'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, October 1, 2009
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Guests: Eric Lipton, Steve Clemons, Dawn Rizos, Mike Precker, Kent Jones
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Now, I‘m never going to be able to get that out of my head, but thank you, Keith.
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: Oh, we already had the Michele Bachmann imagery from before, so that one is your turn.
MADDOW: Thanks for the nightmares. Appreciate it. Thanks, Keith.
And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour—during which I can honestly tell you it is going from big to weird to big to weird again.
A sitting U.S. senator brags that he is going to visit a foreign country in order to tell that country to resist the United States. Then he has that trip canceled against his will at the 11th hour.
The National Republican Congressional Committee decides to call me names.
And the unexpected resurfacing of some of the bold faced names from the Bush era‘s Republican scandals. And they‘re resurfacing in today‘s highest possible stakes: Republican politics.
There is a ton of news going on in the world and it‘s all coming up this hour.
But we begin tonight with some big breaking news, the “New York Times,” in an article—a long article—posted tonight, appears to have blown open the John Ensign affair story with new allegations not about Senator Ensign‘s sexual misconduct, which we have known about for months since he admitted it, but with very serious allegations of ethical misconduct and potentially criminal misconduct in the way that Senator Ensign tried to contain the damage from the affair.
Now, Senator John Ensign, you‘ll recall revealed earlier this year that he had carried on an affair with one of his campaign staffers, a woman named Cynthia Hampton. Cynthia Hampton was married to someone else who worked for Senator Ensign. Her husband‘s name is Doug Hampton.
Well, when Doug Hampton discovered his wife‘s affair with the senator, he confronted Senator Ensign. Senator Ensign promised to end the affair, but he didn‘t. And while he was still carrying on with Mrs. Hampton, he began looking for a way to get both his mistress and his mistress‘s husband off of his payroll.
Ensign was the head of the Republican Party Senate Campaign Committee at the time. And so, he called in the political director of that same committee and asked him to help find Doug Hampton a job. After some figuring with the Republican Party Senate Campaign Committee political director and a few more calls to friends and contributors—none of whom presumably knew that Ensign was shtupping Doug Hampton‘s wife at that time, Senator Ensign did eventually get Doug Hampton a job—a job apparently illegally lobbying John Ensign‘s office.
What we are now learning from “The New York Times” is the extent to which Senator Ensign leaned on friends and associates to hire his mistress‘ husband, but also the extent to which the senator then did favors for those companies that had helped him out by hiring that guy.
On two separate occasions, Senator Ensign reported intervened on behalf of those companies. One of them was Allegiant Air. Senator Ensign directly contacted the secretary of transportation to try to resolve a DOT investigation into Allegiant. Another was NV Energy. Ensign contacted the secretary of the interior to get them to move faster on an NV Energy project.
The implications here are potentially criminal because Senate ethics rules and federal criminal law prohibit senior Senate aides from lobbying the Senate for a full year after leaving their jobs. Doug Hampton went right from his job in Senator Ensign‘s office into a job lobbying the Senate, including Senator Ensign. And John Ensign not only knew that, if these new allegations are correct, Senator Ensign essentially got him that illegal job.
And according to Doug Hampton, Senator Ensign knew what was happening might be illegal.
Quoting from “The Times,” “Mr. Hampton says he and Mr. Ensign were aware of the lobbying restriction, but chose to ignore it. Senate ethics rules and federal criminal law prohibit former aides, if they have the intent to influence from making any communication to or appearance with any senator or Senate staff member for a year after their leaving their jobs. Mr. Hampton admitted he had ignored the restrictions. As for violating the one-year ban, he says he did so at Mr. Ensign‘s direction.”
For his part, Senator Ensign tells “The New York Times,” quote, “I am confident that we fully complied with the relevant laws and rules governing current and past employees. I have worked on these Nevada issues with these Nevada companies for years, long before Doug Hampton left my office.”
Well then there‘s the issue of another U.S. senator getting tied in to all of this, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Mr. Coburn had previously said that although he had been intimately involved in attempted quite resolution of John Ensign‘s extramarital affair, counseling Senator Ensign about the affair, Senator Coburn said he would never talk about these discussions because of his role as a physician and an ordained deacon.
Back in July, Mr. Coburn said, quote, “I was counseling him as a physician and as an ordained deacon. That is privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody, not to the Senate Ethics Committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody.”
Senator Coburn has apparently had a change of heart because he has now revealed it to the “New York Times,” admitting to them that he has personally negotiated—a U.S. senator, a sitting U.S. senator personally negotiated a cash settlement between John Ensign‘s lawyer and the lawyer for the husband of the woman that Ensign was sleeping with.
