Guest: Tucker Carlson, Phil Donahue>
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Tonight: He‘s the former governor of Alabama who says that Karl Rove was behind his prosecution. He is with us live. Don Siegelman has just been released from prison with us for his first live TV interview straight from the files of Bush League Justice.
And Phil Donahue joins in the studio with the new movie about the costs of the Iraq war and what he says are the political mistakes that caused it.
And: John McCain offers up a positive for Iraq, just as the new attacks rock that country.
Donahue and Tucker Carlson weigh in on what we call Teflon John.
VERDICT starts now.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the show.
Alabama‘s former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman is with us tonight for his first live interview since the judge released him from prison just over a week ago. He has maintained from the beginning that he was only charged because he‘s a Democrat.
Before we talk to the governor, some background on the case.
ABRAMS (voice over): Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was a rare breed, a popular Democrat governor in a red state from 1998 to 2002. After narrowly losing his re-election bid, he was preparing a political comeback just a year later. That‘s when Alabama prosecutors stepped in, bring federal corruption charges against him, charges that were quickly thrown out.
Then, just over a year later, they went after him again. This time, he was convicted but just on 7 of 32 charges. The judge imposed the seven-year prison sentence effective that day.
Throughout his trial, Siegelman and his team wanted to argue he was the victim of a political prosecution orchestrated by top Alabama Republicans and ultimately presidential adviser Karl Rove. The judge did not permit it.
Then, this Republican came forward and claimed she had heard leading Alabama Republicans talked of Rove‘s involvement in the case.
DANA JILL SIMPSON, FMR. GOP OPERATIVE: He wanted me to follow Mr. Siegelman. He has suspected that he was cheating on his wife and he asked me if I would follow him.
ABRAMS: Well, her account is now being challenged. The ties were all there. Rove‘s longtime friend and political confidante Bill Canary was married to a U.S. attorney whose office brought these new round of charges. One of the chief witnesses also reportedly implicated two prominent Alabama Republicans: one now a senator, the other a judge. Neither of them were investigated or prosecuted, just Siegelman, the Democrat.
Fifty-two former state attorneys general, Democrats and Republicans chimed in, demanding that Congress investigate. Then, just over a week ago, an appeals court stepped in and released Siegelman while he appeals, saying his legal team raised, quote, “substantial questions of law or fact.”
DON SIEGELMAN, FORMER ALABAMA DEMOCRATIC GOVERNOR: I may have lost my freedom for a while but I never lost faith.
ABRAMS: But this case is not over. Siegelman still stands convicted and he‘s still convinced that justice in this case was far from blind.
ABRAMS: Here with me now live, he is the former governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman.
Governor, thank you very much for taking the time. We appreciate it.
SIEGELMAN: Hello, Dan, thank you. I want to thank you, and commend you, and encourage you for stepping out and—for your boldness and also I want to ask that you continue this fight until we find out who hijacked the Department of Justice.
ABRAMS: Well, let‘s talk about it. First of all, let me ask you. How are you so convinced that Karl Rove and Alabama Republicans were behind your prosecution?
SIEGELMAN: Well, number one, Karl Rove‘s fingerprints were all over this case. And you know, if you ask me, do we have the knife with his fingerprints on it, no, but we‘ve got the glove and the glove fits. And here‘s how.
In 1994, when Karl Rove was in Alabama trying to steal his first election, I voluntarily testified against his client. In 1999, his client starts an investigation of me and this goes on until 2001 when Bill Canary, who is a business associate and political partner of Karl Rove, his wife is appointed as a U.S. attorney and she starts a federal investigation.
ABRAMS: Wait, let me clear me. Let me just stop you there for one second. You‘re alleging that Rove talks to his friend, who‘s that Bill canary who‘s married to the U.S. attorney and it‘s a serious allegation you‘re making that he then effectively gets his wife to go after you?
SIEGELMAN: Well, I‘m telling you, the facts of this are that Rove‘s fingerprints are all over here - all over this case because his client investigated me, one of his friends, social friends started an investigation and prosecution of me that was dismissed after just a couple of days in court.
They went after me again, this time with the wife of Bill Canary—the wife of Karl Rove‘s business client and political associate. And, you know, it continues from there. When those investigations were faltering, the people who were holding back the investigation, a career Department of Justice employee was replaced, was replaced with someone who was the wife of the campaign manager of one of Karl Rove‘s clients.
ABRAMS: And let me ask you -
SIEGELMAN: And then when that investigation was slowing down, they were called to Washington and they were told to go at Siegelman again.
ABRAMS: All right. As you know, look, you know it‘s a serious allegation to say that Karl Rove was behind a political prosecution. His attorney has told us the following. He said, quote: “As Mr. Rove has repeatedly stated, he did not speak with anyone in the White House or the Justice Department concerning the prosecution of Governor Siegelman.”
