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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for February 26, 2009

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guest: Jane Mayer, Peter Orszag, Sam Stein, Paul Rieckhoff, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thank you for staying with us for the next hour at home.

The big political news today is the president‘s first budget.  We‘ve got President Obama‘s budget guy on the show this hour, Peter Orszag, to explain all the big ideas in the budget and to explain that oddly compelling story involving the fireplace in his office.

Also, CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee Conference has convened in Washington.  Not there?  John McCain.  There?  Joe the Plumber.  We will have all the highlights with eyewitness Sam Stein of “Huffington Post.”

But first, we do have some breaking news—a decisive and not necessarily expected rejection by President Obama of a policy that had come to be seen as perhaps the single most ambitious power grab of the Bush administration.  Facing a deadline imposed by an ACLU Supreme Court challenge, the Obama administration today decided to bring criminal charges against a man who has been in prison for seven years, so far, without criminal charges.  Since December 2001, this man has been indefinitely imprisoned in the United States without any charges against him, without facing trial, and most shockingly, without the prospect of ever getting a trial.

President George W. Bush asserted, as president, that on his say so, anyone—a U.S. citizen, a legal resident of the United States, anyone—you or me—any of us, could be picked up off the street in America and then put in prison indefinitely for the rest of our lives, maybe, without trial.  Think about that for a second.

In this country, you could go to jail for the rest of your life on the word of the president alone, on one man‘s word.  No trial.  No charges.  No chance to prove your innocence.  What kind of country does that make us?

The man whose life has become the laboratory for our little experiment in redefining the meaning of the word “American” is named Ali al-Marri.  Mr. al-Marri has released one written statement since he has been in this Kafka-esque indefinite executive detention legal black hole.  The statement said, quote, “I am not asking to be taken at my word and to be released.  All I am asking for is to be treated like every other person in the United States who is accused of a crime, including terrorism, and to be given a fair trial in an American court.”

A fair trial in an American court for a legal American resident arrested in America.  Imagine that.  It‘s so foreign-sounding.

The issue of this man‘s guilt or innocence is not what explains why this case is so important.  This case is so important because he was never given an opportunity to contest the government‘s allegation that he was guilty.  He was never given the opportunity to defend himself, until now.

Federal prosecutors in Peoria, Illinois, are preparing to bring criminal charges against Mr. al-Marri for the first time.  They will charge him with providing material support to terrorists.  In other words, Mr. al-Marri is being treated like a criminal now—which is a huge improvement.  Innocent until proven guilty, evidence rules, speedy trial—you know, the stuff that makes us—us.  Justice for all, no one above the law, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed—remember all that?

Yes, well, today‘s actions were prompted by an expected Supreme Court hearing in April, in which the justices are expected to consider the Bush administration‘s position that a president can invoke the magic words “enemy combatant” and thereby magical earn the right to keep someone in prison indefinitely.

Now, Mr. al-Marri is no longer in that legal black hole.  He is finally being put into the normal criminal justice system.  But, is there any way now to make sure that not only this guy gets his day in court, but is there any way to make sure that no rogue president ever tries to pull something like this ever again?

Joining us now is Jane Mayer, staff writer of the “New Yorker” magazine, author of “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.”

Jane, thank you so much for coming back on the show.

JANE MAYER, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE:  Great to be with you.

MADDOW:  Mr. al-Marri is now being treated as a criminal instead of as a magical enemy combatant.  But, does the status of enemy combatant still exist?  Doe the president, right now, still have the right to call somebody else an enemy combatant and lock them up forever?

MAYER:  Well, yes, it does still exist and there are other enemy combatants there, that‘s the term used for a lot of the people who are down in Guantanamo.  But, I think what we‘re looking at is the first step taken decisively by the Obama administration to live up to this campaign promise that Obama made, which was that he was going to bring these people back inside the rule of law, stop treating them as if they are in some kind of weird legal limbo, and actually use the criminal court system again.

MADDOW:  And in this one case, he has now done that.  We know that this is one of the first things that he reviewed right after he took office.  On the bigger issue though of how we could get rid of the president‘s claimed ability to do this enemy combatant thing, I don‘t really want to have to count on a president not wanting to use that power, but them still believing they have it.  What would it take to get presidents to not have this power anymore?

MAYER:  Well, it may be that—I mean, I think what some of the things that human rights lawyers and civil liberties lawyers are watching for is to see whether the Obama administration says something along with the indictment, which may be unsealed by tomorrow in this case.  Maybe they‘ll utter some position on it that sort of—that at least seals how they view these things.

But, really, what would it take to nullify the power that Bush exerted where he said he could, as you said, basically by his say so, lock anybody up, even an American citizen.  It would take a ruling from the Supreme Court.  And what—that is not likely to happen now because basically, what the Obama administration has done is they‘ve made the issue moot probably.  This case probably will not make it to the Supreme Court, though the ACLU, which brought this suit in the first place, wants to get in front of the Supreme Court just to get the Supreme Court to rule in their favor.  I‘d say the Obama administration has probably done a good job of making it impossible for this case to move forward.  They basically made it not necessary.

