updated 12/1/2009 12:50:19 PM ET 2009-12-01T17:50:19

Guests: George Lewis, Kent Jones, Dan Rather, Jeff Sharlet, Dave Zirin

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you for that.

And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

As the president gets ready to make a big announcement about a big new commitment to Afghanistan, one explanation for why we even need a big new commitment in that country, a new bombshell Senate report which says Donald Rumsfeld‘s Pentagon let Osama bin Laden get away in 2001 when military commanders on the ground knew that‘s what would happen.

Dan Rather on how we got here and the way forward in Afghanistan.

Then, Family ties.  The secretive religious group the Family and its connections to a proposed death-for-gay-people law in another country.  Jeff Sharlet is tonight‘s interview.

Plus, why the wrong questions are being asked about Tiger Woods after his SUV crash.

That and the first picture of what Newt Gingrich accidentally spawned deep in the heart of Texas—all coming up this hour.

But tonight begins the countdown to what could be the most important announcement of Barack Obama‘s presidency.  In less than 24 hours, the president will address the nation to lay out his new strategy for the now 8-year-old war in Afghanistan, a strategy that is being advance-billed as what frankly sounds like a paradox, “an escalation of the war,” that is also supposed to spell out an “end to the war.”

Mr. Obama will speak at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, but some of the details of his decision are becoming known tonight.  Most dramatically, the president has reportedly decided to ramp-up the number of American troops in Afghanistan.  He‘s expected to announce the eventual deployment of about 30,000 more Americans, the first of which could be in place by Christmas.

Those troops will reportedly be sent to Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, as well as the border with Pakistan in the eastern part of the country.  Officials say the mission of the newly bolstered American forces will be a mix of counter insurgency and counterterrorism, essentially protecting the Afghan people while at the same time escalating the fight against Taliban and al Qaeda-linked insurgent fighters.

U.S. troops will also accelerate the training of Afghanistan‘s own security forces.  Mr. Obama spent the day today briefing world leaders on his decision.  He‘s expected to brief dozens of members of Congress tomorrow afternoon before the big speech.

If the president does promise an escalation of 30,000 troops, one factor we have discussed on this show that‘s not yet received broad attention is the impact that would have on America‘s overall military readiness.

As reported earlier this month by the “Washington Independent” Spencer Ackerman, the U.S. Army currently has about 50,000 active duty soldiers capable of deploying right now.  Many of those troops have already served two or three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, some even more than that.

An additional commitment of 30,000 American soldiers would thus leave only about 20,000 deployable soldiers here at home in the event of some unforeseen emergency.  Contribution from other branches of the military could, of course, change this mix.  But in any mix, this decision may stretch thin a military already bearing the strain of eight years of war in two theaters.

That said, unnamed military officials now tell reporters that the escalation in Afghanistan will be gradual, over the course of the next year and a half.  An additional brigade deploying every four months or so, completing the increase not next year but in the first half of the year after that, which means 2011 -- which means this war that began in 2001 will see the culmination of a major escalation 10 years later, in 2011.

And then after we‘ve escalated, of course, we‘ll stay a while longer yet.  As a reminder, it was 7 ½ years ago when President Bush essentially declared victory in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT:  A vicious regime has been toppled in Afghanistan, and an entire people have been liberated from oppression.  Because of American soldiers and our brave allies and friends who have fought beside them, the Taliban is out of business.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Big smile.  Seven and a half years after the previous president crowed with that big smile about the Taliban being out of business, U.S. forces are heading back in even larger numbers to face the same supposedly vanquished enemy.

And on the eve of President Obama‘s big announcement about Afghanistan, there may be an explanation of why.  A bombshell report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee details one of the major missteps in executing the war back in 2001.

In December 2001, U.S. troops had Osama bin Laden in their crosshairs in the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan.  U.S. forces in the area requested backup for a large-scale attack on bin Laden‘s presumed location.  Troops—they wanted troops as well to be blocking his exit path through the mountains into Pakistan.

Those requests were turned down.  Officials in Washington decided to send fewer than 100 U.S. commandos, and Osama bin Laden did ultimately walk away into Pakistan.

The new Senate Armed Services Committee report concludes that, quote, “The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism, leaving the American people more vulnerable to terrorism, laying the foundation for today‘s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.

The decision not to deploy American forced to go after bin Laden or block his escape was made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, General Tommy Franks.”

And then eight Decembers later, with a new defense secretary and after many new top commanders, a new president has apparently decided that the old war should be born again.

Joining us now is Dan Rather, managing editor and host of “Dan Rather Reports” on HDNet.  He has traveled to Afghanistan 11 times over the past, oh, three decade or so.  He has just returned from his most recent trip there.  His reporting will air on HDNet starting next week.

