The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/21/08
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Hi, David. You did a great job this week. Congratulations.Thank you all for sticking around with us for the next hour on this Friday night. Today, the political world went gaga over the reporting that Hillary Clinton will be secretary of state. And the stock market went gaga over the name Timothy Geithner-Timothy Geithner. Merely, the sound of that name has started to soothe the savage economy. (voice over): Tonight, breaking news-well, extra-slowly breaking news. The “New York Times” says Hillary Clinton will take the job of secretary of state. Political gravitas? Check. International credibility? Check. Agreement with the president-elect on foreign policy? Can we check that? “The Atlantic’s” Josh Green joins us to break it down. And, if this is still America and it’s still late 2008, that I can safely say that the economy is in the tank, that the markets shed trillions of dollars. As tens of thousands of jobs disappear, who is in charge? As of about 3:00 o’clock today, it looks like that “one president at a time” thing be darned. It is Barack Obama who reportedly picked his treasury chief which sent the market soaring. Robert Reich on Timothy Geithner-who he is and what this means? And remember when one of Bush’s brainiacs predicted that a grand square in Baghdad would be named after President Bush, if by named after he meant Bush would be burned in effigy at a grand square in Baghdad, then I guess Richard Pearl was right. NBC News’ Richard Engel is home from Iraq and here tonight with a view from life during wartime. And it’s Friday lame duck watch. Tonight-pardon who? For what? The line for official forgiveness forms outside the Oval Office. Jonathan Turley joins us to review the sinners, their sins, and who may walk away with absolution?
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. (on camera): If it weren’t for a bad economic news, there would be no economic news at all, lately. It’s not the Great Depression, but things are greatly depressing. The Big Three automakers are in danger of going under. Congress has apparently decided to do nothing about that until after Thanksgiving. And the Treasury Department? Forget about it. General Motors traded below $3 a share today. Yet, another major bank, Citigroup also now stands on the verge of collapse. They announced 50,000 layoffs this week. That’s 50,000 humans losing their jobs. The stock market itself is at its lowest point in almost 12 years. Would you have put your worst enemy’s money into this market this morning? Neither would anyone else. That’s part of the problem. And what’s worst and scarier than living through the worst financial crisis in a few generations? Living through that crisis with no certain or credible leadership at the top. President Bush, since he stopped making Rose Garden pronouncements about the urgency of the Wall Street bailout in October, he’s taken to saying very little about the economy. Before hopping a flight to Peru today-Peru-President Bush did completely flip-flop on an early position by signing a bill extending unemployment benefits because jobless claims are at their highest level in 16 years. Bush’s treasury secretary, Henry Paulson-well, every time he speaks, bad things seem to happen. Last week, he said this. Quote, “I believe the banking system has been stabilized. No one is asking themselves anymore, is there a major institution that might fail and that we would not be able to do anything about it.” Really? Nobody is asking that anymore? Well, this week, Citigroup, what most people would consider a major institution, it lost half its value-half. Tonight, “Bloomberg News” reports the Citi will probably require rescue by the government. So, when these really serious dire times, the people officially in charge are either lame ducks or just acting lame. President-elect Obama doesn’t really take charge for another 59 days. Yes, we are all counting. In the meantime, Noble Prize-winning economist and frequent guest on this show, Paul Krugman laid out a frightening parallel between the leadership vacuum that exists now and a similar vacuum that existed during the presidential turnover in 1932 and 1933 during the Great Depression. Krugman wrote today, quote, “How much can go wrong in the two months before Mr. Obama takes the oath of office? The answer, unfortunately, is: a lot. At minimum, the next two months will inflict serious pain on hundreds of thousands of Americans, who will lose their jobs, their homes, or both. It’s scary to think how much more can go wrong before Inauguration Day.” Wow. Faced with that dire predicament, unable to wield any real official power on his own, President-elect Obama stepped in to the breach today, wielding what limited power he has with the actual president in Peru. The big puppy of the president-elect’s cabinet choices was leak to the press. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported today that barring any unforeseen circumstances, Barack Obama will name his economic team on Monday. And it will include his pick to take over the Treasury Department. He will be the current head of the New York Federal Reserve, Timothy Geithner, a career treasury official who has worked in three presidential administrations dating back to 1988. How glad was Wall Street for the mere feeling that somebody, somebody new, might be in charge and doing something? Well, the market had been hovering in negative territory around 3:00 p.m. Eastern just before the news was reported on MSNBC. Moments later, stocks soared and finished up close to 500 points. Unofficial analysis: the market liky. In addition to Geithner, Obama will also reportedly name New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as his commerce secretary on Monday. And former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers will serve as an economic advisor, that he may eventually replace Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Reports have President-elect Obama formally introducing his economic team on Monday, but the mere leaking of names in positions of authority eased the spiral of fear and stopped the bleeding at least for a day. So, who is Tim Geithner? What’s he about? And what will he do that Hank Paulson hasn’t? And, what else can Obama do before January 20th to help stabilize an economy that is still spiraling out of control? Joining us now is former secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich. He is an economic advisor for Barack Obama and a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley-though we don’t hold that against him. Secretary Reich, thank you for joining us. Happy Friday.
