The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/17/08
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Keith. Thanks very much.
And thank you for staying with us at home for the next hour.
Keith said it quite well. Tonight, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is here to say that he thinks there should be an investigation to determine whether there ought to be indictments as a result of the Bush administration’s torture policies. Ah, accountability.
Also, it sure looks like Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is not going anywhere anytime soon. What does that mean for President-elect Obama? All that is coming up.
But first today, President Bush made the latest and most emphatic stop on his legacy-polishing tour. You know how sometimes if you’re looking at resumes, you notice a phrase like “supervised office readiness program,” and it occurs as you’re reading that really, “supervised office readiness program” probably means this guy was in charge of reselling the paper and the printer when it ran out?
Well, that experience that “I’ve spotted the resume-padding” experience was a very useful thing to have today, for understanding President Bush’s legacy-polishing speech at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: We launched a global campaign to take the fight to the terrorists abroad, to dismantle their networks, to dry up their financing, and find their leaders and bring them to justice. We gave the Taliban in Afghanistan two options: surrender the leaders of al Qaeda or you can share in their fate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Of those two options, it turns out the Taliban chose option two. The Taliban leadership and the al Qaeda leadership share the same fate, indeed. They live in apparent comfort, pretty obviously in Pakistan, regularly exhorting their ever-increasing number of followers to global jihad and they threaten and probably plot attacks against a large number of Americans who have been moved conveniently into closer range, right next door, in what is now the eighth year of the indefinite American-led occupation of Afghanistan.
So, the Taliban and al Qaeda guys, they picked Bush’s option two. And it has kind of worked out OK for them. I’m not sure this is something the president should be bragging about, but bragging is apparently the task at hand for him now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: So we launched a global campaign, to take the fight to the terrorists abroad. We sent a clear message, that America will make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You got that, America? We will make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them. And to be fair, between the terrorists and those who harbor them and those who we want to overthrow for totally unrelated reasons. So, we were lumped in to the anti-terrorism campaign purely on the basis of false information and threats that we concoct by bollixing or nation’s intelligence apparatus, and butchering their work. Then, we’ll blame the intel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We recognize that our homeland security and intelligence capabilities were inadequate. So, we launched the largest reorganization of the federal government since the beginning of the Cold War. And to better coordinate a comprehensive strategy for keeping our people safe, we have a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. You know, you guys were totally against the idea of the Department of Homeland Security in the first place. Come on. Remember way back to October 2001, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer? He was saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 24, 2001)
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: One of the reasons the president has suggested to members of Congress that they do not need to make this a statutory post, that he does not need cabinet-rank, for example. It does not need a cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security, is because there is such overlap among the various agencies, because every agency of the government has security concerns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. Worse than claiming credit for doing something the administration opposed and argued against, is them claiming credit for a Department of Homeland Security, which is sort of turned out to be a disaster, so enormous and unwieldy that to this day, it has no centralized headquarters. It consists of 22 separate agencies that operate out of the 70 buildings at 40 different locations around Washington.
At one point in its young life, it reported to more than 80 congressional oversight committees, and they did that awesome job with Katrina, and Ike, and stuff. Yes, heck of a job, Mr. President. You may want to leave the Department of Homeland Security out of the next “I done good” speech.
But President Bush then moved on to the “Here are the attacks I saved you from” portion of his legacy shining speech. First up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Here at home, we prevented numerous terrorist attacks-including an attempt to bomb fuel tanks at JFK Airport.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. I understand the president’s impulse to try to make us feel better about his record, but there is a reason politicians have records. It’s-so we can look at them, we can refer to them in the future, we can assess them. So, when a politician says something like “We stopped the JFK fuel tanks bombing plot,” we can check whether or not that’s really the way it went down.
In this case, Bush administration attorneys did hype this plot at the time with scary words like “chilling,” “unimaginable,” and “unthinkable,” but in reality, the suspects they arrested were to a major terror attack what for preteens without instruments in their parents’ basement are to the Beatles. “Time” magazine reported, quote, “Excerpts from taped conversations with the suspects make it clear that while they may have dreamed of pulling off a major terrorist strike, they had very little idea what they were actually doing. In the worst-case scenario, there might have been a fire.” Unthinkable.
The president’s case for foiled terrorist attempt number two?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: And a plan to destroy the tallest skyscraper in Los Angeles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Skyscraper. The narrative from the Bush administration at the time on the skyscraper plot? Well, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, they said, planned to have operatives hijack an airplane, use shoe bombs to breach the cockpit, and then they would fly the plane into L.A.’s Library Tower, or as President Bush called it “Liberty Tower.”