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

DAN RATHER, JUST RETURNING FROM AFGHANISTAN:  Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Is the mission now a logical extension of that failed effort to get bin Laden back in 2001?  Or when you‘re on the ground there now, does it—does it seem like a born-again—a born-again war with its own post-2001 point now?

RATHER:  Well, it seems like a born-again war when you‘re there and we concentrated on going as far forward as we could go, concentrating this trip in Kunar province, which is against the Pakistan border.  You mentioned earlier that the additional deployment of troops will be sent to Helmand province, which is in deep southwest, so-called Taliban headquarters, and Kunar province, up against Pakistan, one of the most dangerous places in the country.

When you‘re there, when you‘re in the field—and we spent a number of days in forward positions—it is a repurposed war.  And I think the big difference between this trip and when I was last there last December, was the change in strategy.  There‘s been a direct, a calculated change in strategy to what the military calls realignment.  And this is giving up wide areas of the country, rural areas of the country in favor of protecting population areas, particularly those population areas that have roads, that can supply—that cannot be supplied by air.

So, you want to keep in mind that this realignment is part of what requires in the military‘s view, the additional troops.  Whether it turns out to be 20,000 additional troops, 35,000, whatever, no one should kid themselves.  This is not going to make a major difference in Afghanistan, except perhaps in the very short term to buy a little bit of time.

Afghanistan is vast.  The terrain is hostile.  And you can‘t think of it just as Afghanistan.  You do have to—underline, italicize, put in all caps, the Pakistan part of this.  It‘s more of an Afghanistan/Pakistan war.

And we can‘t kid ourselves.  We have to understand that very clearly.  And we made a specific change in strategies, this so-called realignment strategy in the late spring or early summer and still being affected.  The reason General McChrystal asked for additional troops was having decided on a new strategy, says, “I need more troops to carry out this strategy.”

Rachel, there‘s nothing more important than understanding in

Afghanistan that however you describe our mission, however you describe the

ultimate goal, the principle obstacles to it are—in no particular order

corruption, cronyism, mismanagement in terms of the government—we‘re talking about the government in Kabul specifically but also down in the tribal warlord area.  Plus, the tremendous production of opium—some of the finances of which go to support the Taliban and the U.S. forces (ph), and the resistance of the majority of mullahs in the country to what they say in the privacy of the mosque—the foreigners, the infidels being there.

      

Those are tremendous obstacles.  I don‘t say they can‘t be overcome, but I do say we have to understand that it‘s going to take a lot and take a long time, and the question for the American people and the question for the president is: do we want to do this?  Do we really want to do it?  And can we do it?

There is an undercurrent in the military which says, “We‘re going to

do what the president orders.  We‘re doing our best.”  And one can‘t say

enough about their valor, about their effectiveness, about their

dedication.  There‘s an undercurrent saying, is it be considered that we

may be spending ourselves into oblivion by staying here as long as we‘ve

stayed here?  This is not to be negative for the sake of being negative,

it‘s just to lay out when you‘re on the ground, particularly, the forward

positions

      

      

It‘s just a lay it out when you‘re on the ground particularly in forward positions, these are the things you hear people talking about as kind of an undercurrent.  And this is the reality of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is tribal—tribal to an extent that you can‘t imagine.  It is predominantly rural.  I‘m afraid we‘ve become kind of Kabul-centric in our thinking, but it‘s predominantly rural.

And it is basically illiterate.  The official literacy rate is about 10 percent.  I think it‘s probably somewhere below that.  Isn‘t to say the Afghans are dumb, they aren‘t.  They‘re quick on the uptake, they‘re smart and they‘re hard working.

But when you talk about rebuilding the Afghan army, the Afghan police, and the Afghan border patrol, you have to understand what a huge undertaking it is given the fact—it is a fact that the literacy rate is only about 10 percent.

MADDOW:  Well, let me ask you about—I mean, the troop surge, we know that the number of troops is not everything in strategy, obviously.  But the troop numbers are something that fit into a broader strategy.  But from your reporting and your time there, you‘re saying that, qualitatively, the number of troops isn‘t going to make that much of a difference.  Qualitatively what might make a difference is the change in strategy.

But when you talk about this realignment and focusing on population centers, I think, didn‘t the Russians do that?  Didn‘t the Russians do that and fail?  Wasn‘t that part of what they tried?

RATHER:  The Russians did do a version of that.  We also did a version of it in Vietnam.  It was called the “enclave theory” at that time.

MADDOW:  Yes.