MADDOW:  That‘s kind of—in terms of policy and in terms of what I think of as our national honor, we‘re sort in a spot here because, now, we don‘t have any enemy combatants on U.S. soil anymore if Ali al-Marri has been moved to criminal status.  And if the only way we can get rid of that power that Bush created by claiming it, is to bring a case on the basis of one of those people that we don‘t have anymore, doesn‘t that mean that the right is sort of permanent?  How else—what else do we do?

MAYER:  Well, I do think it kind of means that the right is lurking there in case we have another national emergency or a president who might say we have a national emergency, they might resort to this again.

I—you know, what I think we‘re looking at though realistically is, you‘re looking at a new president with a very different point of view who is not just saying things differently, he‘s doing things differently.  He is taking a case that‘s a real gamble.

It‘s a tough case now especially because of what‘s happened to al-Marri over the last seven years.  He‘s been sitting where his rights have likely been violated.  His lawyers claim that he was tortured in the Naval Brig and all kinds—there are all kinds of problems with this case.

But Obama is saying, I trust the laws and courts that we have to handle even these tough criminal cases that involved al Qaeda—alleged al Qaeda sleeper cell agents.  That‘s what he is.

And this case is interesting also because it‘s—part of what makes it a difficult case is al-Marri is not even charged with having committed a terrorist act.  He‘s going to be about to be charged with having thought about committing a terrorist act.  And so, the charges are going to be conspiracy and material support.

And the question has always been: Can you lock someone up and convict them without letting them carry through on some kind of terrible terrorist act?  Which nobody wants to see, yes, wait until there is another attack in order to be able to convict someone.  So, it‘s a pretty good test case.  This guy has been a guinea pig all the way along of, you know, strange legal theories.

MADDOW:  And even if he is convicted now, he‘s already been in prison for seven years.  So, that has to be considered, too.

Jane Mayer, I‘m sorry we are out of time to talk about this.  Your writings on this for the “New Yorker” and in “The Dark Side” have just been invaluable.  I really appreciate your taking the time to talk to us tonight.

MAYER:  Thanks.

MADDOW:  Thank you very much.

MAYER:  Great to be with you.

MADDOW:  The Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, is happening right now.  One of the panel discussions and I quote, is called, “Al Franken and ACORN: How liberals are destroying the American election system.”  Whoo-hoo!  Path back to political relevance, here we come!  Our GOP in exile CPAC extravaganza is coming up.

But first, one more thing about scrubbing and rinsing the Bush administration‘s legacy on the rule of law—Daphne Eviatar reports tonight for the “Washington Independent” that Senator Dianne Feinstein‘s Select Committee on Intelligence is considering an inquiry, an official inquiry, into the CIA‘s, quote, “extreme interrogation practices”—torture, torture—during the Bush administration.

You know, there is something politically clarifying about polls that show 62 percent of Americans want an investigation of this stuff, isn‘t there?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress.  So often, we‘ve come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or a laundry list of programs.  I see this document differently.  I see it as a vision for America, as a blueprint for our future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  A blueprint for our future.  That is certainly worth checking out and you can read it online if you want to.  It‘s at OMB, Office of Management and Budget, OMB.gov.

It is worth fighting over in Washington.  It‘s worth understanding if you believe in that whole “money where your mouth is” thing.  If you want to know not just what our new president says he wants for the country but what he is actually doing about that.

President Obama‘s first budget submitted to Congress today is a really detailed statement of his values and his administration‘s values.  If you look at my budget, for example, you would see that I really value my dog.  Good boy.

What does President Obama‘s federal spending plan say that he really values for the country?  He values honesty.  This budget drops the Bush era budget gimmicks that made the budget look smaller than it actually was.  We value healthcare reform, tons of money for changing the healthcare system.  The middle-class—everybody who makes less than $250,000 a year gets a tax cut.

The State Department, diplomacy is in, “in” I say.  Education goes up; cancer research goes way up; fast trains go up, even more than what trains got in the stimulus.  Very exciting.  Modernizing the air traffic control system, my flying shpilkes thanks you for that.

The Environmental Protection Agency, way up from the Bush era; the National Science Foundation, up, veterans medical care, up; the size of the Army and Marine Corps, up.  Cops, the number of cops—the Clinton era funding for cops on the street, the cops program, that is back.

What things are less important to the Obama administration?  What old directions are in for a change?  Well, Homeland Security does not get a big bump in this budget.  That department has been sort of a sink hole for both security dreams and security dollars.  There will be no big increase there.

Also, the war in Iraq.  President Obama announcing the “out by next August” plan to lawmakers tonight.  We‘ll have more on that later in the show.