Quoting from “The Times” again, “Hampton‘s lawyer gave Mr. Coburn a figure, just under $8.5 million to cover purchase of the Hampton‘s home, lost wages and pain and suffering. Mr. Coburn dismissed that as ridiculous. Mr. Hampton came back with a lower number, about $2 million, which Mr. Coburn passed on. Mr. Ensign flatly rejected that proposal, quote, ‘That‘s a joke? Forget it.‘ Mr. Coburn recalled Mr. Ensign saying.”
This is a sitting U.S. senator secretly negotiating a settlement for a colleague‘s elicit affair, as a deacon and a physician or something. Mr. Coburn, who was once tight lipped about the whole situation, now tells the times, quote, “John got trapped doing something really stupid and then made a lot of other mistakes afterward. Judgment gets impaired by arrogance, and that‘s what‘s going on here.”
Still left unanswered are questions surrounding payments to the Hampton family by John Ensign‘s parents. “The New York Times” has now posted online a check for $96,000 made out to Doug and Cindy Hampton and two of their three kids. Still don‘t know what happened for a third kid that he had to be left out of it. Cindy and Doug Hampton both claimed this was a severance payment, although still claims that the check was just a gift from his parents to the Hamptons and two of their three children.
Whether it was severance or a gift, it could also be a potentially criminal matter. Unsurprisingly, the law isn‘t too keen on Senate staffers‘ severance payments being made privately by senators‘ moms and dads.
Also still unexplored is John Ensign‘s role in getting the son of his mistress a job at the Republican Party Senate Campaign Committee.
This is a story that is still developing and one that has just been given a lot of new life by some great reporting tonight from “The New York Times.”
Joining us now is one of the reporters who broke these new details on the story. He is “New York Times” investigative reporter Eric Lipton.
Mr. Lipton, congratulations on the scoop. Thanks for joining us.
ERIC LIPTON, NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: First of all, I just said a lot about this case, and about your reporting. So, I want to give you.
MADDOW: . a chance to tell me if I‘ve screwed anything up there in that introduction since you‘ve looked into it in such detail. Did I get anything wrong?
LIPTON: No. I think most was right. I mean, just that the senator insists that his interaction with Hampton was appropriate and that, you know, he never took action at Hampton‘s request. Although, you know, actions were taken that were consistent with what Hampton asked, the senator makes this distinction that his—you know, his delivery of those requests was not, you know, as a result of what Hampton wanted.
MADDOW: In terms of potential criminal liability and ethics liability here though, it‘s not so much a question of what Senator Ensign did at Doug Hampton‘s request, isn‘t it simply a matter that Doug Hampton was lobbying John Ensign at a time when he really was not allowed to be doing so?
LIPTON: Well, clearly, the rules prohibit one year of lobbying communication with intent to influence, and that is the obligation of Doug Hampton. And so, you know, whether or not that‘s a strict violation of law is up to others to decide. The question for the senator is whether or not he knew of it, he participated in that—you know, perhaps in a proper lobbying and the—you know, that then becomes a separate issue.
So, you know, the culpability is different for each.
MADDOW: Do you feel that you were able to conclusively document that Senator Ensign did get Doug Hampton a job, that was essentially a job lobbying the Senate, that he got him a job lobbying the Senate in which he called upon to be doing government relations right after leaving his Senate employ?
LIPTON: There‘s no question that the senator made a series of telephone calls. We spoke with a half a dozen executives at major firms in the state of Nevada that received these phone calls and each of them essentially recalled similarly what the senator said, “I have to say, he‘s coming back to the state. He‘s a good guy, would you talk to him?”
The senator in those conversations does not appear to have been explicit that he—that he wanted them to hire Doug Hampton to be a lobbyist. But that was how most of them interpreted it and in the conversations that they subsequently had with Doug Hampton, they talked about lobbying. And in the two contracts that he ultimately signed, both of them were essentially government affairs/lobbying contracts.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about one other matter here that has always bothered me about this case. And it‘s the question of the $96,000 payment and you, at “The Times” have been able to post a copy of that check online now. And I‘ve never seen it before, and I always wondered who it was going to be made out to. It‘s made out to Doug Hampton and Cindy Hampton and two of their children.
The case was made by Senator Ensign‘s lawyer, that this was not a severance payment by any means. It was just a present. It was just a gift from Senator Ensign‘s parents to Doug and Cindy Hampton and two of their three children.
MADDOW: It doesn‘t seem credible. It seems like an impossible case. Did you get any further either backstopping from the senator on that or any further explanation of that payment?
