Guests: Howard Fineman, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Hayes, Richard Engel, Stacey Phillips, Kent Jones
ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST: Thank you, dear friend, Keith.
And thank you for tuning in tonight.
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford finds himself in a hole and just keeps digging—the audio and analysis from “The Nation‘s” Washington editor, Chris Hayes.
The Iraq has officially changed, but that does not mean it is over. NBC‘s Richard Engel joins us and brings with him incredible reporting of U.S. troops in the midst of a firefight.
But we begin tonight with some very big election news—regarding the future of the United States Senate and what‘s probably our final opportunity to do this.
STEWART: Today, in a unanimous decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Democrat Al Franken is entitled to the election certificate he needs to assume office, and thereby, be certified as the winner of Minnesota‘s long, long, long disputed Senate race. The court ruled 5-0 against former Republican Senator Norm Coleman‘s appeal that more absentee ballots should be counted, thus clearing the way for Franken to be seated in the U.S. Senate, nearly eight months after election day 2008.
Today, Al Franken and Norm Coleman both held press conferences after the court ruling. The big question for Mr. Coleman: would he keep fighting? Would he appeal this decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court? In a word: nope.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. SEN. NORM COLEMAN ®, MINNESOTA: Ours is a government of laws, not men and women. The Supreme Court of Minnesota has spoken. I respect its decision and I will abide by its result.
It‘s time for Minnesotans to come together under the leader it has chosen and move forward. And I join all Minnesotans in congratulating our newest United States senator, Al Franken.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: About an hour after Mr. Coleman‘s concession, comedian-turned-author-turned-talk-show-host-turned-senator-elect, Al Franken, took his turn at the mike, emerging from his home to declare victory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR-ELECT AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Frannie and I are so thrilled that we can finally celebrate this victory, and I am so excited to finally be able to get to work for the people of Minnesota. Let me say thank you to the people of Minnesota for your patience, for your thoughts and prayers, and for giving me the opportunity to work for you in Washington. I can‘t wait to get started.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: As for what happens next, today‘s court ruling placed Al Franken‘s immediate future firmly in the right hand of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Franken can‘t be seated until the state of Minnesota officially declares him the winner.
Today, Governor Pawlenty, a Norm Coleman supporter, announced that he would take care of that formality. He says he‘ll abide by the court‘s ruling and sign the election certificate that officially certifies Al Franken‘s victory.
That signature, along with the signatures of Minnesota‘s secretary of state, means Al Franken will be sworn in as the next U.S. senator from Minnesota—the Democratic Party‘s filibuster-busting 60th vote in the Senate. That‘s expected to happen some time next week when the Senate returns from recess.
So, what does this all mean besides Minnesota‘s thinking Franken is good enough, smart enough and gosh darn it, they like him?
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, whose days as a junior and senior senator from Minnesota will soon be coming to an end.
Senator, thank you for your time tonight.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Well, thank you, Alison. I cannot believe Rachel is missing this day. She‘s along .
STEWART: She‘s watching from somewhere.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, that‘s right. She‘s watching somewhere, because I have been on the show many times predicting this would end by the 4th of July.
STEWART: Oh, we‘ll get to that just a moment.
STEWART: I know you got a chance to speak to Mr. Franken and Mr.
STEWART: How eager is Al Franken to get to work?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, he really has been waiting for this moment now for eight months since the election. He really wants to focus on health care, the number one issue in our country right now, to make health care more affordable for all Americans and he‘s ready to go. I think this time has actually given him time to get his staff together and to figure out exactly what he wants to focus on in Washington. So, while it has been a tremendously long time for my staff, they‘ve done double the work for the people of Minnesota, I think he‘s ready to go.
And I also wanted to add that Norm Coleman had such grace today when he conceded this election. I talked to him on the phone but I also know that this was a very difficult time for him and for his family. And he didn‘t have to do this.
I mean, his chances would have been small but he could have gone up to the U.S. Supreme Court. He could have gone to federal court, and he did what he felt was right for the state of Minnesota.
So, all in all, our people have been patient, but they were ready for this to end. And it‘s a good day today for our state.
STEWART: Mr. Franken also mentioned how gracious Mr. Coleman was as well.
But the victory does give Democrats 60 seats in the Senate. Does this increase the pressure on you and your party to deliver on major items like, you mentioned health care, energy reform? But to do so in a way that doesn‘t result in watered-down legislation.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, you know, I think the pressure is always there. The pressure is from the American people. They voted for change when they voted for President Obama and for change in Congress. They want to see that change.
I‘m still hopeful—especially with health care and energy—we‘re going to see some Republican support for this legislation. This is early on. There‘s going to be a lot of back and forth. But this isn‘t about one party. This really is about America.