RATHER:  However, the military people—and not just the people with stars on their shoulders will say—there‘s a big difference in what we‘re trying and what the Russians tried, that we are coupling this with the use of so-called soft power—people from the State Department, people that work with AID, various civilian workers.

And one difference between the trip I made last December and the one I made this late November is, there has been a surge in so-called soft power.  For example, Lieutenant Colonel Randy George, who‘s in charge of this Kunar province and the 10th Mountain Division there, he really works very closely now with a young man named Dante Paradiso.  And they—

Paradiso is civilian, not military.  But they travel together.  They talk all day.

And Colonel George will say, “We work as hard as we can on the civilian side.”  They‘re trying to build governance from the ground up at the same time our embassy in Washington are trying to build governance from the top down.

And this young man, Paradiso, he works with the colonel on such things as meeting with the elders, trying to talk to as many mullahs as he can, saying, “What projects do you want?  You want to build a retaining wall or do you want to build a catfish farm?”  And that‘s a change from a year ago—that the soft power side, in my opinion, has still not surged nearly enough, but much better than it was a year ago.

MADDOW:  Ambitious as all get-out.  Yes.

RATHER:  And that‘s different from what the Russians tried, in my opinion.

MADDOW:  Dan Rather, managing editor and host of “Dan Rather Reports” on HDNet—I feel very privileged that you decided to come to talk to us coming back from your most recent trip, sir, recently.  Thank you so much for your time.

RATHER:  Well, you‘re welcome.  And I do want to mention, one of the differences is that goal (ph) which we talked about differences from last year and this year was the whole business of tweeting.  I tweetered first for the time—tweeted, whatever you call it, this time around.  It‘s an indication of how much the country has changed.  I mean, the communication system is so sophisticated, you wouldn‘t believe it.

Whether that, in the end, makes any difference or not—certainly tweets are now going to make a difference (INAUDIBLE).  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  Well, it‘s great to see you.  Thank you so much, sir.

RATHER:  Thanks so much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  I should mention that Mr. Rather‘s latest reporting from Afghanistan is going to premiere on HDNet net on December 8th.  OK?  OK.

The Family is the secretive religious group behind the house in D.C.  that‘s known as C Street, where several members of Congress live.  C Street is also apparently a really awesome and supportive environment for sorting out your extramarital affair if you happen to be a conservative politician who had said that other people should resign for their affairs.  Well, the Family, it turns out also is connected to another country‘s newly proposed law to jail and even execute people for the crime of being gay.

Author Jeff Sharlet has the details tonight in the interview.

And, if you know me, you know that I have absolutely no idea what to say about Tiger Woods and his car crash.  Dave Zirin is here to help.

But, first, “One More Thing” about American operations in Afghanistan.  New reports that prisoner abuse is still happening at a U.S.  facility there, specifically at a previously undisclosed facility reportedly run by U.S. Special Operations forces near the known prison at Bagram Air Base.  Two teenagers telling “The Washington Post” that they were taken to what they call the “black jail.”  They say they were interrogated, beaten, sleep-deprived and photographed naked.

Three other prisoners, one of whom was captured in June of this year corroborated that report, telling “The New York Times” that they could hear other prisoners being beaten in the same facility.  It‘s also reported that prisoners were not made available to the Red Cross, which in international prison rules is pretty close to a cardinal sin.

One of the first executive orders signed by this new president was a directive that the CIA should close its black site prisons.  That directive would not have applied to a facility like this one in Afghanistan run by the military‘s equally secretive Special Operations Command.

An added complication, in the midst of this policy mess on international detainee issues, Phil Carter, a decorated Iraq veteran, who was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs abruptly and unexpectedly resigned last week.  Credible sources are telling us today that Mr. Carter‘s resignation was for purely personal reasons.  Still, given that this is the Guantanamo, Bagram, secret prison job, hard to imagine there‘s going to be a big line of people clamoring to replace Mr.  Carter.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  A targeted, selective ambush—that‘s how police are describing the killing of four police officers in Tacoma, Washington, yesterday.  The man who allegedly pulled the trigger is still on the loose.  NBC News correspondent George Lewis has the very latest—next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  A manhunt is still on tonight for the gunman who allegedly killed four policeman in Washington state in what police are describing as a, quote, “targeted, selective ambush.”  Police are after suspect Maurice Clemmons.

On Sunday morning, a gunman reportedly walked into a coffee shot just outside Tacoma, Washington suburb of Lakewood.  The gunman shot and killed Police Sergeant Mark Renniger, and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, Greg Richards, as they prepared for the start of their shift.  All were reportedly wearing bulletproof vests when they were killed.  No other customers in the coffee shop were injured.

