updated 1/5/2010 11:18:35 AM ET 2010-01-05T16:18:35

Guests: Richard Wolffe, E.J. Dionne, Jonathan Cohn, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Happy New Year to you, Keith.  It‘s great to have you back.  Thanks.

We begin tonight with some breaking news.  On the White House investigation into exactly what happens with the Christmas Day botched terror attempt.  MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe is actually joining us now by phone with that.

Richard, I know you just shared some reporting on COUNTDOWN about a potentially very inflammatory development in the Christmas Day terror plot investigation.  What can you tell us about that reporting and what else you‘ve been able to learn?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Rachel, this investigation is still very much at the fact-finding stage where the White House is looking at still what happened.  It‘s very preliminary.  Obviously, the president has just got back from vacation and just started prepping for his big session tomorrow—which I‘m told is still going to focus on things like the screening processes that people face.

But the question here is whether or not the systemic failure that the president has talked about was anything more than human error.  Was this some kind of failure because of the system‘s internal tensions?  Or was there actually just a surplus of information that people didn‘t understand or report fully?

So, the question about how intelligence was shared is very much uppermost in the president‘s mind.  He is still—I am told—very steamed about the whole affair and the failings that led to such a serious breach of security.  But it‘s still very early in the phase of where this investigation is going.

MADDOW:  Richard, I believe that the—I think the reason that you‘re reporting tonight has an exclamation point on it for many of us who saw your interview on COUNTDOWN, you were thinking about where this might led, is the prospect, not just that intelligence leads that should have been followed weren‘t followed, that intelligence dots that should have been connected weren‘t connected, that there isn‘t enough communication among the different parts of the American intelligence community.  That‘s important analysis but not new analysis.

What‘s new and very worrying is the prospect that intelligence was deliberately withheld by one part of the American intelligence community from another either because of a grudge to make somebody look bad or for any other reason that put petty politics above national security.

Is that, in fact, the path that this White House inquiry is going down?

WOLFFE:  That I think is 10 steps ahead of where the White House is right now.

MADDOW:  OK.

           

WOLFFE:  I just checked in with White House people again.  And, look, there are—there‘s lots of finger-pointing going on in the intelligence community, where you have people who are in the center of it all, who are tasked with pulling these things together who say the information was there and it wasn‘t flagged up or it wasn‘t shared adequately.  So, there is a line of inquiry that goes to the heart of why wasn‘t this stuff shared adequately?

I think the early suspicions from inside the White House are that this comes down to human error more than this is some willful withholding.  But the questions are being asked and they‘re being asked because some people are saying this stuff wasn‘t shared adequately and they say it could have been.

MADDOW:  MSNBC analyst Richard Wolffe joining us, helping us sort out what‘s turning out to be both a fascinating story and a deeply troubling story about America‘s response to the terror alert or the terror incident on Christmas Day, and what we could have pieced together ahead of time.

Richard, thanks very much for your time.  We appreciate it.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  We begin our first show of 2010, now, with the death of a political truism that doesn‘t seem to have survived 2009.  The truism is the conventional wisdom that Republicans sure know how to do terror politics.  2010 being an election year—right now, Republicans all over the country are busy waxing poetic about terrorism on campaign trails all around the country.

For example there‘s this gentleman in Minnesota.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN QUIST (R-MN), HOUSE CANDIDATE:  I, like you, have seen that our country is being destroyed.  I mean, this is—every generation has had to fight the fight for freedom.  This is our fight.  And this is our time.

This is it.  Terrorism, yes.  But that‘s not the big battle.  The big battle is in D.C. with the radicals.  They‘re not liberals.  They‘re radicals.  They are destroying our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  House candidate Allen Quist of Minnesota.  Terrorism isn‘t the big battle.  The big battle is between us and the liberals.

That sort of political speech right there is what it looks like when something that used to work for you stops working.  Someone obviously once told that Republican congressional candidate in Minnesota, “Hey, you should campaign on terrorism.  That always works out great for Republicans.”

That is the common wisdom and it might have been true at one point, but it does actually matter how you do it.  And if you‘re saying things like, “I hate Democrats more than I hate al Qaeda,” I‘m pretty sure you‘re not doing it right.

Now that the calendar has flipped to 2010 we‘re experiencing a little outbreak of Republicans blowing it.  Republicans blowing something they used to be pretty good at, the politicization of terrorism.

The latest is Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri.  In trying to attack President Obama‘s handling of the Christmas Day underpants bomber, Mr. Bond stepped on the same rake that a number of his colleagues have already recently stepped on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  Do you think it was a mistake to charge Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant?