The reality? One day after the president announced this foiled attempt, a senior counterterrorism official told the “New York Daily News,” quote, “There was no definitive plot. It never materialized or got past the thought stage.” I believe the experts call that sort of thing aspirational, not operational.
This is how the Bush administration ends, we now know. The president and the vice president are spending their final month in office trying to convince us, frequently and loudly, that theirs was a secretly-awesome administration. And hey, if the American people disagreed with their tactics sometime, so be it, at least those tactics were effective.
To believe this effectiveness argument and making this argument is now, apparently, our sitting president’s full-time job. To believe him, you have to believe that the Iraq war was a good move, that al Qaeda was hurt and not helped by the wars we started after 9/11, that torture provides useful intelligence, and that arresting that guy from Guyana who thought really bad thoughts about JFK Airport but didn’t have the wherewithal to doing anything about it-was totally worth us now having a government that waterboards people, maintains offshore prisons, and reads its own citizens’ emails and listens to its own citizens’ phone calls without getting a court order. That’s the argument.
Joining us now is Spencer Ackerman, a senior reporter for the “Washington Independent.” He focuses on national security issues.
Spencer, it’s really nice to have you on the show. Nice to see you.
SPENCER ACKERMAN, WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT: Great to see you, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: Is the goal here that the Obama administration should hold on to Bush and Cheney’s national security mistakes like Guantanamo, and torture, and the permanent troop presence, to cast these things as if they worked?
ACKERMAN: I don’t even think it is. I think it’s just simply the magical mystery tour that we see at the end of the Bush administration. We saw for a long time the Bushians saying that it would take the benefit of hindsight in history to judge them, and more or less they’re jettisoning that and saying that they recognized they’ll be judged by things like the Iraq war and counterterrorism. And they are fine with that.
They’re going to say, against all fact, all reason, and all logic, as you pointed out, that this is, in fact, made us safer. In fact, Bush said at Carlisle today, there can be no debate that such measures have made the country safer, because there’s been no second attack on the United States domestically during his presidency. And, I mean, it’s kind of like that Chris Rock routine, where you try and claim that you should be giving credit for paying your child support on time? Like talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.
But, you know, it’s classic Bush, why should we expect him to go out different than the way he came in? You know, myopia and miscalculation, and misrepresentation, representing themselves as toughness.
MADDOW: Well, in the overall strategy here, should we be ignoring what Bush and Cheney are saying? Should we be ignoring this last month of legacy-polishing that they’re doing? Should we be laughing it off or is it worth rebutting it?
ACKERMAN: Well, I mean, it’s worth rebutting while laughing it off. I mean, you did a great job in the intro. Some of the others that he brought up-you know, can I give some of my favorites of the examples?
MADDOW: Please. Yes.
ACKERMAN: He mentioned a plot to blow up malls outside of Chicago. A couple days after that one was announced, FBI official told “Reuters” that there was no credible evidence of that plot at all, that it was part of a typical homeland security notification from the FBI. And then, he did mention-this one, you know, you can give him credit for, although the British kind of deserve more credit for, the foiled plot in 2006, to blow up airliners heading over the Atlantic. That was an example of good counterterrorism coordination.
Unfortunately, in September, every single one of those arrested who stood trial was acquitted of trying to blow up that airliner. So, you know, it’s a, you know, dangerous thing when actually trying to cite the available record, as you point out.
MADDOW: They are trying to-they’re trying to give us the opportunity to balance the expected gains in safety that we have achieved through the loss of liberties that we’ve been lamenting by building up all these things on the side of the scale that count as safety advances. And as you say, as you point out, with all of the examples, a lot of them turn out to be a lot less than they sound once you get past the headline.
I think it’s also interesting that the list of thwarted plots has changed a lot over time as Bush has cited them as his security record. The implication, though, is that it’s these tough tactics, these things that we resent about losing our liberties that have saved lives. I know you’ve been writing about this a lot with regard to torture. Do we know if the controversial tactics, the stuff that they’re implicitly defending here-do we know if they do save lives? Is there evidence?
ACKERMAN: No, there isn’t evidence. And it’s pretty there isn’t evidence. If there was evidence, outside of revealing sources and methods which they hide behind, they would reveal it, and they don’t. What they do, instead, is assert that euphemistically, as you saw from Dick Cheney to ABC News, saying, “Well, we’re not torturing people,” which they obviously have, those tactics have saved lives without the benefit of evidence or, you know, a record to compare it to.
