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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Thursday, June 4

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Nina Totenberg, Michael Isikoff, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you also at home for staying with us for the next hour.

We‘ve got Michelle Obama in one political corner today and we‘ve got Senate Republicans in the other.  Who do you think is going to win?

NPR‘s Nina Totenberg is back with us to discuss the fight over Sonia Sotomayor.

Liz Cheney is still on TV—making news by apparently making stuff up.  Michael Isikoff will be with us to analyze that.

And, the Minneapolis zoo may have won the prize for the most adolescently satisfying, excellent Web site ever.  Stay tuned for the cocktail moment a little later on.

But we start tonight with the sobering flip side to the caustic, bigoted allegations made against Barack Obama when he was running for president.

The radical right and their enablers on the not-so radical right argued throughout Obama‘s campaign for the presidency that he ought to use his middle name, that he ought to be known in America as Barack Hussein Obama; that the Muslim heritage of his father‘s African family, his own time living in a Muslim majority country when he was a child should brand him as a Muslim—despite his Christian faith—and thereby render him unelectable in the United States.

Well, today, in Cairo, President Barack Hussein Obama showed America the flip side of that failed strategy against him—turning what his opponent said was a strike against him into a resonant international American political asset.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  I‘m a Christian.  But my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims.  As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk.

As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.  The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as—it is as if he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.

I‘m also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people and in a greeting of peace for Muslim communities in my country.  Assalam alaikum.



MADDOW:  Directed at the Muslim audience, the nearly hour-long address was translated into 13 languages.

Our friend, Richard Engel, NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, watched the speech in Afghanistan and described to “Nightly News” tonight the way he saw Afghans reacting to the speech.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  A lot of people in Kabul and across the Islamic world simply had their mouths open when they were listening to this speech.  They couldn‘t believe what they were hearing.  They have not heard this kind of language from an American president.


MADDOW:  And it‘s not just in the Muslim world.  Judging from the media reaction today in the United States, the American audience for this speech appears to be rocked back on its heels as well—which is exactly where you want an audience if you‘re about to hit them with hard truths and you want to make them fall over.

President Obama, today, spoke frankly and directly about the United States, about our closest allies, about our friends in the region, and about our enemies, and said things that American politicians almost never say in public—especially American presidents, especially while they‘re overseas, especially while they‘re in the Middle East, especially all in one speech.  It was like he grabbed on to the third rail and decided he was not going to let go.


OBAMA:  Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel‘s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine‘s.  The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.  Palestinians must abandon violence.

Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed.  It is a sign neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children or to blow up old women on a bus.  That‘s now how moral authority is claimed.  That‘s how it is surrendered.

Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.  In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government.


MADDOW:  Wow.  He just admitted that the U.S. overthrew the Iranian government in 1953.  If you were at the state fair and this was a fireworks display, at this point, you might turn to the person next to you and say, “Wow, can you believe that?  What an incredible finale.  No topping that, time to go home.”

The thing is, this fireworks display was just getting started.


OBAMA:  I‘m aware that there‘s still some who would question or even justify the offense of 9/11.  But let us be clear, al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day.  Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now, states their determination to kill on a massive scale.  These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.  Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented holocaust.  Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful.  Threatening Israel with destruction or repeating stereotypes of Jews is deeply wrong.


MADDOW:  After the condemnation of the Holocaust deniers, President Obama announced his next stop on this overseas trip, the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, in case the point wasn‘t clear enough.  But wait, there‘s more.


OBAMA:  There are some who advocate for democracy only when they‘re out of power.  Once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.  You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion.  You must respect the rights of minorities.

9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country.  The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable.  But in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideas.  I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.


MADDOW:  For those of you keeping score at home, that would be, dude, no way.  He said what?  Huh-uh.  Dude, come again.  Dude?  Did he really just say that?

Yes, eight things presidents never say all in one speech, eight different times that President Obama grabbed the third rail.  The idea of a third rail in politics is that there are certain issues that politician are afraid to touch because they will get a political jolt from which they may not recover.  So, they avoid these things.  They say things in public differently from what they maybe willing to say in private.

