updated 3/5/2009 12:25:19 PM ET 2009-03-05T17:25:19

Guests: Michael Isikoff, Patrick Leahy, Tim Pawlenty, Kent Jones

High: Harriet Miers, Karl Rove will testify before Congress on the U.S.  attorney firings scandal.

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

After years of defying the authority of Congress, Harriet Miers and a guy you might have heard of named Karl Rove will finally testify on the U.S. attorney scandal that ended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales‘ career, not to mention the careers of a lot of federal prosecutors, and maybe even the career of a southern Democratic governor named Don Siegelman.  Dramatic stuff today.

Also, Senator Patrick Leahy will be with us with an exclusive interview on his truth commission proposal.  It got its first hearings today.  And Governor Tim Pawlenty, Republican of Minnesota, who was recently had the brass to suggest the GOP should consider moving on from the Reagan era, he will join us this hour as well.  There are lots coming up.

But, first, there is breaking news from Washington tonight that many thought we would never see.  Karl Rove will finally testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the firing of federal prosecutors, U.S.  attorneys, by the Bush Justice Department.  The question at hand is whether the Bush Justice Department tried to pervert federal law enforcement to serve partisan political purposes.

A deal was reached earlier today, whereby Mr. Rove, the former White House political adviser, and former White House counsel, Harriet Miers, will testify in transcribed depositions under penalty of perjury.  The testimony will not be under oath but it will be transcribed.  If they lie, they are subject to perjury charges, right.  It will be conducted behind closed doors for some reason.

There will be no cameras which—frankly, I‘ve got to tell you on this show, probably means that we are going to act out the transcripts using funny voices.  I‘m sorry.  Plan ahead.

Karl Rove and Harriet Miers have defied Congress so far by claiming executive privilege.  Under today‘s agreement, they can still use that claim but only in a significantly limited way.  Honestly, I am not sure exactly what that means.  We are trying to figure it out.

The committee will also receive Bush White House documents related to this inquiry and they reserve the right to depose another person, William Kelley.  He‘s a former White House lawyer who reportedly played a role in the U.S. attorney firings.

Now, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers; he wins big with this announcement.  This is something he has been seeking for a long time.  Mr. Conyers issued the following statement today.

Quote, “I have long said that I would see this matter through to the end and am encouraged that we have finally broken through the Bush administration‘s claims of absolute immunity.  This is a victory for the separation of powers and congressional oversight.  It‘s also a vindication of the search for truth.  I am determined to have it known whether U.S.  attorneys in the Department of Justice were fired for political reasons, and if so, by whom?”

If there are going to be prosecutions of high-ranking Bush administration officials, odds are, the U.S. attorneys scandals, one of the most likely catalysts for prosecutions.  This is big news today.

Joining us is “Newsweek‘s” investigative correspondent and MSNBC contributor, Michael Isikoff.

Michael, thank you for joining us.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK:  Great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  After resisting subpoenas for so long, did Karl Rove and Harriet Miers have a choice here or were they forced into this?

ISIKOFF:  Well, they could have continued to resist and this would have gone to court—the court of appeals.  They lost a big one.  They, the Bush White House, lost a big one last year when John Bates, a George Bush—George W. Bush appointed judge ruled against the Bush White House position that White House aides like Miers and Rove didn‘t have to show up when they were subpoenaed by congressional committees.  That was appealed.

We were facing a deadline in that court of appeals case.  The Obama Justice Department, if this deal wasn‘t reached, would have had to make a filing tonight, taking a stand on where they stood on executive privilege.

And this put the Obama White House in a very uncomfortable position.  They don‘t want to make too many concessions about executive privilege because they, like all White Houses, fear that someday some congressional committee could start issuing subpoenas to them and they will have to testify about private concessions.  On the other hand, the last thing they wanted to do was go into court defending Harriet Miers, Karl Rove and the Bush White House on the U.S. attorney scandals.  So, Greg Craig, the White House counsel, pushed very hard to get this agreement done by tonight.

MADDOW:  Well, if concerns about executive privilege, which as you point out, all presidents have concerns about these things sort of regardless about their politics, because it affects the room they have to maneuver, I guess, in the executive.

ISIKOFF:  Right.

MADDOW:  Could this agreement on executive privilege with Miers and Rove spill over into any other investigations?  Is this any sort of template for how that issue will be handled more broadly?

ISIKOFF:  Well, the subject of these depositions are going to be the U.S. attorney scandal and the Justice Department.  That‘s what this investigation is about.  That‘s what this is all about.

But, there are all sorts of tentacles and spillovers to the U.S.  attorney scandal that—where this could lead to.  I mean, look, this goes at its heart to the question of Karl Rove and what role he played at the Justice Department.  We know that the first mention that we have so far of firing U.S. attorneys comes after the 2004 elections when Karl Rove goes to Harriet Miers‘ office and asks the question—and we know this from internal memos that have been made public—are we going to be firing all the U.S. attorneys or just some of them?  And that leads to back-and-forth, continued discussions between the White House and the Justice Department about which U.S. attorneys to fire.