ROBERT REICH, FORMER CLINTON SECRETARY OF LABOR: Well, good evening, Rachel. And thank you for not holding that against me, by the way.
MADDOW: Yes. My dad gets mad around big game time, unless I make cracks and I talk about people like him (ph).
REICH: Yes, the Berkeley-Stanford game is going on, I understand.
MADDOW: How significant is it that stocks went way up on news that Obama had tapped Mr. Geithner for treasury? What can you tell us about Geithner and what sort of secretary he might be?
REICH: Well, Rachel, I think it’s very significant indeed. Look, the market has been not only worried about lack of leadership but there’s been a complete leadership vacuum. In fact, Hank Paulson, our current treasury secretary, a couple of days ago essentially punted. He said the big bank bailout, well, he’s not going to do anymore on it. He essentially said good-bye. President Bush, as you pointed out, is off to Peru. And-with nobody in charge, people get a little bit scared. And there’s no reason not to get scared. Now, as you pointed out, there’s limited amount that Barack Obama, our president-elect, can do before he is at 12:00 noon Eastern Standard Time, January 20th, made president of the United States. But appointing Tim Geithner, somebody who’s very well-respected on the Street, the head of New York Federal Reserve board, is a step in the right direction in terms of providing, at least, the direction of leadership, and assurance to the Street and assurance to the public at large that somebody will be in charge.
MADDOW: Do we know anything from his past track record, from his past employment, from his past associations about what types of policies he will prefer? Do we know anything about potential distance between his economic philosophies and Barack Obama’s?
REICH: Well, first of all, let me say that nothing officially has been announced yet and I do not have any inside information on this. I’m just telling what I have heard from the media today, but I’m assuming, let’s just-for the sake of the argument-assumed that Geithner is indeed the pick and we’ll know more on Monday. His philosophy, if you want to kind of put it as a philosophy is very much like Barack Obama’s. It’s pragmatism. I mean, he is young enough, 47 years old. That me is young to be beyond the veterans of the old worlds and the old supply side economics, trickle-down economics, deficit economics, wars-he has a reputation for being very, very smart. Not quite a technocrat. Maybe some would say a technocrat but very, very smart. He worked in the treasury under Bob Rubin and Larry Summers. He’s very internationally-minded. He has a lot of global experience. I think he’s a great pick.
MADDOW: I know the economy is not a government program and the president and the treasury secretary can’t just command it to get better. But this sense of a vacuum in Washington is pronounced, even for the non-economist among us. It feels to me like Bush and Paulson really are AWOL right now. If there weren’t-if there wasn’t a vacuum, what do you think they should be doing?
REICH: Well, first of all-I mean, there are two big issues on the plate right now with regard to getting the economy back on track. One is this big bailout. Now, the bailout has been directed at Wall Street. But so far, nothing has trickled down to Main Street. And the idea of bailing out Wall Street was not to bailout Wall Street for the sake of bailing out Wall Street. It was for the sake of getting money back down to Main Street, to small businesses, to students who needed a loan, and to a lot of homeowners in danger of losing their homes. And, in fact, nothing has happened. So, number one item is to get that working well, to get it right, to direct it to Main Street. And the number two item is-a stimulus package. I mean, you got to-government has got to create a jobs kind of stimulus that will get the economy going again because-frankly, consumers, investors, exports, all of the normal suspects with regard to generating demand for the economy, for the goods and services that are produced in the economy, they are on AWOL, too. So, you need government as the spender of last resort, to do something that’s going to be-that’s the second big agenda item after January 20th.
MADDOW: Robert Reich, former labor secretary under President Clinton and current Obama economic advisor-thank you for your time tonight, sir.
