Guests: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Evan Perez, Michael Hastings
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: That‘s “COUNTDOWN” for this June 28th, it is the 2,216th day since President Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq, the 2,204th day since he declared victory in Afghanistan, and it is the 70th day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf.
I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
And now, to discuss the “Rolling Stone” article and apparently retiring Stanley McChrystal with the man who wrote it—ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you very much for that.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
As General Stanley McChrystal today moves to retire from the United States Army altogether, Michael Hastings, the man who‘s reporting ended the general‘s career joins us live here in studio for his first interview since returning from Afghanistan.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, one of the senators who faced off with Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan at the judiciary committee today. She‘s also with us tonight from Washington.
We have the incredible tale of what sounds like a Cold War aspiring (ph), except the people arrested as undeclared Russian agents were picked up today. We‘ve got that story coming up.
And the latest installment of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s BP press release theater. BP at its propagandistic finest.
All ahead on this very, very busy news day.
But we begin with this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GT. WILLIAM BOYKIN (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Why do they hate us so much? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that is because we‘re a Christian nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s former U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Boykin in uniform in 2002, explaining that the United States was actively engaged in a holy war against Islam. General Boykin, who was a top Bush administration Pentagon official wasn‘t just explaining that we were in a holy war. He was explaining in essence that that was a good thing because he was fighting a holy war, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOYKIN: Well, you know what? I knew that my God was bigger than his.
I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I knew that my God was bigger than his.
General Boykin‘s remarks in 2002 and 2003 proved to be too much even for the Bush administration back then. The Pentagon made clear the general was out of bounds and the president distanced himself from the “My God‘s bigger” comments.
General Boykin retired in 2007. What‘s he been up to since? Well, he‘s the guy Senate Republicans announced would be in their first round of witnesses to testify against president Obama‘s Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, whose confirmation hearings began today in Washington.
General William Boykin is who Republicans plan to make the case that Elena Kagan is secretly anti-military, I guess? Or maybe he was going to make the case that she has a very, very tiny God or something? William Boykin.
Perhaps after their Google got unstuck, Republicans rescinded their invitation to General Boykin. Literally within hours of announcing him, Senate Republicans disinvited General Boykin from the witness list to testify this week. And that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about this particular Supreme Court nomination fight and what Republicans are trying to do here.
Beltway common wisdom is something that in general that I think you shouldn‘t trust farther than you can throw it. But Beltway common wisdom is pretty strong on this one, and it says that Elena Kagan will be confirmed as the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Because everybody seems to believe that is true, these hearings are not shaping up to be a real fight about whether Ms. Kagan is going to be kept off the court. They are instead turning out to be a chance for our two political parties to show off a little bit—show off a little bit about what‘s important to them about the judiciary, which does make up 1/3 of our constitutional system of government. Choosing William Boykin, Mr. “My God is Bigger than Your God,” as their lead-off testimony against Elena Kagan tells you a little bit something about where Republicans think they‘re heading here.
Even if for matter of political prudent, they decided belatedly to disinvite William Boykin, we‘ve still got plenty of indication today from the lead Republican on the judiciary committee, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, that Republicans will try to use the Kagan hearings as sort of a teachable moment to warn America yet again about the dangers of—liberals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ®, ALABAMA: Throughout her career, Ms. Kagan has associated herself with well-known activist judges who have used their power to redefine the meaning of words of our Constitution and laws in ways that not surprisingly have the results of advancing that judge‘s preferred social policies and agendas. Her actions punished the military and demeaned our soldiers as they were courageously fighting for our country in two wars overseas. Ms. Kagan‘s college thesis on socialism in New York seems to bemoan socialism‘s demise there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Doesn‘t that take you back? Can‘t you just close your eyes and listen to that voice, like you forget what decade it is? You forget what century it is.
The fun thing about the “be afraid of the liberal” strategy that Republicans seem to be deploying against Elena Kagan is that she‘s really not that much of a liberal. So that‘s going to be fun to watch over time.
Also, it‘s just fun to listen to see how many extra syllables Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III can add to the word “liberal” to make it sound more scary.
Democrats, on the other hand,. seem to be trying to use these hearings as their own teachable moment. Our next guest, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota today kept her opening remarks tightly focused on the nominee and her qualification.