LIPTON: There‘s just basically a disagreement here about what actually occurred. The Hamptons both spoke with the senator individually in April of 2008, just before the payment was made. According to their account, the senator made it clear that this was severance, that this was to make up for the lost wages, and that the money was going to be about $100,000 and it was going to come from him and his wife. And then the check arrives, a few days later, and it‘s written out on this—you know, trust fund account. And then, you know—but all along, the Hamptons are under the impression that this money essentially came from Senator Ensign and his wife.
And, now, the senator‘s perspective on this is that—and according to a statement made by his lawyer—that this was a gift by his parents. And, you know, there‘s two different points of view and we have—we can‘t reconcile them at this moment.
MADDOW: On the question of Senator Coburn. Senator Coburn had been very emphatic that he would not go on the record about what his conversations had been like with Senator Ensign about the resolution of this affair. He had even claimed that his silence on the matter was attributable to his status as a deacon and a physician, and that he wouldn‘t reveal the content of those communications to anybody.
He then did talk to you on the record about what he and Senator Ensign discussed. Did Senator Coburn give you any indication of why he had changed his mind about going on the record about this?
LIPTON: We didn‘t really get into that with him and, you know, he didn‘t make that statement to us. You know, I think that he felt—as all the others that participated in the story—that we had learned enough about the situation. We‘d spoke with all of the parties involved on the record. We knew exactly what his role was. And so, he decided then to address questions that we presented to him.
MADDOW: “New York Times” investigative reporter Eric Lipton—obviously great reporting on this story. Congratulations on the scoop, and thanks very much for your time tonight, sir.
LIPTON: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: After all that, you would think that running for reelection, Senator John Ensign would have sewn up the daily award for conduct least becoming a United States senator. Oh, but wait! Did you hear about the U.S. senator today who said he wants to go abroad to tell a foreign country that they should resist the United States? And did you hear who kyboshed his trip at the last minute?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN, FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous. An issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naivete and goes beyond poor judgment.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: Such a statement betrays the depth of Senator Obama‘s inexperience and reckless judgment. These are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But elections have consequences, don‘t they? After observing about a year and a half of rhetorical bashing from both his Republican and Democratic rivals for the presidency, President Obama is now officially followed through on then-Senator Obama‘s promises of robust, direct diplomacy with countries whose behavior we want to change.
Today, for the first time in nearly 30 years, U.S. and Iranian delegates sat down for a face-to-face meeting. The subject was Iran‘s nuclear program. The result is that Iran has pledged to allow foreign inspectors into a newly disclosed uranium enrichment factory. And Iran also says it will consider moving activities at its most well-known uranium enrichment plant out of the country, an agreement that would mean that Iran wouldn‘t have enough uranium to ever make a nuclear weapon—according to diplomats speaking on the record tonight.
So direct talks, progress, and the sky—at last report—has not fallen.
MADDOW: So, let‘s say there‘s a military coup somewhere in the world. In some country in the world, the military takes over and ousts the president. And our government, the government of the United States is not cool with it. We don‘t always side against military juntas, even though we like to think of ourselves as a country that does.
But in this case, we‘re really not OK with it. We refuse to recognize the new military government that ousted the president. We revoked the visas of members of this de facto government and its supporters. As one of the 47 nations of the U.N. Human Rights Council, we call for the president that was ousted by the military to be returned to office. Our government makes it really clear that we do not recognize this coup. We do not recognize the legitimacy of this military takeover of another country‘s government.
Now, consider that a United States senator has decided that he‘s on the side of the coup. He‘s on the side of this military that‘s overthrown its own government. And, in fact, as a United States senator, he‘s going to visit that country and his own country be damned. He‘s going to encourage the military government that ousted their government in that other country to resist us. To resist what our government—what his own government—is trying to do there.
What would you call that? Is it maybe a word that starts with T and rhymes with reason? I don‘t want to jump to conclusions here but I‘m just not sure what else to call this. Whatever it should be called, it‘s what Senator Jim DeMint has just tried to do. The South Carolina Republican today bragged—via Twitter of course—that he was headed out to Honduras tomorrow. Members of his staff also talked to “The New York Times” for a story in today‘s paper.
Quoting from “The Times”: “One of the de facto government‘s main supporter in Washington, Senator Jim DeMint has denounced plans to visit the capital of Honduras on Friday. Staff members said he intended to encourage the military leader of the coup and his supporters to resist.”
To resist the policies of the government of the United States of America? That‘s what he‘s advising a foreign country to do?
But at the last minute today, there was a dramatic development. The State Department, along with Senator John Kerry, chairman of the foreign relations committee on which Senator DeMint incredibly serves, presumably on the strength of his expertise as ad executive before being elected to the Senate—the State Department and John Kerry blocked Senator DeMint‘s trip. Senator DeMint then became furious that his personal mission to undermine the foreign policy of the government he supposedly serves has been this thwarted.
