'The Rachel Maddow Show'for January 23, 2009
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Guest: Larry Wilkerson, Peter DeFazio, Carl Bernstein
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Keith. And have a good weekend.
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: You, too.
MADDOW: Thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We are still following Keith Olbermann‘s bombshell interview of former NSA operative Russell Tice, about the Bush administration‘s targeted wiretapping of journalists Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame knows a thing or two about Constitution-thrashing presidents. He will be here tonight.
Tonight, also, pushback op the closing of Guantanamo. We will scrub the pushback right good. Plus, Rod Blagojevich, it turns out, is an innocent cowboy—that‘s according to the amazing Rod Blagojevich. It‘s all coming up on tonight‘s show.
But first, in his farewell address last week, now former President Bush reminded us again that he received an intelligence briefing every day to start his day as president. Well, every day except Sundays. And he missed that big daily briefing item from August of 2001 about bin Laden being determined to strike in the U.S. Other than that—very comforting. He was totally on top of things about terrorism anyway, except on Sundays.
President Obama has, thankfully, upped the ante. Not only does he receive a daily intelligence briefing every day, Sunday is a day, but he has requested a daily economic briefing as well—or as he put it today, a daily economic intelligence briefing with company after company laying off thousands of workers, Microsoft—yikes, Starbucks—grande yikes. With all of these companies laying people off, giving the president more information at a time like this cannot be bad.
Job one of Obama‘s presidency, the first thing he wants to push through Congress is an economic stimulus bill. To do that, President Bush has—excuse me, President Obama has reached out to Republicans in Congress to get their input. If you do the math, such outreach is kind of unnecessary given the Democrats big majorities in both houses of Congress.
The new president not only enjoys ginormous approval ratings right
now, his party has once-in-a-generation majorities in both houses. The
Republican Party, especially in the House, has no power right now. I mean
well, they have the power to call press conferences, to use the cloakroom for their coats. They have the power to cash their paychecks and that‘s about it.
I mean, franking, right? They can frank. They have that privilege.
But in terms, of affecting what laws passed, in terms of actually having power in the House, they are way, way out of power. Despite that or maybe because of that, President Obama invited congressional Republicans to the White House today to talk about the stimulus. And at that meeting, as the technically-powerless Republicans complained that the stimulus plan isn‘t what they would have written, if they pushed for more tax cuts and less spending, President Obama reportedly turned to them at this meeting and said, and I quote exactly here, he said, quote, “I won,” end quote.
Score one for the short to the point declarative sentence. The president clearly understands that elections have consequences. “I won,” he said. But if he understands that, then why is the stimulus plan that he is pushing for is less than “I won” sort of stimulus plan than “I tied” sort of plan?
What we have been expecting from the stimulus—you might have heard on this show—is a big investment in infrastructure, creating jobs by building and repairing things like roads and bridges and schools and public transit and the electrical grid and our water systems. It‘s a right away bang for your buck investment in society. It creates jobs and it has the nice little side effect of making a safer and stronger and better equipped to compete in the world.
If we economically need to incur some costs, what could be better, right? Well, apparently tax cuts could be better. Tax cuts? Yes, tax cuts make up 33 percent of the stimulus plan that‘s making its way through Congress. A third of the stimulus goes to tax cuts.
Infrastructure on the other hand, if you add up all the other projects that could possibly be portrayed as infrastructure, you get to about to 18 percent, which means that less than 1/5 of the entire stimulus package is infrastructure. Democratic Congressman Jim Oberstar revealed this week that to make room to all of those tax cuts, all sorts of funding for mass transit funding was gutted.
Among the items left on the cutting room floor, substantial funding for Amtrak, for aviation, for the Army Corps of Engineers, for water infrastructure programs, drinking water and water treatment facilities and sewer lines. Funding for all of that infrastructure was slashed to make room for billions of dollars in tax cuts. Tax cuts which most economists say will do far less to stimulate our hemorrhaging economy than, say, infrastructure spending.
Here‘s what Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman told me on this show last month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL KRUGMAN, ECONOMIST: The good thing about federal spending is that it‘s actually spent. It actually does boost the economy. And it‘s infrastructure that also leaves you with something of value afterwards. Whereas if you do it the way the Republicans want to do it, which is always tax breaks, first of all, it might not be spent. So, it might not help the economy at all and then you‘ve got nothing to show for it when the thing is over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The consensus is in on this. What we need for the economy and for the country is spending on stuff like infrastructure. We need a lot of it and we need it right away.