You just don‘t believe that, do you?
SIEGELMAN: I don‘t believe it. Number one, why would Jill Simpson, a respected Republican political operative, a respective lawyer in her community voluntarily come forward with information that implicates Karl Rove and Bill Canary in this plot to dig me in? There was no reason for her to risk her standing in the Republican Party to come forward.
And what we have are - you know, saying that Karl Rove is not involved in my prosecution is like saying George Bush is not involved in the war in Iraq.
ABRAMS: As you know, I mean, you‘re not hinging this all though on Dana Jill Simpson, are you? Because there have been a lot of people who have questioned, you know, how she could be at certain meetings, how many times she actually met with people, where she was at the time, et cetera. I mean, your allegation that Rove—you believe Rove is behind this, does not hinge entirely on the credibility of Dana Jill Simpson, does it?
SIEGELMAN: I believe that when you look at the totality of Rove‘s involvement in Alabama politics, his closeness with the two attorneys who brought charges against me, the fact that he was the political adviser to the attorney general who started the investigation and brought charges against me, the fact that the Justice Department went out of their way to ignore breaches of standards of ethics, violations of the law, someone was giving them an umbrella of protection.
Because we had investigators, we had assistant U.S. attorneys, we had the U.S. attorney herself, and we had representatives from the Public Integrity Division of the Department of Justice who were violating laws with impunity. There is no logical conclusion other than they had someone higher up than those people at the Public Integrity Division was offering them protection.
And I‘m saying that Karl Rove was definitely involved in this case.
ABRAMS: All right. Now, as you know, Karl Rove‘s attorney, as I‘ve said a moment ago, has denied that he spoke to anyone at the Justice Department. This may come as news though, governor, because we just got a response from his attorney tonight. I know that you called on Rove to testify in front of Congress about this case, under oath as did Dana Jill Simpson.
ABRAMS: We asked this question to his attorney. Will Karl Rove agree to testify if Congress issues a subpoena to him as part of an investigation into the Siegelman case?
The answer we got: “Sure. Although it seems to me that the question is somewhat offensive. It assumes he has something to hide, even though - Governor Siegelman‘s uncorroborated assertions aside - there‘s literally no credible evidence whatsoever to substantiate his charges.”
Putting that aside for a moment, he‘s saying, sure. I mean, Karl Rove wouldn‘t testify in the U.S. attorney scandal. His attorney sure sounds like he‘s saying, he‘s ready to testify if subpoenaed in connection with your case.
SIEGELMAN: Well, then, let‘s don‘t waist waste any time. I think the House and Senate Judiciary Committee should subpoena Karl Rover and bring him before those committees. Let him put his hand on the Bible and either tell the truth or lie under oath or plea (INAUDIBLE). Any of those scenarios will be fine with me.
ABRAMS: Are you surprised that Rove‘s attorney is saying he‘ll testify?
SIEGELMAN: I would be surprised if he does. I‘m not surprised that he would say that without getting a subpoena. But, you know, we also, Dan, we also need to call before this committee, those people who are in Alabama with those political connections to Karl Rove.
Those people who are violating the law and subverting our Constitution for political reasons ought to be brought before Congress and they, too, should be asked to swear under oath their relationships with Karl Rove and whether or not he influenced their decision to move forward with this case. And I think that ought to be done before Karl Rove is called to testify.
ABRAMS: Governor, let me, as you know, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, Lewis Franklin has issued many statements saying that there was no political motivation here. he wasn‘t influence by anyone. He said, “Mr. Franklin consulted,” this is a statement from his office:
“Mr. Franklin consulted with career prosecutors, in the Public Integrity Section of main Justice, but he alone maintained the decision-making authority to say yea or nay as to whether or not the U.S. Attorney‘s Office would proceed with the prosecution.”
He has said again that Karl Rove had no influence on him and he never spoke to Karl Rove, et cetera.
SIEGELMAN: Well, and I agree with that because, you know, this is a guy that would have had no connections with Karl Rove.
ABRAMS: He said he‘s a Democrat.
SIEGELMAN: But also, you know, what he‘s saying is also we know is not true because he did not make the decisions. We know that the decisions were made in Washington. When the U.S. Attorney‘s Office was not moving forward with this case, when they told my attorneys that they didn‘t think there was a substantial case there, it wasn‘t going to go forward, they were then called to Washington to meet with know Noel Hillman, the chief of the Public Integrity Section who told them to go back to Alabama and start over again. And you know, he was not in a position.
So, and in Karl Rove‘s statement that he did not influence anybody at the Department of Justice or in the White House leaves out many of the players that we‘re talking about he had a relationship with, specifically Bill Canary and his wife Leura Canary here in Alabama.
