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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, May 9th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Ben Venzke, Robert Reich, Steve Schmidt, Stephen Kleinmann

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  The American people are giving President Obama strong approval ratings for getting Osama bin Laden, but the Bush team is trying to grab the credit.



TOM DONILON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVIOR:  Here, this is the largest cache of intelligence derived from the scene of any single terrorist.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  The payoff for the raid on Osama bin Laden‘s hideout is huge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The intel officials I talked to are absolutely giddy about what they found.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  Jim Miklaszewski on the beat at the Pentagon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Osama bin Laden was operationally and strategically in charge.

DONILON:  An operational and strategic direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He had fake Viagra or herbal Viagra in there.

MITCHELL:  The new NBC News poll -- 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All say the president made the right decision.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It was the longest 40 minutes of my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s publicized of being decisive.

BILL MAHER, TV HOST:  His campaign slogan for 2012 was: Barack Obama, he‘ll (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you up.


O‘DONNELL:  The Bush team wants more credit.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I truly am not that concerned about him.

RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Enhanced interrogation and it worked.

RONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Those techniques that the CIA used worked.

LIZ CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY‘S DAUGHTER:  We don‘t have enhanced interrogation anymore.

R. CHENEY:  If it were my call, I‘d have that program ready to go.

O‘DONNELL:  And with bin Laden gone, Wall Street is now afraid of House Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Tea Party and Boehner at times are threatening to bring United States into default.

MITCHELL:  House Speaker John Boehner heads to New York today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A major speech to the Economic Club of New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Work with Wall Street and Obama or choose the Tea Party.

MITCHELL:  Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer today is saying that he should not be cute about the debt ceiling.  Markets will be hanging on every word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a total hoax that they‘re talking about not raising the debt limit.

O‘DONNELL:  And one more Republican tells us what we already knew:

he‘s running for president.

MITCHELL:  NBC News confirms Newt Gingrich will officially announce his presidential bid this Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have a feeling you don‘t really want to be. 

Would you like to duck out early?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I‘d love to.


TINA FEY, ACTRESS (as Sarah Palin):  Have a good one.

MAHER:  There was a Republican last night.  It was a virtual “who‘s who” of who?


FEY:  I just hope that tonight the lamestream media won‘t twist my words by repeating them verbatim.



O‘DONNELL:  Good evening, from New York.

The new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows the majority of Americans now approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president.  Fifty-two percent approved, 41 percent disapproved.  It‘s only the second time since October of 2009 that the president‘s approval has been higher than 50 percent.

The number of people who say they view President Obama positively is at 54 percent.  And 53 percent gave President Obama a very good rating for his ability to handle a crisis—his highest rating since April of 2009.

But the successful mission to get the world‘s most wanted terrorist wasn‘t a crisis.  The president set a goal—a clear limited goal—to get Osama bin Laden and then with his team pursued that goal carefully, deliberately and thoroughly as the president explained in an interview with “60 Minutes.”


OBAMA:  Shortly after I got into office, I brought Leon Panetta privately into the Oval Office.  And I said to him, we need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down.  And I want us to start putting more resources, more focus and more urgency into that mission.

What I told them when they first came to me with this evidence was:

even as you guys are building a stronger intelligence case, let‘s also start building an action plan to figure out if, in fact, we make a decision that this is him or we‘ve got a good chance that we‘ve got him, how are we going to deal with him?


O‘DONNELL:  The president also pointed out that the debate among his team in the Situation Room was a key element in this success.


OBAMA:  Every time I sit down in the Situation Room, every one of my advisors around there knows I expect them to give me their best assessments.  And so, the fact that there were some who voiced doubts about this approach was invaluable because it meant the plan was sharper.  It meant that we had thought through all of our options.  It meant that when I finally did make the decision, I was making it based on the very best information.


O‘DONNELL:  The president admitted he was nervous about the mission, though now about its objective.


OBAMA:  At the end of the day, this was still a 54/45 situation.  I mean, we could not say definitively that bin Laden was there.  Had he not been there, then there could have been significant consequences.  It was the longest 40 minutes of my life with the possible exception of when Sasha got meningitis when she was 3-month-olds and I was waiting for the doctor to tell me that she was all right.  It was a very tense situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Were you nervous?

