updated 5/9/2011 10:18:11 AM ET 2011-05-09T14:18:11

Guests: Michael Isikoff, Dave Weigel, David Axe, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

           

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  The commander-in-chief meets and greets and thanks SEAL Team Six.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The president of the United States, Barack Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Hello, Fort Campbell!

(CHEERS)

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  The president congratulates the team that killed Osama bin Laden.

OBAMA:  I want to acknowledge the Night Stalkers for their extraordinary service.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A spectacular operation, Navy SEAL Team Six.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Great risk involved, huge payoff.

THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Al Qaeda is now confirming the death of its leader.

OBAMA:  Job well done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right now, that entire network is scrambling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We are learning the CIA spent months right down the street from bin Laden‘s compound.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A secret safe house.

ROBERTS:  You just put in a hot about the medications that were recovered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A lot of medications relating to stomach ulcers.  Apparently, being the head of al Qaeda is more stressful than maybe we gave him credit for.

OBAMA:  Let‘s get back to work.

O‘DONNELL:  And more analysis of my interview with Condoleezza Rice with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson.

O‘DONNELL:  I recite things that we know were wrong and have been proven wrong.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  Because, what you know today can affect what you do tomorrow.  But what you know today cannot affect what you did yesterday.

O‘DONNELL:  Republicans who want to be president debated on how to defeat the president who just killed Osama bin Laden.

TIM PAWLENTY ®, FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR:  I do congratulate Osama bin Laden for the fine job that he did.

RICK SANTORUM ®, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR:  The decision with Osama bin Laden was a tactical decision.  It wasn‘t a strategic decision.

OBAMA:  The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS:  How would you define winning?

HERMAN CAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And at this point, I don‘t know all the facts.

OBAMA:  Let me say, I make a lot of decisions.

REP. RON PAUL ®, TEXAS:  Get the troops out of Afghanistan.

(CHEERS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Still waiting for the big players.

O‘DONNELL:  And where was Sarah Palin?

JON STEWART, COMEDIAN:  Sarah Palin‘s message to the president is this: you have to see the entire task through.  It‘s sort of important political and presidential advice, she had to quit her job as governor to be able to tweet.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.

This morning, al Qaeda put out a statement officially announcing the death of Osama bin Laden.  This afternoon, President Obama delivered a personal thank you to Navy SEAL Team Six.  The team that killed Osama bin Laden.

The president met the team members at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and was briefed on the operation, but even he was not told which of the SEALs actually fired the shots that killed Osama bin Laden.  The president and vice president then met with the full assault force that carried out the mission.  The president awarded the units involved a presidential unit citation, the highest honor that can be given to a unit in recognition of their extraordinary service and achievement.

Afterward, President Obama spoke to a larger group of service members where he offered this public praise for the secret unit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Today, here at Fort Campbell, I had the privilege of meeting the extraordinary Special Ops folks.  It was a chance for me to say on behalf of all Americans and people around the world—job well done.  Job well done.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  There are America‘s quiet professionals because success demands secrecy.  But I will say this, like all of you, they could have chosen a life of ease.  But like you, they volunteered.  They chose to serve in a time of war, knowing they could be sent into harm‘s way.

They trained for years.  They‘re battle hardened.  They practiced tirelessly for this mission.  And when I gave the order, they were ready.

In recent days, the whole world has learned just how ready they were.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  The president also spoke about how the events of this week figure into the larger war against terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We‘re making progress in our major goal, our central goal in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  And that is disrupting and dismantling and we are going to ultimately defeat al Qaeda.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  We have to cut off their head and we will ultimately defeat them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Vice President Joe Biden offered some insight into how the president decided to give the order to get bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have been around a great while with great presidents, so I watched presidents make some difficult decisions.  They‘ve all had to make difficult decisions.

But sitting in every meeting, getting ready and planning for this mission and assault, for the mission to get bin Laden, I saw something extraordinary.  I saw a president who was told the odds—told the odds weren‘t much more than 50/50.  We sat around there and he asked our advice.  And we gave him our advice and we told him a little of this and a little of that.

