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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, August 20

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Sue Wicks, Howard Dean, Chris Kofinis, Lawrence Wilkerson, Kent



RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you for that.

And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Dr. Howard Dean will be with us this hour.  Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Colin Powell will also be joining us.

And Karl Rove is publicly demanding an apology from the media.  We searched our darned liberal media souls and have come up with a response for him.

That‘s all coming up.

But begin tonight with the latest and perhaps most dramatic attempt yet to block health care reform from getting through the United States Congress.

Here to help us understand that is someone who is not from Congress. 

Hi, Sue.  She is former all-star in the WNBA, the great Sue Wicks.

Sue, thank you so much for agreeing to help us out.  We really appreciate it.

SUE WICKS, FORMER WNBA PLAYER:  You‘re the great Rachel.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

All right.  Sue is here because to understand the latest and most over-the-top tactic for stopping health care reform, I felt that basketball could be useful.

So, here‘s what‘s going on.  It‘s supposed to take a simple majority to pass legislation in the Senate.  The majority rules, right?  That‘s the rules.  Just like in basketball, the rule is that the hoop is 10 feet high.  So, there‘s 100 senators.  The rules are you need 51 votes, a majority, to pass a bill.

In basketball, that‘s the equivalent of shooting in a regulation 10-foot hoop.  If you can do it, if you can make the shots, Sue, you‘ve got the point.  Go for it.

WICKS:  I haven‘t shot in a while.  But it‘s the same as it‘s always been.  Ooh!

MADDOW:  All right.  One more time.

WICKS:  Can I try again?

MADDOW:  Oh, yes.

All right.

WICKS:  OK.  On the second try, 50 percent.

MADDOW:  All right.  Sinking a shot on a regulation 10-foot hoop.  Yes, it‘s not a sure thing, but with effort and focus, you learn how to do it.  These are the rules or these were the rules, OK?

You know why you never hear about the Senate needing 51 votes to pass anything anymore?  It‘s because since the Republicans have been in the minority in the Senate, they‘ve taken a once rarely used exception to the 51-vote rule, and they‘ve turned it into a new rule.  It‘s called the filibuster, and it means that the minority won‘t even allow something to be voted on without 60 senators giving it the nod.

Here‘s a little chart that shows the use of the filibuster over time.  You see that huge spike at the end?  That‘s what happened after the 2006 election, in terms of the use of the filibuster when the Republicans became the minority in the Senate.  That‘s how frequently they started filibustering stuff.

Instead of the filibuster being an exciting rare exception, when Republicans lost their majority in the Senate, they started filibustering everything, forcing Democrats to get not just a simple 51-vote majority to pass legislation, but the 60 votes that would be needed to break the filibuster -- 60 votes became the new rule.

So, in other words, they did this.

Yes, they changed a basic rule of the game in order to make it harder for the Democrats to score.  And by and large, the Democrats just went along with it.  They just accepted that the basket is suddenly 20 percent higher.  They‘ve trained themselves to shoot at a 12-foot hoop even though, according to the rules, the basket should be 10 feet high.

And the Democrats have sort of done OK.  It‘s not an impossible shot, but it is certainly a much harder one.

Sue, do you want to give this a try?

WICKS:  I want to give it a shot.

MADDOW:  No pressure.

WICKS:  No pressure, OK.  And I know that you‘re a basketball player. 

So if I don‘t make this one, I‘m going to need you to come out.

MADDOW:  Yes, right.


OK.  So, before the health care fight, that‘s where we stood.  Democrats shooting like Sue just did at a 12-foot hoop, a 60-vote, 12-foot hoop.  They even went so far as to get 60 Democratic senators elected, which is quite a landmark number if you accept that 60 votes is the new rule for passing anything.  That‘s where we stood before the health care fight started.

Now, that we‘re in the middle of the health care fight—now that we‘re closer than we‘ve ever been in American history to actually reforming a ruinous, broken health system, Republicans are trying to change the rules again.  They have decided that the 60-vote, 12-foot-tall basket isn‘t enough anymore.  Forget the rules, forget the standards, forget that it‘s a 10-foot hoop, a 51-vote rule according to the Constitution, right?  Forget even that the tradition since Republicans have been in the minority has been a 12-foot hoop, a 60-vote basket.

Now, check out who they say should be the new rule for voting on health care reform.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH:  Well, we‘re talking about one-sixth of the American economy.  This is a pretty important thing, and I always look at bipartisan bills of somewhere between 75 and 80 votes.


MADDOW:  Seventy-five and 80 votes?

And it‘s not just Orrin Hatch of Utah.  Here‘s Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming is in the so-called “gang of six” that supposedly working on a bill.  He just told “The Wall Street Journal” the same thing, saying, quote, “We need to get a bill that 75 or 80 senators can support.”