And yet, Democrats and President Obama appear to be letting the technically-powerless Republican minority dictate the terms of the stimulus bill and dictate terms that don‘t get us what we need—loading it up with tax cuts and slashing spending on projects that could actually create jobs and do right by the country.
That‘s not “I won.” That‘s “Listen, I have some authority, you have some authority. What would you have me do?”
The president‘s “let‘s all get along” way of doing things has served him very well, politically, so far. It may, in fact, be the secret to his political success. But in terms of policy, what the country actually needs, can‘t we just say the people with the bad ideas don‘t get their way anymore?
Joining us is Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon.
Congressman DeFazio, thank you so much for joining us.
REP. PETER DEFAZIO, (D) TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE CMTE: I‘m very much with you on that. I mean, look at the Bush tax cuts, borrowed $160 billion last spring. It gave us ¼ of 1 percent boost in one quarter of the economy. We borrowed that money generations for the next 30 years are going to pay for it.
How about investing in the things that underlie the foundation of our economy? Infrastructure is one of those.
Every time I hear an interview, it‘s about, “Oh, we‘re going to build bridges and highways and transit, and we‘re going to invest in the future,” as you pointed out, 7 percent of the bill is in traditional infrastructure. It‘s not enough and it‘s a very bad tradeoff for tax cuts.
It‘s not about the House; it‘s all about the Senate. And, you know
I mean, if they are wrong we don‘t need their votes. The best budget of the Clinton years was the first budget, and it didn‘t have a single Republican vote.
I want to be bipartisan. I want to work with the Republicans when they‘re right, but when they‘re wrong and when they want to continue the failed policies of the past, we don‘t need to buy them off with $300 billion of tax cuts.
MADDOW: Well, to be clear, it‘s about 7-something percent of the stimulus bill, as proposed, is for transportation infrastructure. We did some math here today and we feel like, depending on what you call infrastructure, maybe you can get up to 15 percent or 18 percent in total. Did it used to be more and it got dialed back in order to make room for the tax cuts?
DEFAZIO: We‘ve proposed more and there‘s, I think, a pretty good consensus among most members of the House that it should be more. But the dictate from on high and the negotiations with Obama‘s advisers, I don‘t think the president is there. I think he‘s ill-advised by Larry Summers.
Larry Summers hates infrastructure and some of these other economists. They were very much part of creating the problem, and now, they are going to solve the problem. And they don‘t like infrastructure. So, they want to have a consumer-driven recovery.
We need an investment and productivity-driven recovery for this country, a long-term recovery. When we borrow from future generations, we should invest for future generations. Infrastructure is exactly that.
That‘s not—there is not enough there for infrastructure in this package. We are still pushing back. I hope we can do better.
MADDOW: When you say you heard from on high and you don‘t think it‘s the president himself, you think it‘s his advisers—is it Larry Summers who‘s giving House leadership the instructions on what to do here?
DEFAZIO: It‘s not clear. But, you know, Larry is pretty much on record as being anti-infrastructure until very recently when he seems to have had a conversion, slightly but not enough and it‘s .
MADDOW: Well, the president speaks very highly of infrastructure.
I mean, he brings it up himself.
MADDOW: He‘s been talking about it. If there is a distance between him and his advisors and what his advisors want, it‘s what makes it into the bill, that‘s a problem.
DEFAZIO: He needs to know it and that‘s why I‘m speaking out with you, know? I‘m hearing a little bit of flak but I‘m speaking out, because I think the president is with us. I think he understands that we need long-term—Chicago, let‘s look at Chicago.
Chicago has a $6 billion deficit in their transit infrastructure. This bill would give them $250 million for that deficit. A very, very articulate woman who heads up their transit authority said, “We could spend $500 million tomorrow. We have back orders on buses and we have our, you know, we have our rail system that‘s propped up by two-by-fours in places.
We could spend it tomorrow. This is stuff on the shelf, take it off the shelf, spend it. We already have half of what we need and we could get really close to that $6 billion in a very short period.”
That‘s Chicago, let alone the rest of the nation, that‘s his hometown. We know we can spend this money, you know, productively. The bureaucrats, Larry Summers and others, “Oh, they can‘t spend the money quickly enough, it won‘t create the jobs.”
It will create jobs. She pointed out the fact that they would buy buses. It would not only, you know, augment their system, it would produce jobs in Minnesota where they build the buses. Three jobs if we could place the order for the buses, but they are not going to get enough money in this package to do that.
MADDOW: What you are saying is so important and it underscores what I have been hearing from elected officials over the last few weeks. The common wisdom on this is wrong. What everybody is saying in the press, what all the advisers are saying is: We‘d love to make it all spending. We‘d love to—because that‘s where you get the most bang for the buck, but the projects just aren‘t there. There just isn‘t enough stuff to spend money on.