And, finally, he just looked at all of us said, “I got in McRaven and I got faith in these guys.”  He walked off on his own without anybody giving him any guarantees at al and he decided.  He didn‘t hesitate nor did your guys do.  Bob Gates said something interesting.  I‘ve known Bob for a long time.  He said, it was one of the gutsiest decisions I‘ve ever seen made and one of the gutsiest raids.  This is going to go down in history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  The White House posted this video from inside the West Wing after the mission had been accomplished.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN:   The reason I‘m calling is to tell you, we killed—we killed

--

           

OBAMA: Good job national security team.  Your guys did a great job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  U.S. government officials are combing through material found inside the compound where bin Laden was killed.  One intelligence official told NBC News bin Laden was not retired or isolated.  Every morning, he woke up and tried to come up with ideas to attack the homeland that he could communicate with subordinates.  U.S. officials also say they have found evidence of terror plots around the world, but don‘t plan to release details.

Joining me now is NBC News national investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Michael.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Michael, what do you make of the meeting the president had with—the secret meeting at the base today with the people who actually conducted the mission and the decision to not let even the president know which of these SEALs pulled the trigger on Osama bin Laden?

ISIKOFF:  Interesting.  I‘m not sure what to make of it other than, you know, as a reporter, I think we‘d like to hear from the SEALs themselves.  We‘ve heard so many counts of the last few days of what happened in that raid and so many conflicting accounts in which this story has evolved and changed at times.  It would be great to hear from the people who were there.  But I don‘t get the sense we‘re going to have the opportunity to do that anytime soon.

O‘DONNELL:  Michael, I want you to listen to what President Bush had to say when he spoke about what he imagined Osama bin Laden was doing.  Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I know the man is on the run, if he‘s alive at all.  And, I—you know, who knows if he‘s hiding in some cave or not.  We haven‘t heard from him in a long time.

And the idea of focusing on one person is—it really indicates to me people don‘t understand the scope of the mission.  Terror is bigger than one person.  He‘s just—he‘s a person who‘s now been marginalized.  His network has—his government has been destroyed.

So, I don‘t know where he is.  You know, I just don‘t spend that much time on him to be totally honest with you.  We haven‘t heard much from him.  And I wouldn‘t necessarily say he‘s at the center of any command structure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Michael, at the center of a command structure.  We have

statements now coming from intelligence officials who are telling us he

was, indeed, trying to come up with ideas every day to attack the homeland

meaning, the United States.  The ideas that he could communicate to subordinates and we didn‘t find him in a cave.

           

ISIKOFF:  Absolutely.  We found him a mile or two from Pakistan‘s West Point in an area teaming with Pakistani military officers.

Look, you know, that was 2002.  We actually don‘t know the full history of where bin Laden has been ever since he vanished to the mountains of Tora Bora at the end of 2001.

We know that that compound had been there since 2005.  We know that his wife has said that she was there since 2005.  The implication being that bin Laden was, himself.  We don‘t know that yet for sure.

Look, there‘s still a lot we need to know before we can make final judgments or make final assessments of these many years that bin Laden has been elusive for this.  But, clearly, what we‘ve learned this week would seem to conflict with much of what President Bush was saying back then.

O‘DONNELL:  Michael, the president today sounded very optimistic, actually sounded Bush-like in his optimism when he said we will ultimately defeat al Qaeda.  We have to cut off their head and we will defeat them.  It was very, very definite.  We will defeat them.

If we are going to defeat al Qaeda, the resources devoted to that better expended in Afghanistan or in Pakistan?

ISIKOFF:  Look, that‘s a great question and clearly, you know, part of the fall out of this is going to be: does our strategy in Afghanistan continue to make sense if the head of the snake of al Qaeda has been cut off?  If al Qaeda has been disrupted in its operations, do we need to be spending the—making the kind of expenditure we are making in Afghanistan to prevent al Qaeda from returning there if al Qaeda is a weakened—as weakened as we would like them to be.

But, you know, al Qaeda is—we‘ve looked at it as the central threat, but if you actually look at where most of the terror plots have come from in the last few years that have really worried U.S. officials, it‘s al Qaeda affiliates like al Qaeda in Yemen, allied organizations like the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network.  You know, these sort of myriad of other Islamic militant groups and it‘s not clear yet what their ties to al Qaeda actually were.