Notice how they‘re trying to make it sound reasonable, that‘s just we need—just what we need, just 75 or 80 votes.  That‘s all.  What‘s wrong with these Democrats if they can‘t pull something like that off?

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is now saying the same thing, telling “The Washington Post” today, quote, “We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes.”  Eighty votes out of 100 is what they‘re saying, 80.

The rule is actually 51 votes, you guys.  That‘s the rule.  Majority rules.  The rule is a 10-foot hoop.  What they‘re suggesting is a hoop that is now 16 feet high.

Oh, watch the lights.  Oh, yes, OK.

Sue, how are you going to be able to shoot a 16-foot basket?

WICKS:  Do you have insurance?  Because there‘s a lot of lights up there.

MADDOW:  No, but I promise to pay for them if we break anything.

WICKS:  OK.  I want to try.  I want to redeem myself.




WICKS:  This is like the hoop in your backyard that kept falling. 

Because your father—oh!


WICKS:  It wasn‘t cemented properly.

MADDOW:  One more try, come on.

WICKS:  One more try.

MADDOW:  Come on.  Come on.  I know.

WICKS:  OK, for the Republicans.

MADDOW:  Oh.  Very good shot.

WICKS:  We‘ve tried.

MADDOW:  A very good try.

WICKS:  We tried.

MADDOW:  You know, it is kind of awesome to watch Sue Wicks try to shoot 16-foot hoops, it‘s not like orbit ball.  But it‘s not actually basketball.  It‘s not basketball.  These are not the actual rules by which basketball is played.  These are also not the actual rules by which we pass legislation through the United States Senate.

So, the question is, will Democrats do what they did last time Republicans changed the rules and moved the mean hoop up?  Will they just try to train themselves to shoot that much higher?  Will they let themselves get rolled again, in other words?  Or will they realize that if they hadn‘t gotten the message before, this, “You guys need to shoot at a 16-foot-tall basketball hoop as this,” is about as clear as the message is going to get, that the Republicans are not actually interested in health care reform passing.

Here‘s the rule.  It takes 51 votes to pass something in the Senate. 

Sixty if you concede the filibuster.  There are 60 Democratic senators. 

You do the math.

Sue Wicks, WNBA all star, it‘s been very good to have you here to help us with this.  Thank you very much.  Appreciate it.

WICKS:  See you Saturday at the park.

MADDOW:  Oh, yes, indeed.  Indeed.

All right.  We now pass the ball over to former Vermont governor and Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean, who is joining us by phone tonight because, apparently, with the basketball, we knocked out some important wire and now we got technical difficulties.

Governor Dean, thank you very much for joining us.

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN (D), VERMONT (via telephone):  Rachel, thanks pore having me on.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about the premise here.  Even the Republicans would were supposed to be working this out on this “gang of six” in the Senate say that health care should need 80 votes to pass now.  What do you think they‘re up to?

DEAN:  I think we probably should have had 80 votes to go to war in Iraq, too.  I mean, look, this is ridiculous.  They don‘t—obviously, they don‘t want to have a health care bill.

We should stop taking this seriously.  We got elected in order to pass health care reform and I suspected all along that Republicans weren‘t going to be helpful because they weren‘t helpful the last time we tried to pass health care reform.

So, let‘s go about our business.  Let‘s act like Franklin Roosevelt and get the job done.  Franklin Roosevelt didn‘t pass Social Security without any Republican help.  Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare.  The Republicans didn‘t help until they had to when they were afraid to vote against it in the final bill.

We can pass health care reform, a reasonable, thoughtful health care reform which will cover everyone with affordable health care that cannot be taken away as President Obama says.

MADDOW:  Well, let‘s get specific there.  Reasonable and thoughtful, you think that we can get something substantive done without any Republican support.

DEAN:  That‘s absolutely right, because we‘ve already gotten something substantive done with no Republican support.

This bill, with a public option in it, that is a choice for the American people to choose between something like Medicare which can‘t be taken away and guaranteed to insure—doesn‘t cost you more if you‘re sick, or the public system as you like it or the private system if you like it; your own health care system through your employer, if you like that.  You can have a choice.

And so far, we‘ve had no Republican votes for that and passed through four out of the five committees it has to pass to.  So, it just has to pass the finance committee and then go to a vote and we‘ll be fine.

MADDOW:  Well, in the finance committee, it‘s not the whole finance committee that is deliberating on what to pass.  The finance committee has been sort of actually shunted out of this discussion in favor of this gang of six, three Republicans and three Democrats, designated by Max Baucus, the conservative Democrat.  He‘s the chairman of that committee.

Why is it those six people, including those three Republicans, who get to make this decision?  Enzi and Grassley are two of these guys saying they want an 80-vote threshold now.