REICH: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Tonight, it looks like the worst kept secret of the transition is no longer so secret. The “New York Times” says Hillary Clinton will say yes to becoming the secretary of state, America’s top diplomat or envoy to the world. But wasn’t foreign policy the biggest point of contention between Clinton and her new boss when they were both on the campaign trail competing against each other? Remember her calling Obama naive and even dangerous for his foreign policy ideas? Well, next up, “The Atlantic’s” Josh Green who knows as much about the Clintons as nay reporter will be joining us. And later, remember that neocon dream that a square in Baghdad would be named for President Bush? Well, today, 20,000 Iraqis turned out to burn Bush in effigy, instead. Ahead: We will be speaking with Richard Engel, who has been in Iraq since before shock and awe.
MADDOW: Looking for the perfect gift for the special Republican someone this holiday season? Well, let your fingers do the walking over to GOP.com. There, you will find adorable GOP stuffed elephants for the in-need of comforting Republican on your shopping list. There’s Max and Maxine. Sam, he has blue ears and red feet, a poor guy. Nick, the Santa one, and then there’s Victor, the victory elephant, who is especially in need of a loving home to lift his spirits this holiday season. Victor could be yours for not-so fiscally-conservative price of $35. But the RNC membership director has sent out a fundraising email to assure to us that any money spent on these elephants will go to a good cause, helping Republicans, quote, “block the Obama Democrats left-wing agenda.”
Isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas?
MADDOW: How do you take the sizzle, the drama out of the appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state? Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, the senator from New York, the primary candidate who wouldn’t quit, the 18-million-cracks-in-the-glass-ceiling candidate, the most famous American alive who doesn’t sing, act, play sports or have the name Obama or Oprah. Hillary Clinton-as the face of this nation to the rest of the world. How do you make that announcement the second biggest story of the day? You make it the second biggest story of the day by leaking every breath that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama took about the story for the last week. And here we are. The “New York Times” is reporting this afternoon that Senator Clinton will accept her expected nomination as secretary of state. Barack is ready to offer, Hillary is ready to accept. Bill’s vetting apparently hasn’t revealed anything disqualifyingly-shady. And the offer should be finalized just after Thanksgiving. That’s the reporting. So, is that that? The Clinton camp issued this official response to “The Times” report, quote, “We are still in discussions, which are very much on track. Any reports beyond that are premature.” So, yes. In other words, that’s that. At least it seems so. Appearing last night at an event in Harlem, Clinton did not exactly tamp down the rumors after she was told by a reporter that young people want to know if she will be the nation’s next top diplomat.
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SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: And I don’t think that’s on a lot of young people’s minds.
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MADDOW: This on the minds of diplomats around the world. Today, European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana who used to be NATO’s secretary general, he weighed in saying this, quote, “She is capable with experience. She is well-known. The name Clinton is well regarded.” She is, of course, well regarded around the world. She has great international credibility. She’s on a first name basis with many world leaders already. And there is recorded instance in Hillary history of anyone ever pushing her around, ever. All good. But, does Senator Clinton actually agree with Barack Obama on foreign policy and diplomacy, and strategy? I know it was the primaries and bygones are whatever, but she did spent more than a year singling out foreign policy and diplomacy as the subjects on which she really disagreed with her then-competitor Senator Obama.
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CLINTON: I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive to say that he would commit a meeting with Chavez and Castro and others within the first year. Senator Obama gave an answer, which I think he’s regretting today.
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CLINTON: As Senator Obama said, yes, last summer he basically threatened to bomb Pakistan which, I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.
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CLINTON: Voters will have to judge if living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex flex international challenges the next president will face.
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MADDOW: If the secretary of state offer for Senator Clinton is a done deal now, does that mean everything is cool here? One big, happy agenda now? There’s not going to be any drama? Really?
Joining us now is Josh Green, senior editor for “The Atlantic Monthly,” who got close enough to the Clinton campaign this year that he actually started dropping the phrase HillaryClinton.com into his phone calls home. Mr. Green, thank you very much for joining us on a Friday night.
JOSH GREEN, THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: If Senator Clinton really does have strong disagreements with Obama on foreign and we just played tape of some of those from the primaries, is there reason to worry that there will be an incohesiveness in American foreign policy? That she and President Obama will not have a single agenda?
GREEN: No, I really don’t think there is. I mean, one of the things that you do in a party primary, when you basically have almost the same position as the guy standing next to you in the debate is you take small differences and magnify them and you blow them out of proportion. I think that’s what we were seeing in a lot of those clips. I mean, you talk about where Hillary Clinton fundamentally stands with Barack Obama, and then say, you know, the Bush administration-there really isn’t a whole lot of daylight between Clinton and Obama. And I think in agreeing to be his secretary of state, if she indeed has, she’s basically saying, “I accept your view of the world and I will go out there and I will work with you to carry it forward.”