No-bid contractors in Iraq.  Those are apparently going to be over. 

The nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada—not going to happen.

The Pentagon is considered sort of a loser in this budget because they‘re only getting a 4 percent increase on their already unimaginably ginormous budget.  Oil companies, they face new taxes for offshore drilling; people making over $250,000 a year, they will go back to the tax brackets from the Clinton era.

The budget is a statement of values, it‘s what we ought to be doing as a country, at least in the part of the country where we all agreed to go all in and do stuff together with our elected representatives—you know, the government.

I spoke earlier today to President Obama‘s budget director, Peter Orszag, about the administration‘s spending plans as a reflection of our new president‘s values.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Doctor Orszag, thank you so much for joining us on this big busy budget day for you.

PETER ORSZAG, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT & BUDGET DIRECTOR:  Good evening.

MADDOW:  This budget is essentially the blueprint for how the federal government is going to work under the Obama administration.  What do you think that this budget says about the agenda and the values of the Obama presidency?

ORSZAG:  Well, I think it says several things.  First, it is honest.  It doesn‘t play the budget games that have been played in the past and just pretend that things disappear from the budget overnight.

Second, it gets the deficit down over time to a sustainable level.  And third, it invests in key areas including energy, education, and healthcare.  And the latter one, healthcare, is absolutely essential to our longer-term deficit picture, because healthcare costs are at the core of our long-term fiscal problems.

MADDOW:  On the issue of honesty and getting rid of gimmicks in the budget, the claim that the Obama administration can halve the deficit by the end of the president‘s first term, seems, not necessarily crazy, but seems really, really, really difficult.  Why promise that when you are putting such a priority on being honest in the budget—why not just do it if you think you can do it instead of saying you‘re going to do it?

ORSZAG:  Well, because in the budget document, we have to put forward our plans and so, in a sense, we are saying, “This is what we are going do.”  And that deficit reduction comes basically from four different areas.  The first is, as the economy starts to recover, the budget will improve.  Secondly, we do wind down the war which saves money.  The third is, we do, in 2011 and thereafter, not continue the high income tax cuts for those making $250,000 or more a year.

And finally, we found, although there‘s more to find, we have programmatic savings.  So, for example, evidence suggests that each dollar we spent in making sure that Medicare providers are actually receiving what they are supposed to get and not excessive payments, saves $1.60 in erroneous payment. We‘ve got $50 billion in savings in that kind of area to make sure that benefits are received by the right person or the right provider at the right time.

MADDOW:  The brewing conservative attack on this new budget is that you‘re soaking the rich to pay for all this spending, that sort of reverse class warfare.  To pay for the spending and to pay for this sort of downpayment on healthcare plans, what‘s your response to that both politically and as a budget czar?

ORSZAG:  Well, this is exactly what the president campaigned on.  Again, as we emerge from the recession, we are—we do need to get these deficits under control.  That‘s going to require some shared sacrifice.  And again, this is fully consistent with what the president campaigned on. 

So, I suppose the criticisms are kind of old politics and to be expected.

MADDOW:  Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget

thank you so much for your time.

ORSZAG:  And, Rachel, from what I‘m hearing, I‘m supposed to invite you down for a fireside chat whenever you‘d like.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  I actually do have one last question for you about that.

ORSZAG:  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Did you know that chimney was capped when you set the fire in your fireplace?

ORSZAG:  No.  I did not.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  So, you set the fire in your fireplace thinking that it was going to work like a normal fireplace and then what happened?

ORSZAG:  Well, now, let‘s be clear.

MADDOW:  All right.

ORSZAG:  There were live logs—real logs left in the fireplace.

MADDOW:  Yes.

ORSZAG:  I asked whether the fireplace was operational, I was told it was.  Took a piece of paper, lit it, and made sure that the flue was open and that it was venting, which it was.  And then we lit a fire, in which, again, it was still venting.

So, the smoke was going up the chimney, the flue was open.  It was actually quite comfortable in my office and there was a nice sparkling fire.  Unfortunately, several years ago, the Secret Service had capped the top of the chimney and so, smoke was filling up in a fourth floor room.

MADDOW:  As the person who told you that .

ORSZAG:  Suffice it to say we are not using that fireplace anymore.

MADDOW:  The person who told you that that chimney was operational, have they been renditioned somewhere awful now?

ORSZAG:  Yes, we are not going to get into those details.

MADDOW:  One last question I got.  This is a little bit weird, but it seems like there‘s a lot of fires in that building, that‘s where Cheney‘s office fire was, too.

ORSZAG:  You got a fire and say—opps.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ORSZAG:  Come on, that was smoke.  That wasn‘t a real fire.  Mine was only smoke, his was a real fire.

MADDOW:  All right.  Peter Orszag, you are a good sport.  Thank you so much.  Good luck to you.

ORSZAG:  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s the budget guy.  I know.

