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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Jon Erpenbach, Scott Fitzgerald, James Hoffa, Michael Hastings,

Howard Fineman

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  The Republican governor of Wisconsin has just held a press conference where he repeated his threat to lay off workers as the 14 Democrats delaying the passage of his bill remain in hiding.  One of the first people to get a layoff notice is a teacher whose husband is the Republican leader of the Wisconsin state Senate.  I‘ll ask him if he‘s ready to compromise to save his wife‘s job.



CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST:  What‘s happening in Wisconsin—

CROWD:  This is what democracy looks like!

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  Thousands stand in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, as the governor stands by his ultimatum.  Unions lose bargaining rights or state workers lose jobs.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  What about these pink slips that the governor is threatening to send out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If there isn‘t a vote, you‘ll have to start laying off as many as 50 to 100 state workers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s all about union-busting, plain and simple.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is an effort to end collective bargaining as we know it.

O‘DONNELL:  Union workers agree to benefit cuts, but the governor still wants to take away their bargaining rights.

And the Wisconsin 14 are holding their ground—wherever that is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Wisconsin‘s 14 state Democratic senators, well, they remain in Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Police are on their way back to get them to work.

THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Why did the sergeant at arms end up sending the police to the home of these senators?

STATE SEN. JON ERPENBACH (D), WISCONSIN:  To go to my house and see if I‘m there.  So, it‘s a complete waste of their time and their effort.

STEPHEN COLBERT, TV HOST:  I can put you anywhere I want.

ERPENBACH:  Stephen, I‘m in Chicago.  I‘m in Chicago.

COLBERT:  Right now, right now, it looks like you‘re joining us from 20 million B.C.


O‘DONNELL:  More union workers join the protests, even outside the White House, where the president again talked jobs but not unions.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘re going to have to up our game in this newly competitive world.  I want us to be selling to other people.

O‘DONNELL:  Teamsters President James Hoffa is here.

CILLIZZA:  This is such a big national story now that a lot of the 2012, or potential 2012 candidates are starting to sound off.

O‘DONNELL:  And we have the author of the story that shocked Washington today.

ROBERTS:  Another bombshell from “Rolling Stone” magazine.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  Going to use psychological operations on visiting senators.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We never felt we got psy-oped.

JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND:  So, I didn‘t feel any—anything unusual going on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s very good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s no suggestion that senators were hypnotized.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It seems preposterous, which is probably why it actually happened.


O‘DONNELL:  Good evening.

The governor of Wisconsin will not yield on collective bargaining rights.  The 14 Democratic state senators won‘t return unless he does.  Layoff notices for 5,000 to 6,000 state workers are now in the works.

And tonight, the governor spoke about those workers.


GOV. SCOTT WALKER ®, WISCONSIN:  That‘s what this is about, is to make sure that ultimately it‘s not the union bosses coming in from other parts of the country, it‘s about making sure we not only protect the taxpayers but we protect the workers.  And probably, the most important ways we protect the workers are making sure we go ahead with this bill and this measure and this plan as opposed to the alternative.


O‘DONNELL:  The governor‘s bill is expected to be voted on in the assembly later tonight.  Once again, Wisconsin state troopers were sent to the homes of the Wisconsin 14 after the Senate majority leader reported hearing that the missing senators had sneaked back across the border to pick up changes of clothes.  No senators were found at their homes.

The protesters held their ground inside and outside the capitol.  And the fallout continues from the governor‘s 20-minute chat with a blogger pretending to be billionaire David Koch.  Today, the Madison police chief asked the governor to explain what he meant by this.


FAKE KOCH:   What we were thinking about the crowds, was planting some trouble makers.

WALKER:  Well, the only problem—because we thought about that.  My only gut reaction to that would be right now, the lawmakers I‘ve talked to have just completely had it with them.  The public is not really fond of this.


O‘DONNELL:  Chief Nobel Ray told the “Milwaukee Journal Sentinel” that he found it “very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers.”

And State Senator Tim Carpenter, one of the 14 who left the state, called for the governor‘s resignation over what he said on that infamous phone call.  Senator Carpenter writes, “Governor Walker, this tape would make Richard Nixon blush.  If the recording and the items discussed by you are indeed your plans, you have no business being in public office in our state and should resign.”

Returning to the show tonight, Democratic State Senator Jon Erpenbach.  And on with us for the first time, Republican state senator and majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald.