The other day we saw in “Vanity Fair” magazine, a really excellent article, quoting many of the people who saw the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed debriefs from the torture, who say in very colorful four-letter word English (ph) language, that 90 percent of this stuff was absolute nonsense, because that’s what happens when you torture people. They won’t give you usable information. They’ll give you a swamp. They’ll give you an enormous mass of misinformation with some stuff littered in between like, you know, his name.
The plot that Bush brought up, that you mentioned, from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, how do we know that in fact, even from exaggeration that you pointed out, was it simply the result of what you’ll say when you’re tortured? It’s not something that you want to let pass. But at the same time, you want to contextualize that the Bush administration has a very long and distinguished record unlike nearly any other presidency in the history of this country of loathing about this sort of thing. And that needs to be said without euphemism and without any kind of obfuscation. They don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore as Carl Levin will point out, I gather, later on on the show.
MADDOW: Spencer Ackerman, senior reporter for the “Washington Independent,” thank you.
ACKERMAN: Happy Birthday, Becks.
MADDOW: Oh, what’s that? Who did you-did you just take the opportunity of me saying thank you to you to wish somebody else “Happy Birthday”?
ACKERMAN: Yes, my roommate. Thank you so much, Rachel. Sorry to be rude.
MADDOW: You are so classy with a K, Spencer.
MADDOW: Thank you.
ACKERMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: If, say, during an interview, the vice president of the United States, as we have been discussing for a couple days now, if during an interview, the vice president of the United States admits to authorizing war crimes, what should the ramifications be? The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, breaks news on this show tonight, in just a few minutes, that he wants an external commission to investigate possible indictments of Bush administration officials for torture. Senator Levin will join us very shortly.
And, today, Governor Rod Blagojevich-still has a job, after the Illinois Supreme Court refused to consider throwing him out of office. Get comfortable. This bleeping guy is not going away any bleeping time soon. This also means more time for the Republicans to try as hard as they can to tie Barack Obama to the Blagojevich scandal. My friend, Patrick J. Buchanan, will join us next.
MADDOW: Good news for Sarah Palin. A five-member state commission in Alaska has recommended that the governor get a 20 percent salary bump from $125,000 a year to $150,000 a year. Now, here’s the weird coincidence. The committee that gave Sarah Palin the raise was appointed by Sarah Palin. How weird.
Now, just for reference, in 2006, the state legislature already gave Palin a 46 percent pay increase from her predecessor, Frank Murkowski. Why doesn’t anybody ask Sarah Palin about how to handle this financial crisis? She seems to have it totally figured out.
MADDOW: It was only eight days ago when we first learned of the alleged foul-mouthed corruptitude (ph) of Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. Most of America assumed Governor F-bomb would be removed and awaiting trial like-seven days ago, right? Well, Blagojevich is hanging around more successfully with each passing day, including today.
Today, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to his fitness to hold office. A spokesman said the court rejected the challenge without comment. So, he’s not resigning, and the court’s not kicking him out. Sorry, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, you get an “A” for efforts. You also get an “A” for to no avail. That still leaves impeachment.
How is that going? Well, the bipartisan Illinois House committee investigating the possibility of impeachment reconvened today, this time with a special guest, Blagojevich’s superstar Chicago attorney, Ed Genson. Mr. Genson claims there’s no evidence that Blagojevich did anything. I repeat, anything.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED GENSON, BLAGOJEVICH’S ATTORNEY: There will be a time, maybe next week, or maybe in two weeks, where people will actually testify under oath, but sitting there listening to hearsay, sitting there listening to hearsay and hearsay, is inappropriate, with regard to all these things. And with regard to the “Tribune,” specifically, there is nothing that was done. It’s just people jabbering. There’s no evidence that anyone ever did anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: People jabbering. Genson also asked that the impeachment proceedings against the governor be delayed. The committee chair in charge denied that request. Witnesses are expected to be called tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the man himself, the Gov, just out doing some jogging in bad weather like everyone else. And look, the press just happened to be there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, (D) ILLINOIS: I can’t wait to begin to tell my side of the story and to address you guys, and most importantly, the people of Illinois. That’s who I’m dying to talk to. There’s a time and place for everything. That day will soon be here, and you might know more about that today, maybe no later than tomorrow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Tomorrow, seriously? Exciting. Any other nuggets of information or wisdom before you take your jog in the wintry mix?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: Just hang loose, to quote Elvis. Just hang loose.
Now, can I get a run in, do you think?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He just quoted Elvis. Hang loose. You know, hang loose is way down on the list of the king’s most quotable lines. Some of his most quotable lines include things about being all shook up, and a warden throwing a party in the county jail. I’m just saying.
