The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/19/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Hello, from the National Mall in Washington. And thank you for staying with us for the next hour.
Tonight, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is here to talk his view of tomorrow‘s historic events. And because we‘ve only got a few hours left to do it, there is a double dose tonight of our Lame Duck Watch—from potential criminal investigations here in Washington to Gaza and NBC‘s Richard Engel with news of a possible change dividends.
On the one hand, we will miss the Lame Duck Watch, on the other hand? Well, you know all about that.
But first, for more than two months, President-elect Barack Obama has been the good news in this country. Amid pessimism about the economy, a hot war in the middle east, two wars of our own that don‘t seem to be being going away, wonders about war crimes committed in our name, and a lot of other worries besides, a big majority of we, the people, at least by the estimates of poll numbers, feel good about the man who will become the 44th president of the United States as of noon tomorrow.
Tomorrow‘s swearing in and the inaugural balls that follow will be the peak of a celebration, that for some, has been months or years in the making, for others, a life time, and for our country, more than generations. This is a “where were you when” moment.
President Obama‘s first act will be his inaugural speech which is expected to include a call for national service and shared sacrifice. Today, preparing to be the focus of billions of people watching around the world, Barack Obama got a head start. He rolled up his sleeves, he grabbed the paint roller, and he offered a symbolic moment of service before explicitly asking the rest of us to join in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT-ELECT: This country is great because of its people, and when all of our people are engaged and involved in making the community better, then we can accomplish anything. And, you know, one of the goals of my administration is going to be to make sure that we have a government that is more responsive and more effective and more efficient in helping families. But don‘t underestimate the power for people who join together to accomplish amazing things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Earlier in the day, the president-elect made a surprise visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he met with 14 veterans who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The surprising news of the day—was provided, apparently, by accident by Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill. Biden attempted to one-up Obama‘s public service by paint roller, by himself using a glue gun hanging dry wall at a Habitat for Humanity home in Northeast Washington. That high risk move, however, was not today‘s big surprise, that came from Mrs. Biden. She provided that when she revealed to Oprah Winfrey that vice president wasn‘t the only job her husband was up for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JILL BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN‘S WIFE: Joe had the choice to be secretary of state or vice president. And I said, Joe .
BIDEN: Well, OK, he did. So .
OPRAH WINFREY, “OPRAH” HOST: Joe.
BIDEN: So, I said, “Joe, if you are secretary of state you‘ll be away. We‘ll never see you. You know, I‘ll see you at a state dinner once in a while.”
BIDEN: But said, “If you are vice president the entire family—because they worked so hard for the election—can be involved.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the “Shhh” heard around the words. It‘s very, very awkward.
You know, the Obama campaign then quickly released a statement clarifying that Mr. Biden was never officially offered the secretary of state job—officially. It‘s getting more and more awkward the more you guys talk about it.
But tonight, with public statements completed and unexpected political intrigue revealed, the president-elect is attending to a few celebratory dinners, one to honor Joe Biden, another for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and earlier today, remarkably, a dinner to honor the man who Barack Obama defeated for the presidency, Senator John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Thank you, John, for your service to America. And the service you will continue to render in the months and years ahead. We will not always agree on everything in the months to come. We will have our share of arguments and debates.
John is not known to bite his tongue. And if I‘m screwing up, he‘s going to let me know. That‘s how it should be, because a presidency is just one branch of a broader government of and by and for the people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Tonight is also the last night of the presidency of George W. Bush, who had a very different sort of day. The president reportedly spent a quiet evening in the people‘s house, having dinner with his wife and with their daughters and his parents and their new son-in-law.
And while millions prepare to celebrate the 44th president tomorrow, the 43rd received a different message from a critic among his people today. It took the form of a shoe that was hurled over the White House fence this afternoon by a man who was arrested shortly thereafter by the Secret Service.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney leave town tomorrow with approval ratings of 22 percent and 13 percent respectively. Barack Obama, on the other hand, comes in to the presidency with an approval rating of 83 percent according to the latest Gallup Poll. To repeat, in case you can‘t hear over the cheers, 22 percent approval for Bush, 83 percent approval for Barack Obama.
Millions of Americans have descended on Washington, D.C., pouring in from every corner of the country, deciding that this is an event to be witnessed in person. With their kids or their grandkids or their grandparents or their friends and neighbors or a bunch of really rowdy beautiful strangers like we‘ve got here today at the MSNBC set today.