Police said they thought they had Mr. Clemmons surrounded at a trailer home this morning but when SWAT teams went in, no one was there.  They say now they believe Mr. Clemmons had been at that site, but was gone by the time police arrived.  The shootings in Washington occurred barely three weeks after Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly shot and killed 13 people and wounded 29 others at Fort Hood, America‘s largest Army base.

The Tacoma suspect, Maurice Clemmons, has a long criminal history.  He was charged in May with punching a police officer and until he posted bond last week, he had been in jail charged with second degree child rape.

In Arkansas, Mr. Clemmons had at least five criminal convictions, including one for armed robbery.  Then-Governor Mike Huckabee commuted his 95-year sentence for that crime in the year 2000.

There is now a $125,000 reward for information leading to the suspect‘s arrest.

Joining us with some newly reported information on this case is NBC News correspondent George Lewis.

Mr. Lewis, thanks very much for being here.

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Certainly.  The police tonight say, Rachel, that they‘re running a number of operations trying to find Clemmons.  They believe that he is being aided by either friends or relatives as he tries to hideout from police.

But they also say time may be running out for Clemmons because they believe that in that shoot-out in the coffee shop, he was wounded in the stomach and that he is probably very seriously wounded and probably needs medical attention.  So, they feel that time is running out for him in that aspect and, also, the number of friends and relatives who may be helping him is running thin, too, as police are rounding up some of these people tonight in these various operations that they‘re running—Rachel.

MADDOW:  George, in terms of the crime itself and the way the suspect is believed to have been wounded, one of the things that‘s hard to understand is how these four police officers could have all been killed, whether there was in fact a struggle inside or just outside that coffee shop.

What can you tell us about what they know about the crime itself?

LEWIS:  The details are a little murky.  Police haven‘t been completely forthcoming with what they know about what went on in there.

But apparently, two of the police officers were killed outright.  A third tried to resist.  He was killed.  And then a fourth apparently fought with Clemmons somehow, shot at him, and the fight continued outside the restaurant.  The officer was eventually killed, but the police believe that Clemmons was wounded in the stomach in the course of that fight.

MADDOW:  What is now known about where the suspect has been since the shooting?  What evidence has been found?  Can you give us any other insight into why they believe that he may have been at that site before the SWAT team actually entered that trailer home?

LEWIS:  Police received a tip that Clemmons was dropped off at that site last evening.  And that‘s why they surrounded the house in Seattle.  They were outside for several hours using bull horns to ask Clemmons to surrender, using robots to go in and look for him.  And then finally, they set off flash bang grenades and the SWAT team entered but found nobody.

That all happened about 7:00 this morning.  A big disappointment for the Seattle police, who had been expecting to find him there.

MADDOW:  What can you tell us, George, lastly about the character of the search, the physical effort to contain the suspect wherever he may be?  You mentioned that they may be rounding up now friend and associates of the suspect.  Other things they‘re doing in order to try to keep the dragnet tight?

LEWIS:  Yes, it‘s pretty much a classical police dragnet.  They‘re monitoring major thoroughfares, monitoring ferry stops on Puget Sounds, airports, bus stations, those sorts of things.  Law enforcement agencies throughout the Pacific Northwest have been alerted.  Obviously, when there‘s a cop killer on the loose, he‘s a high priority for all of law enforcement.

MADDOW:  NBC‘s George Lewis in Lakewood, Washington, at the scene of a massive manhunt tonight—thanks very much for your time and your reporting, George.

LEWIS:  OK: okay.

MADDOW:  Police have established a tip line.  And I have asked people with information about this suspect to call.  The number is 253-591-5959.  Again, the police tip line in this case is 253-591-5959 as the manhunt continues.

OK.  So, I keep thinking that our coverage of the Family in C Street has run its course, that we frankly covered this group and the various scandals and political arrangements that they are part of.  It turns out that this is actually a well that will never run dry.  Now, the Family is connected to a proposed law in another country to put people in jail or even execute them for the crime of being gay.

Jeff Sharlet joins us next for the interview.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The government of Uganda is considering passing a law to execute gay people.  Execute as in by hanging a, quote, “serial offender” or an HIV-positive person who commits same sex act.  If enacted, this law would also impose a three-year prison sentence on anyone who knows of a gay person in the country but doesn‘t report that gay person to the government within 24 hours.

Who is supporting and promoting this legislation?  Well, one of the proponents is a minister named Pastor Martin Ssempa.  He was a familiar face to American conservative Evangelicals, because Mr. Ssempa has been a frequent guest of Pastor Rick Warren at One Saddleback Church in California. 

Do you remember Rick Warren?  Him being selected to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama‘s inauguration was the little black cloud that crawled inside the silver lining that day for a lot of Americans who support gay rights. 