Senator Fitzgerald, thank you much for joining us tonight.  I want to get straight to that complaint by the police chief about what the governor said on that tape.  Here he is talking about entertaining, thinking about sending troublemakers into the crowd.  Is that something you discussed with the governor?

STATE SEN. SCOTT FITZGERALD ®, WISCONSIN:  We talked about AFL-CIO individuals that might be in Wisconsin on Saturday that may use those type of tactics to get some of the protesters agitated and some arrests.  So, I‘m not sure exactly if the governor was referring to those—

O‘DONNELL:  Well, let‘s stop, Senator.  Let‘s go back—

FITZGERALD:  -- or he was talking about some other individual.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, let‘s go back to exactly what the governor said.  Let‘s the three of us, and the audience will listen again to what the governor said.  It sounds very clear to me that they‘re not talking about the AFL-CIO.  It sounds to me like the governor is talking about finding troublemakers of his own to send into that crowd and cause trouble.  But let‘s listen again to what the governor said on that phone call.


FAKE KOCH:  What we were thinking about the crowds, was planting some troublemakers.

WALKER:  Well, the only problem with—because we thought about that.  My only gut reaction to that would be, right now, the lawmakers I‘ve talked to have just completely had it with them.  The public is not really fond of this.


O‘DONNELL:  The governor thought about planting some trouble makers, Senator Fitzgerald.

FITZGERALD:  Lawrence, that makes no sense.  We‘re trying to keep a lid on it here.  I mean, if there‘s anything that we‘ve talked about over the last 10 days, it‘s making sure that these massive crowds outside the capitol remain safe and secure, and kind of, you know, we‘re able to put together a contingency plan in case something would happen.

Now, it‘s just the opposite of what we‘ve been discussing with the governor.  We want to make sure that everyone‘s safe at the end of the day.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Erpenbach, are you surprised to hear the governor talking about, thinking about sending in troublemakers?

ERPENBACH:  Extremely surprised and actually very disappointed.  They‘ve had probably 600,000 people in and out of Madison in this past week, and I don‘t think there‘s been any arrest.  There might have been a couple, but I don‘t think there have been—especially on the biggest day when they had—I heard there were anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 people there, including a Tea Party counter-protest and absolutely nobody was arrested.  There wasn‘t any trouble that day.

So, I don‘t know what the governor is talking about.  I don‘t know why the governor would want to do something like this.  I know Senator Fitzgerald.  I have a great deal of respect for him.  And I don‘t think he‘d go for something like this.

But to hear that out of the governor is very disturbing.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Erpenbach, the “Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s” editorial says the two sides, including 14 Democrats hiding in Illinois, need to show some interest in doing their jobs, the Democrats should end their strike and get back to work, they‘ve made their point.

Senator, what do you say to that?

ERPENBACH:  Well, actually, we have been doing our jobs here, Lawrence.  We‘ve been talking with our constituents on the phone, answering work e-mails, obviously talking to you to try to get the word out as to what we‘re doing and why we‘re doing it.  But we‘re standing up for what we believe in.

This is an extremely important issue, not so much to the 14 of us, but it‘s more so to the thousands and thousands of people throughout the state of Wisconsin who are going to be affected negatively by what the governor wants to do.  And again, the state of Wisconsin, the tradition goes way back as far as working families and unions and labor.  And that‘s something that we want to stand for.  And that‘s something we want to stand by.  So, we are doing our jobs.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Fitzgerald, you have—your position has very strong support in a new poll of likely voters, the most active voters in Wisconsin.  Part of your position does.  Seventy-one percent believes that asking the union members to pay more for their health and pension benefits is fair.  But that same poll showed that 56 percent believe that those union members should have their collective bargaining rights maintained.

It seems, Senator, that what this has come down to now since the unions have already agreed, with the 71 percent of voters, agreed with you, agreed with the governor on the financial aspects of this, that all we‘re left with are the union-busting components where you want to strip the unions of their collective bargaining rights.  The public is not with you on that, Senator.

Isn‘t it time to reach a compromise on that?

FITZGERALD:  First of all, Lawrence, let me say that Senator Erpenbach should come back to Madison and get the work of the people done in the state Senate.  You know, when he offered universal health care to everyone last session—you know, I stood there on the floor and debated him.  I totally disagreed with him philosophically on the issue.

