Guest: Ron Suskind, Steven Kleinman, Barney Frank, Eugene Robinson
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Do you ever use the online search engine Wikipedia? Do you ever use it?
Wikipedia is a huge user-created data base. It‘s an encyclopedia
reference source that‘s online. And because it‘s huge, and because it‘s
user generated, and it evolves to more usefully deliver its information, the Wikipedia geniuses have come up with some really clever organizational ideas—such as the disambiguation page.
If you go to the home page at Wikipedia and you type into the search window the phrase “Vanity Fair,” for example, what pops up is a disambiguation page about “Vanity Fair.” It‘s a page that invites you to clarify whether you‘re looking for information on the “Vanity Fair” the magazine, or “Vanity Fair,” the British novel, or the 2004 film, “Vanity Fair,” starring Reese Witherspoon, or the 1932 film, “Vanity Fair,” starring Myrna Loy, or maybe the song “Vanity Fair” by Mr. Bungle. You probably were not looking for that, it‘s not their best work, but you never know. It‘s disambiguating the idea of which “Vanity Fair” you are looking for.
The usefulness of a disambiguation page, the idea of getting clear on what information we‘ve got available is something that would be helpful right now, amid this torrent of new information that we‘ve got about torture.
After all we knew during the Bush administration, after Obama rescinded the Bush era torture policies, after the Red Cross report was leaked on what happened in the CIA prisons, after the Office of Legal Counsel released memos last week that Bush‘s Justice Department had used to authorize torture, after we started hearing from Bush official who knew about the torture program but wouldn‘t talk about it until details were declassified, which they now are—after that tide of information, today, we got something new. We got something new that is clarifying. It is disambiguating.
Are you looking for info on what was done to prisoners that the CIA held in its secret prisons? Oh, it‘s the Red Cross report that authoritatively exposes that. Are you looking to find out who authorized those techniques for the CIA and how they did it? That would be those memos that were released last week.
Are you looking to find out about torture of prisoners not in the CIA secret prisons but in the un-secret prisons run by the military—places like Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib and Bagram? Well, for that information, what you were waiting for was the Senate Armed Services Committee report—which has now been out less than 24 hours. Armed Services Committee means it has to do with military issues, and the military was running the prisons like the one at Guantanamo.
Here‘s the reason that disambiguation is important here. That it‘s important to get clear on what information we‘ve got that we didn‘t have before. We‘ve been getting two different streams of information about what was going on in these two different kinds of facilities where prisoners were tortured: CIA and military—two different chains of command, two different parts of the federal government, two sets of physically different facilities in which we were holding prisoners.
Heck, it‘s even two different types of congressional oversight. It‘s the intelligence committees that oversee and investigate the CIA. It‘s the armed services committees that oversee and investigate the military. These have been two separate things; two different separate things.
And what we have found, and what we can now see—thanks to all this newly-declassified, on-the-record information—is that in these two different things run by two different agencies, we were doing the same things to people when it came to interrogations—things that we never did before. Sticking a prisoner in a cold cell, chain him to the ceiling, sleep deprivation, stress positions—we never did that stuff before. Then all of a sudden, it started happening everywhere—in the CIA prisons, in the military prisons—everywhere.
How does that happen? How do we end up with the same totally new techniques that Americans never would have been told to use before, being used on prisoners caught up in these two totally different systems?
There is a place where these two systems connect. And it‘s not at the bottom. It‘s not at the level of the bad apples. It‘s not at the operational level.
There wasn‘t a National Guard corporal from Ohio inventing the “menace them with dogs” technique at Abu Ghraib and then calling his friend at the CIA who worked at a secret prison in Poland and telling her to try that out. That is not the level at which these systems link.
These two things link not at the bottom but at the top. They link in Washington. From the newly-declassified Senate Armed Services Committee report, quote, “Senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
Before we ever captured a high-ranking terrorism suspect, months before those memos were written that authorize stuff like waterboarding and hanging people from the ceiling, in advance—in advance—senior officials created this program. Not in response to poor results from traditional interrogations, we weren‘t interrogating people yet. But proactively, the torture program was invented.
It didn‘t bubble up from the grassroots—from the front line interrogators with Washington struggling to find a way to let the interrogators do to those al Qaeda suspects what they knew they needed to do. The impetus here went the other direction. As Philip Zelikow told us last night, this was a carefully constructed interrogation program. Guidance went from senior officials to the CIA side and the military side.
The OLC memos which gave the CIA guidance—the OLC memos were to the CIA, right? Remember, they authorized things like sleep deprivation, stress positions, waterboarding, slapping. That was the CIA.