SEN. KIT BOND ®, MISSOURI:  Clearly.  As you said, in your interview, as soon as he got a lawyer, he lawyered up.  We should have held him as an enemy combatant and tried him under the military commissions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We should have held him as an enemy combatant.

After facing questions about why he thinks President Obama is wrong to try the Christmas Day bomber in federal court, when President Bush made the exact same decision about the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, back in 2002, Senator Bond, after facing those questions, decided to double-down apparently without checking his own record.  The senator is now seeking to go back in time to try to create the impression that he was against the shoe bomber being charged in federal court back in 2002, now, calling it a mistake—even though Senator Bond made not one peep of protest about that at the time.

In fact, at the time, the Justice Department, the Bush Justice Department was prosecuting Richard Reid—at that time, Senator Kit Bond was asked specifically if he had any criticism of the Bush Justice Department‘s role in fighting terrorism.  Senator Bond said he had none.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BOND:  I believe that the Department of Justice is observing constitutional guidelines and safeguards, but they‘re going after people who come from areas of the world which might spawn terrorists, and I think that‘s appropriate.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  In 2002, he said what the Justice Department was doing was appropriate.  Now looking back on it he says, back in 2002, that was a huge mistake—huge mistake to use the Justice Department for this sort of thing.  How dare Obama do this now, this thing I said at the time was appropriate?

Then there‘s Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.  And after facing pressure for putting an indefinite hold on President Obama‘s nominee to run transportation security, Mr. DeMint has now, sort of, caved, saying that he‘ll allow a vote on the TSA nominee as long as he gets time to debate the nomination on the Senate floor.  While caving on the TSA issue, Senator DeMint continues to embarrassing himself—embarrass himself by pressing another issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  A lot of us have been concerned over the last year that the president did seem to downplay the threat of terror.  He doesn‘t use the word anymore.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN:  Senator DeMint, how has he downplayed the risk of terror?

DEMINT:  Well, it begins with not even being willing to use the word.

The concern that a lot of us have had over the last year is we‘ve even dropped the word “terror.”

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  You know, when you see Jim DeMint saying this sort of thing, it might be useful to remember that he‘s just making it up as he goes along.  You should hear a little laugh track in your head when he does that, as evidenced by President Obama repeatedly on tape saying this word that Jim DeMint says he never says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Terror and extremism that threatens the world‘s stability.

Extremists sewing terror in pockets of the world.

Suffering and civil wars that breed instability and terror.

New acts of terror.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  When Jim DeMint says that Barack Obama never uses the word “terror,” he‘s lying.  It should probably be pointed out when that happens.

As we have noted here before the outbreak of people inexpertly trying to politicize terrorism, trying to politicize terrorism but blowing it, that effort sort of has a mascot in Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan.  Mr. Hoekstra is now apparently unwilling to defend his decision to raise money off of the attempted murder of 300 Americans on Christmas Day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you proud of that, of fundraising off the national crisis like that?

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA ®, MICHIGAN:  Well, I‘ve been leading on national security for the last nine years that I‘ve been on the intelligence committee.  And over the last two to three months, I‘ve been very concerned about where this administration is taking us on national security issues, the refusal to acknowledge that the Fort Hood attack was a terrorist attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But I‘m asking about raising money off the attempted murder of 300 people three days after it occurred.

HOEKSTRA:  I am proud of the role that I have played in making sure that America is safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Mr. Hoekstra dodging that question not once but twice yesterday.  And that‘s actually a big change from the way the Hoekstra camp had been talking about his raising money off a terrorist attack against American citizens.

Just last week, Mr. Hoekstra‘s campaign told us that Pete Hoekstra himself signed off on that fundraising letter and that we should expect more similar efforts from him.  Just a few days later, Congressman Hoekstra has been forced to become embarrassed about this.  Now, apparently, unwilling to defend the effort when he‘s personally called out on it.

Even as Mr. Hoekstra apparently realizes the step on the rake face plant that he has made here, trying to raise money off of the attempted murder of 300 Americans on Christmas Day, three days after it happened, even as Hoekstra finally starts to get embarrassed about that, the Republican Party seems to be following Mr. Hoekstra‘s lead.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee sending out a fundraising pitch that reads in part, quote, “This country was one faulty detonator away from an American airliner being blown out of the sky.  When a foreigner tries to blow up an airliner, it is an attempted terrorist attack.  Will you please give $5 or $10 by midnight tomorrow so we have the money necessary to fight the Obama machine?”

The National Republican Congressional Committee also sending out its own fundraising e-mail using the specter of terrorist attacks against Americans to cash in.