So, Rove, in effect, was the catalyst for the firing of U.S.  attorneys.  He then comes back into the picture almost two years later on the—in 2006, in the fall of 2006, when we know from the Justice Department‘s report last year, the inspector general‘s report, New Mexico Republican operatives complained to Rove that David Iglesias, the U.S.  attorney in New Mexico, wasn‘t moving fast enough on voter fraud prosecutions that Republicans in New Mexico wanted, to help them, to give them electoral advantage, and also, Pete Domenici, the U.S. senator, Republican senator from New Mexico was complaining that Iglesias wasn‘t bringing a key indictment of corruption indictment of Democrats before the 2006 elections.

After that, Iglesias—after those complaints to Rove, Iglesias gets put on the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired.  That is the central issue that the House Democrats are going to be looking at in this upcoming deposition.

MADDOW:  And, briefly, Michael, that‘s a criminal issue?

ISIKOFF:  There is also a criminal investigation going on into that very issue, the firing of David Iglesias, who is the one that is—you know, that is the sort of most problematic.  Some of the other U.S.  attorney firings that congressional Democrats made a big deal of two years ago, didn‘t really go to the question of partisan political considerations, at least evidence to support that never turned up.  But in the case of at least one, in Iglesias, it did.

And I should point out that even more than Rove‘s testimony, what is important is five boxes of documents that have been sitting in Gregory Craig‘s office, left over from the Bush White House, internal White House e-mails, internal White House memos relating to the firings of these U.S.  attorneys.  Almost all of those documents are going to get turned over as a result of this agreement, four involving direct discussions with President Bush are not.

MADDOW:  And just—we‘re out of time here—but we know that Rove and Miers are not going to testify right away, right?  They‘re going to go through those documents first and the testimonies are going to happen in the couple months probably?

ISIKOFF:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  OK.

ISIKOFF:  First, the congressional Democrats want to look at the documents then they want to take the depositions.

MADDOW:  Michael Isikoff, MSNBC contributor and “Newsweek‘s” investigative correspondent—it is great to have your analysis and your explanation on this.  Thanks for your time.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  While the House gets ready to finally question Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, the Senate today convened its first hearing about a possible truth commission to investigate the Bush administration.  Next: The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, will join us for an exclusive interview.

But, first, speaking of scrubbing, rinsing and repeating, do you remember Michael Brown, Mr. Brownie-you-are-doing-a-heck-of-a-job?

Michael Brown was President Bush‘s pick to be the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  He was the former commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.  A man whose only emergency management experience before joining FEMA was assistant city manager for Edmond, Oklahoma.  Mr. Brown was the guy who asked, “Can I quit now” in an e-mail that he sent the morning that Hurricane Katrina hit.

Well, President Obama has just tapped someone with a little more experience to head FEMA in his administration.  His name is Craig Fugate.  He‘s a Republican.  He has been the head of Florida‘s division of emergency management since 2001.  In other words, he‘s got eight years of executive emergency management experience in the state that gets more hurricane hits than any other.  It‘s like I don‘t even know my government anymore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We have just learned that Barbara Bush, mother of our 43rd president, George W. Bush, and wife of our 41st president, George H.W.  Bush, has had successful open heart surgery today at a hospital in Houston.  At this hour, she is reportedly awake, out of recovery and in the intensive care unit.  The surgery was prescheduled so doctors could replace the valves in her heart.  Her doctors say the surgery went as planned, there were no complications.

We, of course, wish the former first lady very well and a very speedy and complete recovery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  So, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers will testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the U.S. attorney scandal.  Earlier today, we got one Senate Judiciary hearing closer to a full investigation of the of the incomparably investigatable Bush administration, specifically into the policies and practices between 2001 and 2009, which hurdled the country into various steaming piles of possible unconstitutionality.

Today, Senate Judiciary chair, Patrick Leahy, convened the first big highly-anticipated hearing about his long-suggested truth commission.  There were speeches, there were witnesses, there were questions for those witnesses.  One thing there wasn‘t was clear support from President Obama, who has said he is more interested in looking forward than in looking, quote, “backwards.”

Of course, two days before this committee hearing, the Obama administration did very conveniently release a whole bunch of Bush administration memos.  Those nine previously unseen Bush era legal memos which seem to serve as a how-to guide for turning the First and Fourth Amendments into kinkily, awful, rough toilet paper.  Convenient.

Republicans, both on the committee and testifying before it, were against the idea of Senator Leahy‘s proposed commission.  Ahead of his testament at the request of Republican senators, David Rivkin, one time White House counsel under the first President Bush, he had this to say about the whole idea behind creating a commission.