DEAN:  Well, look, I think.

MADDOW:  It doesn‘t seem like they are the most reasonable Republicans.

DEAN:  Rachel, after the—after the—what‘s going on this week where the Republicans basically—you know, the administration said, well, maybe we‘ll get rid of the public option and even that wasn‘t enough for the Republicans.  So, they‘ve really taken themselves out of this.

And I—look, Chairman Baucus has to run his committee as he sees fit.  But these six senators are—this is a waste of their time.  They‘re clearly not going to get anything that the Republicans are going to agree to.  If by some miracle, they pass something which basically did nothing, they got 80 votes, then they come back and say, well, we need 99 votes.  This is incredibly important matter.

This is a joke and this is—the Senate, it‘s an embarrassment to the Senate.  The last time the Senate looked this bad was when Blagojevich forced his choice of senator on them.  They got to behave themselves.  They got to straighten up and fly right and get going here.

This is a serious matter.  The senators know it‘s a serious matter.  The Democratic Caucus will pass a good bill if they‘d get their heads screwed on right.  Chris Dodd has done a terrific job in Ted Kennedy‘s stead.  They passed a good bill—a very good bill in the health, education, labor and pension committee.

I know they can do it.  They‘re one committee away and they‘ve got it now.  They got to buckle down and get it done.

MADDOW:  Briefly, Governor, you do think there will be a public option, a public insurance option at the end of the day once this thing passes?

DEAN:  Sure, because the American people want that choice.  There‘s huge—there‘s a poll today, I forgotten where it was—there‘s a huge number of people who believe that they ought to have the choice.  And most of them, according to the Congressional Budget Office, won‘t choose that, but they need the security of having that choice, so as to stop the insurance companies from taking them off their insurance when they don‘t—when they get sick and charging outrageous rates.


DEAN:  And that‘s what the secret of health care reform is, is the public option.

MADDOW:  And Democrats freed up from the perceived need to compromise with Republicans in order to get some Republican votes on this bill may actually be able to get it more so than if they thought they were still trying to persuade Chuck Grassley.


DEAN:  A vast majority of Democrats and of the Congress itself, in the House, supports the public option and the vast majority of the Democratic Caucus—even the most pessimistic assessment which gives 42 votes to the public option, that means 42 are in favor and 20 are -- 18 are against in the Democratic Caucus.

Now, look, people, like Kent Conrad, are decent people.  They may not be that crazy about the public option, but they‘re not going to kill health care reform over this, especially when the vast majority of Democrats who support them and give them their chairmanships and so forth believe that this is the right way to go.

So, I do believe—and we‘ve already had one committee support this.  This is going to get done.  Senator Baucus said it‘s going to get done in September.  I believe that.  I think that bill with public option—a good, strong health care bill will be on the president‘s desk and be signed by him in December.

MADDOW:  Former DNC chairman, Vermont governor, Howard Dean—thanks very much for joining us tonight, sir.  Appreciate it.

DEAN:  Thanks very much.

MADDOW:  President Obama today again singled out Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley as one of his reasons to be cheerful about the prospects for a bipartisan vote for health reform.  I‘m hoping there‘s some other senator named Chuck Grassley out there who‘s actually in favor of health reform who the president is talking about, because the Chuck Grassley that I know about—not so much.  A report especially for the White House about what their best friend forever Chuck Grassley has been saying behind their back when we come back.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  President Obama said today Democrats don‘t have to give up on bipartisanship to get health care reform.  Democrats don‘t have to go it alone after all.

The reason he can count on Republicans not to just obstruct everything put forward for health care reform, the reason he can count on Republicans to count in a bipartisan way with this president and with the Democrats in Congress to get something passed that‘s good for the country—well, according to President Obama in an interview today at the White House with radio host Michael Smerconish: bipartisanship is still possible because of people like Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are a bunch of Republicans out there who have been working very constructively.  One of them, Olympia Snowe in Maine, she‘s been dedicated on this.  Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, others—they‘ve been meeting in the Senate Finance Committee.  I want to give them a chance to work through these processes.


MADDOW:  Although he generally seems quite up-to-date on all the latest news, I will admit, President Obama might not have had a chance to read today‘s “Washington Post” before that interview with Mr. Smerconish.  Had he, he would have seen that Senator Grassley told “The Post” about his idea of what it will take to pass any kind of health care reform.  Quote, “We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes.”

The threshold for passing health reform in the U.S. Senate, for passing anything in the U.S. Senate, is actually 51 votes.  That‘s a majority.  And since the vice president is a Democrat now, Democrat should actually only need 50 votes to pass something with the vice president acting as the tie-breaker.  If the Republicans filibuster, Democrats will need 60 votes to pass something.

