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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Wednesday, May 20

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Michael Isikoff, Chris Hayes, Bill Richardson, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you at home for watching us for the next hour.

We do have a jam-packed hour coming up.

First, we got Michael Isikoff here with some incredible, fresh reporting about what apparently was a very tense day at the White House—in advance of the president‘s Guantanamo speech tomorrow.

Newt Gingrich has very embarrassingly picked the wrong issue on which to base his political comeback.

Governor Bill Richardson will be here this hour to discuss what can be done about two Americans set to stand trial in North Korea.

And our friend Ana Marie Cox—officially rocks.

That‘s all coming up this hour.

But we begin tonight with exclusive news from an off-the-record, at times tense White House meeting on torture, military tribunals and potential prosecutions of Bush administration officials—a meeting held at the White House on the eve of President Obama‘s big speech tomorrow on Guantanamo.

President Obama announced his decision to shut down the prison at Guantanamo on his second day in office—the decision seen at that time as expected and relatively uncontroversial.  Even his general election opponent, John McCain, had said that he would close Guantanamo if he were elected as well.

But since his first week in office, the president‘s decisions on constitutional issues have been an escalating series of disappointments for civil libertarians.  The president would maintain a system of essentially lawless detention, keeping the prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan as a legal “no man‘s land,” a place outside judicial recourse, even as the government moved to close another extrajudicial facility at Guantanamo.

The president would not support calls for an independent commission to investigate violations of the laws against torture during the last presidency.  The president would not support the release of additional photos of prisoner abuse -- 180-degree reversal for this new administration which had previously supported the decision to make the images available.

And most recently, another 180-degree reversal from the president: a decision to maintain the Bush administration‘s cobbled-together system of military tribunals at Guantanamo—a system that candidate Obama had derided as incapable of administering anything worthy of the term “justice.”

Well, tomorrow the president is due to speak about Guantanamo at 10:00 a.m. Eastern in Washington, D.C.  According to the White House, the president will explain the decisions he‘s already made on Guantanamo and will offer a new framework for moving forward.

Tonight, on the eve of that speech, we have information exclusive to this show to report about an off-the-record meeting that happened today between President Obama and leading human rights and civil liberties groups at the White House.  Although the meeting was off-the-record, we can report that the president was told by a member of one of those groups that he is allowing President Bush‘s policies to become his own.  We can report that the president was demonstrably not pleased with that characterization but he gave no ground on the issues of military commissions, potential prosecutions of former Bush administration officials for torture, or investigations of Bush-era torture policy.

Amid very late-breaking news tonight that a prisoner from Guantanamo may, for the first time, be coming to the United States for trial in a civilian court—even as the military tribunals are kept going by this administration—Obama‘s relationship with the left and with the constitutionalists who thought of him as one of their own have never been more strained.

Joining us now is Michael Isikoff, “Newsweek” investigative reporter and MSNBC contributor—and the source of this reporting.

Mike, thanks very much for joining us.

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

MADDOW:  I have to ask you this as a premise, if this was an off-the-record meeting, how do you know about it?

ISIKOFF:  It‘s called reporting.

(LAUGHTER)

ISIKOFF:  But—no, look—there were a lot of people there.  It was a pretty extraordinary meeting—leaders of a lot of the human rights groups, civil liberties groups.

And what I found even more remarkable was who was there from the White House.  It took place in the cabinet room, convened by President Obama. 

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Attorney General

Eric Holder, White House Counsel Greg Craig—were all there sitting in on

this meeting.  I think a sign of just how seriously they take the rebellion

if that is not too strong a word—they‘re getting from the left at the same time they‘re getting pummeled from the right on this issue as reflected in that Senate vote.

               

In fact, the Senate was voting today 90-to-six, to deny any funding for shutting down Guantanamo or transferring any detainees to the United States at the very moment that these liberal human rights and civil liberties groups were complaining that the president is moving too far to the right in this—in this White House meeting.

MADDOW:  Do we know that this is a meeting that the White House called rather than the groups asked for?  Do we know what the purpose of the meeting was?

ISIKOFF:  Yes.  I think that after last week‘s announcement about military commissions, when a lot of these groups and their leaders were critical of what the president was doing, the White House felt the need to reach out to them, to bring them in, try to bring them into the fold and hear what they had to say.

The leaders of these groups that were—you know, repeated many of their criticisms.  They expressed concerns that some of the premises that Obama was using on military commissions, on the prospect that we might get indefinite detention of some of the Gitmo detainees, holding them indefinitely without trial—in moving in this direction, he was accepting some of the same premises as the Bush administration.  They laid that out.