Republicans are doubling down on trying to raise money off of an attempted terrorist attack.  And while some are trying to win the terror debate by actively attacking President Obama publicly, others are making the strategic decision to keep quiet.

Peter Baker of “The New York Times” reported this weekend, quote, “A half-dozen former senior Bush officials involved in counterterrorism told me before the Christmas Day incident that for the most part, they were comfortable with Obama‘s policies, although they were reluctant to say so on the record.  Some worried they would draw the ire of Cheney‘s circle if they did.  They generally resent Obama‘s anti-Bush rhetoric and are unwilling to give him political cover by defending him.”

Republicans are supposed to be good at politicizing terrorism, yet here are four former senior Bush administration officials actually telling a reporter that there are things they think are keeping the public safe that they will not publicly support because of partisan politics.  They won‘t let anyone know they support these policies they actually support and think are good for the country because they‘re afraid of Dick Cheney being mad at them.  They told that to a reporter.

You know, keeping your name off that quote is not going to be enough to help your cause if you‘re willing to admit to being that craven.

Joining us now is “Washington Post” columnist, E.J. Dionne.

E.J., it‘s great to see you.  Thank you for being here tonight.

E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST:  Good to be with you.  Happy New Year.

MADDOW:  Happy New Year.

It seems to me like there have been a lot of political missteps as people have tried to sort of politicize and capitalize off of terrorism in the wake of this Christmas Day incident.  Are the people who are supposed to be good at this getting bad at this, or has the political context changed?

DIONNE:  Well, you know, it‘s like a team that uses one play and does really great one season, the 2002 election, and it works great.  The next season, the 2004 election, and they figure they can use the same play over and over again and not adjust it.

And I think what they ran into in the last week is the first couple days, President Obama was trying to reassure people.  A lot of folks thought he looked too laid-back, wasn‘t engaged.  If they had just hit him a little then and moved on, they might have gotten some mileage out of it, but instead, they sort of pushed way farther.  Part of it was just over-politicization.  A lot of people objected to the fundraising letter.

Some of it was just pure mendacity, the notion that Obama doesn‘t use the word “terror.”  And just part of it was hypocrisy.  You know, many examples where policies that President Bush pursued that Obama is pursuing suddenly became bad because Obama is pursuing the same policies and that just didn‘t work.

And so, I think they took a situation where they might have gained a little ground and at the end of it all, I think they lost ground in the last week.

MADDOW:  And I think if we‘re going to sort of maintain the pseudo sports metaphor here, in terms of playing.

DIONNE:  Forgive me.

MADDOW:  No, I think it‘s actually appropriate because what this sort of seems like is an own goal on behalf of the Republicans.  It seems like they‘ve tried to turn this into an offensive maneuver—like they always have—and it has back fired on them.  They‘ve ended up scoring a goal on themselves.

And I don‘t feel though, like Democrats have made political progress with this.  Democrats have been able to turn this to any offensive advantage here for them politically.

Are Democrats playing this same game with Republicans?  Or are they just letting Republicans hurt themselves?

DIONNE:  Well, the old line that if your enemy is losing a battle, don‘t interfere.  And I actually think that there was a moment when it turned and that moment was when Dick Cheney came out and said the things that he said that were untrue and there is, I don‘t think, anyone better at mobilizing the Democratic base than Dick Cheney.

You found all sorts of people who had been critical of President Obama on the health care plan or on Afghanistan suddenly wanting to say, hold on a minute.  Dick Cheney is going after Obama on something in, you know, what was, clearly, an unfair way.  And so, I think this helped Obama immensely with his own base.  I‘m not sure it mattered to a lot of other people, but it sure mattered with his own side.

MADDOW:  What‘s your reaction to these anonymous, former Bush senior officials telling “The New York Times” that they support President Obama‘s counterterrorism policies but they won‘t say so publicly?  To me, that seems like a relatively craven admission.

DIONNE:  Well, I also liked in that Peter Baker article that some of them said, “If we supported Obama, it would actually make his policies more unpopular.  If they said they were like President Bush‘s policies.”

You know, some of it is about how tribal and divisive we‘ve gotten on these kind of issues.  Professionals used to be professionals and Republicans and Democrats could support each other, you can‘t do that now.  And it‘s bad for you in the next administration.

But there are Republicans who have spoken out.  I was really struck on “Meet the Press” yesterday when General Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, and also, Michael Chertoff, who can be a fairly partisan Republican, emphasized the continuity between certain Obama policies in terms of just stopping and catching terrorists and the Bush policies.