But if the Democrats decide to listen to good old Chuck Grassley, apparently, they will need 80 votes.  That‘s the bipartisan spirit that Senator Chuck Grassley brings to the table.

Mr. Grassley also explained to “The Post” today he may just be against the whole idea of major health reform anyway.  A decision he described as, quote, “a natural outcome of what people may be getting from the town hall meetings.”  Adding, quote, “I‘ve got to listen to my people.”

So, Senator Grassley says he may just oppose major health reform altogether because of protests at town hall meetings.  But, of course, have been organized and promoted by D.C. beltway, corporate-funded advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks and Conservatives for Patients‘ Rights.

But it‘s not just corporate-funded D.C. beltway P.R. campaigns that are swaying the senator.  Grassley also says he opposes the public insurance option in health reform because of a study about it by the Lewin Group—the Lewin Group, Lewin Group.

Is your spidey sense tingling?  The Lewin Group.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you aware that the Lewin Group is paid subsidiary of the big health care company?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Way to go, grandma.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Whose CEO earns $3.2 million a year which comes out to $102,000 an hour?  Surely we can do better than that.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA:  The reason I‘m aware of the relationship to an insurance company is because when I was over Nora, a person brought it up like you did and they said that.  I—but otherwise I didn‘t know that.  But it is something that isn‘t only quoted by members of Congress as an authority on health care issues, but is also quoted in a lot of the academic press, as well.  I think they have a good reputation of citing health care issues.


MADDOW:  Yes, that insurance company has a great reputation on health care issues, just like the groups do that organize these town hall protests he finds so persuasive.

That well-informed citizen at Senator Grassley‘s town hall meeting in Adel, Iowa, stated, the Lewin Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of United Healthcare Group, which is the second largest health insurance company in the country.

So, to recap, two sources that Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says are the grounds on which he‘s making his decisions against health reform are D.C. beltway corporate P.R. organized town hall protest and study from a subsidiary of the second largest health insurance company in the country.

Behold America‘s great Republican hope for bipartisanship on health reform.

Joining us now is Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.

Mr. Kofinis, thanks very much for joining us tonight.


MADDOW:  Is there some secret thing about Chuck Grassley that makes it not crazy to think he‘ll vote for health reform?

KOFINIS:  Well, as he gets more difficult by the day.  You know, listen—you know, for President Obama, I think everyone can respect to understand, you know, his desire for bipartisanship.  But, you know, as I always say, bipartisanship is a means not an end, and it seems that the ends that, you know, Senator Grassley has is to basically stop health care reform by any means necessary.

He has this kind of—what I would call a two-faced strategy.  He seems to be saying one thing I think to Senator Baucus and maybe the president in private, and then goes out there and says things that are, you know, basically incredibly toxic to this whole notion of bipartisan health care reform.  It‘s getting really difficult to take folks like Senator Grassley seriously as a partner in health care reform.  It just—it just really is.

MADDOW:  Well, when you look at what the Democrats in Congress and what the White House are doing—does it seem clear to you that they know they will just be passing a Democratic bill, and they don‘t want to admit to that now because it sounds better to say you‘re working in a bipartisan way?  Does it seem clear to you that they know that they‘re not going to get any votes from these guys?

KOFINIS:  Well, I think it‘s becoming clearer and clearer to even the strongest advocates of bipartisanship that basically you have a Republican Party where even the supposed proponents of bipartisanship aren‘t really bipartisan.  And I think that, you know, the way to look at this is: there is, you know, kind of a short-term and long-term political game here.

Listen, the shore term is, there‘s a lot of, you know, I think emotions and feelings about health care reform.  But at the end of the day, if we pass strong health care reform that bends the cost curve, that expands health care coverage, that ends discrimination against pre-existing condition, that caps out-of-pocket expenses and all these other significant things, the American people are going to thank us for it.

And I think that‘s the other piece of this that‘s really important to understand is that Republicans, I think, want to stop this, not just for ideological reasons, but for political reasons because the Democratic Party delivers real health care reform to this country.  I mean, we have established something—a precedent for this party that I think is going to have positive benefits for years, if not decades, from then on.

MADDOW:  Well, one of the Republican arguments is that there is a political cost to being pushy in Congress, right?  That there‘s some sort of political cost to what the role that is—that is linked to what the roll call vote is in Congress, as if voters remember what the roll call count is on specific bills rather than just whether or not the policy that passed is something that they like.  Do you think that that‘s untrue?

KOFINIS:  This notion of a roll call vote—I mean, I was laughing about the 80-vote criteria.  You know, I think some of those Republican senators may have to go back to American government class because it‘s laughable on its face.