Obama didn‘t like that.  He started out the meeting by complaining at one point about the mess he‘d been left by his predecessor.  And when some of these interest groups raised some of these human rights groups raised this, he was quite clear he didn‘t like it.  He said, “It‘s not helpful to equate me with President Bush.”

MADDOW:  Let‘s take a specific example—one of these specific issues.  The subject of torture prosecutions, the possibility of maybe a truth commission or a commission of inquiry of some kind onto the issue of torture—your sources are telling you that the president remained firmly against pursuing any of these things at this meeting today.

But is there any sense of what his arguments are to defend that stance, or is it still this generic assertion that we need to move forward and not look back?

ISIKOFF:  Well, actually, what‘s interesting—when the truth commission came up towards the end of the meeting, the president had a somewhat different explanation for his resistance to that.  He talked about all the congressional investigations that were going on, the litigation that was going on, and he said it was too distracting to his staff—that too much time was being taken up.  He actually looked directly at Attorney General Holder, who was present at the meeting, and indicating that Holder was having to spend too much time on this issue.

Now, some of the—those present have made the point that that‘s the reason to have a 9/11-style commission, instead of having many congressional commissions, have one presidentially-backed commission with subpoena power that can do all this.  And the president didn‘t necessarily reject that, but he raised this issue of a distraction, too much time.

Then after that, one of those present raised the idea of a criminal prosecution, even one cram prosecution—as a symbol sort of, a “trophy,” I think the word was used, to show that such conduct would—for torture, to show such conduct would not be tolerated again.  And the president sort of curtly dismissed the idea, made it clear he had no interest in that.

What was interesting about that is, his attorney general, again, Eric Holder .

MADDOW:  Right.

ISIKOFF:  . sat there silently, didn‘t say a word.

MADDOW:  That .

ISIKOFF:  The president could have said .

MADDOW:  Yes.  Sorry. Go ahead.

ISIKOFF:  Go ahead.

MADDOW:  I was just going to .

ISIKOFF:  Yes, the president could have said it‘s—that‘s Eric Holder‘s decision to make, but he didn‘t.  He seemed to cut it off.

MADDOW:  I‘m sorry to have interrupted you, Mike.  That‘s exactly what I was going to interject to say.

ISIKOFF:  Yes.

MADDOW:  That seems like the biggest news here.

If the president has publicly said, “Listen, this is up to the attorney general to decide whether or not it‘s appropriate to pursue criminal investigations and prosecutions, this is not a political matter, this is a law enforcement matter and the Justice Department does not work for the president, it works to enforce the laws of the United States,” and then he‘s meeting with people who are advocating investigations and prosecutions, and answering on behalf of his attorney general—that‘s news.  Because that would imply that what he‘s saying publicly and what he‘s saying in private meetings behind the scenes are not at all the same thing.

ISIKOFF:  Well, you know, this is, I think, an important issue.  We‘ve discussed this before on this show, that the whole idea of criminal prosecutions really ought to be left up to the Justice Department, based on the facts and the law, the evidence.  The one thing you don‘t want to have happen is political considerations.

Now, in this case, it may just be political considerations of—we want to get health care through the Congress.  We want to get climate change through the Congress.  It‘s not helpful to have—in our efforts to get Republican support for that—to have criminal investigations underway, that‘s just going to alienate the Republicans.

And I think the comeback to that is—that‘s not a proper consideration when you‘re trying to decide whether somebody broke the law or not.

MADDOW:  Right.

ISIKOFF:  Those political factors should not have any influence whatsoever.

MADDOW:  There‘s a reason why the top law enforcement official of the United States is not the president of the United States, but rather the attorney general.

Incredible news, incredible reporting.  Michael Isikoff, MSNBC contributor, investigative correspondent for “Newsweek”—it‘s invaluable stuff.  Thank you, Mike.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  OK.  Coming up: The very important role that very scary music is playing in the congressional debate about the prison at Guantanamo.

And, former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, is demanding the resignation of the current speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for accusing the CIA of lying.  If this were boxing, this would be called “leading with your face.”  Stay with us.

But first, One More Thing—about keeping the base happy.  Today was the day that the Republican National Committee was due to vote on a resolution to demand that the other party rename itself.  Instead of the Democratic Party, Republican activists wanted to insist that the Democratic Party rename itself “The Democrat Socialist Party.”