And so, when you have the Republican professionals in this field speaking out and saying, “Hold on, you know, some of this stuff, our own side is saying isn‘t true,” they didn‘t put it that way but that was the effect of it—when I saw that I said, this game is really over.

MADDOW:  Yes.  E.J. Dionne, columnist for “The Washington Post”—it‘s really good to have your insight on this.  Thanks very much for your time tonight.

DIONNE:  Good to be with you.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  As Republicans arguably start to blow it on politicizing terrorism, another man bites dog as Democrats seem to be officially out-maneuvering Republicans on health reform—out-maneuvering them in terms of legislative tactics.  Yes, I know these are words that you thought you would never hear.  It took almost a year but Democrats do appear to be pulling it off.  We have that story coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  If man-made islands, an indoor skiing mountain in the middle of a desert, and a billion-dollar Tiger Woods golf course complete with palaces overlooking the greens—if all of those things weren‘t enough to spear Dubai into everyone‘s mind as a place that‘s clearly compensating for something, well today, the tiny kingdom unveiled the tallest structure in the world.

There it is, in all of its tallness.  The Burj Khalifa is a 160-story, 2,717-foot high monument to height.  The official news agency of Dubai is calling it, quote, “Another unique achievement by Dubai to be added to the pages of humanity‘s modern history.”

For extra credit, can you name the structure that was the world‘s tallest manmade thing before this?  Before the Burj Khalifa was unveiled?  What was the tallest manmade thing in the world?  Can you even guess what country it was in?

If you guessed Warren Beatty‘s little black book, you have a keen sense of topical humor but you‘re wrong.  Up until now, the tallest structure in the world was this television transmission tower three miles west of Blanchard, North Dakota.  And it transmits the heck out of Channel 11 in Fargo.  The KVLY-TV mast northwest of Fargo is now the second tallest manmade structure on earth.  That is until Fargo figures out how to one up Dubai over this whole Burj Khalifa thing.

I‘m sure Fargo‘s got something in the works.  I love rivalries like this.  Fargo, Dubai, Fargo, Dubai.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  If you used whatever vacation time you had over the past few weeks to get away from the relentless debate in the Senate about health care reform, I‘m sorry to tell you vacation is over.  The House and the Senate are gearing back up for yet another round on health reform.  But according to new reporting today, the Democrats may have found a way to get this bill done, despite the full court press by the Republican Party to try to stop it.

On December 1st, you might remember that Republican Senator Judd Gregg wrote a memo laying out all of the procedural road blocks available to the Republican Party to try to stop health reform, a veritable arsenal of obstruction.  TPM posted it all online.

Republicans, it turns out, have used a lot of these techniques. 

There‘s this one, for example, from section one, the “new legislative day.”  We asked a senior Democratic leadership aide about this today who confirmed to us that, yes, basically, every time you saw 92-year-old Senator Robert Byrd being wheeled into the Senate in the middle of the night, Republicans were using the “new legislative day” tactic as the reason for that.

Then in section two of Judd Gregg‘s how-to-obstruct memo, there was this one: reading of amendments and conference reports in entirety.  Remember when Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma tried that one?  He forced a tag team of Senate clerks to spend a whole bunch of hours reading an amendment before Bernie Sanders let rip a righteous howl on the Senate floor to put an end to that one?

Senator Gregg‘s obstruction instructions also suggested using Senate points of order to slow things down saying, quote, “A senator may make a point of order at any point he or she believes that a Senate procedure is being violated with or without cause.”  We saw that trick pulled out of the bag a few times, including when Senator John Ensign of Nevada unwisely decided to deride health reform as unconstitutional by waxing eloquent about how solemnly he takes his oaths—which was awkward for a married man undergoing an ethics investigation for shtooping his campaign staffer.

Then there was the “motion to recommit” gambit.  That‘s where you try to send a bill back to committee asking for changes or additions.  That was a tactic the GOP used repeatedly.

But, of course, despite all of these tactics, health reform did pass the Senate.  So now the fight‘s over, right?  We can retire Senator Judd Gregg‘s version of “The Art of War”?  It turns out, no.  We can‘t.

Republicans have one last hope, one last arrow in the quiver, one last section in the obstruction memo.  It‘s the conference committee process where the House and the Senate reconcile their two different versions of the bill.  And according to Sun Tzu, obstruction master of the Republican Party, Senator Judd Gregg, that conference committee process provides yet more opportunities to stall this thing.

Did you know it takes three more votes just to send a bill to the conference committee?  Just think what the minority party could do with three more votes.  Three more chances to slow this thing down, to slow it down enough to try to kill it yet again.