But some of other Democratic senators, including her counterparts from Minnesota, Al Franken, and Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, essentially followed the lead of Jeff Sessions—not in dark warnings about liberalism, but in trying to use these hearings as an opportunity to make a broader case to the nation about the judiciary, about the courts—specifically about the judiciary that we‘ve got and the courts we‘ve got right now, specifically about the John Robert Supreme Court and the corporations that love it too much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: There is such a thing as judicial activism. There is such a thing as legislating from the bench. And it is practiced repeatedly by the Roberts Court and it has cut in only one direction, in favor of powerful corporate interests and against the rights of individual Americans. My state has been victim to the third largest Ponzi scheme in history, and yet in 2008, in the case called Stoneridge, the Roberts court made it harder for investors to get their money back from people who defrauded them. The Twin Cities have more older workers per capita than almost any other city in the nation. And yet in 2009, in the case called Gross, the Roberts Court made it easier for corporations to fire older Americans and get away with it.
There is a pattern here. Each of these decisions was one with five votes. And each of these decisions, that bear majority, used its power to help big business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse hammered the same point home by highlighting the Roberts Court‘s most controversial ruling to date, Citizens United.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: The Citizens United decision, yet another 5-4 decision, created a constitutional right for corporations to spend unlimited money in American elections, opening our democratic system to a massive new threat of corruption and corporate control.
There is an unmistakable pattern. For all the talk of umpires and balls and strikes at the Supreme Court, the strike zone for corporations gets better every day. It is a great Constitution we have inherited. And you will be a great justice if you interpret our Constitution in the light of its founding purpose rather than according to the preferences of today‘s most powerful interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Elena Kagan, in all likelihood, is going to be confirmed as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court. No sure bets, but that seems likely.
The big unknown at this point is how many votes she‘ll get. As E.J. Dionne written for “The Washington Post” today, confirmation hearings in the past have been a chance for conservatives to trumpet their judicial philosophy to the nation, almost regardless of anything about the nominee. Will Elena Kagan‘s hearings be the first time in a generation at least that Democrats do that about their judicial philosophy instead of the Republicans?
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
She‘s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Klobuchar, thank you so much for joining us on a busy day.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thank you, Rachel. It‘s great to be on again.
MADDOW: It seems to me that Senate Democrats may be trying to use these hearings as a way to demonstrate to the country and make a case to the country about what it means to have a very conservative court. What sort of rulings you get when you have a conservative court. Is that in part the strategy here?
KLOBUCHAR: I think you‘re going to hear that. I think you‘ll still see when the questions start, though, Rachel, traditional questions of this nominee, of her background. But there is no denying. When you have someone like Judge Posner, not exactly a liberal, that went back and looked at the justices and found that four of the five most conservative justices since 1937 are on this court right now, I don‘t think that‘s really disputable that this court has grown very conservative. So my question really is what is Elena Kagan going to do about this in terms of bringing some real world experience?
And I‘d say two things. First of all, came out well today, she‘s a consensus builder, supported by solicitor general back the last 24 years, including Republicans. She‘s also someone that has known at Harvard as bringing people together, diverse points of view. So maybe we could actually get some of those opinions to tilt 5-4 the other way.
The second thing is that she‘s someone with real world experience. And that‘s what I pointed out today. You know, I would love to have someone in that room with those justices who says, what are you guys thinking, you know? You think Lilly Ledbetter when she was discriminated against for years and years was supposed to, in few months after they started giving her male counterparts higher salary, was she supposed to rifle through their drawers and look at their pay stubs? Was she supposed to start asking them, hey, what are you guys making?
So I think having some real world experience and having someone who is incredibly smart but at the same time gets along with people to bring some of that experience to bear in those discussions where you and I can never go. I think that will be a good thing.
MADDOW: In terms of the overall ideological balance of the court, that interesting point Judge Posner made. And the observation that others have made that Justice Stevens himself has even made that essentially with each new justice who has been nominated over the past several decades, the court has shifted a little bit to the right. Nobody has been more to the left than their predecessor in a very, very long time.
I wonder if it‘ll be an appropriate line of questioning to determine whether or not she‘s actually going to be to the right of Justice Stevens on many of the social issues that tend to mark a justice as liberal or conservative.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, you know, everything is really open court for questioning of the judiciary committee. I think you‘re going to hear all kinds of questions. I think she has pretty much said she‘s not going to say how she‘s going to rule on a specific case. But I think it‘s going to be very interesting because in her hearing when she was up for the solicitor general job, she fairly opened, answered questions well. And so, I think you‘ll hear a lot of good questions on both sides of her on all these issues.
