Guests: Jon Ralston, Jeff Sharlet, Richard Clarke, Richard Engel, Kent Jones
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. I, of course, am just trying to figure out how to get into that pattern of generosity without doing what the Hampton family appears to have had to do to get there.
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: OK. I‘m going home. Thanks, bye.
MADDOW: Bye, Keith. Thank you.
MADDOW: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
As Keith intimated, the John Ensign scandal tipped over into definitely not your “garden variety” sex scandal territory today. We will talk with the Vegas reporter at the center of this story and to the man who secretly infiltrated the secretive religious group that also features in this scandal, and that has dragged another conservative Republican senator besides John Ensign into this scandal.
We will also be joined this hour by former counterterrorism czar, Richard Clarke. And NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel will be here to talk about today‘s latest round of protests in Iran.
That is all coming up in what is shaping out to be a very, very hour on this show.
But we start tonight with new details and new admissions from Republican Senator John Ensign today about this sex and ethics scandal that appears to be starting to consume him.
If a politician has an affair, that in itself is not necessarily newsworthy—I mean, not anymore than it would be if it happened to any other human being. A politician‘s affair becomes newsworthy if that politician has built his or her career on the basis of his or her own superior personal morality, on crusading against the perceived comparative immorality of the rest of us rubble. In that case, a private affair become as big newsworthy political problem. It becomes hypocrisy.
And that type of big newsworthy political problem crosses over into a full-blown scandal like the one you‘re seeing now in Nevada when you add in aggravating factors like shtooping your subordinates, shtooping the family members of your subordinates. The exchange of money in conjunction with shtooping anyone, even the potential use of officials to pay what really looks a lot like hush money, even if you‘re calling it a gift.
And that‘s what we may have now in the case of the John Ensign affair. Today, the aggressive non-partisan watchdog group, CREW, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, they announced that they‘re asking the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into whether or not Ensign illegally funneled campaign money to his mistress in the form of a $25,000-plus severance package.
The revelation that Ensign‘s mistress got a $25,000-plus severance package came from the mistress‘ husband during an interview that aired last night in Nevada. We will have much more on that in a minute.
After the $25,000 severance claim and the request for a criminal investigation into that severance claim, John Ensign‘s lawyer today released a bombshell statement that it wasn‘t just $25,000 worth of severance that was paid to his mistress. Cindy Hampton. It was actually a lot more than that. It was $96,000. The kicker—that $96,000 was paid not out of campaign funds but by John Ensign‘s mom and dad—to his mistress and her family.
Senator Ensign‘s lawyer confirmed today that, quote, “After the senator told his parents about the affair, his parents decided to make the gift out of concern for the well-being of longtime family friends.” Can you imagine the phone call? “Mom, dad, here‘s the thing.”
I know politicians are really good at asking for money, but—in terms of the legality and the ethics here, Ensign never reported any big severance payment to his mistress. So, if he had to pay her a big severance payment out of his campaign funds, say, more than $25,000, because that‘s the felony threshold for that particular crime, he would be looking at five years in prison.
Now, if what‘s been called a severance payment wasn‘t paid out of campaign funds and it was actually just paid by check from the senator‘s mom—frankly, that‘s not exactly a frequently asked question on common “Senateethicsqueries.org.” So, we‘re going to have to leave that to the experts in terms of what its exact implications are if, in fact, is true.
The major question—big political question is whether or not John Ensign is feeling the pressure to resign, as the details about the affair and the dollars that followed the affair slowly, slowly, slowly dribble out. Today, the senator said that he wouldn‘t resign.
But there are other people who still need to answer for their part in what really looks like a cash for silence and continued shtooping scheme. As far as we know, this whole thing appeared to be a very transactional relationship. What John Ensign received was—let‘s call it love, and also the fact that the affair was kept quiet.
What John Ensign gave was cash—lots and lots of cash. And it doesn‘t seem like it was his own. He gave campaign cash to his mistress, Cindy Hampton.
She worked on Ensign‘s re-election committee as well as his political action committee. We know her pay was doubled at both jobs during the time of the affair.
Senator Ensign also gave national Republican Party cash to his mistress‘ teenage son, who was given a job at National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Ensign was the chairman of.
John Ensign directed even more cash to the husband of his mistress through a job he set him up with at a consulting firm run by two of Ensign‘s NRSC staffers. Then Senator Ensign arranged for a top campaign contributor to hire his mistress‘ husband at that donors company which is called Allegiant Air.
And finally, as we learned today, John Ensign got mom and dad to give a lot of cash directly to the Hampton family: $96,000 paid in $12,000 increments for some reason. It was all in exchange, apparently, for continuing to receive—love and silence from those involved.