Well, now, we will never know if the Democratic Party would have acquiesced of that demand and actually changed their name if this resolution had passed because the resolution was watered down before it passed.  Republican National Committee members only able to bring themselves today to urge the Democratic Party to stop with its socialist agenda, even if they don‘t actually want to go as far as calling them socialists.

Now that that settled, my health care feels cheaper already and the wars are over and the war criminals have been prosecuted and we caught Bin Laden.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The newest staffer in Congress works for the House Energy Committee.  That‘s the lowly title of “staff assistant,” and would not give his name to “The Wall Street Journal” when a reporter asked for it last night.  The one thing we know about this new staff assistant in Congress is that he works for the Democrats and he‘s a speed reader—professionally.  He is a professional speed reader.  He can read an entire page of text out loud in 34 seconds.

The reason he‘s been hired is because the Republican plan to block the Democrats‘ global warming bill is allegedly to force all 946 pages of that bill to be read aloud, followed by the text of all the several hundred amendments the Republicans plan to offer to this bill—even though they know that basically all of those amendments will fail.  The plan is to make the process of passing the bill take so long that it fails through sheer exhaustion.  Hence, the hiring of the speed reader.

You know, sometimes, Congress is just one big game of—oh, yes? 

Yes.  Oh, yes?  Yes.  Huh?  Huh?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In the imaginary dictionary of modern American political science, in the H-section, sort of right near the end of the H-section, there‘s a very hard to pronounce word there that is spelled H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E.  And next to that entry for that word is a picture.  Like one of those pencil-sketchy “Wall Street Journal” pictures of former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

In 1998, the then-twice-married Newt Gingrich was the head pitch fork and torchbearer for the “Let‘s impeach Bill Clinton” campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, APRIL 27, 1998)

NEW GINGRICH, ® FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  What you have lived through for 2 ½ long years is the most systematic, deliberate, obstruction of justice, cover-up, and effort to avoid the truth we have ever seen in American history.  The American people have the right to know the truth.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  At the same time that Newt Gingrich was grandstanding against the philandering President Clinton, Speaker Gingrich himself was cheating on his wife with a House staffer more than 20 years younger than he was.  It wouldn‘t be relevant if it wasn‘t so politically relevant.  It wasn‘t the end of his career as speaker but it was close.  The end actually came after an ethics reprimand for which he ultimately had to pay a $300,000 fine.

But now, Newt Gingrich is trying to launch a comeback—floating the idea of maybe running for president, and he has found a cause to run on. 

He‘s given an interview to ABC Radio, he‘s written a column for human

events online, he‘s made numerous television appearances in the past week -

all in the service of his demand that the current speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, should resign.

               

Gingrich says Pelosi showed, quote, “contempt for the men and women who protect our nation.”  He says she “made America less safe,” with every word in that sentence capitalized.  He says she has made more—she has even made more vulnerable to nuclear attack, “made us more vulnerable to nuclear attack” in this country because of her claim that the CIA misled Congress about its briefings on torture.  Mr. Gingrich is demanding that Nancy Pelosi resign for this horrendous slight to our nation‘s intelligence professionals.

It may be instructive to note here that Mr. Gingrich is not demanding that the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee resign for having said exactly the same thing about the CIA.  Last year, Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra alleged that the CIA may have been lying in testimony to Congress about the shooting down of a plane in Peru, saying, quote, “We cannot have an intelligence community that covers up what it does and then lies to Congress.”

Mr. Gingrich was confronted about this double-standard today when he appeared on “Good Morning America.”  He refused to acknowledge the hypocrisy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”/ABC)

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS:  So, should he be repudiated for those words, too?

GINGRICH:  Well, in that case, he‘s writing a specific letter asking them to change something that they were doing.

SAWYER:  So .

GINGRICH:  He didn‘t say in that letter .

SAWYER:  “Lies,” he said.

GINGRICH:  . the CIA routinely lies to the Congress.

SAWYER:  Well, he says “lies.”  He says, “What it does and then lies to Congress.”

GINGRICH:  And I think—I think that they actually had to come back and testify.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Yes, but the difference, you see is that—he‘s not a Democrat.  Don‘t you see the ethical difference here?

Mr. Gingrich himself wrote an op-ed in 2007 accusing the intelligence community of producing a National Intelligence Estimate that was, quote, “so professionally unworthy, so intellectually indefensible and so fundamentally misleading that it is damaging to our national security.”  You think that qualifies as accusing the intelligence community of being misleading?  And if confronted with this horrible truth about his own statements about our nation‘s intelligence professionals, will Newt Gingrich now demand the resignation of himself?