But every time he brought a bill to the floor I stood there.  I offered my amendments.  I made sure that we made our points.

In the end, I did the work of the people in the state Senate.  Senator Erpenbach and the other 13 Democrat senators need to get back to Madison and get the job done.

The collective bargaining part has costs associated with it.  We all know that.  There‘s something that they‘re on denial on there.  There are local city councils, school boards, county boards that are going to need the flexibility of the elimination of these collective bargaining items to be able to work through the cuts that the governor‘s about to announce on Tuesday.

There‘s going to be massive cuts to education and to shared revenue.  The money we send to local levels of government.  And Senator Erpenbach knows that.  He knows that on Tuesday the other shoe‘s going to drop and if we don‘t have that flexibility at the local level, we‘re never going to be able to solve this $3.6 billion deficit.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Fitzgerald, one of the shoes that‘s going to drop, pardon extending this metaphor, is in your wife‘s direction.  She is a schoolteacher as I understand it.  She‘s one of the people who‘s received a layoff notice.  She is under threat from the governor to be laid off next week.

Is your wife overpaid in her job?

FITZGERALD:  You know, she‘s not under threat.  The layoffs that the governor‘s talking about is at the state level.  I mean, she is a school—high school counselor at a small school, and there are many layoffs going out amongst the school districts in Wisconsin right now.

So, it‘s a little bit different situation than the way you described it.  You know, at this point, I think, you know, what many people are waiting for is Tuesday.  That‘s when the governor will give—

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Fitzgerald—

FITZGERALD:  -- a briefing on all the budgets.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Fitzgerald -

FITZGERALD:  Yes, it‘s a difficult situation for my family.  There‘s no doubt about it.

O‘DONNELL:  Is your wife part of the problem?

FITZGERALD:  No.  My wife‘s not part of the problem.  Teachers aren‘t part of the problem.

What we‘re simply looking for is a different way of paying for government.  For almost 40 years since the legislature created collective bargaining, the tables have been tipped in favor of the unions.  And we‘re just trying to pull that back a little bit.  We‘re trying to bring that level playing field back so that mayors and school boards and county board members can get a fair shake when they walk up to the table.  That‘s really what this is about right now.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Erpenbach, you just heard Senator Fitzgerald say that teachers aren‘t part of the problem, which I‘m sure makes for more domestic tranquility at home.  But this has been, it seems, nothing but an attack on the collective bargaining rights of teachers‘ unions, of other public employee unions in the state of Wisconsin.

The label is that they are the problem.  They‘re our problem in the state budget.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, they aren‘t the problem in the state budget at all.  Obviously, two sides sit down and negotiate.  Democrat governors and Republican governors have done that for decades in the state of Wisconsin.

And talk about what‘s going on at the local level—you do have mayors and school boards and so on and so forth to negotiate contracts at the local level, and they don‘t want this language.  About 200 public officials representing 20 cities showed up and said we don‘t want this language.

And others throughout the state of Wisconsin don‘t want the collective bargaining language in this particular legislation. They don‘t want any changes to it.  Because of its change it‘s going to rip their community apart like it‘s ripping the state apart.

Again, the governor has everything he needs to balance his budget right now according to what he‘s asked for.  If we move this language, we can come back to Madison, we can debate the bill, and we can move on.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Fitzgerald, what prevents you from adjusting the language?  Even a single word, a comma of the collective bargaining components of this bill.  Why—in any legislative process I‘ve ever seen, when it comes down to this, people are willing to negotiate language changes, at least portions of sentences.  You people seem unwilling to examine a single sentence of this bill.

FITZGERALD:  Lawrence, we did that.  We debated the bill in the joint finance committee.  And the Democrats showed up for that portion of the debate.  They had hearings, public hearings that lasted until the wee hours.  They had an executive session in which they debated this entire piece of legislation.

It‘s not as if this hasn‘t been amended.  It was amended.  It was amended on the floor of the Senate.  It was amended on the floor of the assembly.  And ultimately, when this is done and the bill is passed, there‘s going to be another state budget that‘s going to be debate for three months in the state of Wisconsin, and I‘m just hopeful that Senator Erpenbach and the other 13 Democrat senators show up this time for that debate.  We‘re going to have to take a vote sometime in May or June on a full state budget.

