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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, June 17


June 17, 2009



Guests: Reza Aslan, Joe Cirincione, Michael Isikoff, Tammy Baldwin

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

President Obama granted some rights to some same-sex couples who work for the federal government today, and he made his first comment on what I like to think of as the "gay issue" since becoming president today. We will talk this hour with a member of Congress who the president acknowledged by name today in those remarks, who was with him at the White House when he signed the executive order for those additional rights.

Also, the CIA is apparently trying to block the release of what we, on this show, have been calling the big kahuna in the torture debate. We were expecting the big kahuna to arrive on Friday. Michael Isikoff of "Newsweek" magazine will join us to tell us whether we should still be so expectant about said kahuna.

That's all coming up this hour.

But we begin tonight with soccer, with massive, national, political, and social upheaval ripped small-ripped very, very small on the uniforms of a single soccer team playing 4,000 miles away from its home.

The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world. It's as big as the Olympics. The next one is next year in South Africa. And the countries that want to compete in the World Cup are playing their qualifying matches right now.

Today, as the national soccer team of Iran faced off against South Korea, at least eight members of the Iranian team took the field wearing green-wearing green wrist bands, presumably, in a sign of support for the huge opposition movement that now may be threatening to topple the ruling regime in their country.

Iranian fans in the stands wore green as well. Some made the support for the opposition-their own opposition to their government all the more plain with signs promoting the main opposition candidate and-well, there was this guy, who chose to make his point clear as a bell with a sign that read, "Go to hell dictator." That's very to the point.

But consider what these fans and, especially, these players are risking by doing this. Back home in Iran, today, the top prosecutor in the city of Esfahan declared that anyone demonstrating against the government could be executed for doing so. Quote, "We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution."

Also recall that the news yesterday that seven protestors had been killed at demonstrations, that was not news that was circulated by the protestors themselves. That was not aggregated through things posted to various social media sites or something; that was a claim made and repeated by Iranian state media-the government, eager to confirm the implicit threat of deadly force against Iranians who would defy the ban on demonstrations.

We've also heard reports of Iranians receiving robocalls in which a disembodied voice informs the person receiving the call that he or she has been seen protesting.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has posted a list of dozens of human rights activists and lawyers and academics who have been arrested or detained in what they're describing as a purge of reform-oriented individuals.

But even as television coverage of the massive banned protests in Iran are essentially blacked out inside the country, soccer is the most popular sport in Iran by a mile. They really can't black out coverage of a World Cup qualifying match.

So, for these young men to have made this show of support-knowing it would be televised, knowing that they have absolutely no anonymity, they're the Iranian national soccer team, for Christ sakes. It was kind of a stunning act of political bravery.

At halftime, these young men returned to the field without those green wrist bands on. You can't really blame them. Four thousand miles west of that playing field in Iran, all demonstrations were banned again today-which of course meant that Tehran looked like this-another massive anti-government demonstration. Five straight days of these demonstrations so far and there is yet another one that has been called for tomorrow.

Now, I want to show you one quick clip in particular. It's about 30 seconds long. It's actually less than 30 seconds. Now, this was not taken by a news organization. It was taken by a participant at today's march, as best as we can tell.

We're just going to play it here including the actual sound from the tape, because the sound and the images together show a couple amazing things about how these huge demonstrations are being conducted and what this uprising is like in Iran. The first thing that you'll notice is that the march is essentially silent. People are moving through the streets of Tehran, in processions that are miles long, without chanting-mostly without even speaking. It's hundreds of thousands of people silent.

The other thing you can see in this clip is, after about 15 seconds, apparently, what has happening here is that the militia is approaching. The Basij, they'd say-and forgive my pronunciation, that's the best as I can tell how to pronounce it. They're volunteer paramilitary militiamen who answer to the Revolutionary Guard. The Basij have been blamed for some of the worst violence of these last five days.

Now, as best we can tell from this clip as the Basij approach this silent demonstration, watch what the demonstrators do.