And then, there was an even more dramatic development. ABC News first reported tonight—and we now have confirmation from the Senator DeMint‘s office—that the trip is back on, because they‘ve done a run around. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got the trip authorized through the Defense Department instead of the State Department. And so, now, DeMint is planning on going once again.
Joining us now is Steve Clemons. He‘s a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He‘s a publisher of the Washington Note.
Steve, it‘s great to see you. Thanks for coming on the show.
STEVE CLEMONS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, let me ask you first about the late-breaking part of this. Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, supposedly getting this trip that had been canceled by the State Department reauthorized somehow by the Defense Department.Can you explain how that might work?
CLEMONS: Well, Senator McConnell did a—did a flip-flop, in a sense moved the question of this, rather than going from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee moved to the armed services committee where his good friend John McCain and also Democratic chairman Carl Levin run that committee and there are agreements on resources.
So, when a senator travels abroad, there are resources, planes and whatnot, and the agreement Mitch McConnell‘s own authority that went through the armed services committee and thus I‘m pretty sure, though not absolutely sure, that Senator Carl Levin gave his assent to this, let the trip go on.
What I find interesting in an untold part of the story is that I‘m fairly sure as well that Richard Lugar on the armed services committee didn‘t come to Jim DeMint‘s defense when Senator Kerry moved to block this. So, it‘s great theater in Washington. It reminds me of why this town is so much fun.
MADDOW: Well, tell me about the big picture of what DeMint is trying to do here though? I mean, you heard my introduction, I‘m no expert on these things, but it seems to me like he is going abroad, specifically to not only undermine the policy—the unified policy of the United States government, but to encourage foreign leaders to resist the U.S. government. It seems like sort of an outrageous thing for him to be doing.
CLEMONS: Yes. Ever since the coup against President Zelaya, Jim DeMint‘s been very transparent about his sympathies. He‘s been on the floor. He‘s on his Senate webpage and floor statements. He said that the real Democrats are those military and other leaders that basically knocked the incumbent president out of force.
The only problem is, that not only does the United States government not recognize the new government in Honduras, none of its neighbors do either. In fact, the ousted president is sleeping in his pajamas on a couch in the Brazilian embassy down there, gave a U.N. General Assembly speech the other day by cell phone.
And I think what Jim DeMint is now doing—because the State Department has just begun to move, revoked the visas of many of the businessmen who supported this coup, and some of the businessmen began to say, maybe they should have Zelaya come back and then come through some process of legally getting rid of him, though allowing him back into power.
DeMint went down and his staff said he was going to go down and commiserate with those folks and say, “Stand strong”—which technically is a violation of the law. There‘s a law that‘s not often enforced called the Logan Act that says you go confer with another government against your own government, they don‘t say treason but that‘s what they imply. But it‘s a big issue.
MADDOW: Is that the reason that Senator Kerry and the State Department would have blocked Senator DeMint from doing this? I asked because Senator Kerry‘s office today said that Senator Kerry was blocking the trip because Senator DeMint has been holding up some State Department nominations.
MADDOW: He didn‘t say you‘re acting like a foreign agent. You‘re violating the Logan Act to undermine your own government.
CLEMONS: Look, there are two key nominations. One, the current assistant secretary for Latin America, Tom Shannon is scheduled to go to Brazil as the ambassador. And there‘s a very, very good academic at Georgetown, Arturo Valenzuela, who is slated by President Obama to be the next assistant secretary.
And, you know, for Republicans who‘ve often talked about giving judges votes, they have engaged in blocking those two votes. In another committee, they blocked President Obama‘s undersecretary for international affairs and treasury and just not allowing them to proceed.
So, rather than saying you‘re a traitor and saying that you‘re violating the Logan Act and engage in other crimes, they said, “You‘re not allowing this committee to do its job. You‘re delinquent, Senator DeMint, in not allowing us to consider these two nominations,” with his ability to veto that, and by going down and using committee resources, committee planes and committee privileges to go down to Honduras, “You‘re violating, you know, your responsibilities to your constituents and to the government of the United States and so we‘re going to block you.” And that‘s—so Senator Kerry used a different means to block him which, of course, now they escalated to Mitch McConnell and looks like until there‘s another block, they‘re going to down to Honduras.
MADDOW: It‘s such a perfect illustration, too, of the different ways that Republicans and Democrats do these things. Imagine if this was a Democratic senator and the Republicans were in power, what they‘d be saying against him. But instead, Democrats say, “Oh, you violated protocol.” They never—they never bring out the big rhetorical gun.
