Guests: Jonathan Turley, Gordon Goldstein, Ed Rendell
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you very much and thanks for having me on the show tonight. Appreciate it.
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: My pleasure. Thank you.
MADDOW: Governor Rendell will indeed be with us this hour to talk about the possibility that the anti-abortion Stupak Amendment to health reform could be a big fat political boomerang. That is a very big deal. We‘ll be talking about that this hour.
Congressman Steve Buyer was not a big deal until it was discovered that his $800,000 scholar foundation paid for his golf junkets and not for any scholarships. Mr. Buyer has finally had to answer for that—sort of. The tape is incredible.
And President Obama stands at a fork in the road in Afghanistan. Could he be choosing between the way President Kennedy handled Vietnam and the way President Johnson did? We know the White House has been studying Vietnam-era decision-making as they make their own decisions now.
We‘ve got all of that and very much more ahead.
But we begin with murder charges being filed in the deadliest shooting ever to take place on a military base in the United States. Today, the U.S. Army officially charged Army Major Nidal Hasan with 13 counts of premeditated murder for the shooting rampage last week in Fort Hood, Texas, a shooting that left 12 military personnel and one civilian dead. These charges mean that Major Hasan would be eligible for the death penalty if he‘s ultimately convicted. Notably, Major Hasan will be tried in a military court rather than in a civilian court, which could potentially be an important distinction in this case.
According to some had legal analysis, the fact that the government is planning to try Hasan in military court may suggest that the evidence says he acted alone. The assumption is that if investigators thought he was part of some bigger conspiracy, some larger plot, it‘s more likely that the case would have been moved to federal court. Again, the specific charge here is premeditated murder, 13 counts of premeditated murder.
And while officials say that more charges could be coming, so far there‘s been no announcement of any legal charges related to terrorism. In fact, the FBI seemed to explicitly rule that out in a statement today saying, quote, “At this point, there is no information to indicate Major Nidal Malik Hasan had any co-conspirators or was part of a broader terrorist plot.”
That, of course, has not stopped the people who are trying to make political hay out of this tragedy from insisting that this act must be called terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLIVER NORTH, FOX NEWS HOST: It was a travesty. It should never have happened. And what we ought to be calling it is just that, terrorism.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: All right. Why can‘t we say, Nina, that this was an act of terrorism? Why can‘t the president say that? Why can‘t our government say that?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I believe it was an act of terror.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: There are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act.
HANNITY: And the Army and the FBI are saying that we should not call this a terrorist attack. Do you agree with that assessment?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, absolutely not. This looks a whole lot like terrorism.
BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: There‘s no question—no question that Hasan is a terrorist. It is an act of war perpetrated by a Muslim terrorist who believes that infidels should die.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST: He murdered Americans in cold blood, an act of bald-faced extremist Muslim terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: An act of bald-faced extremist Muslim terrorism.
The insistence on this point from critics of the administration eager to charge the president with a terrorist attack on his watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: The president and the Army and the FBI are saying that we should not call this a terrorist attack. Do you agree with that assessment?
REP. PETE HOEKSTRA ®, MICHIGAN: No, absolutely not. This looks a whole lot like terrorism. But you need to remember the orientation of this administration.
It was a few months ago that they said we don‘t want to use the word terrorism. We want to use the term man-made disaster. It‘s the kind of things that lead you to have a policy where they want to read Miranda rights to the people that we capture in Afghanistan and they want to prosecute CIA agents for the things that the previous president and Congress asked our CIA people to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Remember this one? Yes, it is the old “paint the Democrats as soft on terror” routine. But in order to play that politicizing terrorism/anti-Democratic greatest hits, the Fort Hood case has to be terrorism. Regardless of how you feel about the political issue of politicizing terrorism, it‘s worth asking was Fort Hood, technically speaking, terrorism? It‘s not just a political question. It‘s not just a judgment call. It‘s not just a matter of taste. It‘s a question to which there is an answer, a legal answer.
And the charges today didn‘t include anything related to terrorism. Terrorism is not just conceptual political jargon. It‘s a legal term and it has interestingly changed over the past few years.
In order for something to be legally considered terrorism, do you have to be taking instructions from a terrorist group? Do you have to have some sort of clear political motive behind the violence? Is it about the way that you commit the crime, what sort of weapons that you use in doing? Is it about how many people that you kill in your crime? Is it about the specific type of people you target, whether they‘re civilian or military?