Clearly, they were aligned.  Clearly, they wanted to work together, but destroying al Qaeda does not necessarily make us any safer in countering these many other groups that have been the real threat to the U.S. in the last few years.

O‘DONNELL:  And, Michael, with all the materials that they have collected at the compound, the hard drives, the computers—everything else that they‘ve picked up there, how long will it be before Washington, the Pentagon, the intelligence services coordinate and have a sense of how big an intelligence collection that was?

ISIKOFF:  I think we‘re going to be learning more in the next few days.  I think we‘ll be hearing more about what was in the compound.  Right now, they are describing it as a treasure trove—you know, thumb drives, computer hard drives, DVDs  And certainly about al Qaeda central and bin Laden, you can‘t help but conclude that this was a mother lode of intelligence.

But I come back to my point before, is that really a mother lode about what we really should be worried about, the nature of the—these myriad terror threats that the country is facing.  And that, we‘re just going to have to wait and see.

O‘DONNELL:  NBC‘s Michael Isikoff, thanks for joining me tonight, Michael.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  One of the most dramatic images we have seen from the bin Laden takedown is the one part of the raid that didn‘t make it back, the Special Forces helicopter somehow crippled during the 40-minute operation.  Navy SEALs blew up the chopper to get their secrets out of the wrong hands.

CIA chief, Leon Panetta, referred to the aircraft involved in the mission simply as Black Hawk helicopters.  But experts taking a closer look at images like these say they are seeing evidence of something more elaborate than a common Black Hawk.  The world may have been tipped off to a new weapon of war, the stealth helicopter.

Joining me now, David Axe, military reporter for “Wired” magazine‘s “Danger Room” blog.

Thanks for joining me tonight, David.

DAVID AXE, WIRED MAGAZINE:  My pleasure, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  David, what do you make of this helicopter?  How much did we know about this kind of stealth helicopter before Sunday night?

AXE:  Well, we knew the Pentagon had experimented with various kind of

stealth modifications of existing helicopters and also scratch built, you

know, from new the Comanche attack helicopter, which is also a stealth

design, but cancelled it on 2004.  So, we‘ve seen stealth choppers before,

we didn‘t know there were operational stealth choppers

O‘DONNELL:  And what makes them stealth?  How do they, for example, the first thing I would wonder about in stealth is how do they quiet a helicopter?  The helicopter it‘s an incredibly noisy, moving vehicle.

AXE:  Very true.  There‘s three kinds of stealth when it comes to helicopters.  Choppers generate a lot of heat.  You can detect that by I.R.  sensors.  They generate a gigantic radar return because of all the moving parts.  And they also are loud, you‘re right.

So, much of that signature, they call it, is focused on the tail rotor of the helicopter.  Again, generates heat, generates noise, generates radar return.  So, if you address those three problems with various, you can surround the tail rotor with pieces that sort of smooth out the radar return.  You can muffle the sound and you can apply special paint that absorbs some of that the I.R. signature.

So, you focus on the tail, you address a lot of those problems.

O‘DONNELL:  But how quiet can those get?  I mean, bin Laden had to hear them coming down in his backyard, didn‘t he?

AXE:  That‘s true.  I‘m not sure the stealth helicopter was intended to fool bin Laden.  I think the reason Pentagon used its top secret choppers and risked losing them as it did was to ensure the Pakistanis could not prevent the raid from arriving at the compound.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the Pakistani‘s have custody of what was left there.  They‘ve hauled the wreckage away.  Are we going to have any trouble getting that back from them?

AXE:  I‘m not sure we need to.  The secrets, so to speak, of a stealth helicopter are not really secrets at all.  The design principles are pretty widely known.  But few the organizational the skills, militarily speaking, and the resources to actually build, train with and operate these.  So, any nation that can build a helicopters, if they are willing to spend, I don‘t know, a few hundred million or a few billion dollars on building a handful of them could do so.

So, the secrets were not the design elements which were betrayed in part by the wreckage.  The secret was that we had them at all, which was a surprise, but it‘s not surprising, if that makes sense.

O‘DONNELL:  What is the best theory as to what disabled the helicopter that we had to leave behind?