And to be honest with you, I mean, the way that these Democrats have trashed the state Senate and have said that by not showing up, this is some type of quorum that is a parliamentary procedure, please.  Please.  Let me tell you something—these people have destroyed the state Senate over the past 10 days.  And I‘m not sure how we pull it all back together.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Erpenbach, how long can you stay out?  Can you stay out into the summer?

ERPENBACH:  Well, that‘s up to Governor Walker.  And if Scott—and I have a lot of respect for Scott.  I know he‘s in a tough spot and he‘s got a tough job to do.  And he‘s very fair to us usually.

But the issue is the budget coming up next Tuesday.  That‘s the big budget that we‘re going to debate for three months.  That‘s the budget that the collective bargaining language belongs in.  That gives us a lot longer to debate the issue.  It was going to be slammed through the legislature and signed into law within a week.  So, that‘s where that language actually belonged.

O‘DONNELL:  I want to thank you both for joining us tonight.  And I want to thank you both for the civil tone you‘ve maintained with each other, which looks to me like the Wisconsin way senators treat each other.

Democratic State Senator Jon Erpenbach, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, the politician in America with my favorite name of any American politician.  Scott Fitzgerald, thanks for making your first appearance here tonight.

FITZEGERALD:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  The White House said today President Obama has no plans to travel to Wisconsin to show support for the union workers despite a push from some progressives.  I‘ll talk with Teamsters President James Hoffa next.

And later, big news from “Rolling Stone” today has already sparked a military investigation.  The allegation: a general ordered psy-ops to put their tactics to use on U.S. senators in order to get more money for the war in Afghanistan.  I‘ll be joined by the reporter, Michael Hastings, in his first TV interview about the story.


O‘DONNELL:  With the political standoff in Wisconsin approaching a Friday deadline, the White House says both parties need to come to the table and share the sacrifice.  Does President Obama need to do and say more?  Teamster President James Hoffa joins me.

And later, the evolution of John McCain—his journey from maverick to most conservative voter in the Senate.



O‘DONNELL:  That‘s the Dropkick Murphys new song “Take ‘Em Down,” recorded in support of the Wisconsin union workers and in the hope it will be played at solidarity rallies across the country.

On the 10th day of the occupation by protesters of Wisconsin‘s capital building, progressive activists are hoping that the standoff over collective bargaining rights has sparked what they‘re calling an American Dream Movement to strengthen the middle class.

Van Jones writes in “The Huffington Post,” “This is our Tea Party moment—in a positive sense.  In fact, we can learn many important lessons from the recent achievements of the libertarian, populist right.  A popular outcry from the left could just as easily shatter the prevailing bipartisan consensus that America is suddenly a poor country that cannot possibly help its people meet our basic needs.”

In Wisconsin‘s capitol rotunda yesterday, Teamsters President James Hoffa was hopeful that unions and what they stand for are suddenly becoming cool again.


JAMES HOFFA, TEAMSTERS UNION:  We‘ve got national media coming in here.  And when they see the faces of honest, hard-working public employees that have worked hard, that support and make this country and make this great state, you are turning the tide of public opinion.  Sixty-one percent in the latest poll want collective bargaining.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Jim Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

HOFFA:  Good to be here.

O‘DONNELL:  I want you to listen to something that candidate Barack Obama said on the campaign trail in 2007.


OBAMA:  And understand this: if American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I‘m in the White House, I‘ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself.  I‘ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America, because workers deserve to know that somebody‘s standing in their corner.


O‘DONNELL:  Jim Hoffa, have you asked the president to go find those comfortable shoes and come to Wisconsin and walk with you?

HOFFA:  Well, obviously, we‘re talking to him, and we believe the president should be standing up for us and should be standing up.

Now, whether he goes to Wisconsin, that‘s up to him.  But he should be speaking out.  He‘s speaking out on Libya.  He‘s speaking out on Egypt.  It‘s time to speak out for the American workers.

I mean, there is a war on workers right now.  We‘ve got right-to-work introduced in 13 states.  I mean, there is a full-court press by the far right on organized labor right now.  And what‘s happening in Madison, which I was there yesterday, those people are fighting back and they‘re doing a good job, and we have a tremendous amount of solidarity there.

But we need the president to speak out, and I think he should have a press conference and say exactly what he said there.  It‘s time to have collective bargaining to make sure we preserve organized labor and the middle class.