But, again, your point, one of my favorite examples of this court was actually the Exxon Valdez case, which is incredibly relevant today with 32,000 plaintiffs. It took them years and years to even get any payouts to fishermen, 8,000 of them died during that time. And the Roberts Court basically takes a $5 billion jury verdict and knocks it down to $500 million. And so, those are the kinds of decisions my colleagues will be talking about.
But again, I would, when the questions start, you‘re going to hear all kinds of things, especially from the other side about Saudi Arabian gifts to Harvard and all kinds of a grab bag of those kinds of attacks. But I think you will hear defense and some attacks on the Roberts Court.
MADDOW: Do you have any clear sense of what the Republicans will be choosing as their line of attack against her? Obviously, the initial pick and then withdrawal of the General Boykin to me, the biggest red flag I could possibly imagine. It was like they chose Orly Taitz to come in there and question her. Do you have any sense of what direction they‘re going?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think the general thing you‘re going to hear, the military issues, even though the whole time she was there, the military were able to recruit on campus. But I think you‘re going to hear that and then you‘re going to hear this political thing, which I think is really interesting, because you look at Sandra Day O‘Connor, pretty much revered by people of different stripes. She was actually the elected Senate majority leader Republican in Arizona, or my colleague John Cornyn has served as a judge and he‘s also as a senator.
So, you have people that have been in roles where they advise presidents, John Roberts. But then they play different roles, as well. So, I think they are playing on that ground, but at the same time, then you look at her career as a whole, as Lindsey Graham actually suggested you do, which was an interesting beginning of his opening where he cited Robert C. Byrd and said, you know, if you look at one incident—you may not agree with this guy—but when you look at his career as a whole, that‘s how you examine a man or a woman. I think he was saying that for a reason because he was saying, I don‘t agree with everything Elena Kagan says, but there are some things I agree with.
So, I don‘t think you‘re going to hear around—across the board attacks from the Republicans. I think Lindsey Graham will ask interesting questions. You also have the fact, Rachel, and the Republican side that someone you‘ve talked about quite a bit on this show, Scott Brown, introduced her today along with John Kerry. So, you clearly see some voices that are taking a little different tact.
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, of course, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee—I know it‘s going to be a really busy time in the Senate. And we hope you‘ll come back and talk to us during this process.
KLOBUCHAR: I would love to do that again. Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. Still ahead: Spies from Russia, living deep undercover right here in America busted. This story/real life graphic novel I would so buy and read—is coming up next.
And later, “Rolling Stone‘s” Michael Hastings joins us for his first TV interview since he returned from Afghanistan after his blockbuster article led to the firing of General McChrystal. That‘s all coming up.
MADDOW: Michael Hastings, the “Rolling Stone” reporter whose jobs-wrapping article ended General Stanley McChrystal‘s career, joins us right here on set for his first interview since returning from Afghanistan. Please don‘t miss that. It‘s coming right up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We may be able to finally throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama last week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, joking that because of their Twitter accounts, they have no need for the Cold War Era red phone anymore. But that was last week. Then, the Justice Department made an announcement today that made the world feel very red phony all over again. The Justice announced today that 10 alleged Russian spies have been arrested with another suspect still at large.
The arrests were made in four different American states. The suspects are accused of carrying out deep cover assignments for the Russian government. The result of a multi-year FBI investigation, the suspects are charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.
Now, according to the complaint, which reads like a spy novel, the suspects were controlled and directed by Moscow, they allegedly had fake Americanized names. Eight of them acted as married couples. And their assignment was to get in touch with influential Americans and send intel home to mother Russia.
In 2009, the FBI said it intercepted and decrypted a message from Russian intelligence headquarters in Moscow to two of the defendants. And the message reportedly said, quote, “You were sent to USA for along-term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, house, et cetera—all of these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e., to search and develop ties and policy making circles in U.S. and send intels to C,” presumably center.
The complaint says the alleged spies were trained by the Russian foreign intelligence service, successor to the Soviet Era KGB in intelligence gathering, gaining expertise in “foreign language; agent-to-agent communications, including the use of brush-passes; short-wave radio operation and invisible writing. Also, the use of codes and ciphers including the use of encrypted Morse code messages.”