AXE:  I would guess that it was called power settling.  So, the helicopter had enough juice to reach the compound and to land, but not enough to take of again, which requires a lot of horsepower.  So, it‘s not uncommon in Afghanistan and Pakistan to see helicopters land and are stranded.

So, when a helicopter is stranded at the compound, the operators had to make a decision.  What do we do about this thing?  They made a snap decision to blow it up, piled into an extra helicopter orbiting nearby and maybe didn‘t realize they left behind a large, intact portion of the bird.

O‘DONNELL:  David Axe with “Wired” magazine‘s “Danger Room” blog—thank you very much for joining us tonight, David.

AXE:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, the Republican field for president‘s held its first debate last night and FOX viewers said the run away winner was Herman Cain.  What does that say about the Republican Party‘s chances in 2012 and what does it say about FOX viewers?

And later, reaction to my interview with Condoleezza Rice.  Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former member of the Bush administration, joins me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, the first Republican presidential debate was last night.  No, seriously.  They had a debate last night.  Good thing for the candidates: no one was watching.

And later, a moving message from Minnesota about God and gay people. 

That‘s in tonight‘s “Rewrite.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Last night, FOX News and the Republican Party of South Carolina hosted the first Republican presidential debate.  The only candidate present with any chance of winning the nomination was former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.  Pawlenty was joined by Congressman Ron Paul, former Senator Rick Santorum and two guys named Herman Cain and Gary Johnson.

The lineup prompted Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to tell “The New York Times”: “As we all know, there are numerous other candidates that are looking at a presidential run and thank God.”

The recent news that President Obama led a successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden made foreign policy the focus of the debate and eliminated at least one way the candidates could attack the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAWLENTY:  I do congratulate President Obama for the fine job that he did in taking some tough decisions and being decisive as it related to finding and killing Osama bin Laden.  He did a good job and I tip my cap to him that moment.  But that moment is not the sum total of America‘s foreign policy.  He‘s made a number of other decisions relating to our security here and around he world that I don‘t agree with.  And, in fact, if it turns out many of the techniques he criticized during the campaign led to Osama bin Laden‘s being identified and killed, he should be asked to explain whether he does or does not support those techniques.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Following the debate, a focus group of South Carolina voters were asked who won the evening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who won the debate?  Let‘s go in alphabetical order.  How many of you think Herman Cain won the debate?  Well, we can stop right there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  This is a sampling of what those voters heard last night that convinced them that Herman Cain was the Republican Party‘s best chance to defeat Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS:  Herman Cain, former chairman and CEO of Godfather‘s Pizza, you don‘t have your own plan yet about what you would do in Afghanistan?

HERMAN CAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No.  The experts and their advice and their input would be the basis of me making that decision.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  The practical effect of a fair tax would be a tax cut for the wealthy and tax increase to the middle class.

CAIN:  I strongly support totally replacing the current code with the fair tax.  And I‘m proud of the fact that I haven‘t held public office before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  During that debate, a CBS News reporter spotted House Speaker John Boehner at Morton‘s Stake House in Washington.  When asked why he was not watching the Republican debate, the speaker said he‘ll read about it tomorrow.  He added, “There‘s more time for people to get in.”

Joining me now from South Carolina: Slate.com political reporter and MSNBC analyst, Dave Weigel, who bravely attended the debate.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Dave.

DAVE WEIGEL, MSNBC ANALYST:  Thanks for having me.

O‘DONNELL:  So, the Romney boycott of the debate—was that the right move at this stage?

WEIGEL:  I don‘t think Mitt Romney or anyone on the Romney team stayed home and bit their lips about what they were missing from this.  And I spent time with voters yesterday.  I spent time with them today.  There wasn‘t that much umbrage that Romney wasn‘t there.

But South Carolina, keep in mind, is a state Romney tried pretty hard to win last time.  got the endorsement of the now Governor Nikki Haley, got the endorsement of Jim DeMint.  Neither of them has come behind him this time, a reason, being a Mormon Republican who signed a sweeping health care law, he doesn‘t have much of a chance here where it looks now.

