government chose that and it chose to do it as a preferred equity investor.  So, you are a stockholder as a taxpayer but you‘re a preferred stockholder.  You don‘t have any voting rights over this firm.

Another way the government could have done that is essentially go in and say, “We‘re going to buy common equity, we‘re going to buy basic stock,” and you, the taxpayer, are going to be a stockholder.  By the way, the best way and to provide additional lending capability to the financial system is more or less what the Fed has been doing, which is essentially to set up direct lending capabilities to take on the collateral of these firms and lend against them.  And now, most recently, they said, the Federal Reserve said, “You know what?  We‘ll just buy the assets.  We‘ll buy assets from these firms.  We‘ll give them capital that way and then they can restore the solvency of their balance sheets.”

So, it may very well be the case that the preferred stock equity infusion, which is what the treasury chose to do, is a way which is very indirect and very frustrating to the taxpayer—indirect because there‘s no guarantee, there‘s no requirement that the bank use the equity infusion to lend.  And it‘s very frustrating because the taxpayer doesn‘t have any abilities to set requirements.

MADDOW:  Yes, I think that we all learned enough because we felt so cornered by the crisis.

TYSON:  We were cornered.

MADDOW:  We do.  We‘re cornered and then we all felt we learned enough to understand what freezing of the credit markets meant.

TYSON:  Right.

MADDOW:  And we are smart enough to understand how actions taken by our government can unfreeze the credit market and we‘re smart enough to know that it‘s not happening yet and that stop the frustration (INAUDIBLE).

TYSON:  Well, let me say another thing that‘s really happened here, is there‘s been—I talked about the importance of transparency so people know what‘s going on—it has become much worse because the treasury has done flip-flops.

MADDOW:  Right.

TYSON:  The treasury has made—instead of reducing market uncertainty, they‘ve actually increased market uncertainty.  And so, while they‘ve been putting capital equity infusions in, they‘ve said things like “we‘re not going to buy any of these distressed assets,” which has caused the asset values to plummet even further.  So, they are eroding the capital base by their statements of not buying the toxic assets while they are adding capital.  It‘s basically one hand is undermining the other hand.

MADDOW:  Yes.

TYSON:  It‘s really frustrating.  We need consistency.  We need clarity.

MADDOW:  We need leadership.  Laura Tyson.

TYSON:  We need leadership.  We need leadership.

MADDOW:  . professor at the Haas School of Business at U.C.

Berkeley—Laura Tyson, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight. 

Nice to see you.

TYSON:  Thank you very much, Rachel.  Nice to see you.

MADDOW:  Coming up: Pastor Rick Warren is still apparently giving the invocation at Barack Obama‘s inauguration.  But it looks like the uproar that invitation has invoked may have had some effect on the purpose-driven pastor already.  For example, he no longer admits on his church‘s Web site that he won‘t let gay people join his church.  Could Pastor Warren be feeling more accepting of the gay than he was last week?  Is it a miracle?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In an interview last week on PBS, the defense chief, Robert Gates, was asked how many American troops he thought might still be in Iraq three-plus years from now.  Remember the Status Forces of Agreement just signed by Bush and the Iraqi government says that U.S. troops will be gone from Iraq entirely in three years.  Nevertheless, Bob Gates said, he thought there would be a residual force of U.S. troops in Iraq more than three years from now, that numbered in the several tens of thousands of U.S. troops indefinitely staying in Iraq?  Even beyond the country-to-country agreement we just signed with Iraq that says we‘ll leave?

Boy, you know, if you are one of the 70 percent of Americans who wants U.S. troops out of Iraq on that 16-month timetable that Obama promised, I bet you are glad about this election we just had, huh?  Getting rid of that old administration that sees several tens of thousands of American troops indefinitely in Iraq for years—wow—good thing we are saying good-bye to George W. Bush‘s Defense Secretary Bob Gates and now we‘re saying hello to Barack Obama‘s Defense Secretary Bob Gates.

