Guest: Ron Suskind, David Sirota, Barton Gellman, David Boies
Spec: Politics; Policies
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We have more on the unbelievability of Dick Cheney—coming up.
And the hard-to-believe, where-do-they-get-the nerve reaction of Republican senators John—excuse me—Bob Corker and John McCain to President Obama‘s auto bailout move today.
There‘s still only one senator from Minnesota. And the Republican Party wants to keep it that way. We will have David Boies here with us this hour to discuss.
And my basketball bracket is a complete and total failure, but I‘m in very powerful company.
All of that coming up this hour and more.
But, first, the new president is embarking on his first overseas trip
an eight-day sprint through Europe where he will have face-to-face meetings with many world leaders for the first time. One of those first meetings may be particularly awkward as the judicial system of Spain seems poised to indict a bunch of American officials.
Nice to meet you, Prime Minister Zapatero. How is it going with the plan to arrest Alberto Gonzales?
Yes, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is one of six Bush administration officials that a Spanish court is moving toward prosecuting for alleged violating international law when they created legal justifications for torture.
In addition to Gonzales, the complaint names former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, John Yoo‘s former boss at the Justice Department, Jay Bybee, who remarkably is now a high-ranking federal judge. Also, Dick Cheney‘s former chief of staff, David Addington, former undersecretary of defense, Doug Feith, that was famously described by General Tommy Franks as, quote, “The f-ing stupidest guy on the planet,” and former Pentagon general counsel, William Haynes.
Now, Spain has decided to go ahead and seek these prosecutions because they are one of 145 countries who have signed on to the 1984 convention against torture. What countries signed up for when they signed that treaty was the responsibility, the obligation to investigate torture cases especially when one of their own citizens was allegedly abused. That is an obligation that Spain is taking very seriously.
The Spanish judge who is moving this case forward is the same judge who got the former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, arrested in 1998 while he was on a trip to London. Now, Spanish lawyers say arrest warrants in this current case involving American officials could be issued within weeks, maybe even within days.
What‘s the likelihood that our little American gang of six will actually stand trial in Spain? Well, according to the “New York Times,” quote, “It‘s a near certainty that the warrants would not lead to arrests if the officials did not leave the United States.” If the officials did not leave the United States. That‘s a big “If.”
Can you imagine the calls going out from the secretary desk at the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals right now?
Yes, we‘re sorry, Judge Bybee, he‘s going to have to cancel his speech in London this month. Oh, because he‘s wanted for international war crime. You didn‘t hear? We are so sorry for the inconvenience.
Yes. He‘s still working. We‘re keeping him on the bench ruling on federal cases here. Yes. He apparently won‘t be arrested as long as he doesn‘t leave the country.
No. We don‘t have a problem with that. Why?
Yes. Isn‘t this all sort of embarrassing? I mean, not only where Jay Bybee works but for all of us? I mean, first of all, is it OK to be an American federal judge if you get indicted in another country?
And second of all, more importantly, why is Spain who‘s doing this? Why aren‘t we doing this? We signed that same treaty about torture. Why do we need to outsource justice to other countries?
One possible hope for us cleaning up our own mess is the Obama administration‘s decision to nominate Dawn Johnsen to head up the Office of Legal Counsel, the very office that gave the Bush White House the green light for their adventure into the land of enhanced interrogation techniques.
Now, the Justice Department and the Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bush argued that they have discovered some mystical heretofore invisible legal power that would allow the president to order violations of the Geneva Conventions with total impunity. When it came to torture specifically, they said all the accepted definitions of torture were no longer accepted and they had a new definition. And their new definition was so narrow that, in essence, you could torture people left, right and center without ever having to call it capital “T,” go to court torture.
Now, responding to the capital “T” go to court torture redefinition memos, President Obama‘s pick to head up the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen, she said this, quote, “Where is the outrage, the public outcry? The shockingly flawed content of this memo, the deficient processes that led to its issuance, the horrific acts it encouraged all demand our outrage. We must regain our ability to feel outrage whenever our government acts lawlessly.”
Wow! What a difference in administration makes. Imagine having the “where is the outrage” person in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel instead of the guy she was so outraged at. So, why hasn‘t Dawn Johnsen been confirmed yet? Well, because Senate Republicans are holding up a vote on her nomination.
Columbia University law professor and reporter, Scott Horton, reports on the “Daily Beast” that, quote, “The real reason for Republicans‘ vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration‘s policies on torture. She is committed to shining a light on some of the darkest skeletons of the Bush years.” In other words, advocating that the U.S. should do what Spain is now starting to do for us.