Joining us now is Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation.”

Chris, thank you for coming on the show tonight.

CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Am I being hopelessly naive in calling hypocrisy here?  Does Washington just not care about the pot calling the kettle black?

HAYES:  You know, I hate to sound overly cynical, but the short answer is no.  Washington does not care.

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES:  I mean, you know, hypocrisy is just—it doesn‘t—it doesn‘t function here in any sense.  And part of it, there‘s a few things.  One is that power relations switch up a lot—partisan relationships switch up.  And so, there‘s a necessary base line to which people make arguments and reverse all the time based on where they are in the political setting.  And that‘s done on both sides of the aisle.

Second of all, I think the important to understand is that Newt

Gingrich is not making intellectually serious arguments, OK?  His arguments

-- it‘s not the content of them that matters, it‘s a speech act, OK?  He is

he is—the words are coming out but the words and arguments don‘t matter.  What matters is that he‘s saying them, that he‘s accusing the speaker that he‘s getting headlines.

               

So, I think, in some ways, the press—you know, both inflates Gingrich‘s sort of role in the Republican Party in American politics, but also, there‘s an understanding that, like, this guy is not making any kind of intellectually serious arguments at all—ever.

MADDOW:  I love the idea that it‘s a speech act, sort of like cheese food isn‘t actually cheese.  Exactly.

But in terms of where Gingrich is going, though—I mean, there‘s been—it‘s been a little bit weird because Gingrich is supposed to be the ideas guy.  But as you say, he‘s often not making very much sense.  He‘s just joined Eric Cantor‘s group which is supposed to be all about the Republican future .

HAYES:  Right.

MADDOW:  And they made a really big deal about that.  Mr. Gingrich, of course, is from the ‘90s.  Is he going anywhere?  Does he have—I mean, does he have a job?

HAYES:  You know, this is amazing to me.  I see him in green rooms all over town and it never—I never quite understand what he does for a living—to be totally honest—aside from appearing on television, and suddenly, he is everywhere.  I mean, obviously, he has a book to sell, so that‘s part of it.

But, you know, he has always been a master at getting the press to cover him.  When he was a freshman back bencher and he stood up and he accused the Democratic House speaker of ethical violations and he generated a stir of controversy when he sort of prosecuted a series of, quote-unquote, “scandals” against the House Democratic leadership when he was in the minority.  He has always understood how to get headlines and that‘s—really, that‘s all he‘s doing here.  You have to see it in the general pattern of Gingrichism which is essentially attracting attention to himself.

The other thing—I‘ll say it quickly—is that this notion he‘s running for president, I think, is crazy.  He‘s not going to run for president.  He‘s always saying he‘s going to run for president so people at least take him somewhat seriously.  But, you know, there is just no chance that Newt Gingrich is going to be the next president of the United States or even run for president.

MADDOW:  Well, Chris, let me ask you something on the Pelosi side of this and it‘s not on the—on the Gingrich side of this.  Pete Hoekstra is also sort on the “How dare she” bandwagon with Pelosi even though he, himself, accused the CIA of lying.

HAYES:  Right.

MADDOW:  And we got Congressman Pete King today calling Pelosi‘s comments about the CIA, “a terrible slander against the leading intelligence survey in the U.S.,” when I think it was only like two years ago that Peter King himself made the accusation that CIA employees were having orgies .

HAYES:  Orgies, right.

MADDOW:  . at the Watergate hotel.  So Gingrich may have his own set of political mores here, but what about these other ambitious guys like King and Hoekstra?

HAYES:  Again, look, they—you know, they think they can press an advantage on national security.  That‘s a sort of baseline, fundamental political reality here.  And they have nothing else.

I mean, when they talk about anything else, anything, I mean, they just have no solutions for the country‘s problems at the moment and they don‘t want to talk about health care.  They don‘t want to talk about, you know, sort of reengineering an economy, they don‘t want to talk about coming out of the recession.  This is sort of some of that old time religion that if they‘ve gone to this well before, they think it‘s going to help again.

I think that they—that Democrats are overly spooked by this kind of talk and I think the press in Washington is still habituated to believing that it‘s going to be incredibly powerful.  But I‘m really skeptical that the American public at all is going to bite this time.  I think that everybody is kind of running these old routines and there‘s very little evidence that it still has the kind of control over the minds of the populace that it did, say, four or five years ago.

MADDOW:  Well, Chris, as somebody who only has a job being on television, I thank you for being on television with me and for having another job as Washington editor of “The Nation.”  Thanks, Chris.