Invisible writing. The Justice Department complaint—I‘m not exaggerating. It‘s not hyperbole, it really does read like a spy novel, with the suspects using private wireless networks to communicate with Russian officials.
At one point in the complaint, one meeting, a secret agent was inside a coffee shop on her laptop while a Russian government official was outside the coffee shop in his minivan and they were exchanging information—even the old-style brush-pass, the technique of two agents secretly handing off information as they brush-passed each other in public. That was reportedly used in New York‘s Grand Central Station and in Central Park. Smiley‘s people could not be reached for comment.
Joining us now is “Wall Street Journal” reporter, Evan Perez.
Mr. Perez, thank you very much for being here.
EVAN PEREZ, WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTER: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Can you tell us a little bit about these alleged Russian spies, where they live, where they worked, what their cover looked like?
PEREZ: Well, you know, there were supposed to be just, you know, normal Americans living suburban lives, I guess, to evade any notice from the FBI. They live in Arlington, Virginia, Roslyn and Yonkers, New York, Montclair in New Jersey, places that, you know, exactly—aren‘t exactly, you know, glamorous assignments.
And they basically just, you know, tried to contact what, you know, U.S. officials who they thought could provide information about nuclear weapons, about bunker-busting bombs and things—you know, some of the things that you could basically get on Google. So I‘m not sure how deep they got into it.
MADDOW: In terms of what we know about them, is it—is it clear yet if they were Russians who were trained to seem American? Or were they Americans who were flipped?
PEREZ: Well, you know, the FBI‘s still working to determine exactly who these people are. It appears that, you know, some of them were sent from Russia, they provided fake birth certificates from Canada or from Pennsylvania. There was at least one—one of the people who were arrested who appears to be a Spanish language reporter for “El Diario,” which is a newspaper in New York. And apparently she‘s born in Peru.
So, at this stage, it looks like most of them are Russian.
MADDOW: OK. In terms of the techniques that they used, obviously, that‘s some of the salaciousness of the story.
MADDOW: I mean, it‘s a salacious story anyway. But invisible writing, short-wave radio, brush-passes—what else can you tell us about the techniques they‘re accused of using, both to maintain their cover and to send information home?
PEREZ: Right, well, they were using something called steganography, which is essentially hiding data and information and messages inside images, on publicly available web sites. For example, in a photograph, for example, you could hide data and information which can then be decrypted using special software. They were also using, you know, some sort of short-wave radio to send Morse code-like messages back to Moscow or to communicate with each other.
So, we‘re talking about stuff that you might see in spy novels, like you said.
MADDOW: Evan Perez, reporter for the “Wall Street Journal”—as I noted, there‘s one suspect apparently still at large here. So, at least at that level, this story continues. Thanks for helping us sort it out, Evan. I appreciate it.
PEREZ: Thank you.
MADDOW: Over the past three years, BP, you might have heard of them, they made $63 billion in profit -- $63 billion with a “B.” How much of that $63 billion in profit did they turn back into spending on oil spill response research? Let me put it this way, Poppy spent the exact same amount on oil spill research as BP. Poppy (ph), my dog spent the same amount as BP on oil spill research. Of course, they‘re in charge of oil spill response.
MADDOW: Hey, good news. BP has a new plan for cleaning up oil from the Gulf Coast beaches. Yes, the company tried out its brand-spanking new clean-up strategy around Orange Beach, Alabama, over the weekend.
Here it is. Quote, “Under the new plan workers deploy straight from a central staging area directly to a beach in the path of oil, instead of waiting on the beach.”
That‘s the new plan. We go clean a specific part of the beach that we know needs cleaning instead of waiting on the beach in the sun. That‘s the new plan.
It‘s day 70 of this disaster—that‘s the new plan.
The great state of Florida has also announced that it‘s looking at new ways to stop the oil instead of just boom. Now, they‘re planning on arranging barges as if the barges are boom—giant barge-like boom. Maybe it‘ll work, who knows. Nobody knows. Nobody knows.
Does it ever feel like they‘re sort of making this up as they go along? Like BP‘s real response plan was a piece of paper that just said, hey, just wing it, because hey, it turns out, they just are.
This is an issue we have been hammering on for weeks on this show, the heart-breaking lameness of oil spill response, using the same technology today that they used in 1969, 1979 to respond to oil spills then, using that technology poorly. The fact that oil companies couldn‘t be bothered to invest at all in figuring out how to clean up their messes because they were too busy counting their record profits, lighting each other‘s cigars with $1,000 bills.