After two months of worrisome world and economic news of mounting challenges to the Obama administration, which have muted the national emotional outpouring experience from election night, goose-bump time has sort of re-emerged here in Washington. And it‘s not just about of being cold, and it‘s not even just confined to Washington. Many Americans who could not make it, specifically, to D.C. this week have decided of their volition that tomorrow is something they want to experience with other people—their fellow Americans.
MSNBC, as you may know, partnered with Screen Vision to broadcast our coverage of the inauguration at movie theaters across the country tomorrow. Tickets for all the theaters are sold out already. You know, Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president on the 45th anniversary of Doctor Martin Luther King‘s “I Have a Dream” speech. Today, on the federal holiday honoring Doctor King‘s birthday, he honored the legacy of Doctor King with his call to service.
And tonight, remarkably, the BBC has unearthed this prediction made
by Doctor King during an interview in 1964.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BBC WORLD NEWS AMERICA)
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: That there are Negroes who are presently qualified to be president of the United States. There are many who are qualified in terms of integrity, in terms of vision, in terms of leadership ability. So, I think we may be able to get a Negro president in less than 40 years. I would think that this could come in 25 years or less.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And here we are on a just slightly slower pace than Martin Luther King, Jr. predicted four years ago. Here we are on the eve of swearing in the nation‘s first black president.
You know, it too often takes a tragedy or a disaster to bring this country together, united in common cause. But what‘s going to happen here tomorrow illustrates a different uniting power, not tragedy or crisis, but historic achievement—a not unanimous but decisive group decision that represents once unimaginable social progress.
Here we are in the midst of an organic coming together which, frankly, feels sort of nonpartisan. Here we are only in America.
Joining us now is Cory Booker, who‘s the Democratic mayor of Newark, New Jersey. In a weird parallel, Mayor Booker joined us as our first guest after election night in November and he is our first guest tonight on this inauguration eve.
Mr. Mayor, thank you for coming back on the show.
MAYOR CORY BOOKER, (D) NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Great to see you.
MADDOW: It‘s nice to see you.
BOOKER: It‘s great to be here tonight (ph).
MADDOW: Happy inauguration.
BOOKER: Thank you very much. It is happy, indeed.
MADDOW: When we spoke—and you are the first guest that I interviewed after the election, you said, “It‘s time for a president or a politician to change the game a little bit.” You said, “To stop talking about what I‘m going to do for you, but really ask people to do something for their country right now. To talk in a way that touches people‘s hearts and compels them to act and work with us.” That‘s how you felt the day after the election.
Do you feel like Barack Obama is doing that or is it still to come?
BOOKER: I think he is has. I think he ran a great campaign and a great transition. And the appointments he is making, the moves he is making, seem to say that he is bringing a team to the White House that‘s going to work together.
But what I‘ve really respect, that they‘ve reached out to mayors all across the country, people on the grassroots, and said, “How can we work together? We want to make sure our policies just not prognostications from on high but, really, partnerships with you on the front lines so that we can see success.”
MADDOW: As the mayor of a majority African-American city in Newark, New Jersey, Newark has been through some hard times .
MADDOW: And times are getting better all the time, I know. But how do you think this inauguration, this potential presidency is resonating with the people of your city? How is it resonating in Newark?
BOOKER: Look, we had a public event at our performing arts center in Newark and the tickets went faster than any rock concert I‘ve seen or rhythm and blues concert. It was incredible. Within minutes, they were all sold out. All across my city they are having watch parties. It‘s so exciting.
But the most powerful thing for me and the most poignant thing for me, frankly, has been visiting schools in Newark. And when you talk to kids, you see quite clearly that what Obama has done is he‘s taking the seed potentiality and planted it in the hearts of millions of children around this country who suddenly believe that there‘s nothing that can hold them back. For me to ask a child what they want to do and hear a chorus of kids in my city say, “I want to be president of the United States,” just makes me realize that the vision, the moral imagination of our country for the next generation has been expanded beyond where it‘s ever been.
MADDOW: Yes. And that‘s true because of who he is. Honestly, I mean, I don‘t mean to be a downer or anything, but that‘s true even if he turns not to be a great president.
BOOKER: Yes, absolutely.