That is the scenario as we understand it now.
And because Republican politics are sometimes hard to understand by people who are not participants in them, I have to tell you that none of these people whose money and resources and jobs—John Ensign apparently directed to this woman who he was sleeping with and her family—none of these people seemed to mind. The NRSC is not complaining. Campaign contributors so far not complain.
Who‘s complaining? CREW, the people who are watching to see if this is potentially criminal, and the people who aren‘t receiving the money anymore—Doug and Cindy Hampton. Cindy is now calling on John Ensign to resign from the Senate and Doug Hampton has come forward for the first time in an exclusive interview with a Nevada cable TV show.
Mr. Hampton says he thinks John Ensign ought to resign and he also thinks that he and his family deserves some restitution. In part, because he says, both he and his wife lost their jobs with John Ensign because of this affair. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN RALSTON, TV HOST: You believe you need to be made financially whole, because John Ensign destroyed your ability to make a living. Don‘t you believe that?
DOUG HAMPTON, CINDY HAMPTON‘S HUSBAND: Yes, there‘s no question about that.
His personal pursuit of Cindy spilled over into, “Hey, I‘m really sorry that you guys have to leave the organization. This isn‘t working.” The creation of the consulting, November Inc., all of those tentacles were birthed because John needed things to go down like this. He was still in pursuit of Cindy. This was—he needed me out of the organization, and Cindy ultimately was asked to leave, basically by the family.
We talk about all of the things that have taken place as a result of John‘s actions, and leadership, and the decisions that he initiated and things that were covered up to help this happen, and to keep this from coming out and to keep this from taking place, is really genuinely impacted my family greatly. It‘s unbelievable.
RALSTON: Do you think he should resign?
RALSTON: Really, why?
HAMPTON: Because I don‘t think his decision-making in the last few years is that of a United States senator.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is Jon Ralston, columnist for “The Las Vegas Sun” and host of “Face to Face with Jon Ralston.” He, of course, interviewed Doug Hampton exclusively.
Mr. Ralston, congratulations on your big scoop. Thanks very much for joining us tonight.
RALSTON: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Today, Senator Tom Coburn said that Doug Hampton should not be believed. When FOX News received the letter from Mr. Hampton about the affair back in June, they said they didn‘t run with the story in part because they didn‘t think that Mr. Hampton was credible. Do you feel like he‘s credible?
RALSTON: Well, I think he‘s credible to the extent that he knew John Ensign very well. He was involved in all of these events.
Is he a guy who seems like a broken man? Is he a guy who‘s after money? Is he a guy trying to put his life back together? Sure. I think you can question his credibility.
But, let‘s be clear here. Besides Tom Coburn and John Ensign saying very briefly that what Doug Hampton says is not true, they provided no evidence to counter what he said. And, in fact, John Ensign having to put out that statement today—which I‘m sure you want to talk about—about his dad and mom paying off the Hamptons came because Doug Hampton started talking about those kinds of payments.
So, he has some credibility. Is he telling 50 percent of the truth, 60 percent, 80 percent? I think we‘ll know in time, Rachel.
MADDOW: I think that‘s right, in terms of what we can find out that corroborates his story and the way we see Senator Ensign and his camp respond to his allegations.
Well, in terms of that statement today, from what you know of Senator Ensign‘s political career and Nevada politics, does it make sense that his parents would be paying this money on his behalf? Are his parents part of his political operation?
RALSTON: His parents are not part of the political operation. In fact, they‘re very apolitical. But, like any parents, they love their son. Now, does this look a little unseemly though that you have the casino boss paying to get Sonny Boy out of trouble when he got into trouble? Oh, of course, it does. And I think it adds to the whole unseemliness of this whole thing, Rachel.
Some people might say, “Well, any good father would have done that to help out his son.” But the way that statement from John Ensign‘s lawyer was phrased—and let‘s be honest here. He only put that out because he knew Doug Hampton was going to be on my program tonight and it‘s already posted on the Internet making these allegations about these payments.
He tried to get out of in front of it and saying, “Oh, no, it wasn‘t severance. I shouldn‘t have to face any legal liability. These were gifts. These were gifts because we care about the Hampton family.”
I‘m sorry if I sound a little bit cynical about it, Rachel.
MADDOW: Well, your cynicism, though, is politically important to the extent that it reflects what his constituents in Nevada think about this whole affair. Do you feel like people in Nevada are getting angry about this? Are they in a forgiving mood about this? What‘s the reaction in the state?