The “Washington Post” this weekend also picks up perhaps the most sickening storyline of this whole moral and constitutional and humanitarian mess. They‘ve front-paged a story in which former senior government officials say the first prisoner we tortured after 9/11, the man used by President Bush and others as an example of why it was so important to be able to torture people, not only is not or was not a member of al Qaeda but the information rung out of him from torture was useless, false confessions.
Quote, “The harsh interrogation methods succeeded in breaking him and the stories he told of al Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads. In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida‘s torture confessions. Abu Zubaida‘s revelations triggered series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms, quote, ‘We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms,‘ said one former intelligence official.”
Echoing reporting in Ron Suskind‘s 2006 book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” this allegations raised the disgusting possibility that senior Bush administration officials knew that torture wasn‘t working, that it was producing false confessions and wild goose chases. But they had pursued it and defended it anyway—because why? Because it made them feel like tough guys?
Why would you want to do this? Why would you want your government to be promoting and approving this if you knew it didn‘t work?
Joining us now is Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist, Ron Suskind. He‘s the author of “The One Percent Doctrine” as well as the new book, “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism.”
Mr. Suskind, thanks for joining us.
RON SUSKIND, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR: My pleasure.
MADDOW: Almost three years ago, you reported that the Bush administration was overstating the importance of Abu Zubaida. Now, senior Bush officials are telling the “Washington Post” that nothing he said while being tortured was useful information. Do you think this means that the Bush administration‘s defense of torture is somehow breaking down?
SUSKIND: Well, you know, we always knew it would break down right about now, when this administration was out of power. Remember, there are a lot of officials across these years, Rachel, who were up at night saying, we‘ve done the wrong thing and now what do I do, that were essentially under duress. They were under a kind of a gag order by this administration to say, you will never speak about this and there will be consequences if you do. Now, what you‘re finding is a kind of thawing of that, where folks, public servants for many years are saying, I‘m going to stand up and be accountable for the truth.
MADDOW: Do you think that the international development here, this development with Spain possibly pursuing prosecutions, does that add any urgency to the debate over this and the debate how to move forward on this in this country? Does it seem to you like the Obama administration has any appetite for pursuing this sort of thing and might Spain help or hinder that?
SUSKIND: Well, you know, it‘s interesting because, you know, here, Spain is essentially taking the lead. Other countries, Italy and others, France, may jump in as well. And it puts the United States in a very difficult bind.
Here we are hoping to regain our status as the moral leader, as those advocating rule of law, and the Spaniards are jumping ahead of us. It could place us in a very difficult spot going forward where the United States is behind the pack and we are actually having to dance to a tune being played by the Europeans.
That‘s not what the Obama administration wants; certainly not what Dawn Johnsen is going to want. But right now, we‘re kind of conflicted in the White House as to how to proceed and what to do.
MADDOW: Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington, has suggested on this show that Dick Cheney recently, publicly bragging on the supposed efficacy of torture has been sort of a form of defense for him, a defense to charges like the ones that are being considered in Spain. We know that ABC News reported last spring that Cheney and others were involved in almost play-by-play orchestration of Abu Zubaida‘s interrogation.
I wonder from your reporting if you think that Mr. Cheney specifically might have some potential legal exposure here.
SUSKIND: Absolutely. You know, I reported that in 2006. Bush and Cheney were inadvertently involved day-to-day in what the interrogation was yielding, what was being tried and what was successful or not.
And it‘s interesting. Cheney now offering this defense, certainly kills off any chance for the president or the vice president to say we didn‘t know. There is no plausible deniability here. And in fact, what it shows is intent, culpability, action from the very top.
What‘s interesting about Spain is that they are going after senior officials. The Italians in previous cases are going after CIA agents. They‘re going after senior officials, Spain, because that‘s just one step away from the president and the vice president. And I would submit that their goal is to treat the former president and former vice president in the same way.
Think of this outcome where the former president and vice president may not be able to travel outside of the United States. It‘s astonishing to think about.
MADDOW: In terms of thinking about the domestic political and strategic considerations, what do you think about the Republican senators holding up Dawn Johnsen for the Office of Legal Counsel position? Do you think it would be significant to have somebody like her, a vocal anti-torture advocate, in that job at the Office of Legal Counsel?