At the end of the day, the criteria by which policy is judged, success or failure, is very simple, did it work?  Did it solve the problem?  And I think that is the onus responsibility upon us as Democrats and the White House, as well as the Democratic leadership in Congress.  If we do the smart thing and pass a policy that actually addresses the problem, for once instead of doing what the Bush administration did for eight years, ignore it, then what we will have done is something that down the road—no one is going to care whether it was 51 or 49.  What they‘re going to care about is: my health care costs have gone down.

MADDOW:  Right.

KOFINIS:  We now have health care when we didn‘t have health care before.

Those are the significant accomplishments that we should be focusing on, not roll call votes.

MADDOW:  Yes.  It‘s true both practically and politically.  I think you‘re right there, Chris.  Chris Kofinis, Democratic strategist—thank you so much for your time tonight.  Appreciate it.

KOFINIS:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Back when George W. Bush was running for re-election against John Kerry, did you ever get the feeling that the terror alerts were being manipulated to scare everyone and help Bush get re-elected?  Yes, you felt that way sometimes?  That‘s because you have excellent instincts and I always thought so.  Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has copped to that.  We‘ll be joined next by retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson to discuss.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Coming up: Remember those color-coded terror charts during the Bush era?  Is there a color designated specifically for bullpucky?  Retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson joins us to discuss former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge‘s recollection that there should have been.

And, former “New York Times” reporter/plagiarist Jayson Blair has a new career.  It too is quite hard to believe.  Kent Jones investigates.

That‘s all coming up.

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

In June, you might recall that there was some drama over Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, disclosing to Congress that the CIA had had some sort of secret program underway for eight years—a program that it never told Congress about.  Panetta raced to the intelligence committees to tell them about the program as soon as he found out about it, and the House Intelligence Committee has been investigating ever since whether not telling Congress about this program—overtly keeping it from Congress—was actually a criminal act.

Well, we‘ve since learned that what that program was.  It was a hit squad.  It was a targeted killing program aimed at al Qaeda all around the globe.

Now, targeted killing, assassinations—war is one thing, but since the Ford administration, there has been an executive order in place banning assassinations by the U.S. government.  So, it‘s a little bit of a murky question as to whether or not this sort of thing would be legal.

If these killings happened in the U.S. or in a country that is an ally of ours, what happens if local law enforcement arrests the hit squad?  Are these guys subject to U.S. law?  Are they subject to the laws of the countries in which they‘re operating?  Who gets to hold them accountable if something goes haywire?

Well, those are the exact same questions that have plagued the U.S.  since the Bush/Rumsfeld era.  Since in the Bush/Rumsfeld era, we started giving multimillion dollar government contracts to security contractors like Blackwater.

When Blackwater employees were accused of murder in Iraq, the same questions arose.  Were those guys subject to U.S. law?  Were they subject to Iraqis law?  They certainly weren‘t subject to the U.S. Code of Military Justice like normal soldiers were.

And that‘s why the new reporting from “The New York Times” on these secret al Qaeda hit squads makes so much sense.  It turns out that the CIA program that was never disclosed to Congress - it was a targeted killing program into the al-Qaeda.  But it was one that the CIA contracted out to a private company called Blackwater.

I mean, if you are going to be operating in a lawless netherworld anyway, why not hire a lawless netherworld operator to do the job?  Congratulations to Mark Mazetti at the “New York Times” for this scoop. 

And as you might have heard Sarah Palin is no longer the governor of Alaska, but she does still have a very popular Facebook page where she has just posted a screed against a fairly obscure agency called the U.S.  Import-Export Bank.  I think it‘s the Export-Import Bank - excuse me. 

Prompted by an editorial in “The Wall Street Journal” about the bank‘s loan to a Brazilian oil company, Sarah Palin wrote this “Why is it that during these tough times when we have great needs at home, the Obama White House is prepared to send more than $2 billion of your hard-earned tax dollars to Brazil, so that the nation‘s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, can drill offshore and create jobs developing its own resources?”

Well, I don‘t mean to be blunt but first of all it‘s not tax dollars that they‘re sending.  That‘s not how the bank works.  And second of all, they‘re sending those non-tax dollars to a company in Brazil because that‘s what the U.S. Export-Import bank does.  That‘s their whole job. 

The bank gives loans to foreign companies so that those foreign companies will purchase American goods and services, thus creating jobs here at home and so on and so forth.  Good jobs - ones that even Sarah Palin might be able to see from her house.



SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  With great faith in the American people, I accept your nomination for president of the United States. 



MADDOW:  That was John Kerry accepting the Democratic nomination for president at the Democratic Convention, July 29th, 2004.  Now, as usually happens, the convention gave him a slight but expected bump in the polls leaving him with a six percent lead over President Bush.  Three days later, that post convention bump got squashed when the Bush administration did this. 



Today, the United States government is raising the threat level to Code Orange for the financial services sector in New York City, northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C. 