MADDOW: But when we think about whether or not he is going to be a great president, one of the things that I have been thinking about is—how the cities and states are going to have a different relationship with the federal government. Now, the Republican Party has long preached this idea of federalism, of control. I know, from talking to mayors and governors, how frustrated they‘ve been in their relationship with the federal government.
Do you feel like that‘s really going change for you between the feds and you at Newark? Is that going to change now?
BOOKER: You know, look, this is the first time for me that I have had a president that has had the urban experience in my lifetime, somebody that grew up on the streets trying to organize neighborhoods against very real challenges. And the people he‘s brought in to the White House with him, people like Valerie Jarrett and others, have a real connection to communities.
And this is not an America that is urban and suburban. We really have about 80 percent of Americans who live directly in cities or in their suburbs and have direct relationships with those cities.
So, the great thing about Obama is, I think—as I said after the election—is he‘s going to be a game-changer. He‘s going to change the narrative. He‘s changed the narrative of international politics. Rarely in the course of human events does a globe stop and watch an event like we‘re going to see tomorrow. He‘s changed the way we campaign, the narrative of the campaigns.
But more importantly, I think, what he sees cities as, is not a place for charitable block grants to be drawn out.
BOOKER: But really, as seeds for the future of our country, the green economy, the new economy—saving energy, creating industry, arts, culture, higher education. All of these things when I talked to Obama people, they really want to create possibilities of our city and create engines of hope and opportunity.
MADDOW: Yes. Cory, in thinking about what he has changed, just in the way he‘s gotten to where he is, he had a dinner for John McCain tonight.
MADDOW: And for Colin Powell tonight. And how—do you think that sets a standard in terms of—I don‘t know if it‘s bipartisanship or post-partisanship—but reaching across the aisle? He‘s been rewarded with an 83 percent approval for the way he is comported himself during this transition. That set of standard, that trickle-down—do we start seeing that turn up in other unexpected places?
BOOKER: I hope so. At the end of the day, and I see this in my city hall because we have left organizations and right organizations from Manhattan Institute to more traditional groups that you see involvement are coming together to solve problems. And really—I think a lot of us in America despite this city and what is often celebrate is divisions, I think a lot of people in America are tired of it.
The problems are too dire; the challenges are too great for us to divide ourselves as a nation. And so, Obama has a responsibility. He preached it during his campaign. And now, he is evidencing it in his post-campaign. And as president, the more he reaches out and the more he says that we, as Americans, not with words but with his actions, have more in common than we do dividing us, the more hope there is for our country.
BOOKER: And the kind of awful, venal, wedge politics of the past, parties looking for an issue that can separate people with in front of my base has got to go away.
BOOKER: And we‘ve got to start finding the real issues that when I leave to go back to Newark, New Jersey, people are going to be talking about real challenges. And we need a president that‘s going to be more about solving them and not vilifying the other side but really bringing us together.
MADDOW: No matter how tactically tempting it is. To do that, we got somebody (INAUDIBLE).
BOOKER: It can‘t be left or right. It has to be forward.
MADDOW: Mayor Booker, great to see you.
BOOKER: Thank you. Great seeing you, too.
MADDOW: Have a great week.
BOOKER: I‘m sure I will, walking on air.
MADDOW: Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
Coming up next on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: We got good news and bad news. The good news is that the first African-American is being sworn in as president, and that means that the media will talk about race. The bad news is that the first African-American is being sworn in as president and that means the media will talk about race. We really are not that good at this. Notice I said “we”? OK, a little humility here is in order.
Why do we still often fail at talking well about this most important of topics? Well, Princeton professor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, will be joining us to talk about Barack Obama, and ending our communications breakdown.
And a little later on, the exciting conclusion of Lame Duck Watch, the ultimate quack is part of the reason for all this feel good—just eight long years of feel bad. Will anyone prosecute criminal acts by the last administration or does post-partisan also mean post-accountable?
MADDOW: Welcome back to Washington, where thousands of people have gathered for Barack Obama‘s inauguration. Many of them are right here.
Almost everything about tomorrow is a known entity; it‘s a pageant that we have seen played out for a very long time—centuries. The only unknown is exactly what Barack Obama will say in his inaugural address, and whether he will mention the proverbial elephant in our national living room. The fact that since our country was founded, its chief executive officer has been the domain—its chief office has been the domain solely of white men. Tomorrow, all that changes.