RALSTON: Well, I can tell you that I think the reaction is somewhat split. But still, none of it is good for John Ensign. His numbers clearly are dropping in polling data. I‘ve heard about it. He used to be the most popular elected official in the state. He‘ll be lucky if his numbers aren‘t upside down by tomorrow. They were headed that way in polling data I‘ve heard about, Rachel.
But, I think, some people are very angry with Doug Hampton and how he handles this. That he should have done something a long time ago, that he should punched out John Ensign, that left his employ and left the state and not tried to get money for it.
Now, we know that he was asking for millions of dollars. I think that seems pretty unseemly to people. I think his wife‘s behavior and the portrayal of her as some kind of victim here when it was a consensual affair is seen in many different ways, and then it‘s polarized people.
But I do think that Ensign‘s behavior and now the sense that his family try to buy him out of trouble—and, remember—remember, this was done right as they were leaving John Ensign‘s employ in April of 2008. The question is: did mommy and daddy know that John Ensign continued to pursue this affair by his own account?
Even if you don‘t believe Doug Hampton that he continued to pursue his wife, he says the affair ended in March. Ensign says the affair ended in August, which was six months—seven months after that letter that he wrote to Cindy Hampton. And five months after these so-called gifts.
So, I just don‘t think that Ensign has much credibility left on all of this.
MADDOW: And, of course, one of the big determinants about whether—how big a scandal this is and whether or not he ultimately feels irresistible pressure to resign is how many of these details keep dribbling out over time and how long it takes to get the whole story. A big part of the reason that we‘ve got as much of the story as we do right now is your reporting.
So, thank you for it, Jon. It‘s good to have you on the show and continued good luck to you.
RALSTON: Thanks for having me, Rachel. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: Jon Ralston is a columnist for “The Las Vegas Sun.” He‘s host of “Face to Face with Jon Ralston,” and we‘re thankful to him for also sharing his interview with Doug Hampton in this case so that we could bring you this story.
OK. What do an Oklahoma senator/OB-GYN/church deacon and secretive Washington fundamentalist group have to do with the John Ensign scandal? A mysterious religious group at the center of this sex scandal and why an Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn is getting dragged into all of this muck. That‘s sorted story is coming up next.
And, the CIA versus the Congress versus the truth. Richard Clarke, former chief counterterrorism advisor to presidents Bush and Clinton will join us here in just a few minutes.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: There‘s this cool thing online you might have seen called Versionista, whereby you can track how a Web site changes over time.
For example, here‘s a version of the White House Web site that was online as of April 15th of this year. On their page on civil rights, there‘s a pledge that would be familiar to you from candidate Obama on the issue of HIV and AIDS. It says that he supports lifting the federal ban on funding needle exchange programs since they‘ve been shown to reduce the spread of HIV among people who use drugs.” And that was on the Web site of the White House as of April 15th.
Today—not so much. That promise is gone. And the president‘s budget actually calls for the ban on needle exchange funding to stay intact overtly. That‘s a change that no one believes in. It also would explain this scene today in the rotunda of the Capitol, as more than two dozen people were arrested in protest of Obama breaking his “needle exchange” promise and not following through on his other AIDS funding promises either.
So, that leaves one mystery solved six months into this first term.
It turns out the left isn‘t going quietly after all.
MADDOW: America, meet Senator Tom Coburn.
Senator Coburn is a conservative Republican from Oklahoma—previously known outside Oklahoma mostly for raising the rest of the country‘s collective eyebrows from time to time. Like, in 2004, when Dr. Coburn told an “A.P.” reporter he thought that doctors who performed abortions should be executed. Or when at a campaign event the same year, he said it was impossible to use the bathrooms in many Oklahoma junior high schools nowadays because of what he called rampant lesbianism.
And, of course, there was the time in 1997 when he denounced NBC for airing a movie “Schindler‘s List.” Before ultimately apologizing, he said the Oscar-winning holocaust drama was just full of vile language, nudity and violence. It was a film about the Holocaust.
But Tom Coburn is now famous as the other senator in the still unfolding John Ensign sex scandal. Doug Hampton, the husband of the woman Senator Ensign admits to sleeping with claims that Senator Coburn tried to negotiate an end to the affair, and that—as part of those negotiations - Senator Coburn encouraged Senator Ensign to write that now public handwritten apology letter to his mistress and to pay her family restitution.
Now, Mr. Coburn—excuse me, Dr. Coburn issued a statement today denying all of those allegations, saying, quote, “I was never present when the letter was written, never made any assessment of paying anybody anything. Those are untruths.”