SUSKIND: Well, I think it says a lot about Obama and the way he‘s governing, that Dawn Johnsen is his selectee. Now here, he‘s a constitutional law professor. He‘s got real power, real might here. She really knows how to handle these issues.
He wants somebody to be his peer, his match to argue these points forcefully. That is who Dawn Johnsen is. You know, not only was she out in front during the last few years of the Bush administration, she, for a time, ran this office under Bill Clinton. Obama, in this case, wants a strong advocate and that‘s why Dawn Johnsen was selected for this job.
You know, in some ways, I think that—that will hearten people who want the United States to step up to this mandate of showing what the United States represents in terms of rule of law, and that‘s really going to be a decision at day‘s end of the president and of this administration at the very top, whether they want to walk down that path. It is not going to be easy. But ultimately, the yield will be something that I think people will be thankful for years from now once the United States recaptures that most precious thing, moral authority. It‘s going to take some work though.
MADDOW: Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, Ron Suskind, a man who did so much initial reporting on this that the rest of the press corps in some ways is still just catching up with. Thank you for your reporting. Thanks for joining us tonight.
SUSKIND: My pleasure.
MADDOW: Today was “Get tough on the auto industry” day. President Obama got tough by forcing the head of General Motors to resign. Senate Republicans got tough with Obama for being too tough on the four G.M. executives? Of course, they had no such qualms getting tough on autoworkers.
And did you hear the one about Dick Cheney undermining the presidency of Barack Obama with foreign governments or at least Dick Cheney trying to do that and sort of blowing it? Yes, we‘ll have more on that ahead.
But, first, One More Thing about the so-called “war on terror.” Last week, we talked about how the phrase “war on terror” seemed to be going the way of oldies but not at all goodies like coed, or flesh colored or freedom fries. The Office of Management and Budget reportedly is changing the budgetary term for “war on terror” expenses to OCO—OCO, Overseas Contingency Operations. And we didn‘t last week whether or not OCO was just for the budget or whether it was going to be used throughout the government.
But today, the head of the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, confirmed that as far as she is concerned, the phrase “war on terror” is gone. She said, quote, “The administration has stopped using the phrase and I think that speaks for itself.”
It sort of does but not quite. Does it mean that the war on terror has a new name? Is it OCO? Is it something else? Word nerd need to know.
MADDOW: The legendary gas-guzzling mega-car converted from combat for suburban use, the Hummer, may not live to see Wednesday. Yes. General Motors has either to scrap or sell the Hummer division by the end of the day tomorrow, as a condition of receiving the $13 billion it‘s already received from the government and to have the chance to receive even more.
The Hummer brand has actually been for sale since last June, but with gas prices all over the map and Americans feeling differently than we used to about being exhibitionists about our level of consumption, no one is buying—except Iraqis, Iraqis are buying them.
Rod Nordland of the “New York Times” reports today that even though gas prices have skyrocketed to a buck 40 a gallon in the country where gas comes from and even though Hummers were introduced to the Iraqi ecosystem via I don‘t know, U.S. ground invasion—Hummers are flying off the lots in Baghdad. They apparently had become a symbol, a rather sad, ironic symbol of Iraqi manly powerfulness.
I wonder how the M1 Abrams tank would sell over there. Thrown a free undercoat, paint it yellow, (INAUDIBLE) cannon warranty, floor mats, go faster stripes?
MADDOW: You want to see President Obama get tough as nails about bailout money. Well, the bailer out-in-chief delivered a fiscal knuckle sandwich to two just about broke American car companies today. Among the knocked out, General Motors CEO Richard Wagoner, who has run the company since 2000, and who, the White House has now forced to resign.
The White House determined that Chrysler can‘t operate as a stand-alone company. They gave them 30 days to merge with Italian carmaker Fiat if they want any hope of further government cash. G.M. got its chief executive fired and the White House gave the new guy 60 days to sharply cut cost and lay out a new plan for viability if they want any further government help as well. The tough stuff, right? Lots of strings attached to taxpayer money.
So, who‘s got a beef with this all this accountability? Let me introduce you to the former mayor of Chattanooga, Republican Senator Bob Corker. He was the lead Republican on December Senate negotiations to bail out the car companies and he is infuriated by the G.M. CEO getting fired.
He said, quote, “This is a major power grab by the White House—a marked departure from the past, truly breathtaking. It should send a chill through all Americans who believe in free enterprise.”