Over on the military side? From the Levin report on the military side of it, quote, “Techniques included such methods as sensory deprivation, sleep disruption, stress positions, waterboarding and slapping. On December 2nd, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved many of those techniques for use in interrogations at Guantanamo.” And from Guantanamo, they went to the other military prisons with the same authorization—Abu Ghraib, Bagram, et cetera.
This was a program. This went from Washington out. Not the other way around. It was designed in Washington by a few specific people who put in place everything they needed in order to make it happen, and then they said, “OK, go make it happen.”
That‘s what we‘re learning. We now have enough pieces of information from enough different places that the ambiguity on this is vanishing.
Joining us now is Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, Ron Suskind. He‘s book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” first exposed the amount of direction being given from Washington to interrogators in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Suskind, thank you for coming back on the show.
RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, “THE WAY OF THE WORLD”: My pleasure.
MADDOW: This new Levin report confirms a lot of the reporting that you did for your book in 2006. Is the headline here at last that the torture goes right to the White House?
SUSKIND: Yes. Well, that‘s what I found back in the reporting back in ‘06, you know? It was directed by the president and the vice president. They were involved day to day.
The president was getting briefings. The vice president—what techniques are we using; he was asking, “Are they working, what is the yield?” This came from the very top.
And that‘s the way it filtered down as the Senate report now shows, all the way through the government. That‘s why we now have coherence, if you will, in terms of techniques, in terms of strategy, in terms of goals, and in terms of who really is driving this. It comes from the big white building.
MADDOW: You‘ve done a lot of reporting on the Bush administration‘s efforts to try to create, try to find some sort of link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda—for all the obvious political reasons in 2002 and 2003. How big of a development is it that these interrogation tactics were being used, in some cases, according to the Armed Services Committee report, these techniques were being used specifically to try to find that Iraq link?
SUSKIND: Well, it‘s fascinating. I heard some of that back when I was reporting the book, but I really couldn‘t confirm it and you need, you know, several sources confirming to put it in the book.
And what‘s fascinating here, if you run the timeline side by side, you see, really, for the first time from that report that the key thing being sent down in terms of the request by the policymakers, by the White House, is find a link between Saddam and al Qaeda so that we essentially can link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us. That was the goal and that was being passed down as the directive.
It‘s, you know, it‘s often called the requirement inside the CIA for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives. “Here‘s what we‘re interested in, here‘s what we, the duly elected leaders, want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.”
What‘s fascinating, in the Senate report, is finally clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and mind you, the frustration inside of the White House that was actually driving action. The quote, in fact, inside of the Senate report from a major said that as frustration built inside of the White House, that there was no link that was established—because the CIA told the White House from the very start there is no Saddam/al Qaeda link. We checked it out. We did every which way. Sorry.
The White House simply wouldn‘t take no for an answer and it went with another method. Torture was the method. “Get me a confession, I don‘t care how you do it.” And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side. It‘s extraordinary.
Mind you, Rachel, this is important. This is not about an impetus to foil an upcoming potential al Qaeda attacks. The impetus here is largely political diplomatic. The White House had a political diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run-up to the war.
And mind you, and I think the data will show this—after the invasion, when it becomes clear in the summer, just a few months after in 2003, that there are no WMD in Iraq. That‘s the summer of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame—my goodness, there are no WMD. Now, the White House is being hit with a charge that they took us to war under false pretenses. That‘s when the frustration is acute.
My question, the question for investigators now: Is how many of these interrogations were driven specifically by a desire to come up with the Saddam/al Qaeda link? It‘s essentially rivers coming together.
This gets—the key issue, certainly in criminal cases: intent. What was driving action? What were they looking for? What was the real impetus? And now, I think, you have your first clear answer that affirms some of the things that we‘ve been hearing.
MADDOW: The prospect that it was being done because of the ticking time-bomb scenario was troubling enough. The prospect that it was being done specifically for political reasons, in order to come up with good information you could spin for political reasons, is just—yes.
I want to raise one other issue about the FBI with you, Ron. It‘s notable that one of the groups of interrogators that isn‘t being singled out here is the FBI. The Levin report says that between the time, for example, with Abu Zubaydah, between the time that he was captured and four months later when those memos said, “Go ahead, torture him,” in effect, FBI interrogators walked out, wouldn‘t participate. The FBI director specifically told his agents not to be a part of it.
What do we know about that decision, about the FBI‘s non-role in this?