The issue of how bad oil-spill response technology is, is something that is now getting asked about in Congress. It is something that “New York Times” touched on last week. And the “Associated Press” hit on it over the weekend in some pretty stark detail.
When a bunch of people start chasing the story, ultimately, you all turn up enough details that, if you combine them, you can get a pretty clear story. And in this case, you learn something amazing about BP.
Over the last three years, BP made about $58.5 billion in profits. I said $63 billion earlier - that was wrong - $58.5 billion in profits over the last three years. You know, things have been pretty awesome for BP. That‘s not revenue. That‘s not gross. That‘s net. That‘s profit.
While they were raking in tens of billions of dollars in pure profit, according to the “AP‘s” reporting, BP says it spent this much - you can see on the graph there, that much on safer drilling - $29 million on safer drilling. BP says it spent $29 million over three years on researching how to drill more safely.
That‘s 0.05 percent of their profits for that same amount of time. But that little line you can barely see there, that‘s just safer drilling. We‘re still not even talking about better clean-up.
So back to the graph. During this three-year time period, when they were making $58.5 billion and apparently spending $29 million on safer drilling, what was BP spending on making sure that if something went wrong they‘d be able to handle it? What was the company spending on spill response research?
Because remember, the way oil companies get approval to drill in the United States and in U.S. waters is by promising that they can handle it if there‘s a spill. They can handle the spill. They can handle cleaning up after worst-case scenario spills, right? That‘s how they get approval.
So let‘s say BP‘s minuscule investment into safer drilling doesn‘t pay off and something does go wrong. Something goes wrong say 5,000 feet under water off the coast of Louisiana. What then? What has BP been spending on researching how to clean up an oil spill, how to clean up, say, a really bad underwater oil spill.
It turns out (UNINTELLIGIBLE) BP does not do that research itself. They admit that. A spokesman for BP telling the “Associated Press” that, “BP does not research oil spill cleanup technology. Instead, he said BP supports oil spill response organizations such as the nonprofit Marine Spill Response Corporation.”
OK. So BP doesn‘t do spill response research themselves. They have the Marine Spill Response Corporation do it for them. And now, here‘s the part that you should tell all your friends at work tomorrow or at school tomorrow or wake somebody up and tell them tonight.
BP doesn‘t do spill response research themselves. They have the Marine Spill Response Corporation do it for them. The budget for oil spill response research at the Marine Spill Response Corporation is zero.
A spokesperson for the organization told “USA Today” they have no budget for research. That same spokesperson confirmed to us today, quote, “Marine Spill Response Corporation” is an operational company, not a research and development company.”
So BP doesn‘t do any research into oil spill response. And the company BP claims does it for them doesn‘t do it either, and isn‘t even the kind of company that would. So back to the graph. Remember, this is how much BP made in profits over the last three years. Ding, ding, ding - $58.5 billion with a B. This is how much they spent on researching safer ways to drill over a three-year period - $29 million. And this is how much they spent on oil spill response research. Zero dollars.
BP has spent zero dollars researching how to respond to an oil spill. Aren‘t you glad BP is in charge of the oil spill response in the gulf right now?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: And as commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was last December, when President Obama announced at the West Point Military Academy that he would send 30,000 more Americans to Afghanistan. And after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. That was then. This is now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There has been a lot of obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There has been a lot of obsession. That is not the word choice we associate with the commander-in-chief who still considers his own withdrawal date to be a sure thing or a “probably” thing or even a “maybe” thing.
This weekend, the whole July 2011 withdrawal deadline seems to have gone woksies(ph).
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Petraeus comes to the president and explained the 2011 and says, “You know, this July deadline - I need six more months,” should that?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): I would say give it to him, absolutely.
And I think he has flexibility realistically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Do you think that he has flexibility on that? Speak for yourself, Sen. Feinstein. Your home state colleague, the speaker of the House, begs to differ. In an exclusive interview with the “Huffington Post‘s” Sam Stein, Nancy Pelosi was asked if troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan in July 2011.
She replied, quote, “I do. And everything I saw there before, for all the bad things there that I saw in terms of corruption and money wasted, I did consistently hear that the timetable was on schedule to have serious drawdown.”