Well, according to new reporting today, Republicans are not likely to get that chance.  As my next guest was first to report today, Democrats are planning to skip the whole conference committee thing and work out the differences between the House and Senate bills informally, which—yes, means they‘ll be working them out without the Republicans.

Jonathan Cohn, senior editor of “The New Republic” and author of “Sick,” is the man who broke the story today.

Mr. Cohn, thank you very much for being here.

JONATHAN COHN, THE NEW REPUBLIC:  It‘s good to be here.  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  In your reporting today, you wrote that a Senate staffer had told you it‘s time for a little ping pong.  Ping pong being the legislative alternative to the conference committee.

What does it really mean?

COHN:  Well, ping pong is basically a reference to the fact that instead of having a group of senators meet and work out a final version of the bill and then have each chamber vote on it, basically, you have—the House will now basically take the bill that the Senate passed, say, “All right, this is our starting template.  Let‘s see what we like about this and let‘s modify it a little bit to make us so we can be happy with it.”  They pass it.  And then they send it back to the Senate and then the Senate does the same thing.  Ping pong.

But, of course, as this is all happening, there is an informal negotiation going on.  And in effect, the discussions that are taking the place of the conference committee and that‘ll be the Democratic leaders, will be, you know, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and will be the main committee players and perhaps some other people, and they will be having the discussions how to work out, “OK, how do we come to agreement on this, so as you said we can finally be done with this and we can finally get a bill onto President Obama‘s desk?”

MADDOW:  Is it true that by doing things this way, rather than through a formal conference committee, Democrats are effectively denying Republicans further opportunity to slow down, obstruct, or maybe even stop the bill?

COHN:  Well, there will still be a few opportunities.  There has to be a final vote by the Senate, and as we‘ve seen, the Republicans will take any opportunity they can in the Senate to try to gum up the works.  But this greatly diminishes the opportunities.

As you said, if we were going to go through the formal conference process, there would have to be a whole set of votes and a whole set of debates, and this thing could drag out for much, much longer.  And, you know, it‘s fine, you know, to have this process of a conference committee and go through this formality if you‘re working with a minority party that‘s sincerely interested in trying to negotiate and come up with a compromise that, you know, some of their members can like.  But I think we‘ve seen by now that that‘s simply not what the Republican Party is interested in.

You know, the time to cooperate, the time to talk about how to find some compromise that everyone can live with, you know, we had that time.  We had the entire year to do that.  And the Republicans made very clear that they were not interested.

So, I think, the Democrats now have gotten that lesson and they‘re reacting accordingly saying, “All right.  You don‘t want to be part of this?  We‘ll just take care of business on our own and we‘ll get this done and we‘ll try to come up with the best bill that we can.”

MADDOW:  I guess the opportunity cost here is the prospect that the conference committee could actually be a chance to make the bill better, that it could be a place to constructively work out any kinks in the bill, to try to smooth out any policy awkwardnesses before it‘s actually signed by the president.  I guess by having to do things this way or by choosing to do things this way—depending how you look at it—you do miss the opportunity to actually, in conference, make the policy, a better policy for the country.

COHN:  Well, sure.  I mean, look, in an ideal world, I‘m sure there are some ideas from the Republican side that would be useful to have as part of this discussion.  And, frankly, I think Democrats over the last few months, even with the Republicans being relatively obstructionist about this, have actually made a lot of efforts to accommodate Republican concerns.

But look, at the end of the day, you need two to tango here.  And if the Republicans aren‘t going to make themselves available in a constructive way, there is really no alternative but to proceed without them.  I do think there‘s probably some opportunity cost there but, you know, you have to weigh that against the benefit, which is we can finally get this done.  And I think that‘s the most important goal here.

MADDOW:  And I think that any argument about that, and we have seen Republicans—particularly Republicans like John McCain—complaining loudly about Republicans being kept out of the process.  But when they go so far as to put in black and white, to put in writing all of the different ways they‘re going to try to procedurally obstruct any form of health reform from going through, it becomes hard to also argue that they want to have a constructive role in the process.  I guess they‘ve sort of ceded that territory, politically.

COHN:  Well, I think so.  I mean, don‘t forget on Christmas Eve, when we had that final, you know, climactic vote in the Senate and everyone was so exhausted, the last thing we heard from the Republicans was Mitch McConnell giving a speech on the floor vowing to fight on.  “We‘re not going to let this bill happen.  We‘re going to keep resisting.”

You know, frankly I think if Democrats were still trying to get the Republicans to cooperate and still bending over backwards, there‘ll be something wrong with them.