If you‘re interested in more than just making political hay out of the Fort Hood case, these are the sort of legitimate questions you would want to ask before labeling this or any case an instance of terrorism. Those who are calling this terrorism or making their case in large part because Major Hasan is a Muslim and because he‘s alleged to have said “God is great” before the shootings.
And while it might make for exciting politics to argue murders by committed religious Muslims are presumptively terrorist acts, those exciting political allegations actually say a lot more about the people making them than they do about the real character of the tragedy at Fort Hood and how we, as a country, should respond to it.
Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School. I should note that Professor Turley is currently involved in two unrelated terrorism cases right now.
Jonathan, thanks very much for joining us.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: What are the specific charges filed against Major Hasan today? Thirteen counts of premeditated murder. What do those charges tell us about what investigators believe about this case?
TURLEY: Well, first of all, I think that the Army is going about this in the right way. In fact, they‘re taking a very measured and unprejudiced view. They‘re actually investigating a crime.
Criminal investigators and lawyers and judges don‘t have the luxury that some people have on television to just simply say this must be terrorism. Why? Because we want it to be terrorism. Words have meaning in the criminal code. And that‘s what brings the integrity to the code. It brings this legitimacy.
And you can‘t just simply say that because somebody kills a large number of people, that it‘s terrorism. There are plenty of people that act out of rage.
If you take away a few of the aspects of this case, you would have a typical disgruntled worker shooting. We have these shootings all over the country where people are disturbed and disgruntled and isolated, and they come in and they shoot people in their workplace. Now, some of them are perfectly unhinged and they will latch on to religious views or political views. But what they‘re really acting out of is mental illness.
And so, when you really want to do justice, then you first have to start by defining what the crime is. And I think that these investigators have done a good job. They don‘t see evidence thus far that he‘s an actual terrorist.
MADDOW: Obviously, neither you nor I have access to the internal workings of this investigation. We know what‘s been released publicly and what‘s in that charge sheet. Would that charge sheet have looked significantly different if they had evidence that this was definitely an act of terrorism? Would you, as a lawyer, be looking at that charge sheet expecting to see something else?
TURLEY: Yes. I would be expecting a couple of things. One is the possibility of sending it to a military tribunal. The UCMJ, the military code, actually doesn‘t have a terrorism provision. It would go to a military tribunal, or they would waive jurisdiction, give it to the federal prosecutors. And there‘s a whole bunch of federal prosecutors who would eagerly take a terrorism case.
There doesn‘t seem to have been that type of consideration given here. This seems to be moving towards a conventional, what‘s called Article II military trial.
And so, all indications, from what we know what is publicly released is that they believe that this is premeditated murder. Now, that doesn‘t mean that it doesn‘t have religious overtones and it doesn‘t mean that he was not radicalized in some degree.
But terrorism is more than just killing people. I mean, we‘ve—you and I have talked about this previously, that we‘re becoming a nation where we want to define everything as terrorism, all criminals as terrorists. We have a shooting of an abortion had doctor, it‘s terrorism.
And anyone that seems to be acting against strangers because of who
they are—a hate crime is terrorism. Well, it‘s not. It‘s murder in
most of these cases. And there‘s not a strong indication yet that he was -
· he crossed that line.
Terrorism is when you not just murder someone, but you‘re murdering someone to coerce or intimidate a government or society for religious or political or ideological reason. Now, he may have had those deep-felt feelings, but there‘s no indication that he went into this location for that purpose or part of a broader plot. But most of the indications is that he was a deeply—or is a deeply disturbed individual who released his hate on these people.
MADDOW: In terms of terrorism as a cogent legal construct, it is about motive, which raises the question for me: is it possible for an insane person to commit an act of terrorism? Because if you are judged to be insane within the judicial system, as far as I understand it, that makes the whole idea of your motives not actually apply in the same way they would for a sane person. So, are—is insanity—is insanity and terrorism—are insanity and terrorism two mutually exclusive legal constructs?
TURLEY: You know, it actually is a rather poignant question, isn‘t it? Because anyone who is a terrorist is by definition somewhat insane. I mean, when you go and you believe that God will reward you by killing innocent people, you really do have to have a screw loose.
But in terms of the military system, to make an insanity defense is no easy task. I‘ve practiced in the military system. And the standard there is that he does not—if he wants to be proven insane, he has to—his lawyer has to show that he did not understand the wrongfulness of his actions. Well, that‘s a standard that is virtually impossible to satisfy. It‘s also a standard that mimics the federal standard where we saw with people like Zacarias Moussaoui, who‘s a barking lunatic. He was still found to be insane.