All right.  On the eve of President Obama‘s expected way forward speech about Iraq, we are just learning that the President Obama has told members of Congress in a meeting at the White House that he plans to have many U.S. troops out of Iraq by next August.  But that “many” number, that‘s a residual force that maybe as many as 50,000 troops.

Can having 50,000 troops still in Iraq and ending the war in Iraq mean the same thing?  Coming up: Paul Rieckhoff from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America will join us.  Maybe he knows.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Coming up on the show: We will come up with a really, really far-fetched excuse to use the “James Bond” theme song while talking about a foreign member of parliament.  That is coming up in a moment.  And my friend, Paul Rieckhoff from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America will be here.  That is just around at the corner.

First, though, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  In the pantheon of incriminated officials from the last administration, there are three tiers of badness.  There is the first tier, populated by people who are forced to resign in the dead of night due to a minor but embarrassing infraction like, say, Claude Allen, Bush‘s domestic policy adviser until he was caught stealing repeatedly from Target stores.

One step above the Claude Allens of the world is the level I like to call “your interest is so conflicted it‘s amazing you can pick out shoes without consulting your former employer.”  That includes people like Bush‘s former housing secretary, Alphonso Jackson, accused of giving lucrative housing contracts in the Virgin Islands and New Orleans to friends and threatening to withdrawal federal aid from the Philadelphia Housing Authority after its president refused to turn over a $2 million property to a politically-connected developer Mr. Jackson liked.

That brings us to the third tier, which can perhaps be illustrated by the story of our former number three official at the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA.  His name is Dusty Foggo.  Mr. Foggo was sentenced today to three years in jail for fraud.  Prior to the sentencing this morning, a number of documents relating to his case were unsealed, and so now we know more about the story.

We know it goes a little something like this.  For nearly three years under the Bush administration, Mr. Foggo hid his years-long friendship with a man named Brent Wilkes.  Why hide their brotherly love?  Well, Mr. Wilkes headed a contracting company that received millions of dollars from the CIA.

Who arranged those deals for Dusty Foggo‘s best friend and vacation buddy?  A man named Dusty Foggo!  Duh!

But what‘s also handy to know here is that Mr. Wilkes bribed former Congressman Duke Cunningham with stuff like antiques and a boat and cash and hookers.  A hot tub was involved.  I would prefer not to talk about it.  You can look it up.  Thank you.

Back to Dusty Foggo here.  We also learned in these new court documents that Mr. Foggo arranged a six-figure job at the CIA for his mistress while his family was being housed abroad at taxpayer expense.  Keep your family close and your mistress closer.

Now, Mr. Foggo was not just some “Keystone cop,” he was the executive director of the CIA, the number three guy at the CIA.  He oversaw America‘s day-to-day worldwide intelligence gathering operations.  And, as if giving away giant government contracts to your friends and securing a job for your gal-pal wasn‘t enough power, Mr. Foggo also harbored political aspirations.  He was reportedly running a plan for Congress.  He wanted, of course, to run for Duke Cunningham‘s already, totally corrupted seat from San Diego.

Today, Mr. Wilkes and Mr. Cunningham both reside in prison and so, too, now, will Dusty Foggo for the next three years.  And this tier of Bush administration incriminated officials will forever be called the Dusty Foggo tier.  Because if your name is something like Dusty Foggo, somebody is ultimately going to name something after you.

Now, a little bit of good news for people who have to work for a living and people who get misty when they see those little “Made in America” tags on durable goods.  The Russell Corporation manufactures apparel for colleges and universities‘ t-shirts and sweatshirts, and fleece suits with the emblems and mascots of those colleges and universities—all logo and official seal wholesome fun, right?  Except, that the Russell Corporation manufactures these goods outside the United States and has a not so good labor record.

Last month, Russell closed a factory in Honduras in retribution for some of its employees joining a union.  That is the allegation.  Factory supervisors were also accused for harassing union supporters, intimidating them and denying access to the plant for inspection.

Enter to this story, the University of Michigan, which is now the latest university to terminate their contract with Russell, thanks to groups like the Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium, who monitor this kind of stuff.  Other institutions of higher learning who made the same decision as Michigan, include Cornell, Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Purdue and Rutgers.  You know what phrase comes to mind here?  Rah, rah, rah!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The Republican Party continues its search for meaning in the political minority.  A path out of the wilderness.  A leader to march them down that path.  A derogatory nickname that will stick for the president.  A way to bait and demonize Nancy Pelosi that doesn‘t paradoxically make her stronger and happier.  An idea - any idea about how to deal with the economic crisis or either of the wars that doesn‘t remind everybody of George W. Bush. 

Well, today, they kicked off the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, better known as CPAC.  It‘s a sort of right-wing Appaloosa, not specifically a Republican event, but a conservative movement thing where activists sound off and cheer and, practically speaking, choose which Republican politicians they like for the year ahead. 