SUSKIND: Yes. Well, that‘s been reported, too. It‘s fascinating. The FBI wanted to get in at the start. They essentially said, “Look, we‘re the experts at this.” You know, CIA, you do a different job. We‘re about debriefing.
And, in fact, the FBI was quite successful in interrogating, debriefing al Qaeda members which resulted in all those prosecutions in the 1990s, the ‘93 World Trade Center bombings, the embassy bombings. What‘s fascinating is that essentially FBI got shut out. CIA had a big brother in support of its “take off the gloves” techniques in the White House.
And once the FBI was shut out very early—really, this was happening in early 2002, late 2001. The FBI is saying—hey, guess what? We don‘t want your evolve skills in traditional debriefing, mind you, sophisticated and successful. And at that point, Bob Mueller, I think and it‘s something that he probably feels pretty good about now said, “Well, great, you don‘t want us here? Then, we won‘t be here.”
And he instructed people down the ranks, stay clear. This is going to end badly. And, of course, Bob Mueller ended up being right.
Importantly, though, in terms of the framing of this issue, Rachel, this was not about this being a matter of necessity. There were and are traditional sophisticated debriefing techniques the FBI had used that were successful. It was a choice the administration made not to go with that, to go with what it felt we should do in a very different direction. It had a counterpoint from FBI that it snubbed.
MADDOW: It‘s the only thing they couldn‘t get from traditional techniques was maybe the information that they were looking for that they had developed as their own preconceived notions about a link to Saddam and al Qaeda. That‘s me editorializing, and you don‘t have to endorse it, but thank you, Ron.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author .
SUSKIND: You do that part. You do that part.
MADDOW: Thank you.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Ron Suskind—it‘s great to have you on the show. Thank you for your time and your reporting, Ron.
SUSKIND: My pleasure.
MADDOW: All right. Just how did our government get to such a forehead smackingly bad place when it comes to interrogations? We will talk about that next. It will blow your mind. Prepare to hear the word “communist” a lot.
But first, One More Thing on the torture memos and a follow-up to our exclusive interview last night with Philip Zelikow, former State Department counsel and deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. As you heard on last night‘s show, he says he wrote a memo in 2005 protesting the Justice Department‘s torture authorization. He says they were bad law. He also said the Bush White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of his memo after he wrote it. But he said he thinks that copies of that memo still exist.
Well, today, the great national security reporter, Spencer Ackerman at “The Washington Independent” reached out to the State Department to ask them for a copy of Mr. Zelikow‘s long lost memo. A spokesman told Spencer that after checking with several different bureaus, they are unaware that such a memo exists. They added, “If one does, you would probably have to file a FOIA request for it.” So, Spencer Ackerman has now filed a Freedom of Information Act Request for it.
And I hereby, on television, make a public plea to Secretary Clinton and her staff to release that long-lost memo. Please. Now, the wait begins.
MADDOW: Coming up: New big news that former President George W. Bush has been ordered into court to provide a deposition under oath. I‘m not kidding. That said, it‘s not the kind of case the country‘s really been looking forward to. We‘ll have detailed on that in just a moment.
But first, it‘s time for a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
Since President Obama OKed releasing the memos, intrepid reporters have been combing through them, gleaning key pieces of information like this from the May 10th, 2005 memo in which Bush lawyer, Steven Bradbury, defends a torture technique most famously favored by the KGB: sleep deprivation. Mr. Bradbury writes, quote, “We understand from our review of the literature on the physiology of sleep, that even very extended sleep deprivation does not cause physical pain, let alone severe physical pain.”
Bradbury cites James Horne, director of the Sleep Research Center at Loughborough University and the author of a book called, “Why We Sleep.” Quote, “The longest studies of sleep deprivation in humans involved volunteers who were deprived of sleep for eight to 11 days. Surprisingly, little seemed to go wrong with the subjects physically.”
That is surprising. In fact, it‘s so surprising, it even surprised Professor Horne, the guy Bradbury was quoting. Bloggers at Obsidian Wings and TPM Muckraker caught up with Professor Horne, who has now responded to the misuse of his work with adjectives like “saddened” and “surprised” and “appalled.” The professor points out there is a big difference medically between an average healthy person and someone who is being tortured in other ways.
Quote, “As soon as you add in any other stress, any other psychological stress, then the sleep deprivation feeds on that, and the two compound each other to make things far worse. It was totally inappropriate to cite my book as being evidence that you can do this and there‘s not much harm. I don‘t understand what you‘re going to get out of it. You can no longer think rationally, you just become more of an automaton. These people will just be spewing nonsense anyway. It‘s pointless.”