But then, when you actually ask the people who‘d be spending the money, they can show you how to quintuple what they are being offered easily. It‘s .
MADDOW: There‘s a distance here between the reality and the rhetoric on this.
DEFAZIO: Off the shelves.
DEFAZIO: The Chicago Transit Authority has options for buses they can afford. And the money they get won‘t even allow them to execute all their options which provide jobs not only in Chicago but in Minnesota and elsewhere around the country with those suppliers. This is a great investment in the future of this country.
And then, we need to look longer term on our transportation infrastructure, too. I mean, this—what‘s in this bill is like one half of one year‘s deficit in our infrastructure spending. That‘s nowhere near what we need for current deficits, let alone, you know, a new 21st century infrastructure system.
China is spending $600 billion over the next two years. We will spend 1/15 of that in this bill.
MADDOW: Wow. Congressman Pete DeFazio of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, you made some news tonight, sir. Again, I‘m thankful for you for choosing to do it here. Thank you for joining us.
DEFAZIO: Thanks for the opportunity.
MADDOW: America‘s favorite impeached governor was back in the saddle today. Rather than quoting English poets, this time, Governor Rod Blagojevich compared himself to a wrongly-accused non-horse-stealing cowboy. Stay tuned for Rod Blagojevich in a fistful of hooey.
Meanwhile, in New York, Governor David Paterson ended weeks of speculation and chose a relatively unknown Democratic congresswoman to fill Hillary Clinton‘s Senate seat.
And, now that it‘s come out that the Bush administration was allegedly targeting journalists for wiretapping, does that mean they had an enemies list, too? Next, I will be joined by a reporter who knows all about Nixonian dirty tricks, the one and only Carl Bernstein.
MADDOW: It‘s time now for another episode in our ongoing tragic comic chronicle of the Republican Party‘s search for meaning in the vast and nearly powerless political minority.
MADDOW: You know, the Kubler-Ross Cycles of Grief, it seems that the Republicans are now at the anger stage. Famously loyal former Bush adviser, Karen Hughes, was quoted in today‘s “New York Times” with this reaction to President Obama‘s inaugural address this week. She said, quote, “There were a few sharp elbows that really rankled and I felt were not as magnanimous as the occasion called for. He really missed an opportunity to be as big as the occasion was and, frankly, as gracious as President Bush was.”
In other words, boo. It‘s such poor taste to express anything other than a salute for George W. Bush. Your vulgar display of eloquence and popularity failed to take in to account the years of comforting platitudes, I said (ph) to this man everyday. I do hope you‘ll have the decency to resign in disgrace.
Hang in there, Ms. Hughes. Hang in there, Republicans. You are angry now but acceptance will surely come.
MADDOW: It is easy to gang up on the media. The press can be criticized fairly for lots of things, including being obsessed with trivial scandals and sleazy stories, not to mention at times being bias, corrupt, self-important, thin-skinned, and possessive, a gift (ph) for groupthink. I will give you all of that, I totally get it.
But it is equally true that there is no other institution in this country that is more important to our democracy than a free press. Don‘t take it from me. Take it from this guy—he‘s Thomas Jefferson.
In 1786, he wrote, quote, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.”
No freedom without freedom of the press. Limitations on freedom of the press mean losing our freedom. So says Jefferson. So says me. So says everything we know about democracy and history.
Why am I getting all emphatic and boring and insistent about freedom of the press? Well, here—in 2005, you will recall that we started to learn a lot of creepy things about our government that should have been shocking.
First, we learned that a super secret program authorized by former President Bush allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on some Americans‘ foreign phone calls without permission from a court. Later we learned that it wasn‘t just Americans‘ phone calls but also banking records that were being scrutinized. Later still, author James Bamford found out that phone calls from U.S. military personnel and aid workers abroad to loved ones back home, calls like, you know, pillow talk and family fights and stuff were being intercepted and then passed around to amuse the other eavesdroppers.
Well, now, thanks to the extraordinary interviews this week on “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” here on MSNBC, we have been told that the NSA basically spied on any American it wanted to, regardless of whether any foreign communications were involved and it is alleged that they specifically targeted journalists.
Had we learned all these revelations at once—all at one time, we might have been shocked to the points of pitch forks in the street. Since these details have come out little by little over more than three years, each new revelation has made an impact. But I‘m not sure that the cumulative impact has yet set in.
Here‘s the shocking bottom line—the U.S. government has been taping all of our calls and recording all of our e-mails, and an analyst involved in the program at the NSA says they specifically targeted journalists. Nixon‘s enemies list initially had about 20 names on it. This administration‘s list includes the entire American press corps.