So, the chances that he can use insanity are rather slim. But I think that what you‘re going to have, unless we see some new evidence, is a conventional trial for premeditated murder. He‘s unlikely to have much of a shot toward insanity. I expect his lawyers may try. And without that defense, then he may be looking at a lead pipe cinch of a conviction and death sentence.
MADDOW: Jonathan Turley, constitutional law professor at George Washington University Law School—as always, helping us be more precise and, therefore, more accurate. Thanks for your time tonight, Jonathan.
TURLEY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: You think the Afghanistan War is anything like the Vietnam War? Well, consider that President Obama and some top advisers are all reading a history of the Vietnam War called “Lessons in Disaster.” The author of the west wing‘s must read joins us next.
MADDOW: For the past two days, we have raised concerns on this show that Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan might have revealed intelligence sources and methods when he told “The Washington Post” that the alleged Fort Hood shooter had received at least two e-mails from an extremist cleric in Yemen.
Today, Marc Ambinder of “The Atlantic” confirmed that people who know o way more than we do about these things share our worries. He said, quote, “A senior intelligence official said this morning that there are concerns about Hoekstra‘s disclosure, noting that the information had not been published or confirmed before the “Post” article in such detail. A former intelligence official privy to the details of the NSA‘s program said it would appear to be the case that Hoekstra divulged too much information.”
Again, Hoekstra is the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. Republicans could change that if they wanted to. I‘m just saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States of America will have your back. We‘ll give you the strategy and the clear mission you deserve. We‘ll give you the equipment and the support you need to get the job done. And that includes public support back home. That is a promise that I make to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama speaking today at Elmendorf Air Base in Alaska en route to an eight-day trip to Asia.
In the last 24 hours, a rush of unexpected news changing dramatically our understanding of what this new president will decide to do about the war that he inherited in Afghanistan. “The Washington Post” reporting that the administration‘s ambassador in Kabul, a former commanding general in our military effort there, has emerged now as a critic of plans to send more troops.
“The Associated Press” reporting that the president himself rejected all four troop increase options presented to him by his national security team.
“The Washington Independence‘s” Spencer Ackerman today quoting a National Security Council staffer saying that after hearing of Ambassador Eikenberry‘s concerns about increasing troops, the president, quote, “demanded an exit strategy for the war.”
The secretary of defense today is saying the goal is to, quote, “signal resolve, and, at the same time”—signal excuse—“and at the same time to the Afghans as well as the American people that this is not an open-ended commitment.”
“The New York Times” quoting an unnamed senior administration official today saying of the president, quote, “He wants to know where the off-ramps are.”
And the White House press secretary today traveling with the president saying, quote, “We have been there for eight years and we‘re not going to be there forever. It‘s important to fully examine not just how we‘re going to get folks in but how we‘re going to get folks out.”
Amid these signals that the president may be trying to find a way to put a period on the end of this war rather than ellipses, and et cetera, a to-be-continued, the administration has made known that Gordon Goldstein‘s book about the presidential—about presidential decision-making in wartime “Lessons in Disaster, McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam” is required reading in this White House.
What are Goldstein‘s lessons in disaster from Vietnam that are fresh in this president‘s mind as he‘s deciding what to do in his Asian land war? Well, one, you should read the book.
Two, you should listen to Gordon Goldstein, author of “Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam. He‘s also a former international security adviser to the United Nations.
Mr. Goldstein, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
GORDON GOLDSTEIN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Thank you for having me here.
MADDOW: Afghanistan obviously isn‘t Vietnam or Iraq or any other country for that matter. Do you think there are lessons from presidential decision-making on Vietnam that map to the decision-making about another war right now?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, one of the dramatic narratives that‘s at play today is we are watching how this president is taking command of the decision-making process. This reflects and correlates with a lesson that President Kennedy exemplified in 1961: Counselors advise, but presidents decide.
In ‘61, Kennedy was encircled by his most senior advisers who urged him to make the first ground force troop deployment to South Vietnam. They said he had to send in up to six divisions or 200,000 men. But he was deeply skeptical about it. He doubted that it would be an effective mission. He had been burned at the Bay of Pigs. He told people that he would never be overawed by the advice of the military.
So, he decided himself what the strategy would be. And I think we see President Obama, particularly in the events of the past 24 hours, signaling that he is in command of this decision-making process.