So, he doesn‘t—Jon Huntsman who‘s here actually at this moment and didn‘t show up.  Gingrich, I don‘t think they felt like by not competing with Herman Cain, they missed a great opportunity.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the major candidates if we can call them that, at that event were Pawlenty and Rick Santorum.  They each have a chance of being on the ticket.  Santorum from Pennsylvania is a reasonable, it seems to me, choice for vice president on that ticket.  Pawlenty could end up on the ticket in the number two spot or number one spot.

How did the Pawlenty versus Santorum debate go?

WEIGEL:  I don‘t think I was watching that.  I mean, they both were the most polished people in some respects.  Rick Santorum I realized half way through the debate was the only one on the stage who‘d been a FOX News contributor for most of his post-political career.  So, he was quite good at answering these questions.  And he‘s exactly—he‘s pretty good on the stump.

And, Pawlenty, I think at this point, he‘s kind of where Romney was four years ago.  He will show up to anything.  He benefits inch by inch by showing up to everything.  When I talked to Republican legislatures after the debate, they actually appreciated the presence of people like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson and Herman Cain.

Herman Cain, we can—we can be dismissive about him.  We can look at his poll numbers and say there was nothing there.  We can wonder why Republicans like him so much.

But before the debate, there were Republicans in the state who were saying watch out for him.  After the debate, Republicans were saying, we were right about him.  Some will admit, his answers were a little glib, but, you know, Pawlenty and Santorum, for as much polish as they have, don‘t really excite people.  And I‘m supposed to say yet, I‘m not sure if they ever will excite people.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I think they had a nominee last time around that didn‘t excite anybody either.  They‘re known to do that before in the Republican Party.  Now—

WEIGEL:  Right.  And that comes up here.  That‘s a reason, yes.

O‘DONNELL:  Ron Paul actually talked about Afghanistan and got a big reaction.  Let‘s listen to what Ron Paul had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL ®, TEXAS:  Now that he‘s killed, boy, it is a wonderful time for this country now to reassess it and get the troops out of Afghanistan and end that war that hasn‘t helped us or hasn‘t helped anybody in the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  He actually got good applause for that kind of stuff.  Is that indication that Ron Paul fans are loud or that Republicans are shifting into an antiwar mood?

WEIGEL:  Well, we‘ve have known for a very long time how loud Ron Paul fans are.  He also—he had an all day fund-raiser yesterday and raised $1 million.  He proved again that he will be there irritating Republicans for this whole campaign process.

But, on Afghanistan, he‘s actually kind of leading from the front on this.  I don‘t meet many voters here and other places who are that excited about the war in Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden is dead.  They don‘t feel like the mission has been accomplished, but they are pessimistic about it.  And they supported it from the get-go because they wanted to get him.

So, ideas like this—again, you can look for the guy who is going to get the nomination.  We don‘t have any idea who that is.  I think it‘s actually interesting to look at the guys who have an idea that everyone else has to respond to, which happened the other night.  And like Herman Cain, answer something that we don‘t know what it is in the Republican mindset as they grasp for a candidate.

O‘DONNELL:  Dave Weigel, political reporter for Slate.com and also with MSNBC, thank you very much for joining us tonight, Dave.

WEIGEL:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, Condoleezza Rice told me last night that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States.  Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson is here next with his analysis of what Condoleezza Rice had to say.

And, later, a huge week for the history books was also a big week for late night comedy writers.  We look back at the week that was.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARTHUR LAWRENCE, PLAYWRIGHT:  I think if you do something that has some ambition and some integrity, you are not going to please everybody.  If you do try to please everybody, you get junk. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Sound advice for candidate running for office, but it‘s not from a politician.  It‘s from a playwright.  Arthur Lawrence wrote Broadway‘s “Gypsy” and “West Side Story.”  He also wrote the movie “The Way We Were,,” starring Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford. 

He died Thursday in New York.  Arthur Lawrence wrote his first Broadway play in 1945 after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, and later created an award for emerging playwrights in honor of his late partner, Tom Hather (ph).  They were together for 52 years. 

Patty la Pone (ph) said he created people you care about because he cared about people.  Arthur Lawrence was 93. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE:  When you have lived as long as I have, one of the things you learn is what opinions change enormously.  And what is important is what you and the few people you really respect—what they say, not people at large. 