CLEMONS: Well, I‘ll tell you one thing. I was with Senator McCain today over at a thing they were doing at the museum. And McCain was saying, “You know, we need to get beyond these ridiculous theatrics of people doing stupid things on each side of the aisle,” and returning—you know, John McCain was back to straight talk self. And I saw one of his former senior advisers I can‘t name and I said, “What do you think of what Senator DeMint‘s doing?” And I told him, he says, “You know, I really don‘t like that guy.”
MADDOW: That‘s—see, that‘s fairly clear.
MADDOW: Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, publisher of the Washington Note, which is required reading—thanks very much for joining us.
CLEMONS: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has quite obviously got his eyes on the presidency in 2012. His bold new strategy announced today, to recapture the White House for his party, is to surround himself with people who did some of the dirtiest of the dirty business of the Republican Party in the era of George W. Bush. Change you can bereave—in just a moment.
MADDOW: Today, we got the most overt glimpse we have had yet of what it‘s going to be like to run for the Republican nomination for president in the next election. Today, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty became the first Republican to put one foot in the race when he formally opened a new political action committee that he‘s calling “Freedom First.” Technically the formation of Freedom First is a way for him to raise money for former fellow Republicans across the country.
But in real life, it‘s his “I really am running for president for real” coming out party. And in the beltway media, the announcement got glowing coverage. “Politico.com,” for example, praising his choice of heavyweight GOP figures and key operatives and high level strategists and top consultants that they say now prove that Pawlenty is a credible candidate for president.
That‘s one way to look at it. Or you could say that in putting together his team to try to seem like a credible candidate for the Republican nomination for president, this little known Midwestern governor has assembled a who‘s who of some of the worst Republican scandals of the past decade.
This team that he‘s put together reads like the index of the big popup book of George W. Bush-era Republican ethical and legal embarrassments. One of Mr. Pawlenty‘s new senior advisers, for example, is a man named Terry Nelson, his former deputy chief of staff of the Republican National Committee, known for being the guy in charge when the infamous New England phone-jamming case went down.
On Election Day, in 2002, the “Get Out The Vote” phone banks ran by New Hampshire Democrats and a firefighters‘ union were hit with hundreds of computer-generated phone calls, all at once, which blocked those phone-banking efforts entirely.
It brought their “Get Out The Vote” operation to a halt. The man ultimately convicted in the phone-jamming case was the political director of the Republican Party in New England. His supervisor at the RNC - Terry Nelson. At the phone-jamming criminal trial, Terry Nelson was on the list of witnesses the government said it intended to call though, ultimately, he never testified.
After his stint at the RNC, Terry Nelson got into the media consulting business. He started up a firm called Crosslink Strategy Group where he employed a paid consultant and media adviser to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth of “John Kerry didn‘t deserve his war medals” fame.
In 2006, Terry Nelson did some more work for the Republican National Committee, which brought him to run ad campaigns against Democratic Senate candidates. Do you remember the really-not-subtle, race-baiting ad that was against Tennessee Democrat Harold Ford? You can thank Terry Nelson for that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I met Harold at the Playboy party. The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Harold, call me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes. That one ultimately pulled off the air by the Republican Party. And the widespread have revulsion it called led to Wal-Mart firing Terry Nelson and his consulting firm because of it.
So phone-jamming, swift-boating and race-baiting - I don‘t know if he counts as a political key operative or a high-level strategist. But either way, he does represent a meaningful choice for Gov. Pawlenty.
Also named is a senior advisor for Mr. Pawlenty and praised by the beltway media for her experience in Washington is a person named Sara Taylor. “The Hill” newspaper helpfully notes that Taylor was George W. Bush‘s White House political director from 2005 to 2007.
Why would somebody leave a job like that in 2007? It‘s an odd year. It‘s not the end of a term. It‘s not key to any election. What was going on in 2007?
Sara Taylor stopped being the White House political director - just stopped. She moved on - 2007.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Mr. Rove or Ms. Miers intervene in the replacement of Mr. Cummins with Mr. Griffin?
SARA TAYLOR, FORMER WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I can‘t answer
that. I don‘t - I have - again, I‘m trying to answer your questions and
respect the -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you not answer it because of the privilege or because you just don‘t know.
TAYLOR: I don‘t - I don‘t -
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: And then you said, “I took an oath to the president and I take that oath very seriously.” Did you mean perhaps you took an oath to the Constitution?
TAYLOR: I - yes. Yes, you‘re correct. I took an oath to the Constitution.
LEAHY: Did you take a second oath to the president?
TAYLOR: I did not. What I should have -
LEAHY: So the answer was incorrect?