OBAMA:  As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn‘t lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out.  Justice was done.  And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn‘t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Eugene Robinson, associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Gene.


O‘DONNELL:  Gene, is it your sense that this is a minor polling bump for the president or has something fundamentally changed in the political landscape?

ROBINSON:  I go with option B.  I think this is a fundamental change.

The numbers will go up.  They‘ll go down.  But I think there has been a fundamental change in the way a lot of people see President Obama.

You saw that kind of steeliness.  There‘s a little bit of Clint Eastwood in that “60 Minutes” interview.  And that‘s a side of the president that I think—you know, I think it‘s been there all the time.  I think a lot of people haven‘t really seen it or seen it as that.

And so, I do think that‘s a fundamental change in his relationship with some Americans.

O‘DONNELL:  The—this is that 3:00 a.m. phone call that was first raised in the Democratic primary campaign for president where the Clinton camp raised the question of, was Barack Obama ready for that middle of the night Situation Room commander-in-chief decision making.  And this seems to put that question to rest.

ROBINSON:  I think you have to say it puts that question to rest.  And, look, you see the pictures of president in the Situation Room with all the national security officials and they‘re looking at the monitors.  You know, these visuals are important and I think they re-enforce the image of this as a president who—yes, who has taken that 3:00 a.m. phone call and will take the next one and will handle the situations appropriately as they come up.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the NBC News poll asked people who they planned to vote for for president.  Forty-five percent said they‘d probably vote for President Obama.  That‘s up just a couple of points.  Thirty percent say they will probably vote for the Republican.  That‘s down from 38 percent last month.  Each one of those versions of it were good for President Obama.

But what does this do to the Republican approach to campaigning against Barack Obama?  It seems like that 3:00 a.m. phone call opening is no longer there.

ROBINSON:  Yes, I think the whole national security question that there‘s something wobbly on national security about Obama, I think that‘s off the table.

I actually think the really important figure in that poll was that—that 5 percent change, drop in—or increase, rather, in the number of people who said—whether or not they vote on a Republican depends on the Republican candidate, went up from 11 percent to 16 percent.  That‘s not where the Republicans want to be right now, because if you notice there was a Republican debate last week that didn‘t exactly present a passel of candidates who were going to take on Barack Obama.

So, if it‘s anybody by Obama, then, sure the GOP is sitting pretty.  But if it‘s candidate to candidate, mano-a-mano, Obama already beats everybody major Republican one-on-one.  I think those margins probably have increased over the last week and you‘ll see that in the next individual polls.

O‘DONNELL:  Gene, the next big fight, obviously, is the debt ceiling and how do we get an agreement on how to raise the debt ceiling, which is going to have to happen at some point in the summer.  What does this do for the president‘s credibility in that fight?  Is there any carry-over from an event like this into a showdown over the debt ceiling, especially when there will be much talk of crisis.  The president will be trying to describe to the country the chaos and the crisis that would occur if we don‘t raise the debt ceiling.

Polling indicates right now that the country doesn‘t believe that it will be a great disaster if we don‘t raise the debt ceiling.  Does this somehow add to the president‘s strength going into that?

ROBINSON:  I think it does.  But in this particular fight, I think it doesn‘t give him a whole lot extra.  It adds incrementally re-enforces his hand.  I think, you know, it‘s a different kind of fight.  The whole budget issue has helped, but not a whole lot.

O‘DONNELL:  Gene Robinson, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here.

O‘DONNELL:  Recycled audiotapes of bin Laden are beginning to surface.  International news service AFP says a purported bin Laden audiotape has been posted on an al Qaeda-affiliated Web site.  Authenticity of that tape has yet to be confirmed by the White House.  But one terrorism consultant tells NBC that the audiotape is recycled material and was already released six months ago.

Experts continue to analyze the five home videos of Osama bin Laden released by the Pentagon over the weekend.  The videos were taken from the Pakistan compound where bin Laden had been hiding.  Most of the video clips show bin Laden delivering his anti-American, anti-capitalism messages in front of a plain background as we‘ve seen many times before.