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  For more than two months, two American journalists have been held prisoner in North Korea.  We have been covering it on and off in the two months that they have been in custody.  But, coming up, we‘re going to be talking about Governor Bill Richardson about what might be able to be done to try to secure their release.

And our friend Ana Marie Cox takes the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” question right to the White House.  To be more specific: She takes it‘s and she brings it.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead: Governor Bill Richardson, a veteran of negotiations with North Korea, will be here to talk about the two American journalists still in prison and about to stand trial in the international enigma that is the North Korean court system.

Later, the Democratic Caucus in C is apparently, really afraid of a song.  I‘m not kidding, and it‘s turned out to be sort of a serious problem.  And, the Cannes Film Festival is fabulous.  It‘s on.  And we have dispatched Kent Jones to report on it—sort of.  That‘s all coming up.

But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. We start with a White House follow-up on our recent coverage on the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy.  As you know, two members of the Armed Forces have, on this show, come out publicly about being fired from the military for being gay.

First Lieutenant Dan Choi is a West Point grad, an infantryman, an Iraq combat veteran, who is fluent in Arabic.  The Army has notified him he‘s being dismissed from the National Guard.

Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach is an F-15 fighter pilot, an 18-year veteran who has served both in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He‘s been decorated for heroism in combat.  The Air Force has notified him that his career is being ended as well.

Both men are fighting to stay in the military—but as long as the Obama administration continues to implement the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy that the president says he‘s against, the careers of both of these officers are effectively over.  The military will have lost them forever.  The investment in their training will be a loss.  Both will become civilians despite their skills and their desire to redeploy.

Today, at the White House press briefing, Air America‘s Ana Marie Cox

a friend of the show, who‘s on deck to join us tomorrow—asked the White house spokesman about “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”

               

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANA MARIE COX, AIR AMERICA NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  This isn‘t about Gitmo, but is about national security.  Recently, three officers, West Point graduate Lieutenant Dan Choi, Air Force pilot Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, and Army Second Lieutenant Sandy Tsao were all dismissed under “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  And is their dismissal a part of his national security strategy, or is their dismissal itself a threat to national security?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  No, it—as I‘ve said, I think when I was asked about these individuals—I think it may have been last week—I said that the president agreed that, and said during the campaign, and agreed with former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the policy wasn‘t working for our national interests, that he committed to change that policy, that he‘s working with the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the policy wasn‘t working for our national interests, that he committed to change that policy and that he‘s working with the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs on making that happen and that the only durable way to do that is to go through Congress, and that‘s what the president intends to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The part where Mr. Gibbs says the president is working with the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs on making that happen, to change the policy, the Pentagon spokesman said just yesterday that that‘s not actually happening, that there is no planning underway.  There‘s no work underway inside the Pentagon toward changing the policy, despite the fact that the White House keeps saying that there is.  This is a programming note - good on Anna Marie for asking that very tough question. 

And from the terribly, terribly, extremely wide world of sports tonight, we have some swimming news.  New high-tech swimsuits hit the market early last year.  The new swimsuits do two things.  Number one, they make swimmers look like mer-people.  And number two, they make swimmers go very fast. 

In the last 18 months, over 100 world swimming records have been broken.  At last year‘s world championship, nine swimmers set record times.  Eight of the nine were wearing the new suits. 

Between February and March of last year, 22 world records were set, 21 of them by swimmers wearing these fancy suits.  So with so many new records broken and charges of tech-doping being hurled, the International Swimming Federation investigated and today they announced that 146 types of these fancy suits are henceforth banned from competition. 

The banned suits include the X-Glide made by Arena and the Italian Jaked 01 model.  The suits are said to violate the International Swimming Charter which says, quote, “Swimsuit material shall not be constructed of or include elements/systems which create air/water trapping effects during use.” 

Now, before you get all upset about Michael Phelps and get your trunks in a bunch, know this.  The Speedo LZR racer suits that Phelps and his fellow Americans wore during last summer‘s Olympics, at which he won a record breaking eight gold medals, those suits are still approved for competition. 

Those suits don‘t create air/water trapping effects, so they‘re not illegal.  They do give you their odd swim powers.  That suit has no stitches; it‘s welded together.  Its edges are taped.  The fabric somehow does not absorb liquids and awkwardly, it has a built-in girdle-like effect that, I guess, keeps your body in optimal swimming position. 

Speedo claims the suit reduces drag by 10 percent.  The downside, of course, is that they cost $550 apiece.  And for racing purposes, have you to buy a new one every 10 races.  Also, deep down inside, no matter how fast you‘re going and no matter how stupendously fit you are as a world class swimmer, some part of you can never truly, fully forget the fact that you are wearing a girdle. 