Feinstein described Nancy Pelosi as quite firm on the subject saying that the speaker emphasized that, “The House may use the power of the purse to ensure the drawdown.” In other words, Speaker Pelosi warning that the Democratic majority in the House will not just argue against borrowing through the deadline. They will act to force compliance with the deadline using money.
Already today, Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York moved to strip $3.9 billion in aid money for Afghanistan out of the foreign aid bill citing rampant Afghan corruption, “I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists.”
Don‘t know why she thinks that might be happening. Maybe it‘s because of the pallets full of cash being airlifted out of Kabul every day. Today, the “Wall Street Journal” followed up on reporting done by the “Washington Post” in February that millions of dollars a day, somewhere on the order of $1 billion a year, has been flown in cash out of Kabul airport every year for the last three years.
And that‘s the above-board take, quote, “The cash packed into suitcases, piled on to pallets and loaded into airplanes is declared and legal to move. But U.S. and Afghan officials say they are targeting the flows in major anticorruption and drug trafficking investigation because of their size relative to Afghanistan‘s smaller economy and the murkiness of their origins.”
Officials believe some of the cash, if not most, is siphoned from Western aid projects in U.S., European and NATO contracts. $3 billion is an amount of money that the human brain simply cannot comprehend. Making it all the more incomprehensible, though, is how much money $3 billion is in a country like Afghanistan.
Quote, “The amount declared as it leaves the airport is vast in a nation where the gross domestic product last year totaled $13.5 billion. More declared cash flies out of Kabul each year than the Afghan government collects in tax and customs revenue nationwide.”
More cash - and this is the legal stuff, flies out of Afghanistan in suitcases and stacked on pallets than gets collected in taxes in the entire country in a year. Is that a problem our 100,000 troops are supposed to solve? And if so, how should they do that?
Joining us now is reporter Michael Hastings who wrote the explosive profile of gen. Stanley McChrystal in this month‘s “Rolling Stone” magazine. This is his first interview since returning from Afghanistan. Michael, nice to see you. Welcome.
MICHAEL HASTINGS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “ROLLING STONE”: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: Gen. McChrystal moved to retire altogether from the United States Army today. Have you had a chance yet to think big picture about the impact of your reporting here on him, on you, on the war? Or do you feel like you‘re still in the middle of it?
HASTINGS: I haven‘t had too much time to reflect on the impact of the story, though I think it‘s a positive sign that people are focused on Afghanistan talking about the strategy, talking about some of the flaws in the strategy.
The corruption story that Matt Rosenberg did today - he‘s one of the many great reporters working in Kabul. He‘s with the “wall street journal.” And I think it‘s excellent that that is getting this much attention.
MADDOW: Now, your piece was a little bit about the type of language that Gen. McChrystal and his aides used to describe other people involved in the aid effort. Obviously, that‘s what led to the most explosive conclusions from your - or implications of your piece.
But the overall point was about counterinsurgency being a recipe for endless war. Do you feel like that point has been picked up on? Or do you think it‘s been lost in the shuffle?
HASTINGS: I don‘t know. I think people are talking about counterinsurgency in a way that I haven‘t heard them talk about it before.
HASTING: I think, you know, obviously, with the rules of engagement which are the restrictions put on U.S. forces, Gen. Petraeus is now reviewing those. So many aspects of the piece are getting appropriate attention.
But at the end of the day, the question is, is the strategy that we‘re doing in Afghanistan - does that make us safer from terrorists? And I think there‘s still a question mark about that?
MADDOW: Gen. Petraeus, the president keeps tell us, is not going to change the overall American strategy in Afghanistan. But as you point out, rules of engagement and the other means by which we apply that strategy has to all be up for review.
Do you feel like you understand or you have any inkling of what is up for review, what might change in the shift from McChrystal to Petraeus?
HASTINGS: Well, part of it, a change in style, not necessarily substance. Gen. Petraeus has a track record of working with excellently with the American ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker.
And I think they‘re trying to hope to recreate that magic in Afghanistan. It‘s Petraeus, the sequel. So - but as of right now, I haven‘t had the time to do the reporting I need to do to figure out really what Gen. Petraeus is going to do.
MADDOW: In terms of the parallels with Iraq and Afghanistan, obviously, in counterinsurgency, it‘s about asking the military accomplish objectives that aren‘t usually the sort of things we think about as military objectives like cracking down on corruption in the Afghanistan government.