But one video shows the al Qaeda leader in a much different light—a more feeble, white-bearded bin Laden sits on the floor wrapped in a blanket watching himself on a small television.  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney explained today why the U.S. decided to release the videos.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The point of releasing them was to prevent the release of videos in the future that would allow al Qaeda—you know, give al Qaeda some sort of propaganda to make the point that we got these—procured these at the compound where bin Laden was living and that we—yes, know now what he was up to.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, Ben Venzke, counterterrorism intelligence expert and CEO of IntelCenter.

Ben, thanks for joining me tonight.

What is the impact of the release of these videos on al Qaeda when they see—Jay Carney was just saying, we just want to show them we really did collect material there.  And, in fact, we collected a lot more.  The videos are just the tip of a giant iceberg of material collected.

And so, who are they really showing these videos to?

BEN VENZKE, CEO, INTELCENTER:  Well, I think, you know, exactly as he was saying, it‘s evidence that we were really there, we were in the compound, where bin Laden was located not some other location or some other kind of conspiracy.  In terms of the al Qaeda followers and members and supporters, I don‘t think it‘s going to have much of an impact at all.  They‘ll look at them with curiosity, but really what they‘re going to be waiting for is the official messages from bin Laden where you can hear his audio—hear what he‘s saying and get his take.  There is supposed to be one last message that we‘re expecting to come out that he recorded a week before he died.

O‘DONNELL:  So, there—as you understand it, there is a bin Laden—an authenticated bin Laden tape that will come out that he managed to get out of the compound so that it will come out soon?

VENZKE:  According to al Qaeda when they released their written statement confirming his death, they said that he had recorded a message on the sweeping changes that we were seeing in the Middle East a week prior.  And that fits sort of the time line of when we would have expected it to come out based on world events if this raid had not happened.  So, apparently, it had already left the compound and is in process.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, where does al Qaeda go from here without bin Laden, who it seems to me—seems what we‘re getting out of the compound was clearly operational and in a command facility there.

VENZKE:  Most definitely.  I mean, there was sort of a public prevailing wisdom that he was disconnected and not part of the group.  I think now that‘s been sort of shot down.  He was still active.  He was communicating with his followers.

It‘s a loss.  It‘s a loss for the group.  It‘s going to have some negative impact.

However, this is a foreseeable event for al Qaeda.  This is something that they knew was of high risk.  It was likely to happen.  All of these organizations tend to be very resilient because they‘ve built in contingency planning.

So, you might lose some unique characteristics of charisma or some special relationships.  But there‘s going to be people stepping into that void.

O‘DONNELL:  I want you to listen to what Tom Donilon said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.


DONILON:  This is the largest cache of intelligence derived from a scene of any single terrorist.  It‘s about the size, the CIA tells us, of a small college library.


O‘DONNELL:  A small college library.  It sounds like they‘ll be working on this material for quite some time to come.

And is this the single most valuable grab that we‘ve made in the hunt for intelligence on terrorism?

VENZKE:  Well, I think, you know, there have been very important ones that have been very small and focused over the last decade.  But I think in terms of being able to see, get a window into the senior leadership and from the top down of the al Qaeda organization, this is probably without a doubt the single greatest.

O‘DONNELL:  Ben Venzke, CEO of IntelCenter—thank you for joining me tonight.

VENZKE:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: the politics of torture return with the Cheneys and Rumsfeld demanding credit for getting Osama bin Laden.

And John McCain‘s campaign manager joins us to discuss Republican presidential candidates.


O‘DONNELL:  Still to come this hour, the Bush team congratulates itself for torturing detainees and Speaker John Boehner just told a Wall Street audience that any raising of the debt ceiling must come with spending cuts.

Robert Reich joins me, coming up.


O‘DONNELL:  This evening, House Speaker John Boehner spoke at the Economic Club of New York, to an audience of Wall Street executives, normally, a warmly receptive audience for Republican speaker of the House.  But these same Wall Street executives have been terrified by the juvenile talk coming from House Republicans about refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

Speaker Boehner told them that the House of Representatives will pass legislation raising the debt ceiling before the August 2nd deadline if and only if that legislation includes certain conditions.