You tell them, Senator Corker, how dare Washington interfere with the employment decision of the car companies. How dare these politicians in Washington tell the—hey, wait a minute. Is this the same Senator Corker who tried to force the car companies to cut the wages for their workers to match what foreign companies were paying?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DECEMBER 11)
SEN. BOB CORKER, ® TENNESSEE: They have to agree to have a contract in place that puts them on parity—on parity with companies like Toyota and Nissan and Volkswagen and other companies here in our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, it‘s not chilling to free enterprise for politicians to go after blue-collar people who work for a living but it is chilling to free enterprise to go after the CEOs of the same companies? That‘s a very, very, very strange thermostat.
Joining us now is syndicated columnist, David Sirota.
David, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
DAVID SIROTA, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, Senator Corker did not have a problem with using government leverage to push workers around but he‘s calling the firing of CEO—firing of the G.M. CEO chilling. I‘m wondering if you can help explain the weird temperature shifts that Senator Corker is feeling here.
SIROTA: Well, look, Republicans don‘t like unions and they‘re not particularly fond of blue-collar workers. And so, what we see is a sort of selective principle, right? I mean, they are outraged that our Democratic president has gone after the management class, but they are also urging that Democratic president to go after the working class.
And so, you know, I guess he doesn‘t think anyone‘s going to—Corker
doesn‘t think anyone is going to call him out on it or notice it. But the
Republican Party will use—they‘re showing right now—they will use
their power, their platform to advocate for the cutting of workers‘ wages
and then pretend to be outraged at the firing of an executive. It‘s really
the hypocrisy, it shows what the Republican Party is about.
MADDOW: We‘ve got a couple of different standards to sort of keep track here. There is the—keep track—there‘s like the CEO, the management class and the workers. We‘ve got that as a distinction.
But we‘ve also got a distinction between industries, between types of industries. I mean, Hank Paulson pushed out the CEO of AIG, the head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had to step down, too. And it seems to me like sometimes when companies get bailed out by the government, their CEOs get canned in the process. It doesn‘t seem that complicated to me.
But I‘m wondering if you are seeing more eagerness to fire executives in the industry that, say, is headquartered on Wall Street or less eagerness to fire those CEOs as compared with the other industries that have really taken some government help here.
SIROTA: Well, let‘s just look at the timeline, right? It was four or five days ago that the White House had bank CEOs for a photo-op. You know, they come out of the White House, they‘re all smiling, they‘re all happy. And then yesterday, the president says he‘s going, you know, he‘s going to take strong action and fire the CEO of G.M.
Now, I‘m not defending the CEO of G.M. here. But there is a different standard. And I think, you know, United Steelworker President Leo Girard has said the government treats people who shower before work—essentially the white collar industries—differently than they treat industries with workers who shower after work and blue-collar industries. And I think we‘re seeing that here.
And I think the question is, for the Obama administration, you know, what gives? How could you, you know, essentially berate a CEO in an industry that‘s asking for about $30 billion and do nothing of the sort, really, in terms of toughness like this to an industry that we‘re giving away $750 billion, over $1 trillion? It really doesn‘t make sense. And I think the question is—why?
MADDOW: David, last question for you. For all the hurly-burly about the American car industry right now, there is something else going on besides just the bailout politics and it‘s the other actions by the government to encourage Americans to buy American cars. Right now, if you buy a car before the end of the year, you get to right off the excise tax and the sales tax. The federal government will back up the warranty. Obama is asking Congress to work out this “Clash for Clunkers” bill, which will give a rebate to car owners who trade in their old models for more fuel-efficient cars.
I mean, beyond the bailout, in terms of policy here, it seems to me like the government is bending over backwards to encourage people to buy more American cars. What do you think of those efforts just in terms of policy?
SIROTA: Well, I think it‘s good. Look—anything that we can do to get—to prime the pump, to get money into the economy, is a good thing. And I think that the Obama administration should be applauded for trying to keep this industry existing. I mean, we are talking about 3 million blue-collar jobs here.
But, again, I think the question is: Why the different standards? Why does the president of the United States seem to want to coddle Wall Street executives and then push around the auto industry? I mean, I think the auto industry needs pushing around but the double standard is the question.
MADDOW: Syndicated columnist, David Sirota—David, it‘s great to see you. Thanks for coming back on the show.
SIROTA: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: There are more than 5 million people in Minnesota. And as of this moment, Minnesotans have one U.S. senator. They are one short.