Given with Rick Warren‘s deep involvement with Pastor Ssempa on matters including gay rights and AIDS issues in Uganda, “Newsweek” magazine asked Pastor Rick Warren his opinion of this proposed “kill the gays” law in Uganda. 

Mr. Warren responded by distancing himself from Martin Ssempa, but also by refusing to condemn the proposal saying, quote, “It is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.”

In a moment, we‘ll speak with Jeff Sharlet who has written extensively about the secret of Evangelical religious organization called The Family.  We first started discussing The Family on this show when it emerged as a player in, not two, but three Republican sex scandals - those of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Nevada Senator John Ensign and the alleged sex scandal involving former Mississippi Congressman Chip Pickering. 

The Family, among other things, provides well-below market rent housing for a select group of members of Congress at its, until recently, nearly tax-exempt church on Capitol Hill - a house called C Street. 

Jeff Sharlet is now reporting that there aren‘t just ties between American Evangelical Rick Warren and the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda.  He reports that, in fact, the president of Uganda and the legislator who introduced the “kill the gays” bill are more than just supported by American Evangelicals.  They are both members of The Family. 

Joining us now is Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.”  He is also a contributing editor to “Harper‘s” magazine.  Jeff, it‘s nice to see you again.  Thanks for joining us. 

JEFF SHARLET, AUTHOR, “THE FAMILY”:  Good to be back, Rachel.  Thanks.

MADDOW:  So who introduced the “kill the gays” bill and what‘s his connection to The Family? 

SHARLET:  It‘s a member of parliament named David Bahati who has been very involved with a sort of conservative Evangelical revival in Uganda, very involved with a lot of American Evangelical groups and has also taken a leadership role in The Family‘s Uganda operation through something called the African Student Leadership Program at the Uganda‘s National Prayer Breakfast, which is an offshoot of the prayer breakfast The Family hosts every year here in the United States. 

So he‘s got this leadership role that puts him not just at the sort of the margin of things, but functioning as one of their key men on the ground in Uganda. 

MADDOW:  In the big picture, why is The Family interested in Uganda?  Why are they interested in operating there?  And what are their goals there? 

SHARLET:  Well, The Family has always viewed its religious outreach, its worldwide spiritual offensive, as they describe it, in very clear geopolitical terms.  Uganda, right now, is an incredibly important country for world politics.  It‘s functioning in many ways as a U.S. proxy with Sudan, with Congo, with Rwanda. 

There‘s oil in that general region and The Family needs to have a presence out there.  They‘ve had that presence in Uganda since 1986 when they sent over a man to recruit Museveni who was then the new leader.  Didn‘t look like a bright Democratic spot in African leadership.  And they recruited him to be one of their main brothers, as they put it, for the whole continent. 

MADDOW:  So President Museveni in Uganda - he‘s not explicitly backing this horrendous bill.  But it is thought that he tacitly supports it, at least as far as I can tell, and that the ethics and integrity minister in his government is vocally in favor of this thing.  You‘re saying he has Family connections that go back decades. 

SHARLET:  Yes, to 1986.  And it‘s hard to call it passive support when he‘s coming out there and saying that homosexuality is a plot that‘s sort of being imposed on Africa by Europe and that this is a time for Africans to rally together against sort of the foreign influence of homosexuality. 

Now, Museveni is - the thought in Ugandan politics is that he‘s sort of letting other guys take the lead on this.  But through his ethics minister, who is the main organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast in Uganda and it‘s his right-hand man - he‘s got a direct involvement. 

And just last week, in fact, Museveni responded to questions from Uganda‘s main newspaper, is he a part of The Family.  And his press secretary said, “Well, I can‘t answer that.”  But it certainly sounds like an organization the president would like to be a part of but only if they really, really hate homosexuals. 

MADDOW:  Wow.  That bastardization of that Groucho Marx quote is running through my head right now.  Back in July, Jeff, you uncovered a video and we played it on the show, of Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, a Republican senator in the United States.  He‘s got admitted association with C Street and The Family. 

We played video that you found of him talking about his trips taken to Africa on the urging of leaders of The Family.  I just want a real quick clip to remind folks here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM INHOFE (R-OK):  If you‘re a member of the United States Senate, in Africa, they think you are important, so you can always go to see the kings. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You always get in to see the kings.  Is Sen. Inhofe or any other American politician powerful enough among Ugandan politicians that they could derail this legislation if they wanted to? 

SHARLET:  Well, working with colleagues, I‘ve reached out to Inhofe‘s office and he refuses to say a word about it despite the fact that he likes to boast of his incredibly close relationship with Ugandan politics. 