BOEHNER:  Without significant spending cuts and changes in the way we spend the American people‘s money, there will be no increase in the debt limit.  And the cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in the debt limit that the president is given.  We‘re not talking about billions here.  We should be talking about cuts in trillions if we‘re serious about addressing America‘s fiscal problems.

And then these should be actual cuts, real reforms to those programs.  Not broad deficits or deficit targets that punt the questions to the future.  And with the exception of tax hikes, which in my opinion will destroy American jobs, everything is on the table.  And I mean everything.

That includes honest conversations of how to best preserve Medicare, because without a change in Medicare, with millions of baby boomers about to retire, the status quo is unsustainable.


O‘DONNELL:  Those conditions will not be enough to satisfy Tea Party voters, according to the chair of the Tea Party founding fathers who spoke at the National Press Club in Washington earlier today.


WILLIAM TEMPLE, TEA PARTY FOUNDING FATHER:  The Tea Party plans to score just one vote in the U.S. House for purposes of candidate ratings this year.  If you vote to raise the debt ceiling, you get a zero for the year from the Tea Party.  If you don‘t vote to raise the debt ceiling you score 100 and you‘re a hero.

I wish our tearful House speaker would just show some compassion for American taxpayers and our children that he and Mr. Ryan have already surrendered to President Obama.  It‘s a cowardly act of treason against coming generations and we may be able to give Boehner really something to cry about in 2012.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now: labor secretary during the Clinton administration and professor of public policy at the University of California-Berkeley, Robert Reich.

Thank you very much for joining me tonight, Bob.


O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t know if you had a monitor there who you could see who actually appeared at the National Press Club today in Washington.  But it is a new low.  He appeared in costume as a pretend Founding Father outraged at the notion of raising the debt ceiling, which, of course, the Founding Fathers would have understood it‘s imperative to maintain the credit rating of the United States of America.

Is John Boehner actually going to end up stuck toeing the Tea Party line here or the line that Wall Street wanted to hear tonight, which is that he is going to raise the debt ceiling with or without conditions when the moment comes no matter what?

REICH:  Well, John Boehner was threading a very, very tiny needle today, because on the one hand, you‘ve got the Wall Street, big business wing of the Republican Party, they want the debt ceiling raised.  They are worried, I think, with good reason, that if the debt ceiling is not raised, if there‘s a lot of talk about not raising the debt ceiling, that could spook world credit markets, that could lead to a huge spike in interest rates, the dollar could plummet, we could have a real—we can put the full faith and credit of the United States in jeopardy.

But, on the other hand, you‘ve got the Tea Party wing and—exemplified by the fellow you just—you just talked about and showed on this program.  And they don‘t want the debt ceiling raised.  They don‘t also want to raise any taxes even on the rich.

And that—those two sides of the party, they can‘t be reconciled.  John Boehner tried to reconcile them.  I think he actually said much more that the party would agree with than Wall Street would agree with, because John Boehner knows that Wall Street and big business are basically going to be funding the Republican Party in any event.  But they need the Tea Partiers in 2012 to be the ground troops, to get out the vote.  And that‘s what they‘re the most interested and most concerned about.

O‘DONNELL:  The chief economist for Moody‘s Analytics told “Bloomberg News” today, speaking for Wall Street, “What Wall Street wants to hear is that they are going to raise the debt ceiling in a timely way.  When it comes down to brass tracks, they are going to raise that debt ceiling.”

That is not what John Boehner told them tonight.  That is not what they heard.  He gave them one of those, there will be—he said, there will be no debt limit increase unless Republicans get their way on everything.  This had to leave those Wall Street operatives really worried when they left the Boehner speech tonight.

REICH:  Well, I would think so.  And, you know, in a way, Lawrence, he thumbed his nose at Wall Street.  He also, though, if you read between the lines, and in Washington hand, you read between the lines and I do as well.  He also said everything‘s on the table except tax increases.  Now, that‘s a problem because nobody in America is going to really be in favor of the kind of cuts that John Boehner and Paul Ryan want.  And certainly, you know, even a 64 percent of Republicans in the latest “Washington Post”/ABC poll said they wanted taxes to be raised on the rich, 64 percent of Republicans said that.

So, John Boehner is really in trouble with a lot of the rank and file if he pursues the direction he‘s going in.  But he also said that he would reconsider Medicare.