And substantively, the problem with Gen. Petraeus - Gen. McChrystal and his aides talking smack about nonmilitary people they‘re just working with is that undercuts the whole idea of the strategy.
Do Ambassador Holbrooke, Karl Eikenberry - do they bear some responsibility for the lack of a relationship between the civilian side and the military side? Or is that - was that really a one-way street?
HASTINGS: I don‘t think they bear too much responsibility in that the whole structure set up where the military has so much power and there‘s this sort of confused diplomatic side. And I think what - one of the impacts of the story has in the shake of it is that I think they‘re really trying to work that out specifically with Ambassador Holbrooke and Ambassador Eikenberry.
MADDOW: On the confused diplomatic side, though -
MADDOW: Is that the part of the diplomats? Or is that just because there‘s so little room for them to operate they‘re crowded out by the military?
HASTINGS: Look, the - look, there are more people in the Army banned than there are Foreign Service officers. You can fit all the Foreign Service officers, the members of the State Department, on one aircraft carrier.
I mean, the structural deficiencies between what the DOD has and the State Department has is huge. So what that means is that you need to streamline the diplomatic command in the same way we‘ve streamlined the military command.
Gen. Petraeus is going to be the sort of supreme commander and he needs sort of viceroy who is also playing that role. It‘s similar - you know, it‘s basically an American viceroy who can wield the sort of weight that a diplomat needs to wield to be able to work effectively and be on the same playing field as the military general.
MADDOW: Michael, I think that it‘s true that people are now talking in more depth about counterinsurgency than they were before your article came out. And because of that, you may very well change the course of a war.
One of the things that you raise is the issue of what the alternatives are. Obviously, this president is not going to pull troops out suddenly. He‘s probably not even going to pull all of them out when he pulls them out. We‘re going to be there at least for some long tail for some very long time to come.
Is CT Plus - counterterrorism plus - the Joe - essentially what‘s been named the Joe Biden option - is that a realistic alternative to what we‘re doing now? And is it being seriously considered?
HASTINGS: Is it being seriously considered? I‘m sure people are still pushing for it.
HASTINGS: But I think, eventually, that‘s where we‘re going to end up with. We‘re going to end up with a smaller footprint there. And we‘re going to end up with fairly active counterterrorism program there.
So eventually, we‘re sort of fighting our way to get to a spot that, you know, one would think we could get to without fighting our way there. I mean, as Thomas Friedman said, Afghanistan was probably - we would‘ve been better off if we‘d left Afghanistan on sort of a slow boil rather than escalating like we did.
But now the die is cast. They‘re committed to the strategy. And hopefully, it works out for the best, though. I have obviously a great deal of questions about whether that‘s going to happen.
MADDOW: Yes. Do you think that there‘s anything that U.S. forces can do about corruption in Afghanistan, really?
MADDOW: Everybody talks about corruption as being the reason nothing‘s going to work. Is there anything we can do about it?
HASTINGS: No, it‘s a joke. I mean, when Gen. McChrystal took over, one of the main things they were discussing was whether or not even corruption should be a focus. I mean, trying to stop corruption in Afghanistan is like trying to stop the drug war here.
I think we should really choose our battles wisely and not waste our resources. You know, when you see numbers like this, you know, what, $3 billion being flown out on a - you know, from Kabul airport every day. You‘ve just got to wonder, like, you know, what‘s going on?
And research has shown there‘s a professor at Tufts University who showed that, in fact, if you throw this aid money into this sort of chaotic situations, that actually fuels corruption. It fuels government illegitimacy rather than helping it.
MADDOW: Michael Hastings, you wrote what will probably turn out to be the most important piece of journalist on the war in Afghanistan this year. You may change the course of the war. You certainly have brought the nation‘s attention back to it in a very dramatic way. Congratulations on your success.
HASTINGS: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: We‘re happy to see you. Thanks.
HASTINGS: Take care.
MADDOW: So are you tired of all the negativity about the BP oil disaster? Just ahead is another installment of THE RACHEL MADDOW‘s BP‘s transcript theater. It‘s news about BP by BP - so much nicer that way.
But first, one more thing. Actually, two more things, both programming notes. One, I‘ve got poison ivy, thanks for not being mean about it - fishing trip.