MADDOW: The foreign policy criticism in the primaries wasn’t just one way, it wasn’t just her going after Obama. And that Obama and his campaign in particularly, they were pretty blistering towards the idea of the same old, same old foreign consensus, business as usual model, which they pinned on Clinton, you know, starting with voting for the Iraq war, but on from there. How do you think-given that-that Senator Clinton might react to proposals that are being floated, at least, in the press now that the White House might get to hire her undersecretaries, might get to essentially hire the staffs, that she wasn’t able to bring a Clintonian foreign policy crew with her?
GREEN: Well, you know, I think that’s one of the things you have to accept when you work for a new president. She-you know, I’m sure she’ll be able to bring some advisors with her, but I don’t think, you know, had Obama and Clinton really disagreed at this secret discussion that everybody knows they had a week ago and the job description came out, if there’d been a real tension there or disagreement about, you know, where America wanted to go in the world, I don’t think you’d see Clinton being offered the job. And so, I don’t think that some deputy or some, you know, lower level people are really going to have all that great an effect on how Clinton operates in the State Department and whether or not Obama is able to be effective.
MADDOW: Josh, there is so much intense media interest in everything Clinton-related. And there’s no way that this potential nomination could have been rolled out smooth as silk like the Axelrod job or the Valerie Jarrett job, or Eric Holder even. But still, this has been a week-long wild ride, and it makes us think not only about the personalities involved here but process issues. Do you think there’s more leaking and gossip and drama just around Senator Clinton, herself, because of who she is and her history, or is all the drama around this is just a product of the intense media scrum that’s around her at all times?
GREEN: No, I think it’s the product of the fact that there’s always more drama around the Clintons, around Hillary Clinton and around Bill Clinton. And journalists in Washington, myself included, we appreciate that a great deal. I think that is one of the risks in appointing Hillary Clinton to the position of secretary of state. I mean, there were a number of choices Obama could have made. Frankly, he could have made any other choice and been all but guaranteed that there would be less of that kind of drama.One would assume that he’s counting on the fact that as secretary of state she’s really not involved in domestic politics anymore. She won’t be in an adversarial position. People talk about the idea of a “team of rivals,” but to the extent that there is one, that happens in public between-sorry-in private between Obama and Clinton and their closest advisors and it’s not something that you’ll see playing on the media or playing out on cable TV.
MADDOW: Josh, one last very quick question: Do you think that there’s a possibility that she could be sort of bad cop to Obama’s good cop when it comes to actually negotiating foreign policy issues?
GREEN: Oh, I do very much. I think that’s one of her strengths. I mean, people think of Clinton as being a presidential candidate, but where she was really most effective as a politician, I think, was in the Senate, and doing backroom deals and getting tough with the Republicans. She’s an enormously smart and talented and compelling politician. I expect she will be a secretary of state, too. She certainly isn’t afraid of anybody.
MADDOW: Backroom deals and pressuring people, that sounds like secretary of state territory.
Josh Green, senior editor for “The Atlantic Monthly”-thank you very much.
GREEN: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: In tonight’s lame duck watch, you know who’s still willing to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt? People proverbially are standing outside the White House in a long line waiting for a pardon. It’s every lame duck president’s chance to make almost everybody angry. So, who will be this cycle’s Marc Rich or Richard Nixon or the Whiskey Rebels of 1794? Stick around.
MADDOW: So, there’s a new proposed country to country deal between the Bush administration and Iraq. President Bush has also maintained that he would never accept a firm timetable for withdrawing our troops from Iraq. But this agreement sets a firm deadline for us withdrawing. The Iraqis actually call this a “withdrawal agreement.” Undaunted, the Bush administration is calling the deal a celebration of our victory. You know, they have always been very good at naming things, if nothing else. Frightening. NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel will join us next. First, though, it’s time for a few underreported holy mackerel stories in the news today. After running a failed presidential bid, campaigning for a failed Republican nominee and a failed bid to gain support to run the Republican National Committee, Fred Thompson will return to the gig where 95 percent of those who try, fail. That would be the noble profession of acting. As much rejection and insecurity as actors face, Thompson had a hard time playing living rooms in Iowa as a would-be Republican savior.
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FRED THOMPSON, ® FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Can I have a round of applause?
THOMPSON: Well, I had to drag that out of you.