In just a moment, we‘ll get—we will get some perspective on the Republican‘s Party‘s efforts to keep Al Franken from taking that seat by any means necessary. We‘ll get that respective from David Boies, who may recall was Al Gore‘s lawyer in the Florida recount in 2000. He‘s a man who knows a few things about elections decided in court.
MADDOW: New fresh, hot jaw-dropping Dick Cheney news as we learn that the former vice president spent his lame duck-itude trying to undercut Obama‘s presidency in advance. He apparently ran out of puppies to annoy.
But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
The “Associated Press” has a follow-up today on the two American journalists from Current TV who are arrested a couple of weeks ago by North Korea. North Korean state media announced that the government of Kim Jong-il is getting ready to indict these two women on charges of illegally entering the country and, quote, “hostile acts.”
Euna Lee and Laura Ling were arrested on March 17 while filming the Tumen River that marks the border between China and North Korea. The women were working on a piece about North Korean refugees into China. And the Tumen River is a popular crossing point for them. When the water level is low there, as it apparently was when Lee and Ling were there, the exact border is difficult to discern, which may ultimately end up having something to do with the claims about why they were arrested.
The official North Korean news agency did not say when the women would appear in court or what the government meant by the phrase “hostile acts.” We do know that a Swedish envoy acting on behalf of the U.S. government met with the two journalists individually over the weekend. The envoy didn‘t give any details on their condition though.
The situation is complicated by the little matter of North Korea expecting to launch a missile next month. They, of course, claimed this missile, that it‘s just going up to launch a satellite. But the United States and Japan and South Korea and almost the entire international community have pretty much decided that the details of the launch all point to it actually being a test of a long-range, intercontinental ballistic missile—a test of which would be directly forbidden by the U.N. Security Council.
The worry is that the north is using the American journalists they‘ve now got in jail as essentially a bargaining chip to keep us from messing with their missile launch. The North Korean news agency is saying that Euna Lee and Laura Ling are being allowed counselor contact and that their treatment is governed by international laws. That, of course, leaves us with a lame hope that North Korea follows international laws about treatment of prisoners and treatment of journalists more closely than they do the international laws regulating missile launches.
And finally that daffy Gadhafi is back. Not familiar with Colonel Muammar al-Gadhafi, the man Ronald Reagan called the “mad dog of the Middle East?” Well, Gadhafi is the de facto leader of Libya. He took control in a coup in 1969.
But officially, he actually hasn‘t had a head-of-state title in those 30 years. The dude is still a colonel after all. Gadhafi is infamous for his government‘s complicit involvement in a number of violent episodes including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
He is also famous for his all-female cadre of bodyguards, about 30 women dressed in blue uniforms all dressed to kill. Colonel Gadhafi attended the Arab League Summit today in Qatar. True to the whole mad-dog thing, he took the microphone, denounced the king of Saudi Arabia as a British and America toady, and then said, quote, “I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, king of kings of Africa and the imam of all Muslims.” Then, he stormed out.
Where did he go when he stormed out? He went on a museum tour all under the watchful eyes of his bevy of lady bodyguards. You know, I wonder why he doesn‘t promote himself to general, you know?
MADDOW: Welcome back from San Francisco. You know, tonight, reporting on attempts by former Vice President Dick Cheney to undermine current President Barack Obama has become a journalistic beat unto itself. It is almost a nightly franchise for our show. We were thinking about naming it and giving it a cute little animation. But it is about Dick Cheney and this is a family program, sort of, so we are letting it go for now.
Today‘s chronicle of Cheney-Obama subversion calls for a trip in the RACHEL MADDOW flashback machine, patent pending. The day was January 20th, 2009, Inauguration Day. But there were other important things were happening that day far, far away from Washington, like the fact that Israel was pulling troops out of Gaza that day after a brutal 22-day fight in Gaza.
Today, 70 days after Inauguration Day, there is new reporting about the events leading up to January 20th in Israel and Gaza. The reports are from Seymour Hersh at the “New Yorker.” According to Mr. Hersh, quote, “The Obama transition team helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration.”
And while the Obama transition team was trying to convince the Israelis to end the Gaza war, Dick Cheney, the lame duck vice president, was trying to convince the Israelis that they shouldn‘t bother with the new guy, that the new American president would be bad news for their country.
Quote, “Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a pro-Palestinian who would not support their efforts. And in private, he disparaged Obama referring to him at one point as someone who would never make it in the major leagues.”
Obama will never make it in the major leagues, not like Dick Cheney. What is that? That‘s like hail on the chief instead of hail to the chief.