MADDOW: When Kennedy was assassinated—forgive me if I‘m wrong, but as I understand it—Johnson kept much of JFK‘s national security team intact. Is it fair to say that those advisers gave roughly the same hawkish advice to both presidents but that they each reacted to it quite differently?
GOLDSTEIN: It‘s an excellent point. In 1961, Kennedy received these proposals to Americanize the war. He declined them. In ‘65, Johnson received the same sorts of proposals. He acquiesced.
GOLDSTEIN: He was distant. He was too credulous in accepting his advisers‘ advice. He did not engage in a rigorous analytical process. And the result, of course, was a war that became a great tragedy for this country.
MADDOW: One of the things that I took away from “Lessons in Disaster” is to pay attention to how good the various players are at playing Washington, how much bureaucratic and political skill for the inside the White House debates that happen, inside the bureaucracy debates that happen, how much that—those different skill levels can explain whether or not people get their way. Is—was I right to take that from the book? And should we be looking now at how skillful the various players are who have these various views about Afghanistan?
GOLDSTEIN: The theme remains timeless from Kennedy and Johnson‘s era to today. In ‘61, when they were trying to impose this decision on Kennedy and, in essence, box him in, there is a story, a series of stories leaked saying that he only had a few options and that they were escalation. Remarkably, a few days later, there were a series of stories from the president himself citing unnamed White House sources saying that, no, there are other options and that the president was disinclined to send in ground combat forces.
MADDOW: It‘s amazing to—I mean, the parallels are amazing.
And just let me ask you about one other specific one. Ambassador Eikenberry is the front line official dealing with President Karzai in Afghanistan. Seymour Hersh told us last night on this show that there have been concerns in our embassy in Afghanistan about Karzai‘s mental stability. I had never heard that but I feel like Seymour Hersh, generally, has pretty good sources.
MADDOW: Maybe that what‘s driving Eikenberry‘s leaked concerns about escalating the war. What did you learn from Vietnam about an ambassador or someone else in-country upending what‘s going on in Washington from afar?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, this is again the source of another, I believe rather remarkable parallel. In 1965, the American ambassador to South Vietnam was General Max Taylor. He had been Kennedy‘s senior military counselor. And he had been sent to Vietnam to observe that situation and advise the president.
At that time, he was confronted with General William Westmoreland‘s proposal to send in the first ground combat forces to liberalize rules of engagement and really Americanize the war. And although he had accepted—he had supported doing that in 1961, in ‘65, Ambassador Taylor vehemently opposed it.
Today, we have another general who had been the theater commander on the ground in Afghanistan, who is serving as our principal diplomat to that country, who has advised the president in a series of cables reportedly sent him last week not to make this escalation. The parallel is extremely compelling.
MADDOW: The parallel is compelling. And when you say hindsight is 20/20, hey, we can use hindsight for what we‘re deciding now.
Thanks, in part, to your scholarship on this. Gordon Goldstein is the author of “Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam”—congratulations on the influence of the book. Thanks for coming in.
GOLDSTEIN: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
The Democratic congressman trying to use health reform to dial-back abortion rights has double-dog-dared his colleagues now to try to stop him. The truth about Bart Stupak‘s scorchingly hypocritical argument and its implications for the Catholic Church is coming up. The interviewee tonight is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The man who sneaked the strongest anti-abortion legislation in a generation into the health reform bill is now walking around Washington like he owns the place, threatening his own congressional leadership with his new-found influence. After Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan introduced his self-titled virulently anti-abortion amendment to the House health reform bill, pro-choice Democrats pushed back almost instantly. The Stupak Amendment would not be part of the health reform bill presented to the president, or so they said.
But Congressman Stupak now says he‘s ready for a fight with his own party. He told LifeNews.com, quote, “If they—Democratic leaders—are going to summarily dismiss us by taking the pen to that language, there will be hell to pay. I don‘t say it as a threat, but if they double-cross us, there will be 40 people who won‘t vote with them the next time they need us—and that could be the final version of this bill.” Spoken like a congressman who controls the 40 most important votes there are.
Problem? Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, who is, after all, the Democratic whip, the guy who counts the votes, counts quite differently in this case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: He kept using the number 40 and 41. It was not 40 votes that we were trying to get with this amendment. There was only about 10 or 11 votes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Forty votes would give Congressman Bart Stupak some swagger authority, maybe some authority to promise hell to pay. But 10 or 11 votes doesn‘t even—I mean, it doesn‘t give you hell to pay. It might give you heck to pay. Perhaps gosh to pay might be more appropriate.