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MADDOW: Oh, it’s very sad. According to Thompson’s former finance chairman: Fred Thompson, quote, “had spent the last two years of his life trying president and helping John McCain be president. And during that time, he didn’t have much income.” And he, quote, “has some wonderful opportunities back in the television market that probably financially far outweigh being chair of the RNC.” You know, if Fred Thompson couldn’t make it on the RNC salary, how did he plan to live a measly $400,000 a year as president? Free room and board, you know. And speaking of the president, the election of Barack Obama has already, apparently, caused some change at Bob Jones University, a private college in Greenville, South Carolina that did not admit black students until 1992 and only dropped it’s prohibition on interracial dating in the year 2000. Yes, that Bob Jones University where candidate, George W. Bush, spoke in 2000 before they dropped the dating ban. Bob Jones U has finally issued an apology for the school’s racist policies, quote, “We failed to accurately represent the Lord and fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures, we are profoundly sorry. We allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.” Bob Jones University President Stephen Jones, the great grandson of the school’s founder, Bob Jones, decided to issue the apology because the school, he says, “still gets questions about its views on race.” In the statement, they do point out that the university now provides financial support for two scholarship funds for minority applicants at a school of 5,000 students. That’s for one-hundredths of a percent of the student population. Moving on up. And finally, have you ever been somewhere and wondered what the name of the place actually meant? Two German cartographers, map makers, have produced a new set of maps that identify locations using their original linguistic meanings. New York, for example, actually means “new wild boar village” because “York” derives from an old English word for “wild boar” combined with the Latin word for village. Chicago is not as nice an idea. “Chicago” meant “stink onion.” That one won’t sound good even with Sinatra singing it. “Stink onion,” named after a Native American term for “the smell of rotting onions in marshlands.” Other favorites - Great Britain means “great land of the tattooed.” The Mediterranean means “sea of the middle earth.” Take that, Tolkien fans. Somalia means “go and milk.” Go and milk - I have no idea what that is about. Nicaragua means, “here are people.” And my personal favorite of the entire Atlas is the original meaning of “Yucatan” in Mexico. Apparently, Spanish explorers asked, “What’s the name of this region?” And the local Mayans responded by saying, “Yok ak katan(ph),” which means, “I don’t understand.” And so the Spanish named the place Yucatan. They named the place, “I don’t understand.” If ever there was a more perfect summary of colonialism, I do not know of it.
MADDOW: Remember way, way, way back, like in 2003, when Iraq War proponents like Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain, actually, were busy trying to convince us that American troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq? When Donald Rumsfeld not only knew that we would find Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, he even knew vaguely where we’d find them. And Richard Pearl - you remember Richard Pearl, right? Neo-con, cold warrior, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, eyebrows of doom, widely considered an architect of the Iraq War? In September ‘03, six months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, this is what Pearl famously told a conservative think-tank in Washington.
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DAVID PEARL, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE DEFENSE POLICY BOARD: A year from now, I’ll be very surprised if there’s not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.
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MADDOW: Wow, you think I’m bad at predictions. Do I need to point out that that didn’t happen? That may even trump the whole “greeted as liberators” thing. Consider the “deluded about the Iraq War” cake to be taken. But you know, we all make mistakes. I bet Richard Pearl felt pretty silly after he said that, right? Wouldn’t you? Well, here he was when he was asked about it again in February ‘05. He said, “Well, I’d be a fool not to recognize that it didn’t happen on the schedule I had in mind. So we’ve lost some time. So let me restate it. I will be surprised yet again if we do not see a square in Baghdad named after this president.” Really? The only thing you think you got wrong was the time line for the great expected Iraqi monument in honor of President Bush? I mean, I can see where you got the whole “greeted with respect and affection” thing. You know, look, right, they love us. They are destroying the statue of Saddam Hussein in Fardus Square. Except remember like three months later, when whistle blowers told everybody that the whole statue toppling thing was less organic Iraqi joy and more stage managed event by a Marine colonel and an Army psychological operations thing? You know, tomato, tomato. It’s now been more than three years since Richard Pearl reiterated his prediction that some day the Iraqi people would lionize President Bush with a monument in a grand Baghdad Square. Checking back in, here is Fardus Square today, the very spot where we saw the choreographed destruction of the Saddam Hussein statue more than five years ago. Are these more than 10,000 Iraqis gathered here to sing the praises of their favorite American president? No. They are here at the behest of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to protest the proposed Status of Forces Agreement that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki just signed. It would allow U.S. troops to stay in that country for three more years. President Bush did get a shout out of sorts - that would be a President Bush effigy and that protestor would appear to be whacking Mr. Bush with his shoe, which is a great insult. Later, the amassed crowd did what any respectable mob of protestors would do with any effigy - they set it on fire. So sort of, in a way, Richard Pearl was kind of right. I mean, the square is not exactly named in Bush’s honor, but President Bush is certainly a prominent presence there. After that Status of Forces Agreement, the one that more than 10,000 Iraqis protested - well, here’s what White House Spokesperson Dana Perino had to say about it this week.