MADDOW: You can hear the call going through the crowd. There's the Basij, the militia, the paramilitary is approaching the silent protest. The protestors just spread the word and sit down.

This is a movement that is being denounced as wild arsonists, as rioters incited by foreign elements. But look at how they're comforting themselves.

The main opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is encouraging more protests. He says he will participate in protests himself. Now, the size of tomorrow's rally and the reaction to it by government forces will tell us a lot about whether this movement is tapering off or whether it's becoming unstoppable.

Today, the prospect of success for the opposition actually changing the ruling regime in Iran seemed more possible than it ever has before-because of two developments.

First, an apparent split at the very top of the regime. Iran's single most senior cleric, his name is Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri-a man seen as a rival, a rival of the current leader-he came out in support of the opposition. He denounced the election results as fraudulent. He called on Iranian police officers and soldiers to disobey orders to act against the protestors.

He wrote on his official Web site, quote, "A government not respecting people's votes has no religious or political legitimacy. I ask the police and the army not to sell their religion and to beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God."

A split at the top among the clerics.

In addition, an emergency meeting was called today called the Assembly of Experts. It's a body of 86 members. It's a body that chooses the supreme leader. They could even oust the current supreme leader if they wanted to.

After watching this story unfold for five days, many Americans have been expecting this to be, frankly, Tiananmen Square-a rebellion to be crushed.

Is it possible that a better metaphor here might end up being the Berlin Wall coming down? I mean, everybody still fears the bloody crackdown on the resistance, but could the resistance actually win?

Joining us now is Reza Aslan. He's a senior fellow at the Orfalea Center on Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He's also author of a new book, "How to Win a Cosmic War:

God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror."

Mr. Aslan, thank you so much for joining us tonight.


MADDOW: As I just mentioned, there are reports that Iran's Assembly of Experts has called for an emergency meeting. What are your sources inside of Iran telling you about that and how significant do you think it would be?

ASLAN: Well, just the very fact that the meeting is being convened is significant. The Assembly of Experts, as you said, gets to decide who the next supreme leader will be, and they also get to decide whether the current supreme leader is still qualified for his position. The head of the Assembly of Experts, of course, is Ayatollah Rafsanjani.

Now, Rafsanjani is probably the second most powerful man in Iran after the supreme leader. He's certainly the richest man in Iran. He was also Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's main opponent four years ago. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this year, really went after Rafsanjani hard, accused him of corruption, of graft. And Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad really went at it in a very public way that you don't normally see in Iran.

And once the elections were called for Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani has been working behind the scenes to try to get those elections annulled. And this goes back to an earlier point that you made, is that this isn't about, you know, the mullahs versus the people, or even, you know, the clerical regime versus the reformers. This is something that goes to the very heart of the legitimacy of the Islamic republic. It's the government, itself, that's beginning to crack apart.

MADDOW: And as we see, senior members of the regime start to split, as we see senior clerics come forward in support of the opposition, as we see this meeting convene-is it possible that that changes the way that the government can crackdown? I mean, if it's just students or it's just a specific class, or if just some sort of regional uprising, it seems to me that the government would have more options than if it is some sort of resistance movement that spans right-that splits even right through the heart of the power structure.

ASLAN: No question. You know, we saw something similar to what's happening now in 1999, the so-called "Tehran Spring," where college students poured out into the streets by the tens of thousands demanding greater freedoms, and ultimately, the regime responded with bloody violence.

That's just not an option this time because this isn't-as you said

it's not about college students. We've got-you know, this is a movement that is essentially cutting across all the traditional borders and the traditional divisions in Iran.

You have some of the most important and influential people within the Iranian establishment, not just Rafsanjani but the former president, Mohammad Khatami. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri is one person that you mentioned, but also, the Grand Ayatollah Sanei who's issued a fatwa calling election fraud a mortal sin.

And these are people whose religious credentials go way beyond the supreme leader's religious credentials. They are not exactly equals by any means. Montazeri and Sanei, they're grand ayatollahs; they are way above Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader.