For Republican officials and conservative pundits, having appeal at CPAC is up with of those punches that you absolutely must get on your political dance card.  Two years ago, CPAC is where Ann Coulter decided to fling a gay slur at Democrat John Edwards. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE WRITER:  I was going to have a few comments

on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards but it turns

out you have to go into rehab if you use the word (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  So

I‘m -

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Oh, a big round of applause there.  Hey.  The word we beeped there, just so you know, just in case you missed it the first time around, it rhymes with maggot and it started with “F.”  And it‘s not “fraggot” or “flaggot.” 

Back in 1994, famously, CPAC was where Paula Jones leveled her sexual harassment allegations against then-President Clinton including an unforgettable X-rated and audible aside to her lawyer about how to describe what she said happened between her and President Clinton.  I cannot even tell you what that one rhymed with. 

Last year, CPAC was where soon-to-be named Republican presidential candidate John McCain was nearly booed out of the room. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  On the issue

of illegal immigration, a position which -

(BOOING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  This year at CPAC, it was time to take a look around post-George W. Bush, post John McCain, post - “Oh my god, do the Democrats have a 78-seat majority in the House now?”  It was time to look around, recognize the political wilderness in which they now find themselves and swallow some hard truths.  Here, for example, was Bay Buchanan speaking at CPAC today.  And yes, she‘s Pat‘s sister. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BAY BUCHANAN, FMR. U.S. TREASURER:  Our movement that gave this nation the leaders that failed us, the leaders that went out there and broke the trust and the faith with the American people.  We‘ve lost credibility. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Swallowing the hard truth.  Like I said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAUL ANUZIS, CHAIRMAN, MICHIGAN REPUBLICAN PARTY:  We take a look at what Barack Obama did.  What happened was, he basically took our message, co-opted it and we didn‘t have the credibility - we didn‘t have the credibility to make the alternative argument to the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So much for “the swallowing the hard truth” thing.  That was Saul Anuzis.  He‘s one of the people who ran for chair of the Republican Party this year.  His big idea is that Obama won because he was so Republican.  Really?  Obama?  Well, how do you, guys, feel about the last Republican who was elected? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, FMR. U.N. AMBASSADOR:  I think we are better off, in some

senses, not having the Bush administration trying to defend in many

respects.  Too many people -

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The conservative movement and the big part of the Republican Party it represents have decided in the post-George W. Bush era that they are anti-Bush.  They have also decided in the post-John McCain era they are anti-John McCain.  McCain wasn‘t even there at CPAC. 

But you know who was there and who got a speaking role?  This guy

Samuel the Joe.  Joe the Wurzelbacher.  Although they probably meant “a.k.a.,” not “a.s.k.” - I‘m guessing.  Aside from all these CPAC celebrity sightings, this conference is a good place to figure out, not just who‘s popular in the conservative movement, but what their core issues are, right now, what their core critiques are. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLIFF KINCAID, EDITOR, “ACCURACY IN MEDIA”:  After the 1980s, at least we know - we know that our president was born in the United States. 

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Ladies and gentlemen, the pulsing, throbbing core of America‘s conservative movement.  But it all boils down to the hard question America needs to face now and the conservatives are the ones who are willing to lead us in facing it.  The question of whether or not Hawaii is actually part of the United States. 

Joining us now is someone who was at CPAC today, Sam Stein from “Huffington Post.”  Sam, thank you so much for joining us tonight. 

SAM STEIN, “HUFFINGTON POST”:  Thank you, Rachel.  Pleasure to be here.

MADDOW:  CPAC is such a high-profile event.  It gets so much external attention even from liberal jerks like me.  But I have to ask you, while you were there today, did you have the sense from CPAC that this is where the Republican Party is really going to find its way forward? 

STEIN:  Maybe.  But that says a lot about the Republican Party.  Of course, there were a lot of preeminent elected officials there.  You had - well, Saul Anuzis and Mike Huckabee.  And you‘re going to have Mitt Romney.  And you‘re going to have lot of other - Mike Pence, for instance - a lot of personalities.

But then you had Joe the Plumber.  And why is Joe the Plumber there?  I mean, symbolically, obviously, he is very important.  But what is he offering you in terms of policy ideas?  I think this sort of this symbolism underscores what the sort of soul searching aspect of the Republican Party is right now.  So yes, you might get a leader out of this, but you‘re not going to get fresh ideas.  And that is really the problem. 

MADDOW:  What is the pulse at CPAC on the question of why Obama won and why they lost so badly in the last election? 

STEIN:  Well, I mean, there is a lot of anger and there‘s not a lot of explanation.  And I think that is what you saw with Cliff Kincaid.  Again, it is all about tactics.  And it‘s all about anger.  You are angry at the Bush administration.  You are angry at the media.  Tons of anger at the media. 