MADDOW:  Soon enough, President Bush was up in the polls, statistically tied with his challenger.  Now, was that a coincidence?  A few brave souls braved saying at the time that it might not have been a coincidence. 


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, “COUNTDOWN”:  Since 9/11 it has been a dangerous thing, even career jeopardizing, to question warnings about prospective terror attacks.  As late as yesterday Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman questioned the sanity of anybody who would think that any politician would ever exaggerate a threat to national security just for political gain. 

But in our fourth story in the “COUNTDOWN,” given this nation‘s history, shouldn‘t we be required to at least ask that question? 


MADDOW:  Questions like that prompted a stern denial at the time from the director of homeland security, from Tom Ridge. 


RIDGE:  We don‘t do politics in the Department of Homeland Security. 


MADDOW:  Today, Tom Ridge says he stands by that statement about his own department.  But in his new book, Mr. Ridge reveals his own suspicions that the Bush administration did try to use the threat of terror attacks for the political gain of the president and his party. 

Of the days immediately prior to the 2004 election when polls showed Bush and Kerry in a virtual dead heat and when a new tape from Bin Laden surfaced, Ridge recalls, quote, “Attorney General Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.  There was absolutely no support for that position within our department.  None.  I wondered, is this about security or politics?  Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president‘s approval rating in the days after the raising of the threat level.”

Tom Ridge is scheduled to join us on this show on September 1st.  I very much look forward to the opportunity to interview him.  Until then, his word, his written word taken in context from a pre-released copy of his new book stands as a powerful and credible suggestion that what Keith Olbermann and many others suspected at the time back in 2004 was indeed true. 

The Bush administration did manipulate the public‘s fear of terrorism quite literally in a day-to-day way in order to stay in power. 

Joining us now is Ret. Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson.  He was chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005.  Col.  Wilkerson, thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

RET. COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, UNITED STATES ARMY:  Thank you for having me, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  What is your reaction to Tom Ridge‘s accusations made in this book?  Was the color-coded threat level increased for political reasons? 

WILKERSON:  The governor has a position from which, if he‘s saying that, I have to give his saying it some respect and some credibility. 

I also know from my position in the administration having witnessed Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman and others doing what they did as political strategists that much was driven by political interests, domestic political interests, not international relations and national security or other interests, and that oftentimes, we did develop policy that was focused toward domestic issues, political issues, that is, they would give the Republicans an edge when, in fact, that position might contradict national security interests. 

So, you know, I don‘t know whether the governor is right in what he‘s saying or not, but I do know that there is an environment in which what he‘s saying could have been true.  And let me just say one other thing, this is really amazing to me as a Republican, watching this happen. 

We have Treasury Secretary O‘Neill‘s book.  We have Scott McClellan‘s book on the other side of the ledger perhaps.  We have Doug Feith‘s book, although he throws a number of barbs at the State Department.  We have Dick Cheney‘s book coming out, Donald Rumsfeld‘s book coming out. 

I have no doubt that if they provoke Colin Powell enough, his book will follow theirs.  We have President Bush pushing a book.  People like myself, historian, internationalist people who teach this subject matter have already pronounced the Bush administration one of the most incompetent in American history.  I think history‘s verdict may even be worse than that.  It may be the most incompetent.

And here, we have these people in my party wrestling over whether or not there was enough shame to go around in that administration.  With all the challenges that this country confronts right now, this is really disturbing. 

MADDOW:  It seems to me like the very last senior administration official to write the book will have all the blame piled up so high on them that they‘ll have to do something quite dramatic about it.  All of these books are self-exculpatory in a way. 

And the obvious question to what Ridge is alleging here is why he waited until after the election to resign.  If he did suspect that the administration was manipulating the American - the fear of terrorism among the American people for political gain and he was grossed out by that, why he didn‘t say something publicly so that the American people wouldn‘t be needlessly scared. 

WILKERSON:  That‘s a good question.  I understand.  I haven‘t read his book.  It doesn‘t come out until 1, September - I don‘t think.  But I didn‘t get galleys or anything. 

But I saw what is purported to be the exact citation we‘re talking about here and it sort of goes something like this, as I recall, “The pressure came to raise the threat level.  I wondered, is this politics or security?” 

So that‘s not that definitive.  It is a suggestion, of course, that it might have been politics.  And I don‘t see how anyone with a brain could have sat for four or five years in the Bush-Cheney administration and not realized that politics drove a lot of the decision-making. 

MADDOW:  We got a comment on this, a statement from Donald Rumsfeld‘s office that I‘d love to get your response to.  He contacted our office with this quote, “Given those facts, it would seem reasonable for - “ sorry. 