I was just up in northern Minnesota, at a small company this morning, a small business that makes backpacks—and the number one issue they brought up to me was health care. Twenty-two thousand dollars the owner was paying for his family. And you see this all over the country. And people need more affordable health care.
And I believe, in the end, there will be some bipartisan support from this legislation. You‘re not going to see it right away. This is a humongous issue, 17 percent of our economy. And you‘re going to see a lot of going back and forth—some for bad reasons, but a lot for good reasons, as people try to get to the best solution for the country.
STEWART: Yes, those first person stories really grab you every time you speak to someone who‘s in trouble.
You mentioned earlier today that Al Franken‘s wife Frannie had her bag packed for months, has been sitting by the bed in anticipation of this decision. He must have a lot of catching up to do once he finally gets sworn in.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, you know, I always loved that image. She had this bag packed with her toothbrush just in case it happened in the middle of the night and he had to rush to Washington to vote. Like an expectant mother, she was ready to go.
But I will say—he has been waiting to do this work and there‘s so much to be done. I believe he‘s going to be assigned to the health committee. So, he‘ll be right there up front and center, working on this important issue.
And, you know, I have told him, I don‘t think he needs to hear this. So many people that have come in, that have come from a background—famed background, from Hillary Clinton to Fred Thompson, another actor. They have all said that just getting to work, doing your job—and I think also in the case of our state, when it comes to health care, representing the people of our state .
STEWART: And finally .
KLOBUCHAR: . and what‘s best for our state is going to make a difference.
STEWART: Before we let you go, I just want to make sure I get this piece of tape in. You mentioned, you said it at the top of the interview, on April 29th. This is what you said about Al Franken. You told Rachel this .
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KLOBUCHAR: You know, I keep giving you predictions .
RACHEL MADDOW, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW HOST: Yes.
KLOBUCHAR: Remember, when I said it would be done when the ice melted and, OK, now, this is my last kitschy prediction.
KLOBUCHAR: When the corn is knee high on the 4th of July.
MADDOW: When the corn .
KLOBUCHAR: And if it‘s not done by then, yes, then I‘m going to be mad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: So, I think you‘re pretty happy then, not mad.
KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. I don‘t have to be mad over the holiday weekend.
My family is very, very pleased about that.
STEWART: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota—thanks for your time tonight, Senator.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Thanks, Alison.
STEWART: Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman.
He‘s also “Newsweek‘s” senior Washington correspondent.
Howard, nice to see you.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Alison.
STEWART: This will be the first time since 1979 that one party has controlled 60 seats in the U.S. Senate. So I‘m going to break it to a two-parter. What‘s the political significance of this win and the psychological significance of Franken‘s win?
FINEMAN: Well, first, let me say, it‘s great to be here on election night, you know? Finally, we can say what the shape of the Senate is, and that‘s to answer the first part of your question, 60, 6-0.
Now, it‘s true that two Democratic senators are in poor health, Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. They both have offices right off the floor. They need to be close because it‘s hard for them to vote, to show up to vote. Then there are some Democrats who might stray, whether it‘s Arlen Specter, the newly-Democrat senator from Pennsylvania or some other Democrats, like Ben Nelson of Nebraska or even Evan Bayh of Indiana.
But the expectations are there now—as you said earlier to Senator Klobuchar. In the Democratic grassroots, that health care the way Democrats at the grassroots want it, environmental change the way Democrats at the grassroots want it, tax changes that they want, other changes that they want are going to come through a Congress that is overwhelmingly Democratic now, and that‘s going to be a challenge.
And it‘s interesting, you know, the last time the Democrats had this kind of majority, you mentioned 30 years ago, while Jimmy Carter was president, and Jimmy Carter had more trouble dealing with his own party, divisions in his own party, than he ever had with Republicans.
STEWART: Franken downplayed the idea that he would be the 60th member of the Democratic Caucus, but he‘s going to be the second senator from Minnesota. How long can that last?
FINEMAN: Well, I think—I think, Senator-elect Franken wants it to be that way. He‘s not giving any interviews tonight I know, but I think it‘s safe to say that, in addition, to being relieved, he‘s determined to be a senator for Minnesotans. That‘s how he got himself elected by that overwhelming 312-vote margin.
He did it get going to every county, to every Democratic Farmer Labor committee meeting, learning the agriculture industry from the ground up, learning transportation from the ground up, learning the iron range from the ground up. I think he really was impressed by that. I have known him for 20 years, and I know that he really sank down into the roots of Minnesota to learn it from the ground up. I think he wants to do that.