And you‘re also angry at Obama, but not for politics, but personality.  You‘re angry because you think he is a communist, because you think he‘s a fascist.  There‘s one woman who called both and then said he was a street thug.  And she didn‘t want to sugarcoat it, she told me.  And you don‘t know if he‘s born here.  So a lot of it is anger.

And then, the other thing is tactics.  Tucker Carlson was a speaker here.  And he gave a very good speech when he said there needs to be more conservative muck-raking.  He is right.  There needs to be more conservative muck-raking in journalism. 

But that is not a philosophical change.  And then, one other thing, Mike Pence who gave a pretty good speech today, summarized it as this, “Yes, we need to offer positive alternatives.  Yes, we need to take our message to every community.  But more than anything else we need to be willing to fight.” 

Well, maybe, but that doesn‘t mean you are giving new ideas to the American people. 

MADDOW:  So tactics rather than ideas? 

STEIN:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  And what you call Obama, sort of, is a tactic.  You said somebody told you Obama was both - was a communist and fascist and a street thug. 

STEIN:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  Are you seeing any pushback, any intellectual pushback against running with the idea of Obama as a secret non-citizen or a secret commie or a secret commie-fascist street thug?  Is that seen as a reasonable view that is seen as good political tactics? 

STEIN:  No.  There is a fact.  I talked to one person who said, you know, it pains him to see this.  I know that - you know, Patrick Ruffini, for instance, a young conservative, said it was painful to see Joe the Plumber be the spokesperson for the conservative movement. 

There‘s a lot of people who realize that this is not probably the best way to go about rebuilding the party, to be strictly against Obama on superficial grounds.  And they hate to see the fact that people get up there and question his citizenship.  It doesn‘t do them any good, they argue. 

The problem is that the core, sort of passionate part of the movement really is angry with Obama but not for political means but personality means.  And so you have them making statements like Cliff Kincaid did or like John Bolton did, which was, what happens if a nuclear bomb falls in Chicago? 

You know, these are the types of statements that some people want to avoid but are pretty much at the heart of the conservative movement right now.

MADDOW:  Cliff Kincaid said what happens in Chicago gets nuked? 

STEIN:  No, John Bolton said that.  He said, Obama is -

MADDOW:  I thought you said -

STEIN:  Yes, John Bolton said that. 

MADDOW:  Well, I try not to talk about John Bolton because every time I say his name, I want to scream it because he is the most undiplomatic diplomat alive.  But I‘ll restrain myself. 

STEIN:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Sam Stein from “Huffington Post,” thanks for your time tonight.  Thanks for your reporting, Sam.

STEIN:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  President Obama will be at camp Lejeune in North Carolina tomorrow to deliver a major address about Iraq.  I, for one, will be on the edge of my seat waiting to hear the answer to this question, “If 50,000 American troops stay in Iraq, can we still say we are leaving Iraq?”  Paul Rieckhoff from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America will join us, next. 

But first, one more thing about CPAC and the winner of the presidential straw poll, the last two years, Mitt Romney.  Mr. Romney‘s mansion has been burglarized.  Well, one of his mansions has been burglarized. 

The purloining occurred at Romney‘s 9,000 square foot mansion in Park City, Utah, which is technically referred to by the family as a cabin.  The cabin is currently for sale for more than $5 million, in case your interested. 

Although there was no sign of forced entry at the cabin, someone apparently stole up to 20 pieces of jewelry from a walk-in closet there.  Ann Romney says she is not sure which pieces were stolen or how much they were worth.  So, according to the “Park Record Newspaper” of Park City, Utah, police have asked Ann Romney‘s jewelry consultant to figure out what pieces might have been taken and how much they are worth. 

In other news, jewelry consultant is a job.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  For more than 200 years, the residents of our nation‘s capital, Washington, D.C., are finally on the verge of having voting representation in Congress.  By a vote of 61 to 37, the U.S. Senate passed the bill this afternoon to give the district residents a say in our government. 

I mean, they do pay taxes and enlist to defend the country and live in the country and have other citizenship rights and stuff.  The bill that passed today also includes a new House seat for Republican-leaning Utah.  The bill is expected to pass in the House but it will probably face challenges in the court, because D.C. is not a state and the Constitution says only states get representation in Congress. 

But couldn‘t it be one of those letter-of-the-law-versus-spirit-of-the-law things?  I mean, wouldn‘t it seem sort of constitutional-ish to make those taxation without representation awesome license plates collectors‘ items?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I will admit it.  I love a good spy story.  Love cloak-and-dagger, will read anything even on the low end of good cloak-and-dagger material.  In that spirit, I must inform you there is a doozy of a James Bond movie opening scene playing out in Iraqi politics right now. 

(MUSIC)

There is a guy named Mohammed al-Dini, who is a member of the Iraqi parliament and he‘s a key suspect in the 2007 bombing of parliament as well as some assorted murders and gold heists. 