Joining us now is Carl Bernstein. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, well, of course, he‘s best known for his expose with Bob Woodward of the Watergate scandal which ended the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Mr. Bernstein, thank you for coming on the show tonight.
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: Good to be here.
MADDOW: What is your reaction to these new allegations that we‘ve heard on Keith‘s show this week?
BERNSTEIN: That we don‘t know what they mean and what they are. I wouldn‘t go as far as you did.
I think that there is an overwhelming problem with the Bush presidency about secret government. And these allegations go to that, but more than that, there was a systemic failure because the Congress of the United States failed in its oversight function, in terms of the war and national security considerations and torture, and the role of the NSA and the other intelligence agencies. They didn‘t know what the hell this presidency was doing.
However, from what we know about the NSA, it is the largest of the intelligence agencies. It gets the largest part of the intelligence budget and it‘s like a giant vacuum cleaner that vacuums up all our incoming phone data, e-mail data, and that‘s its function. The question is, how is that data examined? Now, if .
MADDOW: Well, wait. Is it their function to collect all of that information or did they decide that was their function? I‘m not sure .
MADDOW: It was never the remit of the agency that they should collect all of the communications in and out of the country.
BERNSTEIN: The question about—there is a great book about the NSA called “The Puzzle Palace.” It was written a number of years ago; it explains its function very well. It is subject to great abuse because it has such a wide charter and because so much of intelligence collecting is electronic.
And when you start digitalizing this information and looking for a needle in a haystack, if something was done such as taking journalistic institutions, a newspaper, this network or whatever, and systematically targeting as you said, it is an absolute total outrage, unconstitutional, the kind of thing that somebody ought to be prosecuted for.
BERNSTEIN: But we don‘t know that‘s what‘s happened. What we do know is that we need to know what happened in the Bush presidency in all of these areas. President Obama has said, look, he wants to look forward. He doesn‘t want to look backward.
At the same time, I am sure that he wants to find out what is going on in the intelligence agencies, put a stop to the excesses such as he has with Guantanamo, for instance, and in the process, I would hope, we‘d find out what the hell has been going on.
MADDOW: Well, these latest allegations are from a man who—it seems to be unquestioned—is in a position to know what the information that he is alleging. Certainly, it is allegations at this point. But we also know from other allegations that have been proven about the NSA, that they have the capacity for doing this. The only thing we need to find out is, whether or not we‘re willing to believe they‘d do it and whether or not we are willing to follow the trail to find out, in fact, they did.
BERNSTEIN: Well, the latter part is the important thing. Let‘s find out what is going on. I think that we really need to—I read the transcripts of Keith‘s broadcast .
BERNSTEIN: . with Mr. Tice about four times. It‘s very difficult in places to see exactly what he‘s saying about reporters, about what is coming from the FBI, about what is coming from the NSA. If you look at it very closely, he says it‘s compartmentalized. He doesn‘t know how this was used. He saw something that was collected.
We ought to find out what that was.
BERNSTEIN: But I wouldn‘t make the leap to an enemies list, for instance, and say that Karl Rove was running around with all this information.
MADDOW: And using it to take people down.
MADDOW: Right. But the idea they would choose journalists as a group as targets is .
BERNSTEIN: They—wait a minute. You‘re right.
BERNSTEIN: If they chose journalists as a group as targets, it would be an outrage.
BERNSTEIN: The question is, did they choose journalists as a group as targets. I‘m not sure that‘s what the gentleman said on your air. It‘s a little ambiguous. We ought to find out.
MADDOW: Well, he said, from his perspective, as I understand it, the way I heard it .
MADDOW: . is that they picked journalists as targets and what we need now is we need the government .
BERNSTEIN: I hope that‘s not the case .
BERNSTEIN: . because if it is, there ought to be hell to pay.
MADDOW: Yes, I couldn‘t agree with you more on that. Carl Bernstein, it‘s so nice to see you. Thank you for coming in.
BERNSTEIN: Good to be here.
MADDOW: Carl Bernstein, of course, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist.
Coming up: Scrub, Rinse, Repeat—where we make sure the Obama administration is cleaning up all the tough stains left behind by the previous administration. Tonight, we‘re talking torture, Guantanamo and the Geneva Conventions—areas in which you really do not want to miss a spot. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson will be joining us in just a moment.