But, ultimately, if you just grab a hold of these issues, maybe they lose their ability to shock.  Now that President Obama has grabbed the third rail, say, eight third rails in one speech, does that mean these issues don‘t have the power to shock anymore?

There weren‘t actually any significant new policies announced in this speech.  But could this be a new start with totally new terms and presumably all new third rails?

Joining us now is Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor for President Carter, proud father of Mika, the co-host on “MORNING JOE” on this network.

Dr. Brzezinski, it‘s always a pleasure to have you here.  Thanks for your time.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FMR. CARTER NAT‘L. SEC. ADVISOR:  Rachel, it‘s nice to be with you.

MADDOW:  President Obama acknowledged today that the U.S. government helped overthrow the Iranian government in 1953.  Has a president ever admitted to that before?

BRZEZINSKI:  Not to my knowledge.

MADDOW:  What do you think the implication of that is?

BRZEZINSKI:  Remember, however, he also mentioned in the same breath the taking of American diplomats as hostages by the Iranians.


BRZEZINSKI:  In effect, what he was saying was—if we were to go forward, if we were to have a normal relationship, we cannot rehash the past.  Each of us has something to be apologetic about or to regret about.  But let‘s go forward.  Let‘s not exchange accusations.  Let‘s see if we can structure a more normal relationship.

It was a gutsy speech.

MADDOW:  In terms of the willingness to be honest about uncomfortable truths, uncomfortable history like that, do you think that will have an effect moving forward of opening up some doors that may have been closed—either in terms of the opinion on the Arab street of what‘s possible with America or in dealing with specific Middle Eastern leaders?

BRZEZINSKI:  I think the speech was a very courageous statement of his political philosophy, and previewing the strategy that he will follow.  It was not—as you have already said—a policy speech.  Nonetheless, by redefining what America means to the world, and how America views the world, and how Islam and America should view each other, I think he has laid the basis for a much more constructive, much more effective American foreign policy.

So, I consider this speech to be a watershed.  In particular, a gutsy statement by a president who laid it on a line in a way that it should have been laid on the line, and, thereby, undoing some of the damage inflicted on America over the last eight years by an administration that was Manichean in its attitude, that engaged in Islamophobia, that united Islamic extremist with the Islamic moderates—to our disadvantage.

MADDOW:  When the president took time and he went into both of these issues in some detail, he took time to debunk both 9/11 and deniers of the Holocaust, and then announced pointedly that he was on his way to Buchenwald next.  Is there a reason to believe that he thinks that those issues are holding back political progress—that those specific sort of conspiracies and misconceptions about modern political history are part of the problem in terms of moving forward?

BRZEZINSKI:  There‘s no doubt in recent years both—many Americans viewed the world in very, very skewed fashion.  And many—outside of America—had a totally conspiratorial view of America, including even the idea that 9/11 was somehow or another a put-up job that it really wasn‘t done by Osama bin Laden and others.

So, I think, President Obama is breaking through a whole mythology that‘s paralyzed American dealings with the world.  I think this speech could now be a point of departure for a really constructive policy toward Israel and Palestine and towards Iran.  And these are two major problems that need to be address if there is to be stability in the Middle East and if we are eventually to extract ourselves from the region in which we risk becoming bogged down militarily.

MADDOW:  When he used the word “Palestine,” today, twice, as you just did in your last answer, that, I think, sent eyebrows raising, because that‘s not been the verbal construction that presidents have used in the past.  People have talked about the future of Palestinian state or other amorphous terms like that.

When the president directly today said “Palestine”—does that have diplomatic meaning?  Does that have resonance that maybe doesn‘t seem immediately clear just from the word?

BRZEZINSKI:  It defines a little more sharply his position.  It means that we are serious about there being two states.  It also means that we‘re serious when he says that the condition in which the Palestinians live now are intolerable.  And that‘s the word he used.

It shows that we are, again, ready to be a mediator in this dispute, and not a partisan favoring one side over the other.  And without doing that, I don‘t see how the United States could ever resolve this problem.  We had eight years of a lot of slobbering (ph) about Middle Eastern peace but no serious engagement.