Quote, “They want to pillory people.  They want to destroy their reputation.  They want to drag them through the mud and single them out for foreign prosecutions.  And if you get someone in a perjury trap, so much the better.”

A perjury trap?  Is that where you think it‘s OK to lie under oath to members of Congress and then—surprise—you find it‘s not, and then you are trapped?  And then at the hearing itself, we got this compelling argument against the proposed commission from Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, ® PENNSYLVANIA:  When this idea of the so-called truth commission first surfaced, I said it was unnecessary because you had a change of administration, you could walk in the front door, ask for directions to the relevant filing cabinet, go in and open the drawer and find out anything you wanted to know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, scrap the commission and let President Obama just rifle through the bureau drawers at the White House?  OK.  I mean, he is sort of busy, but—it does seem the best argument against the commission could be summed up in this headline from Daphne Eviatar at the “Washington Independent” today.  Her headline was, quote, “Republicans Make a Case for Prosecuting Bush Officials.”

In arguing against this commission, in arguing that an investigative commission would be unnecessary, the Republicans today managed to make the case for prosecutions, for the criminal justice system to just do the investigating instead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER OFFICIAL FOR BUSH SR.:  The commission‘s activities would inevitably involve areas traditionally the responsibility of the Department of Justice.

JEREMY RABKIN, LAW PROFESSOR:  If people think that there should be prosecutions, well then, there could be prosecutions.

SPECTER:  If we have evidence of torture, torture is a violation of our law.  Go after them.  If there‘s reason to believe that these Justice Department officials have knowingly given the president cover for things they know not to be right and sound, go after them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Go after them.  Hmm!

So the Republican argument against a commission of inquiry to investigate the Bush administration is not that we shouldn‘t investigate, but that the Justice Department should be doing the investigation so they can prosecute.  OK.

Earlier today, I spoke about this strange turn of political events with Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  Senator Leahy, thank you so much for being on the show tonight.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VERMONT:  Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  It seems that you have approached this commission of inquiry idea from the beginning with a pretty open mind.  They‘re open to suggestions on how to do this right.  After today‘s hearing, are you convinced that it is the right way forward?  Do you think this commission will actually be formed?

LEAHY:  I think it‘s the right way forward.  It‘s interesting when I hear some of the opposition to it, it makes me think more and more that it‘s the right way to go.  What I‘m mostly interested in is finding out exactly what happened so we don‘t make that mistake again.

During the last year, I have subpoenaed a number of documents from the Department of Justice.  I was able to get some.  They withheld others.  They gave me a story about what was in the others.  It was not what I understood to be in the others.

And now, that Attorney General Holder is releasing and declassifying some of the documents, he found, it turns out I was right in my suspicions.  You had an operation basically run out of the White House with people who felt the president was above the law, that the people working for the president was above the law, and that the laws that you and I and everybody else have to follow somehow did not apply to them.

It was kind of a chilling thing.  It makes me think of some of the ads I‘ve seen for the “Frost/Nixon” tapes where the actor playing President Nixon says, “It‘s not against the law when the president does it.”  Well, nobody‘s above the law in this country.

MADDOW:  When you look at those OLC memos, those nine that have been released, we are told to expect that more will be released still.  Do you think that that is an instance of very bad lawyering?  Or do you think there is a possibility that there are criminal acts committed in the creation of those memos or by people who followed those memos, knowing that they couldn‘t possibly hold water?

LEAHY:  Well, it depends on why they followed them.  I can think of a lot of people who are not lawyers who might say, “Well, there is an OLC, or Office of Legal Counsel memo on this, it‘s coming straight from the White House and the Department of Justice.  They say we can do this.”  And follow that.

But, certainly, the lawyers who wrote that—they‘re bright lawyers.  They knew this wasn‘t right.  They knew you couldn‘t do it.  It was simply a case of some of the—some of those in political authority who wanted to do this and basically give me something justifying it.  I don‘t care if it‘s accurate or not, but I want the end to justify the means.

Now, what their motivation was, we could find out in a commission.

MADDOW:  Yes.

LEAHY:  But certainly, it was wrong.  It was wrong from the get-go and a lot of the people who wrote these memos knew they were wrong.

MADDOW:  In terms of finding out the truth, and that being the key to this not happening again, we do have some pretty good evidence specifically on the issue of torture already.  The Armed Services Committee investigation in the Senate said that torture was authorized at the highest levels.  The head of Bush‘s military tribunal says that torture was committed.  The general who investigated Abu Ghraib, General Taguba, says that war crimes were committed by the administration.

It sort of seems like the truth here has already been pursued through a lot of different means.  And maybe, what we need to pursue now is not truth but consequences.  What do you think about that?

LEAHY:  Well, of course, I‘m a former prosecutor.  My natural instinct is always to go for prosecution.  But, I‘m afraid, in cases like this, one may take 10 years and still not know what happened.  I also look at what happened after Abu Ghraib, most of the people prosecuted were corporals and sergeants.