Two things here, first of all, the vice president of the United States was actively working to undermine the presidency that was about to succeed him with foreign governments.
Second of all, there is a little bit of a silver lining here. Apparently, Vice President Dick Cheney was sort of bad at that. Obama wanted Israel to call a cease-fire and withdraw its troops in time for his inauguration. And if you remember back to January 20th, that is, in fact, what he got.
Joining us now is Barton Gellman, Pulitzer Prize-winning “Washington Post” reporter and author of the book “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.” Mr. Gellman, thanks so much for coming on the show tonight.
BARTON GELLMAN, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING “WASHINGTON POST” REPORTER: My
MADDOW: Since leaving office, Dick Cheney has said President Obama is making the country less safe. Now, there is this report he talked down Obama to the Israelis. You are kind of a Cheney-ologist. I have to ask you if this reporting is borne out, would this behavior by the vice president surprise you?
GELLMAN: Some yes. Some, no. It‘s not at all a surprise that Dick Cheney was in favor of Israel prosecuting the war with Hamas as long and as hard as possible. He felt the same way about Israel‘s war in Lebanon against Hezbollah a couple of years earlier.
And he would say, I think, that if anybody is crossing a line, it‘s the president-elect, not yet in office, trying to conduct foreign policy that Bush and Cheney are entitled right up until noon on Inauguration Day to be in charge of that.
Whether he really disparaged Obama to Israelis as pro-Palestinian
it doesn‘t quite ring true for me. On the one hand, he is very happy to make his criticism public in an unusual way for a vice president after leaving office. But on the other hand, that doesn‘t sound quite like him. Frankly, it sounds as someone who covered Israel for a few years. It sounds a lot more like an Israeli official spinning what Cheney said about Obama.
MADDOW: Why would - in the politics here - somebody who has covered Israel and somebody who has covered Dick Cheney, why would Israeli officials want this to be known about Cheney? What do you think?
GELLMAN: It would be less about Cheney than about Obama. It would be sort of a shot across the bow. They are saying, A, we know that Obama had some trouble with American Jews who worry that he was not pro-Israeli. And, B, we hear this guy is pro-Palestinian. Let‘s see what he‘s got. It is a bit of a challenge to Obama, I think, on Israel‘s part.
MADDOW: However, that would only work if people thought what Dick Cheney might say about Obama would be credible. And in this case, I feel like Dick Cheney‘s comments about the Obama presidency since he left office in particular have made a lot more news for what people think about Dick Cheney than what people think about Barack Obama.
I have been surprised that Dick Cheney has made so many public comments as vice president and that he has been so critical of the new administration. Did you see that coming? Have you been surprised by that?
GELLMAN: I guess I am surprised. I‘m often surprised. I like being surprised. That is why I like being a reporter. Dick Cheney gave about twice as many exit interviews as Bush did.
And after Inauguration Day, Bush shut up, which is traditionally what ex-presidents do. And it‘s also what ex-vice presidents normally do. Cheney has come out and continued to defend his policies and to criticize any departure from them.
I think it‘s just another sign with the vehemence with which he holds his views. It‘s a central theme of “Angler” that he is a true believer, that he really does believe the things he is saying. And he thinks he understands that the world is a dangerous, dark place that needs tough policies in response, that he understands that better than other people do, and that he wants to keep “an oar in the water” which is one of his favorite expressions.
MADDOW: Do you get the sense that he might be constructing a sort of defense in the anticipation that he might either be formally charged with something at some point related to his war on terror policies or that he might need to defend his legacy if he does see any hope of his policies that he so publicly endorsed being carried on by any future administration, let alone this one he seems to dislike so much?
GELLMAN: I think that Cheney does not care very what we think of him now. And I don‘t think that he thinks that people like me are going to define his legacy or, with all due respect, Rachel, people like you, either.
He thinks historians, decades from now, are going to think he was right. And what he‘s talking about now is his purposes tend to be more tactical and much more immediate. He is looking to plant seeds in the public debate.
And if I were guessing and here I am guessing, I would say he is hoping to put some things on the record that will enable him later to say, “I warned that we were weakening our defenses. I warned that we were exposing ourselves to more danger.” If another attack comes, it would set the stage for he thinks the restoration of the policies that he supports.
MADDOW: Remarkable that a man so known for his promotion of the largest conception of executive power in modern American history is deciding to get there by being the first modern vice president immediately out of office to spend his time disparaging the current occupant of the office. He is the most fascinating person in politics and has been for a very long time.