It looks as though that a lot of Republicans who went home for the holidays, they got an earful from their constituents about the Paul Ryan plan to get rid of Medicare, essentially, and turn it into a voucher program.  They don‘t like that.  Nobody likes it.  And I think that Boehner is backing away from that.

O‘DONNELL:  Big surprise, Medicare is popular.  I don‘t know why their polls didn‘t tell them that already.  Bob—

REICH:  Well, you know, the odd thing, Lawrence—the really odd thing is that one year ago, Republicans, remember, they were claiming that the Democrats‘ health care bill was going to wreck Medicare and destroy Medicare.  They were using Medicare to clobber the Democrats.  And to think that the Americans have such a short attention span.  I mean, how can they possibly believe that the attention span is that short?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, they very specifically rose as the defenders of Medicare, posed as the defenders of Medicare, in the health care reform debate saying, you can‘t touch it in any way.  And here they are.

Robert Reich, former labor secretary—thank you very much for joining me tonight.

REICH:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, why the use of torture made it harder to find bin Laden.  That‘s in the “Rewrite.”

And, he‘s taking all week to make an announcement about running for president.  Steve Schmidt, senior advisor to John McCain in 2008, joins me to talk about Newt and the Republican field.


O‘DONNELL:  Here‘s reason 9,323,991 why New Yorkers cannot ever rely exclusively on “Times” as their daily newspaper.  In the 15th paragraph of the Sunday “Times” lead story about Osama bin Laden, it described what was found by his bedside.  “The Pakistanis also found a venua sura (ph), an extract of wild oats that can be taken for an upset stomach, but is also marketed as an aphrodisiac.” 

Here‘s how the “new York post” treated the very same information. 

First, they gave it what it deserves, a special box and the headline “Mr.  Softy,” then reported, “it will be a real downer for his 72 virgins.  Osama bin Laden kept a stash of a natural form of Viagra next to his bed, showing a softer side to the hardened terrorist.” 

“The New York Post,” always user friendly, never subtle and never forces you to hunt for the good stuff. 

Still ahead, members of the Bush administration continue to try to take credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden.  And the Republican presidential field so far, as another announcement looms this week.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Newt Gingrich, you‘re never going to be president.  And I have a feeling you don‘t really want to be.  Would you like to duck out early?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah, I‘d love to. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Have a good one. 



O‘DONNELL:  In the Spotlight tonight, Newt Gingrich almost made it official today.  He announced on Facebook that he‘s going to go on a certain cable news network later this week—guess which one—to quote, “talk about my run for president of the United States.” 

Gingrich has spent the past several months raising money, assembling a campaign team and visiting early primary states.  He has spent the past several years manipulating a group he started called American Solutions for Winning the Future to serve his own political ends. 

In the last election cycle, American Solutions was third among all advocacy groups in fundraising, taking in around 28.7 million dollars.  Gingrich spent 3.6 million dollars of the group‘s money on private jets in 2009 and 2010. 

In contrast, Mitt Romney spent al little over 273,000 dollars during the same period on his political travel.  Gingrich‘s empire includes Gingrich Production, which has produced films about energy, Ronald Reagan and the threat of radical Islam. 

As a joint project with the conservative activist group Citizens United, Gingrich‘s spokesman said “he should be compared to the CEO of Pepsi, not other candidates when considering his expenses.” 

Joining me now in an exclusive interview is Steve Schmidt, a senior campaign advisor to Senator John McCain‘s 2008 presidential campaign, currently a vice chairman at Edelman, a public relations firm. 

Steve, welcome back to TV. 


O‘DONNELL:  This is your first on camera in over a year. 

SCHMIDT:  A long time. 

O‘DONNELL:  OK, you‘re ready with the short answers and everything we do here.

SCHMIDT:  I‘ll do my best. 

O‘DONNELL:  So Gingrich entering the race.  The field is taking shape.  There‘s been a lot of speculation most of the year about people who really aren‘t going to run.  Palin‘s out.  She‘s not going to run.  There‘s just no chance of that. 