Don‘t take it from me, he‘s the professor. We posted a link to Professor Horne‘s explanation of the misuse of his own research at Rachel.MSNBC.com today.
And, the Detroit Lions had the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad football season—the worst season ever. This past year, the Detroit Lions were 0-16. Now, for you non-sports fans, the O is a zero, and that‘s the number of games the team won all season. Sixteen is the number of games they lost. It‘s a very special kind of perfection.
So what‘s the losingest team in sports to do? Well, if the house is falling down, why not slap a fresh coat of paint on it? Yes, the Detroit Lions, the sports metaphor for failure, they are sprucing up their mascot. They‘re making their lion mascot scarier.
The previous logo was a little tame. I mean, how tough can you seem if your lion mascot doesn‘t even have teeth? They‘ve therefore scarified their lion.
You see the sharper edges and the fangs, the wind whipped mane, argg, windblown, angular, toothy—if only I gamble, I‘ll put it all on that logo. Lions‘ fans, you could pick up your new, scarier Lions flag this Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit when the Lions hosts their annual draft party.
Because they didn‘t win a single game, their consolation prize is that they have first pick in the draft. Can you imagine the mixed emotions for the college superstar they eventually select? Not so crazy about going to the worst team ever, but, wow. Nice lion.
MADDOW: Name, rank, serial number. Even if you‘ve been in the military, you know that‘s all you‘re supposed to say in enemy hands. That‘s all the Geneva Conventions requires you to say—name, rank, serial number.
But sometimes, in the Korean War, for example, American prisoners of war were subjected to interrogations that were not just designed to get information out of them; they were designed to get propaganda. They were techniques designed to elicit false confessions, to get Americans to say they had done all sorts of horrible things and now they had seen the light and they were siding with the people who are holding them prisoner. John McCain, famously, was subjected to those techniques for those purposes when he was held prisoner in Vietnam.
To fight back, the U.S. military designed a program called SERE—survival, evasion, resistance escape, S-E-R-E. American troops would be subjected under controlled conditions to the things that might be done to them by a foreign enemy to get false confessions to use for propaganda. So, those techniques, if they were captured and these things were done to them, those techniques wouldn‘t be a surprise—that have some hope of putting up some resistance.
Today‘s declassified congressional report confirms in detail that even before we had captured any high-value al Qaeda suspects after 9/11, geniuses at the upper echelons of the Bush administration decided that they would use SERE techniques to develop a new American interrogation program. From the report, quote, “Senior officials approved the use of interrogation techniques that were originally designed to simulate abusive tactics used by our enemies against our own soldiers, and that were modeled in part on tactics used by the communist Chinese to illicit false confessions from U.S. military personnel.”
In other words, the Bush administration developed an interrogation program from the techniques that were used on American prisoners of war to get false confessions out of them. Hmm. What could possibly go wrong?
Joining us now is Colonel Steven Kleinman, former military interrogator. He testified on this subject before Congress numerous times.
Colonel Kleinman, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
COL. STEVEN KLEINMAN, FORMER MILITARY INTERROGATOR: Thank you so much for having me.
MADDOW: Can you give us a sense of what the SERE program is and what it‘s for?
KLEINMAN: Yes. The SERE program is a very, very noble program. It‘s run—designed and run by some of the most incredible patriots you‘d ever want to encounter. But it‘s designed for one purpose, and that is to help our personnel, our military personnel who should find themselves in harm‘s way—allow them to return with honor, by preparing them, introducing them to the worst possible scenarios, including what was once known as the communist interrogation model—something that we learned from the Chinese in the Korean War, from the Soviets-backed show trials.
MADDOW: How did you learn that SERE school techniques were being reverse-engineered to be used as interrogation methods by American personnel?
KLEINMAN: My first exposure to that was actually during my deployment to Iraq in 2003. The organization that sent me to Iraq, apparently there was a misconnect between us, but I thought I was going out there as interrogator because I had a lot of experience prior that, that I was representing an organization that did this sort of training, and the idea was that we were going to introduce SERE strategies and methodologies into the repertoire of the interrogators.
MADDOW: Why would SERE methods be used in an interrogation if they were known to have been designed to elicit false confessions?
KLEINMAN: See, that‘s where the misunderstanding lies. At the very senior levels of government—surprisingly—the understandings of the complexities of interrogation is rare. It really is. It‘s probably shaped more by the television, “24,” than practitioners of the art.