               

MADDOW:  Current TV‘s Laura Ling has covered stories everywhere, from the front lines of Mexico‘s drug war, to inside America‘s prisons, to the slums of Haiti, to most recently the Chinese-North Korean border.  And that‘s where she and her colleague, Euna Lee, were arrested by North Korean officials on March 17th

Ling and Lee have been sitting in a North Korean jail for the 64 days since then.  And while they were allowed to talk with a Swedish diplomat on March 30th, North Korea has since cut off access to them.  Ling and Lee stand accused of entering the country illegally and committing unspecified hostile acts, charges that could carry up to 10 years in a reeducation labor camp. 

In a totalitarian country with an absolute dictator with no diplomatic ties with the United States, the only visible progress in their case over the past two months has been the announcement of a trial date, June 4th

And while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is hopeful that the setting of a trial date is, quote, “a signal that there can be a resolution as soon as possible,” no American prisoner has actually ever been put on official trial in North Korea before.  Instead, they‘ve been released without legal proceedings a couple of times with the crucial help of Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. 

In 1996, then-Congressman Richardson went to North Korea.  He was able to help secure the release of an American who had been detained for three months on spying charges.  In 1994, he helped arrange the release of a U.S. soldier whose helicopter had strayed into North Korean territory. 

Might the United States once again have to call on the services of our next guest?  We are joined now by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a former Democratic presidential candidate.  Gov. Richardson, thanks very much for coming back on the show.  

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Nice to be with you, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  When you helped free two Americans that were detained in North Korea in the ‘90s, how are you able to do it?  What was the process like? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, you have to understand the North Koreans.  They‘re very unpredictable.  They use the media very well to get their points across.  Third, they‘re very prone to insults.  And I recall in the previous administration, the axis of evil talk, insulting the North Korean leader - that really drove them to very bad extremes. 

What you have to do is what I believe the Obama administration is doing makes sense - quiet diplomacy.  Sec. Clinton has been talking to the Chinese, to third parties, to the Swedes, restrained in her comments. 

You have to keep the humanitarian side of the two journalists separate from the diplomatic differences that we have with the North Koreans.  We want them to stop their nuclear weapons.  They‘ve broken down with the negotiations in the six-party talks. 

So we have to emphasize the humanitarian side of getting these two young women out who are very good, dedicated journalists, who were doing their job.  But right now, there is a good sign.  The good sign is that there is a trial date. 

In the previous cases, once you end the legal process of the North Koreans and they set a trial date, that‘s the time to move.  The North Koreans have been relatively restrained in their criticism of the two women.  Yes, illegally, they came into their territory.  They haven‘t used the word “espionage” that much.  So I think there‘s some hopeful signs, but we will know after June 4th what happens next.  

MADDOW:  We‘ve seen from North Korea recently, from this regime that is so often belligerent, so often seemingly irrational, at least, from our perspective when we look at their actions and don‘t understand what‘s motivating them to take the actions that they do, is it likely they are going to want to combine this humanitarian crisis for these two women with diplomatic goals?  Will they be trying to get some sort concessions out of us diplomatically in order to get them back? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, what we need to avoid happening, Rachel, is exactly that.  Keep the issues separate.  Obviously, they see the two women as possible bargaining chips.  Now, what the North Koreans want more than anything is they want to deal directly with us. 

Now, we‘ve had the six-party talks.  That‘s been the cornerstone of the past administration.  We‘re continuing.  The North Koreans, when it comes to nuclear weapons, when it comes to shutting down their plutonium activities, when it comes to just ending their sanctions, they want to deal with the United States.  They don‘t want the other countries involved. 

But we‘ve used the process of the six-party talks and what - a good sign of the Obama administration is that they‘ve said, “Look, North Korea.  We‘re ready to talk to you, talk to you bilaterally, but also as part of the six-party talks that involve the other countries in Asia, that have a lot of stakes in the issues of nuclear proliferation there.” 

So they‘re testing us, the North Koreans.  It‘s a new administration.  And I believe so far the Obama people have handled it well.  They‘ve been restrained, quiet diplomacy, keeping the issues separate.  So I think there‘s a little back-and-forth right now that maybe after June 4th, we can get a breakthrough and get the two women out.  

MADDOW:  And even as our government is pursuing, as you say, quiet diplomacy, they have been publicly quite silent about it.  They haven‘t made a lot of public statements about it. 