SCHMIDT:  I don‘t think you know.  I don‘t think anybody can predict what she‘s going to do in the race.  I do think the field, as it has been presently constituted, is driving demand for other candidates to get in the race.  I think you may see candidates get into this race as late as the fall. 

O‘DONNELL:  Who can reasonably get in this as late as the fall, who you would believe, as a professional Republican campaign operative, someone could say to that person you can win?  You can get in this in the fall and you can win.

SCHMIDT:  I think one of the lessons of the McCain campaign and his come back in the fall is you need a lot less money to win the Republican nomination in today‘s day and age than you used to have to raise to be able to communicate the message. 

We live in an interconnected social media world.  We live in an age where someone can catch fire quickly.  They can raise a lot of money very fast on the Internet.  I think there are governors out there like Chris Christie, who has all but ruled it out.  Maybe he‘s left himself a little bit of a sliver of opening. 

I think Mitch Daniels, should he decide to run, would be a formidable candidate.  I think John Huntsman—you saw a preview of a message that‘s not a hostile message, that‘s I think soothing in tone to the American people.  I thought he had a very good debut in weekend in South Carolina. 

I think both Governor Romney, a very accomplished person, Governor Pawlenty, a successful governor.  But I think part of the problem that Republicans have had so far is that there‘s a serious campaign there, but overshadowing it is a reality show. 

And that reality show, where we have all manner of candidates, the Donald Trumps of the world, for example, spouting this mosaic of nonsense day in, day in and out, is trivializing serious issues and trivializing a group of what I think, at the end of the day, could be somewhat compelling candidates. 

O‘DONNELL:  The official pick for the Republican nomination for this show is former Governor Tim Pawlenty.  And for me, it has been simply a process of elimination.  I see each one of the other candidates has something so seriously wrong with their candidacy. 

You know, the health care situation for Romney, and all sorts of identifiable items for everybody else.  Pawlenty has problems, but they are very small problems compared to what the other ones have to overcome.  My theory is he‘s the last man standing for the nomination. 

SCHMIDT:  I got to see him in 2008 out on the stump fairly frequently. 

He‘s not bad at all.  He‘s pretty good.  He can connect with an audience.  He has an ability to communicate to the middle of the country.  I think he can be competitive in states the Republicans have to win to win the presidency, like Pennsylvania and Ohio and, you know, states like Minnesota, obviously, where he is from. 

He‘s going to be a strong candidate in this Republican field.  And I think for sure he‘s going to be one of the finalists. 

O‘DONNELL:  Santorum really running for vice president, right?  He‘s going—Pennsylvania, it‘s a good state to have on the vice presidential slot? 

SCHMIDT:  I do think if you listen to him, I think he will connect with social issues voters.  He speaks their language.  Iowa‘s a state that Pat Robertson won in the first caucuses.  There is absolutely some oxygen in this race for Rick Santorum to—

O‘DONNELL:  Especially if Huckabee doesn‘t get in. 

SCHMIDT:  Particularly if Huckabee doesn‘t get in.  You know, Governor Huckabee, who is a compelling presence out on the stump, he did a great job in the campaign last time, when he was new and fresh.  I think, you know, both Rick Santorum and—I don‘t think she‘s prepared to be president, but watch Michele Bachmann also, has the ability I think to excite value voters in Iowa. 

O‘DONNELL:  What‘s your gut say about what the killing of Osama bin Laden does to this campaign going forward? 

SCHMIDT:  Well, I think that there have been these questions very unfairly raised over the last two years really that are fundamentally about the president‘s Americanness.  I think that‘s fundamentally these questions of citizenship and birth are about. 

I think what you saw was a decision making process that was impeccable, A.  And B, this was a politically courageous decision of the first order.  There were comparisons to Jimmy Carter in the air.  Had this very daring mission done south, it would have been politically disastrous for him. 

He ignored all of the political consequences.  He executed his oath of

as commander in chief of this country.  He brought justice to Osama bin Laden on behalf of the American people.  And I think that—that Republicans are making a big mistake to continue to ignore the voices in the party that are fringe voices, you know, on these questions. 


It‘s time for Republicans en masse to start calling it out.  Ronald Reagan used to talk about the fact that we don‘t have political enemies in this country, we have political opponents.  President Obama did a fine job here.  There is room to disagree with him on policy without the type of rhetoric that we‘ve seen directed at him that‘s just off the wall for some quarters. 