There‘s a lot of people who don‘t see—don‘t understand the difference between a model that would train people to resist harsh interrogation and the purpose of that was to compel people to produce propaganda, and intelligence interrogation, which is designed to elicit cooperation intelligence—therefore, timely, accurate and comprehensive intelligence. They‘re very similar. They appear almost similar at the surface, but there‘s very, very profound differences and those two cannot be crossed.
MADDOW: I know that defenders of the Bush administration‘s interrogation program—and we now have a lot of evidence that it was a program—they say that these harsh techniques, these extreme techniques were only used in extremely controlled circumstances, on a very small number of people by only very highly-trained, skilled personnel, that it was an elite practice in essence. Does that accord with what you saw in Iraq and how you know these techniques were used?
KLEINMAN: Not at all. First of all, it is not an elite practice. You know, enhanced interrogation technique - that term - would connote an elite program, an advanced program, one conducted by sophisticated practitioners. And nothing can be further from the truth. The best interrogators in this country understand how to interrogate and that‘s largely a relationship-based, culturally-elite finesse approach.
It‘s systematic and it‘s patient. And that‘s what produces information, to use, you know, SERE methods or to think that one can use physicality or heavy stress to obtain useful, reliable information is just a misnomer. It‘s not backed up by operational experience, and it is not backed up by one shred of scientific evidence.
MADDOW: Col. Steven Kleinman, former military intelligence officer, thank you for your service, sir. And thanks for taking time to talk to us about this tonight.
KLEIN: Thank you. Thank you for your service as well.
MADDOW: Well, it‘s a very different and a much less risky kind, but thank you.
Still to come this hour, the newly-Pulitzer Prize adorned Gene Robinson will be joining us, as well as House Financial Services Committee Chairman and congressional proverbial pugilist, Barney Frank. There‘s lots to come. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: And these companies have been crossing the line to boost their bottom line. Rather than stop this outrage, Washington has let them get away with it.
We‘ll establish a credit card bill of rights. Americans need to pay what they owe, but they should pay what‘s fair, not what fans the profits for some credit card companies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The average American has about $9,000 worth of credit card debt. Almost everyone I know is bringing that average up, not down. Tomorrow, now President Obama will get his chance to follow through on what you saw there, which was candidate Obama‘s campaign trail tough talk about credit cards. He will be meeting executives from 14 credit card companies at the White House.
Of course, a lot has changed since Obama‘s days talking about credit cards on the campaign stump. For starters, the economy dissolved like mascara during a crying jag. Treasury Department efforts to bail out the financial sector have so far doled out more than $120 billion of taxpayer money to banks that offer credit cards.
The plan was that banks would use free money from taxpayers to lend more to taxpayers. But the banks sort of went with a different plan. Their plan involved passing their financial pain on to the very consumers whose tax dollars they had been given to fix the lending problem and grease the gears of the economy again.
The response to the crisis was a sort of financial defensive crouch - closing accounts, reducing credit limits, increasing credit card fees. And so far, they have gotten away with it.
Today, the House Financial Services Committee, though, approved the Credit Card Holders‘ Bill of Rights, named for the president‘s campaign pledge. The question now is, will the candidate who talked so tough about regulating these credit card companies as a candidate actually follow through as president.
Will the credit card companies use tomorrow‘s meeting to wriggle out of more regulation yet again? Or is this where it will start to seem to them that it matters that Democrats are in control now in Washington, not Republicans?
Joining us now is Congressman Barney Frank, chair of the House Financial Services Committee. Congressman Frank, thank you so much for being on the show tonight.
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), CHAIR OF THE HOUSE FINANCIAL SERVICES
COMMITTEE: I‘m glad to be here. This is an important thing to talk about.
MADDOW: Another credit card regulation bill passed the House last year, but died in the Senate. Do you think there is a better chance this year?
FRANK: Yes, very much, Rachel, and I‘m glad you pointed that out. Yes, the president did talk about it, but to give Carolyn Maloney, who is the congresswoman from New York, who took me on this and then the rest of us who worked with her - we really did start this before the presidential campaign.
And in 2008, beginning the work in 2007, we did pass a bill. It died in the Senate. This is unfortunately a partisan issue. We consistently get opposition from Republicans. But here‘s why I‘m optimistic. First of all, we (inaudible) this year than last year. We have more Democrats and as you point out, the climate has changed.
The notion that regulation makes you sterile is no longer as popular as it once was. People now understand that you need to have vigorous rules to protect consumers and the whole economy against abuse. And here‘s a statistic. In 2008, when there were 33 Republicans on the committee that I chair, only two of them voted with us to regulate credit cards.