The Gates pronouncement about residual forces last week was followed by a report in the “New York Times” today that the U.S. may try to get around the just-signed requirement that U.S. combat troops be out of Iraqi cities by June of next year by massaging the meaning of the word “combat.”  Are you ready?  Quote, “Military planners are now quietly acknowledging that many troops will stay behind as renamed “trainers” and “advisers” in what are effectively combat roles.  In other words, they will still be engaged in combat, just called something else.”

So, Iraq withdrawal?  Not really a withdrawal.  And as for Afghanistan—well, there‘s not even a semantic pretense of withdrawal plans there.  A massive U.S. troop build-up is in the works, according to the “Associated Press” today, quote, “All told the U.S. could nearly double its troop levels there to as many as 60,000, sending up to four combat brigades and thousands of support forces within the next year.”

So, let‘s recap here.  Not withdrawal in Iraq.  Potentially doubling forces in Afghanistan.  Oh, and there‘s also that escalating as yet undeclared war in Pakistan, where officials claimed another U.S. drone killed at least seven people today.

OK.  So, here‘s my worry.  Didn‘t Osama bin Laden say that his plan was to bleed America to the point of bankruptcy?  Aren‘t occupied Muslim countries sort of their best recruiting tactic ever?  And, didn‘t the bleed until bankruptcy plan kind of work against the Society Union in Afghanistan, bogged them down indefinitely, like we seem to be in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Yes, I need to be talked down here.  Joining us is Lawrence Wright, staff writer for “The New Yorker” magazine and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning and very, very important book, “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.”

Mr. Wright, thank you so much for coming on the show.

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, THE NEW YORKER MAGAZINE:  Thank you, Rachel.  It‘s great to be here.

MADDOW:  What was bin Laden talking about when he talked about this “bleed until bankruptcy” strategy?

WRIGHT:  Well, as part of his idea is that to attack America economically as well as militarily and in terrorist fashion.  All these are different parts of the terrorist agenda.  And one of the ideas he had was to draw us into Afghanistan just as the Soviet Union had gone in.

And you remember, in 1979, when the Soviets went in, they stayed there 10 years.  They lost 50,000 troops and when they left, what happened?  The Soviet Union disintegrated.  It fell apart.

It was in bin Laden‘s mind the same thing would happen to the United States—would actually become the dis-United States.

MADDOW:  There‘s a little mini-trend happening right now in national security journalism of western reporters seeking out Russian generals from that era of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

WRIGHT:  Yes, true.

MADDOW:  . and saying, “How many of the mistakes that you, guys, made are the Americans making now?”

WRIGHT:  Yes.

MADDOW:  The answers are always exactly what you don‘t want to hear.  Is there reason to believe that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is smarter, better, has a better end game than the Russians had?

WRIGHT:  At this point, you can‘t say that.  Unfortunately, we don‘t have a clear strategy in Afghanistan.  Our goals are really muddy and have been since we went in.

I mean, we went in seven years ago, eight years ago, and in a matter of a few weeks we demolished the Taliban, swept aside al Qaeda.  Both of these entities were essentially destroyed.  The war on terror was over eight years ago.  And that was a state of affairs when we invaded Iraq.  And it was that war, unfortunately, that allowed these embers to burst back into flames.

MADDOW:  It seems like one of the complicated strategic issues about fighting terrorism and using the military to do so is that we are, I guess, we really assume that having a safe haven, having friendly territory in which to operate is absolutely key to the success of figures like bin Laden and groups like al Qaeda.  Did you—have you found that to be the case in your study of al Qaeda that they need friendly territory, they need geographic room to move?

WRIGHT:  Really, it‘s true.  I mean, they operate very well on the Internet.  They form informal alliances like that.  But there‘s no substitute for actually having sanctuaries.  And that was where they were free to train and form these networks, and raise money, you know, generate the kind of military planning that really distinguished al Qaeda before 9/11.  And it‘s important to keep those sanctuaries eliminated.

MADDOW:  In terms of the, I guess, the thinking about how far is too far and when you start having diminishing returns with the military presence, is there reason to believe that an extended, indefinite, long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and in Iraq would be something that al Qaeda would see as to their advantage?