And I had enormous pleasure from the doing, not from the saying about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Harvey Fearstein (ph) Tweeted that Arthur Lawrence‘s death is proof the good die young. 

Coming up, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Colin Powell, joins me to analyze last night‘s interview with Condoleezza Rice and how the Bush administration gave up chasing bin Laden so they could go after Saddam Hussein instead. 

Later, one elected official in Minnesota rewrites the religious argument against homosexuality.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Forty thousand casualties later in Iraq, 4,400 American military deaths in Iraq later, would you say that is the single biggest miscalculation that the Bush administration made, that Osama—that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and must be stopped by those military men who went in there and found no weapons of mass destruction? 

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  Saddam Hussein was a threat.  He had used weapons of mass—

O‘DONNELL:  But we now know he wasn‘t a threat. 

RICE:  Lawrence, are we going do this with my answers or with your commentary.  We had not focused on the fact—you have not focused on the fact that Saddam Hussein had been a threat to the United States of America, to the Middle East since he invaded Iran. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, now a professor of government at the College of William and Mary.  Thank you for joining me tonight, colonel. 

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: 

Thanks for having me. 

O‘DONNELL:  Colonel, it was a very frustrating discussion trying to get Condoleezza Rice to respond to questions knowing what we know now.  Whenever I would introduce what we know now, that, for example, Saddam Hussein was not a threat, she would revert to 2001-2002 and never address how to look at what we did in Iraq based on what we know now. 

Is that your experience in talking to other people in the administration?  Or are other people in the administration willing to acknowledge what we know now would have changed completely what we did in Iraq? 

WILKERSON:  It is my impression for most of them.  I will say this, that my boss, Colin Powell, has some reservations about what we did.  You have to remember, too, that Condoleezza Rice was batting above her weight.  She was surrounded by 800 pound gorillas, Colin Powell on the one hand, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney on the other hand.

And she had a choice to make.  She could try to discipline those 800 pound gorillas, which is what the NSA is supposed to do.  Or she could back off from it, build her intimacy with the president and become secretary of state. 

I‘ll leave it to you to tell me which one of those choices she made. 

O‘DONNELL:  I kept trying to get at the issue of Saddam Hussein as a threat.  And the distinction I tried to draw is was he a threat to New York, especially on the day where we were marking 9/11?  We have the death of Osama bin Laden, the president coming to New York, the attack on New York. 

Let‘s listen to what she said about that. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Do you think he was a threat to New Yorkers?

RICE:  Lawrence, you obviously have a very different view than the U.N. Security Council.  You obviously have a different view—you obviously have a very different view than those people who were flying the no-fly zones, like the soldier who is in my class at Stanford who was shot at by Saddam Hussein. 

So you may not view him as a threat.  Most of the world did. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Colonel, in whatever way one would describe the threat of Saddam Hussein, did he represent a threat to the lives of anyone living in the United States? 

WILKERSON:  I don‘t think so.  To Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, perhaps.  He was balancing Iran, something we have to do now because we took him out.  I think the most preposterous thing at Langley, at the CIA when I was preparing Powell for the U.N. presentation in 2003 was that Saddam Hussein was going to fly little airplanes off steamers off the east coast of the United States. 

Those little airplanes were going to aerosol spray chemical and biological weapons on the United States.  I almost fell off my chair when I was briefed about that by analysts out at the CIA. 

O‘DONNELL:  We talked—I talked to Condoleezza Rice about the famous aluminum tubes, which she had said publicly were used—the only reason for Saddam to have those is exclusively for nuclear weapons.  She tried to get off that last night and say most likely for nuclear weapons. 

There‘s a huge difference between exclusively and most likely.  But the fact was, as it turned out, they were not capable of being used for nuclear weapons in any way.  And Saddam was making no attempt to acquire anything else that you would need in addition to the tubes. 

Those tubes were used for—we now know were used for rockets, for standard weaponry.  It‘s clinging to those kinds of details in the face of what we know now that is just so frustrating in trying to talk to her. 