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DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is mutually agreed to agreement. And that’s one of things that is different about an arbitrary date for withdrawal when you say you are going to leave, win or lose. We believe the conditions are such now that we have able to celebrate the victory that we’ve had so far.
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MADDOW: Celebrate the victory. You know, just because thousands of Iraqis are unhappy about something doesn’t mean we get to call it winning for the United States. First of all, these things still have to go through the Iraqi parliament. And if it does pass, which it might next week, it sets the date after which U.S. troops cannot stay in Iraq. That’s about three years from now, which sounds like a timetable for withdrawal to me. And hey, if it means we can finally leave, a lot of Americans would consider that to be a victory of sorts, at least in the sense that we’re not getting a permanent occupation like it seems like they might have been planning for. So who knows? Maybe both Richard Pearl and Dana Perino were sort of right. Bush gets his square in Baghdad and we get a victory in Iraq because Bush’s plans for a permanent occupation don’t end up panning out. Joining us now is NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent, a man who has logged a lot of time in Iraq, Richard Engel. Richard, thank you so much for coming on the show. Nice to see you.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It’s really my pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this. How are you?
MADDOW: Great, although I’m a little freaked out about this Status of Forces Agreement. The U.N. mandate that allows our troops to be in Iraq legally expires New Year’s eve. So there’s a lot riding on the idea that doesn’t become “helicopters off the Saigon embassy” moment. That isn’t an accidental, abrupt end to the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Even people who want U.S. troops home worry about it happening that way. Do you think this agreement will pass?
ENGEL: I spoke with a very senior advisor to the prime minister. And he said that it’s likely to go to a vote on Monday. The vote could be delayed. It could be cancelled. Members of parliament are actually now out of the country, some of them for the Haj, the program institute of Saudi Arabia. Others have said that they will not attend. They’re going to boycott the sessions. So it is likely to take place on Monday. But in Iraqi politics, things tend to slide. If it happens and there is a quorum held, it will probably pass because the cabinet did approve it. And this is a big deal. I mean, people in this country are focused on the economy and focused on a lot very legitimate issues.
MADDOW: I’m up at night worrying about this. We’ve got 150,000 people there.
ENGEL: There are a lot of U.S. troops in Iraq.
ENGEL: It’s about 140,000 now. This is the exit strategy. Everyone has been clamoring the Bush administration to put an exit strategy in Iraq. This is it. And it says that if it’s passed, U.S. troops will have to pull out of all major Iraqi cities and be on their bases at the end of June - so June 30th, out of the cities. And then it says all combat forces should be out of Iraq by 2012. Not all forces, just all combat forces.
ENGEL: So you could leave a residual force around. But what’s is that you have the U.S. troops out of the cities at the end of June. Now, that’s a good thing for a variety of reasons. That means U.S. troops won’t be doing combat missions. But it means you have a very large force still in Iraq on a training mission, which is a very expensive proposition to have.
MADDOW: On their own - confined to their own basis with the remit that they charged essentially with training an Iraqi military from bases in - but Americans still there in the tens of thousands. It seems like sort of a strange thing to plan for. This sort of think is like an animal designed by committee.
ENGEL: It becomes very complicated. And the - it’s not so much of a straight war fight anymore. In Afghanistan, U.S. troops are on patrol. They are on offensive. They do what they think is necessary to do to win a fight. Here, it’s now a much, much more bureaucratic endeavor. The Iraqi government has the right search, for example, cargo coming in from the U.S. They have the right to approve missions, as long as they are not carried out in direct and immediate self defense. They have the right to ask how and where munitions are stored on U.S. bases. So it becomes a lot more complicated.
MADDOW: Do we want our troops in great numbers there under those circumstances? It seems like the sort of thing where it’s a big worry if this thing does not pass. It also seems like a really big worry if it passes. This seems like very difficult circumstances to put 140,000 Americans there.