But Dr. Coburn won‘t give any details on what he did say to Senator Ensign about the affair because he says, quote, “I was counseling him as physician and as an ordained deacon. That is privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody, not to the ethics committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody.”
Given that Tom Coburn is an OB-GYN, it‘s not exactly clear in what capacity he might have been treating Senator Ensign. It‘s also not clear why his doctor/patient confidentiality would preclude him from answering question about the Ensign affair but would allow him to make lots of statements about the affair that portray himself in a really good light.
And about the other half that the Dr. Coburn says he was wearing when he counseled Senator Ensign, that of a deacon, well, that brings into focus a religious group that appears to be the connective tissue linking key players in this scandal. It‘s a secretive Christian organization known ultimately as the Fellowship or the Family. They run a house known as C Street, where senators Coburn and Ensign live together with other lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
Doug Hampton talked about C Street and its members‘ role in the sex scandal between his wife and Senator Ensign in an interview yesterday with our previous guest Jon Ralston of “The Las Vegas Sun.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RALSTON: In February, you contact some people and I believe they were affiliated with this Christian fellowship organization.
HAMPTON: Yes. It‘s more about where they live and how these men operate in their lives. They‘re great men. They have a good heart. There‘s.
RALSTON: Why did you contact them?
HAMPTON: Because they‘re close friends. They‘re a part of the men who live at C Street.
RALSTON: What did you want them to do?
HAMPTON: Confront John.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, what exactly is C Street and what is its role in the lives of senators Ensign and Coburn and in the ongoing life of this scandal?
Well, joining us now is Jeff Sharlet. He‘s a contributing editor at “Harper‘s” magazine and his author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” It‘s just out in paperback and is highly recommended by me personally. As part of research for the book, Jeff lived among the Family and saw many of its actions firsthand.
Mr. Sharlet, thanks very much for coming on the show.
JEFF SHARLET, HARPER‘S MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: Hi, Rachel.
Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: What is C Street? I know it‘s a house on C Street in Washington. How is it part of the Family?
SHARLET: Well, the C Street house is actually—it‘s a former convent. Now, it‘s registered as a church. And it‘s run by the Family, and used by them to provide housing for six to eight congressmen at any given time and to provide spiritual counsel to these congressmen—which all sounds fine so far.
What makes it a little bit different than other Christian conservative organizations—two things. You said that it‘s secretive. Indeed, the leader of the group describes it, he says, “The more invisible you can make your organization, the more influence it will have.”
And the other thing is the nature of the influence they want to have. I got to sit in on a spiritual counseling session between the leader of the family and Congressman Todd Tiahrt on the C Street house. I actually, met Senator Ensign there.
As the leader of the family was counseling Congressman Tiahrt, who had this very standard issue, bill of issues related to the Christian right, and he said, you‘ve got to have a bigger vision of what we‘re talking about here. He described—he called it “Jesus plus nothing.” And he said it‘s sort of a totalitarian idea of Christianity and he gave his examples of men who he believed, understood the way power should wielded. He actually gave his examples, Hitler, Pol Pot, Osama bin Laden and Lenin.
MADDOW: Wow. When I—when I read your book, “The Family,” when it first came out in hardback, Jeff, I—my notes on, I write notes in the fly leaf about I‘m thinking about it. And my notes about it, I went back and looked for that. It was essentially to promote—its role (ph) is promoting American power worldwide, unfettered capitalism, no unions, no programs to help poor people—all with this idea that godly, powerful rich men should get at many resources as possible personally and they should just privately help everyone else. That was the impression that I was left with.
Was I close?
SHARLET: That‘s dead on the money. The Family—again, it‘s the oldest Christian conservative organization in Washington. And it goes back 70 years when the founder believed that God gave him a new revelation, saying that Christianity had gotten it wrong for 2000 years, and that what most people think of as Christianity is being about, you know, helping the weak and the poor and the meek and the down and out.
He believed God came to him one night in April of 1935 and said, what Christianity should really be about is building more power for the already powerful and that these powerful men who are chosen by God can then—if they want to dispense blessings to the rest of us, through a kind of trickle down fundamentalism.
MADDOW: Well, do you see a connection between that larger sort of power theology and the fact that neither John Ensign nor Mark Sanford for that matter is also affiliated with the group, aren‘t quitting despite these scandals?
Is there something about this type of theology that tells these guys, “Hey, don‘t worry about the affair, you know? Big picture, you‘re good. Stay where you are. It‘s important for you to stay in power”?