Barton Gellman, thank you for helping us understand him. I appreciate it.
GELLMAN: Thank you.
MADDOW: Barton Gellman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the “Washington Post.” He is the author of the most recent biography of Cheney which is called “The Angler.”
All right. It is almost go-to-bed o‘clock in Washington. Do you know where your 100th senator is? He is in Minnesota. And he hasn‘t officially been elected. And it turns out the Republican Party likes it that way. One Republican senator threatening world War III if the election Al Franken is certified and Mr. Franken is seated in the Senate in Washington.
Attorney David Boies of Bush versus Gore fame joins us next.
MADDOW: As his party searching for meaning in the political wilderness, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele searches for staff. Nearly two months after ordering everyone at the RNC to resign, Michael Steele has reportedly forced out one of the very few remaining holdovers. The chief financial officer - because, really, why would a fundraising organization need a CFO.
Especially when like, Jay Banning who served the RNC for 33 years. He was also the RNC‘s chief administrative officer. His departure presumably means there are now at least two big-time positions available at the RNC. If you want either of those jobs or any job with the RNC, I‘m here to tell you they are now accepting online applications including YouTube videos about yourself and why you want the job. Seriously, they accept personal videos. I‘m not making that up.
MADDOW: Have you ever thought about how close we came in January 2001 to a president Denny Hastert? Or even more scary, president Strom Thurmond? It is true. Those were the majority leaders in Congress at the time. And either of them could have temporarily become president had the famous Bush versus Gore vote recount continued past Inauguration Day.
Of course, the Supreme Court ended all that in December 2000. But right up until then, the Bush team opposing the recount every step of the way gave every indication that they were prepared to keep fighting on and on and on and on indefinitely. Which means the Presidential Succession Act would have kicked in, making then-House Speaker Hastert the acting president.
Control of the presidency was at stake then and the Republican Party showed they had no qualms about turning a legal argument into a political donnybrook. Right now, today, control of the Senate and, by extension, control of President Obama‘s agenda is at stake. And once again, Republicans are playing to win at all costs.
In this case, it means blocking Al Franken from taking his place as Minnesota‘s junior senator even though a statewide recount shows Franken got 225 more votes than Norm Coleman, which you might think Al Franken won the election because he got more votes than Norm Coleman. Oh, so complicated.
Republicans have failed to find a way - any way - to stop the election from being certified. And according to “Politico.com,” quote, “Republican Senator John Cornyn is threatening World War III if Democrats try to seat Al Franken in the Senate before Norm Coleman can pursue his case through the federal courts even if the State Supreme Court rules in Mr. Franken‘s favor.”
Cornyn said that, quote, “A federal challenge to November‘s elections could reportedly take years to resolve.” In other words, Republicans are in battle mode like 2000 all over again. I have seen this movie before and I still get all queasy thinking about how it ended.
Joining us now is David Boies who is the attorney who represented then-Vice President Al Gore in that 2000 recount. Mr. Boies, it is a real pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.
DAVID BOIES, REPRESENTED AL GORE IN 2000: Happy to be here.
MADDOW: What is your analysis of the Franken-Coleman battle? Do you think that there‘s any doubt as to the outcome here?
BOIES: I don‘t think there is any doubt. I think Sen. Franken has won this election. He won a statewide recount. It is a little ironic that the Republicans who fought so hard to prevent a statewide recount successfully - to prevent a statewide recount in Florida in the 2000 election have now had their statewide recount, lost it and they‘re now asking for still another recount.
MADDOW: It makes me think that this isn‘t very much about legal principle or constitutional principle. It‘s just about taking advantage wherever you can find it. And in this case, like in 2000, they think that advantage is to be found by stretching it out as much as possible. Is that just the understood name of the game here?
BOIES: Well, I think it is, unfortunately. And I think that when you have politicians who, on one hand, preach state rights. And then, when they don‘t like a state result, preach, “Let‘s go to federal court and try to draw it out.” I think that‘s what causes some of the cynicism people have about politics in general in this country.
MADDOW: I think that the Republicans have not, I guess, paid a very heavy political price thus far for their strategy around the Coleman-Franken recount. People are up in arms saying, “What do these Republicans do trying to drag this out?”
Is that just because we‘re sort of giving the process the benefit of the doubt here? Or does this seem too complicated for people to understand the political strategy that‘s at work here?