Anything else for us, maybe about the training regimen, you know, before you tell us what we really want to know?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: Jogging (ph) 8 ½ minutes a mile, and, you know, 6 ½ to eight miles (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has this been helping through this ordeal, to exercise (INAUDIBLE) routine?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, it’s always a good thing to do. It’s always-it’s a good healthy thing, it clears your mind and hopefully keeps love in your heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Keep the love in your heart at all costs, Mr. Still-Somehow-the-Governor. Many on the right are still trying to make the Blagojevich scandal a Barack Obama scandal, much of the pure politic-I mean, consternation has to do with the Rahm Emanuel’s reported appearance on Patrick Fitzgerald’s wiretaps.
On MSNBC’s “MORNING JOE,” Obama advisor, David Axelrod, did his best to defend Obama and Emanuel, and tried to clear up some widely-assumed inconsistencies about Obama’s ties to Blagojevich.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA ADVISOR: No one ever said that Barack Obama ran the 2002 Blagojevich campaign. He didn’t even support Blagojevich in the primary for governor. I have no concerns about Rahm. He is an enormous asset to us, and will be an enormous asset to the country as he has been in the Congress.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, there you have it. Blagojevich is probably with us for a while, more than another day or two. Is the so-called “alleged contrived cloud” around Barack Obama still hanging out too, though?
Joining us now is MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan.
It’s nice to see you, Pat. Thanks for being on the show.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to talk with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Is there anything Obama and his team could be doing right now to better prove than they have that Obama wasn’t involved in this Blagojevich mess?
BUCHANAN: I don’t think anybody believes that Obama himself, who did not talk to the governor, apparently has not talked to him since the election, and talked to him very rarely even before that-no one believes, I think, that Barack Obama is part of any corrupt bargain of any kind.
I think the problem is this, Rachel. Rahm Emanuel apparently did talk to the governor and his staff. He did talk about this Senate appointment, and while we’ve had David Axelrod on “MORNING JOE,” where is Rahm? I mean, Drudge had a pretty good headline when he said, “The silence of the Rahm.”
I mean, this is a fellow who is very much out front. Why has he not stepped out like Jessie Jackson, Jr. as soon as this story broke and said, “Look, I did speak with the governor, there was no solicitation of any kind of bribe or thing of value, I didn’t offer anything of value, I never authorized anyone to offer something of value,” at all, period, paragraph?
I think a lot of folks would like to see Rahm do that and they can’t understand why he’s ducking the press.
MADDOW: Is he ducking the press because Patrick Fitzgerald said, “You can’t disclose any details about your contacts with the governor until next week”?
BUCHANAN: No. I think what Patrick Fitzgerald said, you’ve all done an internal investigation, apparently of all the contacts they’ve got, when, where, and (INAUDIBLE) – and Fitzgerald, as I understand it, has said, “Please hold the release of all of those details of your investigation until next week, because I’m working on something.”
But I’m sure he did not forbid Rahm from going out and saying, “Look, this speculation is nonsense, nothing was offered, nothing was asked, and nothing was delivered, no deal was consummated, no deal was made, and I wish you all would stop the speculation until the report comes out which will confirm what I said, thank you very much.”
MADDOW: But, Pat, politically, don’t you just think it’s a matter of strategy? If you can’t prove it, if you can’t back up what you’re going to say, to stand up at the podium and say, “I deny it, I deny it, I deny it, I swear I didn’t do it,” sort of makes you look worse. Maybe you ought to wait until you can prove it.
I think Jessie Jackson, Jr. gave a definitive denial that they didn’t think was enough, and that’s why you’ve heard these further leaks and further sources from the Jessie Jackson camp saying we actually want to tell you that he was the snitch in this case, that he was the front (ph) who was informing on them. They didn’t think that announcement served (ph) Jessie Jackson well.
BUCHANAN: Well, you know, I understand why Barack Obama is doing what he’s doing. And in a sense, look, he wants to put the focus on the cabinet-maker. He’s got an excellent cabinet coming at you. He’s got good appointments. He wants the press to cover that, I understand that.
However, I do think that Rahm Emanuel, I think he may have this problem. And I don’t believe it’s criminal for a second. I can see this character, Blagojevich, saying, “Look, yes, I can work with you guys on that Senate seat you want from Valerie Jarrett, Rahm, but I also want something, too. You know? I’d like to be in the cabinet. I’d like to have a future drama (ph) governor. If I run again, I’d like to have the support of the president of the United States, come out and raise some funds for me. Do you think we can work together?”
And my guess is, Rahm, being a politician and that being normal political talk, he’d say, “Let me get back to you.”