In the context of there being threats from al-Qaeda in the fall of 2004, the statement said, quote, “Given those facts, it would seem reasonable for senior administration officials to discuss the threat level.  Indeed, it would have been irresponsible had that discussion not taken place.”

The idea that the threat level is just being discussed, I think, is not what Ridge is alleging.  He alleging that what he knew about intelligence and national security matters made him feel like it was not justified to raise the threat level.  Was Secretary Ridge in on high-level intelligence discussions? 

WILKERSON:  Well, that‘s another issue, and I think that‘s a very valid issue.  This happened with more than just the governor.  His book supposedly says among other points that he was often cut out of critical decision-making, critical discussions about intelligence issues that involved Tenet, that involved Rumsfeld, that involved Condi Rice, that involved the president, the vice president, but didn‘t involve him, National Security Council meetings, he says he was cut out of. 

If this is true, then it could have been that the intelligence was different from what his Office of Intelligence Analysis had in Homeland Security.  In other words, you had a picture in the CIA, a picture in the FBI, a picture elsewhere in the intelligence community that Ridge simply didn‘t know about. 

If that‘s the case, then the dysfunctionality of the government is still there.  It‘s not necessarily political, but it‘s still there and it‘s still very, very much a sign of incompetence. 

MADDOW:  And makes it harder than ever to understand what the term “homeland security” really means if they‘re not in the discussions of threats to the homeland. 

WILKERSON:  Absolutely.  I think if you were to talk to Fran Townsend or you were to talk to Dick Clark or you were to talk even to Cofer Black, you would find out that there were oftentimes when these discussions took place. 

And there were principles even and certainly deputies who didn‘t know that the discussions were even taking place because generally they took around - took place around one man and that man was the vice president of the United States. 

MADDOW:  Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, it‘s always great to have you on the show, sir.  Thanks for your time tonight. 

WILKERSON:  Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith revisits his nexus of politics and terror in light of these new revelations from Tom Ridge.

And next on this show, Karl Rove has demanded an apology from we, the media.  We spent the day looking into it.  Try not to let the suspense kill you on the commercial break as to what we found. 


MADDOW:  In the opinion pages of today‘s “Wall Street Journal,” there is a startling claim by former Bush senior advisor Karl Rove.  According to Mr. Rove, he has been wronged by the press for years and it‘s time for the press to finally own up to its mistakes about him.

Specifically, Mr. Rove rails against allegations to the U.S.  Attorney scandal, that he manipulated the judicial process for political reasons.  He says in “The Journal” today that his role in the firing of U.S. Attorneys was minimal and entirely proper and that critics should just let up on him about these demonstrably untrue allegations. 

You know what?  The press actually doesn‘t need to let up on Mr.  Rove at all.  Let me explain.  In his article today, Mr. Rove emphatically disputes the claim that, quote, “The judicial process had been manipulated for political reasons.” 

Here‘s a story about that.  In October of 2006, Arizona Republican congressman Rick Renzi was running for re-election.  At the time, Mr. Renzi was the subject of a massive investigation by the U.S.  Attorney‘s Office there for stuff like money laundering and extortion and insurance fraud. 

Rumors that he was being investigated were starting to make headlines which aren‘t helpful if you‘re running for re-election.  What to do about these unhelpful headlines?  Well, according to the House Judiciary Committee that looked into all of this, one of Karl Rove‘s aides E-mailed White House counsel Harriet Miers to see if the administration could arrange for Mr. Renzi to get some high-level help. 

Miers then reached out to the Justice Department and asked them to put out a statement favorable to Congressman Renzi in time for the election.  Miers E-mailed back, quote, “I just finished speaking with the deputy attorney general.  He said what we suspected he would.  He is continuing to think about the situation.”

Ultimately, the Alberto Gonzales-led Justice Department did put out a favorable statement about Rick Renzi, contradicting their standard policy which is usually to not comment of ongoing investigations.  Mr.  Renzi, following that statement, went on to win his re-election.  And then, he was indicted on more than 30 counts. 

Do you want another story?  Let‘s go to Missouri, where Republican Senator Kit Bond apparently had some issues with the U.S.  attorney there, man named Todd Graves.  What to do about it?  Call Karl Rove‘s office. 

Todd Graves ended up losing his job as U.S. attorney in a deal that the White House made.  They agreed to fire Mr. Graves in order to make Sen. Kit Bond happy enough that he would drop a hold that he put on one of Bush‘s judicial appointments.

According to the House Judiciary Committee, it was an explicitly political deal to get rid of this U.S. attorney to keep this one senator happy.  Who was at the center of it?  Well, a White House E-mail obtained by Congress states that, quote, “Karl is fine with the replacement.”

So Karl says the judicial process was not being manipulated for political reasons?  What was it being manipulated for then?  The weather? 