SHARLET: Yes. No. I think actually Governor Sanford made it very clear when he cited King David as an example of the reason why he wasn‘t going to be resigning office. And that just struck a bell with me, because I—the King David story is the core teaching of the Family. When I first heard it, I was living with the Family.
One of the leaders in the Family was explaining why King David was important. And he says, it‘s not because he was good man, it‘s because he‘s a bad man. You know, seduced another man‘s wife. He actually had the husband murdered.
And he wants to explain why this was a model—and he says to one of the men in the group, he says, “Suppose I heard you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?” And this guy, being a human being, says, “You would think I was a monster.” Well, the leader of the Family says, “No, not at all, because you‘re chosen. You‘re chosen by God for leadership, and so the normal rules don‘t apply.”
MADDOW: When Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina talked about his relationship to this group—he‘s also lived at the C Street house. He described the group to “The A.P.” years ago.
MADDOW: . six years ago, by saying, quote, “We do have a Bible study. Somebody will share a verse or a thought, but mostly, it‘s more of an accountable group to talk about things that are going on in our lives and how we‘re dealing with them.” And you‘ve written that members of Family give each veto power over their lives. Which in—with these two scandals—I mean, look at the John Ensign scandal, how does a group like that not veto putting the mistress‘ kid on the Republican Party payroll? How does that not get outed by this group?
SHARLET: Well, because the responsibility of the other men in your accountability group—and I would say, by the way, you don‘t have accountability behind closed doors. That‘s the opposite of accountability.
SHARLET: What these other men are doing is they‘re saying, “All right, we‘re going to look out for you.” So, instead of self-interest by proxy, and what they‘re calling accountability is a man might bring to the group, for instance, the fact that he is having an affair with another woman or the fact that he is perhaps corrupt in some way and so on. And these guys are going to deal with it internally.
SHARLET: And—very much behind closed doors. The leader of the group actually once said, “What we do is,” he used this pretentious Latin phrase, “beyond the din of vox populi.” What it means is beyond the voice of the people.
MADDOW: Jeff Sharlet is a contributing editor at “Harper‘s” magazine. He‘s author of the book, “The Family.” And if you think this has incredible implications for domestic politics and hypocrisy and affairs, wait until you read about third world dictators and how these guys empower them. It‘s an incredible story. And you did incredible work on it.
Jeff, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
SHARLET: Thanks very much, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Coming up: After more than a week of quiet, new protests and new violence on the streets of Iran today. NBC‘s Richard Engel will be joining us shortly.
And, when the CIA briefs Congress on sensitive national security issues, is Congress really being briefed? Does the CIA actually answer to anyone? Former White House counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke will join us in a few minutes.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Still ahead, as congressional Democrats and the CIA and the White House all fight over who‘s lying to whom and when and where, we will talk with the man who explicitly and repeatedly warned the Bush administration about al-Qaeda. Former chief counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, joining us in our next segment.
Plus, frenemy and flash mob reach the big time. My friend Kent Jones, gate-keeps the English language. That is all coming up the rest of this hour.
But first, it is time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. NBC News confirmed that Illinois Senator Roland Burris will not seek re-election next year. Not re-election exactly. He was never elected the first time. He was appointed by disgraced and now-impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich who is under investigation by the feds for allegedly trying to auction off Barack Obama‘s old U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Potentially factoring into the decision here is news that Gov. Blagojevich‘s chief of staff, John Harris, pled guilty this week to one count of wire fraud, and supposedly is dishing dirt on Gov. Blagojevich to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as we speak. Since the governor appointed Sen. Burris, that might be an awkward trail of dirt.
Also, in a Rasmussen poll taken last month, 61 percent of Illinois voters said they would definitely vote against Roland Burris. Only 6 percent would vote for him. I don‘t put that much stock in polls.
But dude, that is 10 to 1.
The icing on the cake for Sen. Burris is that he has only managed to raise $20,000 for his re-election. In a big national political race, $20,000 is like the retainer you put down at the coffee shop. It‘s not elect a “senator from Illinois” money. Sen. Burris is expected to make the official announcement tomorrow.
MADDOW: And finally, haven‘t solidified your late summer vacation plans yet? Here‘s an idea. It‘s a bad one. North Korea announced today it will stage its mass rhythmic flip card animation extravaganza known as the Arirang Games this summer.
The state-sponsored nationalistic uber-circus will last from August 10th through late September. And tourists are very, very, very, very, very welcome. The cash-starved dictatorial regime is even welcoming tourists from the hated United States of America.