It always seems to that these kinds of things, when you go after that, you get somebody way down low on the totem pole.  You don‘t get the people making the decisions.  I want to find out who the people were making the decisions.  I don‘t think we are ever going to get the full truth unless we do it this way.

Now, interestingly enough, some of the Republicans, in their arguments this morning, were saying, maybe prosecution is the only way you‘re going to really find out.  Something has been done wrong and you should have prosecution.  My feeling is, be careful what you wish for.  That may be what you get.

MADDOW:  We do have a very interesting sort of convergence of right and left on the relationship of your commission idea to prosecutions.  We got Nancy Pelosi and Russ Feingold and Sheldon Whitehouse and Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights, all arguing they wouldn‘t want any offers of immunity from the commission to preclude prosecutions.

But today, as you said, Republicans arguing against the commission, Arlen Specter, David Rivkin, former Justice Department official, both suggesting that the commission might interfere with the Justice Department‘s turf in prosecuting.  Are they .

(CROSSTALK)

LEAHY:  That‘s why I say “be careful what you wish for” because we already have a prosecutor looking into this.  If prosecution can find all the answers, that‘s fine.  But I‘m just worry that it might not.  That‘s why I‘m trying to find this middle ground.

You have—you really have three alternatives as you and I have discussed before.  Either do nothing or try prosecutions, or do my proposal which is sort of in the middle to get all the facts out.  Ultimately, for the good of the country, I think getting all the facts out is the most important.  But eventually, that‘s going to have to be decided.

If we cannot get the kind of bipartisan support needed for a commission to get all the facts out, then it‘s going to fall back on prosecution.  But I am not willing to just ignore what happened.  Some have said turn the page.  I say, well, let‘s read the page first before you turn it.

MADDOW:  All right.

LEAHY:  Because it‘s been my experience, these things happen again.  I don‘t want the Obama administration or the next administration to be tempted to do, to break the law this way again.

MADDOW:  Senator Leahy, one last, just specific question.  Are you rethinking the option of offering immunity in exchange for testimony?  That seems to be the focus of much of the criticism or resistance to the proposal?

LEAHY:  Well, some of the same people have said they don‘t like immunity, although they have said they would support my commission.  If that is the only way of getting facts, yes.  But it should be done very, very carefully, only after consultation with the Department of Justice.

And interestingly enough, as a testimony (ph) said today, even though they had that option in the 9/11 Commission, they never had to use it.  That gave me a lot of hope; we may never need to do that.

MADDOW:  Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, thank you so much for joining us tonight on this busy day.  Thank you.

LEAHY:  Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  Senator Leahy saying any truth commission grant of immunity would be very limited, in consultation with the Justice Department, reminding us that the 9/11 Commission had the right to give witnesses immunity, too, and they didn‘t use it.  Well, that‘s an interesting point.  Critics of the truth commission idea, your ball.

All right.  Still to come, Republican Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, he joins us live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In just a couple of minutes, the Republican governor of Minnesota will be here live, Tim Pawlenty.  Now, I need everybody to be very attentive and nice, so we can convince more Republicans to come on this show.  Best behavior, tuck in your shirts.  It‘s coming up.

But, first, it`s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  If you peek down the memory hole, you will recall that we were told we had to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda—that turned out not to be true—and also because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which also turned out not to be true.

If you try to right wrongs that have not actually been committed, it‘s hard to say how you can succeed at that.  It‘s like going all vigilante justice on some guy you thought picked your pocket and it turns out actually you just left your wallet at home.  It is more “Oops” thing than a “Yes, I win” thing.

But that has not stopped American politicians from trying to declare “Yes, I win” in the case of Iraq.  The first mission accomplished moment was, of course, May 1st, 2003.  More than 4,000 members of the United States military have died in Iraq since that declaration of mission accomplished, including Army Specialist Brian Connelly, 23 years old, from Union Beach, New Jersey.  His death was confirmed just yesterday.

But because declaring mission accomplished was a huge, disastrous national shame the first time around, that has not stopped a Republican member of Congress from trying to do it again.  Iowa Representative Steve King introduced a congressional resolution today, quote, “declaring victory in Iraq.”  Congressman King says because he thinks George W. Bush won the Iraq war, he wants President Obama to preserve and enhance and maintain that victory.

Has anyone else tempted to send Congressman King an ill-fitting flight suit?

Now, randomly on to Iceland, which has two big problems right now.  Iceland has one huge one and slightly smaller one.  Actually, you can think of the first big problem is like Shaquille O‘Neal.  You can think of the other smaller problem as an elf.  Bear with me here. 

Michael Lewis, of whom I am a big fan - he‘s written a very serious article for “Vanity Fair” about Iceland‘s crumbling financial system.  That would be the Shaquille O‘Neal-sized Icelandic problem. 