About the only person down playing the historic significance of the day is Barack Obama himself, choosing as he did nearly two years of campaigning to emphasize unity instead. His advisor Linda Douglass said, quote, “The fact that is historic is unavoidable, and it is powerful, and it is emotional. But the paramount goal here is to communicate through the activities and events that we are one people.”
We are one people. You know, in case, you are wondering, 69 percent of African-Americans recently polled by CNN say that they now believe that Doctor Martin Luther King‘s dream of “I Have a Dream” fame has been fulfilled. Thought, his son, interestingly enough, disagrees. He said today, quote, “Barack Obama‘s election does not render my father‘s dream realized.”
So, does the election of the first African-American president in our history marked a turning point for race relations in this country? Or even a turning point for our collective ability to talk about race and race relations and racism without being scared and self-conscious and—let‘s face it—kind of stupid sounding?
Joining us now is a woman who couldn‘t sound stupid if she practiced it for a week, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, who I got in trouble with Bill Cosby last week.
MADDOW: Melissa, thank you for being with us tonight.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Absolutely.
MADDOW: And I‘m sorry about the Cosby thing.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Oh, no. It was great. I loved it.
MADDOW: What do you make of Linda Douglass‘ statement today? This one people moment, and they will only talk about this historic achievement as such because it is unavoidable and they‘re sort of forced into it?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I mean, I suppose there are two things. One, this is actually what the Obama campaign has been brilliant at since the beginning. They let Tina Fey beat Sarah Palin, right? So, they‘re going to let us do the work on race, right? Every time someone weeps on the mall or, you know, when a commentator says, “This is historic.” I mean, why? We have inaugurations every four years.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: So, part of what‘s brilliant is that this is what they technically do very well.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: The other part is, this actually works with African-American history. If you look at what black people did immediately after slavery, there are people who have been intergenerational chattel bondage. First thing they do at the end emancipation is run for office. I mean, no race riots, no burning down the plantations, but saying, “We are Americans. We are part of the story.”
MADDOW: Is Martin Luther King‘s “I Have a Dream” speech the right political touchstone here? Is that—is asking the right question to ask if that dream has been fulfilled? Or is that the easiest question to answer?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I should think it‘s the easiest.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: We‘ll remember the last thing that King left us with, it wasn‘t the dream, it was standing on the mountaintop with a vision of the “Promised Land.” And the beautiful thing about that vision is he did not give us the content of it. It is a faith claim, “God has taken me to the mountaintop, allowed me to see the Promised Land,” but he didn‘t tell us what it looked like.
So, our job is to fill in the outlines. What would the Promised Land look like? How will we know when we are a democracy that is functioning in that promised way?
MADDOW: Is there—is there a cultural touchstone beyond or after the Declaration of Independence that should be the goalpost against which we measure our racism, and how we deal with race relations and how the races get along within America? I mean, is it just—is it just equality or is there a fine-tuned way to look at it that should be the yardstick against which we measure ourselves?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I mean, there‘s many different levels. There‘s, you know, the levels of person questions and sort of how we feel about each other. From a political perspective, it‘s a question of citizenship. The point of the Declaration of Independence is that we are each created equal in the eyes of the law. So, we can look through our status and health (ph), our status as Americans and really say, “Are we fully citizens?”
Part of what does get realized in this moment is that African-Americans are not, in this moment, pressing back against their government. They are the government.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: And that is very exciting.
MADDOW: When we talk about race, we really often seem awkward; we dance around the issue for fear of offending anyone. I wonder if, actually, we are having a bit of a racial awkwardness grace period right now. We‘re sort of “OK to stick your foot in your mouth if you have your heart in the right place”—is that true or people still getting in trouble for saying those stuff?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I think—I think black people actually generally give white folks a lot of grace period, in general. I mean, the N-word, that‘s where the grace period ends.
MADDOW: All right.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: But, in fact, we answer lots of questions about our hair and, you know, all variety of manner of things that are difficult. But yes .
MADDOW: Do you realize you are inviting Americans to ask questions about your hair right now?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, Michelle Obama is moving into the White House.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Somebody is going to be asking these questions. I‘m praying every day for a year now that it won‘t rain tomorrow because I‘m not ready to answer these questions yet.
MADDOW: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, it is so nice to see you. Happy inauguration.
MADDOW: Great to see you. Melissa Harris-Lacewell is an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.