This year, the Republican membership is down to 29, because there‘s a change in the House numbers. And nine of them voted with us. Still a minority, but a bigger minority.
In the Senate, from 51 Democrats, we‘ve gone to 59, as soon as Norm Coleman decides reality has to be faced, and there‘s also this public pressure. So I think you are going to see a tougher bill this time than before.
And we‘ve been in touch with the White House. Tomorrow, the president‘s going to talk about - adding a couple other things that will strengthen the regulation, that I am very much supporting. This bill will be on the floor of the House next week. It will pass the House, I believe, with an overwhelming majority.
A majority of Republicans are against it but we‘ll get a significant number of Republicans who do understand political survival. And I think given that, given the president, given the good work of Sen. Dodd, who has been very strong on this, I think we‘re likely to see a bill signed by the president this year.
MADDOW: So what do you attribute the increase in Republican opposition to these efforts? Why have they become more.
FRANK: Well, I‘m trying to remember which British literary figure said that the impending death concentrates the mind. I think the fear of defeat is what I would attribute it to. Also, there has been a change in the sense of - again, you know, we go back to 1981 and Ronald Reagan saying, “Government is not the answer to our problem. Government is the problem.”
We‘ve had 20-some odd years of that philosophy and it‘s brought us disaster. So I think it is largely a political fear. Let me give you one other very important point. Ordinarily, the minority likes to ask for roll calls to show where they are and they‘re the ones to ask for roll calls. You take a voice vote in Congress and generally decide that who wins the voice vote is very happy we won the vote. The other side is unhappy, asks for a roll call, which they have the right to do.
Today, when I called for the vote, and it was overwhelmingly a yes vote, the Republicans didn‘t ask for a roll call. We did, because we wanted to make them take this position. So you know, the fact we‘ve gone from 2 to 9, the fact they didn‘t want to vote. In the heart of hearts, they still don‘t like this, but they want to get reelected.
MADDOW: There‘s been much made of the political power, the lobbying power of the banking industry. That has been the common wisdom explanation for why regulation like this hasn‘t passed before. Obviously, in the context of the bailout, it seems like their lobbying powers or political capital should be diminished. Is that going to be a factor moving forward?
FRANK: Yes, it could. But there‘s one other factor. I know it‘s fashionable to kind of denigrate partisanship but there are differences between the parties. And whether or not you regulate to protect consumers and, as I said, the economy is one of them. Many of us wanted to do credit card reform, but until the end of 2006, the Republicans controlled Congress.
Tom DeLay was the majority leader. He gave orders to the committee no such bill will be considered. It‘s not an accident that the first bill came in the last Congress, which is the first one where we, Democrats, are back in control. We were pushing ahead.
But as I‘ve acknowledged, it‘s a better bill this year than it was last year for the reasons you say. One, it‘s a little bit hard to say, “Oh, the government is the problem,” when you are into the government for about $100 billion.
I mean, the conservative mantra flips from Ronald Reagan‘s “government is the problem” to the Bush administration going around to the financial industry and saying, what conservatives used to the say was a bad joke, “We‘re here from the government. “We‘re here to help you.”
The inconsistency between extending large amounts to the banks and then saying but the government can‘t intervene - I think that is simply no longer sustainable.
MADDOW: Are you aggravated that “The Washington Post” is reporting that at least $10 million of bailout money has been turned around from the top bailout recipients to be spent on lobbying in Washington? Does that seem inappropriate to you?
FRANK: Well, inappropriate, I‘ve got to be honest, Rachel. I spend a lot of my time being aggravated so that‘s probably not a good metric. Yes, I think there‘s excessive lobbying, although lobbying goes two ways. Let me give you an example.
Last Friday, I‘d taken a day off and I - in my absence it turned out that a woman who lives in my district in the town of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, next to the city of New Bedford, got a letter from a credit card company, Capital One, that said, “You can‘t have a credit card because you live in a bad neighborhood in fact and there are worsening economic conditions in your area.”
She actually lives in a fairly prosperous area. You know, there‘s unemployment in the whole area. But the notion she should be penalized for where she lives, it was outrageous.
So when I got back to Washington on Monday, I called the company and what I did, and see lobbying can be a two-way street. I called the lobbyist. I said, “You know, we‘re about to legislate on this. I really am very upset that you would say my district is declining and you shouldn‘t be doing that to individuals anyway.”
Within an hour they called me back and they rescinded that geographic policy, not just for my constituents, but for everybody. So lobbyists, done well, can be a form of communications.