WRIGHT:  Oh, yes.  I think that there‘s no question that al Qaeda sees this as a rallying point, both of these countries, for recruits.  And, unfortunately, you know, from their point of view, Iraq hasn‘t turned out well.  But they are migrating now into Afghanistan and into the tribal areas of Pakistan.  And we are following them there.

MADDOW:  Lawrence Wright, author of “The Looming Tower,” thank you so much for joining us tonight.

WRIGHT:  It was a pleasure, Rachel.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  So, which Dick Cheney did we like better?  The Dick Cheney who lurked in the shadows for months at a time, being feared and sometimes laughed at about his undisclosed location, or do we like this new late-period Dick Cheney who seems to be everywhere, running off at the mouth all the time?  Yesterday on FOX, chatty Cheney defended Donald Rumsfeld.  He made scary Nixonian pronouncements about executive privilege.  He teased Joe Biden like Cheney was a junior high school lunchroom attendant, and he basically made us long for the days when he was hunkered down.

Cheney to world in other words: Go bleep yourself.  More coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Coming up on lame duck watch is the Bush administration trying to auction off 150,000 acres of wilderness near Utah‘s national parks auctioning them off to big oil.  That made you mad.  Stick around.  A story of some not-kidding-around civil disobedience at the auction of that land.  All the oily quackitude on that in just a moment.

First, though, it‘s time for a few underreported holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  On Friday, you may remember us giving a little hat tip to the John Aravosis “Proprietor of America” blog.  John pointed out that in the fine print at Rick Warren‘s Saddleback Church Web site, he found this very clear statement that maybe ought to have given the Obama folks pause before they invite Pastor Warren to give the invocation at Barack Obama‘s inaugural.  John found this quote, “Because membership in a church is an outgrowth of accepting the lordship and leadership of Jesus in one‘s life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted as a member of Saddleback Church.”  Ouch.

That means, of course, that Barack asked the spiritual clarion call at his swearing in would be delivered by a man who will not allow gay people to attend their church if they‘re unrepentant.  He‘s also a man who says gay relationships are equivalent to child molestation and incest. 

Now, since Friday, Mr. Aravosis has noted that Rick warren pulled that anti-gay language from his church Web site.  So, does that mean you can now be unrepentantly gay and be a member of Rick Warren‘s church or does it just mean that Rick Warren is embarrassed to have had his policy about that out on the Internet machine for everyone to see? 

Now, Joe Biden has defended the Obama selection of Rick Warren for the inaugural.  He defended him yesterday on ABC saying Obama reached out to Warren in order to heal the wounds of this country and move this country forward. 

Thank you for the clarification, Sen. Biden.  My wounds feel better already. 

And finally, we don‘t often feature obituaries on this show, but this is a tribute to one of the most interesting athletes in all of American baseball history, Dock Ellis.  He died on Friday.  The right-hander pitched the first half of his career in Pittsburgh - he claimed in his autobiography that he was tripping on acid, on LSD, in 1970 when he pitched the season‘s first no-hitter over the San Diego Padres. 

Dock Ellis mistakenly thought The Pirates were not playing that day when he dropped acid.  Later, he read in the paper that they were playing and that he was pitching.  “The Pittsburgh Tribune” notes that Ellis didn‘t make the claim about tripping on acid during the no-hitter until after he retired. 

But you know, Ellis actually made the claim after he had made his life was clean and sober.  No-hitter on acid or not, Dock Ellis had what sportswriters euphemistically, a colorful career. 

He once threw the ball at five consecutive Cincinnati Reds in the first inning.  He hit the first three guys and barely missed the head of the next two before the manager took him out of the game. 

Why did he do it?  Because The Reds had talked trash during spring training about his team.  He also beamed Regie Jackson horribly in the face for hitting a homerun against him in the all-star game, five years earlier.  And the all-star game is kind of just an exhibition, isn‘t it? 

Dock Ellis told “Sports Illustrated” last year that when he played baseball, he was a damned fool.  He went on to say, quote, “I‘m still a damned fool, but I just don‘t get high anymore.” 