The debate about the political gamesmanship on abortion has, thus far, largely missed one critical point. As it stands, the law says that federal funds cannot be used to pay for abortions. The president has said he wants to keep abortion rights the status quo. He wants to keep it that way. He said this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill.
Congressman Stupak and his supporters say that this Stupak Amendment would simply maintain the status quo. It should be noted that that‘s baloney. The Stupak Amendment doesn‘t just say you can‘t use your federal insurance subsidy to pay for an abortion, it says, if you‘re getting a federal subsidy of any kind, you‘re not allowed to buy an insurance plan that covers abortion even with your own money. That‘s the first bit of dishonesty going on here.
Here‘s another. There was a different abortion amendment to health reform that would have kept federal money and private money ostentatiously separate—allowing only money from the private pool of money to be used for abortions. It‘s a relative reasonable compromise on the subject to reassure people that, as it stands now and as it would stay in the future, public money wouldn‘t be used to fund abortions.
Congressman Stupak‘s office called that other amendment a phony compromise, and his much more draconian amendment passed instead after the Conference of Catholic Bishops lobbied for it, calling the separate funding pool‘s idea, quote, “a money-laundering system.” A money-laundering system?
This is a major point of dishonesty, I believe, in the Stupak Amendment debate. If separating public and private sources of funding is money-laundering, according to the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops may want to explain how it is that the Catholic Church is able to keep all the federal, state and local money it receives for its charitable work separate from the private money it receives to, say, evangelize or campaign against abortion rights and gay marriage. Is that money-laundering, too?
Joining us now is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Gov.
Rendell, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight. Appreciate it.
GOV. ED RENDELL (D-PA): My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: Do you think that this debate over the Stupak Amendment - the issue of abortion has become big and divisive enough among Democrats that it does pose a real threat to health reform passing?
RENDELL: I think it poses a threat unless the Democrats in Congress take a deep breath and remember what we‘re here for. We‘re here to enact health reform that‘s desperately needed.
There is a woman in Erie, Pennsylvania, who‘s got breast cancer and can‘t get health care because it‘s a preexisting condition. And that‘s almost like a death sentence for her. And that‘s what we‘re fighting for and we‘ve got to take a deep breath and not fight collateral battles. Health reform is so important for this country that it‘s got to supersede all of this stuff.
And by the way, Rachel, your analysis is absolutely right. Take a small business that‘s receiving a tax credit, a federal tax credit, to provide health care for its employees.
They would be barred under the Stupak Amendment from allowing their employees to use their - the health care that they offer them for abortion. They would be absolutely disallowed from doing that.
And it‘s not even clear that if you compartmentalized you could do it in any event. So I think that the amendment, when people take a look at it, they‘ll either do the compromise amendment or do nothing, heeding the president, who says, look, this is about health care. It‘s not about abortion. The law is clear that federal money can‘t be used for abortions right now. Let‘s leave it right there.
MADDOW: That compromise language which would be about having separate pools of money, public money and private money, so that the public money couldn‘t be spent on abortions. Again, the Catholic Church‘s argument against that was that it was just an accounting gimmick, that there isn‘t really a way to keep funds separate.
I pointed out the hypocrisy in that given that the church is very happy to take public money to do things that other parts of its mission wouldn‘t allow them to take public money for.
But is there any reason to believe, just in terms of policy and what you‘ve seen, that a process of separating public and private money would be unwieldy, that it wouldn‘t work in some way?
RENDELL: It would be difficult. Let‘s take that small business again. Literally, what the small business would have to do is say the money that we‘re putting in is used for offering abortion services. The money that the federal government is giving us with the tax credit is not.
It would be very difficult to do but not impossible. Not impossible. And your analogy is a very, very good one. Under the law, the government, whether it‘s state, local or federal, cannot give the Catholic Church or any religious institution money directly.
But virtually, every religious institution, including the catholic church, now has 501©(3)s which have as their mission providing child care or after-school tutoring or whatever.
Yes, we can and often do, every level of government, contribute money to those sort of adjunct separate pools of dollars that are used for a public purpose, not for promoting religion. So there is that separation, as you point out.
MADDOW: Any time a member of Congress starts using phrases in public like “double-cross” and “hell to pay” about his own party, it‘s clear that there‘s some sort of rift going on in the party.