Current TV has been silent about the issue.  Al Gore, of course, the proprietor of Current TV, has not spoken about it.  The families involved have been very quiet on this story, which all affects the amount of political and media coverage that the story gets in the United States. 

Does that public strategy of staying very quiet about it, staying quite tight-lipped on that subject, does that make sense to you as a strategy, or do you think they ought to be speaking out more? 

RICHARDSON:  No, I believe it makes sense.  I know the families.  I‘ve talked to them.  Lisa Ling, the famous TV star is involved, and she obviously could get a lot of attention.  But she has been diplomatic, restrained. 

I‘ve talked to Al Gore.  He‘s been restrained.  I think the administration has handled it well, strongly emphasizing the humanitarian effort to get them out, pushing the North Koreans to return to bilateral negotiations and the six-party talks. 

So I think all sides right now, including the North Koreans - now I‘m going to get attacked for saying this - have been pretty restrained when it comes to the two girls that need to come out. 

I think as Americans, we need to recognize that these are two human beings that were doing their job.  They‘ve been there 60 days.  They deserve all kinds of diplomatic efforts.  Other nations should get engaged to try to help them get released as soon as possible.  

MADDOW:  Well, your optimism about their situation is heartening because you know some things about these situations.  New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, thanks very much for your time tonight.  

RICHARDSON:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith has a very special, shall I say, devastating WTF moment response to Rush Limbaugh‘s MSNBC challenge. 

And next on this show - it‘s back!  More identifying than ever before, and it actually is working this time.  The Democrats. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As the Republican Party continues its search for meaning in the political minority, the man who led them there, former President George W. Bush, is adjusting to civilian life in Texas.  “The Dallas Morning News” today linked these photos of the new multimillion-dollar Bush family home in Dallas.  Five bedrooms, 6 ½ bathrooms and a lot of room to hang up men‘s shirts apparently. 

“Newsweek‘s” Bill Minutaglio also reports this week that former president is spending a lot of time post-White House with teenagers, inviting a local 14-year-old for an hour-and-a-half long mano-a-mano conversation in Bush‘s backyard recently, and Bush placing repeated calls to a 19-year-old college freshman at Texas Christian University. 

Another strange call that 19-year-old took recently was from us.  He‘ll be on this show tomorrow night to talk about talking to Bush.  Make sure to tune in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Attention residents of the greater Washington, D.C. area.  There is a pestilence spreading through the nation‘s capital, caused by - the music that makes everything scary.  It doesn‘t matter what it is, “O Fortuna” will make you feel afraid. 

The affliction that is spreading through Washington is “O, Fortuna” Induced Insanity, OFII.  And right now, it is spreading through the Democratic caucus. 

During the presidential campaign, the idea of closing the prison at Guantanamo was a political winner.  Everyone was on board.  Obama was on board, McCain, congressional Democrats, congressional Republicans - even President Bush was on board. 

There was sort of general agreement that Guantanamo had become a lawless liability, a symbol of America not living by its own ideals.  It needed to be shut down, and pronto. 

When President Obama signed the order to close Guantanamo in January, again, massive support from both sides of the aisle.  So today, when it came time to vote on whether President Obama would get the money to close Guantanamo, the measure of course passed unanimously. 

I‘m sorry, what was that?  I‘m sorry, I‘ve just been informed the appropriation was defeated by a vote of 90 to 6.  Ninety to six?  What changed between “everyone‘s on board” days and now? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So where are they going to go? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Military bases like NTAS, Miramar or Camp

Pendleton -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  To the Navy Base at Charleston, South Carolina. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Guantanamo Bay to Alexandria, Virginia. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What changed is incredibly scary music was set to the problem.  Republicans threw a completely over-the-top parity begging ridiculous punch, claiming that somehow closing Guantanamo would mean releasing all of these dangerous terrorists into your neighborhood.  They will be delivering your mail.  They‘ll be babysitting kids. 

That punch had nothing behind it.  It had no basis in reality.  It had no claim to even rhetorical power, but it was apparently strong enough to knock out the Democratic Party. 

Today, a grand total of six Democrats voted to give the president funding to close Guantanamo - six.  What happened to the other 53? 

(MUSIC)

That‘s right.  That music.  OFII - “O, Fortuna” Induced Insanity.  Democrats who once supported closing Guantanamo suddenly came down with a vague, nonspecific fear that caused them to take totally incoherent political action. 

Take Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example.  In January, Reid applauded President Obama‘s decision to close Guantanamo saying, quote, “Revising the way we detain and interrogate terrorist suspects will help America more effectively fight terrorism and make Americans safer.” 