O‘DONNELL:  But isn‘t this typical of the way the Democrats and candidates use labor in campaigns?  I mean, there‘s the president saying something very specific.  That if collective bargaining rights are threatened, he will physically go to that place.  He‘ll get the comfortable shoes.

He was very literal.  He wasn‘t saying this figuratively.  He said this is exactly what I‘ll do.  And that‘s the language he uses on the campaign trail.

And then you guys helped elect him.  And when he‘s in office, he can ignore a crisis like this in Wisconsin.  He can ignore what he said as a candidate.

HOFFA:  We‘re urging him to speak out.  Whether he goes or not, you know, it‘s up to him.  We don‘t control what he does.

But certainly, we‘re aware of what he said, and we need his support right now.  We‘re either going to have a middle class, we‘re either going to have organized labor in this country, or we‘re going to have the Tea Party taking over everything like you see in Wisconsin, in Madison.

I mean, it was a tremendous demonstration up there.  You know, people were peaceful.  It was exciting to be there.  And people are speaking out for their rights.

And I heard the debate you had on this program.  And one of the things we talked about, there is the war on the workers, because the teachers, the public employees have said, you‘ve got a $138 million deficit, we will adjust our wages to cover it.  Just keep us and let us have collective bargaining.

And the Scott Brown—or Scott Walker, who is the governor of this state, said no, no collective bargaining agreement.  That doesn‘t make any sense.  It just shows you this is about ideology, it‘s not about budgets.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it seems that those 14 Democratic senators do not have any real power of persuasion over those Republicans in Wisconsin, which is why I keep coming back to the president.

Last night on this program, Keith Ellison said he thought the president should go to Wisconsin.  That became a question in the White House press briefing today.  I want you to listen to how Jay Carney handled that.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  On the Wisconsin situation, Congressman Ellison and others have called for the president to come out to Wisconsin and stand with the workers.  Is that under discussion?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Not that I‘m aware of, Chip.  I think what we have made pretty clear is that the president thinks and we think, he stated this, that, obviously, a lot of states in the union are dealing with fiscal issues, big problems in their state budgets that need to be addressed.  And they need to act responsibly, tighten their belts, live within their means, just as we in Washington, the executive branch and Congress, need to do with our federal situation.


O‘DONNELL:  Jim Hoffa, the administration seems very comfortable talking about the need to tighten belts, the kinds of things, kinds of concessions that your union, brothers and sisters have already made—the financial concessions in Wisconsin.  But they do not seem eager to step up to the question of collective bargaining rights and how far you should be willing to go to preserve those.

HOFFA:  That‘s exactly right.  Collective bargaining is how we get here, how we created the middle class in this country.  And that is what we need now.

There is a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.  Right now, this country is in a major—still in a recession.  We have record foreclosure.  We‘ve got to do something about having a voice for working families.  And that‘s what organized labor does.

And we‘re under a full court press by the far right, by people like Scott Walker, who is attacking everybody.  And what—the things he said are unbelievable.

So, what we‘ve got to do is have the president speak out.  I hope he speaks out.  I hope he gets a bloody pulpit and starts talking about what we can do to save the American worker.  We‘ve got to do that.

O‘DONNELL:  Jim Hoffa, president of the Teamsters—thanks for joining us tonight, and please come back as this story continues.

HOFFA:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Last night on this program, I criticized Glenn Beck for something he said, and today he apologized for saying it.  Details in tonight‘s “Rewrite.”



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is primarily a psy-ops base. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Psy for psychic, right? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Psy for psychological.  The irony isn‘t wasted on me.  Radio broadcasts, leaflets, things like that.  Oh, here‘s an Iraqi psy-ops leaflet they dropped on us. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  American soldier, your wives are back at home having sex with Bart Simpson and Burt Reynolds. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah.  Didn‘t exactly do their homework there. 


O‘DONNELL:  In tonight‘s Spotlight, the U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in psychological operations to try to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war in Afghanistan.  So says the first sentence in a “Rolling Stone” article released today. 

The expose reveals the orders came from the office of Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan troops.  The article says General Caldwell wanted to use the unit‘s psychological expertise to convince members of Congress to send more troops to Afghanistan. 

General Caldwell‘s chief of staff is quoted as asking, “how do we get these guys to give us more people?  What do I have to plant inside their heads?”

The list of psychological targets included Senators John McCain, Senator Joe Lieberman, Jack Reid, Senator Carl Levin, and Al Franken.  Federal law prohibits the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans. 