He‘s attended the Uganda National Prayer Breakfast.  He says, in fact, he has adopted the nation and he regularly travels over there in behalf of The Family.  Yet, he‘s refused to condemn it. 

Does he have the influence?  We don‘t know because he‘s not exerting it.  It‘s just like Rick Warren.  Could Rick Warren, who has designated Uganda a purpose-driven nation, make a difference? 

We don‘t know because they‘re not trying.  And I think that‘s the kind of the bottom line with the American involvement.  There‘s been a lot of American support for the guys who are promoting this bill and no pushback against this incredibly hateful piece of violence put in the legislation. 

MADDOW:  Jeff Sharlet is author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.”  Thanks, as always, for joining us, Jeff.  I really appreciate it.

SHARLET:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  OK.  Remember when Newt Gingrich gave the owner of a strip club in Texas an entrepreneurship award?  And the way that Newt Gingrich does business now, that award required this business owner to send to Newt Gingrich a $5,000 donation to his organization. 

Nice deal, right?  Mr. Gingrich rescinded the award when he realized that he had actually given it to the proprietor of a strip club.  He gave the money back to his this real-life entrepreneur he had insulted.  In turn, she decided to do something awesome with that money that Newt returned to her.  That story is coming up only here.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead, Newt Gingrich‘s legacy gets an unexpected boost from a Texas strip club.  Kent Jones is here to help explain. 

But first, a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news, starting with the now-infamous White House gate crashers, reality show wannabes who made it past two security checkpoints at the White House state dinner last week to come within an arm‘s length of the leader of the free world. 

The couple have said they were invited.  And tonight, a reporter at “The Washington Post” suggests why they may have thought so.  On Friday, they reportedly turned over to the Secret Service copies of an E-mail exchange with a Pentagon official, E-mails that a friend tells “the Washington Post” were, quote, “confirming they were legitimately supposed to be there.   They understood they were invited.” 

But that official, Michelle Jones, a Pentagon-based liaison to the White House, denies that she helped them, staying in a statement, quote, “I specifically stated that they did not have tickets and in fact that I did not have the authority to authorize attendance, admittance or access to any part of the evening‘s activities.” 

Meanwhile, the social-climbing reality show wannabes are about to get what they have longed for, an invitation to an elite Washington event on Capitol Hill.  The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee has invited them to testify about their role in this serious security breach.  They‘ve been invited to testify Thursday morning. 

Everyone of course is suggesting that they RSVP - yes.  Meantime, the couple, Michaele and Tareq Salahi will be on the “Today” show tomorrow morning for real. 

Next up -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R-NV):  Last year, I had an affair. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That pause wasn‘t supposed to be quite so pregnant, but it was still very dramatic, wasn‘t it?  Sen. John Ensign‘s nine-month long affair with a Senate staffer‘s wife has now surpassed its allotted 15 minutes of fame. 

Since the last time we checked in with the Nevada Republican, two principal figures in the story have spoken to the media.  First, Doug Hampton, whose wife was Ensign‘s mistress.  He told ABC that the $96,000 from Ensign‘s parents were not part of a quote, unquote, “pattern of generosity,” as the senator claimed. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG HAMPTON, FORMER SEN. JOHN ENSIGN‘S STAFFER:  Oh, hey listen, we realize our son is having an affair with your wife, maybe some money will help.  That‘s ridiculous. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is it crystal clear to you that that $96,000 was, in fact, severance and not a gift? 

HAMPTON:  Crystal clear.  They were clearly what he deemed as severance. 

That, too, is a lie, cover-up. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Of course, if it was severance, John Ensign could find himself in the pokey.  Then, today, on a conservative Las Vegas radio talk show, Sen.  Ensign himself denied impropriety in the firing of his former mistress‘ husband and his subsequent effort to get companies to hire that same man. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ENSIGN:  When I was a veterinarian, when I was in the House of Representatives and the Senate, current employees, former employees, I‘ve recommended to countless numbers over the years, gotten them jobs.  What‘s interesting about that, the vast majority of people did not hire him.  Only a couple of people actually ended up taking him on, having him being their representative.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Despite all the calls for Sen. Ensign to resign and the accusations of ethics violations by watchdog groups, Sen. Ensign says that he is not going anywhere. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ENSIGN:  The other thing is that a lot of people running for office next year, I‘ve met with them.  They actually want me involved in their campaigns. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I am very excited to learn who exactly it is that wants John Ensign campaigning with them next year.  He‘s not naming names, but who these candidates are - but we here at THE RACHEL MADDOW show appeal to you, our viewers, if you see Sen. Ensign‘s name on a fundraiser invitation for an actual candidate running for office, please, we are dying of curiosity - rachel@msnbc.com. 