MADDOW: Reza, we are in day five of following this. And in terms of what to expect next and to watch for next, we are expecting another major demonstration tomorrow. It's not just a demonstration but it's a planned day of mourning for those who have been killed in the protests thus far.

What should we watch for tomorrow? And how important, do you think, tomorrow is going to be?

ASLAN: What's really fascinating about what's happening right now, in 2009, is that it looks a lot like what was happening in 1979. And there's a very simple reason for that. The same people are in charge. I mean, Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Khatami, Mehdi Karoubi, the other reformist candidates -- these were all the original revolutionaries who brought down the shah to begin with. So, they know how to do this right.

And so, what you're going to see tomorrow is something that was pulled exactly out of the playbook of 1979, which is that you have these massive mourning rallies where you mourn the deaths of those who were martyred in the cause of freedom. And these things tend to get a little out of control. They often result in even more violence by the security forces and even more deaths-which then requires another mourning rally which is even larger, which then requires more violence from the government-and this just becomes an ongoing snowball that can't be stopped. That's how the shah was removed from power was these mourning ceremonies.

And so, Mousavi, very smartly, calling for an official, not a rally, but an official day of mourning tomorrow. I think we're going to see crowds that we haven't even begun to see yet, and then follow that, on Friday, which is sort of the Muslim Sabbath, the day of prayer, which is traditionally a day of gathering anyway, this is just beginning, Rachel. This is just the beginning.

MADDOW: Wow. It's a story that we're nowhere near getting our arms around in terms of understanding it and events preceding faster than we can really understand, but we're trying.

Reza Aslan, senior fellow at the Orfalea Center on Global and International Studies at UC-Santa Barbara-your insight here is just really invaluable. Thanks, Reza. Thanks for joining us.

ASLAN: Any time.

MADDOW: So, if what we're getting here is-as Reza suggests-a whole new Iran possibly, what happens to all our old American politics that are based on us freaking out about Iran potentially getting a nuclear weapon? President Obama is saying that those old politics will stay the same no matter what happens in Iran. But a lot of people watching this situation closely are not so sure about that anymore.

My friend Joe Cirincione-the man who makes nuclear weapons fun-will join us to talk about that next.



PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: The difference between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised. Either way, we are going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused us some problems in the neighborhood, and is pursuing nuclear weapons.


MADDOW: Oh, right, nuclear weapons.

You know, President Obama has defended his "keep your distance" approach to what's going on in Iran as Republicans are still inexplicably advising louder and louder now that the United States should not only weigh in on the situation in Iran, but we should put ourselves squarely on the side of the opposition-which is probably the single best thing we could ever do to the forces that want to undermine and defeat that opposition.

President Obama is, thus far, ignoring that heckling from the "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" side of the aisle. But President Obama is also expressing that he thinks we will be in essentially the same basic political relationship we're with-we're in with Iran now even if, by small d, democratic miracle, the election is annulled and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ends up losing his job. Is that actually true?

Iranian exiles and human rights groups say that Obama is right in his hands-off approach to discussing the uprising in Iran. But is Obama wrong in saying that, on the nuclear issue, it doesn't even matter who's president?

Joining us now is Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global securities foundation. He's also author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons."

Hi, Joe. Thanks very much for being here.


MADDOW: First of all, do you think that Obama's basic strategy of keeping quiet and staying out of the Iranians' political fight here is the appropriate strategy given what you know about Iran?

CIRINCIONE: Absolutely and there is broad agreement across the expert community on this. Remember, as President Obama said, in his Cairo speech, the United States overthrew in 1953 the democratically-elected government of Iran because that government had nationalized a British oil company. Not many Americans know that. Every Iranian knows that.

If our actions today feed into that historic narrative, it could be the kiss of death for the forces of democracy and reform in Iran. The president is absolutely right to stay out of this.

MADDOW: So, the overall framework, the way he's approaching it, you think he's right. Most experts think he's right. It seems to me, I have to say, that he's right.

On the specific issue of nuclear weapons, the president is saying that no matter what happens here politically, America will still have the same issue that we have now on nuclear weapons with Iran.