Quote, “everyone in the psy-ops community knows you‘re not supposed to target Americans,” says one veteran of the psy-ops team.  “It‘s what you learn on day one.”

Joining me now in his first television interview since his article became public, Michael Hastings of “Rolling Stone.”  Thanks for joining us tonight, Michael. 

MICHAEL HASTINGS, “ROLLING STONE”:  Thanks for having me, Lawrence. 

It‘s an honor to be here. 

O‘DONNELL:  Michael, they didn‘t limit their targets to members of Congress.  According to your reporting, they actually targeted psychological operations on Admiral Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  How‘s that news being received in the Pentagon today? 

HASTINGS:  I get a sense they‘re talking about it in the Pentagon.  But this was an information operation cell that specialized in psychological operations, as well as military deception.  And they originally were on a mission to—what they were there to do was to actually train and influence Afghans and the Taliban.  That‘s what they were supposed to do. 

But when they got there, General Caldwell and his staff said, hey, no, we want you to start, you know, using—we want you to actually work on influencing senators and other military officials visiting to help sort of grease the skids and get what they want. 

Then what happens was the leader of the—of this information operation cell said hey, that sounds illegal to me.  And that was later confirmed with a legal opinion he received from a JAG lawyer.  So the question is why were they using this vital resource, this six million dollar a year information operations cell, to try to spin senators? 

O‘DONNELL:  And what techniques do they use in this operation? 

HASTINGS:  Well, I think what‘s most interesting is that, you know, this unit resisted.  So it‘s not as much how nefarious or benign it was.  It was the fact that this resource was being used.  What Colonel Holmes, who‘s the leader of the psy teams, ended up doing was putting together detailed background profiles of the visitors in order to get inside their decision loops.  That was another quote that he was told.  And to find their pressure points. 

But like I said, he tried to resist doing this, because he felt it was illegal—both illegal and ethically dubious. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, your primary source for the article seems to be Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes, who was in charge of this operation.  Why did he tell you this story? 

HASTINGS:  Well, the story is primarily from Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holmes and Major Laura Levine.  So two serving officers in the Army National Guard.  I believe he finally went public with this was because right from the beginning, when he was first ordered to do this, he had said it‘s a bad idea, it‘s a bad idea, it‘s a bad idea. 

In March of 2010, he received a written order.  And then after the written order, he then reported it to the lawyers.  And again he was ignored.  And then there was a retaliatory investigation against him.  He then blew the whistle again and told the Pentagon, hey, I just got retaliated against because I blew the whistle.  And then the Pentagon ignored it. 

So I feel he was—I think he felt that he was forced to go public with this because he just thought what was going on wasn‘t right. 

O‘DONNELL:  I want to read you what Senator Franken said today in response to this article and this specific trip that you point out in the article that Senator Franken was on in Afghanistan.  He said this in his statement:  “although this was my first trip to Afghanistan as a senator, it was my fifth trip to the country since the war started.  And I‘ve learned that to get a clear sense of what‘s happening on the ground, you have to talk to everyone from privates to generals.  My perspective on the effort in Afghanistan is the product of countless face-to-face meetings with soldiers and Marines, Pentagon officials, State Department officials, outside experts, and my constituents in Minnesota, as well as extensive review of reports and classified material.”

What Senator Franken seems to be saying, along with the other senators who were involved on this trip, is that whatever they were trying to do to influence them didn‘t work, because they use such a large scope in terms of collecting the information they want in making their decisions. 

HASTINGS:  Sure.  And I think these trips are critical for senators to go on, which is why once you start blurring the lines between public affairs and information operations, it becomes such a dilemma.  We don‘t know what the exact impact of the influencing operations were. 

What we do know is that one of the things this team was tasked was after the meetings to go look at the media reports afterwards and do other analysis to see what kind of impact that this sort of influence operation had. 

But yeah, I think that one of the more interesting developments is just this month there‘s been a push for two billion more for General Caldwell‘s Afghan training mission.  So whether or not it had an effect or not, it seems like General Caldwell has gotten more resources. 

O‘DONNELL:  Michael Hastings of “Rolling Stone,” thank you for joining me tonight. 

HASTINGS:  Thanks for having me, sir.  I appreciate it. 