TAYLOR: The answer was incorrect.
LEAHY: Thank you.
TAYLOR: What I should have said is that I took an oath. I took that oath seriously, and I believed that taking that oath means that I need to respect and do respect my service to the president.
LEAHY: No, the oath says that you take an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. That is your paramount duty. I know the president refers to the government has being his government. It‘s not.
TAYLOR: Senator, I can‘t remember what I had for breakfast last week.
I just don‘t recall any of those conversations.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): I assume what you had for breakfast last week has not been the subject of considerable national attention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Right, 2007. That‘s why Sara Taylor stopped being Bush‘s White House political director in 2007. She was quite caught up in the U.S. attorney scandal.
And when the Senate made her testify, she said she had sworn an oath to the president, that she couldn‘t remember her breakfast and that, ultimately, she couldn‘t even remember why it was she was refusing to answer questions about the scandal that ultimately cost the attorney general his job as well as hers.
That‘s why she left that job, which means that Tim Pawlenty is getting beltway media credit for picking for his team the phone-jamming, swift-boating, race-baiting guy and the person who resigned in disgrace from the Bush White House during the U.S. attorney scandal.
If he picked Alberto Gonzales to be his lawyer, would Tim Pawlenty get applauded by the beltway media for another GOP heavyweight pick? I think there‘s a chance Jack Abramoff might be out of prison by 2012. Maybe Pawlenty could put him on retainer now. He‘s a real heavy hitter. He‘s very well-connected.
As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, as it searches for a path out of the political wilderness, Tim Pawlenty keeps getting credit for being the great hope for moderation, for a saner, more centrist, more credible Republican Party than was represented by the Bush years and its aftermath.
He keeps getting credit for that. But that says a heck of a lot more about the people giving him that credit than it says about him deserving it.
MADDOW: In just a moment, we will have as our guest the owner of one of the best-known topless clubs in Dallas, Texas. The topic of discussion, how she was given an award for stimulating the economy by Newt Gingrich. Don‘t even think about missing this, OK?
But first, we have a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. First up, if there are any liberals watching this show right now - I don‘t want to presume there are, but if there are, I want you to know that the legacy of Jerry Falwell is doing something to you right now.
The Liberty Counsel, an organization affiliated with Liberty University, the school founded by the late Jerry Falwell, the same Jerry Falwell who blamed 9/11 on pagans, abortionists, feminists and the gays.
The Liberty Counsel is calling on its members to pray for a liberal. Quote, “Since the landmark 2008 general election, there can be no doubt that a very large percentage of our nation‘s leaders have a liberal mindset. Liberty Counsel has therefore named the special new prayer and action program “Adopt a Liberal.”
Liberty Counsel suggests that its followers pray for specific liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank. They also suggest praying for Olympia Snowe, the senator from Maine who‘s a Republican.
They also suggest prayers for Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, for the White House director of science and technology, John Holdren. They suggest prayers for Arnold Schwarzenegger, for Harry Reid and for, in their words, “the unknown liberal.” That could be you.
The question is whether being prayed for should make liberals feel comfort or fear in this case. For the answer to that one, once again, we turn to the best fake presidential administration in episodic TV history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Excuse me, C.J.?
ALLISON JANNEY, ACTRESS (as C.J. Cregg): Yes?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Bill Stark - I‘m with “Kingspeak.” We‘re a magazine that reaches over 600,000 Christian Evangelicals. I‘m sorry I missed your first briefing. I heard you did well.
JANNEY: I can do better.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I want to tell you that on December 10th, all 600,000 will be praying for you.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That‘s right.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Can anyone report anything good?
JANNEY: 600,000 evangelicals are praying for me, so we have that going for us.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What the hell are you talking about?
JANNEY: It‘s true. God gave me this calling, 365 people in media.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Who are the others?
JANNEY: I don‘t know. Let‘s see - Hugh Hefner, Don Imus, Howard Stern - all the late-night guys. This is - one, two, three - this is the editorial board of the “New York Times.” This isn‘t a good list. This is a list of those who are going to hell.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes.
JANNEY: They‘re not praying for me because they like me. It‘s because I‘m doomed to eternal damnation.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Ralph, if you wanted to be a waste of prayer.
JANNEY: You‘re on the list, too, pal.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Can I see that?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: They can all leave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Thank you, “West Wing.” Right. Patronizing prayer drives are kind of an awkward, backhanded, passive-aggressive way of saying mean things about you and your spiritual constitution. So thanks, Liberty Council. You know, somewhere in America, someone you don‘t like is praying for you, too.