But you‘ve been in this business a long time. You‘ve seen a lot of these in the party fights. How serious do you think this is? And do you think it gets healed before the final vote?
RENDELL: Well, I think it‘s serious, but I do think it gets healed before the final vote. Because I think if there‘s a final bill that comes out of the conference committee and goes back to the House, you are going to have to be incredibly dumb and incredibly unfeeling to jeopardize national health reform on this issue.
And this issue, when, again, the federal proviso is very clear. Federal dollars cannot be used for abortion. Let‘s leave it there and let‘s remember our mission. Our mission is desperately needed.
There are people out there who may not survive unless we do health care reform. There are people out there who go to emergency rooms six months too late to really solve their problem. Sure, they get care, but it‘s too late to really save them.
That‘s one of the basic things we‘re fighting for. And people have to keep their eye on the ball and understand what the real issue is here. And I believe, in the end, very few congressmen are going to cast a no vote on a bill that they‘re in favor of because it doesn‘t include the Stupak Amendment.
MADDOW: Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, thanks very much for joining us tonight, sir. Appreciate it.
RENDELL: My pleasure.
MADDOW: Well, Congressman Stupak has pitted Democrat versus Democrat, at least at this point. There are new cracks in the schism that pits fringy McFringersons on the right from other fringy McFringersons on the right.
And also the birthers are fighting with each other as well. A rather melodramatic play-by-play of the fracture on the right. Coming up.
MADDOW: If you were a member of Congress with a charitable foundation
that hadn‘t done any actual charity but had financed a lot of expensive
rounds of golf for you, what would you say when a network TV reporter
called you up and said, “We‘d like to do an interview with you about your
foundation under the heading ‘Follow the Money?‘”
You‘d say no thank you, right? That‘s because you have better political instincts than Congressman Steve Buyer. Watch him get cold-busted in just a moment.
But first, a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. The fault line between the traditional Republican Party and the conservative tea-baggy movement turns out to be a series of fault lines all over the right wing.
The schism within the far right, which is a different schism from their schism with traditional Republicans, involves two similarly named, similarly themed, but apparently very different groups, the Tea Party Express and the Tea Party Patriots.
The Tea Party Express was founded by a Republican-affiliated political action committee and they‘re partnered with the big corporate-funded beltway group Americans for Prosperity.
The Tea Party Patriots, on the other hand, see themselves as totally different because the Tea Party Patriots are partnered with a different big corporate funded beltway group, Freedom Works, which is run by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
How bad is the rivalry between these not-all-that-different but, nevertheless, bitterly divided groups? Well, this week the Tea Party Patriots filed a lawsuit against their own founder seeking a temporary restraining order against her.
What was her sin? She says she crossed over and started working with the dreaded Tea Party Express people, who are of course associated with a totally different corporate and Republican PR outfit than the Tea Party Patriots are.
For that sin, a lawsuit by freedom-loving, government-hating patriots. The Tea Party Patriots founder responded to the lawsuit on her blog today saying, quote, “In the end, the reasons for my, quote, ‘removal‘ from any, quote, ‘leadership position‘ and this frivolous lawsuit cannot change the fact that I am still a Tea Party Patriot just as all of you.”
Well, not exactly. Amy Kremer, the lawsuit-targeted Tea Party Patriots founder is now listed as a member of the Tea Party Express on that group‘s Web site. Traitor. What would Samuel Adams say?
To go with the tea party versus tea party crisis, there‘s also now a birther versus birther crisis. I know. Orly Taitz, the mother of birtherism had one of her lawsuits dismissed last month in part because the judge worried that Taitz‘s induced perjury.
The Orange County register has obtained an affidavit filed in that case against Orly Taitz by a fellow birther conspiracy theorist. He claims that Taitz asked him to lie in court.
And as the birthers enjoy suing and testifying against each other in court, Orly Taitz is also now waging war on the conservative media outlet that has been friendlier to the birthers‘ claims than anyone other than Lou Dobbs.
Orly Taitz called a protest this week outside FOX News. The protest was held yesterday. You see the thousands of people there - disguised as pavement and tall buildings? Of course that embarrassing photographic evidence could be as fake as President Obama‘s birth certificate.
I mean, for all we know, that picture could have been taken in Kenya.
And finally, most Supreme Court rulings fly under the radar. The rulings that do get the chattering classes chattering tend to be decided along ideological lines. Kelo versus city of New London, however, was different. Outrage over Kelo decision spanned the ideological spectrum.