But the reality is that he‘s on the fault line of American politics as this kind of legendary 60th vote—even though the math won‘t always work that way. And the Republicans are going to focus on him. They‘re going to try to make him a poster boy for an overwhelming and overweening Democratic majority. That‘s already the strategy they are putting out.
And Al is going to have to be as disciplined in the Senate, keep his head down in the Senate—just as he did in Minnesota and during this recount.
STEWART: One last question for you. Over the past six months, President Obama has been forced to compromise on legislative items—like the stimulus package—much to chagrin of the base, the Democratic base. Is there more pressure on the president now to not let legislation be watered down because he‘s got this magic 60?
FINEMAN: Yes, I think so. And they‘ll keep saying it‘s not magic, it‘s not magic.
But that‘s not the way the people at the grassroots are going to view it. They have long since given up on the idea of bipartisanship and that kind of change in Washington. They want the kind of change that comports with their views on health care, the environment, taxes and so forth.
I think there will be more pressure on the president and, therefore, more pressure on Senator-elect Al Franken.
STEWART: Howard Fineman—thanks for your time tonight, Howard.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Alison.
STEWART: As the number of elected Republicans shrinks by another one, Norm Coleman, it‘s fair to take count of whom they have left in a way of future leadership. Not counting anymore—South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, particularly after his admission that his extramarital activities weren‘t limited to his Argentinean mistress. Bye-bye, thank you for playing.
But what about Sarah Palin? The latest severely unflattering magazine piece about her is out, but at this point, that may leave her in pretty good shape. Chris Hayes of “The Nation” joins me next.
Stay with us.
STEWART: One increasingly well-known Republican might literally be heading into exile with a little help from herself. Republican Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota publicly and loudly declared she will not fully fill out her 2010 census form because she fears what will be done with the information and who will be collecting it. If her constituents follow her lead, she can lose her job.
“The Minneapolis/St. Paul Star-Tribune” points out that the Census‘ census determines the allocation of congressional seats in a state. So, if even a few thousand Minnesotans follow Representative Bachmann‘s lead and fail to fill out the census, Minnesota can lose one of its eight seats and Congresswoman Bachmann‘s district is one of the likely candidates to go bye-bye.
Careful what you politic for.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: Even if it‘s a place I could never go, if I wanted to know that I knew that I knew, if that‘s more important to me than running for president, that‘s my prerogative as a human being. I said this to her down there, I said, “I am fully aware of the price. I‘m fully aware of the costs. And I‘m willing to—to do that.”
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STEWART: That was South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford speaking to “The Associated Press.” And if it wasn‘t already crystal clear, he is in love, love struck, fell out of the love tree and hit every branch on the way down.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SANFORD: This is a whole lot more than a simple affair. It‘s a love story—a forbidden one, a tragic one. But a love story at the end of the day.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STEWART: In an expansive interview with the AP, Mr. Sanford turned the drip, drip, drip of new details into an open fire hydrant of TMI. For starters, he admitted that Maria Chapur, his Argentine mistress, isn‘t the only other woman with whom he has had, let‘s say, contact. Governor Sanford said he, quote, “let his guard down” and, quote, “crossed lines” with other women, but that he never crossed what he called ultimately, quote, “the ultimate line and the sex line”—our guest has his head in his hands with that one—with anyone but Chapur. Sanford also said he saw Chapur more frequently than previously admitted. He now says there are about five encounters over the last year, including one in New York, which was chaperoned by a spiritual adviser and designed to end this relationship, or not. Sanford says Chapur is his soul mate, but that he‘s trying to fall back in love with his wife, which is surely just what Mrs. Jenny Sanford has been dying to hear. She‘ll also be thrilled to know that Urbandictionary.com has declared that hiking in Appalachia is the new slang term meaning to have an extramarital affair.
To add to the still governor‘s woes, South Carolina‘s attorney general ordered an investigation into some travel records to determine whether Mr. Sanford violated any laws or misused state funds. So in the course of about a week, political wonks stopped wondering whether Mark Sanford will run for president in 2012 and started wondering whether he‘ll still be governor in August of 2009.
But if there‘s one Republican governor who still seems to be very securely situated on the 2012 short list, it‘s former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Although some former senior aides to the McCain campaign anonymously spilled their guts to “Vanity Fair‘s” Todd Purdum, who writes, quote, “they can‘t quite believe that for two frantic months last fall, caught in a Bermuda Triangle of a campaign, their worked their tail off to try to elect as vice president of the United States someone who by mid-October they believed for certain was nowhere near ready for the job, and might never be,” end quote. The article also relayed the story about Governor Palin signing the Lord‘s name in email. Can you do that? “When Trig was born,” Palin wrote an email letter to friends and relatives describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig‘s health issues, she finished the note not by signing her name, but in God‘s name. She signed it, “Trig‘s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”
Attention all 48 other governor, you might want to think before you hit “send.”