All you have to do is pay many thousands of dollars for a package tour, hotel room included, and figure out a way to ignore the fact that the government can‘t manage to feed its own people but it can train them, especially it‘s children, to turn over 100,000 pieces of paper in exact unison. If Cirque du Soleil has always lacked that certain creepy Stalinist nationalism you crave, this might be for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: On the NSA, just a couple weeks after 9/11, the very start of October 2001, you were briefed on NSA‘s fine program and you objected. You wrote a letter to the NSA saying, “I‘m concerned about this warrant-less spying.” The NSA responded to you with a letter and I know ...
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:
MADDOW: I printed it out. I actually have it because it‘s funny. It becomes - so much was redacted what they released is absolutely nothing.
PELOSI: Dear congresswoman -
PELOSI: Redact, redact, redact -
MADDOW: And sincerely yours -
PELOSI: Sincerely yours.
MADDOW: Exactly. But was there something in that letter that - and I know it‘s redacted so I can‘t (UNINTELLIGIBLE) publicly.
MADDOW: But was there something in that letter that made you feel like, “You know what? I objected privately. I should not object publicly?” I should not -
PELOSI: Well, you can‘t. You can‘t.
MADDOW: You can‘t speak out about the content of what you have been briefed on. But isn‘t there a way that you can say, “I‘m a senior member of the house intelligence committee. I believe that we are doing something we ought not to be doing?”
PELOSI: You cannot do that publicly. And that‘s something that I think we have to change in terms of - because your hands are pretty much tied.
MADDOW: You think the rules should be changed in terms what members of the Oversight Committee can‘t fight.
PELOSI: Well, you know, who can you go to? You know, can you go to the chief justice of the Supreme Court? These are issues, mind you, that you can‘t even talk to your staff about.
I have a security adviser, but you can‘t talk - you can‘t talk to anybody about it. And that just isn‘t right. That isn‘t right, because it gives all the cards to the administration. And then if you say anything about it, you have violated our national security, and it shouldn‘t be that way.
MADDOW: It neuters the oversight rule.
PELOSI: Oh, yes. And that‘s what we‘re going to change, because you can‘t - even under a Democratic president. You want any president, Democratic or Republican, to have that kind of authority. And that will happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “And that will happen. We will change that.” Do you want to know what all the fighting‘s about over whether the CIA has been lying to Congress and why we‘re getting this allegation now from congressional Democrats that the CIA has been lying to Congress?
I think that what Nancy Pelosi told me back in February in that section of our interview we just re-aired is the big issue here.
Pelosi‘s argument to me when I challenged her why she knew about NSA spying, whether she knew about enhanced interrogation, was that she was sort of informed about some aspects of these things, but she couldn‘t talk to staff about it. She couldn‘t talk to other members of Congress about it. She certainly couldn‘t talk to the public about it.
She said she even considered going to the chief justice of the Supreme Court personally because she didn‘t know who else she would be allowed to consult.
How can you conduct oversight when you‘re told something alone and aren‘t allowed to tell anyone else what you‘ve been told? That counts as oversight? That counts as you controlling an agency? That‘s what Pelosi and Democrats on the Intelligence Committees are still trying to change now.
They want the whole committee briefed so at least they can debate what they‘re told. And that proposed change is why we are having this kerfuffle now over what the CIA says behind closed doors versus what it says in public.
It‘s also, if you think about it, a big part of the difference between having a spy service that is American, that‘s inside the law, and one that is a rogue secret agency that frankly just does what it wants regardless of the law.
Joining us now is Richard Clarke, former chief counterterrorism adviser to both the Bush and Clinton presidencies and author most recently of “Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters.” He‘s the chairman now of Good Harbor Consulting. Mr. Clarke, thanks very much for joining us.
RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER CHIEF COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: Yes, Rachel.
It‘s great to be on the show.
MADDOW: Every American counts on our government being good at spying. We need to be good at intelligence collection than and analysis for the safety of our country but spying also needs to be legal.
Do you think that the current system, the gang of eight briefing system, allows the CIA to be good at spying and to be doing their work legally?
CLARKE: I think briefings of the gang of eight, those very sensitive briefings, as opposed to the broader briefings - the gang of eight briefings are usually often a farce. They catch them alone, one at the time usually. They run some briefing by them.
The congressman can‘t keep the briefing. They can‘t take notes. They can‘t consult their staff. They don‘t know what the briefings are about in advance. It‘s a box check so that the CIA can say it complied with the law. It‘s not oversight. It doesn‘t work.
MADDOW: What do you make of the Obama administration threatening to veto the intelligence authorization bill if it includes a provision to expand the gang of eight briefings and change them up so more members of Congress get those briefings altogether?