ENGEL: If it doesn’t pass, what happens is the U.S. troop presence becomes illegal …
ENGEL: … if on December 31st, there is no agreement of any kind. I spoke with the U.S. ambassador there not long ago. And we were talking and he said - I said, “What happens? December 31st, there’s no agreement. There’s not Status of Forces - ” He said, “We’re staying home. We will not leave the bases because anything we do will be considered illegal.” So you have this - that would be a very awkward situation. You have the troops there with no agreement. They can’t move, so they want to have some sort of framework agreement. But this framework agreement is very complicated. The Israelis have an expression. I covered Intifada, the Al Aksa(ph) Intifada in Israel in the west bank and the Gaza strip. And they said in that area, things used to be broken up into Area A, Area B and Area C. Area A was full Palestinian control. Area B was joint control and Area C was full Israeli control. The problems - problems were always in the joint control area because nobody knew what was going on.
MADDOW: All right. Welcome to the next three years. Incredible. Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent. I know you’re back in New York for a little while. We hope to have you on again to keep covering this as over the next few weeks. A very, very dramatic situation is going to unfold here. Thanks for being here.
ENGEL: It’s real pleasure.
MADDOW: Nice to see you, Richard.
We’re on “Lame Duck Watch: tonight. Who will be the lucky recipient of a pardon from George W. Bush? There are so many people just in his administration to choose from. Where to begin?
MADDOW: Article Two, Section Two of the U.S. Constitution gives the president the, quote, “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States.” With 59 days left of the Bush administration, there is a proverbial line forming outside the Oval Office of people looking for some legally binding forgiveness. Oh yes, it’s time for RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’s “Lame Duck Watch: Quackitude” because somebody has to do it. It is a rite of passage for exiting presidents to use their most absolute power for sometimes controversial exonerations. President Ford’s legacy is thin grass growing under the dense shade provided by his memory of his pardon of President Nixon in 1974, just a month after Nixon resigned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALD FORD, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article Two, Section Two of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free and absolute pardon on to Richard Nixon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And so there was just that one term for Gerald Ford. On President Carter’s first day in office, he fulfilled a campaign promise to issue pardons to Americans who avoided serving in Vietnam by not registering for the draft or by leaving the country. I must say, given the preference, I prefer first day in office pardons to last day in office pardons. Red Sox fans, then mired in year 70 of the curse of the Bambino, will never forget 1989 when outgoing President Ronald Reagan pardons Yankees owner George Steinbrenner who had been indicted on 14 criminal counts of obstruction of justice and conspiring to make illegal contributions to President Nixon’s reelection campaign. In contrast, Red Sox fans will never pardon Steinbrenner for Johnny Damon. In 2001, before leaving office, President Clinton pardoned his always-entertaining half brother, Roger, who had been convicted on drug charges. A month after being pardoned, Roger was arrested for drunk-driving. Now, it’s George W. Bush’s term. He has already used his pardon power 163 times including commuting former White House aide Scooter Libby’s 30-month prison term. So if you are looking for a pardon, now is the time to ask. Jailed media tycoon Conrad Black is already asking. Black was convicted on charges of obstructing justice and defrauding shareholders. Uncle Ted Stevens, until yesterday, the highest-ranking convicted felon in the land - he said he’s not looking for a pardon. But if he’s sentenced to time in prison - I don’t know. Maybe he’ll change his mind? And what about lame duck Vice President Dick Cheney, who was recently indicted in Texas, charged with engaging in an organized criminal activity in relationship to a federal detention center there? Bush is not going to let Cheney testify about anything, let alone spend even one second in the clink, right? Well, more than 2,300 people have applied for a pardon or commutation this year. It’s the largest number of applicants in any single year since 1900. Who’s likely to get them this year and why? Time to call in Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University. Professor Turley, thanks for your time tonight.
JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY: Hi, Rachael.
MADDOW: So first of all, the pardon power itself. It is often mocked. It is sometimes used to disgusting effect, but it does have a legitimate role to play in the justice system, right? There’s sort of a case to be made that it is an honorable steam valve for the justice system, as long as it’s used well, isn’t there?
TURLEY: It’s exactly that, in terms of the intention of the framers. Alexander Hamilton was a great advocate for the pardon power, because a legal system, even when it’s acting appropriately, may sentence someone under the rule of law that equity demands a second look. And presidents have corrected problems in the legal system. John F. Kennedy pardoned people under the Narcotics Act which was a very abusive act passed by Congress. And so there are some high moments. There are also some very low moments which you just described well.
MADDOW: Constitutionally, can a president pardon him or herself?
TURLEY: That is a big debate among academics. Some academics say that this power is absolute and plenary and so he can give a pardon to himself.