BUCHANAN: “Let me say what I can do.” And he maybe, they may have gone to Obama and said, “The president-elect, excuse me,” and said, “Look, I think this guy is going to try to hold us up for an awful lot more than we can deliver, so think we really ought not to deal with him. And I think Valerie probably out of the question.”
That is normal politics, but I can see how, in this environment, it would be embarrassing, Rachel. And maybe that’s the reason he doesn’t want to talk about it.
MADDOW: Pat Buchanan.
BUCHANAN: I don’t know, but that sounds credible to me. Does it to you, Rachel?
MADDOW: It does. And also (INAUDIBLE) to me, I think that if I were Rahm Emanuel in this case, I would say, “You know what? I swear a lot, and I’m going to look like a jerk for even talking to this guy, especially since I talked to him 21 times, I’m going to wait until I can prove I did nothing wrong before I try to talk about it.
BUCHANAN: Even the RNC is not going to be shocked if Rahm Emanuel swear in a little bit.
MADDOW: We will see. Well, I’ll be calling him “Chief of Staff F-Bomb,” just like I’m calling him “Governor F-Bomb.”
Pat, it’s really nice to see you. Thanks for being with us.
BUCHANAN: OK. Rachel, thank you.
MADDOW: There are six Senate seats currently occupied by sons or daughters of other members of Congress. Next year’s Congress will have 21 House members, with a parent who also served in Congress, plus five wives who hold their late husband’s seats. Add that to Caroline Kennedy pursuing Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, and a second Bush currently occupying the Oval Office, and we’ve got ourselves something that is starting to feel not very American, and actually a little British. And I mean that in a bad way.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Coming up shortly, another edition of the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’S “Lame Duck Watch.” Plenty to quack about tonight, like, say, indicting Dick Cheney. Senator Carl Levin will join us shortly to talk about accountability for torture, finally.
First thought, it’s time for a couple underreported, holy mackerel stories in today’s news. Even in a year like this, even in the year that something as bad as invading Iraq and losing New Orleans got added to the list of accomplishments of the Bush administration, even in what will probably be thought of as the first year of the great financial crisis of the 2000s, even in this year, it’s good to be Goldman Sachs.
First of all, obviously, being a former Goldman Sachs executive sets you up to be, like Treasury Secretary or governor of New Jersey, or any other number of plum corridors of power-type of jobs.
But there’s the matter of exactly how Goldman Sachs finds a way to prosper even in the darkest of times. It’s true these are very dark times for Wall Street, and Goldman just did announce that for the first time since they went public nine years ago, they lost money instead of made money last quarter.
But I tell you it is still good to be Goldman Sachs. Five pages into Goldman’s earnings report this week, “Bloomberg News” noticed Goldman’s very subtle announcement that the firm’s effective tax rate this year was one percent. One percent - they paid one percent in taxes.
Even though they were down this last quarter, they paid $2.3 billion in profit this year. Check this out from the earnings report, quote, “The effective income tax rate was approximately one percent for 2008, down from 34.1 percent for fiscal year 2007. The decreases in the effective income tax rate were primarily due to changes in geographic earnings mix.”
Hmm, you used to pay 34 percent in taxes, now you pay one percent in taxes, because of changes in your geographic earnings mix? Meaning you moved all your money offshore to places with no taxes?
The man with the best name in Congress, Texas Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett took the words out of my mouth on this one. He to do “Bloomberg News, quote, “With the right hand out begging for bailout money, the left is hiding it offshore.”
Keep this in mind the next time you look at your paycheck and you look at all the taxes you’re paying. Goldman Sachs pays one percent taxes now, and they’re the once getting bailed out with the money that you pay in taxes. Do you pay more than one percent?
And in international RAVL news, protests continue in Greece. A week and a half after a fatal police shooting of a teenager sparked antigovernment anger there. Even for Greek standards, and they’re pretty inured to protests, the demonstrations have been dramatic so far, with hundreds of shops reportedly damaged in Athens alone. Hundreds of arrests Molotov cocktails, loud calls for the prime minister to step down.
But in the last few days, the demonstrators have become truly and theatrically ambitious. First, they took over a state TV newscast while the station was broadcasting remarks from the Greek prime minister about the demonstrations.
They took over the broadcast in the station, and held up banners that said, “Stop watching television. Take to the streets.” The station said it was infiltrated earlier in the day by student protesters pretending to be visitors who then threatened staff and demanded to be put on the air.