As it‘s described by Mr. Lewis, Iceland is no longer really a country.  It is a hedge fund.  It is a bankrupt one at that.  Its currency, its debt, its whole economy, its very sense of self have essentially all gone bust all of a sudden.  That is their big problem, their Shaquille O‘Neal-sized problem. 

Their elf-sized problem is actually elves.  Mr. Lewis reports that when the country‘s biggest aluminum company Alcoa tried to built a smelting plant just a few years ago, Alcoa was required to certify that the plant site was elf-free - was free of elves. 

Alcoa had to certify that no “hidden people,” as they‘re known in Iceland, were on the premises where they wanted to build this plant.  Alcoa had to play a very real amount of money for a government expert to issue a certification that the land was elf-free.  Who does that guy work for, the department of elf and human services?   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  With the new Democratic president pushing forward his agenda, with big Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress plugging away at implementing that agenda, with the cleanup after the Bush administration proceeding maybe even toward prosecutions in an orderly, fairly transparent, rather polite congressional hearing-like way, the real fireworks in American politics have not been Democratic fireworks. 

The real action, the real “Oh, lordy, please put that on YouTube” drama has been at the kids‘ table.  It‘s been among the minority party, the Republicans who do not have a national leader who is a house hold name, but who are conducting their search for leadership in a fascinating and unpredictable way. 

The new party chairman, Michael Steele, has made news for saying that there is no such thing as a government job.  He‘s made news for saying he wants to give the Republican Party a hip-hop, urban/suburban makeover.  He calls members of the media “baby” a lot.  He is under investigation for steering campaign funds to a company run by his sister to pay for work that was never performed. 

WBAL in Baltimore now reports new allegations about tens of thousands of dollars Steele paid to a commodities trading firm.  Mr. Steele has said he wanted the GOP to appeal to one-armed midgets.  He offered, and I quote, “slum love” to Indian-American Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.  He said civil unions were crazy.  Crazy? 

And we now learn today that in the midst of all those accomplishments in his first months as Republican Party chairman, Mr.  Steele has yet to, you know, start running the Republican Party. 

Immediately after taking office, Mr. Steele shut down plans for a Republican Party in-house think-tank.  He then fired almost everyone who worked at the RNC.  The problem is he never hired anyone to replace those people. 

Under Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee has no chief of staff, no political director, no communications director, no finance director.  One guy who was hired to be interim finance director - “The Washington Post” now reports that he was inexplicably forced out of that job on Friday reportedly due to allegations of impropriety. 

So there‘s party chairman Michael Steele being beyond cutting edge on TV and there‘s nobody else working at the Republican Party.  That‘s perhaps why today‘s news is filled with anonymous Republican sources throwing Michael Steele under the bus. 

In “U.S. News and World Report,” quote, “Steele is playing with fire.”  Quote, “If his implosion continues, RNC members are likely to call a special session to dump him for an effective chairman.”  Quote, “It‘s as if he has a fundamental misunderstanding of the job description.” 

In “Politico.com” today, quote, “There is no discipline.  No planning.”  Quote, “We need someone to manage the chairman.” 

At “DCExaminer.com,” quote, “It‘s been a disaster of a first month.”  Quote, “It‘s not good.  People feel that it‘s been very erratic.” 

Conservative movement heavyweight Richard Viguerie weighed in the state of the party today, releasing a statement saying that the current fixation on whether Republicans agree with radio host Rush Limbaugh that he hopes President Obama fails - he says that obsession is because, quote, “nature abhors a vacuum, and there is no vacuum in nature as empty as the leadership of the Republican Party today.” 

Ow.  Of course, Democrats are delighted with that perceived vacuum. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAHM EMANUEL(D), CHIEF-OF-STAFF TO BARACK OBAMA:  He is the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party. 

GOV. TIM KAINE (D-VA), DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  Rush Limbaugh is clearly the kind of the godfather or he-who-must-be-obeyed in Republican politics. 

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Mr. Limbaugh.  Rush Limbaugh.  Mr. Limbaugh. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Mr. Limbaugh is a controversial guy.  It is weird to have a political party apparently bowing down to a talk radio host.  Take it from me, a talk radio host.  I mean, this whole story is manna from heaven both for Mr. Limbaugh and for Democrats. 

But in practical terms, this “Rush Limbaugh wants the president to fail” story - it puts Republican-elected officials between thumbing their noses at Mr. Limbaugh and the right-wing base and rooting for the failure of America‘s government.  Is there any comfortable ground between that rock and that hard place? 

Joining us now is the Republican Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty.  Gov. Pawlenty it is kind of you to come back on the show.  Thanks for joining us.

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R-MN):  Happy to do it.  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  I have to ask if you dread talking to the media now because you know you‘re going to get asked if you think Rush Limbaugh is wrong to root for the president to fail. 