MADDOW: In the past few weeks, two governors, one of them impeached by the House and about to get it from the Senate have handpicked U.S. senators to represent the people in their state in the nation‘s Capitol. Citizens of Illinois like, oh, say, Michelle and Barack Obama—they got no say in the matter whatsoever. Rod Blagojevich? He got to say who the senator would be and he did some more saying that one must really hear to appreciate today. We will have more on that Blagojevich tape coming up in a moment.
First, though, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. The Obama administration has shot missiles into Pakistan, or at least somebody who works for the Obama administration has done so. The U.S. launched two air strikes inside Pakistan today, reportedly aimed at al Qaeda targets. Even though the U.S. doesn‘t generally acknowledged launching such strikes, the attacks are thought to have been carried out by CIA predator drones.
Today‘s strikes reportedly killed at least 14 people, five suspected militants. Pakistani officials are reporting that three of those killed were children.
Even though the Obama administration has tried to make a sharp break with many Bush national security policies, these are the first such attacks inside Pakistan since Obama was sworn in.
NBC News has learned that the strikes did not require specific approval from the White House—although, apparently, Mr. Obama was briefed on the mission. The strikes were part of a long-running campaign in which the CIA has the authority to plan and launch attacks against al Qaeda and Taliban targets inside Pakistan without kicking the decision on strikes further up the chain of command.
Just to be clear here, the president was briefed but these missile strikes don‘t require his approval? Doesn‘t that sort of mean the Obama administration has implicitly signed off on the Bush administration‘s policy of shooting into Pakistan?
Or does this mean the CIA is just fighting its own war over there regardless of the commander-in-chief? Press Secretary Robert Gibbs would not comment on the missile strikes today at his press conference, but ultimately somebody is going to have to do some explaining about where exactly we are at war and under whose terms.
In our second story tonight, on the campaign trail, candidate Obama initially pledged that he would not allow lobbyists to work in his White House. Then, before the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Obama got more specific saying that lobbyists would not be allowed to run the Obama White House.
On Wednesday, President Obama issued an executive order on ethics commitments which bans anyone from serving in his administration if they lobbied an executive agency in the preceding two years.
Then, today, late in the day on Friday, with the 24-hour news cycle about to take a 48-hour weekend pause, the brand-new Obama administration took out some trash. They issued a waiver to the ethics rule so that William Lynn, who is as recently as July, a registered lobbyist for the defense contractor for Raytheon could still be the number two civilian at the Department of Defense where the Obama administration put him in the first place.
Raytheon‘s tentacles into the Pentagon are thought to be so wide ranging that recusing this officer from specific issues related to Raytheon may be nearly impossible. It may make it impossible for him to do his job. In a written statement, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the administration, quote, “has removed an obstacle to the confirmation of Bill Lynn to be deputy Secretary of Defense by waiving the provisions of President Obama‘s executive order on ethics commitments that would have precluded Mr. Lynn‘s service.”
Even with the waiver, Mr. Levin said, the committee, quote, “will continue to insist that Mr. Lynn comply with a strict set of ethics rules including the requirement to recuse himself for a period of one year from any decisions involving his prior employer unless specifically authorized to participate by an appropriate ethics official.”
As we reported on the day William Lynn‘s selection was announced, this is a slippery slope, this exception-to-the-rule thing. We understand that Mr. Lynn is greatly desired for this position by the incoming administration. And this early on in the administration, folks are inclined to cut him slack on appointments like this. But it doesn‘t get that much slack. We will be keeping our eyes open on this one.
Finally, a sports story about how not to win. It comes from girls‘ basketball in Texas where a private Christian high school in Dallas called the Covenant School defeated another school called The Dallas Academy 100 to nothing - 100 to zero.
Covenant was ahead 59-zero at the halftime. They decided to come back and score 41 more points. Spectators said The Covenant School ran up the score, keeping up offensive pressure and firing three-point shots until they scored the 100th point. They even maintained a full-court press.
Dallas Academy is a very small school - 20 girls total, which offers small classes for children with dyslexia and what they call other learning differences. The girl‘s basketball team only has eight players.
Remember, the whole school has only got 20 students and the team they played against ran up the score to 100 to nothing. The phrase “boo” comes to mind.
Now, The Covenant School issued an apology yesterday remarkably and they have asked to forfeit the game because they said, quote, “Victory without honor is a great loss.” On the school‘s Web site their statement said, quote, “It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened. This clearly does not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition. We humbly apologize for our actions and seek the forgiveness of Dallas Academy, TAPPS” - Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools - “and our community.”
The Dallas Academy Bulldogs haven‘t won a game over the last four seasons. So if the forfeit is accepted here, this will mark their very first win. And we, of course, will be rooting for their next one.