O‘DONNELL:  During John McCain‘s 2008 presidential campaign, he spent pretty much all of his time trying to convince voters that he was a maverick willing to defy his party.  Then why in 2010 did he rank as the most conservative voter in the Senate?  That‘s coming up. 

And you‘d think it would be pretty straight forward to apologize for an on-air comment that offended rabbis.  Well, not for Glenn Beck.  His non-apology apology is in tonight‘s Rewrite.


O‘DONNELL:  Time nor tonight‘s Rewrite.  Glenn Beck occupied this space last night for something that he said that was idiotic and untrue.  Today he has bent to the pressure of my criticism and apologized.  Here he is on his radio show today. 


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  With that being said, I think it was on Tuesday that I was making a point about political activists and I started to talk about the difference in rabbis.  Somebody has called me ignorant for what I—what I said on Tuesday.  And I think that‘s a pretty good description of my—what I said. 

And it was just about political activists.  It was—I‘m not going to rehash it.  But it was—it was ignorant. 


O‘DONNELL:  By “I‘m not going to rehash it,” what he means of course is I‘m not going to ever say the awful thing that I‘m apologizing for, so you‘re going to hear me use the word “apologize,” but I‘m not going to have to repeat that awful thing that I said. 

Here‘s what Beck said that got him in trouble. 


BECK:  Most people who are not Jewish don‘t understand that there are the orthodox rabbis and then there are the reformed rabbis.  Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature.  It‘s almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way, to where it is just—radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics. 


O‘DONNELL:  You got that?  Reformed rabbis are like radicalized Islam.  He also said that only orthodox rabbis are real rabbis.  Only orthodox rabbis are, quote, “about faith.”  Here‘s more of Beck‘s non-apology apology. 


BECK:  The second thing that happened was I made one of the worst analogies of all time.  And I knew it when I said it, and I just kept going.  Here I am talking about Judaism, and I start comparing Islamic extremism.  And it was just—it was a nightmare. 


O‘DONNELL:  OK.  When you‘re doing a straight up apology, which I‘ve done from time to time, what you never want to do is make excuses for yourself. 


BECK:  Here‘s the thing: I‘m on the air for four hours every single day.  Four hours every day, live, without a script.  That is a recipe for disaster.  There‘s no way you‘re never going to be wrong.  There‘s no way you‘re never going to say something stupid. 


O‘DONNELL:  Yeah.  See?  You really don‘t want to be telling the American people that working four hours a day is too hard for you, that it‘s impossible for to you do your job correctly if you have to do it for a full four hours a day.  Please don‘t tell that to American Airlines pilots who have to fly between New York and Los Angeles, which can take close to six hours, where they‘re not allowed any mistakes, not even little ones. 

Don‘t tell them four hours a day is too much work for you.  Oh, and don‘t say it to any of those union workers in Wisconsin, all of whom work twice as long as Beck does every day, and none of whom make the 32 million dollars a year that Glenn Beck makes spewing falsehoods and attacking religions he knows nothing about.  There‘s more of the Beck so-called apology. 


BECK:  Abe Foxman brought this to my attention.  And Abe Foxman is not

I mean he didn‘t directly. 


O‘DONNELL:  Abraham H. Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.  And yeah, I guess Beck is probably bowing more to the pressure brought by Abe Foxman than the pressure brought by me.  Got to admit that. 

Foxman issued a statement yesterday in which he said Beck was guilty of, quote, “bigoted ignorance” and that Beck said—and that what Beck said is, quote, “beyond the pale.”

The last line of Foxman‘s statement was, “he owes the reform movement an apology.”  Let‘s listen to the rest of that apology. 


BECK:  I don‘t agree with Abe Foxman on really I don‘t think anything.  But on this one he‘s right.  And to Abe and everybody else, if I offended you—


O‘DONNELL:  Oh, whoa, whoa.  Abe Foxman told Beck to apologize to the reform movement.  Notice that Beck refuses to apologize to the reform movement, and then Beck uses the ultra sleazy “if” clause in his apology.  If I offended you.  If?  If?  There is no if.  Abe Foxman called what Beck said “highly offensive and outrageous.”

Jews have told Beck he offended Jews.  And then Beck says to Jews, “if I offended you”—if.  All right.  Let‘s hear the rest. 


BECK:  And to Abe and everybody else, if I offended you, it was not my intent.  I see how I did that.  And I apologize for the action and the words.  Enough said. 