Joining us now, Chris Hayes, Washington editor for “The Nation” magazine.
Chris, thank you so much for being here and putting your head in your hands. I know, as you listen to what the South Carolina governor had to say, I mean, despite the smaller issue of local South Carolina politics, not small to them, but there is a bigger national issue about who is a contender still in 2012, given all of these revelations: Senator Ensign, Vitter, others.
What‘s your take?
CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION: Well, at some basic human level, I think I feel kind of empathy for this whole sordid mess and just the mortifying nature of its unwinding in all cases.
You know, love and marriage are complicated things, and yet at the same time, this is the party and the movement that has chosen to prosecute this unceasing sort of water virtue around sexual morality, over a range of policy-seers—including over who has the right to be married and when people should have sex—as sort of ordained by the state. And, you know, they‘re being hoisted by their own petard. Collectively, you wonder, at some point, if they‘ll recognize that it probably wasn‘t such a great idea to make some kind of signal marital virtue, this threshold issue for public office.
STEWART: This is the glass house syndrome.
HAYES: Yes, exactly.
STEWART: Now, I want to talk about the Sarah Palin article. Did you get a chance to read through it?
HAYES: I did. Yes.
STEWART: I wonder, first of all, why would McCain staffers at this point let loose about Sarah Palin?
HAYES: I don‘t know. I mean, clearly, there‘s a lot of resentment that built up that keeps ebbing out. And it‘s strange. There is another McCain sort of inside McCain (inaudible) in “GQ.” It‘s a little unclear why this is coming out now. Now, maybe people feel safe enough or maybe people that recognize her in this sort of intra-party, you know, factualism as a real threat for the nomination.
STEWART: Let‘s talk about that a little bit, because I‘m sure, in Sarah Palin‘s camp and the people who adore Sarah Palin, are thinking, well, I don‘t read “Vanity Fair.” I don‘t need—that‘s that liberal elite‘s .
HAYES: Yes, right.
STEWART: Few people who read “Vanity Fair.” So, does the McCain camp airing its dirty laundry in something like “Vanity Fair,” not to pick on the magazine .
STEWART: I mean, it jives with her rapport with her base?
HAYES: Sure. Yes. Yes, exactly.
STEWART: And whether she‘s got aware of that.
HAYES: Yes, exactly right. I don‘t think it hurts. I mean, I think, you know, she has become the sort of bizarrely iconic and polarizing figure in American life, to a degree that I almost find difficult to understand.
I mean, she‘s kind of a lousy governor from Alaska at the end of the day. And I think there‘s a lot of—there‘s a lot of unfair stuff I think that‘s built into the sort of critique of her and a lot of totally fair stuff. And I think that people have this strong very visceral reaction to her as this iconic figure that‘s only going to be reconfirmed by these kinds of attacks.
STEWART: Rather than really focusing on her duties and her job as governor.
HAYES: Yes. Does anyone know what the heck Sarah Palin has done as governor of Alaska of the last nine months? I mean, I don‘t, and I follow the news pretty closely.
STEWART: But that doesn‘t stop her from being a major player in 2012.
HAYES: Right. Yes.
STEWART: Or maybe you think otherwise.
HAYES: Well, yes. I do think that—I mean, I would like to think that at a certain level, like substance and governance matters. And people are going to, you know, be elected as the president of the United States—and maybe this is sort of willfully optimistic—based on having some substantive expertise that people feel prepares them for the job.
STEWART: All right. Let‘s say Sarah Palin decides, “Nope, I‘m just going to stay in Alaska. Yes, I‘m going to stay in Alaska.” Who else could be major players in 2012?
HAYES: Well, gosh, I mean, I think that, you know, we‘ve seen one by one people fall off. I think it‘s worth recognizing the fact that, at this point, in the last cycle, no one thought Barack Obama was going to be the president of the United States.
HAYES: And the same was true of Bill Clinton when he was—he won. I mean, it‘s always very hard to tell this early out. We‘ve seen a whole sort of host of people that people talked about, like Huntsman, who was whisked off to China. Obviously, the Sanford, Ensign, there‘s Palin. Mitt Romney sort of emerged as a very kind of early front-runner just because he hasn‘t committed adultery very publicly.
But, you know, presidential politics, one thing we‘ve learned, is incredibly unpredictable. I will say, the Republican Party has a long history of nominating the next in line. And if you take the safe bet, that would be Mitt Romney.