MADDOW: Have you ever tried to keep a dog in the bathtub, try to wash the dog, give it a really good scrubbing? The dog resists. Woof. It‘s part of the reason my dog smells the way he does. Good boy.
President Obama has begun the process of cleaning up a depressingly long list of Bush administration messes, holding them down in the bathtub and there is some resistance. There is some resistance from the defenders of the messes.
It is time once again for RACHEL MADDOW SHOW special series on President Obama‘s clean-up mission. We‘re calling it “Scrub, Rinse, Repeat” because this is going to take a while.
The president yesterday ordered the prison at Guantanamo and the secret network of CIA prisons around the world to be closed. Some ex-CIA officials, including at least one who was involved in enhanced interrogations techniques and detentions, applauded the changes. They don‘t want to be arrested for torture any more than anybody does.
Civil libertarians, of course, cheered the announcement. These people have this thing about the rule of law.
Under the executive orders that were issued, CIA‘s interrogators cannot question detainees using, quote, “any interrogation technique or approach or any treatment related to interrogation that is not authorized by and listed in the Army Field Manual.” The Army Field Manual complies with the Geneva Conventions.
Yay. But in “Scrub, Rinse, Repeat” terms, it looked like the new administration may have missed a spot. When the president announced a task force to study the effectiveness of the techniques in the Army Field Manual to determine whether it really meets the CIA‘s needs, opponents of torture policy had sort of a Pavlovian reaction.
Wait, that sounds like a loophole. If you are banning torture, just ban torture for the CIA and for everybody, right?
Well, today, we got some clarification on that issue that I would call more scrubbing of Bush administration messes. A senior Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the “Washington Post,” quote, “We‘re not talking about different techniques.”
And speaking to the “The Los Angeles Times,” quote, “This is not a secret annex that allows us to bring the enhanced interrogation techniques back. It‘s not.”
OK. That is the right thing to say. Some other reassurance came from Sen. Dianne Feinstein today, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee. According to the “New York Times,” Sen. Feinstein will continue to try to pass legislation that specifically limits CIA interrogations to the techniques described in the Army Field Manual.
That has three big implications. Number one, a law, in some ways, is harder to overturn than an executive fiat. The next president can‘t necessarily just change it back.
Number two, it settles the issue of torture in a principled, un-secret, simple, easily explainable way, the way it used to be settled before things got really weird and bad about this issue during the Bush administration.
And three, it signals that Sen. Feinstein herself has found her sea legs on the issue of torture. The senator has come under some unflattering scrutiny in places like this show for her ambiguous statements in the past about the legality of torture and for not fighting hard enough against President Bush‘s installation of the mess that President Obama now has to fix in the intelligence world.
But on this, Sen. Feinstein is pushing forward in a direct and clear way. So there was other resistance to the president‘s ordering of the Guantanamo shutdown today. It was pegged to news that a Saudi national named Saeed Al-Shihri, seen in this recent video, was released from Guantanamo in September 2007, and he is now believed to be a leader in al-Qaeda‘s operations in Yemen.
And the resistance said, “See. We can‘t let terrorists go. We can‘t close the Guantanamo.” And the press, the Associate Press for example, said, quote, “Al-Shihri‘s case highlights the complexity of Obama‘s decision to shut down the detention center.”
Let‘s wash this one off a little bit here. Number one, Guantanamo was open when this guy became the number two al-Qaeda guy in Yemen. Number two, it was the Bush administration that released him, and why? Could it be he couldn‘t be prosecuted because he had been picked up through a system that wasn‘t exactly legal and interrogated through means that weren‘t producing admissible evidence? Possibly?
Maybe closing Guantanamo isn‘t the problem. Maybe keeping it open really is. What we have here is a conspicuously timed news item convenient to resisting a good scrubbing of a big, bad Bush administration event. Will this become a regular pattern as the cleanup continues?
Joining us now is Colonel Larry Wilkerson, retired U.S. Army colonel and former chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Mr. Wilkerson, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
COLONEL LARRY WILKERSON (RET), FORMER CHIEF-OF-STAFF TO SECRETARY COLIN
POWELL: Good to be here, Rachel. And you‘ve got to ask me a question about Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn and what I think.
MADDOW: Tell me. What do you think?
WILKERSON: I think the graveyards of the world are full of indispensable men and women. And the idea that we can‘t find someone without the baggage that he has is preposterous.
MADDOW: The job that is up for is essentially the management job of the Pentagon, isn‘t that right?
WILKERSON: Absolutely. It‘s the man who makes the trains run on time. It‘s the man who coordinates and administers the Pentagon. And it‘s the man who makes sure that procurement decisions and acquisition decisions and so forth meet the final test. And a man coming in with the baggage he is coming in with, we‘ve got to be able to find someone else.