PAWLENTY:  Well, I think Rush clarified that in the news account I read today saying he was wishing his, quote, end quote, “socialistic policies fail,” not the country fail.  So there is a little bit of clarity around that. 

But Rachel, if this were a sports team, the Republican Party would be in a - air quotes - rebuilding year.  We‘ve got some have veterans leaving, who are going on to other things.  We‘ve got some new people coming in.  So it is a state of transition. 

There is going to be a little bit chaos, a little bit of bumps on the road.  It will get smoothed out.  Michael Steele is a dynamic leader.  He‘ll get a good team around him and he‘ll get this thing straightened out. 

MADDOW:  I have to just press you a little bit on the Rush Limbaugh issue, hoping for the president‘s policies to fail.  I mean, they are the policies of the federal government to try to get us to survive this economic collapse.  It seems like rooting for the president‘s policies to fail is still sort of rooting for the country to fail, doesn‘t it? 

PAWLENTY:  Well, from my standpoint, we need to wish President Obama well.  That doesn‘t mean we need to agree with him on everything. 

MADDOW:  Sure.

PAWLENTY:  And Rush Limbaugh has made it very clear that he doesn‘t like President Obama‘s policies.  And he hopes that they are defeated or that they are shown to be ineffective.  That‘s a fair critique from his perspective. 

So I don‘t think he is saying, “I hope, personally, Barack Obama is a failure.”  Or, “I wish ill will on the country.”  He is saying, “I don‘t like these policies and I hope they show themselves to be failures.” 

MADDOW:  If he comes after you tomorrow for saying that, for saying, “That‘s not at all what I meant.  What I meant was I want Barack Obama to fail,” which is actually what he said.  Are you worried about getting into a big fight like that?  It seems like getting picked on by Rush Limbaugh is a really dangerous thing for any Republican politician no matter where you fall in the ideological spectrum. 

PAWLENTY:  Well, I read what he said today or quoted from the other day very carefully.  And I think I just summarized what he said.  He can speak for himself more directly. 

But let‘s also address the issue of leader of the party.  The party doesn‘t have a leader at the moment.  There are lots of centers of influence.  Rush Limbaugh is somebody who‘s got an incredible skill and gift for, you know, informing people, persuading people, mobilizing people. 

And if you can do that with a neighbor one-on-one, you‘re going to have influence.  Or if you can do it on the radio, you are going to have lots of influence, same like you have influence with your audience or Keith Olbermann has with his audience.  Or Ed Schultz wants to be the Democrat or liberal analog to Rush Limbaugh. 

But you know, everybody who‘s got that kind of platform has a circle of influence and they‘re going to have some impact.  And he‘s got a lot of influence for those reasons because he is very gifted at it. 

MADDOW:  Is it dangerous that he becomes the face of the party, though?  I mean, his rhetoric is very, very partisan.  His rhetoric is not the kind of measured rhetoric that we have heard from you, from politicians like Bobby Jindal, from other - from people like Charlie Crist, from other people who are vying for that title of the party. 

But he is more of a household name than you guys are.  And that‘s got to be - that is an ideological struggle.  It‘s also a stylistic struggle, isn‘t it? 

PAWLENTY:  No.  We are going to have a coalition that‘s going to involve all sorts of Republican, all sorts of conservatives and hopefully, independents and Democrats.  So this isn‘t about subtraction.  It‘s about addition. 

We need Rush Limbaugh and all of his followers.  We‘re going to need Michael Steele and the people he can persuade and Bobby Jindal and a bunch of other folks as well.  We need to grow this party.  It is not about contraction.  It is about expansion.  And so we have a coalition.  One part of that coalition is Rush Limbaugh and all of his followers.  And it‘s a big important part of a coalition.  But it‘s not the only part. 

MADDOW:  So when David Vitter said, “Rush speaks for me,” I agree with him when he said that he wants the president‘s policies to fail.  You don‘t see a problem in that in terms of trying to increase the size of the party. 

I‘m not pressing you on this for the sake of pressing you on

this.  It doesn‘t actually seem possible to me that you think that Rush

saying that he wants the president to fail is going to be part of the

Republican Party increasing its size.  I know that that -

PAWLENTY:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I think that is a politic thing to say.  I honestly don‘t believe that you believe it. 

PAWLENTY:  Well, what I believe in terms of what Rush said is the quote I read just a few hours ago where he said, “I don‘t want President Obama‘s policies to fail.  I wish no ill will on the country.”  So I think we take him at his word and that‘s what he said.  That is the quote that I read and you are precise with your language and your words with your training. 

And that‘s the quote I read and I think that is a fair quote from Rush‘s perspective.  He doesn‘t like President Obama‘s policies and he hopes they don‘t do well because he doesn‘t want them to be, you know, the platform of going forward. 

MADDOW:  If that‘s the way that he had been putting it all these weeks, he wouldn‘t be in the middle of this controversy. 