Ellis spoke out against drug and alcohol addiction after he retired.  And if, “Oh, no.  He didn‘t,” were a statistic, Dock Ellis‘ record would never be broken. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  So, have you seen “Frost-Nixon,” the movie, the play or read about the most famous “made for, by, and of TV moment” of all time in political interviews?  The story goes David Frost struggled mightily to figure the best way to approach the widely-loathed Nixon, how to satisfy the world‘s craving for some admission by Nixon that he had done wrong.  At least, that‘s how the story goes. 

And legend has it, Frost looked into the really good stuff in that interview.  Without going widely-loathed Dick Cheney, it has been less than a struggle, shall we say?  The still vice president sat down with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday yesterday, and it very quickly got sort of all “Frost-Nixon-y.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  If the president, during war, decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal? 

DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT:  In general proposition, I‘d say yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Wait a minute.  I know where - that was from -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Does it?  That means that it is not illegal. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Oh, when the president does it, that means it‘s not illegal.  That‘s where I remember that from.  David Frost legendarily sweated that answer from Richard Nixon.  Chris Wallace?  Kind of seemed like he only had to turn on the camera and get the lighting right and open up the microphone. 

Dick Cheney blithely opened up his mouth and a giant terrifying cartoon snake just boinged out.  Think that‘s an overstatement?  Well, here is Cheney again in his own words. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  The president of the United States now for 50 years has followed at all times, 24 hours a day by military aide, carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of nuclear attack on the United States. 

He could launch kind of a devastating attack the world has never seen.  He doesn‘t have to check with anybody.  He doesn‘t have to call the Congress.  He doesn‘t have to check with the courts.  He has the authority because of the nature of the world we live in. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  He doesn‘t have to check with anybody - the gleam in his eye. 

Cheney‘s belief in the unfettered power of the executive branch isn‘t news.  He knows the power of the nuclear football, right?  His description of a president, a current president being able to launch nuclear holocaust at a moment‘s notice because we live in this dangerous world is scary and a reminder that if Cheney spoke more often, we probably wouldn‘t laugh as hard at the late night jokes about him. 

Because we would be reminded that he actually really was the administration‘s Darth Vader, that we had a vice president these past eight years, and we still have one today who has really radical ideas about his own power.  Need more proof?  He was asked to name his highest moment of the last eight years. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  ... the last eight years.  Well, I think the most important and the most compelling was 9/11 itself, and what we entailed and what we had to deal with, the way in which that changed the nation and sat the agenda for what we‘ve had to deal with as an administration. 

WALLACE:  And that is also your lowest moment? 

CHENEY:  Sure, yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Good one, Chris Wallace.  Yes, 9/11 also a low point.  Very low.  Doesn‘t get much lower.  And even after Wallace pointed out Cheney‘s response of 9/11 to the highest point question might have been a little awkwardly worded, Cheney‘s response put the “non” in nonchalant.  “Yes, sure.  Yes.  That was a bad day for you?” 

The whole remarkable reemergence, the 11th hour reminder of the reality of the Cheney vice presidency, not the dark punch line version, sets up Barack Obama and Joe Biden for a Cheney reminder.  It sets them up to put the vice presidency back to doing something simple and clear and important.  They have the task here of returning the office to its humble and somewhat feckless “tie-breaking in the Senate and attending funerals” roots, don‘t they? 

Joining us now is Barton Gellman, national reporter for “The Washington Post” and author of “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.”  Mr. Gellman, thanks for being here. 

BARTON GELLMAN, AUTHOR, “ANGLER: THE CHENEY VICE PRESIDENCY:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  So Cheney agrees that if the president decides to do something to protect the country in wartime, it is legal.  Is that the same construct that Nixon used to such controversial effect when David Frost interviewed him? 

GELLMAN:  It‘s actually, I think, more radical than what Nixon said because Nixon never enunciated that as policy during his administration.  And neither did his office of legal counsel in the Justice Department.  And in the administration they did, Cheney actually was - and he addressed it at greater length. 