Do you think that's true or do you think it would matter if Ahmadinejad was ousted?

CIRINCIONE: I think that was true basically over the weekend.


CIRINCIONE: But the Iranian uprising has changed the calculus. Even I, on Monday, was making a post that no matter who's elected president, the ultimate decisions are still made by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. We still have to deal with Khamenei's Iran.

But the uprising has changed all that. This is no longer Khamenei's Iran. Something profound is going on here.

Even under the best-case scenario if-for the Iranian regime, if Khamenei stays in power-if Ahmadinejad is declared the winner by still a small majority, he will be a greatly weakened president. He will be hampered in his ability to use the nuclear program as a nationalist rallying cry. He won't be able to pose as the warrior president protecting Iran against the oppressive West. He will be seen as the oppressor.

The forms of Iranian nationalism that have rallied round Ahmadinejad in the past will dessert him. There are new, more powerful expressions for that nationalism now. I think it fundamentally changes Ahmadinejad's ability to stay with the nuclear program as it exists.

If Mousavi is elected president, that is even a more profound shift. He was already more prepared to open up to the West than Ahmadinejad. I think he will have much more flexibility on the nuclear issue, given the uprising that would have put him in power.

MADDOW: So, you're saying that if the clerical regime remains in power, this uprising changes things so profoundly that whether it's Mousavi who is the president or whether it's Ahmadinejad who is the president, things get better in terms of America's ability to get what we want-which is an Iran that's willing, at least, to talk and possibly negotiate and maybe even give up its nuclear program.

Let me ask you-


MADDOW: Yes, go ahead, Joe.

CIRINCIONE: No, it's because the president will have to deal with the fundamental issues that the uprising demonstrates-this drive for equality, the economic conditions that have made so many Iranians desperate for a change-in order to satisfy that, the Iranian government will have to reach out to the West. They need western trade and investment in order to address the Iranian people's grievances. Part of that has got to be a compromise on the nuclear issue.

Even Ahmadinejad will have to do that. But if it's Mousavi, I think, he will be much more willing to do that as we've seen from some of his past experiences. And he will be less hampered by fears of being attacked from the right because the right will have been defeated, Ahmadinejad will have been thrown out.

MADDOW: Joe, I'm telling you. What you're saying right now is going to strike so many people as just like cutting across the grain of common wisdom on Iran, but by this time next week, what you are saying will be the common wisdom. I think you're absolutely right on this. It's going to be fascinating to watch it unfold.

CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Rachel. I don't think we've come to grips yet with how fundamental the change is that's occurring in Iran, and what it means for our entire policy approach toward Iran, and the ability to negotiate a containment and possibly reversal of the nuclear program.

MADDOW: I think you're absolutely right. Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a very smart guy on such issues. It's always a pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks, Joe.

CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Coming up: The CIA inspector general's report on the Bush administration's torture program is about to drop-with the expected force of an anvil falling out of the sky. Unless the CIA catches it before it hits the pavement. "Newsweek's" Michael Isikoff will join us next to assess the CIA's metaphorical arms strength.

And, President Obama is extending some benefits to same-sex partners of some federal employees. The seats in second class, in other words, just got marginally more comfortable. We'll have more in a moment with Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin.


MADDOW: Still ahead: President Obama steps up for the gays-kind of, sort of. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin will join us to talk about that.

And, my friend Kent Jones has a report about "Indiana Jones 5," which implies strongly that there was an "Indiana Jones 4" already. That is coming up.

But first, it's time for a couple holy mackerel stories in today's news.

Months after the American financial system crumpled and said mercy, President Barack Obama today unveiled his long awaited sweeping, revolutionary, industry-altering financial regulatory policies.

Wait, RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, you might ask why is this in the short stories labeled "holy mackerel" part of the show when we knew this was coming for so long and it's such a big deal? Fair question. The answer-is that instead of unleashing his famous oratory skills, oratorical skills, to convince the American people that Wall Street butts need kicking and hedge fund names needed taking, President Obama decided to go this way instead.