STEWART: Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine—thanks for being with us in the studio tonight.
HAYES: Thanks so much, Alison.
STEWART: Coming up: As U.S. troops drawdown in Iraq, more firefights in Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NBC‘s Richard Engel with Viper Company as they fight the Taliban—next.
And after another day of impossible to follow news and rumors about Michael Jackson‘s children, his estate, his funeral—we‘ll do our best to sort it out in short order. We promise.
STEWART: Still ahead: Six years after the war begun, U.S. troops are finally starting to withdraw from Iraq. NBC‘s Richard Engel joins us with more on that and he will share some incredible footage from another war, as the U.S. troops take on the Taliban in Afghanistan. That is coming up.
But first, it‘s time for a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
It‘s the coup day two. The interim government in Honduras faced more pressure today as ousted President Manuel Zelaya received huge applause from the United Nations General Assembly after it condemned the military coup that forced him to leave the country in his pajamas Sunday morning. The delegates approved a nonbinding resolution that calls on U.N. member states not to recognize any government other than Zelaya‘s. The World Bank followed suit and, quote, “paused” its lending for development programs in Honduras.
Mr. Zelaya said he plans to return to Honduras on Thursday with a diplomatic shield that includes top officials from the U.N., the Organization from American States and the presidents of Argentina and Ecuador. But their arrival will likely be greeted by thousands of anti-Zelaya protesters and even possible arrests.
The interim government‘s foreign minister told local media that Zelaya is not banned from entering Honduras as a common citizen and not as president, but may be arrested on charges of violating the constitution and other crimes. Zelaya said today he intends to finish his current term as president and would not run again—even though he was expelled from his country after trying to engineer a change to the Honduran constitution to let presidents seek re-election after a single term.
So stay tuned.
Next up: No go for the birthers, the organization that continues to believe and assert that President Obama is not qualified to be president because he does not have an American birth certificate. The editor of the WorldNetDaily.com says he tried—note the word “tried”—to buy a full-page color ad on the page two of “The Honolulu Star Bulletin” news section, headlined, “Help Wanted: Information Leading to the Truth about Barack Obama‘s Birth.”
Joseph Farah was willing to pay over $7,000 for the ad, however, he says his offer was rejected by the paper in the president‘s home state because the ad was, quote, “political.” Farah‘s Web site displayed what he wanted for the ad: physical evidence and testimony from anyone who witnessed Obama‘s birth, from doctors, nurses and others who were in the delivery room almost 48 years ago—and having been in the delivery room recently, the physical evidence part could get really, really gross.
Farah had already issued a $10,000 reward for anyone who can provide evidence of having been at Obama‘s birth. He‘s seeking donations to the cause to make coming forward, quote, “irresistible to possible witnesses.” Farah has even initiated a national billboard campaign asking, “Where‘s the birth certificate?”
Well, here‘s what President Obama‘s certificate of live birth looks like. So, do we get the reward? Because THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW can really use 10 grand. All right. I guess not.
Finally, to the smallest state with the longest name, the State of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations. Yes, even way north of the Mason-Dixon line. Farming settlements in 1636 colonial Rhode Island were called plantations. The eight words in the official state name are rarely used, appearing on a state seal, some stationery and state documents like marriage license
But the word “plantations” is loaded, conjuring up to some people images of slavery and the role the state played in the slave trade. State Democratic Representative Joseph Alameda is sponsoring a bill to drop “Providence Plantations” from the official name. He‘s been pushing for the name change for 10 years but opponents say it would be an unnecessary revision of the state‘s history.
Last week, the state Senate and House voted on separate bills allowing voters to decide if they want to change the name to just the “State of Rhode Island.” The statewide referendum will be authorized once both chambers adopt one of those bills and it will probably be on the ballot next November. Not exactly like having the confederate flag flying at your statehouse, but not exactly not like that either.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger. And you can know that our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Well, their work is not done and they are still not home. But today marks a milestone in Iraq. After six years, three months and 12 days, United States troops have withdrawn from Iraq cities and handed over authority to the Iraqi government in accordance with an agreement signed during the Bush administration.
133,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq but they are all supposed to be out by the end of 2011. President Obama making it clear today that Iraqis are now responsible for their country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Iraq‘s future is in the hands of its own people, and Iraq‘s leaders must now make some hard choices necessary to resolve key political questions, to advance opportunity and to provide security for their towns and their cities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: In Iraq, the prime minister declared today “National Sovereignty Day” and organized the first Iraqi military parade since the occupation. But in a reminder of how fragile Iraq remains, a huge car bomb exploded in the northern city of Kirkuk today, killing at least 27 people and wounding dozens more.