I’m actually not entirely convinced by that. The Constitution is written with a high sense of conflict of interest, that is they want to avoid people who have a conflict of interest in making decisions, Congress giving itself pay raises, the vice president sitting on impeachment of the president. So the Constitution is designed to avoid that type of abuse of power. I think that a self-pardon by the president would raise very serious questions. And indeed, I think it would trigger a constitutional amendment being offered to restrict this power from future presidents.
MADDOW: President Bush did not pardon Scooter Libby, the vice president’s former chief of staff. But he did commute Libby’s sentence. When we think about what Bush might do in he has remaining days in office, do you think we should look at Libby as a likely candidate for a full pardon?
TURLEY: I would be surprised, if Libby got another pardon. I’d also be surprised if Roger Clinton got another pardon. I’ll go on the record as saying that won’t happen. But with Libby, I would be very surprised. He got a commutation. It was very controversial, not simply because a lot of people questioned whether he deserved it. But more importantly, this is a president who’s been very miserly about pardons and commutations. He is the least sympathetic of any modern president to such request. In fact, I think he’s only given about 157, and that’s a very low number. So when he went out of his way to give Scooter Libby one, it raised questions. I would be surprised if he gave him another one.
MADDOW: The last time you were here on the show, we talked about the prospect that Bush might preemptively pardon a whole class of people who worked for him or who implemented certain policies. Is that still a possibility? Have they overtly tried to shoot down that speculation that we discussed last time?
TURLEY: No. I think it’s a very strong possibility. You know, most of the arguments against these blanket pardons are going to the White House and say, “Look, this would be an abuse of executive power, the abuse of absolute power. It would set terrible precedent.” Those are the very arguments this president has ignored for the last eight years. And many people believe that this would be consistent with his view of the presidency. And in some ways, he may be emboldened by the fact that he doesn’t have anything to lose. He could pardon, posthumously, you know, Saddam Hussein and his numbers wouldn’t statistically go down. So there is a concern about that. It would set a very, very bad precedent. Because the president could effectively have the most felonious administration, and then give a general pardon to everyone who helped him with his crimes.
MADDOW: Or at least try to.
MADDOW: They’d try to get away with it. Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University, happy Friday. Thanks for joining us tonight.
TURLEY: Thank you.
MADDOW: Next, I get just enough pop culture from Kent Jones. The movie “Twilight” opened today. Hey, vampires.
MADDOW: Now, it’s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones. Hi, Kent. What have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. I have the solution to our economic crisis - hot teen vampires. The movie, “Twilight”, opened today and judging from these lines to buy tickets, this thing is officially off the hook. There will be blood. So, demographically desirable movie goer, what is so cool about “Twilight?”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It’s about a girl in high school. It’s just really believable. And then her boyfriend is someone totally amazing and mythical and it’s really cool.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: I’m sold. In a “Fandango.com” poll, 34 percent of moviegoers said they will take off a few hours from school or the office today to see “Twilight.” So if that gothic, IT girl with the black nail polish didn’t text you back all afternoon, connect the dots. Now, for the newbie, “Twilight” is a four-book series by Stephanie Meyer chronicling the romance between nice human girl, Bella Swan, played by Kristen Stewart and Edward Cullen played by heartthrob Robert Pattinson, a lonely vampire who just says to drinking human blood, choosing instead to sate his bloodlust by attacking unfortunate woodland creatures. So he’s irresistible. But the closer Bella and Edward get, the more Edward must struggle to resist the primal pull of her scent, which is so powerful it could send him into an uncontrollable frenzy. Attention metaphor police. So basically, it’s about really hot teenagers not having sex. You’ve never seen so much hot not-sex in your life. The screen practically melts with all the abstinence. So what do the critics think? A survey of critics at “MetaCritic.com” gave “Twilight” a 56 out of a possible 100, which means mixed reviews. “Salon.com” said the movie manages to find a sweet spot where gothic literature and the iPod meet and make goo-goo eyes at each other. “The New York Post” said “Twilight,” quote, “combines the plot of HBO’s “True Blood” with the intensity level of “Saved by the Bell.” And “USA Today” said, questionable casting, laughable dialogue, and truly awful makeup. Of course, many of these reviews were written by old guys who have forgotten what it’s like to be young and in love with a vampire virgin vegetarian. Rachel?
MADDOW: Thank you very much, Kent.
JONES: Later tonight, I’m looking forward to seeing you on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”. Everyone enjoyed that.
MADDOW: That will happen. Thanks, Kent. Thank you for watching tonight.
“COUNTDOWN” starts right now. Have a great weekend.
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