And finally, China celebrated its 60 anniversary as a country today, sparing no expense. As we mentioned earlier this week, China‘s state-owned mobile company changed its 500 million customers‘ cell phone ring back sound - the sound you hear in between dialing and the other person picking up.
They changed it from the traditional ring to this patriotic power ballad sung by Jackie Chan - I‘m not kidding. But that‘s not all. Because no creepy, state-sponsored patriotic mass event would be complete without a lot of synchronized marching of thousands of women from an all-female militia unit, marched today in miniskirts, go-go boots and matching holsters holding submachine guns.
You heard me - submachine guns. The festivities also included, of course, a big macho display of the nation‘s military power, a procession of weapons systems and missiles and, of course, warplane flyovers.
But really, it was the female miniskirt militia part of the parade that was the most threatening display of China‘s military might. I mean, after all, these women can do everything the weapons systems can do, but they can do it backwards and in heels.
MADDOW: We have one quick programming note for you. I will be a guest this weekend on NBC‘s “Meet the Press,” hosted by David Gregory. So far, it‘s confirmed that the other guests are E.J. Dionne of the “Washington Post,” David Brooks of the “New York Times,” Mike Murphy, the Republican consultant, the U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and definitely, definitely not Dick Armey who I sat next to the last time I was there.
It should be a hoop. It‘s Sunday morning, of course. “Meet the Press” - I‘ll see you there. But first, we‘ll be right back.
What do an adult film executive and a topless bar owner have in common aside from the obvious? Both were solicited to receive an Entrepreneur of the Year award, both accepted an Entrepreneur of the Year award after forking out a $5,000 donation to the group that was offering the award. And both of them then had those Entrepreneur of the Year award invitations rescinded.
Who did all of that? Newt Gingrich. On September 9th, his political action committee, Gingrich‘s American Solutions for Winning the Future, invited Allison Vivas of the Pink Visual Porn DVD superstore to receive her award at a private dinner with the former speaker of the House. They then revoked the invite a few weeks later after Ms. Vivas said she would use the opportunity to educate Mr. Gingrich about the realities of the online porn market.
A full week before Ms. Vivas received her award letter, Dawn Rizos, owner of The Lodge, a topless club in Dallas, got an almost identical invitation asking her to, quote, “attend a very small intimate event” that would celebrate her efforts to, quote, “stimulate the economy.”
After confirming that she would like to attend and after making the obligatory $5,000 contribution, Ms. Rizos was then dis-invited. Newt Gingrich‘s group says it was a mistake and that they had confused her business with another business that had a similar name in Virginia.
The problem with that explanation is that letter, which is singed by Mr. Gingrich and which thanks Ms. Rizos for her $5,000 contribution, that letter was sent to her Texas address. And it specifically congratulated her for, quote, “being selected as one of our 2009 Entrepreneurs of the Year representing Texas.”
Mr. Gingrich‘s group also claims that Ms. Rizos‘ invitation was, quote, “sent at the same time as the other mistake (that would be Ms. Vivas‘ invite) and for the same reason,” they said.
It should be noted that the invitations are dated a full week apart. So Newt Gingrich‘s political action committee seemingly has a habit of soliciting people in the adult entertainment industry, willy-nilly, taking their money in return for an award that is really, really expensive to accept, but it does buy you a meeting with Newt Gingrich.
And they apparently don‘t even know enough about the nature of the businesses they‘re offering these awards to defend themselves credibly when they get embarrassed about what the businesses are that they are giving these awards to.
We called Mr. Gingrich‘s group for an explanation today. They have yet to get back to us. American Solutions for Winning the Future is a very impressive name for a group that is - well, I‘m not going to call it as scam, but they‘re doing something with an awards system that is really not very impressive at all.
Joining me now is the owner of The Lodge Gentlemen‘s Club, which was named best overall club in America last year, Dawn Rizos. And her public relations manager, Mike Precker, joins us. Ms. Rizos, Mr. Precker, thank you both very much for being here.
MIKE PRECKER, DAWN RIZOS‘ PUBLIC RELATIONS MANAGER: It‘s an honor.
MADDOW: Let me ask you - did I summarize that right in terms of getting the invitation from Mr. Gingrich‘s group? And you said you would like to accept the award and then they took it back?
PRECKER: Pretty much. We got the fax from them with this lovely invitation and the facsimile of the award that Dawn was going to get and the gavel she‘d be presented with, signed by Mr. Gingrich and a menu of a lovely dinner that‘s scheduled for Wednesday night, October 7.
I called to thank them. We‘re honored. We‘re happy to be a part of this, and they said - to confirm that we were coming. And they said, “That‘s fine. You need to join the organization for the $5,000 annual dues.” We did that. And we got another nice letter from Mr. Gingrich thanking us and we were set, booked our tickets, our hotel and couldn‘t be happier about the whole thing.MADDOW: How did it fall apart?