OBAMA: I believe that jobs are best created not by government but by businesses and entrepreneurs who are willing to take a risk on a good idea. I believe that our role is not to disparage wealth but to expand its reach; not to stifle the market but to strengthen its ability to unleash the creativity and innovation that still makes this nation the envy of the world.


MADDOW: Not exactly the fiery denunciation of a greed and corruption-filled system that brought the world to the brink of the Dark Ages. I had been sort of geared up for that. So, you know-holy mackerel.

There were in fact reforms announced today in the midst of the "don't worry we're not changing any of the big stuff" announcement. Por ejemplo, behold the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which will be in charge of regulating things that actual humans use in our actual human non-financial wizard lives-things like mortgages and credit cards. Also, behold the brand-new Federal Services Oversight Council, which will be convened by the treasury secretary and will monitor big system-wide risk alongside the Fed.

And, remember the Office of Thrift Supervision, the agency that was responsible for regulating the sputtering black hole of miasmic financial disaster that is AIG? The Office of Thrift Supervision apparently cannot be spruced up. It will just be going away.

If you'd like to know more about the financial regulatory overhaul and you would prefer your head not to spin under a sea of acronyms and alien phrases, my personal recommendation for a written explainer today is the reporting by Kevin G. Hall at McClatchy. Now, we've posted a link to his article at "" in case you want to do some home work.

And finally a follow-up on the story that broke just before we went on the air last night. The repercussions of Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign's admission that he had an affair with a former female staffer continue to pile up. The reason this is a political story and not just a miserable personal failure story is because of the beast with two backs and two faces known as hypocrisy.

Sen. Ensign of course said that President Bill Clinton should resign from office because of his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Sen. Ensign, of course, demanded that Sen. Larry Craig resign following his humiliating public restroom incident, which by the way, must make this visual from yesterday's press conference - can we put that up there? See what's over his shoulder?

Let's make this particularly awkward. Dude, in the post wide-stance political world, you cannot stand in front of a public restroom while announcing your extramarital affair. You know, at the time the Larry Craig scandal broke, I think that's when Ensign was already engaged in the affair which he is now confessing to.

In an interview about why he thought Sen. Craig should resign at the time, Mr. Ensign told the Associated Press, quote, "I wouldn't put myself, hopefully, in that kind of position. But if I was in a position like that, that's what I would do," meaning he would resign. He's going to have to answer that for himself.

That's very awkward because see, now, Sen. Ensign has put himself in that kind of a position - just listen in a bathroom - that we know of. In any case, Sen. Ensign did resign today as head of the Republican Policy Committee though he is still a senator. He has at least temporarily canceled a fundraiser barbecue which should be noted and I'm still putting in dibs on the merchandise contract for Ensign-Vitter 2012.


MADDOW: Friday is supposed to be a big news day in Washington, D.C.

It is such a big news day we are shooting this show that day from D.C. Also, I said I'd bartend a party for my boss. But still, we'll be in D.C. on Friday.

And in D.C. on Friday, we are expecting the release of probably the most important document that's ever been released about torture, about the prospects for anyone ever being held legally accountable for the crime of torture being committed by the United States government in the name of the American people during the last presidential administration.

On Friday, the Obama administration is scheduled to release the government's most extensive investigation into the Bush secret detention program including interrogation and extraordinary rendition programs.

Now, the CIA's inspector general John Helgerson wrote this report back in 2004, so it was investigated and written contemporaneously with the program. It wasn't a look back. It was an analysis of the program as it was happening. The report is top-secret. It's long and it reportedly contains details of serious, seemingly criminal violations by members of the United States government.

In her book, "The Dark Side," Jane Mayer quotes someone who read

the report as saying, quote, "You couldn't read the documents without

wondering why didn't someone say, 'Stop.'"

When the report was first issued, Jane Mayer says that Vice President Cheney summoned the inspector general, John Helgerson, the author of this report, to his vice presidential office for a private meeting, a move that's been described as extraordinary, perhaps unprecedented.