ABRAMS: All right. So, we‘ve been talking so far about what may have motivated the prosecution. As you know, your critics would say, and anyone looking at the record would say, wait a second, you were convicted by a jury of seven counts, 25 of them the jury said no, 7 of them the jury convicted you of.
This is, you know, a jury of 12 ordinary folks who looked at the evidence with regard to bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud; and said Governor Siegelman is guilty.
SIEGELMAN: Yes. And we‘re talking about a political contribution to the education lottery and not one single penny of that money went into my pocket. And what we said in our appeal to the 11th Circuit was that the judge gave the wrong jury instruction and what was said on “60 Minutes” was that that the prosecutors offered false testimony, knowingly offered false testimony that resulted in my conviction.
ABRAMS: And so, do you believe that the only reason that you were convicted was because - and again, the allegation, I think, was that a witness was coached again and again to get the story straight? And you‘re convinced that‘s the only reason?
SIEGELMAN: He was coached over 70 times and also—not the only reason, but because of his testimony, and because of a jury instruction which was in error, I believe that that was what resulted in my conviction. If every—Dan, listen, if every governor or president was held to this standard, every single one of them and their contributors who had accepted an appointment would be in prison. It doesn‘t make any sense.
ABRAMS: Governor Siegelman, stay with us, we‘re going to take a break here. We‘re going to ask you to stick around.
Coming up: I‘m going to ask you what it was like to be behind bars as a former governor and we‘re also going to talk about why those two men who one of the witnesses reportedly, reported that some impropriety involving them, why were they not investigated?
And: Despite a big new battle in Baghdad today, John McCain in a major speech life is approaching normal for Iraqis. Really?
Phil Donahue will be here to talk about that and his new documentary about how Iraq veterans are treated once they get home.
Plus: When you think of the California border cities, you think San Diego not San Francisco, 500 miles from the border. So, why did Washington give San Fran more than any other city to fight Mexican border crime? That‘s tonight‘s Why America Hates Washington.
We‘re back in 60 seconds.
ABRAMS: Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington. Millions in federal funding to fight border crimes is going to a city 500 miles from the border. San Diego and San Bernardino got $2.5 million each in federal funds to prosecute Mexican border crimes. OK. L.A. got $1.9 million, Riverside got $1 million, but San Francisco, 500 miles to the north got the most, $3.74 million in 2006.
I‘ve got nothing against San Francisco. I love the city but the most money in the area to fight border crime? Now, the Feds are going to ask for most of that money back. Another reason Why America Hates Washington.
We‘re back with the former governor of Alabama in a moment.
ABRAMS: We‘re back with our exclusive interview with former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, released from prison last week, convicted of corruption, mail fraud and bribery. Siegelman was sentenced to seven crimes in prison, he spent nine months in the Oakdale Federal Detention Center in Louisiana until a little more than a week ago when an appeals court overruled a federal judge and let him out pending his appeal, saying that there are substantial questions of law or fact that need to be addressed.
Governor Siegelman, let me ask you about serving time. A former governor of Alabama, I‘ve got to believe that many of your fellow prisoners knew who you were, knew the circumstances surrounding your case, what was that like?
SIEGELMAN: Well, I was treated like any other prisoner. And it was, you know, it was not a pleasant experience. And the experience those men are going through is not pleasant for them either.
You know, if God had a purpose for me going through this, I think part of it is to try to fix some of those things that are wrong with our system and ensure that these kind of things don‘t happen to people in the future. And I want to get back to one thing. We have got to seek out the truth.
And I want to, again, commend you and Bush League Justice for pushing this issue forward. This case and these circumstances will make Watergate look like child‘s play if Congress will dig into these things. You brought up something right before the break about two prominent Republicans who were exposed during the course of this investigation but were not pursued.
When my lawyers tried to subpoena the records of the national Republican Party and Jack Abramoff‘s funneling of millions of Indian casino money through Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed and Mike Scanlon.
ABRAMS: All right. Wait, we‘re getting too many names here.
Let‘s keep it simple.
I mean, the point is, right, that these two Republicans, one is now a senator and one is a federal judge, and reportedly, one of the key witnesses against you made allegations against them, and they were not investigated or prosecuted, correct?
SIEGELMAN: Well, they were not investigated or prosecuted because the investigators were personal friends and former employees or current employees of either the attorney general or former attorney general who was the U.S. attorney. They weren‘t prosecuted because the prosecutors who were in the room had either worked for them as their chief deputy or were their personal friends or married to them. So, it was an obvious conflict of interest that was ignored not only by the local people but also by the two representatives of the United States Department of Justice and the FBI who were also in that same room.