MADDOW: Especially if there is going to big change inside the Defense Department and in the relationship between the Defense Department and the other elements of the American Government.
I have been thinking that the resistance to those changes is probably going to come from the defense industry since they are the ones who have the most to gain from the system staying the way it is. And he is really, really tied into the defense industry, right?
WILKERSON: You bet. One of the big ones - Raytheon.
MADDOW: All right. Well, moving on - thank you. The Obama administration pushed back today on complaints that a review of the Army Field Manual could result in the addition of techniques that have been derided as torture during the last administration.
Do you think there was a torture loophole? What do you think of the new Army Field Manual regulations?
WILKERSON: Well, the Army Field Manual is compliant with Geneva, and so compliant with domestic law and with International Convention Against Torture. I think what we have here is a bureaucratic battle going on between the CIA and the Pentagon, because the CIA does not want to have a Pentagon-produced item, the Army Field Manual, be its guide.
So we get around this bureaucratic battle by simply developing a guideline for the CIA that is not the Army Field Manual, but essentially incorporates the same principles.
MADDOW: Is it possible that the CIA could have rules that were called CIA-only rules that didn‘t have the imprimatur of the military on that, but essentially required the same thing of CIA officers that were required of other interrogators?
WILKERSON: Absolutely. As far as I can tell, from 1947 forward, we‘ve had that.
MADDOW: The “New York Times” today reported that a Saudi national, this guy Saeed Al-Shihri, was released from Guantanamo and has now ended up in al-Qaeda in Yemen. Some folks are jumping from that information to the conclusion that Guantanamo ought to stay open.
I don‘t see it that way since he ended up going back to Yemen while Guantanamo was still open. Do you feel like there is a connection between those two arguments?
WILKERSON: We have in Guantanamo what we in the army euphemistically call a “goat rope.” We put people in Guantanamo who weren‘t guilty of anything except being swept up at the time. In fact, the preponderance of the people in Guantanamo are that way.
Secretary Powell, his legal adviser Will Taft, Gordon England, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. Rice, her legal adviser, John Bellinger - everyone has wanted to close Guantanamo and has, I think, understood the basic way that one should close Guantanamo.
But that said, the problems we created in the beginning by having too few troops in Afghanistan, too few troops in Iraq, not vetting on the battlefield, not vetting when they got to Guantanamo and simply keeping people incarcerated, who, in their preponderance, as I said, were innocent.
Now, I understand the specifics of this release you referred to where the gentleman was repatriated to Saudi Arabia. He went through a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia and then he was released.
Well, if you‘re going to repatriate someone to Saudi Arabia, you‘d better be darn sure that he doesn‘t meet your criteria for being a terrorist. Because five times out of six, he is going to go right back into a country like Yemen or wherever and he is going to do what he was doing before if he was, in fact, a terrorist.
I wouldn‘t discount the fact he spent so long in Guantanamo as an innocent individual that he now feels like being a terrorist. Because that is what Guantanamo is. It‘s a creator, not a stopper or incarceration point for terrorists. It is a creator of terrorists.
How would you feel if you stayed in prison for six years and you had done nothing but maybe incur the wrath of a Pakistani or a Taliban or Afghan or Pashtun or whatever who decided he‘d turn you in not only to solve the problem he had with you, but also to gain a $5,000-bonus. That is how we gained a lot of members who are down there in Guantanamo right now.
MADDOW: It‘s a way to mint radicals if we didn‘t have one before.
MADDOW: Colonel Larry Wilkerson, retired U.S. Army Colonel, former chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, really happy to have you on the show. We‘d love to have you back on wherever you could, Sir. Thank you.
WILKERSON: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith Olbermann asks a member of the House Judiciary Committee whether Congress will investigate the revelation that Bush deliberately, illegally wiretapped American journalist. And if not, why not?
Next on this show, whatever happened to voting for - I don‘t know - senators? We now have two new United States senators, one appointed by an impeached governor and one who wouldn‘t take a phone call from the president today. Yay, oligarchy.
MADDOW: One thing about being president is that people, generally speaking, take your phone calls. Generally. Not always.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), UNITED STATES SENATOR-DESIGNATE: Right now? Right now?
GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: Right now, yes.
GILLIBRAND: And afterwards?
PATERSON: And afterwards.
GILLIBRAND: OK. Should I finish? I‘m going to finish.
PATERSON: President Obama is trying to reach our senator-in-waiting and that is what I - I hope someone else talked to him in the interim.