What the president said today is a commitment and he personally emphasized that he‘s going to stick with it, that he‘s going to persevere with it.  And he laid out a framework which can now be the point of departure for more specific policies.

MADDOW:  When he took that hard line today on Israeli settlements and saying directly, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” is that new policy or has that been the policy of the United States and it‘s just never put out that bluntly in public before?

BRZEZINSKI:  I would put it a little differently.  That has been the rhetoric the United States has been using.  So, in that sense, it‘s not new.  What‘s new about him saying it and the way he put it is that he conveyed his intention to be serious about it.  That this really now is, in fact, U.S. policy.

If the settlements continue to build, there will be a serious problem in our relations with Israel.  That‘s the obvious implication of such assertions.

MADDOW:  In terms of the domestic politics here and the way that this is being seen from the United States, critics on the right, particular those who are looking for some political position in the Republican Party have criticized Barack Obama as being apologetic about the United States, deriding this as some sort of apology tour.

What‘s your reaction to that accusation against the president?

BRZEZINSKI:  I just think that‘s really silly talk.  I mean, I just don‘t even take it seriously.

What was he apologetic about?  He acknowledged a fact, specifically regarding Iran, that we were implicated in the overthrow of the Massadegh government.  But he made it very clear in that context that he‘s acknowledging it not as an apology but as a proposition that we shouldn‘t both drag up the past and exchange acquisitions.

We have claims against Iranians as well—for example, the violation of international law by seizing our diplomats and holding them as hostages.  But to just exchange mutual accusations, we‘re not going to get anywhere.

MADDOW:  Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter and a very, very valued guest on this show—thank you so much for your time tonight, sir.

BRZEZINSKI:  It‘s nice to be with you.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

Lest we think that while he was in Egypt, President Obama lost focus on getting Sonia Sotomayor confirmed to the Supreme Court.  The president left an even more powerful person to make the case for his nominee while he was gone.  We‘ll tell you who that was, and NPR‘s Nina Totenberg will join us next to talk about that.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Scott Roeder, the man charged with murdering Kansas doctor, George Tiller, at a Wichita church on Sunday, has spoken to the press today from his jail cell in Sedgwick County, Kansas.  Mr. Roeder called “The Associated Press” and said in a roughly three-minute phone call, quote, “I haven‘t been convicted of anything and I am being treated as a criminal.”  True, Mr. Roeder has only been charged, not convicted of anything.  But being in jail pending trial does tend to have sort of a “treat it like a criminal” feeling to it.

The funeral scheduled for Dr. Tiller is planned for 10:00 a.m. on Saturday at the College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas.  Hundreds if not thousands of people are expected to attend.


MADDOW:  If choosing a summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Princeton graduate with the J.D. from Yale, and 11 years experience on the second circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals—where only three of her hundreds of opinions have been overturned by the Supreme Court—who happens to be the first Latina ever nominated to the high court, weren‘t enough to secure President Obama‘s first Supreme Court nominee, her confirmation, if that weren‘t enough?  The Obama administration deployed its most powerful asset on the campaign in support of Judge Sonia Sotomayor yesterday.  They deployed FLOTIS, the first lady of the United States, whose favorability rating stands at 76 percent, which does happen to outpace Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton at similar times in their husband‘s presidencies.

Here was Michelle Obama speaking yesterday to a high school graduation in Washington, D.C.


MICHELLE OBAMA, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY:  And then I read the story of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.  I don‘t know if you know about this phenomenal woman, but the president—she‘s the president‘s nominee for the Supreme Court.


OBAMA:  And she‘s the first Hispanic woman to be considered for the position.  The first.  And she went to Princeton.

And in the story, she said that when she arrived at Princeton as a

freshman—and this was nine years before I would even think about going -

she said, when she stepped on that campus, she said—and this is a quote—she said, she felt like a visitor landing in an alien country.  She said she never raised her hand her first year because—and this is a quote—she was too embarrassed and too intimidated to ask questions.