And yesterday, four U.S. soldiers died from combat-related injuries in Baghdad, bringing the total number of Americans killed since the start of the war to 4,321 with more than 31,000 injured.
NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent Richard Engel has covered Iraq since the war began - before the war began. Richard, I can remember sitting at home in my living room and you were a freelancer with another network and hearing you -
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: ABC.
ENGEL: They can be mentioned.
STEWART: OK. And I remember Peter Jennings, who since passed away, saying to you, “If you‘re in danger, get out of the way.” I remember it very clearly. You were young and your voice was shaking.
ENGEL: It seems like a long time ago.
STEWART: It does. Is the war now beginning to be over thinking about from where you were until today?
ENGEL: No. And I think right now is actually a very dangerous phase, because U.S. forces are entering into a - adopting a new strategy and actually a strategy that was tried before that didn‘t work very well.
So they‘re consolidating again back on a few major bases and that ultimately is what caused a lot of the problems that the American soldiers didn‘t have great contact with the street. They didn‘t know what was going on.
And it was only after more forces came in, spread themselves out on little outposts, that they were able to win informants, get information and police the streets. This is an important day for the Iraqis.
Their sense of national pride is encouraged, and no one likes to see their cities occupied. But most everyone expects that the violence is going to go up.
STEWART: Pride can only take you so far. Are the forces prepared, Iraqi forces?
ENGEL: No, no they‘re not. If American troops left right now, the Iraqi security forces would crumble. They can‘t sustain themselves. The Americans provide all of the air support, a lot of the intelligence, a lot of the logistics. Many Iraqi troops live on joint bases with the Americans. Payroll issues are a problem.
So U.S. troops are now in this kind of awkward role where they‘re living on the bases, providing a lot of the money and support and training and infrastructure but are supposed to be pretending that they don‘t exist. And I think that‘s an uncomfortable role.
STEWART: Let‘s take a turn and talk about the other war if Afghanistan. You recently spent some time in - help me if I pronounce this incorrectly - the Korengal Valley?
ENGEL: Korengal Valley.
STEWART: Korengal Valley near the eastern border. Tell us a little about this area and why it‘s significant.
ENGEL: Well, I hate to say it, why it‘s significant is because there are so many valleys like this. This is a very dangerous valley. American troops happen to be there. The reason they are there is to create a blocking position.
They‘re there to fight so that the Taliban will hopefully stay in this area and out of more populated centers and towns and villages in the surrounding areas.
STEWART: Tell me a little bit about the group of people you spent time with.
ENGEL: We were there with this blocking position, whose goal is to fight about 140 soldiers from Viper Company. They are now actually transitioning out there. They‘re heading home. And they get into fire fights almost every single day.
On average, sometimes it was three or four a day. And we were in one of those fire fights and was with a soldier who documented what he saw and told us in his own words what it was like.
STEWART: Let‘s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENGEL (voice-over): After marching for four hours through the mountains and villages of the Korengal Valley, the soldiers of Viper Company take up a position in a destroyed house on a hilltop surrounded by peaks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-two and 23, over.
ENGEL: Their plan - to hide in the house, wait, watch, and ambush Taliban fighters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, we‘re set up as well.
ENGEL: But the Taliban were also watching the American soldiers move in, and they were waiting to attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, give the L.T. some cover.
ENGEL: With a video camera strapped to his helmet, Sergeant Christopher Thompson recorded a rarely-seen perspective, what the war in Afghanistan looks like when you‘re fighting it.
SERGEANT CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON, DOCUMENTED WAR IN AFGHANISTAN: First, we heard a single shot, and then a shot immediately afterwards. The amount of machine fire we‘re taking and AK-47 fire - it was a lot. You could hear the rounds crackling off the walls and buildings around us so that fire was really effective.
You don‘t know exactly where it‘s coming from. So that‘s your first thing as you move to a place where you can identify where the fire is coming from. And shoot towards that area where we think the enemy is to try to keep them down.
ENGEL (on camera): Are you scared?
THOMPSON: There‘s a little bit of fear that comes to mind, especially when the bullets get really close. I try to overcome that by putting fire back on the enemy.
ENGEL (voice-over): the soldiers think they‘re being shot at from several hilltops.
(on camera): They‘ve been taking incoming rounds from at least two positions on this hilltop. Some of the rounds were bouncing right off the rocks around us. Now, they are trying to put out as much fire as they can to try and stop the attackers.
(voice-over): The troops call in air support, mortar and artillery. But soon they fired so many bullets and grenades, they have to conserve ammunition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slow your rate of fire! Conserve ammo.