He was asked, “Well, doesn‘t Congress have any say here?”  And he said, Congress can pass statutes but he said we don‘t have to obey them.  We don‘t those need those stinking statutes.  So he was explicitly rejecting the idea of being fettered by the coordinate branches of the government. 

MADDOW:  While he is still in the executive branch.  He has been speaking far more directly to questions about presidential power and executive prerogative than President Bush has.  We have seen - at the end of the administration, we‘ve seen lots of members of the administration do sort of, what I think of as legacy polishing stuff, trying to make themselves look good. 

But Cheney has been out there directly, really talking about executive power a lot.  Do you think that he sort of a proselytizer for the idea of executive power that he thinks that he‘s not only seized this power, but America ought to be happy about that? 

GELLMAN:  Oh, yes.  He‘s been a proselytizer about executive power for a very long time.  Even - honestly, when he was a member of Congress, a senior leader of Congress, he has long believed the executive is the only branch that can respond effectively to threats and he‘s very big on seeing threats. 

So, the interesting thing to me is he‘s actually picked - since you talk about legacy - he‘s picked his adjective.  He knows what he wants to be and the word he used several times recently is “consequential.”  It‘s a word you can use equally for Gandhi or Hurricane Katrina.  I mean, it‘s a neutral word to say, “I mattered.” 

MADDOW:  “I mattered,” and the vice presidency matters, and the executive branch matters to the exclusion of the other branches of government.  Cheney also yesterday repeated the claim that he‘s maybe for but made in quite some detail yesterday that Democrats agree - top Democrats agree that they didn‘t need any congressional approval for warrant-less wiretapping. 

He essentially portrayed himself as the asking them if Congress would like him to pursue authority and they handed that over to him gleefully and without question.  Based on your reporting for “Angler” and for “The Washington Post,” is that accurate? 

GELLMAN:  I spent two whole chapters on this episode in “Angler.”  And he‘s talking about a meeting on March 10th of 2004.  He‘s never previously talked about it in public.  And he‘s backing up the official story, which is, that eight members of Congress, four Republicans and four Democrats came in and were told the Justice Department thinks this program is illegal. 

Should we go ahead with it anyway despite - there‘s no law in Congress authorizing it.  And the four Republicans and four Democrats said, “Yes.  Go right ahead.  Do the illegal thing.”  Now, I talked to four people who were in that meeting and not all of them were Democrats, and all of them dispute that that‘s the way it happened. 

MADDOW:  Isn‘t there some way that could be checked?  Doesn‘t somebody write down what happens with those things? 

GELLMAN:  Yes, and it was top secret code word classified and remains so. 

MADDOW:  Vice President Cheney has also recently articulated that he thinks that he and only he has the authority to decide which of papers as vice president get turned over to the National Archives, that there‘s no power greater in the federal government above the Office of Vice President for determining what laws - what disclosure laws the vice president is subjected to. 

Is that new for Cheney, or is that an extension of what we‘ve seen from him before about the energy task force and some of his other secrecy controversies? 

GELLMAN:  It‘s a new application of old principles.  Cheney‘s office took the view that even an order from the executive officer, the president, even an order, for example, from White House counsel to preserve evidence in the Valerie Plame leaked probe did not bind the Vice President‘s Office until a similar order was issued by Cheney‘s counsel. 

So he‘s often said, “I‘m an independently elected constitutional officer.”  Even though he talks a lot about how he‘s just an advisor and subordinate to the president, he knows he can‘t be fired.  The vice president is not actually, under the Constitution, subordinate to the president. 

MADDOW:  One last quick question - are Cheney‘s powers elastic?  Can they bounce back to a smaller position they were in before without Cheney prosecuted for having taken powers that he didn‘t have? 

GELLMAN:  Well, are you asking whether Biden inherits that legacy?  I doubt it for lots of reasons, partly because it depends on the relationship of the president.  It depends on Cheney‘s supreme abilities to work the machinery of the bureaucracy and his ability to do things sometimes that the president didn‘t even know, which is, I think, not going to happen in the next presidency or very many after that. 