They said he‘s going to call back. Please call back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was New York State Governor David Paterson and his pick to replace Hillary Clinton in the United States Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand. And governor and the senator-presumably-to-be later sneaked off during Sen.
Chuck Schumer‘s speech and reportedly, finally, took the president‘s call.
Today was actually a whole day of awkward press conferences related to the membership of the United States Senate. There was Gillibrand in New York and the whole weird, you know, phone call scene.
There was also the press conference today by the great golden calf of cable news, the haircut heard around the world, Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. No poetry from him this time, but he did give us a long-extended metaphor about himself as a wrongly-accused noble cowboy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: There was an old thing in the Old West. There was a cowboy was charged with stealing a horse in town. And some of the other cowboys, especially the guy whose horse was stolen, were unhappy with that guy.
One of the cowboys said, “Let‘s hang him.” And then the other cowboy said, “Hold on. Before we hang him. Let‘s first give him a fair trial. Then we‘ll hang him.”
Under these rules, I‘m not even getting a fair trial. They‘re just hanging me, and when they hang me under these rules that prevent due process, they are hanging the 12 million people of Illinois who twice have elected a governor.
If the cowboy who‘s charged with stealing a horse was charged with doing that in town - but in fact, in the date and time that he apparently stole the horse in town, he was on the ranch with six other cowboys, herd and cattle and rope and steers.
And then he expects that when his day comes to go to court, he can bring those six cowboys to say it wasn‘t him because he wasn‘t in town. He was on the ranch, herding cattle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. Just to get this straight, the governor in this case is the cowboy who is accused of stealing a horse in a town while he was actually not in the town? He was on the ranch with six cowboy friends, very far away from the town, herding cattle and roping steers, which is like impeaching the governor is like lynching the whole population of the state of Illinois?
OK. There was also the part where he said he was being impeached for wanting senior citizens to be able to buy prescription drugs in Canada. Then he said he would like to call on a few witnesses you might have heard of, who would certainly be able to clear his name.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: Allow me the right to be able to call witnesses like Rahm Emanuel, like Valerie Jarrett, like Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. Allow me also to call witnesses like Gov. Jim Doyle in Wisconsin and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in Kansas or Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don‘t think that John McCain‘s your ticket out of this one, Governor, or Ted Kennedy. I‘m just guessing here. The governor even name-checked his lawyer alongside Oliver Wendell Holmes. His lawyer responded a couple of hours later by quitting.
He also yesterday told the Associated Press that him getting arrested back in December was just like the attack on Pearl Harbor. Gov. Blagojevich is admittedly fascinating to watch, in the same way that it‘s fascinating to watch my friend‘s dog, Noodles, freak out and start barking at the TV whenever that insurance commercial comes on with the squirrel and the speeding car.
I mean, this is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs territory. This is like a cartoon politician, bad guy from a live action version of Batman.
You know what he also is? He is the man alone who got to name a United States senator. There‘s only 100 of those. They are really powerful. And it was his call, this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: He was on the ranch with six other cowboys, herding cattle and roping steers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That guy got to pick a United States senator. And David Paterson - again, one guy, got to pick a senator from New York. I‘m not saying that David Paterson is the way that Governor (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is. But it is undemocratic and embarrassing as a process that this is how we pick people for the really important job of United States senator.
Kirsten Gillibrand and Roland Burris and Michael Bennett of Colorado and Ted Kaufman of Delaware - no offense to why you pre-Senate careers, but you were chosen by governors alone for unavoidably those governors‘ own political interests, which are not the interests on which the people of your state would base their voting decision if they got a say in who their senator was, which they don‘t.
This is a dumb process. Senate vacancies ought to be filled by elections. The way I read this 17th Amendment to the Constitution, and I do read it - I think that‘s actually the way it‘s constitutionally supposed to be as well.
But only nine states do it that way. The rest let the governors give out these jobs like their queens picking out the knights at the roundtable or something.
We are Americans. We are the proselytizers of small-D democracy to the world. Let Gov. Blagojevich and all his cowboys today be the poster children for taking this amount of power out of one person‘s hands. The Senate should not be this embarrassing.
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. You know, I don‘t often tune into game shows, but tonight, a saw a great episode of “Jeopardy!” Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE CONTESTANT: Finish off the category for $1,000.
ALEX TREBEK, HOST, “JEOPARDY!”: She has her own show on Air America and during the 2008 elections got one on MSNBC as well?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: Who is Rachel Maddow?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is Rachel Maddow?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, no.
JONES: That is right. You are the $1000 question - the hard one.
JONES: Well done.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. Thanks, “Jeopardy!” Thank you for watching tonight. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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