I think to the extent that the Donald Trumps of the world are indulged in this process, that it really hurts the Republican field.  It trivializes serious issues.  And it denies Republicans the ability to communicate a platform form and an alternative vision particularly on economic issues. 

O‘DONNELL:  Steve Schmidt, I only want you to say things that wise about how the Republicans should operate on MSNBC, so that they don‘t hear it.  Thank you very much for joining me tonight. 

SCHMIDT:  You bet. 

O‘DONNELL:  Steve Schmidt, senior adviser of the McCain campaign, back

on TV

Coming up, the renewed debate over torture continues.  Did enhanced interrogation techniques hurt or help the hunt for Osama bin Laden.  That‘s in the Rewrite.


O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  Bush administration officials mounted a television campaign this weekend to try to rewrite history and tell America that the use of embarrassed interrogation techniques, interpreted internationally as torture, based on the Geneva Conventions, helped lead Navy SEAL team six directly to Osama bin Laden. 

I asked a former military interrogator about this. 


O‘DONNELL:  We just heard Donald Rumsfeld say that anyone—anyone who suggests that the enhanced techniques, waterboarding, did not produce an enormous amount of valuable intelligence just isn‘t facing the truth.  Did we get an enormous amount of valuable intelligence from waterboarding? 

MATTHEW ALEXANDER, FORMER CIA INTERROGATOR:  What former Secretary Rumsfeld should explain to us then is how come we didn‘t find or locate Osama bin Laden back when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded in 2002 or ‘03, after his capture, and when these other detainees were exposed to enhanced interrogation techniques. 


O‘DONNELL:  That same interrogator, Matthew Alexander, told the “Huffington Post‘s” Dan Froomkin “I think that without a doubt torture and enhanced interrogation techniques slowed down the hunt for bin Laden.” 

He says that the detainees that were subjected to torture, quote, “gave us the bare minimum amount of information they could get away with to get the pain to stop or to mislead us.  I never saw enhanced interrogation techniques work in Iraq.  I never even saw harsh techniques work in Iraq.  In every case, I saw them slow us down.  And they were always counterproductive to trying to get people to cooperate.” 

Those views were echoed last week on this program by Mark Fallon, who was an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay. 

So how do you pick a winner in the debate over the most effective interrogation techniques, between people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who have never conducted an interrogation, and the actual interrogators I just cited. 

Enter this study from the National Defense Intelligence College, the military‘s accredited institution tasked with educating, among others, the departments and agencies of the Intelligence and Homeland Security communities. 

The study is entitled “Educing Information, Interrogation, Science and Art.”  It comes down on the side of the interrogators who have appeared on this program.  It does so in careful academic language.  Quote, “the very nature of the use of physical force would seem to undermine the likelihood of useful connection with a source.  It might also increase a source‘s hatred of the United States and interest in suicide or willingness to be killed.” 

Note the word “might” in that sentence.  That‘s what I mean about careful academic language.  It might.  What they‘re saying is torture might increase a source‘s hatred of the United States.  Keep that sort of understatement in mind as you consider the language of this military study on torture. 

“In the course of an interrogation, errors in strategy, approach planning and actions are in many instances irreversible.  The use of force by the United States may also have caused short and long-term damage to U.S. interests and credibility, some of which may not be known.” 

And in its key findings on enhanced interrogation techniques, the study says “the preponderance of reports seems to weigh against their effectiveness.” 

In non-academic language, torture doesn‘t work.


O‘DONNELL:  Before President Obama explained on “60 Minutes” last night how methodically his national security team put together the plan to kill Osama bin Laden, key player from the George W. Bush White House flooded the Sunday morning talk shows.  They claimed the enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, which President Obama has called torture, made the difference in cracking the case. 


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It provided some absolutely vital pieces of intelligence.  If it were my call, I‘d have that program ready to go on the chance that any day we may capture detainee who has a vital piece of information about the next attack or about some new development—and I think that program provides us with the capacity to collect that intelligence. 