ABRAMS: But it sounds like, and again, governor, it sounds like you are alleging corruption at so many different levels. I mean, I think, some people can accept the notion that, you know, there are certain Republicans who are out to get you, et cetera, but as we talk more about this, right, there are more people involved, and it sounds like you‘re saying that the corruption here was pretty deep.
SIEGELMAN: I‘m saying that there was—there is a connection, and that all of the roads lead to Rove. All of the dots, when you connect the dots, they lead to Karl Rove. And this case could be the map quest that sets Congress on a journey that will take them to Karl Rove if they will start looking at those people.
ABRAMS: All right. Let‘s assume—Congress, as you know, there is now an issue as to whether you should testify or not, because I would have think that anything you say in front of Congress can be used against you. You‘re appealing your case right. In fact, one of your staunchest allies on Capitol Hill has said that he doesn‘t think you should testify for fear that you‘re going to hurt your own case. Are you ready to go to Capitol Hill and testify?
SIEGELMAN: I‘m ready to go to Capitol Hill and give them whatever information I can. This is not about me. It is about America and it is about finding out who has used - they abused their power and used the Department of Justice to subvert our democracy?
And it is bigger than Don Siegelman, it‘s bigger than this case. It‘s bigger than Georgia Thompson and the other people who‘d been abused by the Department of Justice, but Congress owes it to the people of America to find out the truth. And that‘s what my quest is at this moment and I will fully cooperate and work it with Congress to see that they have all the information I have about this case.
ABRAMS: Before I wrap this up, any thoughts of still running for office again?
SIEGELMAN: I have absolutely no thoughts of running for office at this point, but what I want to do is work with Congress to try to fix some of the wrongs that I saw while I was in prison. We‘ve got to stop the federal government from extorting testimony from known criminals to put innocent people in prison.
ABRAMS: Well, look, we will—we have said this before. I said this about your case while before your release that I was going to stay on top of this case. I‘m going to continue to stay on top of this case. We‘re going to continue to follow the facts of it and continue to follow all of the legal proceedings.
Governor Siegelman, thank you very much for coming on the program.
We appreciate it.
SIEGELMAN: Dan, thank you so much for what you have done for America.
ABRAMS: So, what‘s your VERDICT on the Siegelman story? E-mail us: Verdict@msnbc.com. Be sure to include your name, where you‘re writing from. We read emails at the end of the show and the P.O.‘ed box.
Coming up: Phil Donahue is here, he opposed the war in Iraq from the start, to weigh in on John McCain‘s Iraq speech today where McCain painted a fairly rosy picture. And we‘ll talk about his new documentary.
And the women over at “The View” get up close and personal, too personal, like, way too personal. It‘s whoa. Beat the Press is next.
ABRAMS: It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press: Our daily look back at media hypocrisy agendas and sometimes the amusing perils of live TV.
First up: Don‘t you hate when newscasters don‘t get that they‘re
the butt of the joke as FOX‘s Chris Wallace did when he celebrated a
reference to him on Comedy Central‘s daily show?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: We want to note that a feature we have started here, the “Obama watch,” has now become part of pop culture.
JON STEWART, TV HOST: Chris Wallace and the gang of “FOX News Sunday,” they have been left out in the cold. And that is surprising, Fox News Sunday is one of the big five Sunday chatters.
WALLACE: Once again this week, he continued to snub this show and all of the people who watch it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: The problem? Jon Stewart was mocking the “Obama watch.”
It was the joke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: OK. You are going with the 24-show clock, right, to remind people of the show who‘s main plot line was the terrorist trying to assassinate a black presidential candidate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Next up: In our continuing why we love Courtney Friel series. Here‘s one of our favorites FOX News reporters, at a circus yesterday, attempting to feed an elephant an apple.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COURTNEY FRIEL, FOX NEWS REPORTER: She‘ll just take this whole thing? OK. Oh, in the mouth? On the trunk. Come on. My goodness, wow! OK. That‘s all I got.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: And you probably thought we were going to show her getting queen pie in the face. No, no. We were focused on the elephant and the apple.
Finally: In the we don‘t need to see this on television category. “The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg was describing an experience she had with Charlton Heston and use Joy Behar in the reenactment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”: I thought she was so beautiful.
JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”: The girl in Kenya.
GOLDBERG: Yes and this is what I did. I leaned in, and I said we‘re going to break.
BEHAR: Do you have a gun in your pocket or you just said (INAUDIBLE) me?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Up next: Phil Donahue is here to talk politics, the McCain Iraq speech, and give us a look at his new documentary about the Iraq war and the aftermath.
And later today: Our segment, Teflon John, more of the media‘s free ride for John McCain.