So, despite all her success at Princeton, then she went on to Yale Law School where she was at the top of her class in both schools—and despite all of her professional accomplishments, Judge Sotomayor says she still looks over her shoulder and wonders if she measures up.

And when I read her story, I understood exactly how she feels.


MADDOW:  Just for context here, if Republicans opposing Judge Sotomayor are wondering about the exact power of a Michelle Obama endorsement, consult the J. Crew Company.  After Mrs. Obama said she was wearing something by J. Crew, their Web traffic went up 3,000 percent.

Joining us is NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg.

Ms. Totenberg, thanks very much for coming back on the show.

NINA TOTENBERG, NPR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  My pleasure.  Maybe we could talk fashion.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Boy, am I unqualified for that.


MADDOW:  All right.  Well, am I reading too much into this speech by the first lady?  I mean, is this an indication that the White House thinks they‘ve got a real fight on their hands and need to bring out the big guns?

TOTENBERG:  I don‘t think so.  But if you‘ve got an asset like Michelle Obama, who has feelings like this and she‘s talked about them before, about—and she talks about this all time to youngsters about how they have to think they can do it.  That if she could do it, they could do it.  That she—who would have thought that she would end up at Princeton and at Harvard?

So, Sotomayor is a great vehicle for her.  And she‘s a great vehicle for the White House PR machine.

MADDOW:  The White House, today, gave the Senate Judiciary Committee a whole batch of documents and information about Judge Sotomayor, the questionnaire, financial disclosures, old speeches, other documents.

How important is this dossier for the Senate?  And do we know yet if there‘s anything new in it?

TOTENBERG:  Well, I spent a lot of time today going through it—and me and a couple of other reporters, I think, went through all 78 speeches.  And I‘m here to tell you that they are remarkably repetitive.  We all know about recycling material.  But Sonia Sotomayor recycles to a fare-thee-well.

And I would say the only problem that I saw was that the famous line that has caused her a bit of grief that she said was sort of inartful.  She said in two others speeches, identical lines in two other speeches—one in 1994, which was seven years before we first heard about it, and then two years after 2001, which was this speech we originally heard about.

Other than that, most of what I saw was actually just sort of amusing and some of it very interesting.  Her talking about how she really only considers herself an average writer and that she had terrible trouble with writing when she first went to Princeton and had to get special help because she found that she was talking in a kind of a Spanish/English way.  That there were, for example, no—Spanish doesn‘t have adjectives the same way so she would say, the foot of my father or the statute of the Congress, instead of the congressional statute.  And that she had to relearn how to do some of those things.

So, a lot of that was interesting and I‘m sure helpful to her in any confirmation process.  The only thing I saw was this repetition of the line.

MADDOW:  And the repetition of the line, and to be clear, we should say that this is the line about the statement about the value of being a Latino woman as a judge.  I can see already—or I can at least imagine both Democrats and Republicans finding some ammunition there.  The fact that she said it in 1994 -- which was before she was confirmed by the Senate for here seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals—would imply that Republicans didn‘t much care about that then when they were evaluating her record at that time.

The fact that she repeated it three times would seem to undercut any statement that it was a misstatement or that she hadn‘t really meant it when she said it.  I wonder if this actually sort of zeros out because both sides could use that?

TOTENBERG:  I don‘t know what it does.  This is the only thing, so far

I suspect that when the Supreme Court in a few weeks, as we all expect, reverses her opinion in the New Haven fire—it‘s not her opinion, the opinion of a panel that she sat on in the New Haven firefighter‘s case, that‘s going to be far more ammunition than this single line.


MADDOW:  Do we know—

TOTENBERG:  It‘s going to be—it‘s going to be close to—probably close to confirmation hearings.

MADDOW:  Do we know anything about what the vote is likely to be?  I know she is widely expected or that opinion is widely expected to be overturned.  Is it going to be a unanimous overturn?  Is there any way to tell from this distance?