All right. As MSNBC‘s inauguration coverage continues here in Washington, the change dividend is already having an effect in the Middle East, where Israeli officials reportedly say they plan to pull troops out of war-ravaged Gaza by the end of Inauguration Day. That is change will have to confirm;
In our final Lame Duck Watch, NBC correspondent Richard Engel will be joining us live from Gaza City with the latest developments.
MADDOW: Coming up on our final but no-less quackitudiness Lame Duck Watch, George Bush commuted a couple of sentences on his last day in office which immediately raised the question of whether he would also move preemptively to pardon himself. That‘s a bad sign for an outgoing president when people wonder about who will pardon you. Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley will join us in just a moment.
First though, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. As you know, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson delivered the invocation yesterday at the inaugural week‘s opening ceremony—the “We Are One” inauguration concert. Did you see it?
Unless you were among the hundreds of thousands of people in the crowd there who very kindly did not pay attention to the fact that I wept my way through the entire thing like a baby, you did not get to see Bishop Robinson‘s invocation. That‘s because HBO had the exclusive right to broadcast the event on the TV machine and they started their broadcast five minutes after Bishop Robinson did his thing.
Robinson‘s invitation to give the invocation was politically resonant because tomorrow, at the swearing in ceremony, in front of an audience that is estimated to be in the billions worldwide, Pastor Rick Warren will give another invocation prayer.
Pastor Warren is a popular pastor of an Orange County, California, megachurch. He was an outspoken activist in favor of taking away gay marriage rights in California. He has infamously compared being gay to being a pedophile and to incest.
The invitation to Bishop Robinson, who is openly gay, was widely seen as an effort by the Obama camp to make it up to supporters of gay rights who were—what‘s the word—livid? About Rick Warren.
So, after all this politics, why didn‘t HBO air Bishop Robinson‘s invocation? Well, HBO today blamed Obama‘s inaugural committee. In an email to AfterElton.com, they said, quote, “The producer of the concert has said that the Presidential Inaugural Committee made the decision to keep the invocation as part of the pre-show.” And by pre-show they mean pre-broadcast.
After sort of a dramatic back and forth from the subject today, the Presidential Inaugural Committee is now apologizing for what they are calling a mistake concerning Bishop Robinson‘s invocation.
The impossibly named Obama spokesman Josh Earnest issued this statement to Christianity today. He said, quote, “We always had intended and planned for Rev. Robinson‘s invocation to be included in the televised portion of yesterday‘s program. We regret the error in executing this plan, but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event.”
In addition to the apology, “Politico.com” is now reporting that tomorrow, the inaugural committee will rebroadcast on the National Mall the entire Lincoln Memorial concert, this time including Bishop Robinson‘s prayer.
And finally, among the people gathering tomorrow to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama will be a group of African Iraqis. There are African Iraqis? Yes. There are Africa Iraqis. 1,500 years ago, east Africans were brought to Iraq as slaves. There are now about 300,000 of them - that‘s less than one percent of Iraq‘s overall population.
The African Iraqis have had a very hard time. They‘re discriminated against. Most live in extreme poverty. No one of their number holds political office.
But that‘s about to change. A slate of eight black Iraqi candidates is running for office in the provincial elections in Basra at the end of this month. They say they are inspired by the outcome our election here.
The secretary of their political party telling “USA Today,” quote, “We heard Obama‘s message of change. Iraq needs change in how they see their own black-skinned people. We need our brothers to accept us,” end quote.
It is going to be an uphill climb. The slate of eight black candidates calling themselves the Free Iraqi Movement will be among about 1,800 people vying for just 35 seats in provincial government of Basra, down in southern Iraq.
In the meantime, in the Basra neighborhood of Zubayr, the black Iraqi candidates will host a feast tomorrow to watch and celebrate the swearing-in of the man who was their electoral inspiration. You know, a few community organizers, some good food, some inspiration - that is how things start, you know. Yes, they can.
MADDOW: just about 14 hours left in the Bush administration. If you are counting, we are 70,114 hours into it. So if you are into percentages, that means we are 99.98 percent of the way through the Bush administration. We have a calculator. So what could happen in the last 0.02 percent of his tenure?
Well, earlier today, still-President Bush commuted the prison sentences of two former U.S. border patrol officers. They were convicted of shooting a drug smuggler who fled across the Rio Grande after they stopped his vehicle which was containing more than 700 pounds of marijuana.
But the big pardoning question remains, what about preemptive action? Might the still-president pardon the administration officials involved in torture or warrant-less wiretapping or politicize Justice Department hirings. Or might he preemptively pardon himself?