It was a case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the New London, Connecticut, could use the right of eminent domain to force people out of their homes in order to build what the city claimed was a much-needed, multimillion dollar development.
It was to include housing, an industrial park, hotel conference space, all to complement and support a new research and development headquarters for the big pharmaceutical company, Pfizer.
Well, the city won. The homeowners lost. THE whole had country freaked out about the potential abuse of eminent domain. And then, this week, Pfizer announced that it‘s abandoning that giant R & D headquarters that made New London want to build on the site in the first place.
The homes the city earned the right to seize by taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court were seized and moved. And where they used to sit is now a 90-acre site that is significantly undeveloped and likely at least for the foreseeable future to stay that way unless someone figures out how to make it into a theme park for the concept of Pyrrhic victory.
MADDOW: Candidate Barack Obama campaigned on the promise to end the Clinton-era policy of kicking people out of the armed services for the sole crime of having the gay. But so far “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” still stands.
However, Congressman Barney Frank has now told “The Washington Blade” that he is in touch with the White House and congressional leadership on the issue of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” and he says there is now a plan for how to kill it. Rather than handling the issue as a stand-alone bill in Congress, Congressman Frank says the plan is to repeal it as part of the Defense Authorization Bill next year.
The policy was put into effect as part of a Defense Authorization Bill in 1993. It‘s also worth noting that the big gay rights advance this year of passing hate crimes legislation happened in this year‘s Defense Authorization Bill.
If this plan works, “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” would be dead by October 1st of next year. Stay tuned.
MADDOW: When Congressman Steve Buyer of Indiana looks back on 2009, he‘ll be able to say that this was his breakthrough year. This was the year that all of America learned that it looks like “buyer” but it sounds like Buyer. This is the year he got a national profile for all the wrong reasons.
First, there was his argument that smoking tobacco is really not that different than smoking lettuce. Yes, he is a big recipient of R.J. Reynolds donations, why do you ask? Then there was his outrageous argument that health reform was a secret plot to hurt veterans.
But what‘s making him nationally famous now is his charity, the Frontier Foundation, which was supposedly founded to give Indiana kids college scholarships, but which in its six years of existence, has yet to actually give out a single one even though it‘s raised over $800,000.
Last night on the “CBS Evening News,” investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson interviewed Congressman about his foundation, asking him first why the offices of this mysterious foundation were empty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARYL ATTKISSON, CBS INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Why doesn‘t the Frontier Foundation have a physical address currently?
REP. STEVE BUYER (R-IN): Well, you know, I think - first of all, you have to ask the foundation that question. The foundation - the president of the foundation called me last Thursday night. I think the 29th.
And they had held a board meeting. And she wanted to tell me about some of the positive things that they were doing. And one of which is they wanted to immediately relocate, and they did. They moved out that night.
And I think that was a good thing, because that‘s about - you know, I spoke with the foundation when I told folks in Indiana that I would do a review. I was so focused on helping them achieve their goal of $1 million endowment. But you know, I didn‘t pay as much attention to appearances as I should have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Appearances. What things look like. A reasonable concern has to be said when the congressman‘s foundation is raising money from companies who have interests before the congressman right out of the congressman‘s campaign office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATKINSON: In retrospect, do you think it was inappropriate that they were collocated with your campaign office?
BUYER: You know, I guess I was so focused on them wanting to make sure they could save money, you know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, they could save money. The foundation spent more than $100,000 on fundraising and sending the congressman out to play golf in exotic locales with corporate donors, while at the same time doling out precisely zero dollars in scholarship money, the cause for which it was purportedly raising all those funds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATKINSON: Where did the $25,000 to start the foundation come from?
BUYER: You know what? I was asked that question and I don‘t recall.
ATKINSON: How can you not know where the $25,000 came from?
BUYER: I don‘t - seriously, I don‘t recall. It could have been from pharma. It would have been from one of the companies. I don‘t know. You have to ask the foundation with (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ATKINSON: Well, the foundation won‘t answer our questions. I‘ve talked to the foundation.
BUYER: It had to come from one of those major donors. But I don‘t remember.
ATKINSON: Can you find out? This is something that would seem to be important. Can you find out for us after interview today?
BUYER: First of all, please ask the foundation that type of question, but I don‘t recall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The foundation did E-mail CBS after the interview to say the $25,000 seed money for the foundation came from pharma, the drug lobby, which has actually donated $200,000 to the foundation, and which hired the congressman‘s son to be its federal affairs manager in 2008, and which lobbies on drug regulations before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, of which the Congressman Buyer is a member.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATKINSON: One reason it‘s controversial, from what I can tell, all of the donors have interests before committees that you sit on in Congress. Why is that?