TOTENBERG:  Well, based on the oral arguments, it sounded sort of as if it might be five to four.  But it all depends how the court frames it.  If it‘s sort of a very big overturning of her opinion and it‘s very severe about it, it‘s probably going to be five to four.  If they can agree on some more limited things like saying, “Look, you just didn‘t look at this appropriately and we‘re going to send it back for a new standard and you need to look at it again,” then it may be more lopsided than that.

MADDOW:  We‘ll be watching.

Nina Totenberg, NPR legal affairs correspondent—thank you very much for your time tonight.

TOTENBERG:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  I do know what they are drinking at the Cheney family barbecues lately, but it happens to be making everyone in the family want to go on TV.  In front, the former vice president‘s daughter, Liz, is now even repeatedly going where her old man has, so far, feared to tread—right here at MSNBC.  “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff will join us in just a moment.

Stick around.


MADDOW:  Still ahead, my friend Kent Jones reports on laughter and monkeys and the important connection between the two.  It‘s the perfect Kent Jones story.  That is coming up.  

But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  It is an ancient fake political science blessing that a person or a nation be blessed with political enemies who are demonstrably idiotic. 

For example, on the occasion of President Obama‘s trip abroad to make his big speech to the Muslim world from a Muslim capital, the still free number one and number two guys in al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri released tapes.  Portions of an audiotape reportedly from Bin Laden were released by al-Jazeera on the eve of the president‘s trip to Cairo. 

Then, as the president was touching down in the Egyptian capital, Bin Laden‘s AV club posted the full statement on Islamic Web sites.  Mr.  Zawahiri also released a lengthy audiotape online in which he says, quote, “Obama‘s message to the Muslim world was delivered when he visited the Wailing Wall with the Jewish skullcap on his head, when he performed the prayers despite claiming that he‘s a Christian.” 

As they say, it is truly a blessing to have total freaking idiots as your enemy.  This is the new post-Bush frustrated al-Qaeda strategy to convince the world that Barack Obama is a secret Jew.  Good luck with that, caveman.  Good luck with that. 

And as we reported last night, the 2012 Republican presidential primary race has so not begun yet.  Running now in 2009 for 2012 would be very embarrassing.  It would make a person look way too eager.  A candidate has to be way more subtle than that. 

So Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty did not announce his retirement on Tuesday in order to run against Obama in 2012.  Still, though, he‘s not running.  He did appear on the TV yesterday to say this.  


GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R-MN):  This is going to be a very different country 12 or 24 months from now.  This is not the United States of America that we know and love and remember.  This looks more like some sort of a, you know, republic from South America circa 1970s.  


MADDOW:  We‘re now south America in the ‘70s?  So President Obama staged a military coup and got himself appointed by a junta to rule with a murderously iron fist while wearing mirrored sunglasses with weird, vaguely, plausibly deniable help from Ronald Reagan? 

I don‘t see it.  But maybe I‘m not looking hard enough.  Still, though, love to have you on the show, again, governor anytime soon, especially now.


MADDOW:  Liz and Dick Cheney father-daughter media blitz has officially entered stage three.  Stage one was the legacy burnishing stage in which Mr. Cheney defended the Bush administration by reminding us that except for that one really, really, really big one and anthrax and all the attacks that killed our soldiers and all the bombings of all our allies, there really weren‘t any other terrorist attacks on Americans during the Bush-Cheney years. 

Stage two was the bash Obama staged where Mr. Cheney joined now by his daughter, Liz, argued that not only were things like torture and indefinite detention at Guantanamo totally effective and generally awesome, but by eliminating those things, President Obama was making the country less safe. 

But today, Liz Cheney introduced us to stage three, the persecution complex stage.  You know how a lot of people are still mad at the Bush administration for its frequent claims of a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, that totally untrue case for a war we still can‘t get out of 6 ½ years later? 

It turns out all that outrage is really just a smear campaign against the Bush administration which never said anything of the sort. 


LIZ CHENEY, DAUGHTER OF FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY:  The issue of a relationship between Saddam and 9/11 is a claim that critics of the administration have used to sort of smear the administration, when, in fact, the administration wasn‘t making that claim.  