I mean, look, the Republicans have made their point.  They don‘t want to be part of this discussion.  That‘s their right.  Let‘s move on without them. 

MADDOW:  Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at “The New Republic” - all cross the country right now, people are shell-shocked by the concept that Democrats are just taking the ball and running with it and trying to score.  This is a new idea for liberals.  I think it‘s just starting to sink in. 

Thanks a lot, Jonathan. 

COHN:  Thanks for having me.  

MADDOW:  There is news brewing in the political blogosphere tonight about a Palin, a Palin who is not Sarah Palin.  We will get to the bottom of it next. 

And stay tuned for a full-on review of the constitutional provision that Michele Bachmann says is surely out to get you.  Or at least she used to say it was surely out to get you.  Now, she‘s not so sure.  It‘s an interesting, backsliding story.  Stick around. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead, if you are a Republican member of Congress who has a deep-seated fear of the census, but you also rely on the census for the very existence of your job, 2010 could be a very complicated year for you.  TMI on Michele Bachmann and the census she fears, ahead. 

But first, a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE:  The instability in Yemen is a threat to regional stability and even global stability. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier today.  The head of Cent Com, Gen. David Petraeus, took a surprise visit to Yemen this weekend.  It was his third trip to Yemen in the 14 months that he has been the head of Cent Com. 

Gen. Petraeus met with Yemen‘s president for about an hour and a half on Saturday.  And then, the very next day on Sunday, the United States shut down our embassy in Yemen citing security threats.  So did the Brits. 

Today, the French, the Germans, the Japanese and the Czechs all followed suit, all either closing their embassies in that country entirely or limiting access to them. 

Meanwhile, Andrea Mitchell reported on “Nightly News” tonight that truck-fuls of explosives are said to have gone missing somewhere inside Yemen, which may of course be why everything just got so suddenly shut down.  We will keep you posted. 

While we are talking about things going wrong in important places, political instability remains the huge story of Iran, a vast, growing, and powerful protest movement that has continued long beyond the summer‘s botched election.  Government crackdowns have led to mass arrests, violence, and censorship. 

Politically speaking, it is therefore incumbent upon the Iranian regime to at least try to appear unfazed, unified, and gaff-free in the face of this strong and growing opposition. 

Now, you can cue the inadvertently hilarious new year‘s related government face plant.  It is standard operating procedure for Iran‘s soccer league to send out a new year‘s greeting to all the members of the International Soccer Federation, FIFA. 

This year was no different.  The message was E-mailed out to everyone including, accidentally, a country whose existence Iran does not officially recognize - Israel, a soccer team that refuses to play in competition.  A country its president has made quite a name for himself by insulting, dismissing, and denouncing. 

So the message was essentially, “Happy New Year to everybody including soccer team of the country we refuse to admit exists.” 

For this grave crime of accidentally forgetting to exclude Israel from the generic international New Year‘s greeting, accidentally including Israel in the happy new year, a senior official from the Iranian Soccer Federation has already offered his resignation. 

According to the BBC, for their part, Israel took it all in stride.  Quote, “They decided to make the most of it and replied with similar good wishes to, in their words, ‘all the good people of Iran‘ and ending the message with an E-mail wink.  So Israeli soccer winning this round of word war three with cunningly deployed emoticons. 

And finally, a story that has been percolating on blogs and throughout the Internet today - it has all the trappings of a monumental blockbuster of an Internet scoop.  So one of our producers spent all day today looking into it and I have some very important information to share with you about a Palin. 

Now, back in September, someone in Alaska filed paperwork to establish themselves as the organizer of a new limited liability company, an LLC.  That person was Bristol Palin - 19-year-old Bristol Palin, the daughter of Sarah and Todd Palin, the mother of Tripp, now in the news for something completely un-tabloid-y. 

The particular type of LLC that Bristol Palin established uses the federal classification code 541820 which means that Ms. Palin the younger has just formed a company that intends to provide lobbying, public relations, and political consulting services. 

This is why it seemed like the real deal.  First the lawyer named as the registering agent of this LLC is Thomas Van Flein who practices law at the address listed here on this document that we‘ve blurred out for the sake of his privacy. 

Mr. Van Flein‘s previous gig was representing Gov. Sarah Palin during the trooper-gate scandal.  Also, this also seemed like it was real, right?  The registered company is called BSMP - BSMP - ah, the initials of Bristol Sharon Marie Palin. 

Also, and although this is not real evidence, but it is neat, the signature on the document and Levi Johnston‘s ring tattoo of Bristol Palin‘s signature look a lot alike. 