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Welcome back. Today, John McCain made a major speech about the progress in Iraq. Three American soldiers were killed in Baghdad today, bringing the two-day American death toll to 10, one of the deadliest for U.S. troops this year. Legendary talk show host, Phil Donahue is here to talk about his award-winning documentary, “Body of War,” a story about the run-up to the war and Iraq war veteran turned anti-war warrior.
GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: The threat comes from Iraq.
REP. STEVE ROTHMAN (D), NEW JERSEY CONGRESSMAN: Saddam is now training Al-Qaeda.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Each day that goes by, he becomes more dangerous.
SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): More diabolical.
SEN. BILL NELSON (D-FL): With each passing day - every day.
REP. JOSEPH PITTS ®, PENNSYLVANIA CONGRESSMAN: Mr. Bunning.
SEN. JIM BUNNING (R-KY): Aye.
PITTS: Mr. Burns.
SEN. CONRAD BURNS (R-MT): Aye.
PITTS: Mr. Campbell.
SEN. BEN CAMPBELL (R-CO): Aye.
SEN. PETER FITZGERALD (R-IL): The gun smokes only after it is fired.
REP. ROB SIMMONS ®, CONNECTICUT CONGRESSMAN: Only after -
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ): After it‘s been fired.
BUSH: In the form of a mushroom cloud.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The joint resolution is passed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He would watch the news and get so upset about all of the lies they were telling.
BUSH: Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He realized it was important for him to speak out.
ABRAMS: Joining me now is TV great, Phil Donahue. Phil, good to see you.
PHIL DONAHUE, TV PERSONALITY: A pleasure, Dan. Thank you.
ABRAMS: All right. So was the goal in making this movie to get better treatment for the soldiers? I mean you talk a lot about how they were treated after the fact. Was that the driving force behind it?
DONAHUE: It was one of them. I think this is the most sanitized war I‘ve ever seen. We don‘t see the pain. Less than five percent of us have sent a primarily a loved one to this war. And what we see in this film, in addition to a superficial bumper sticker, unconstitutional debate on the Iraq War with resolution in October 2002, you also see the drama of a family turned upside down by just one of thousands of young people who have come home from this war with injuries that will be with them for the lifetime. Thomas Young is 28 years old and he can‘t walk.
ABRAMS: You reference both Democrats and Republicans in the film ...
DONAHUE: They were equal party abusers.
ABRAMS: Well, that‘s the question I have for you. Do you blame them equally? Do you maybe blame your own party more saying you should have stood up, you should have done something?
DONAHUE: Absolutely. I certainly do. I think this president took this nation by the ear and let it right into the sword. This vote was taken three weeks before an election. Remember, October 2002, how angry we - we‘re so mad we couldn‘t spit.
And this president with his talking points - a smoking gun. Well, they read these talking points from the White House Iraq group. The advertising agency warriors, you know, these are the people who name our invasions shock and awe.
ABRAMS: What happened to the Democrats?
DONAHUE: You know, if you remember how angry we were and that this vote was three weeks before an election, it just took too much courage to vote against this war. But 23 senators did and 133 house members did, so not everybody wimped out and we should be building statues to all of them.
Wait until you see the Iraq War resolution, which is woven through our story about a real American hero, Thomas Young. You‘ve got to meet this young man. He‘s fabulous, and he is becoming one of the central voices in the anti-war movement in this country.
ABRAMS: I want to play a piece of sound for you, this from “60 Minutes” last night, because it relates to the war. And it‘s from Doug Feith, as you know, one of the architects of the Iraq war, the undersecretary at that time. And he was asked by Steve Kroft whether he would still go forward with it based on what he knows now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE KROFT, CORRESPONDENT, “60 MINUTES”: Do you still think this was the right thing to do, knowing now what you know?
DOUGLAS FEITH, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think the president made the right decision given what he knew and given what we all knew. And to tell you the truth, even given what we‘ve learned since.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Does it surprise you that administration officials are - there is a difference between the two answers. On the one hand, there‘s the “based on what we knew.” You can debate that. What we know now, it seems to me, is a much harder argument for them to still make.
DONAHUE: This is one of the old men who wanted to prove he was tough, and sent other people‘s kids to war to make the case. This is about face Feith wants to save face. And we are arguing that no old man‘s face is worth a young life.
This is a massive blunder, and we‘re never going to begin to save the lives of not only Iraqis, but our soldiers as well. Ten dead Americans in the last two days. This is going to continue tomorrow, the next day. These people have no shame. This is a mistake and we‘re sending more people on the sword to, what? For what purpose?
ABRAMS: And you say that these people - Dick Cheney, I assume, is one of the people you are talking about. Here he was on ABC being questioned about the public opinion polls. He was asked about - Do we have it? All right. Here‘s Cheney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC CORRESPONDENT: Two-thirds of Americans say it‘s not worth fighting.
DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: So?
RADDATZ: So? You don‘t care what the American people think?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: He then goes on to say that we can‘t abide by public opinion polls. We can‘t live our lives based on that.
DONAHUE: I don‘t see any affect here, you know. They say they feel the pain, but I don‘t think they do. You know, these are the same people who, you know, “Oh, the troops - the courageous troops, the brave troops. The flower of our youth, our precious troops.” The troops come home and the V.A. doesn‘t call them back.
The pretense and the false piety here, you can cut with a knife. Democracy, democracy! Hell, half of us vote - less than half of us vote here. And this administration is chipping away at the one we‘ve got. This is a fabulous thing, this constitution. We should all celebrate it and be selling that to the rest of the world.
ABRAMS: And Thomas Young, who you talk about in the movie, one the focuses of the movie, is the way he was treated when he came back?
DONAHUE: Well, you know what? I took him to see Bobby Muller. I don‘t know if you remember. Bobby was on “Donahue Show” a hundred years ago. He‘s been on a chair for over 40 years. Same injury, T-4, right here on the spine.
And Bobby meets Thomas. And you know, “How long were you in the hospital?” And Thomas says, “Three months.” And Bobby looks at him. There‘s a long pause. You see this in our film. He said, “I was in the hospital for a year. I telling you, man, you got short shrift,” he says. “You‘ve got to speak out. What are they going to do to you? What are they going to do to you,” he says. And Thomas takes this - you know, it was like the old wheelchair-guy talking to the new wheelchair-guy, telling him what kind of life he‘s going to lead.
This movie is a story that is playing itself out in thousands of homes in this country. People come home with injuries that turned the whole family upside down and we‘re not seeing it, Dan.
ABRAMS: Let me bring in Tucker Carlson who joins us now, MSNBC‘s chief campaign correspondent. Look, Tucker, I‘m not going to ask you to comment on Phil‘s movie. But I will - let me ask you about Doug Feith, all right? He‘s on “60 Minutes” last night, and he continues to express absolutely no regrets, not just based on what the president knew at that time. But he‘s also saying, “And based on what we‘ve learned since, it was still worth going to war.”
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC CHIEF CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is in the small minority in believing that. Obviously, I‘m not unlike Phil Donahue willing to decide I know what his for saying that. It‘s like, I don‘t know. Maybe it is to save face. Maybe he sincerely believes that. That‘s actually unknowable.
I will say though that‘s not what the argument at this point. I think it was probably a very foolish thing to invade Iraq. Most people agree with that. The question now was, what do you do? We‘ve got 160,000 troops there. Maybe it‘s a bit of a waste of time to re-argue something that‘s pretty well settled. It was a mistake, instead of thinking about what‘s the best way to fix this. That‘s where our energy ought to go, it seems to me.
DONAHUE: Well, you know, anti-war protesters have got to stop protesting now, because we all agree with them. I think that‘s what Tucker is saying.
CARLSON: No, that‘s not what I‘m saying that at all. No, I‘m not saying that at all. I‘m not saying that there‘s no room for protest. I‘m merely saying it‘s kind of unsettled matter.
Sure, Doug Feith who was partly behind the war, of course, he is defending it and he probably always will. That‘s news from nowhere. That‘s not surprising. But the interesting question is, what do you do? The war was a bad idea, I give you that completely. Is it wise to pull the troops out right away? I don‘t think that‘s clear.
DONAHUE: We don‘t know what will happen. I can‘t presume to be smart enough to tell you. I don‘t know what will happen if we pull out. But I do know what would happen if we won‘t pull out, and that is another 10 Americans will die in the next two days and then 10 more. And we will continue to send people to die for this mistake by the Bush administration.
We‘re looking for people like you, Tucker, to help us figure out how we get out of here. Certainly, we have the U.K. to help us. Why don‘t we have a coalition of nations? Why don‘t we, for a change, in this nation reach out rather than lash out?
CARLSON: Well, I think we are desperately attempting to get someone else to hold the bag for us. That would be wonderful if someone would step up and take over the occupation. It think that one of the lessons of Iraq is you don‘t want to make a radical move, so you have a pretty good idea of what might happen, and that was the criticism you and other thoughtful made of Bush.
At the beginning, we don‘t know what‘s going to happen if we invade. We can be overturning a stone, and we don‘t know what‘s underneath it. So before we pull out, it seems we should game it out a little bit more and have a better sense. That seems the responsible thing to do.