MADDOW:  Wasn‘t making that claim?  Wasn‘t - you know, the real shame here is that all this stuff is on tape.  Maybe the Cheneys don‘t know that. 


DICK CHENEY, FORMER UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT:  We will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.  

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. 

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained.  But chemical agents, lethal viruses, shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained.  


MADDOW:  So all that tape of Bush and Cheney connecting Saddam Hussein to 9/11 is a political smear?  Really?  Here‘s where Liz Cheney‘s logic gets really Cheney-esque.  In her mind, the Saddam 9/11 claim is liberal propaganda.  But the Saddam-al-Qaeda link is totally valid.  


L. CHENEY:  The issue is whether there‘s a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda which, as he mentioned in that speech, you know, George Tenet himself testified to - there‘s much evidence of the connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda and Saddam and other terrorist organizations.  


MADDOW:  Much evidence?  The message is we never said Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11.  We only said he was connected to al-Qaeda, the people who planned 9/11 and we have much evidence for that. 

See?  Innocent.  And while you‘re busy trying to sort out the strange semantic difference between those two things, maybe you will forget that neither of them is true. 

Joining us now is “Newsweek” investigative correspondent and MSNBC contributor, Michael Isikoff, co-author of “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War.”  Mr. Isikoff, thanks for being here. 


MADDOW:  Drawing a connection between Saddam and 9/ 1 is a smear concocted by critics of the Bush administration?  They never said that? 

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Well, look, we could talk.  Actually, we could probably just keep on rolling the videotape and find other clips. 

Liz Cheney‘s father, Vice President Cheney, had three separate “Meet the Press” appearances where he talked about and gave credence to the idea that Mohammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague before the attacks which would, if true, be pretty provocative evidence that there was some sort of connection between Saddam‘s government and the 9/11 attacks. 

At one point, Vice President Cheney said it was pretty well-confirmed there was such a meeting.  In another appearance on “Meet the Press,” he said it was a credible report.  He raised it again after the war and, of course, there was absolutely no evidence that such a meeting ever took place.  It was debunked by the 9/11 commission as was the whole idea that there was any meaningful relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda.  

MADDOW:  When Liz Cheney was specifically talking about this today on MSNBC, she said once the Mohammed Atta report was debunked, the administration stopped using that particular argument.  They walked away from it. 

ISIKOFF:  Right.

MADDOW:  You‘ve written the book on this.  Did they actually drop that argument? 

ISIKOFF:  No, of course, as I pointed out.  I mean, three times.  The first time Cheney raised it was in December of ‘01.  Then he raised it in September of ‘02.  It‘s when he called it credible.  This was right during the run-up just weeks before the congressional vote on the authorization to invade Iraq. 

In February of 2003, Scooter Libby, Cheney‘s chief-of-staff, tried to get Secretary of State Powell to raise the claim about a meeting in Prague in the U.N. in his famous Security Council speech.  He was pushing really hard and Powell, at that point, was told by the CIA, “Look, it‘s just not true.  We don‘t have any evidence to support it.” 

But the vice president‘s office continued to push on this.  And the vice president continued to raise it.  Look, I mean, what strikes me, and the really kind of, you know, insidious language here, and it‘s insidious in retrospect, is this idea of the word connection.  That‘s what they fall back on.  That‘s what Liz Cheney falls back on - connection. 

Well, one can just as easily say there‘s a connection between Liz Cheney and MSNBC.  After all, she was on MSNBC today.  There‘s video of her appearing with Andrea Mitchell.  There must be a connection between them. 

It doesn‘t prove anything.  The important point is was there any operational relationship?  Did they work together?  Did they collude?  Were they trying to help each other?  And that‘s what the 9/11 commission concluded as did the Senate Intelligence Committee - no, there‘s no evidence of that.  

MADDOW:  And the even bigger issue here, maybe the meta-issue here is this deliberate intense effort to rewrite history, to make it seem like Bush and Cheney never led us down this path, never gave any misleading information to the country about the connections between what we are doing in Iraq and what had happened to us on 9/11. 