My problem is what they lobby for. Some of them are still being, I think, somewhat hardheaded and not understanding. You can‘t consistently maintain the position that the government should provide us funding. And I‘m for that, if it‘s done right, because we do need to get the credit system going again. But we‘ll take the money and you can‘t tell us what to do.
There‘s a great quote that I want to use. I guess I‘m in a quoting mood today. But a great member of Congress named Gus Hawkins who just died at 100, the first African-American west of the Mississippi to be elected. He represented Los Angeles.
His successor in his tradition is a tough legislator, consumer friend, Maxine Waters. He was sponsoring the bill which said if you took federal money you couldn‘t discriminate based on race or gender, et cetera. And when people complained, he said, “You know, if you‘re going to stick your fingers in the federal till, you can‘t complain if a little democracy rubs off on them.” And we‘re going to make that same argument for consumer protection.
MADDOW: Congressman Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, I know you that called the lobbyist for your constituent. But I think if you‘d called the head of the company, you probably would have gotten the same result at this point.
FRANK: Oh, he might have been flying around somewhere, Rachel.
MADDOW: That‘s fair enough.
FRANK: I might not have reached him.
MADDOW: Congressman Frank, thanks for coming on the show tonight. We appreciate it.
FRANK: You‘re welcome.
MADDOW: All right. Dick Cheney is worried sick, worried sick about deficits under Barack Obama. Under Bush? Nobody cares about deficits. In a moment, help us plumb the depths of Mr. Cheney‘s concern for you and your family. We‘ll be joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Gene Robinson. After that, it‘s fun to say.
MADDOW: As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, the man who led them there, President George W. Bush, has finally been ordered into court to be deposed. Not for any of the reasons you‘re thinking of right now. It‘s actually a civil case about his new presidential library.
Condo owners near the Southern Methodist University campus claim that the school bullied them into selling their property without telling them that the reason they wanted the land was for Bush‘s library. The condo sellers want to know if the university told former President Bush about the library plans before the land was bought.
If the judge‘s ruling stands, Mr. Bush will become the first U.S. president forced to give testimony in a state civil case. Bush‘s attorneys say they will appeal the ruling. They also say that torture is legal and that 9/11 made the whole idea of law passe. To be fair, it‘s a whole different set of Bush lawyers.
MADDOW: Dick Cheney, who spent eight year as vice president, conspicuously not being on the TV machine, has been on the TV machine more than that British gecko that sells insurance. Here he was again last night on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, FORMER UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: I worry that we‘re seeing a situation where this administration is not only committing us to huge deficits for the future, but is also redefining that relationship between government on the one hand and the private sector on the other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Obama‘s redefining the government‘s relationship with the private sector, this from the guy who left his job as head of Halliburton to become vice president? In 2000, when Cheney was elected, Halliburton had about $763 million in federal contracts.
By 2005, it was up to $6 billion, almost eight times better for Halliburton. Conflict of interest thing, isn‘t if? On deficits in ‘02, Cheney reportedly said this to then-Secretary Paul O‘Neill when talking about another round of tax cuts. He said, quote, “Reagan proved deficits don‘t matter. We won the midterms. This is our due.”
Well, yes, Republicans did win the ‘02 midterms and if my political calculations are correct, Dick Cheney is doing everything he can now to make sure the Republicans will lose the 2010 midterms as well.
Let‘s ask Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst and now, Pulitzer Prize-winning associate editor and columnist at the “Washington Post.” Gene, thanks for joining us.
GENE ROBINSON, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING COLUMNIST, “WASHINGTON POST”:
Good to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: I have to say congratulations first and to ask you, how has your life been since winning the Pulitzer? Are you tired of people throwing rose petals at your feet and everything?
ROBINSON: No, no, no, no. Come on. Rose petals, please. No. It has been wonderful. My feet have not touched the ground. I am elated. And you know, to win it for 2008 when you and I spent so much of the year sitting next to each other and experiencing the campaign and watching this amazing story unfold, is just very special to me. And I‘m a happy guy.
MADDOW: Yes. I‘m very happy for you, Gene. It couldn‘t have gone to a better guy.
ROBINSON: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: You won the Pulitzer, as you said, for writing about this historic campaign that led to Obama‘s election. Since Obama took office, it seems to me like his most visible political opposition has been from people like Dick Cheney, incredibly, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich. Is this the greatest political blessing that Obama has yet had?