Intimidation, anyone? In 2005, the year after the report was concluded, the "New York Times" revealed that it concluded the CIA's interrogation program constituted, quote, "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" as defined by the Internal Convention against Torture.

Jane Mayer also has reported that the CIA inspector general investigated interrogators for the deaths of at least three prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. One prisoner reportedly died shackled, hanging with his arms stretched out behind him in a way that an army guard said he was surprised that the man's arms didn't pop out of their sockets.

The inspector general also reportedly referred eight criminal cases of alleged homicide, abuse, and misconduct to the Justice Department for further investigation and possible prosecution.

Here's the bombshell here. Those cases continue to languish at the Justice Department, as in they haven't been pursued. Why not? Maybe we'll learn more when the report finally gets released on Friday. Or maybe we won't.

Today, "The Washington Post" reports the CIA is trying to block the release of the report arguing that the information in the report could damage ongoing operations by exposing intelligence procedures, even though we're supposedly not doing this kind of stuff anymore.

Joining us now is the "Newsweek" investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff. He's also an MSNBC contributor. Mr. Isikoff, thank you very much for joining us tonight.


MADDOW: I understand that you spoke with the former CIA inspector general, John Helgerson. What does he think about releasing this report?

ISIKOFF: Yes, I spoke to him tonight. He is the author of the report. He had full security clearances to do this and he told me there's a great deal of it, the report that can be released and, in my view, ought to be released.

Now, that said, he said that in the context of, as you pointed out, "The Washington Post" reporting today, as have others, that CIA director Leon Panetta, President Obama's choice, is pushing very hard to resist disclosure of this report or any significant parts of it.

The intelligence community is once again rallying against release, and the difference here with - it's a dynamic very similar to what we had a few months ago with the Justice Department interrogation memos which ultimately were released after a very fierce battle inside the White House about it.

The difference this time is the Justice Department is not playing a big role in this debate. The justice - I spoke to Justice Department officials tonight as well, who tell me that in the case of the interrogation memos, they were stakeholders. It was their memos. It was from their department, so they felt very strongly, having reviewed all of the material that they could push for disclosure of their own material.

In this case, it's entirely a CIA report. It's within the prerogative of the intelligence community. The Justice Department's role is merely to represent government agencies in court, in litigation.

And so therefore, you don't have the institutional push for disclosure that we did have two months ago which is why a lot of people are very discouraged that we're really going to see significant parts of this report released.

MADDOW: And it's fascinating in terms of the internal dynamics there and how that's going to affect what we ultimately see. But yet there is this giant Justice Department specific loose end here.

We're hearing that this CIA report indicates that there were eight cases reported to the Justice Department for possible investigation, possible prosecution, things that the internal investigation found to be criminal actions including homicides.

We know that none of those have been pursued. Won't the Justice Department have to answer for that? Couldn't they still be prosecuting those cases?

ISIKOFF: I think, you know, there will inevitably be questions about that. Of course, it's very hard to evaluate from a distance without knowing the specifics, what the state of the evidence is, what kind of eyewitnesses there might be that you could use to present in a courtroom.

All those are very complex issues that - you know, it's hard to judge from an arm chair without seeing the evidence laid out. But we do know that there is a great deal of evidence in this report about waterboarding, about all of the enhanced interrogation techniques, and also including the videotaping of those interrogation techniques.

It's worth remembering what happened after this report internally came out with - was distributed within the government. The CIA shut down the program for several months while it sought new legal authorizations from the Justice Department.

A year later, those videotapes of the interrogations were destroyed. There is an ongoing Justice Department criminal investigation of that. And the CIA officials and officers who were involved in the interrogation program, were - it was reported, began seeking in large numbers insurance from legal insurance from possible criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits.

MADDOW: So if you want to know how big a deal this was, look at what people did back in 2004 and 2005 when they saw contemporaneously ...

ISIKOFF: What was in this report - yes.