The idea this is still being litigated by Cheney‘s daughter now.  I mean, what do you think the point is of this media blitz?  We never heard from Liz Cheney before. 

ISIKOFF:  Well, look, it‘s about legacy.  It‘s about the vice president‘s standing in history, the Bush administration‘s standing in history.  I mean, it‘s worth remembering Liz Cheney did serve in the Bush administration.  She had a top position in the Near Eastern Affairs of the State Department.  She worked on Mid East policy. 

She‘s no novice to these issues and she‘s a stalwart defender of her father.  And I‘m sure some people will find that touching.  But the fact is that, you know, when you get to the hardcore facts and you get to, you know, what‘s true, what‘s not - I mean, this is not going to hold up.  The claim doesn‘t hold up.  It‘s not seriously accepted by anybody who‘s knowledgeable with the period right now.  

MADDOW:  I wish they‘d come on my show so I could try to make it not hold that way to them.  But they won‘t say yes, yet.  I live in hope.

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Keep pushing.  

MADDOW:  Michael Isikoff - I am every day. 

ISIKOFF:  Keep pushing - yes.

MADDOW:  “Newsweek” investigative correspondent, MSNBC contributor. 

Thanks, Mike.  Nice to see you.  

ISIKOFF:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith‘s special guest is Colin Powell‘s former chief-of-staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson.  You will not want to miss their discussion.

Next on this show, why today is being described, not as June 4th, but as May 35th.  I‘ll explain in just a moment.


MADDOW:  As the Republican Party continues its search for meaning in the minority, one member of that minority is making his mark on education.  South Carolina‘s Republican Governor Mark Sanford attempted to reject hundreds of millions of dollars in federal education stimulus funds. 

He and three other governors also refused to join an education initiative that would create common academic standards in Math and English, meaning that Gov. Sanford does not want the following for South Carolina schools - money for uniform standards.  Fine. 

Want to know what he does want for South Carolina schools?  Guns.  This week, Mr. Sanford signed into law a bill that would allow loaded guns on school property.  Because, really, it‘s fire power that unlocks a child‘s true learning potential? 


MADDOW:  Nicholas Kristof, “The New York Times” columnist Twittered today that the Chinese government has blocked the phrase June 4th from appearing anywhere online in China.  June 4th, of course, is the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre which took place in Beijing 20 years ago today. 

The Chinese government would prefer that that not be discussed so you can‘t type the words June 4th and have them appear online on any computer in China.  If you see today‘s date referenced online as May 35th, now you‘ll know why. 

May 35th or June 4th is also the date of the trial for two young female American journalists in North Korea, Euna Lee and Laura Ling.  Laura Ling is sister of American TV journalist Lisa Ling who spoke last night at a vigil for her sister in California. 


LISA LING, SISTER OF LAURA LING:  It is the morning of June 4th in Pyongyang, North Korea.  And as we stand here tonight, it is entirely possible that my sister Laura and Euna Lee - sorry - are standing trial in North Korea.  I know they‘re scared.  They‘re being charged with illegal entry and hostile acts. 

My sister is strong, but there‘s nothing hostile about her.  Euna is the mother of the most angelic 4-year-old daughter, hardly a threatening character.  As many of you may have heard from some of the interviews our family did on Monday, the details of what happened that day that Laura and Euna were arrested are vague. 

But I will say with absolute certainty that when they left U.S.  soil, they never intended to cross the border into North Korea.  And if, at any point they did, we are truly sorry and we know the girls are, too.  


MADDOW:  We did get cryptic word from the North Korean government last night that the trial for these two Americans was due to start at 3:00 p.m.  local time today, which is about 2:00 a.m. East Coast American time this morning. 

We haven‘t heard anything since.  We don‘t even know if the trial started, let alone what the proceedings were like.  And of course, even though it‘s a trial with all of the public accounting that that implies, there are no outside observers that we know of.  There are no American officials involved or consulted in this process.  We‘re simply just waiting for word of their fate. 