THOMPSON: We were starting to get to the point where we couldn‘t maintain the level of fire that we were putting out. You really don‘t want to be, you know, out of ammo when you‘re out there. It‘s going to be a bad day if you run out of ammo.
ENGEL (on camera): Ever happen?
THOMPSON: No, we‘ve never run out.
ENGEL: How can you describe what it feels like to be in that moment?
THOMPSON: The best way I can describe that is that you have an extreme, alerted sense. You‘re really alert to what‘s going on. Everything that‘s moving around you, every sound you hear is just drawing your attention.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire to the left of the draw, now!
THOMPSON: And it feels like you‘re just processing things in your brain much faster.
ENGEL: How many fire fights like that one have you been in?
THOMPSON: I‘ve lost count a while ago but probably at least more than 50 or so. This fight - people don‘t understand like, looking at it, no Americans got wounded. My gunner Oxman, he was taking rounds right over his head. They were cracking easily six inches over his head.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See where the smoke is? The gray smoke? Shoot it!
THOMPSON: This could have turned into, you know, a situation where we lost American lives. The fact that we came out on top is excellent. I always think about afterwards how close we came to it being a disaster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: One of the things, the reason they tape these days fire fights is so that they can learn from them. Did they explain do you something that they‘ve learned that‘s really helped them maybe save their lives?
ENGEL: Well, this was his personal camera. It‘s not an official army policy. He rigged this onto his helmet himself and takes these videos so that he can watch them afterwards, see what he did, see what he did wrong, maybe identify where some of the incoming rounds were hitting and just review it so that he could do better next time because there‘s almost always another - there‘s almost always a next time.
STEWART: Richard Engel, NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent, thank you so much. Great report. It‘s fantastic.
Coming up, were Michael Jackson‘s kids even his? And what happens to them now if they‘re not? We‘ll boil down the latest development in this increasingly strange story, next.
STEWART: Remember Lt. Dan Choi, the West Point graduate Arab linguist, an Iraq War veteran who came out publicly on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW in March?
Today, a military board in Syracuse, New York recommended firing Lt. Choi even though every witness on both sides said he was an asset to the unit.
We reached Lt. Choi a few minutes ago and here‘s what he told us about the decision, quote, “I‘m disappointed but I need to send a message to my soldiers that if you get knocked down, get yourself back up and keep fighting. What kind of officer or leader would I be if I gave up?”
Lt. Choi says he will appeal the decision all the way to the Secretary of Defense and Supreme Court if he has to. So far, more than 12,500 service members have been discharged from the military under the “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” policy.
STEWART: And now, the day in Michael Jackson‘s latest immediate legacy news. Plans are apparently in the works for a public viewing of Mr. Jackson‘s body at Neverland Ranch on Friday and for a private family funeral on Sunday.
Meanwhile, today thousands gathered at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem for a tribute. Also today, we are seeing for the first time some of the last pictures of Michael Jackson, taken just two days before his death, during rehearsals for his upcoming tour.
Meanwhile, NBC News confirms a will drafted by Mr. Jackson in 2002, believed to have been his last, has emerged, and it ignores his father. The will, if it is determined to be binding, would share Michael Jackson‘s estate among his mother, three children and a number of charities.
As for the news which NBC News cannot confirm - there‘s a lot of it. “The Los Angeles Times” reports that the will would give Jackson‘s mother custody of the children, children that may or may not be biologically related to the Jacksons.
“TMZ.com,” which broke the news of Jackson‘s death, said today neither Jackson nor ex-wife Debbie Rowe are the biological parents of any of the three children. Instead, Rowe acted as a surrogate for Prince Michael and Paris.
But Rowe‘s lawyer denied that in a statement to NBC News, quote, “The vast majority of what is out there is untrue. Particularly hurtful and insidious is the most recent rumor - which is entirely false, concerning the maternity of the children. Ms. Rowe is the biological mother of the two oldest children,” end quote.
As for the youngest child, Prince Michael Jackson II, NBC affiliate KNFD and TMZ both obtained his birth certificate, which lists his father as Michael Jackson and his mother as blank. TMZ also reporting that Michael Jackson never filed any papers to formally adopt any of the children, but documents outlining the birth arrangements for all three children do exist.
The three children remain at the family compound just outside of Los Angeles with Jackson‘s mother Katherine, who‘s been named temporary guardian. But what will happen to them next?
Joining us now from Los Angeles, family attorney Stacey Phillips.
Phillips represented Britney Spears‘ interest in her custody battle.
Stacey, thank you for walking us through. It seems pretty complicated at this point. I want to talk about the will first, the 2002 will. If it does suggest Jackson wanted custody to go to his mother, Mrs. Jackson, does that make the guardianship process less complicated?