CLARKE: Well, first of all, I think it‘s shocking that the White House is allowing a public fight between Leon Panetta, who‘s a very honorable man, by the way, and speaker of the House, who is also very honorable. And both of them are leading Democrats.
The White House should never allow this to get out in the public. They should bring the two of them in a long time ago, sit them down and work something out. Now, the word today is that the White House is willing to work something out to fix this system, because they know, as well as anybody else, it‘s broken.
MADDOW: In terms of the big picture on counterterrorism and intelligence is part of the counterterrorism. It‘s a lot of things. Six months into this administration‘s first term, speaking as the former counterterrorism head on the National Security Council, could you give them a preliminary grade how they‘re doing on counterterrorism issues? Can you tell enough from outside government now to know?
CLARKE: Yes. I think they‘re doing very well. They haven‘t had the courage yet, and I understand why, to get rid of a lot of the loaded bureaucracy that blew up after 9/11. But I think they‘re doing a very good job so far.
They should be paying a little bit more attention to groups other than al-Qaeda, groups in Pakistan that might attack India and that sort of thing. But by and large, I think they‘re doing a good job. They‘re focusing on Yemen, which is about to fall apart at the seams and where al-Qaeda is moving in. They‘re focusing on Somalia, which is also a place al-Qaeda is moving to. I think they‘re a little bit ahead of the game.
MADDOW: May I ask you another intelligence issue that‘s in the news right now. The president has proposed a form of preventive detention. The Pentagon general counsel this week said the administration might keep people in jail even after they were acquitted, found innocent essentially in court.
Do you see that as an assertion that they believe more in intelligence as a system than they do in the justice system, that they‘re suspicion of somebody‘s dangerousness is more important than any evidence against that person?
CLARKE: I think it‘s an admission they don‘t believe in the Constitution. I think we have to distinguish between the people at Guantanamo and elsewhere where when the last administration so tainted things it will be difficult to try them, and other people that we might come across in the future.
The people we come across in the future, there‘s absolutely no need to do detention without trial. Either try them in the country where they‘re committing the crime, under their system, or bring them back here, as I used to do, give them their rights, give them an attorney, and put them on trial.
By the way, we had 100 percent conviction rate when we did that. There‘s never been a terrorist that I know of that you couldn‘t convict if you really wanted to, if you‘d built a case and took the time to do it.
MADDOW: As long as you define the terrorist as somebody who was a member of a known terrorist organization or who had committed a terrorist act rather than just somebody who is thinking about being bad in the future, which of course is what we‘re worried about with the idea of preventative detention.
CLARKE: Exactly. If you think they‘re going to do something in the future then keep your eye on them until they cross the line and you can arrest them.
MADDOW: Or be like the Brit and do like what the British do and go warn them. Go tell people who you think are bad people, “Hey, we‘re watching you,” in the hopes that will scare them out of committing their future bad acts.
CLARKE: I wouldn‘t recommend that.
MADDOW: Fair enough. Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism chief of the National Security Council, author of “Your Government Failed You,” which is now out on paperback. Thanks very much for your time tonight, sir. It‘s always really nice to see you.
CLARKE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up next, NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel will be here today in Iran. The uprising was back in the streets. So if you were wondering why everyone‘s Twitter avatar went green today, Richard Engel will be here with the scoop. Stay tuned.
(VIDEO FOOTAGE OF PROTEST IN IRAN)
MADDOW: Allah Akbar - God is great. That is purportedly video from tonight in Tehran. Opposition protesters once again doing their call and response from the rooftops in the dark signaling that the opposition movement, the uprising there lifts.
Today, for the first time in 11 days, Iranians took to the streets again in large numbers to protest the results of the presidential election held last month, which they say was rigged to ensure the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Defying warnings from the governor of Tehran that anyone attending today‘s demonstration would be met with a, quote, “crushing response,” thousands people gathered across the city chanting “Death to the dictator,” and “God is great.” And according to reports at one protest, also chanting, “Police, protect us.”
To a large extent, the protestors were met with police batons and tear gas. Reporters are still forbidden to cover the protest. But once again, we‘re counting on the people. We‘re counting on witnesses and participants to somehow get out word and to get out images of what‘s happening in their country.
And the best we can do is pass that on to you with our best assessment from here of the authenticity and context of these admittedly pretty incredible scenes.
Joining us now is NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Richard, it‘s good to see you tonight. Thanks for coming in.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It‘s a real pleasure.
MADDOW: How important is it that people turned out by the thousands today in spite of these big, well-publicized overt threats that they would be crushed if they did?