Let me ask you one last question that is not at all about Rush Limbaugh.  You said at CPAC last week that the reports of the Republicans‘ demise are exaggerated.  But on the polls on fixing the economy, the American people say they trust Democrats over Republicans by a margin of like, 28, 30, 35 points. 

The party‘s overall approval rating is at an all time low - it‘s at 26 percent.  There‘s obviously going to have to be a course correction.  You described this is a rebuilding year.  Do you think that the party has to get more moderate? 

PAWLENTY:  I think the party is going to remain a conservative party, Rachel.  Any suggestion that this is going to be something different than that I think defies history and it defies the principles and foundations of the party. 

So it is not about having Republicans go out and act more like Democrats or liberals.  It is trying to get more Democrats and independents to be supportive of Republican candidates and ideas. 

We have to do a better job of informing, educating, mobilizing and winning elections.  And that‘s going to take everybody.  It is going to take Rush Limbaugh.  It‘s going to take, you know, Sean Hannity.  It‘s going to take party leaders, candidates, everyday citizens.  We‘ve got to build a whole, big coalition.  And all of those pieces are important. 

MADDOW:  It does mean that if you are all part of the same coalition every time Mr. Hannity or Mr. Limbaugh says something incredibly controversial, because if there‘s a reason there‘s going to be a distance between Republican politicians and those guys, it means you are going to have to be on shows like this answering to them, for them a lot of the time.  I think that‘s the consequence there. 

PAWLENTY:  Well, it is going to be more than one voice or one person.  It‘s going to be a symphony, not one soloist.  And so there is room for a whole range of thoughts and people and leaders until this thing gets more focused and developed. 

And it will, but it is going to be a sorting-out process for a while.  And in the meantime, this is about addition not subtraction. 

And you know, you are going to get so big and so powerful with the show, someday you are going to have the same influence on the left.  And in some ways, you already do.  You‘re a center of influence already, and so is Keith and Ed Schultz.  And you know, people don‘t say, “Well, Rachel has got undue influence.”  They give you a pass.  Why are you applying a different standard to Rush?

MADDOW:  Yes.  Nobody apologizes to me, though, governor, with all due respect.  Tim Pawlenty, the Republican governor of Minnesota.  You are a good sport.  Thank you for being here on the show.  I really appreciate it.

PAWLENTY:  Happy to do it. 

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith Olbermann takes a look at just who the leader of the Republican Party actually is. 

And coming up here, if you ever wanted to punk your boss, to make the guy in charge totally lose his cool, we have a homegrown RACHEL MADDOW SHOW piece of tape you really should hear.  We punked our boss really good today.  You have the tape, coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I have a RACHEL MADDOW SHOW production note for you.  We will not do this very often, I promise.  But today, I believe it is warranted. 

Just so you know, the production of this show every day starts with a news note about what‘s going on in the world.  Everybody in the staff reads that.  And then the producers get on a conference call and come up with a draft outline of the show. 

Then, often, I blow that all up and we start over.  We‘ve got this process for how we put the show together.  It is imperfect but works for us. 

And today, we interrupted that process to punk our boss.  In a world where the news of the day is often bad, and a lot of us are up at night worrying about food riots and Pakistani nukes and the integrity of Yemeni jails, we have decided to interrupt not just our production schedule today, but also our regularly scheduled programming right now.  Because what we have is pure, behind-the-scenes RACHEL MADDOW SHOW punk-the-boss joy.  All right.  We now join THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW producers‘ meeting already in progress. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He got in, fired everyone and hasn‘t bothered to staff it.  Instead, he‘s gone on TV and made a fool of himself over and over.  It‘s like actually a stern about his ability to lead. 

BILL WOLF, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW:  Well, I think there‘s plenty here.  And I think there‘s plenty, plenty here. 

OZZY SMITH, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS HALL OF FAMER:  Personally, I think the guy is just wonderful and, you know, he‘s one of the best people out there I have ever watched in my life.  By the way, who - who produces the show here? 

WOLF:  Who‘s this? 

SMITH:  Who is the producer? 

WOLF:  Who is this? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Bill Wolf. 

SMITH:  Bill Wolf? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

WOLF:  To whom am I speaking? 

SMITH:  He produces - just watch the show.  The production on the show is awful. 

WOLF:  To whom am I speaking? 

SMITH:  The production on the show is awful. 

WOLF:  To whom am I speaking? 

SMITH:  Happy birthday, Bill.  This is Ozzy Smith. 

WOLF:  Get out of here.  Wait a minute.  Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.  Is this actually Ozzy Smith?

SMITH:  Yes, it is.  Yes, it is.  They got you, man. 

WOLF:  Who got me? 

SMITH:  I didn‘t want to do it. 

WOLF:  Wait a minute.  First of all - first of all, they got me.  Second of all, Mr. Smith, sir, it is an honor - it is an honor.  This is among the greatest thrills of my life. 