If these two American women are convicted of the charges against them, again through this utterly unknowable black box of a trial in the Stalinist, closed, isolated country, they‘ll be facing five years or more of hard labor at one of North Korea‘s notorious prison camps.  The Ling family says that when Laura was allowed to call home, she said that diplomacy was these young women‘s only hope.  


LING:  While we wish this were all a bad dream, the reality is, in the midst of this unfortunate situation and escalating geopolitical tension, there exists a golden opportunity for a fresh start between two countries. 

Instead of getting reacquainted with one another through missile launches, nuclear tests and terse rhetoric, why not get to know each other over two amazing girls who just wanted to tell a story?  Perhaps Laura and Euna can be the catalyst for ushering a new era of diplomacy. 

As they stand in that courtroom alone and afraid, we thank you all for standing here behind them and not letting their voices go unheard.  With profound appreciation, our families thank you all for being here. 


MADDOW:  Again, that‘s Lisa Ling speaking at a vigil last night held for her sister and for Euna Lee who are on trial today in North Korea.  It is possible that North Korea and the United States will start talking to each other in some meaningful way because of these two journalists caught in this horrendous totalitarian trap. 

It‘s also possible that North Korea will only do the right thing here if they are pressured to do so by the only other country they really listen to, which is China, the place where we have to refer to today as May 35th

On the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, organizers say 150,000 people turned out in Hong Kong to remember the demonstrators killed in Tiananmen Square.  Hong Kong is still semi-autonomous since the British gave it back to China.  And it‘s the only place in all of China where anyone was allowed to protest or commemorate Tiananmen in any way today. 

In Beijing, this is how subtly the Chinese police and the Chinese government prevented not only any vigils, any demonstrations, but also any western news coverage of Tiananmen Square.  Plainclothes police officers blocking news cameras either with their bodies or with umbrellas.  It‘s very subtle, right? 

And that government, the ones dispatching the guys dressed up like tourists who just happened to have walkie-talkies on their belts just happened to be constantly popping open umbrellas in front of news cameras on a day when it‘s not raining.  That government which still has people in prison for participating in the Tiananmen demonstrations.  That government that today accidentally made public for a moment its instruction to regional police to put persons of interest under thought supervision and control today.

The Chinese government is also apparently the best hope we‘ve got for pressuring the North Koreans to free these two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.  So happy May 35th, everyone. 

Now that we‘ve had the big Obama human rights speech for the Muslim world, I might be ready for the big Obama human rights speech for the rest of the world, too.


MADDOW:  We turn now to our correspondent from our bureau of Pre-Cambrian chuckling, Kent Jones.


MADDOW:  Very serious, they‘re chuckling.  

JONES:  Very serious, Rachel.  Very serious.  Are we the only species that laughs?  Well, some researchers have been looking into that very thing.  Check it out. 

MADDOW:  All right. 


JONES:  Researchers in England first tickled some human babies.  


Guaranteed laugh-getter.  And then, take a look at orangutans, gorillas, chimps and bonobos.  How is that for a job title - bonobo tickler? 

And we are not the only ones who laugh.  It looks like humans and

great apes inherited laughter from a shared ancestor that lived more than

10 million years ago.  That would be crazy Uncle Sheky.  He killed with the

knuckle-draggers.  Killed -

Not just apes, some scientists think there are other species that laugh, like dogs and even rats.  OK, fine.  But, they‘re thinking way too small.  When it comes to laughing, there‘s all kinds of overlap between humans and animals. 



MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  That was very exciting.  

JONES:  Everyone likes lots of laughter. 

MADDOW:  Excellent.  Also, everybody likes talking about poop. 

JONES:  Yes. 


JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  The Minnesota Zoo is our cocktail moment today. 

“” - this is sort of what I spent my whole day online doing.  It‘s an educational site to teach you about animals through what animals do after they eat.  

JONES:  In case you encounter draft poop, for instance.  

MADDOW:  You could identify it. 

JONES:  Exactly, yes.

MADDOW:  If you do it really well, you get a certificate that declares you a poop expert.  I got one!

JONES:  A poopologist.  

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  Thank you for watching tonight. 

“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. 



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