Then, today protesters evaded security guards at the Acropolis in Athens. They unfurled these two giant pink banners. The banner on the left calls for mass demonstrations across Europe tomorrow. The one on the right says the word “resistance” in Greek, English, Spanish and German.
And now we all know that the Greek word for resistance is anti - shz(ph). Probably sounds better in actual Greek.
MADDOW: It is almost moving day at the White House. In another 33 days, President Bush will turn over the keys, the combinations to the secret safes and the clicker for the flat screen. He’ll head south for retirement to wait and see what happens with that whole legacy thing.
In the meantime, the still president is still president, leaving little last-minute messes in controversial policy areas wherever he treads. And President-elect Obama is packing his cleaning supplies to try to clean up after Bush.
According to the “Wall Street Journal,” it looks like there is a new item on Obama’s cleanup chore list. A new Bush administration rule would allow healthcare workers to refuse to participate in any practice they find morally objectionable, like say, abortion or maybe even birth control, too.
The rule, cleverly disguised in doublespeak as the Right of
Conscience Rule is not escaping the notice of Obama’s transition officials, who according to the journal, have, quote, “begun considering how and when to undo it.”
Nice to hear them openly telegraphing their punch on that one, probably saving a lot of reproductive rights advocates some sleep with that quote to the “Wall Street Journal.” But can we have confidence that everything President Bush has done in the last eight years that can be undone and ought to be undone will be undone by team Obama? There are truly some Macbeth-worthy spots that we as a country will be stuck scrubbing at for years to come.
That’s why it’s time for the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’s “Lame Duck Watch,” because somebody has to do it.
Just in time for Bush team moving day, evidence is stacking up that top Bush officials knew about and approved of torture. Last week’s bipartisan report from the Senate Armed Services Committee says, quote, “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
If that wasn’t damaging enough, while everyone else, like, say Donald Rumsfeld was running around, denying or attacking that report’s findings, Vice President Cheney - he just went ahead and told ABC News that he not only knew about waterboarding, he thought it was appropriate and he OK’ed it.
So torture, the abandonment of precious worldwide moral authority. And while it’s not a midnight Lame Duck regulation that easily be reversed by the Obama administration, is there a chance that the new administration will do the next best thing to going back in time and undoing torture? Will they prosecute? Will they hold American officials accountable for authorizing it?
Joining us now from Washington is Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan. He of course is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, Levin, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight.
SENATOR CARL LEVIN (D-MI), CHAIRMAN, SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE:
Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So the Armed Services Committee spent about a year and a half preparing this report on abuse of prisoners in U.S. military custody. There has been some angry pushback - a seemingly angry pushback from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
That said, one White House official does not seem to be denying your findings, at all that Vice President Dick Cheney, who told ABC News this week that he did approve waterboarding as an interrogation technique for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
When you heard that from Dick Cheney, did you feel that that confirmed the findings of your report? I mean, essentially, did he just admit to condoning torture?
LEVIN: As far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what he admitted. Now, he’ll say that he doesn’t admit supporting torture, but the facts are that the policies which were approved, the legal opinions authorized of these harsh techniques.
And when the vice president of the United States says that he believes
he said that, what, a few nights ago that waterboarding is appropriate, there is no other conclusion that I can reach other than that - I know it’s a form of torture. It’s been acknowledged as a form of torture I think since the Inquisition. Senator McCain who is the subject of torture is absolutely clear on it. But I think every authority on waterboarding and torture will say that waterboarding constitutes torture.
MADDOW: One of the things that I think has been so, I guess, challenging to the American debate about this is that President Bush and Vice President Cheney have essentially argued that they have legalized waterboarding, that they have legalized torture.
They think the actions of their Justice Department made things like waterboarding not war crimes anymore. Are they right?
LEVIN: You can’t just suddenly change something that’s illegal into something that is legal by having a lawyer write an opinion saying it’s legal. Things can’t work that way or else someone could get a lawyer to say a crime is not a crime, and then that would be a defense.
It is not a defense, and I just - I was astounded, frankly, when I heard the vice president of the United States sort of just blandly and blithely saying that he thought that was an appropriate thing and yes, he was involved in the discussions about it.
MADDOW: Do there need to be prosecutions? You document very clearly that we have eroded the standards by which prisoners are treated in the United States. How do we un-erode those standards, if the people who authorized the erosion are essentially immunized from prosecution?
LEVIN: Well, the first thing we have to do is what we did, at least for the Department of Defense, is to bring to light the facts, what happened here? What was the origin of the use of these techniques? And that’s what we did.
We went back to Guantanamo and showed that as a matter of fact that the highest levels of this government, the president when he said that the Geneva Convention did not apply, and then the secretary of defense, when he authorized the use of aggressive techniques, and the way they spread first into Afghanistan, then to Iraq.