I will never forget where I was at Gate 5 of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in 1985, Ozzy Smith (UNINTELLIGIBLE) homerun, 3500 at-bats (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and you showed him where you lived, Ozzy.  God bless you.  You‘re the greatest.  It‘s unbelievable!  The ringtone on my phone.  You know you can do different ringtones - the ringtone on my phone is, “Go Crazy, Folks.” 

The Cardinals have won the game by the score of three to two by a homerun by the wizard.  That‘s all I have to say to you, Mr. Smith.  Everybody, assembled masses here - and Andy Dowell - you‘re unbelievable. 

Who you have on the phone here is on Mt. Rushmore, you understand?  You have like - you talk about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln.  You have Ozzy Smith on this phone.  And you have no idea how humongous that is.  In fact, he was ripping our show is the greatest thrill of my life.  Oh, my god.  God loves you. 

SMITH:  I know you guys - you‘ve got work to do.  I just wanted to call and wish you a happy birthday. 

WOLF:  You‘re unbelievable.  That is the thrill of my life.  I can‘t believe this.  Mr. Smith, thank you, beyond what I could express.  I cannot express my thanks to you for a career and for this phone call.  God bless you. 

SMITH:  It‘s OK.  The show‘s wonderful, too.  And I was just kidding. 

WOLF:  It doesn‘t matter.  I mean, I love that you love it.  But whatever you say, I agree with you.  Whatever you say, I‘m with you. 

SMITH:  All right.  You guys have a great day. 

WOLF:  Thanks, Ozzy.  Thank you. 

SMITH:  All right.  Byebye.

WOLF:  Holy god!  You have no idea what that is!  That‘s unbelievable! 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Thank you, St. Louis Cardinals‘ hall of famer, Ozzy Smith.  Thank you.  Happy birthday to our executive producer and full-time Cardinals fan, Bill Wolf.  And may you all have moments in your life totally outside the news that are characterized by that much over-the-top, uncontrollable, gleeful, un-ironic, high-pitched, tremendous joy.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Hi, Kent.  What have you got? 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Welcome back, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

JONES:  Best picture winner, “Slumdog Millionaire” is such a big hit in India that the ruling congress party has bought the rights for the winning song “Jai Ho” to use during campaigning for the general election next month. 

You know, if you love the movie about the extreme poverty in our country, vote for us.  Still, if all of India‘s leading politicos made a music video dancing like this, land slide.  Forget it.  You‘ve got love that.

MADDOW:  I would like to see the American Congress do that. 

JONES:  John Boehner - fantastic!

MADDOW:  OK.  Never mind. 

JONES:  Next up, after much hemming and hawing, Manny Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers have finally agreed to two-year $45 million deal.  Upside, the Dodgers get an inside track on winning the national league. 

Downside, they get Manny Ramirez. 

In the contract, Manny got an opt-out clause after one year just in case everything goes wrong.  OK, let‘s be honest, when everything goes wrong.  You kind of miss Manny, don‘t you?  You‘re a Red Sox fan.

MADDOW:  I love Manny Ramirez so much.  It‘s just I have a problem with this story because I cannot be happy for the Dodgers.  I can‘t even wish them excitement about Manny excitement because I just want him back with the Red Sox so bad. 

JONES:  Manny, right here. 

MADDOW:  Manny, right here. 

JONES:  Finally, a lawmaker wants to ban the sale of Barbie in West Virginia.  Democratic delegate Jeff Eldridge said that Barbie teaches girls to place too much on importance of physical beauty at the expense of their intellection and emotional development. 

Bam!  Barbie is 50 this year and she‘s not such a great role model for grown-up women either.  You have seen them, 50-year-old Barbie women, post-op.  Florida.  Kind of creepy.  They love Barbie.  Love her. 

MADDOW:  Barbie‘s 50? 

JONES:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  I had no idea. 

JONES:  She looks tremendous. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Kent, I have a cocktail moment story for you. 

JONES:  Very good. 

MADDOW:  In Iowa, the department in Iowa that is in charge of Iowa‘s senior population, they have sort of an awkward linguistic issue.  The department has been known as the department of elder affairs, which is - apparently some older residents of Iowa didn‘t like being called elders. 

JONES:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  I mean, it‘s a little dorky but also that makes them the DEA, which is a little war on drugsy. 

JONES:  Yes, wrong acronym.

MADDOW:  Wrong idea.  So the department asked the lawmakers if they could please change their name.  The lawmakers agreed.  They voted to it.  They‘re going to change it.  They voted to change it to the Department of Aging.  Acronym problem. 

JONES:  Big acronym problem. 

MADDOW:  Department of Aging.  Something is not quite right there,

DOA. 

JONES:  So wrong.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  Thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you tomorrow night.  DOA.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Good night. 

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

END   

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