STACEY PHILLIPS, FAMILY ATTORNEY: It does make it less complicated, but it is certainly not dispositive. It‘s just sort of a wish list based on the only person who had real feelings about this, which is their father Michael Jackson, saying to the court and anybody else who would listen, “This is what I would like for my children.” And the court will absolutely take that into consideration.
And given that Katherine has temporary guardianship, it will certainly help the process, and maybe make it so Debbie Rowe or anybody else stays away.
STEWART: Now, the Associated Press is reporting that Michael Jackson‘s 2002 will puts his assets in a trust. What does that mean and why would he do that?
PHILLIPS: That would be the exact smart thing to do for somebody of Michael‘s stature. Because generally speaking, if you put assets in a trust and it‘s done properly, you can avoid probate.
One would hope with a man of his magnitude with all his terrific lawyers - certainly John Branca is a fabulous lawyer - they would set up his estate in a manner to avoid paying unnecessary taxes and streamline the process. So it was my hope that Mr. Jackson would have a will and trust, and that maybe the case.
STEWART: And would the trust keep the money in the family line to the children?
PHILLIPS: The trust could do a whole variety of things based on Michael Jackson wanted. It could set up a trust for the children. It could provide for charity. It could provide for his family. It‘s just a vehicle, different but similar to a will that provides where his estate will go once it‘s net of taxes and other debt.
STEWART: Now, if Michael Jackson is not biologically related to any of his children and he didn‘t formally adopt them, will the Jackson family lose its claim of custody?
PHILLIPS: Absolutely not. But the Jackson family does not have the right to claim custody. They only have the right to claim guardianship.
The only person who has the potential right to claim custody is Debbie because she was the mother of the two older children. Whether she is the egg donor or the not, she was married to Michael. She carried the children and by virtue of that, she is the mother and he is the father.
Blanket is a different story because he doesn‘t have any known parents and presumably if there was a surrogacy contract, that surrogacy contract is ironclad and gives the sperm donor and egg donor no rights any different than you or me.
I would hope the way that Michael set that up provides that he is the father. But this is the only parent that Blanket has known and the only parent the older children have known.
And Commissioner Beckloff who, thank god for his background, these children are very lucky because he was a family law commissioner so he has dealt with custody issues. He‘s really smart. He is really caring and he has the benefit of being, with a background from the family law court and having been on the probate court so it doesn‘t get any better than Michael(sic) Beckloff.
STEWART: One procedural question - what will happen at the next hearing on guardianship of the children?
PHILLIPS: Well, what happens at the next hearing is dependent on if anybody else comes forward. If nobody else comes forward seeking guardianship or custody as Debbie could, of the children, then presumably Katherine will be rubber-stamped as the continuing temporary guardian or as the permanent guardian.
But again, in family law probate, there is no such thing as permanency. If something were to happen to Katherine or the best did not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with her or there was a material change in circumstance, custody, guardianship is always modifiable.
STEWART: Family law attorney Stacey Phillips, thank you so much for explaining all of that to us. We appreciate it.
PHILLIPS: My pleasure.
STEWART: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith asks author activist Dan Savage about President Obama‘s apparent stalling on “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”
And next on this show, Kent Jones shows us Bon Jovi as you‘ve never seen him before. And trust me, you haven‘t.
STEWART: We turn now to our Jersey-Tehran cultural exchange correspondent Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Alison. You know, people are always asking me, when will Jon Bon Jovi finally record something in Farsi? The wait is over.
Bon Jovi wanted to record something to show solidarity with the protestors in Iran. So he went into a recording studio in L.A. with the Iran superstar Andy Madadian and Richie Sambora to record a new version of the old Benny King hit, “Stand By Me” in Farsi, OK? Jersey rocks. You‘ve got to see this.
STEWART: I‘m impressed with Bon Jovi‘s Farsi and the guy‘s English.
JONES: It‘s all good. I want to hear “Livin‘ On a Prayer” in Farsi.
STEWART: Can I have a cocktail moment?
JONES: Oh, I was hoping you would say that.
STEWART: All right. It‘s official. The Obamas are going to go to Martha‘s Vineyard, all right?
JONES: Oh, very nice.
STEWART: Now, this is my favorite part of the political story. The Obamas are going to be in one of the most diverse resort areas. That means the part where the black people live. My family has had a house 40 years, just so you know. Kids, girls - get your parents take you to Mad Martha‘s ice cream. Forget the organic garden. It‘s good.
JONES: Obamas are in town.
STEWART: They‘re in town. Kent, thanks a lot.
STEWART: “COUNTDOWN” is up now.
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