So adding all of this up, it seems like what you‘ve ended up with here is Bristol Palin, political consultant, lobbyist and public relations executive at the age of 19.  Go, Bristol, go, right? 

Actually, no.  Mr. Van Flein finally got back to us late this evening.  He told us in an E-mail, quote, “The code for BSMP, LLC pertains to several areas but includes public relations.  Bristol Palin provides public relations services and is currently an ambassador for the Candie‘s Foundation. 

The Candie‘s Foundation is a pro-abstinence organization.  Bristol Palin has essentially set herself up to be paid as an incorporated entity as opposed to being paid as an individual and that‘s sort of a common choice people make when they have money coming in from various sources like this. 

So BSMP, LLC, may just be a pretty smart financial decision by a very astute 19-year-old, or Bristol Palin is about to launch a lobbying and consultancy firm to run her mom‘s 2012 presidential campaign.  Theoretically possible, but probably not.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, one of its newest members is of course Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith who announced last month he was leaving the Democratic Party and becoming a Republican. 

When he made that announcement, Mr. Griffith‘s campaign consulting team announced right away that they would be dropping Mr.  Griffith because of his defection to the Republican Party. 

Today, saying that Congressman Griffith had made a mistake, his chief-of-staff resigned as well, as did his legislative director and his legislative assistant and his other legislative assistant and his press secretary and his staff assistant and his legislative correspondent and his other legislative correspondent and his congressional fellow and his other congressional fellow.  And even his intern quit. 

Shout out to you, Andrew Menafee(ph).  The entire Parker Griffith staff even waited until after the winter break so they could come back to Washington and do this en masse resignation in person and to release their “you made a big mistake” statement about their former employer. 

And Mr. Griffith may have many, many virtues as a congressman and employer.  Who knows, but inspiring confidence in those closest to him does not appear to be one of those virtues. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  First, Michele Bachmann encouraged everyone not to participate in the census.  It‘s a conspiracy.  Now, Michele Bachmann has changed her tune.  If anything requires TMI, this story does.  It‘s next.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The secretary of commerce, the mayor of New York, and the director of the United States Census were all together in Times Square today to kick off a big, nationwide ad campaign. 

This ad campaign includes a 13-vehicle bus tour traveling more than 150,000 miles, stopping at the Super Bowl in Miami, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and even, I guess, bus-boating it somehow to Puerto Rico.  The goal is to persuade Americans to fill out the census form, the form that should arrive in a mail box near you in mid-March. 

The government is planning on spending over $300 million this year to persuade us all to spend 10 minutes answering that questionnaire and sending it back.  The patriotic case for participating in the census is being made slightly more difficult this year by conservative Fringy McFringersons among us deciding that this year - even though it happens every 10 years, this year, the census must be some sort of commu-bamanist plot.  For help unraveling this we turn to Kent Jones and TMI. 

(MUSIC)

Oh, a special report.  

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Oh. 

MADDOW:  Oh.  Kent, so tell me, how is it that once in a decade - fill out the census campaign, happens every decade.  This year, they have to cope with conspiracy theories about the census, too.  

JONES:  That‘s right.  Two magic words - Michele Bachmann.  

MADDOW:  Oh, yes.  

JONES:  Have a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  The congresswoman from the sixth district of Minnesota is drawing a line about the 2010 census. 

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN):  I‘m not encouraging Americans not to fill out the census.  I‘m saying for myself and for my family, our comfort level is we will comply with the Constitution, Article I, Section 2, we will give the number of the people in our home, and that‘s where we‘re going to draw the line. 

JONES:  Don‘t tread on me with your counting the people in my household. 

BACHMANN:  How do we know that our information that‘s given to the government, personal information, will stay private?  What guarantees do the American people have that hackers won‘t get into the system? 

JONES:  You know what TMI means?  Too much information, and that goes for your snoopy neighbors too. 

BACHMANN:  They‘ll go to our neighbors on our left and on our right and ask our neighbors to give them information about our personal lives.  This is very concerning. 

JONES:  Actually, this is the census, which happens every 10 years, at least until Michele Bachmann can stop it.  

BACHMANN:  Look at American history.  Between 1942 and 1947 the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt. 

And that‘s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps.  I‘m not saying that that‘s what the administration is planning to do.  But I am saying that the private personal information that was given to the census bureau in the 1940s was used it against Americans to round them up.  

JONES:  Whew!  So what kind of deranged extremists would want to do that to its own people?  Who came up with this flagrant insult to the Constitution?  The guys who wrote the Constitution. 