PRECKER: I got a call Tuesday morning from a fellow, I guess, in the organization that finds these award winners and potential donors and said there had been a mistake. And they were very apologetic, that they had been mixed up another DCG group, which is our corporate name.
He didn‘t mention anything about being a gentleman‘s club. I didn‘t mention it to him. We didn‘t impersonate somebody. We didn‘t try to fool anybody. They came after us and we happily responded. But now, they decided there wasn‘t enough room for two DCGs at this dinner so we were being asked not to come.
MADDOW: Ms. Rizos, when you first got the communication from Mr. Gingrich‘s group, did you think, “I bet he made a mistake here. He‘s a really conservative guy,” or did you think that they legitimately did want to honor you as an entrepreneur?
DAWN RIZOS, OWNER, THE LODGE GENTLEMEN‘S CLUB: Well, I thought since the woman that owned the porn company had been found out and uninvited that they would be a lot more careful. And they did just tell us a week before we were scheduled to be there.
MADDOW: What I‘m worried about here, and the reason that we‘re talking about it on the show tonight is because it seems like maybe Newt Gingrich‘s American Solutions Group gives out these awards as kind of a scam in the sense that they seem to be giving these groups these awards to groups that they don‘t know very much about.
And it just so happens that in order to get the award and be associated with Newt Gingrich, you have to give them $5,000. I imagine that you guys got as much sort of business spam and scam offers as any other business does. Does it seem like to you like it might sort of be an un-cool deal?
RIZOS: Well, we know that it was a fundraiser. We thought it would be a wonderful award to add to our foyer, especially with the signed gavel by Newt and a picture with him and the opportunity to be there with him.
MADDOW: If he ever would reconsider, would you - I guess would you want to try to persuade him to take you on again? Having the Gingrich-signed gavel in the foyer of the club, I can imagine, would be sort of a coup for you, guys.
RIZOS: Well, I would. And I think that our club has a lot to be proud of. The food is wonderful. It‘s a great place. We work with a lot of very nice people. And I think if he took a harder look at it, he would see that we‘re a good corporate citizen.
We paid $2 million in taxes last year and employ hundreds of people. And maybe he would regret what he‘s done because it was very embarrassing and just - it hurt our feelings.
MADDOW: I understand. Dawn Rizos, owner of The Lodge Gentlemen‘s Club in Dallas, Texas and her press relations manager, Mike Precker, thank you both for being here. I can‘t apologize on behalf of Newt Gingrich, but I‘m sorry that he did this mean thing. And good luck with your business.
PRECKER: Stop by sometime. Thanks a lot.
MADDOW: I don‘t get to Dallas much, but thank you.
Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith Olbermann details the latest criticism of Glenn Beck, criticism coming from Sen. Lindsey Graham, of all people.
Next on this show, a story that provokes the same kind of acronym that the Wisconsin Tourist Federation used to use. Kent Jones explains, next.
MADDOW: We turn now to our acronym evolution correspondent, Mr. Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. You know, our language is always changing. You know, words that may have been inoffensive just a few years ago now have an entirely different meaning. I think this is a good example right here.
(voice-over): For years, it was the Wisconsin Tourism Federation has toiled tirelessly to introduce the world to the wonders of the dairy land, Milwaukee, The Dells, the finest milk, cheese and butter in the world.
If you wanted to explore Wisconsin, you would go straight to the WTF. WTF - this was a perfectly harmless functional acronym, until the emoticon-infested Internet came along. And now, WTF, OMG, ROTFLMAO.
Caving into overwhelming cyber-snark, the Wisconsin Tourism Federation decided it will henceforth be now known as the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin - TFW. Said the spokesperson, “We didn‘t want it to detract from our mission.”
Wisconsin seemed to have solved its problem. But what about the World Taekwondo Federation? Or Williamstown Theatre Festival? Or the Wild Turkey Federation? Should these and countless other organizations have to jump through hoops just because some wiseacre on a blog think their initials mean something dirty? Seriously, WTF?
MADDOW: Kent, will you do the wild turkey sound for me?
JONES: I will, just for you.
MADDOW: Can‘t do that. We have known each other a long time. I don‘t take any Prozac or any antidepressants in large part because I know I can call you anytime, day or night and you will make that noise.
JONES: I‘m going to make an MP3 for you, put it in your iPod -
MADDOW: I‘m going to give you an award for that, and it will only cost you $5,000 to accept it.JONES: Do I get a gavel, too?
MADDOW: Yes, that‘s right.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. And thank you for watching tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Have a good one.
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