WILKERSON:  That‘s an even more egregious example of an intelligence failure and lying than you might think.  I have discovered doing my research post 2005 that what we had when we had the inter-agency meeting, the inter-agency intelligence meeting with George Tenant in the chair, was we had an orchestration by the CIA, by the DCI himself, apparently, to keep the Department of Energy man who dissented majorly against this interpretation of the aluminum tools from coming to that meeting. 

They succeeded.  He was not at that meeting.  So George Tenant was able to get, without opposition, an intelligence community consensus that excluded DOE, that the tubes were for an active nuclear program. 

Had I known that at the time, I would have done what I wanted to do.  I would have walked out of Langley and told the secretary of state he could prepare his own presentation. 

O‘DONNELL:  I want to go to something David Kay said in Bob Woodward‘s book.  It‘s one of the most famous quotes of the book.  David Kay being the weapons inspector we was sent into Iraq to try to find this stuff after the invasion. 

He said about Condi Rice, “she was probably the worst national security adviser in modern times since the office was created.”  Worst national security adviser ever, in effect. 

I have thought about that.  I have thought about the national security advisers we have had.  It‘s not as if we have had a tremendous amount of great ones, with great accomplishments to show.  But it‘s hard to think of anyone who delivered a worse performance in that capacity than Condoleezza Rice. 

WILKERSON:  I hearken can go back to McGeorge Bundy in the Vietnam conflict and Bundy is pushing so hard for Johnson to escalate in 1965.  And Henry Kissinger telling Nixon, and Nixon agreeing that they needed to make the Chilean economy bounce and overthrow Alyinda (ph) in Chile in the ‘70s. 

But when it comes to doing the job the national security adviser has customarily been told to do, that is coordinate national security policy, discipline the decision making system, I think I would have to agree with a that assessment. 

O‘DONNELL:  I think we need to have a longer discussion some night on McGeorge Bundy versus Henry Kissinger versus Condi Rice.  That is absolutely where the debate would focus, on who did the worst version of that job. 

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

WILKERSON:  Thanks for having me. 

O‘DONNELL:  After a week of very serious news, we‘ll show you what the kings of late night had to say about the death of the world‘s most wanted man. 

But first, the battle over gay marriage.  One elected official in Minnesota takes the talk of God and gays and asks the religious to rethink their position.  It‘s in tonight‘s Rewrite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  Lawmakers in Minnesota are considering a bill to put a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot.  If the Republican controlled Senate and Republican controlled House approve identical language, the measure would bypass Minnesota‘s Democratic governor and the issue would be put on the November 2012 presidential ballot. 

In the past several days, there has been testimony on both sides of the issue.  Supporters of the marriage ban have, more often than not, been religious leaders or have used religious arguments to make their points. 

Testifying earlier this week, Bishop Bob Battle of the Bunrie (ph) -- what is that—Burian (ph) Church of God—Burian Church of God of Christ in St. Paul, Minnesota told a state house committee, “God gave marriage as a gift to Adam and Eve.” 

His party outnumbered seven to ten on the house committee that passed the bill, Democrat Steve Simon gave an eloquent Rewrite to the theological basis of the debate before the vote. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE SIMON, MINNESOTA STATE LEGISLATOR:  We have to be careful about trying to enshrine our beliefs, however religiously valid we may believe them to be, in the Minnesota Constitution.  What I‘m hearing today and what I heard on Friday was largely a religious justification for a change in the Minnesota Constitution. 

I don‘t think it‘s right. I don‘t think it‘s fair. I think it departs from  our tradition.

The other thing that which I know makes some people squirm, but I think we have to discuss it, both during an election campaign but here at the legislature too, is how much of homosexuality is nature versus nurture?  Is this something that you learn or acquire?  Or is something that you are born with?

Is this just another lifestyle choice like skateboarding and gardening?  Or is this something that‘s innate with the human being. 

I want to take a page from what I heard last Friday.  In the Senate testimony, there was a member of the clergy.  Forgive me, I can‘t remember his name.  And he said you know what, sexuality and sexual orientation are a gift from God.

I think that‘s true.  I think that scientific evidence shows more and more every day that sexuality and sexual orientation are innate and something that people are all born with.