And finally, in the anything-goes world of Internet talk radio, a man named Hal Turner in New Jersey still managed to stick out. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HAL TURNER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, “THE HAL TURNER SHOW”:  If the three most crucial men in World War II didn‘t even mention the Holocaust, why should we believe it 60 years later?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Yes, topping off the Holocaust denying and the blatantly racist and white supremacist screeds designed to scald upon hearing, earlier this year, Hal Turner topped even himself by posting on his Web site an unmistakable threat against three Chicago judges. 

He wrote, quote, “Let me be the first to say this plainly: these judges deserve to be killed.  Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty.”

Mr. Turner also posted photographs of the judges along with their office addresses and a map of the courthouse in which they worked.  He was arrested and charged with threatening the judges‘ lives.  It‘s an open-and-shut case, right? 

Well, the “New Jersey Record” is now reporting that Hal Turner, the extremist we all know and loathe, was also an FBI informant.  He was code named Valhalla. 

Quote, “He received thousands of dollars from the FBI to report on such groups as the Aryan Nations and the white supremacist National Alliance and even a member of the Blue-eyed Devils skinhead punk band.  Later, he was sent undercover to Brazil where he reported a plot to send non-military supplies to anti-American Iraqi resistance fighters.”

Hal Turner claims that he was coached and encouraged by the FBI to use language so vile it causes steam to come out of the ears of those of us outside the Neo-Nazi community.  However, records show agents were uncomfortable with Mr. Turner‘s unabashed racism and anti-Semitism and that they tried on multiple occasions to rein him in even while keeping him on the payroll. 

His trial begins this week and, boy oh, boy, will we keep you posted on this white supremacist spy versus white supremacist spy keeper.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As the Republican Party continues its search for meaning in the political minority, one of its members has found his.  Meet Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz.  He‘s the same person who earlier this month said he saw a future in politics for former Miss California Carrie Prejean because she, quote, “has the ability to draw crowds,” and quote, “has star power.”

He‘s also the congressman who caused a scene at the Salt Lake International Airport in September because he did not want to be body-scanned by the TSA.  Now, Congressman Chaffetz is trying to tell the commander-in-chief to pull the troops out of Afghanistan. 

It‘s an interesting point, sort of undercut by his previous Carrie

Prejean for president stuff, but still - 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Today, Tiger Woods announced that he is dropping out of a charity golf tournament he was supposed to be hosting.  Mr. Woods cited injuries sustained in his now-infamous Thanksgiving car crash.  He says he‘s extremely disappointed that he won‘t be able to compete. 

Welcome to day four of the Tiger Woods celebrity car crash scandal.  It started very early Friday morning when Mr. Woods crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and then into a neighbor‘s tree.  He was treated and released from the hospital the same day.

But by the following day, the Web site TMZ had reported that the lead up to Woods‘ accident involved being assaulted and chased with a golf club by his wife.  And a tabloid connection was officially born. 

Mr. Woods pushed back against the reporting on his own Web site, but so far he has refused to talk to either the press or the local authorities about the crash.  Tiger Woods‘ silence is, of course, not stopping anyone from asking questions especially of the very salacious sort. 

Was Woods having an affair?  Did his wife beat him up?  Was he on meds of some kind?  According to “The Nation‘s” sportswriter and my buddy, Dave Zirin, it is good that questions are finally being asked about Tiger Woods.  But yes, according to Dave, at least, these are all the wrong questions. 

Joining us now, Dave Zirin, sportswriter for “The Nation” and author of the book, “A People‘s History of Sports in the United States.” 

Dave, thank you for coming on the show.  And I want you to admit it; you care about whether his wife hit him with a golf club. 

DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTSWRITER AND AUTHOR:  Yes.  Actually, I heard she said to the police that she hit him six times, but they should only mark it down as a four.  Sorry.

MADDOW:  That‘s very bad.  All right, Tiger Woods is an athlete - an athlete whose star power is unrivaled, not only in the United States, but possibly anywhere in the world. 

ZIRIN:  Right. 

MADDOW:  What do you think are the questions that we ought to be asking about Tiger Woods, the public figure? 

ZIRIN:  Well, let‘s start with another word that‘s in the news today, and that‘s Dubai.  Dubai has defaulted on its billions of dollars in loan in an effort to turn itself into a multibillion-dollar vacation paradise for the Middle East and beyond. 

The center of Dubai‘s tourist industry is a place called Dubailand.  And at the center of Dubailand is the Tiger Woods golf course and resort, which includes 22 palaces and 100 villas and cost $100 million.  All of Dubailand, $68 billion. 