BUYER: Well, the committees in which were - the committees - the corporations which provided support, as I said, were those original companies. And I also would say that these companies, of whom have contributed, do not assume.
I‘ve seen your follow the money piece before I saw what you did to Obama. So please do not assume that if a company contributes to a foundation that somehow that‘s some type of influence upon what I‘m about to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No influence, you say? This is your cue, Sheryl Atkinson of CBS - go, go, go, go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATKINSON: In ‘07, you helped kill a three-year ban on advertising new drugs. In ‘08 you sponsored the safeguarding of America‘s Pharmaceutical Act, which is one of the pharmaceutical industry‘s top priorities.
This year you‘ve cosponsored tougher penalties for counterfeit drugs, all after these generous donations from the pharmaceutical industry to the foundation.
BUYER: Who I am and my core beliefs do not change. I‘m the same person I am before I came to office and the same person now. I‘ll be the same person when I walk out of this office.
So people support who you are and what you believe in. And so trying to match up legislation like that is erroneous. You shouldn‘t do that, Sheryl. I think it‘s wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What‘s not wrong, according to Congressman Buyer, the links between his foundation that doesn‘t give out any scholarships and the tobacco industry that donates to the foundation anyway. And yes, Buyer‘s committee has jurisdiction over tobacco regulation as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATKINSON: Tobacco interests - tobacco interests have given tens of thousands of dollar to your foundation. Last April, you opposed a bill to give FDA authority to regulate tobacco. You instead sponsored an R.J. Reynolds-supported alternative.
BUYER: I created this. I created - no one else created this. I came up with trying to create a new public health position on tobacco. You‘re conducting an interview here that is picking and choosing areas that may try to fit a story.
And you‘re trying to fit a story whereby, gee, if I follow the money, I can show how it influences a member of Congress. And you‘re ignoring the fact that pharma, the largest contributor to the foundation, is supporting Obama care for which I vehemently oppose.
So if you go to the air and print your story without telling that side of it, then, this is not a fair and balanced story. I just want you to know that. Now, what I‘m doing right now is I‘m looking at and I spoke with the president of the foundation on things that we can do to address people‘s concerns with regard to appearance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: CBS correspondent Sheryl Atkinson says she would have asked Congressman Buyer more questions except that the interview ended abruptly when the congressman got up and rushed out to a congressional meeting or something.
Congressman Steve Buyer is getting more and more famous all the time now. Maybe this is karma for him trying to scare veterans.
MADDOW: We turn now to our end-times correspondent, spooky Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. There‘s a movie coming out tomorrow called 2012, which is about the end of the world. They say it‘s fiction. I don‘t know.
JONES (voice-over): So did you hear? The world is coming to an end on December 21, 2012. It‘s the apocalypse. End of days. The Mayan calendar said so and the Mayans are never wrong.
A planet first discovered by the Sumerians called Nibiru or Planet X will slam into the earth, causing a global cataclysm. Take the day off.
There‘s even a new John Cusack movie that shows how it‘s all going to go down. Apocalypse? Cool. Lose 20 pounds, pay off your student loans, engage in civil public discourse, what for?
There‘s been such a glut of this end of the world lackadoodlery lately that NASA - yes, the NASA - has decided to break out the debunking stick.
Quote, “Credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.” Yes, but what if they‘re hiding Nibiru from all of us so we can‘t prepare? We‘re sitting ducks.
Says NASA, quote, “If Nibiru, or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade and it would be visible by now by the naked eye. Obviously, it doesn‘t exist.”
Yes, but what about a geomagnetic storms or meteors or radical shifts in the earth‘s tectonic plates? Put a fork in us, man. We are done. Again, NASA says, chill. Not going to happen. Everybody breathe. Bottom line, you still have to pay your student loans.
MADDOW: I love that NASA has like somebody assigned to talk me down, the “talk me down” desk.
JONES: Talk down the planet in this case.
MADDOW: Yes, that‘s very good. Somebody asked me the other day at the gym, “Have you heard about 2012? What do you think about it?” And I was like, “Who‘s going to run for the Republicans?”
JONES: Year after year after year after?
MADDOW: Yes, they love the smashups.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: Thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you again tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” with Mr. Keith Olbermann starts right now. Have a good one.
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