This is the first step on reconstructing the respect of the world for this country, and I’m hopeful that the Obama administration will be taking major steps in that direction. We need to have the support of the world in our effort against terrorists.
MADDOW: Senator, I want to press you a little bit on that point, about the next steps and what the Obama administration might do. It sounds to me as a layman and concerned citizen in this - it seems to me like when you’re assembling these facts and getting access to these documents and putting together this testimony, what you are doing is collecting the facts for an indictment.
I know that you’re not - that’s not the role of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but that’s what it feels like. Do you think there will be prosecutions? And will you argue there should be?
LEVIN: What I think is our role to do is to bring out the facts which we have to state our conclusions, which we have, which is where the origin of these techniques began. And then to turn over to the Justice Department of the next administration - because clearly this Justice Department is not willing to take an objective look - to turn over to the next Justice Department all the facts that we can, and we have put together, and get our report, the rest of it declassified.
But then it seems to me it is appropriate that there be an outside commission appointed to take this out of politics, that it would have the clear subpoena authority to get to the parts of this which are not yet clear, and that is the role of the CIA.
We looked at the role of the Department of Defense, but the role of the CIA has not yet been looked at, and let an outside commission reach the kind of conclusions which then may or may not lead to indictments or to civil action. But it is not our role, it’s not appropriate for us to make those kinds of - reach those kinds of conclusions.
MADDOW: Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, thank you so much for joining us, sir.
LEVIN: Great being with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: You heard the “I” word here - indictments. You know, it appears that the U.S. government is sort of following the family. Today, Caroline Kennedy, one of the Kennedys, said publicly she wants to replace Hillary, married to Bill Clinton, in the Senate. We will have more on our teeny, teeny, teeny, tiny leadership gene pool, coming up next.
MADDOW: One of the nice things about the American Revolution is that it led to the creation of a really nice new government on this side of the pond, in which you doesn’t have to be a descendant of the queen or cousins with the lord or the duke or the earl or any of that, to participate. My, how we have regressed.
The Unite States Senate now includes six sons or daughters of congressmen. Next year’s House will include 21 members with a parent who served in Congress. Obama-Biden was the first winning presidential ticket since 1976 without a son or a grandson of the U.S. senator on the ticket.
But Biden’s son, Delaware’s attorney general Beau Biden may end up with his old man’s Senate seat, because Joe’s appointed substitute says he will not run in 2010, by which time Beau - it is widely hoped and expected will be safely back from Iraq, and then he will run for his dad’s seat.
Obama’s pick of secretary of the interior, Colorado Senator Ken Salazar - he could very well be replaced by his Congressman Brother, John Salazar. The Udahls a political dynasty that goes back to the 1800s saw cousins Mark and Tom recently win elections to the Senate.
Mark Begich, the recently elected senator from Alaska - he’s the son of the late Democratic Congressman Nick Begich. Congressman Tom Reynolds, the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee is complaining about this.
He told “Politico.com,” quote, “Democrats seem to lack a common man who can just win a good, old-fashioned election. They’ve got seat-warmers, seat-sellers and the making of pillows for the seats of royalty.”
Congressman Reynolds? Here comes another tree. Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut begot President George H.W. Bush, begot President George W. Bush and Governor Jeb Bush who his brother thinks would make a, quote, “awesome senator.”
And Senator Lisa Murkowski was appointed by her dad, Governor Frank Murkowski. Lincoln Chaffee son of Senator Chaffee of Rhode Island was appointed as his dad’s replacement when his father died in office.
And oh, departing Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire is the son of John H. Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire and White House chief-of-staff, under Pappy Bush.
This is bipartisan behavior and yes, the partisans retaking power in Washington happen to be Democrats this year. But it’s not like they’re worse about this stuff. Both parties have this particular problem.
Most famously among them right at the moment is Caroline Kennedy who is the Kennedy. She’s now talking openly about her desire for that New York senate seat. That available seat used to belong to Hillary Clinton, whose husband, well, you know - Caroline Kennedy wants the seat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAROLINE KENNEDY, DAUGHTER OF FORMER PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: I’ve had a life-long commitment to public service. I’ve written books on the Constitution and the importance of individual participation. And I’ve raised my family, commitment to education in New York City, training principals and working for kids and I think I really could help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Those certainly are not disqualifications by any means but something about the appointment of a never-before elected member of the American political dynasty, at least on the Democratic side, has raised hackles across the political spectrum. Is Caroline Kennedy one legacy too far?