Now, that all sounds good and Dubailand has been called Disneyland for adults.  It‘s also ground zero of the international illegal sex trade.  It‘s also ground zero of some of the worst labor violations this side of Saipan. 

And people begged Tiger Woods to say something about the labor practices or the sex trade in Dubai.  And it doesn‘t sound that would be that controversial.  It‘s like being against swine flu or saying up with puppies.  You know, it doesn‘t sound like that big a deal. 

But Tiger Woods refused to say a word about it.  That‘s been his M.O., and the media absolutely let him skate on it.  So for those of us who try to be critical of how athletes use their fame and use their incredible cultural capital, it boggles my mind that there is a 24-hour stakeout on Tiger Woods and it‘s for something that frankly makes me want to shower with steel wool. 

MADDOW:  Well, so much of the way that it has been justified to spend this much time covering Tiger Woods is the question of his business dealings about whether or not this is going to affect his billion-dollar brand. 

But you‘re saying that there are political questions that he should be asked to answer for, because he is a billion-dollar brand and he sort of floated above scrutiny on all of those. 

ZIRIN:  Well, absolutely.  And very few people challenged Tiger on this and it has to do with power.  You mentioned him being a billion-dollar brand.  When it comes to sports earnings, that number is about $92 million.  That‘s what he‘s made through golf. 

When it comes to public relations, his image as a Spartan master, Sun Tzu ninja of focus, that‘s over $900 million that he has earned by perpetuating this image.  The questions are legitimate in regard of the business, of Tiger Woods, Inc. 

But what really sort of like grinds my gears about all of this is that Tiger Woods deserves to be challenged for not taking a political stance.  And I absolutely respect athlete‘s rights not to take stance.  I‘m not saying every athlete has to be Muhammad Ali.

But Tiger Woods is someone who has always marketed himself as part of the iconography of the Civil Rights Movement.  Remember his Nike commercial where all the kids say, “I am Tiger Woods.  I am Tiger Woods.”  All the colors of the Benetton rainbow. 

That came from Spike Lee‘s movie, “Malcolm X” where all the kids say, “I am Malcolm X.  I am Malcolm X.”  That came from a Black Panther film about Fred Hampton, “I am Fred Hampton.  I am Fred Hampton,” after he was assassinated in the late ‘60s.  And that came from, of course, “I am Spartacus.” 

I mean, you‘re talking about some of the most deep-felt quotes of solidarity.  And they‘re used to sell us Nike products.

Dave Zirin, sportswriter for “The Nation,” the man who connects weirder dots than anybody else in the country, thank you so much for joining us tonight.  It‘s always a pleasure. 

ZIRIN:  My privilege, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks.  We will be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We turn now to our canine altruism correspondent, Kent Jones. 

Welcome back, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Welcome back, Rachel.  Breaking news on a very important story I reported on just a few weeks ago.  Take a look. 

MADDOW:  OK.  Good.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over):  At the center of a controversy involving a Dallas gentleman‘s club, Newt Gingrich and pit bulls, is our friend Dawn Rizos, owner of The Lodge.  As we reported on the show, Rizos received an Entrepreneur of the Year award from Newt Gingrich‘s organization.  And then, they took it back.  Ouch. 

DAWN RIZOS, OWNER, THE LODGE:  I really think this is a beautiful place with wonderful food and I can‘t understand why he wouldn‘t be proud to give The Lodge an award. 

JONES:  Newt‘s group sent back the $5,000 he gave them.  So Rizos, a serious dog lover, decided to use the money to start a rescue facility for injured pit bulls called Newt‘s Nook. 

Good news, Newt‘s Nook is now open at the animal guardian shelter in Salina, Texas.  Here‘s VIP manager of The Lodge, Sunny Hunter, posing with KC(ph) and Bronco.  Look, Animal Guardians houses about 130 dogs on the property.  And Newt‘s Nook is a specially heated and air-conditioned building designed for dogs that are injured. 

Ten poochies have already been adopted.  Now, that‘s a contract with America.  And if the prospect of taking home KC(ph) or Bronco weren‘t incentive enough, The Lodge will donate an additional $100 to Animal Guardians for every dog adopted through Valentine‘s Day and give each adopter a gift certificate to The Lodge.  Makes a nice stocking stuffer. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES:  Excellent. 

MADDOW:  Excellent. 

JONES:  Anyone that‘s interested in adopting a pit bull can go to “AnimalGuardians.com.”  Take a look.

MADDOW:  Well, very good.  Thank you very much, Kent.  Appreciate that.  I love the way that worked out.  Thank you for watching tonight as well.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.  Until then, E-mail us, rachel@msnbc.com.  “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.

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