Back in 1787, the United States became the first nation to make a census mandatory in its constitution, quote, “The actual enumeration of the population shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress and within every subsequent term of 10 years.”

It‘s data from that 10-year census that‘s used to redraw congressional maps - congressional maps like in Minnesota, which is facing the possible loss of a congressional seat after the next census. 

Maybe that‘s why we haven‘t heard Bachmann railing about hackers or snoopy neighbors or interment camps since at least last August.  Because if Michele Bachmann doesn‘t fill out the census and her constituents don‘t fill out their census, then what happens to her district?  I think she‘s figuring out.

BACHMANN:  The census is the mother load of all data collection in the United States. 

JONES:  Moral?  Be nice to your mother lode.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  Thank you, very much, Kent.  I appreciate that.  A brand-new segment is premiering on “COUNTDOWN” tonight.  Keith‘s quick comment on Dick Cheney versus President Obama.  

But first is to catch a senator.  John Ensign on camera asked about the ethics investigation into him shtupping his staffer and paying her off and getting her husband hired as a lobbyist.  That‘s next.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Tonight‘s “Cocktail Moment” is all about the secretive religious organization known as The Family about which we‘ve reported quite a bit on this show. 

First up, former C Street denizen and Family member, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada.  Since his June 16th confessional, awkwardly in front of a public restroom sign, he has been particularly adept at avoiding the media when it comes to questions about his extramarital affair with a staffer and about the investigations into his professional relationship with her husband, former aide-turned-lobbyist, Doug Hampton. 

In fact, the first time we remember seeing Sen. Ensign actually having to respond to anyone on camera about Mr. Hampton was when CNN‘s Dana Bash and a producer attached themselves to Sen. Ensign outside on Capitol Hill.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  Senator, why was it so important to get Doug Hampton those jobs? 

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R-NV):  Just look at our state.  Just look at our state.  He‘s very clear on that stuff.

BASH:  Is there any chance that you - are you considering resigning? 

ENSIGN:  I am focused on doing my work, and I am going to continue to focus on doing my work.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Since that, Mr. Hampton has said in interviews that Sen.  Ensign knowingly violated ethics rules by helping him get lobbying clients and meetings less than a year after he left the senator‘s employ. 

So when CNN‘s Rick Sanchez got the chance to interview Sen.  Ensign at the end of the year, the anchor gamely tried to get some kind of explanation from Mr. Ensign, only to be evaded for a full six minutes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ENSIGN:  You know, Rick, I‘ve been dealing with health care reform. 

My state has over 12 percent unemployment rate.  We have two wars going on. 

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR:  Right.

ENSIGN:  These latest terrorist attacks - there are so many other bigger issues.  I‘ve commented on all I needed to comment on those kinds of things.  I‘ve commented on all I was going to comment on that. 

I‘m not going to answer any of the questions because I‘m focused on doing my job right now.  All that stuff will take care of itself over time.  I‘ve spoken all that I need to speak on this. 

And everything will take care of itself over time.  I‘ve answered all of those questions.  In the end, everything will be answered in its fullest.  We will cooperate, and I think, you know, based on the facts, that the evidence committee would clear me, and I‘ll be able to go on being a senator.  I‘ve answered the questions that I‘m going to answer, and I go back to my statements ...

SANCHEZ:  All right.

ENSIGN:  ... that I have done nothing ethically or illegal in this matter.  And in the end, it‘s going to absolutely - we feel that we will be completely exonerated.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What we, senator?  You know, speaking of The Family, the “New York Times” today picked up on the reporting we‘ve done, for the last five weeks or so, on the kill-the-gays bill proposed in Uganda. 

As we have reported, the legislator who introduced the kill-the-gays bill and the country‘s president whose government has supported it are members of The Family. 

Three weeks ago, we finally found out what the extremely secretive and media-averse Family thinks of the bill in Uganda. 

Bob Hunter, a former Ford and Carter administration official, who‘s also been one of the Family‘s key contacts with Uganda, told investigative reporter, Jeff Sharlet, that The Family is opposed to that bill. 

And not only that, Mr. Hunter said he‘s actively working to get U.S. politicians to actively fight against the bill.  For the first time since we started reporting on The Family many, many months ago, we finally have been able to schedule an interview with someone who is a part of the group. 

Mr. Bob Hunter is the interview on THE RACHEL MADDOW Show right here tomorrow night which happens at our regular time, which is 9:00 p.m.  Eastern.  We are really, really, really looking forward to having him on the show.  It is long overdue. 

We will see you tomorrow for that.  In the meantime, “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Have a great night.  

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

END   

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