Yes.  Shut it down.  That was Harry Reid then. 

(MUSIC)

Harry Reid now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  I think that Democrats and Republicans do not want terrorists released in the United States.  That‘s very clear. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE;  No one is talking about releasing them.  They‘re talking about putting them in prisons somewhere in the United States. 

REID:  You can‘t put them in prison unless you release them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  “Can‘t put them in prison unless you release them” - he has obviously been inflicted.  He has “O, Fortuna” Induced Insanity - OFII.  A spokesman for Sen. Reid added further incoherence today when he tried to clarify Mr. Reid‘s stance by saying, quote, “At this time, he opposes transferring detainees to American prisons.” 

At this time?  But then, maybe some time in the future, he‘ll drop the weird Republican talking point about putting people in prison being the same thing as putting people in your child‘s kindergarten class or just out on the street loose.  At this time?  What does that mean? 

Then there is Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein who actually made a very sensible argument before the vote today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA):  We have maximum security prisons in California eminently capable of holding these people as well, and from which people, trust me, do not escape.  So I believe that this has really been an exercise in fear-baiting.  I hope it‘s not going to be successful. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Right.  Right.  If there is one thing America can do, it‘s imprison people.  That makes sense.  It is just fear-baiting. 

OK.  The clerk will now call the roll.  All those in favor of stripping this funding, all those who disagree with that eminently reasonable argument from Feinstein. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senators voting in the affirmative.  Mrs.

Feinstein, aye. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Aye?  Sen. Feinstein, you just argued for the funding for closing the Guantanamo.  Now, you‘re voting against it?  I think she has been afflicted, too. 

House Democrats have also come down with OFII, “O, Fortuna” Induced Insanity.  They caved and stripped the funding from their version of the bill last week.  Thankfully, though, there are still some the virus has not spread to. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL):  The reality is we are holding some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world right now in our federal prisons.  And you ought to have a little more respect for the men and women who are corrections officers who put their lives on the line every single day to keep us safe and to make sure that those who are dangerous are detained and incarcerated. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Sen. Durbin and the five other Senate Democrats who voted to

fund the closing of Guantanamo today -

(MUSIC)

We have masks.  The virus is coming.  Do not let it spread to you. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  With the possible exception of our RACHEL MADDOW SHOW editorial meetings, the Cannes Film Festival is the most glamorous and indulgent event in all the glamorous and indulgent world of the business of show.  And the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s glamour and indulgence bureau chief, Kent Jones, is here to report.  Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hello, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Glamour and indulgence -

JONES:  Glamour -

MADDOW:  Do it.

JONES:  Yes.  Well, the Cannes Film Festival is where art and commerce meet, have a few drinks, hook up, have an awkward breakfast in the morning and never text each other again.  Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(voice-over):  It has been 15 years since Quentin Tarantino made a huge splash at Cannes with “Pulp Fiction.”  Now, QT is back with “Inglorious Basterds” - minus two for spelling - starring Brad Pitt as the commander of a band of Jewish allied soldiers taking bloody revenge on the Nazis in this 2 ½-hour, four-language, revisionist, World War II action comedy western splatter mash-up. 

BRAD PITT, ACTOR:  And they need to be destroyed.  Each man under my command owes me 100 Nazi scalps and I want my scalps. 

JONES:  Apparently, so did the critics.  Reaction to “Basterds” is a long way from the critical love fest Tarantino got for “Pulp Fiction.”  Said “The Guardian,” “Today, the full catastrophe of his new film arrived like some colossal armor-plated turkey from hell.” 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Nein, nein, nein, nein, nein!

JONES:  “The Hollywood Reporter” said the film lacks not only tension, but those juicy sequences where actors deliver lines loaded with subtext and characters drip menace with icy wit.” 

SAMUEL JACKSON, ACTOR:  This is a tasty burger.

JONES:  However, “Variety” sort of liked it, calling it, “a completely distinctive piece of American pop art.” 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Forward!

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Is that good?

CHORUS:  Yes, sir!

JONES:  Now, I haven‘t seen “Inglorious Basterds” yet.  But there is one part I do like already. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

MADDOW:  Bringing it back. 

JONES:  I had a tiny little mustache. 

MADDOW:  Very nice.  Cocktail moment, Kent. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Today was the day they drank reprocessed urine on the space station - apparently, it tastes great.

JONES:  Cheers. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Cheers.  Thanks for watching tonight.  We‘ll see you again 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.

END   

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