ABRAMS: I‘ve got to take a break. Phil Donahue and Tucker Carlson are going to stay with us. Up next, our segment “Teflon John.” The media continues to give McCain a free pass even after he said in a major speech today that the U.S. is no longer staring into the abyss of defeat in Iraq. He went on beyond that, disregarding the recent flare up of violence there.
And the Olympic torch flame under attack. “Reality Bites” is in 60 seconds.
ABRAMS: First up, “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape. Tonight, anti-China protestors, putting the Olympic torch to the ringer on its worldwide tour. In London, demonstrators angry about crackdown on Tibet, snatched at the torch. One protester even tried to empty a fire extinguisher on it.
In Paris, clashes with protestors so intent, Chinese officials reportedly extinguished the flame several times themselves and climbed on to a bus for safety, skipping several planned stops. Next up the torch bound for San Francisco where these guys are already getting a head start on the protest by redecorating the Golden Gate Bridge. Will be right back with Phil Donahue and Tucker in a minute.
ABRAMS: Welcome back. Today, John McCain gave a major speech on Iraq.
McCain painted a relatively rosy picture of the future.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The dramatic reduction in violence has opened the way for a return to something approaching normal, political and economic life for the average Iraqi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: All right. But the problem? A total of 923 civilians were killed in March, a 31 percent increase from February and the deadliest month since August of 2007.
Let‘s bring back Phil Donahue and MSNBC‘S chief campaign correspondent, Tucker Carlson.
I mean, Tucker, does McCain have a numbers problem here? I mean looking at what‘s happening in Iraq, the position he‘s taking is, things are better. Things are improving. And yet, when you look at the numbers, it doesn‘t back them up.
CARLSON: Well, I think he‘s got a philosophical problem. I mean I don‘t think the measure of success in Iraq is the well-being of the Iraqi people, although that‘s a good thing, not arguing against it. But spend some time in Iraq and you‘ll understand it is a complicated country and has been for a long time.
The war has made it worse, but the idea it is our job to bring peace and security to Iraq - our job is to protect our interests. That‘s every country‘s job. That‘s what foreign policy is. I do think that the anti-war people, just to keep their credibility alive, need to acknowledge that violence against U.S. troops has lessened. I mean it doesn‘t justify the war, but it‘s happening. And it‘s important to say so. Otherwise, you know, you seem disconnected from reality.
DONAHUE: We‘re not there to improve the lives of the Iraqi citizens?
CARLSON: No, I don‘t believe that‘s our job.
DONAHUE: Well, then, you‘re going to have to check all those comments by the president over these past five years.
CARLSON: That‘s right and he‘s wrong. I agree with that.
DONAHUE: I see. Well, and not only you believe the president is wrong, I think - unless there‘s something wrong with my earpiece, I think you said I was thoughtful. I don‘t know how I can handle the love here. This is - after all of these years of being told I don‘t love the troops, along with a lot of other people.
You know, we‘re saying we love America more than the bomb throwers. We believe in the bill of rights - this radical crowd -if free speech is kind of a quaint idea, it‘s not really very practical. What we see in our film is what a president can do if he scares the people. The politics of fear at work.
ABRAMS: Do you feel vindicated?
DONAHUE: I don‘t feel vindicated at all. First of all, even if we had ten people that die in the last two days, we have 4,000 - By the way, you can‘t take pictures of the coffins, and the entire mainstream media said, OK. Every major metropolitan newspaper in this country supported this war. That‘s what you get with a corporate media. It was not good for business to oppose this war. It was an economic prejudice against it.
ABRAMS: But isn‘t it possible that people were afraid post-9/11? That people were fearful that it wasn‘t that they were just being slaves to their corporate - that they were scared maybe? You know, it turns out that the reaction wasn‘t the right one. But isn‘t it possible it wasn‘t corporate fear?
DONAHUE: It is possible that this administration wanted to have a merry little war. The aircraft carrier stunt proves that. And why not let the U.N. inspectors finish their job? They didn‘t do that.
ABRAMS: Let‘s play another piece of sound from John McCain today talking about what he wants - and this is part of Phil‘s movie - what he wants for the troops when they come home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: We owe them compassion, knowledge and hands-on care in their transition to civilian life. We owe them training, rehabilitation and education. They should never, never be deprived of quality medical care and mental health care coverage for illness or injury incurred as a result of their service to our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Tucker, any hypocrisy in McCain then, when asked about this new GI Bill. He says, “I‘ve had not a chance to examine it carefully. It seems to me that it‘s a good thing to do, but I haven‘t examined the bill with the care that it needs.” I mean he‘s not supporting the same GI bill that a lot of Republicans are supporting.
CARLSON: OK. That may be or may be not. It does seem this is one subject in which he can speak with some authority. He spent quite a bit of time in military hospitals himself and spent 25 years in the congress attuned to these issues. It‘s going to be kind of hard.