So when he flew out of Baghdad late on Wednesday, the prime minister of Iraq ordered the flight to turn around midair and come back.  It did, and when it landed, a plainclothes security guard boarded and took Mr. al-Dini off the plane. 

Later, he was put into a car and driven away by more security guards.  So they got him, right? 

No.  This is more “Bourne Ultimatum-y.”  It turns out the security guards in the care that took him away from the airport - at least the security guards that got on the plane and took him off the plane - they were part of al-Dini‘s personal security team. 

Iraqi officials did detain him but they could not hold them because they couldn‘t beat the clock and revoke his parliamentary immunity in time.  So al-Dini and his secret security detail split.  He‘s on the run.  Parliament did revoke his immunity and but it was too late to get him. 

And now, manhunt.  That‘s the chase-scene intrigue in Iraq.  Forgive me.  Here at home, there was fresh and huge interest about Iraq politically, thanks to an unauthorized leak on Tuesday.  We are expecting President Obama to announce tomorrow his plans to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq by August of 2010, drawing down to a residual force of up to 50,000 troops. 

He reportedly met with congressional leaders tonight to tell them about the timeline and troop levels.  Now, 50,000 sounds like a lot of residual forces to some people.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told me last night that 15,000 or 20,000 seemed like a reasonable number to her. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer also said today they expected to hear that the residual force would be smaller.  So one big question now is this, does 50,000 troops still there equal end of the war? 

Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  Paul, thank you for coming on the show.  Nice to see you.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN

VETERANS OF AMERICA:  My pleasure, Rachel.  Good to be with you.

MADDOW:  How can you tell the difference between a combat troop and a residual force troop? 

RIECKHOFF:  That‘s a great question.  I think, lately, politicians have been throwing these terms around pretty loosely, actually throughout the war.  You hear them talk about combat troops, non-combat troops. 

When I was in the Army, combat arms troops referred to infantry, armor, artillery, special forces.  Everything beyond that was considered combat support, combat service support. 

But I think throughout the wars, you‘ve seen politicians throw these terms around.  You‘ve also them throwing numbers around.  I was a bit bothered. 

Last night, you saw Speaker Pelosi say 50,000 - no, 15,000 maybe 20,000.  They‘re throwing numbers around, 15,000, 20,000, 30,000, 35,000, with no real rationale. 

We‘ve got to understand that troops are part of a solution.  They‘ve got to be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by economic investment, by state department assets, by diplomacy.  We‘ve fallen back into a four-year-old argument about troop numbers. 

MADDOW:  Right.  Well, the thing that I thought was interesting was the way that Pelosi described that numerical issue.  I said, “Doesn‘t 50,000 seem like a lot?”  And she said, “Well, I want to know what they are for.” 

RIECKHOFF:  Right. 

MADDOW:  And to a certain extent, it‘s almost like learning the details for us as citizens and as politicians is a good thing. 

On the other hand, learning the details is sometimes not a good thing.  Because there is some value, I think, to taking a big picture perspective on this and saying, “If we‘ve got 50,000 people there, we haven‘t left.” 

On the other hand, knowing what those troops are doing there and what the mission is and how much at risk they are, whether or not that means we can ever scale down our presence there by a lot, it seems important too.  Sometimes I don‘t know the responsible way to approach this big question. 

RIECKHOFF:  Well, they are still driving toward abiding by the SOFA and getting all the troops out by 2012. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

RIECKHOFF:  And they are moving toward throwing this entire vehicle in reverse, which is really what the American people want and seems like what the Iraqi people want and what Obama said he was going to do all along.  He said he was going to leave behind a residual force.  A timeline is adjusted. 

But the think I want to be concerned about is nobody is talking about how we‘re going to care for these troops when they come home.  How are we going to deal with the educational benefits that they need, getting the G.I. Bill up to speed for August.  How do we deal with this economic situation? 

They are coming home to the hardest economy in decades and they shouldn‘t be coming home to an unemployment check.  We‘ve got to get ahead of that curve and understand there‘s a surge of troops coming home to America in 2009 and 2010. 

MADDOW:  Right.

RIECKHOFF:  I hope to hear more about that tomorrow, too. 

MADDOW:  The overall strain on military families, the overall strain on members of the military and on our military readiness, though, is in part driven by how long we‘ve got people in theater and how many tours they are doing. 

I mean, during the campaign Obama, describes the residual force mission as protecting American assets, conducting limited counterterrorism efforts and training Iraqi security forces.  That‘s what the residual force will do.  How different is that from what it was like to be fighting the war there?  It‘s not something (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

RIECKHOFF:  It wasn‘t much different from what I did when I was there. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

RIECKHOFF:  And I think, the bottom line is, if you‘re a soldier or Marine in the ground, you‘re in harm‘s way.  If you‘re getting shot at and you‘ve got a weapon in your hand, you feel like you‘re a combat force at the time. 

MADDOW:  Yes.