ROBINSON: It is pretty close. I mean, if Dick Cheney, whose popularity was subterranean when he left office, if he is going to be the face of the Republican opposition, if Newt Gingrich is the face of the future for the Republican Party, I mean, this is great stuff for Obama.
At some point I assume, you know, a younger and more with it Republican opposition will emerge that kind of takes into account the circumstances of today rather than the circumstances of 1979. But until then, I think Obama almost gets a pass.
MADDOW: On the issue of the economy and spending, we saw the Republican Party try to harness the sort of conservative energy that came out of the tea party movement, this sort of seemingly Fox News sponsored event and stuff. Is it a problem, fundamentally, to have Bush administration officials representing an anti-spending, anti-deficit line?
ROBINSON: Yes. That doesn‘t make any sense at all. I do think there is the nut of something in that whole tea party thing in that there was this kind of inchoate, “I‘m mad as hell and I‘m not going to take this anymore” kind of feeling out there, I think, among people who are experiencing the economic crisis.
It might be a populist critique that could be made of the approach to the financial crisis, for example, by a kind of clever sophisticated Republican who was an up-and-comer. That person has not yet emerged nor has that critique. And it is so kind of incoherent at the moment.
MADDOW: Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, “Washington Post” columnist and associate editor and brand-new Pulitzer Prize winner - I‘m going to say it all the time. You won‘t be able to stop me. Thanks for joining us tonight.
ROBINSON: Thank you, Rachel. Good night.
MADDOW: Good night. Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith Olbermann is back. Tonight, his take on the torture memos and why one former federal prosecutor says the worst thing we could do right now on the issue is appoint a special prosecutor.
Next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones, plus one of the most beautifully weird cocktail moments ever.
MADDOW: Hello, Kent Jones. What have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. Remember Miss California, Carrie Prejean?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS CALIFORNIA: I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: Yes. “RadarOnline.com” is reporting that Ms. Anti-Opposite marriage has been casually dating Olympic gold medallist/herbalist Michael Phelps. Prejean‘s grandma told “Radar,” quote, “Carrie and Michael have been out to baseball games and lunch. When he‘s in town, they always go out.”
Now, we don‘t know where their relationship might lead, but Carrie and Michael are perfectly free to get married if they want to because they are both really, really heterosexual. Imagine the kids. Amphibians with giant teeth. Large teeth.
MADDOW: I‘m sure they would be very happy together. Grandma had to confirm?
JONES: Grandma confirmed.
MADDOW: Oh, God bless her.
JONES: Yes. Yes.
JONES: We don‘t know how serious that is. Next up, what‘s wrong with these uniforms? Oh, at a recent game against the Marlins, somebody left the “O” out of the Washington Nationals. Go Natinals!
MADDOW: They actually wore them during the game?
JONES: Yes, for a couple of innings. Yes. Yesterday Majestic Athletic, which made the shirt, issued an apology. They also apologized in advance for a game scheduled next week for a game between the “Red Sax” and the “Cradinals.” It‘s awkward.
MADDOW: But the team didn‘t notice?
JONES: Not for a little while. No. It‘s just - we don‘t need an “O.” There is no “O” in team. I don‘t know.
MADDOW: They could have thought the “O” was the buttonhole or something?
JONES: Yes. They went and change, then came back out.
JONES: Natinals. Yes.
MADDOW: Fair enough.
JONES: You know, finally, everybody has been buzzing about overnight English star Susan Boyle. Well, now, for an American rebuttal, may I present from Cleveland, Ohio, Recess. The singer is nine, the guitarist is 11. Deal with this England. It is Journey. Huh?
MADDOW: How old are they?
JONES: Their night. The singer is 9. The lead guitarist is 11.
They are called Recess.
JONES: And they rock some mean Journey.
MADDOW: I‘m deeply impressed.
JONES: They‘re great.
MADDOW: You know, my cocktail moment is musical for you today, Kent.
MADDOW: Not in the sense it is a musical, but it is musical, if you know what I mean. So I‘m reading the “Washington Post” today, Al Kamen‘s column - I always read it, and there is this very short note. The Environmental Protection Agency is having an Earth Day festival today. From noon to 2:30 outside headquarters at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, agency scientists and employees will be there, an announcement says, along with the EPA band.
MADDOW: The Environmental Protection Agency has a band.
MADDOW: I think this is who they are. I think they‘re the band called the Earth Tones.
JONES: Wow. Look at that.
MADDOW: Which makes me so happy I can hardly explain it.
JONES: Oh, that is fantastic.
MADDOW: Thanks, Kent. Thank you at home for watching tonight. Thank you EPA. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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