Look, you can disagree with McCain‘s position on the war. It‘s going to kind of hard to make the case he doesn‘t care about the troops. Look, maybe people will try, but they will probably get laughed off the stage. I mean that‘s really one thing that he can kind of say without being ...
DONAHUE: Nobody is saying that, Tucker.
CARLSON: Right. OK.
DONAHUE: Nobody is calling - nobody is accusing John McCain of not respecting or loving the troops. This is ...
CARLSON: You did accuse the president and Dick Cheney of not caring about their deaths which seems to me ...
DONAHUE: I‘m saying that I don‘t think he‘s processed the pain. I think these people say, “Hey, war happens, you know. It‘s tough. War is hell, but it happens ...”
CARLSON: Why would you say something like that, Phil? This is a man who spent almost six years in jail in North Vietnam. His son just came back from Iraq ...
DONAHUE: I‘m talking about Cheney now. I‘m talking about Cheney.
CARLSON: But even Cheney - you don‘t know that. You don‘t know what he thinks.
DONAHUE: What don‘t I know?
CARLSON: You can only judge what he says and does.
DONAHUE: I know he was a wimp and he was afraid to go to Vietnam ...
CARLSON: Oh, come on, Phil.
DONAHUE: ... and had the money to get out of it.
CARLSON: How was your time in Vietnam? Give me a break.
DONAHUE: What does “come on” mean? Why would you say “come on”?
CARLSON: I‘ll tell you why, because you can assess the guy‘s policies. You‘re not a Vietnam hero either. So I mean why throw that around? That‘s got nothing to do with anything. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
DONAHUE: What am I throwing around?
CARLSON: You‘re saying he‘s a wimp? What are you, like, Mr. Macho Guy?
Settle down. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) war policy.
DONAHUE: On the matter of Vietnam, he was a wimp. On the matter ...
CARLSON: Did you go to Vietnam? I mean, what is this?
DONAHUE: Did you?
CARLSON: No. You‘re calling him a wimp? I wasn‘t born. You‘re saying he‘s a wimp because he didn‘t go to Vietnam. I‘m saying it‘s fair to attack his war policies if you don‘t like them. But how dare you, of all people, say he‘s a wimp for not going to Vietnam. I mean that‘s a bit much, you know.
ABRAMS: You get the final word on this tonight.
DONAHUE: Yes. This war is not fair to the American troops. This war is a massive blunder, and we still have people like John McCain who want to throw more young people on the sword because, “We have to win my friends.” What? You know, the way he talks, he‘s going to find that last terrorist and go bang! “Boy, I‘m glad that‘s over.” That‘s the way they‘re talking.
This is a nightmare. It is an endless quagmire that is going to cost more and more American blood while the American people are losing this - they have no focus on Iraq any more and the economy is tanking.
ABRAMS: I‘m not ending this conversation. I‘m actually going to extend it. I‘m going to get rid of our “Winners and Losers” segment today. I think this is important discussion. I want Tucker to stick around. Phil Donahue, please stay with us for a minute. We‘re going to talk in a minute about whether this is going to sink McCain or could it help him in the ‘08 campaign. Coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: He promised the withdrawal of our forces from Iraq regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests and the future of the Middle East is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: That‘s John McCain today. Phil Donahue and Tucker Carlson still with me. Phil, that is going to be the campaign. That is going to be John McCain‘s position on Iraq.
DONAHUE: Yes, it is. John McCain should make it clear that he must also know that the ultimate failed leadership is embodied in the decision to bomb Iraq. We believe that one more death in Iraq is morally indefensible and that we have to begin now to pull our troops back. We went to the moon. We can do this safely. And our movie, “Body of War,” shows you not only how we got in this war but shows you things you‘ve never seen before in a documentary. I‘m hoping you‘ll come and see us.
Tucker, considering how unpopular the war is, can McCain really - is he that good a politician, that good a candidate, that he‘s going to be able to continue to campaign on that front?
CARLSON: Well, he‘s going to anyway. It‘s a pretty bold move. You have to give him credit for that. There‘s a lot about his foreign policy I personally don‘t agree with. But I always assume his sincerity. I don‘t see any other reason he would run on the war in Iraq. So, I don‘t know. I also think he makes a fair point that it may have been reckless to go in. It could be every bit as reckless to get out precipitously. That‘s something to think about.
ABRAMS: Yes. I guess the point is that no one is saying precipitously.
The question just becomes how quickly to get out. I‘ve got to wrap it up. Phil Donahue and Tucker Carlson, it‘s a great conversation. Phil‘s documentary “Body of War” opens Wednesday in New York, other cities after that. We‘ll see you tomorrow.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.