Then there is the case of fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico.  Again, Karl Rove claims that the House Judiciary investigation proves Mr. Rove‘s role in these firings was, quote, “minimal and entirely proper.”  In the case of David Iglesias, he says that nobody has proved Iglesias was being pressured to prosecute Democrats. 

Well, you know what has been proved?  It‘s been that in New Mexico at the time, there was a Democrat named Patricia Madrid who was running against a Republican member of Congress. 

That Republican member of Congress started E-mailing Karl Rove‘s office criticizing U.S. Attorney David Iglesias for not prosecuting that Democrat who was her opponent.  After that complaint, Rove‘s deputy sent Karl Rove himself an E-mail saying Iglesias shouldn‘t be, quote, “Shy about doing his job on Madrid.”

In other words, Iglesias needed to prosecute this Democrat.  Mr.  Rove‘s defense is that he never responded to that E-mail.  What he was doing around the same time was contacting White House counsel Harriet Miers to inform her that David Iglesias was a problem that need to be dealt with. 

According to Ms. Miers‘ sworn testimony, quote, “Karl was very agitated about the U.S. attorney in New Mexico.  It was clear to me that he felt that he had a serious problem and that he wanted to something done about it.  He may have said, ‘Can‘t we get rid of this guy?‘ or something like that.”

Weeks later, David Iglesias found himself on a list of U.S.  attorneys set to be fired.  Why was David Iglesias seen as such a serious problem?  Well, Karl Rove is still making the case in the “Wall Street Journal” today that he should have been prosecuting that darn Democrat. 

Rove‘s great defense, quote, “Despite all their digging, judiciary Democrats produced not a shred of evidence that I encouraged Mr.  Iglesias to undertake a prosecution.”

The idea that the press should apologize for making the obvious, glaring, flood-lit inference here is ridiculous.  Mr. Rove also addresses the fact that one of his proteges was installed to replace a fired U.S.  attorney in Arkansas.  According to Mr. Rove, this, too, was entirely proper and his aide was only suggested for the job, quote, “After I learned the then-U.S. attorney was likely to leave his post.”

Well, the then-U.S. attorney was a man named Bud Cummins.  And while it‘s true that Mr. Cummins did at one point speculate about maybe leaving that post, his ousting in June 2006 was not at all voluntarily. 

Mr. Cummins says he was asked for his resignation by the Bush administration because the White House wanted to give another person the opportunity to serve in his job.  Quote, “I don‘t think many of us were aware that the administration might want to ask someone to step aside just to give someone else an opportunity.”

That someone else who got that opportunity was Karl Rove‘s aide, Tim Griffin.  The idea that Karl Rove‘s role in this was that he was just replacing a guy who was leaving anyway is disingenuous at best. 

Karl Rove is now demanding that people lay off of him about the U.S. attorney scandal and the politicization of the Justice Department.  He is saying the House Judiciary investigation proves his role was minimal and proper. 

“Wall Street Journal” may feel like this is OK to publish on their opinion pages - good for them.  But expecting anyone else to get in line with this ridiculous revisionist argument?  Yes, good luck with that.


MADDOW:  We turn to our -


MADDOW:  Come on, come on.  Come on.  We turn to our life coach correspondent Kent Jones. 

JONES:  Hi, Rachel.  You know, Jayson Blair was a journalist for the “New York times” and was embroiled in a huge plagiarism scandal a few years back.  Well, today, the Associated Press reports Mr. Blair has a new career as a life coach.  I‘m not making this up.  Go ahead. 


(voice-over):  Life can be hard and sometimes we lose our way.  When it all seems too much, don‘t give up.  Call Jayson Blair, life coach.  You might remember Jayson Blair as the man who plagiarized three dozen articles in the “New York Times.”  But now, he‘s ready to rewrite the story of your life. 

Career stalled?  Talk to Jayson.  He‘ll give you the confidence to get around life obstacles by making your own rules.  When the world says to you, “That‘s preposterous, fictional.  Did you make that up?” Jayson will give you the strength to say, “What if I did?” 

With his help, your powerful creative spirit will never have to conform to someone else‘s facts.  Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  No one knows that better than Jayson Blair, life coach.  Visit our Web site because what is truth anyway?


MADDOW:  I love the perfectly inspirational random cloud patterns. 

JONES:  It‘s all part of a larger process, Rachel.  We just live in it. 

MADDOW:  That‘s very good.  This is very fun playing basketball ... 

JONES:  It‘s very fun.

MADDOW:  ... with the all-new NBA all-stars. 

JONES:  Absolutely, yes.

MADDOW:  Much more fun than the filibuster usually is.  Thanks for help shagging balls, Kent.  I appreciate it. 

JONES:  Anytime.

MADDOW:  Thank you for watching tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  That‘s very good.  Good night. 



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