MADDOW: ... what was in this report. That's exactly right. "Newsweek" investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff - thank you very much for helping us sort this out tonight, Mike.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

MADDOW: By signing a memo to extend some benefits to same-sex partners of some federal employees, President Obama seemed to recognize today that a lot of gay people are disappointed in what he hasn't yet done on some of his campaign promises about gay rights.

Today, it was either a token or the beginning of something much more. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay non-incumbent ever elected to Congress, joins us next.



BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Today, I'm proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long overdue progress in our nation's pursuit of equality. Currently, for example, LGBT federal employees can always use sick leave to care for their domestic partners or their partners' children.

Their partners aren't covered under long-term care insurance. Partners of American Foreign Service officers abroad aren't treated the same way when it comes to the use of medical facilities or visitation rights in case of an emergency.

And these are just some of the wrongs that we intend to right today. I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it's discriminatory. I think it interferes with states' rights. And we will work with Congress to overturn it. With that I am going to sign this executive order.


MADDOW: President Obama today making his first move in support of gay rights since taking office and his first substantial comments on gay rights since taking office. He signed a presidential memorandum/executive order - relatively interchangeable things as it turns out - that gives some benefits to same-sex partners.

Now, the benefits that he made available today to same-sex partners of federal employees don't include the big expensive ones - health insurance or pension benefits. But he did also say today that he would support same-sex partners of federal employees getting the same full range of benefits that straight couples get.

In order to do that, he said he would support legislation called the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act. As he said that, he also singled out Wisconsin Representative Tammy Baldwin for her tireless leadership on that bill.

Joining us now is Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.


ELECTED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: It's a pleasure to be with you.

MADDOW: So the president's executive order/presidential memorandum that he signed today, it doesn't extend benefits including health care and pension benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. Why are those excluded?

BALDWIN: Well, because they require an act of Congress, a change in the law in order to be able to grant those benefits. The president signed a limited but very meaningful order today that extends certain rights in certain instances and certain agencies.

And I think he went as far as he could go through an executive order. But now, really, the responsibility is on the shoulders of Congress. And I can tell you that the legislation really got a boost by his strong endorsement today. And I'm hopeful we'll be able to move it.

MADDOW: On the Domestic Partnership Bill, the benefits bill that he described and that he singled you out for today, and on the Defense of Marriage Act, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which he also explicitly talked about today - obviously, it's a huge support, a huge boon for any bill or any repeal effort to have the president's explicit endorsement like that. How realistic do you think it is that DOMA could be repealed, that your bill could be passed?

BALDWIN: It's hard to give odds. Congress has viewed some LGBT rights legislation before. We've had roll call votes, for example, on hate crimes protection, on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and other bills have been introduced before, haven't advanced as far.

And so, it is sort of un-chartered waters, if you will. But I'm very encouraged, I think, especially given this executive order today on limited domestic partner benefits that it sends a strong message that Congress ought to act with the whole array of benefits and obligations. Because, remember, we extend both responsibilities as well as benefits to partners. I think this sends a very strong signal that we should be passing that soon.

MADDOW: Strong signals and strong messages are, of course, what presidents specialize in, particularly when it comes to domestic legislation.

And it's the president's seeming reticence to move forward on making good in his campaign promise about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Justice Department's controversial brief in the defense of Defense of Marriage Act last week - these are the things that have led several gay activists and gay donors to, for example, pull out of a $1,000 a plate Democratic fundraiser planned for later this month with Vice President Joe Biden.

There is a lot of discontent, as I know you're aware of. Are you still planning on attending that fundraiser? And do you feel like you understand people's anger?

BALDWIN: Not only do I understand the sense of impatience and frustration. As a lesbian, I feel it myself. And I think part of my role in attending the event next week is to convey the sense of urgency and to convey the sense of impatience and frustration that I'm hearing.

You know, when you lack basic equality and basic civil rights, we ought to be impatient. That's a mandate if you're an activist. And so I think that this is a very important message to convey, and really hopefully to get things moving a little more quickly in Congress, as well as bringing things to the president's desk to sign.

MADDOW: The president's words may make things move more quickly in Congress. What do you think would make the president move more quickly?