MADDOW:  Barton Gellman, national reporter for “The Washington Post,” author of the book “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency,” thanks for coming into the studio.  Nice to see you.

GELLMAN:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  When you look at Utah‘s magnificent national park, do you immediately think, “I bet there‘s a ton of oil under there.”  Well, members of the Bush administration do.  Coming up, the latest round of environmentalists versus the lame duck.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  On November 4th, I was busy.  You were busy.  The whole country was very, very busy.  The Bush administration, it turns out, they were surprisingly busy.  On November 4th, while the rest of the planet was obsessed with that ginormous(ph) historic election thingy, the Bush administration was busy opening up huge swathes of wilderness in Utah for oil and gas extraction on or near the boundaries of three national parks. 

They bypassed the National Park Service even to do it.  After that, you may recall, Robert Redford came on this show to encourage people to fight the midnight regulation.  And this past Friday, a college student from Utah decided to do just that, and then some. 

With 28 days left in the Bush administration, it‘s time for the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s “Lame Duck Watch” because somebody‘s got to do it. 

Now, on Friday, the Bureau of Land Management held a controversial auction to sell oil and gas drilling rights to nearly 150,000 acres of wilderness in Southern Utah.  The sale had been strongly was opposed by lots of environmental groups and concerned citizens including one 27-year-old , Tim DeChristopher, a University of Utah economics student.  He decided to take matters into his own hands. 

Mr. DeChristopher went to the Bureau of Land Management Office in Salt Lake City where the auction was due to take place.  He encountered some protestors walking back and forth outside.  He says he decided there and then to do something more than just joining the protestors outside. 

He went inside and he registered as a bidder and entered the auction and entered fake bids, lots of them.  He quickly became known as bidder number 70.  Now, Mr. DeChristopher actually won bids on 13 parcels of land by pledging about $1.7 million that he really does not have. 

When legitimate bidders figured out that Mr. DeChristopher was not legitimate, authorities escorted the University of Utah student out of the building.  When it was all said and done, 116 parcels, totaling just less than 150,000 acres, had sold for over $7 million. 

DeChristopher‘s fake bids drove up the price of legitimate bids by about $500,000.  Buyers now have 10 days to reconsider and withdraw bids if they want to, if they think they have unfairly paid too much because of Mr.  DeChristopher playing the role of the ringer. 

Now, that said, some bidders say they may hold on to their leases because even if they did pay so much for them that they wouldn‘t have had to pay, these parcels might not be offered again by the Obama administration. 

Yes, you think?  The Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman says her agency is consulting with bidders and attorneys on how best to resolve the auction.  It‘s possible the entire lease sale may be redone. 

Criminal investigators for the BLM questioned Mr. DeChristopher.  He was released and the case was referred to federal prosecutors for possible fraud charges.  For his part, DeChristopher says he will go to jail if he has to. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM DECHRISTOPHER, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST:  It‘s going to take some major changes for us to have a livable future.  And if that means some people like me have to go to jail, then that‘s what I‘m willing to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Joining us now is Trip Van Noppen, who is president of Earth Justice which is a public interest law firm involved in a lawsuit against the government to stop the leasing of those oil and gas rights in Utah.  Mr. Van Noppen, thanks so much for joining us. 

TRIP VAN NOPPEN, PRESIDENT, EARTH JUSTICE:  Thank you, Rachel, and thanks for keeping a good eye on the lame ducks. 

MADDOW:  Indeed.  Let me ask you first about this act of civil disobedience that we learned about over the weekend, this young man from the University of Utah deciding essentially to sabotage the auction. 

I know that has not been the tactic that your law firm has chosen to fight this sort of thing.  What do you make of his tactics and his actions?  

VAN NOPPEN:  Well, I understand the outrage that he feels.  I understand the frustration that he feels with this auction going forward at the midnight hour of the Bush administration when they‘re trying to push this through before inauguration day. 

We think there is a remedy for this in the courts.  I do understand that civil disobedience has had a place in history at times when the law won‘t work.  We actually think in this case the Bush administration is violating the law and that the court will remedy it.  And so we‘re in court to stop it. 