RIECKHOFF:  So I‘m really kind of, you know, concerned about the murkiness and the lack of clarity around the entire debate.  And I think you‘re starting to see that shift over to Afghanistan now as well. 

We‘re talking about - just add 30,000 troops.  Well, adding troops has got to be part of a recipe for attacking a counterinsurgency.  It‘s not an antidote.  It‘s got to become - with all these other things we‘ve got to talk about the border issues.  We‘ve got to talk about the surrounding countries.  We‘ve got to talk about the long-term plan. 

And I‘m very concerned - you‘ve been good about pushing forward the debate on Afghanistan.  You‘ve getting people to have a real discussion and understand it‘s not just Iraq part two. 

MADDOW:  Paul, one last question for you.  The Defense Department is repealing the ban on media coverage on the flag-draped coffins coming home from theater.  Are you in favor of that? 

RIECKHOFF:  I am.  I think, there‘s an important issue here.  They‘re leaving it up to the families.

MADDOW:  Yes.

RIECKHOFF:  They‘re not just saying open it up to the media.  They‘re saying leave it up to the families and we will abide by the family‘s wishes. 

This is exactly what they do at Arlington.  And it‘s worked at Arlington.  It‘s in accordance with the family‘s desire.  And I think it‘s an important way to connect the human cost of the war with the American people who, so far, have been really detached in an unprecedented way. 

MADDOW:  Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, always great to have you on the show.  Good to see you, Paul.

RIECKHOFF:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Hey, if you‘re a returning veteran from Iraq or Afghanistan, number one, welcome home.  Number two, check out IAVA‘s “CommunityofVeterans.org.”  It is vets only.  Lots of very useful stuff there. 

All right.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN” Keith talks to Janeane Garofalo about Rush Limbaugh‘s summit on why women hate him. 

Next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend Kent Jones.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Hi, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Good evening, Rachel.  So how is George W.

Bush spending his first week back in Dallas? 

Well, today - yesterday he and Laura dropped by John J. Pershing Elementary School and stayed for more than an hour hanging out with the kids.  There he is. 

And on Tuesday, Bush made a surprise appearance at an Introduction to American Government and Politics class at SMU where he took questions from the students for 50 minutes.

MADDOW:  A surprise appearance? 

JONES:  Yes, didn‘t tell them.  So here‘s one - “Yes.  Did Laura make you do all of this?”  There‘s no sitting around the house all day in a Snuggie watching ESPN for you, Mr. Man.  You are going to school.  OK.  Period.  You‘re getting out of the house. 

MADDOW:  George Bush in a Snuggie - 

JONES:  Could happen.  Could happen.  Next up, President Obama‘s

hometown Chicago Bulls paid the first hoopster a visit at the White House

this afternoon.  You know, this may be the first time in American History

that a sports team has given a president a jersey that he‘ll actually wear

you know, wear that.  Don‘t you have to win a title or something to hang out at the White House? 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Wait a minute. 

JONES:  Just asking.

MADDOW:  The Bulls didn‘t win anything, did they? 

JONES:  No, not for a long time.  His name is -

MADDOW:  They won the “being from President Obama‘s hometown” sweepstakes. 

JONES:  Jordan doesn‘t play any more, very sad. 

Finally, in Japan, those folks are trying to get rid of bad economic mojo by whacking the Shinto poverty god with a bat.  Bam!  Take that Dow Jones.  I‘ve got your stimulus right here.  Goodbye, poverty god!

MADDOW:  Look how happy she is.

JONES:  Come on, poverty.  I‘ll show you - I‘ll kick you.  I‘ll kick you.  Don‘t make me kick you.  The poverty god, there‘s more for you.  I‘ve got some more.  Come on!

MADDOW:  Why don‘t we do things like that? 

JONES:  More yen.  Huh?

MADDOW:  We should do things like that.  I have a cocktail moment for you.

JONES:  Oh, very good.

MADDOW:  As you know, Kent, Wednesday nights at the Obama White House, kind of a hot ticket. 

JONES:  Right.

MADDOW:  This past Wednesday night, last night, the hottest Wednesday night ticket ever - Stevie Wonder at the White House to get an award.  They gave him the nation‘s highest award for pop music, we have one. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I had no idea.  It‘s the Library of Congress‘ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. 

JONES:  Fantastic.

MADDOW:  Look at them grooving out. 

JONES:  Yes, why wouldn‘t they?

MADDOW:  Michelle Obama said the first album she ever bought was Stevie Wonder‘s “Talking Book.” 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Barack Obama said she thinks it‘s fair to say that had they not been Stevie Wonder fans, Michelle might not have dated him. 

JONES:  Deal breaker.

MADDOW:  Yes.  It was Richard Buckner for me and Susan. 

JONES:  Yes.  Superstition, if nothing else. 

MADDOW:  Yes, seriously.  Thanks, Kent.  Thank you for watching tonight.  We‘ll see you here tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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