I would ask everyone on this committee, not today, not tomorrow, not next year, not even next year, but at a moment when you can be alone with your own thoughts to ask yourself, if it‘s true, if it‘s even possibly true, what does that mean to the moral force of your argument.

Just ask yourself not now in the glare of the capital, in caucuses and interest groups.  But ask yourself if it‘s true that sexual orientation is innate, God given, then what does it mean to the moral force of your argument.

I guess to put in the vernacular, what I would ask is how many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Please keep applause to yourselves.

SIMON:  How many gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether the living of their lives the way they wish, as long as they don‘t harm others, is a Godly and holy and happy and glorious thing.

I have answered that for myself.  I don‘t think everyone else has answered that for themselves necessarily in this room.  But I‘m comfortable with a society and a tradition that bends toward justice and fairness and wholeness and openness and compassion.

And I do think, as others have said before me more eloquently, that that‘s where the arc of history is bending as well. I truly believe that in a generation, maybe not even generation, but certainly many generations from now, if we pass this, if we  put it on the ballot, if this becomes part of our constitution  history, will judge us all very, very harshly.

I think the people who vote for this today and in the future will—although their children and grandchildren can and should be very proud of them for their service to the state of Minnesota, will on this issue not be so proud on this issue.  And there may even be some justifiable shame there as well.

I think that‘s something that we all have to think about and justify in our own consciences.   So I strongly urge a no vote.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Too soon for Osama bin Laden jokes?  The late night comedians don‘t think so.  Here is the week in comedy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  All we knew was the president was going to tell us something about national security.  It‘s like when your mom leaves you that super early voice mail consisting of “it‘s your mother, call me.”

That‘s it.  You don‘t know, is it malignant or did the neighbors kid get into Brown?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ladies and gentlemen, as you all know, something important and gravely serious happened last night.  That‘s right.  The last 16 minutes of “Celebrity Apprentice” were interrupted by President Obama.

STEWART:  A, the president is interrupting “Celebrity Apprentice” to deliver more jokes, the ones he had not quite finished about Donald Trump.  Or B, the more likely scenario, as Hollywood has taught us, when a black president interrupts your show, a meteor is headed towards the Earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The fact is, the president clearly coordinated the secret CIA mission, assassination and ensuing press conference specifically to cut off the end of my show, “Celebrity Apprentice”.

So, basically, I killed Osama bin Laden.  Congratulations to me, Donald Trump.  Thank you.  You‘re welcome.

JIMMY KIMMEL, “JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE”:  President Bush promised we would track him down.  President Obama finished the job.  And no one—no one was happier than this guy. 

Is he finished?  No.  No, he isn‘t.  He was also celebrating the release of Season three of “Dukes of Hazard” on blu-ray.

WILL FERRELL, COMEDIAN:  After a ferocious 40-minute fire fight involving a lot of hissing, a garden hose and a rake, my staff killed Ardillo the gofer and took custody his body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sir, they killed Osama bin Laden.

FERRELL:  They got bin Laden?  That‘s two good things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There also is a taco bar here.

FERRELL:  There‘s a taco bar here?  That‘s three good things.

JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN:  Huge news, you guys.  President Obama said he will not release the photo of Osama bin Laden‘s dead body. There goes my Christmas card idea.

JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  Although they are not releasing the photo of bin Laden, today they released his last words.  He said, don‘t tase me, bro.

KIMMEL:  I feel bad for news anchors this week.  All day long, they have to read the names Osama and Obama back to back.  As you can imagine, on occasion, they mixed them up. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There was an army of San Francisco police officers protecting Osama bin Laden during his fund raising trip to the city last week.

KIMMEL:  He had a fundraising trip to San Francisco?  I knew they were liberal up there, but that is ridiculous.

FALLON:  The White House opened a new round of budget talks this week with members of Congress.  I bet those talks are easier now.  It‘s like I want my budget.  You want yours.  There‘s only one way to settle this.

Raise your hand if you found and killed Osama bin Laden.  Anyone?  Oh yeah, that was me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Jimmy Fallon gets THE LAST WORD for this week.  You can always have THE LAST WORD online at our blog, TheLastWord.MSNBC.com.  You can follow my Tweets @Lawrence. “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next.

END   

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