BALDWIN: Well, giving him the bill to sign would be the first order of business.

MADDOW: Direct to the point and totally appropriate. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, thank you so much for joining us tonight. It's really nice to have you on the show.

BALDWIN: It's a pleasure.

MADDOW: Coming up Friday night on this show, we will have live coverage of President Obama's speech to the Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner in Washington before I have to go bartend that thing for my boss.

Next on "COUNTDOWN," Keith analyzes the president's same-sex benefits decision with the president of the human rights campaign, Joe Solmonese.

And next on this show, my friend Kent Jones on the possibility of a fifth "Indiana Jones" movie. Also, Republicans versus Democrats in the annual congressional baseball game. Play ball.


MADDOW: We turn now to our sequel quality control correspondent Kent Jones in a tiny little box on the other side of the screen. Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel in a box. Actor Shia LaBeouf told reporters today that plans are in the works for a fifth "Indiana Jones" movie. Let's just say I have reservations.


(voice-over): "Indiana Jones" occupied a cherished place in my head. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is perfect, possibly the best action movie ever made. It totally blew my 16-year-old mind, and the hero's name is Jones. So psyched.

The follow-up, "Temple of Doom" had tremendous action scenes. Now, I could have done without the chilled-monkey-brain-eating stuff, but on the whole, it rocks. "Last Crusade" is even better. Sean Connery and Harrison Ford have great father-son chemistry. Scads of Nazis meet a nasty end and the Holy Grail stuff is just plain cool.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You have chosen wisely.

JONES: Then there's the fourth one -


JONES: "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." What was that? Seriously, I need help. Nukes and skulls and some kid named Mutt and Cate Blanchett in a really unfortunate wig. Harrison Ford looked kind of lost. I could relate.

So are they really making "Indiana Jones 5?" Let me say this as delicately as I can - don't do this. There's no better director that were Steven Spielberg - the best. But part of being great is knowing when to stop.

George Lucas did not follow this rule, and we ended up with Hayden Christensen ...


JONES: And Jarjar.

JARJAR BINKS, "STAR WARS" CHARACTER: It does terrible things to me.

JONES: And beyond that, I don't really want to see Harrison Ford get beat up anymore. I could handle it when he was 40. But now, it's like, "Whoa, bad guys, hang on. Leave him alone. Do you have any idea what this man has been through?"


MADDOW: That's very sad. I totally agree with you about the first one, though, Kent. The first one was essentially a perfect movie.

JONES: Oh, yes. Don't change a frame of it.

MADDOW: Snake!

JONES: Don't touch it.

MADDOW: Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes? Thank you, Kent.

JONES: Sure.

MADDOW: Tonight, I agree with you, surprisingly. All right, I have a cocktail moment for you.


MADDOW: Tonight is the 48th annual congressional baseball game. It is underway right now.


MADDOW: We just got word it's the top of the sixth and Democrats are leading Republicans 15 to 7.

JONES: Whoa!

MADDOW: Which is a big deal because Republicans have won every year since, I think, 2000. And they have sort of always win.

JONES: Heavy-hitting Democrats.


JONES: Think of that.

MADDOW: They're winning. We actually - I think we've got a couple photos. It happens at Nationals Park. This is Congressman John Boccieri of Ohio ...

JONES: Very nice -

MADDOW: ... who is getting the ball. Looks like he knows how to play. Very nice.


MADDOW: We've got one other photo. These are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from "Roll Call." This is Congressman Murphy and Congressman Murphy - Christopher Murphy of Connecticut and Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, both Democrats.

JONES: The Murphys.

MADDOW: The Murphys. The Murphy brothers.

JONES: High-five Murphys.

MADDOW: I think the Republicans might possibly be at a disadvantage this year because they don't have their ringer pitcher from last year who was John Ensign.

JONES: Oh, busy. Yes, busy.

MADDOW: Yes, staying in Vegas. Thanks, Kent.

JONES: Sure.

MADDOW: "COUNTDOWN" with Keith Olbermann starts right now.



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