ENGEL: It‘s a sign of a new tactic. And a lot of people thought that the opposition movement, street protests, part of it, was over. And for a while, it looked like it was over. Eleven days, the streets of Tehran were fairly quiet.
Today, we saw them organize. They managed to communicate. This was organized over the last several days over the Internet and cell phones and text messages in Tehran. They came out in relatively small numbers, maybe 2,000, 3,000, according to a variety of reports.
And it only lasted a few hours, but it was able - they were able to show that the street movement is still alive. And this is the kind of hit-and-run tactic, I think, you‘re going to see them doing.
Every once in a while, they‘ll gather steam. They‘ll go out and know they‘re going to take some licks and confront violence, but then retreat just so they can keep this part of the movement alive.
MADDOW: Well, Iranian-American observers have been telling us to sort of get used to a different type of pacing here, that this might be a year or more, that the fate of the opposition is not going to be decided in the short term. Does this tactic - as you described it, does that imply even if that is true, this is going to take a long time?
ENGEL: Absolutely. If they try to go out with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people every single day and have people getting killed as was the case in the early days of this opposition, it would die out quickly.
Now, you have a hit-and-run strategy. Every once in a while, you put your chips together, you cash them in and then you retreat before there is any major losses. It‘s also difficult and probably impossible for them to do at this stage very large protests.
Hundreds, if not several thousand people have been arrested, many have simply disappeared. And there are widespread reports of mistreatment. So the people who would be organizing this are off the streets.
MADDOW: How do you quantify - or can you quantify from outside the relative value of essentially creating martyrs, both by people being killed and injured and also people being disappeared, put under house arrest, the relative value of that as a galvanizing force of the movement versus the intimidation factor that that creates?
ENGEL: What I think they‘re trying to do is embarrass the regime, not only externally. Because generally, the current Iranian government has already taken a serious black eye externally. So they‘re not trying to embarrass Iran any more in front of the international community. You‘re not seeing so much the signs in English, “Obama help us,” or “France intervene.”
Now, it‘s about convincing the religious establishment that what the government is doing is wrong and trying to exploit divisions that are within the government already. There are many senior clerics in Iran who believe in the theocracy, who believe in the system, but don‘t agree with the way that the government is handling it.
These are people who live in common and places and they don‘t like what Iran has become. And if they can try and convince this community to act and to say, “This is not what we signed up for when we wanted a theocracy that would be inspired by divine law, not a military state that is intervening, crushing civilian protests.”
MADDOW: So in other words, watch the religious establishment to the extent we can for signs of success?
ENGEL: Absolutely. They‘re not going to - it doesn‘t matter so much what France and Italy and the United States says at this stage.
There will probably be more moves to isolate Iran internationally through sanctions. I‘m sure that‘s coming. But it‘s more about embarrassing the regime within and convincing senior people that what‘s happening is wrong.
MADDOW: Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent. It‘s always great to have your insight. Thanks for joining us.
ENGEL: It‘s a real pleasure.
MADDOW: OK. Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith takes a look at the bounty of new freezes given to us by the Republican Party this summer. For example, pulling a Palin and hiking the Appalachian Trail. Stay tuned for that.
MADDOW: We turn now to our entomological flux correspondent, Kent Jones. Flux.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Yes. In recognition of our ever-morphing, fluxing language, the folks at Merriam Webster have added 100 new entries to the latest collegiate dictionary. Let‘s look at the new crop, shall we?
(voice-over): “Carbon foot print,” the negative impact that something, as a personal business, has on the environment. See also, “America, United States of.” “Reggae tone,” popular music of Puerto Rican origin that combines rap with Caribbean rhythm.
See also “staycation,” a vacation spent at home or nearby. See also “Bush, George W.,” economic hardship caused by shortsighted policies of. “Frenemy,” one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.
“Sock puppet,” a false online identity used for deceptive purposes, i.e. my online name, “Lord Bloodskull Thorhammer.” “Fan fiction,” stories involving popular fictional characters written by fans and often posted on the Internet.
See also “Gollum,” a love story by Lord Bloodskull Thorhammer. “Flash mob,” a group of people summoned by E-mail or text message to a designated location at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing. See also “pants, shiny genie.”
MADDOW: What I want to know were the Hammer Pants/mob people trained in advance? Or is everybody expected to know this dance?
JONES: I don‘t know. But everybody knew the Hammer dance. Everyone knew the “Can‘t Touch Me”(sic) dance. Yes.
MADDOW: Very impressive.
MADDOW: Thank you very much, Kent. Thank you also for the insight that Bert and Ernie for frenemies. It‘s very important.
Thanks very much for watching tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. .
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