Two, I‘m going to Afghanistan next week. We‘ll spend several days shooting stories in different parts of the country with NBC‘s Richard Engel before broadcasting the show live next Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Easter. THE RACHEL MADDOW show live from Afghanistan next week. We hope you will join us for those very special shows. In the meantime, we‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour decides that maybe the BP oil disaster is a big deal after all, now that oil is coming ashore in a large amount in Mississippi.
And ahead on this show, “BP Press Release Theater.” It will lighten your mood. Stay with us.
MADDOW: You know, it‘s hard to find the upside to ecological mega-disaster. It‘s hard. It‘s hard to look at dead dolphins and dead birds and dead turtles and find the sunny side, the silver lining. The recipe for lemonade from all those pesky lemons. It‘s hard. But BP makes it possible.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gently caressing the sea surface, the three vessels circled and swirled, guiding the boom without changing the design, a ballet at sea as mesmerizing as any performance in a concert hall and worthy of an audience in its own right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Sick of all the Debbie Downers in the real media, BP has hired its own reporters to cover the BP oil disaster for the company‘s Web site. You may have noticed that we‘ve been setting some of these press releases - I mean reports - to music the better to appreciate their full propagandistic glory.
We have been calling it “BP Press Release Theater.” BP‘s so-called reporters really do write these press releases, almost word for word. We just add the music and pictures.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES (voice-over): Out here, flying at a height of up to 1,400 feet, the clouds are puffy white and brilliantly lighted, but cast dark shadows on the wave-capped water below.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I want to go there. I want to see the puffy white clouds. It‘s like BP‘s trying to make you glad the Deepwater Horizon is wrecking the Gulf of Mexico, because maybe you‘ll be lucky enough to ride around in a helicopter and see the wonderment. Actually used that word “wonderment” - their word, not mine. Wonderment.
Last week, the New Orleans‘ “Times-Picayune” looked into BP‘s bogus press and decided it wasn‘t so wonderment-y. Quote, “Spill-weary gulf residents are unlikely to find much in the disaster that inspires them or would count as a privilege.”
Here‘s the latest from BP reporter, Paula Kolmar. This one was filed on June 20th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): I wanted to understand why authorities repeatedly had warned the public not to handle injured birds, but instead, instructed people to report the location of injured birds and leave it to specialists to rescue the animals.
One look at a distressed oiled pelican arriving at the center answered part of my question. The birds are dangerous and can be aggressive when under stress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Note to BP reporter, you would be dangerous and aggressive, too, if someone had just smothered you with crude oil.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Understanding what an animal is going through, plucked out of the sticky oil and put into the world of man gives workers the passion and staying power to get the sea birds ready for release as quickly and safely as possible.
One bird rescued is one victory. Over the coming months, there will be many victories and some painful losses. Workers all along the gulf coast are using every ounce of their experience, skill and compassion to assure far more victories.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, before “BP Press Release Theater,” I admit I was having a hard time keeping track of all the victories in the BP oil disaster, all the winning. The Fish and Wildlife Service reported today that of the not-quite-2,000 birds collected in the gulf so far, 1,150 were dead already.
No one knows how many of the few who get cleaned will survive. But from BP‘s perspective, I‘m sure there‘s a beyond petroleum good news story in there somewhere. Somewhere, you just - under the brown toxic goo that‘s smothering everything it touches, there‘s something - there‘s a good story in there, somewhere.
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia died early this morning at the age of 92. A man who served in the Senate for so long, his passing marks not so much the end of an era, but the end of several eras.
West Virginia‘s secretary of state said today there will not be a special election for Sen. Byrd‘s seat this fall. Instead, the governor of West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, who himself reportedly wants that seat, will appoint somebody to serve until Election Day 2012.
The governor says he will not appoint himself. On November 6, 2012, what this means is that voters in West Virginia will have two Senate elections to decide at the same time. One will be to elect a replacement for Sen. Byrd for the remaining two months of his term at that point, and another will be to elect a new senator from West Virginia. And for the first time in nine election cycles, it will not be Robert Byrd.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. Meanwhile, there‘s lots to add to what you see on the show. We‘re very proud of our excellent blog at MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.
Our E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We do actually read your E-mails so please feel free to send them, even the mean ones. Also, our free podcast is available as iTunes.
“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now. Have a good night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copyright 2010 Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
WATCH 'THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW' WEEKDAYS AT 9:00 P.M. ON MSNBC.