O‘DONNELL:  Enough said?  You attack reform rabbis.  You don‘t apologize to reform rabbis?  So no, not enough said. 


O‘DONNELL: -- John McCain be a schizophrenic, C, someone who doesn‘t know what the word “maverick” means, or D, all of the above?  That‘s right, the answer is a, John McCain.  And possibly D, all of the above. 

Today, the “National Journal” released its ranking of the senators with 2010‘s most conservative voting record.  Senator McCain finished first, with the most conservative composite score of 89.7 out of a possible 100.  He‘s tied with seven ultraconservative senators, including Jon Cornyn, Jim DeMint, and John Thune.  The very conservative Tom Coburn is ranked more liberal than John McCain. 

McCain‘s ranking represents a dramatic shift to the right.  He was not ranked in 2007 and 2008 because he missed too many votes while running for president.  But in the five years prior, he ranked between 44th and 49th, which made him among the most liberal Republican senators. 

Joining me now to discuss the maverick who is no longer a maverick, if he ever was a maverick, “Huffington Post” and is MSNBC‘s favorite maverick, Howard Fineman.  Howard, thanks for joining me tonight. 


O‘DONNELL:  Quick theories about this: there‘s “the New York Times” theory by Michael Scherer, which says in 2008 he became the presidential campaign standard bearer for the Republican party.  He was representing the party.  Therefore, he couldn‘t stray from party doctrine. 

FINEMAN:  Well, there‘s some truth to that, but that doesn‘t explain 2010. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, how about 2010?  That takes us to the theory that J.D. Hayworth, his challenger for re-election to the Senate, was running from the far right, and so McCain had to run right in 2010 to catch J.D.  Hayworth, which means he had to vote very conservatively in the Senate. 

FINEMAN:  I think that‘s the main reason for this current shift in direction.  Don‘t forget McCain has tacked back and forth a lot of times.  But even though J.D. Hayworth was in some measures not to be taken seriously, John McCain, if nothing else, believes in survival.  And he took that primary that he was going to have against J.D. Hayworth in Arizona with extreme seriousness and voted—moved to the right so far so fast that I think it even shocked J.D. Hayworth. 

McCain ended up winning that primary handily, and then had no race in the fall.  I‘ve covered John McCain for a long time.  I was privileged to go to Vietnam with him in 2000 after the 2000 campaign.  I saw the Hanoi Hilton cell he was in.  I saw the other prison he was in. 

I have tremendous admiration for the guy on a personal level.  And I traveled with him in the 2000 campaign.  He was a delight to cover. 

But above all, as that Hanoi Hilton showed, John McCain is a survivalist.  And what he needed to do in 2000 was to survive by rushing to the right, and he did it as fast as his legs would carry him. 

O‘DONNELL:  Howard, we have breaking news as we close the show tonight from Hollywood about the maverick of situation comedy, Charlie Sheen.  CBS has announced that they‘re going to shut down any more production on “Two and a Half Men” this season.  It seems like even the massive profits he makes for CBS on that series, which is the most successful sitcom on television, is something that is not worth pursuing in Charlie‘s current condition.  What do you make of the future of Charlie and “Two and a Half Men”? 

FINEMAN:  Well, look, I cover politics, Lawrence.  Let‘s look at it politically.  Number one, Les Moonves, who‘s the head of CBS, is an extremely shrewd and responsible guy, who I am sure was just aghast at everything about Charlie Sheen‘s life. 

CBS, like all the networks, are—you know, are public institutions, and they have to take public sentiment into account at some point.  And obviously CBS did.  And also as they said in that statement, I think it wasn‘t just his conduct but his comments.  He‘s basically been rubbing everybody‘s nose in it for the last few weeks, saying I had two minutes of rehab and here I am, too bad. 

I don‘t think Les Moonves was going to put up with that.  The other thing about actors is that, like politicians, they have to be born without the gene that produces the emotion of shame in the human heart.  But I think he carried it too far. 

And I think politically, in the broadest sense, CBS just couldn‘t take it anymore.  They‘ve got a lot of other shows and a lot of other things to say to the American people. 

O‘DONNELL:  Howard Fineman, proving once again his maverick credentials.  Who else could have gone from John McCain to Charlie Sheen without warning here in the last minute on THE LAST WORD.

Howard, thank you very much for joining us tonight.


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