MADDOW:  The 150,000 acres that were auctioned off, even with this monkey wrench in the works, have now been auctioned.  And if the people who placed legitimate bids decide to not rescind them, is it a done deal?  Are those parcels available for oil and gas drilling?  Or is your lawsuit seeking to undo even those parcels that were sold, in effect, on Friday? 

VAN NOPPEN:  Our lawsuit is attempting to - seeking to stop the government from finalizing the auction and then allowing drilling to go ahead.  So what happened on Friday was they took the bids and closed the auction, but they didn‘t actually finalize it or accept those offers. 

They agreed with the judge in our case to put off finalizing it until January the 19th, the day before inauguration day to finalize it, so that the judge can consider the arguments about whether they violated the law. 

They clearly did fail to do the kind of environmental review that‘s required.  There are magnificent landscapes, as you‘ve already mentioned.  They are some of America‘s most valuable petroglyphs, ancient art in these red rock canyons.  And the drilling activity and all of the development that goes with it will bring air pollution problems to canyon lands and Arches National Park. 

So the judge is going to consider those arguments and decide whether to allow the leasing to go ahead and become final.  It‘s striking that the government wouldn‘t allow the postponing of this hearing until January the 21st.  They insisted that it had to be done by January the 19th

MADDOW:  So striking, given how aware they seem to be of important political dates on the calendar around this issue. 

VAN NOPPEN:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  Mr. Van Noppen - Trip Van Noppen, president of the public interest law firm, Earth Justice, thank you and good luck to you. 

VAN NOPPEN:  Thank you.  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  Coming up, a special edition of “COUNTDOWN” tonight, looking back at their favorite people of 2008.  And coming up on this here little show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend Kent Jones.  Guess who is back from the battled Clinton impeachment days?  It‘s not Linda Tripp, but you are close, unfortunately. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Now, it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend, Kent Jones. 

Hello, Kent Jones.  What have you got? 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Good evening, Rachel.  Remember Kenneth Starr, the Clinton-hating man Torquemada who dragged America through the long, sad Lewinsky tar pits, lo, those many years ago.  Don‘t hate me but he‘s back. 

MADDOW:  Oh, wow.

JONES:  Star has signed up to defend, get this, Prop 8, California‘s much despised same-sex marriage ban.  Now, how perfect is that?  The Prop 8 Legal Defense Fund announced that Starr will argue before the California Supreme Court on behalf of Proposition 8‘s official proponents. 

Insiders say Starr accepted the position after realizing that he was limiting himself by only witch hunting straight people.  Witch knew her rights.

Next, in Milan, Italy, customs inspectors seized 88 pounds of beluga caviar last month.  Italy and other countries banned beluga caviar in hopes of saving the dwindling population of sturgeon who produce the eggs. 

Now, officials thought it over and kept some of the caviar for the investigation, but the rest will be given to the poor - $500,000 worth of fancy fish eggs to the poor.  The recipients seemed a little confused by the gesture.  Said one man at a shelter, “Without toast, creme fraiche and a chilled (UNINTELLIGIBLE), this is scarcely worth the effort.” 

Finally, more evidence of Bush gearing up to get the hell out of dodge.  The president‘s senior staff gave George and Laura matching rocking chairs.  Get it?  Because they‘re retiring.  One made from an oak tree outside their ranch in Crawford, another from a scarlet oak tree planted by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892 that fell on the White House north lawn last December. 

That‘s how it goes with this guy.  Things crash to the ground and other people have to make something useful out of it.  Is it wrong to ask for splinters?  Is that bad? 

MADDOW:  Something fell down and we‘re going to make you something out of it. 

JONES:  They‘ll make something out of it.  Yes.

MADDOW:  That‘s perfect.  Also points tonight for using the word “Torquemada.”  Well done, Kent.

JONES:  Whenever I can. 

MADDOW:  Spectacular.  Thank you. 

Thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you here tomorrow night.  You can also hear my radio show, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, coast to coast on Air America Radio.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann” starts right now.  Good night.

                                                                                                               

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