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I think it‘s clear that those techniques that the CIA used worked.  To have taken them away and ruled them out I think they be a mistake. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s not clear to me that we have any way to effectively interrogate them.  We don‘t have enhanced interrogation anymore.  We read people their Miranda rights. 

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  You can‘t deny that we got valuable information from these folks.  Now Director Panetta went on to say it is just be an open question whether we may have gotten them from other means.  But the fact of the matter is we did it this way and this way worked. 


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, Colonel Stephen Kleinmann, a former senior interrogator in both Iraq wars.  Thanks for joining me tonight, Colonel.


O‘DONNELL:  I want to get to this point of—let‘s get past the

question of exactly what did we get through these enhanced techniques.  But

the question of timing, which was raised in this article today which I just

discussed in the previous segment.  Could we have gotten this information -

whatever information we got, could we have obtained it faster if these techniques had not got gotten in the way? 

KLEINMANN:  I think that‘s the correct assessment, because the interesting element of interrogation is what works, what‘s scientifically demonstrated efficacy of an the approach, such as cultural enlightenment, relationship-based patient approach is going to work. 

There‘s no shortcut.  There‘s no silver bullet.  There‘s no time expedient approach that, well, that didn‘t work, so let‘s go tot he waterboard.  That‘s simply not backed up by what we know from science. 

O‘DONNELL:  In the military study that I was just citing in the last segment, it indicates that it is likely to be counterproductive.  It is likely to increase the subject‘s hatred of the United States, increase the resistance, and produce just enough information to make the pain stop. 

KLEINMANN:  That‘s correct, Mr. O‘Donnell, but let‘s take it a step further.  What‘s more important—the fundamental objective of any interrogation, under any circumstance, is to get access to an individual‘s uncorrupted, reliable memory.  And research, again, is very clear on the fragility of human memory under the best circumstances. 

Imagine introducing waterboard or the anxiety that comes from continued threats or sleep deprivation.  Even if somebody wished to provide information, their ability to do so is severely undermined. 

O‘DONNELL:  And in this evaluation of the information that they would be getting from waterboarding, if they‘re saying—if the Bush administration is saying, look, we just found out, in effect, last Sunday what the verdict is on torture because we found out that it led to eventually Osama bin Laden, doesn‘t that mean that for many years they didn‘t have any idea what the quality of the information was that they got out of those techniques? 

KLEINMANN:  It suggests precisely that.  You can‘t take two data points and extrapolate to infinity.  That‘s just an illogical premise from the beginning.  The key to understand is until the Intelligence Science Board Study that you referenced earlier, the last time the United States funded any real objective research into interrogation was 1956. 

So it‘s time that we bring interrogation up to the 21st century alongside other tactical intelligence methods, so we don‘t have these debates based on politics or personal interest, but over the science of what works and what doesn‘t work. 

O‘DONNELL:  It seems the reports we‘re getting from the experienced interrogators in this territory—Ali Sefan (ph) did it for the FBI—the overall thrust of it is that it just doesn‘t work, and that the more careful, cultivating a relationship with the subject is what is going to pay off both quicker and longer term. 

KLEINMANN:  That‘s absolutely correct.  The single quality—the single approach that I hear from the best interrogators that America‘s produced, from Colonel Stu Herrington (ph) to Ali Sefan to Mark Fallon and others, is simply this, empathy.  Empathy, the understanding of the enemy and understanding of yourself, and the ability to connect. 

That‘s what works.  It has worked historically and it will work often in the future.

O‘DONNELL:  And if deprivation were helpful, why wouldn‘t it be a matter of reward and deprivation?  I mean, give them the good food for a week, whatever, some kind of reward and comfort that you could then take away. 

KLEINMANN:  You bring up another question that pulls away the threads of the argument in favor of coercion.  If I may, this topic or the title of enhanced—I think it‘s time that we dispense with that.  Enhanced interrogation when it uses waterboard or sensory deprivation or sleep deprivation is nothing more than a euphemism.  It‘s not advanced.  It‘s not a more sophisticated approach to interrogation. 

In fact, it‘s a step down.  It‘s a devolution of approaches.

O‘DONNELL:  Stephen Kleinmann, former military intelligence officer, thanks for your time tonight. 

KLEINMANN:  Thank you, sir. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next.  Good evening, Rachel.


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