Let’s bring in Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the New America Foundation and publisher of the “WashingtonNote.com.” Mr. Clemons thanks for being on the show. Nice to see you.
STEVE CLEMONS, SENIOR FELLOW, THE NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: It’s one thing if nepotism gets you a role in a movie or in your mom or dad’s business or something. But should politics be different? Should we have an American political value about this?
CLEMONS: You know, American history is full of political aristocrats that have carried on in generations and, you know, across the latitude and longitude of family trees. But I think that, you know, with the election of Barack Obama, this was supposed to be a fresh moment, a new start.
A very unlikely person became president of the United States. And it just feels undemocratic to a lot of people to give Caroline Kennedy an easy shoe-in to a seat. She comes from a noble family that’s done a lot of great things for America and I’m sure she’s a great person. But it just doesn’t feel right to many people, particularly on the left, at this point.
MADDOW: Is it the result of the Bush years that we think of nepotism and family ties as being a bad thing in politics? Does this have a partisan inflection that Democrats are a little shy around this issue?
CLEMONS: We’ve had a couple of names around recently, you know, we had George Bush’s father, then Bill Clinton for eight years, then George Bush’s son for eight more years. We almost had potentially Hillary Clinton in place. You could have played it out to have Jeb Bush follow her and maybe Chelsea Clinton come on after them. That would be 44 years of Bushes and Clintons.
And I think, you know, to some people this feels very unhealthy. And I think the big issue, after the abuse of democracy and abuse of civil society that we saw come from the Bush-Cheney years to so quickly out of the gate succeed that with an appointment of a very prominent Kennedy, a daughter of two American icons, and I’m sure, you know, as I said, a good person. But it doesn’t feel right.
And I think that it’s something - if we saw more of Caroline, if we saw, you know, that she could get grilled - she was in Syracuse and Rochester today. Very tightly scripted events. Took two quick questions.
We just don’t know her yet and don’t have a sense that she can really sculpt a commitment to public service in a very tough town. You know, being a senator is not a lax job. And people want to see a little bit more of her before they grow comfortable.
MADDOW: When I contrast the Caroline Kennedy backlash with relative lack of backlash about Beau Biden, part of me recognizes that is in part because he’s an elected official. He’s an attorney general of his state but part of me worries that Caroline Kennedy is getting the backlash because women have a harder road to hoe in terms of making themselves seem qualified. Do you have any thoughts on that?
CLEMONS: It maybe - I don’t really think so. I mean, Beau Biden ran for attorney general and Caroline Kennedy has chosen, like her mother, to sort of shun the public spotlight for a long part of her life, and, I understand why.
But now, to kind of turn the switch on and say, “OK, I’m ready now for 24/7 attention, and I’m going to be able to play in that and show that, it’s just something that we’ve got to see how she can perform. Can she get grilled by bloggers and Rachel Maddow and show that she can, you know, sustain a tough conversation over tough choices during a very traumatic time for the country?
So I think that while - I don’t think it’s a gender issue. I think it’s a question of comfort and knowing something more about, you know, someone who is obviously a famous person that we just have very little insight into.
MADDOW: Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, publisher of the “Washington Note.” nice to see you, Steve. Thanks.
CLEMONS: Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up next on “COUNTDOWN,” “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich joins Keith to break down President Bush’s rewriting legacy tour.
Next on this show, just enough pop culture from Kent Jones, who’s performing at Obama’s inauguration. It’s both awesome and really awful.
MADDOW: Now it’s time for “Just Enough” with my friend, Kent Jones. Hi, Kent, what have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: The Inaugural Ceremony Committee announced the lineup for Obama’s big day on January 20th. Check out the musical headliner. The queen of soul, Aretha Franklin will sing - fabulous. And cello’s Yo-Yo Ma will perform a piece by composer John Williams. Sounds kind of good, right?
JONES: Hang on. Also on the bill, to give the invocation will be Dr. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. Yes, the Prop 8-supporting, anti-choice, Dr. Rick Warren, because that’s the change America voted for. Apparently, in his invocation, Dr. Warren will be asking God not only to bless America but also to make it a lot less gay. They couldn’t get someone else? Come on. Anyone? Little Richard?
MADDOW: It’s a nice billboard to all the gay people in America who supported Barack Obama. Big memory that he was anti-gay marriage. That he’s been anti-gay.
JONES: Oh, yes.
MADDOW: Also he’s inviting focus on the family to his day of service thing, the people who prayed for rain during the Democratic convention for his speech.
JONES: Very nice. Very nice.
MADDOW: Thanks for watching tonight. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Good night.
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