BOIES: Well, I think that it is partly that people are giving the political process a chance to work itself out. I think that if the Republicans continue this fight after having lost a third and fourth time in the state courts of Minnesota, then I think you will see people beginning to be upset about it.
I also think that with everything else that‘s going on in the world, both domestically with the financial crisis and abroad, that people‘s attention are not necessarily focused on a single Senate race.
I think that this is an important race. I think people will begin to focus on it. But I think it‘s natural that with the process still going on and with all of other things to grab people‘s attention, it hasn‘t gotten as much attention as it might otherwise.
MADDOW: When you look back at 2000, not only how it ended, but how it proceeded through that entire fight, how important do you think the extra legal factors were? The factors like media relations, the factors like political strategy, the things that happened outside the courtroom - how much of an affect do you think that they had on the ultimate outcome? And who do you think is doing a better job at that right now in Coleman versus Franken?
BOIES: Well, I think that in the 2000 election, ultimately none of those things mattered. To the extent that they were going to have an effect, it was going to have an effect in Florida.
But remember, we won in Florida. The Florida Supreme Court had issued an order directing a statewide recount. That recount was already under way and every indication in the recount was that Vice President Gore was going to be the winner of the popular vote in Florida the way he‘d won the popular vote nationally.
That got stopped in the United States Supreme Court by a 5 to 4 vote. And I don‘t think anything that was happening outside of the courtroom really affected those five justices.
I think they had their minds made up for a particular purpose and I don‘t think the media strategy really was a critical factor there.
MADDOW: One other aspect of this here is financing. And I wonder to what degree you think this could be a battle of financial resources, in terms of being willing to stretch this out. Could this be a battle of financial attrition?
BOIES: Well, I think to some extent, part of what has been going on is an attempt by the Republicans to use the financial strength to draw things out. Fortunately, I think people have, even though people - media attention may not have been on this race.
I think a lot of people‘s attention has been on this race sufficiently so that the Franken camp is being financed in a way that permits them to battle on in the courts to the extent they have to.
MADDOW: David Boies, one last question for you. I‘ve always wanted to ask you this. Do you lay at night gritting your teeth about Bush versus Gore?
BOIES: Every night. Fewer nights after January 20th of this year, but a lot of nights before that.
MADDOW: Yes. Atty. David Boies, thank you for coming on the show tonight. It‘s a real pleasure to have you here.
BOIES: Thank you.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” in September, he said he could absolutely see her as president of the United States. Now, John McCain says he‘s not even sure he would support a Sarah Palin presidential candidacy in 2012.
And speaking of presidents, the current one only managed to pick one of the final four in the NCAA championships. Who else missed the ball? We will answer that in the cocktail moment, coming up next.
MADDOW: My friend Kent Jones has the week off to recover from an acute case of bumming out after his beloved Missouri Tigers lost to the Connecticut Huskies and thereby missed out on a chance to go to the final four this year. Sorry, Kent.
So as an extended cocktail moment tonight on the subject of the NCAA Men‘s Basketball Tournament, I am here to report that everybody‘s brackets are a total mess.
President Obama correctly picked only one of the final four and his overall accuracy rate is lower than 53 percent of those who are in the big pool being run by ESPN. In the White House pool specifically, there are 32 contenders. The president is ranked 18th.
You think they would be like letting him win somehow. He did it on a whiteboard, but he‘s going to erase it. Sen. John McCain had the same final four as the president. But for the first time since about the Utah primary, McCain is 10 points ahead of Obama overall because he scored in the early rounds.
And Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate - he only got one of the final four right as well. But he‘s finished because he picked, for obvious reasons, Louisville to win it all.
Ah, let she without abject failure cast the first bracket stone. And I am not she. I picked absolutely none of the final four teams. It didn‘t help that I picked Gonzaga simply because I like saying “Gonzaga.” I just like the word.
However, this year‘s March Madness has produced a leader among us. He goes by the name JoeT7247. He‘s a buildings and grounds supervisor at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. He posted this bracket online. He got the final four right and he got almost everything else in his bracket leading up to the final four right as well.
JoeT7247 now sits atop more than 5 million entrants in the ESPN Tournament Challenge. Which means, I want him in charge of the ban king bailout. Can that be arranged, or maybe he could be deputy car czar or something.
Thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you tomorrow night.
We‘ll be in San Jose, California. Until then, E-mail us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Our podcast is at iTunes or at Rachel.MSNBC.com. You can also hear me coast to coast on Air America Radio. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Have a great night.
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