It is time for the penultimate RACHEL MADDOW SHOW “Lame Duck Watch,” because it is now or never.
The calls for reckoning are growing by the day, not just from progressives outside the government. That said, President-elect Obama himself does not seem particularly inclined toward investigating alleged Bush administration crimes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT-ELECT: We have not made final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward, we are doing the right thing. That doesn‘t mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation is going to be to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What do you mean by “blatant,” Sir? But the Congress may be getting behind a very different approach. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers released a nearly 500-page report that calls for an independent criminal probe and a blue ribbon commission to look into whether any laws were broken.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi now says she will support congressional efforts to investigate the Bush administration. Over at the Senate Judiciary Committee, member Sheldon Whitehouse says that he may take matters into his own hands. He told “NPR,” quote, “I think we in Congress have an independent responsibility and I fully intend to discharge that responsibility.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer says supports Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin‘s call for a commission with subpoena power to investigate abuses at Guantanamo. Each of those comments from those two senators were made on this show, and that Attorney General designate Eric Holder‘s confirmation hearing. Sen. Russ Feingold asked Mr. Holder what he would do to make sure, quote, “those who engage in wrongdoing don‘t, in effect, have the last laugh.” Holder later left the room for a rigorous look backwards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL DESIGNEE: No one is above the law, and I‘ll agree with that. We will follow the evidence, the facts, the law, and let that take us where it should.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Here in Washington, in the last 24 hours, a handful of governors from across the country have told me that they would be in favor of prosecutions for Bush administration criminal acts if they could be proven. So will it happen? And could President Bush pardon himself or any vulnerable members of his administration in the next few hours?
Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University Law School. Mr. Turley, nice to see you. Thanks for coming in tonight.
JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thanks for being here.
MADDOW: This story is not going away. Everybody is talking about whether to investigate Bush administration officials to potentially prosecute them. Do you think that Obama and his team realized how hot an issue this would become and would stay?
TURLEY: I don‘t so. I don‘t think the people in that building thought it. I mean, that building is where principles go to die. And they have been because there has been this groundswell of people saying, “Look, you might be able to get away with the electronic surveillance program and say that is just a crime. We‘re not going to allow it to be prosecuted.”
But these are war crimes. These are special categories and they‘re beginning to see they‘re not getting traction by selling this commission.
The question is going to be whether the same effect can be placed on the Obama administration. I mean, the downside to all the pageantry - and it is certainly well deserved - is it is important for the people to lift their hand in front of that building, to understand the difference between the man and the mandate.
And the mandate here, as far as I understood it, was that we are going to have a true change where people would be held accountable. And all this talk about civility makes it sound like it‘s just simply uncivil to investigate people for war crimes.
MADDOW: Yes. If war crimes are to be investigated and potentially prosecuted, how much of the impetus for that procedurally could come from Congress and how much has to come from the administration? If for political reasons, however wrong they may be, the administration decides to not go for it, can Congress do it?
TURLEY: Not really. I mean, the fact is the commission in Congress are not going to have the effect of simply President Obama when he does become president tomorrow, getting out of the way. All they have to do is say, “We are going to allow the law to be enforced.”
That‘s not a very difficult to say, but it is going to be inconvenient. But principle is always inconvenient. It is never a good time for principle. And so that is going to be the test.
But, you know what? I think the new Barack Obama, the President Obama, is going to find it very hard to go around the world and to say that we‘re now again the nation of rules of law if the first act he commits as president is to walk away from a confirmed war crime.
MADDOW: If the administration has confirmed that they tortured people - and they have.
MADDOW: They have used the “T” word. They have described what they have done which is recognized as torture, something for which we have prosecuted people. Are we literally looking at a possibility where administration officials from this administration cannot travel abroad to the other 145 countries that have signed the torture treaty because they might get arrested?
TURLEY: Most certainly. Look, the status of George Bush is not that different from Augusto Pinochet. They have both been accused of running a torture program. And outside this country, there is not this ambiguity about what to do with a war crime.
There are four treaties that make this an international violation. So if you go abroad and try to travel, most people abroad are going to view you, not as former President George Bush. They will view you as a current war criminal.
MADDOW: And they‘re going to view us an outlaw regime for not arresting him on our own soil?
TURLEY: I think so, unfortunately. A lot is at stake. We have to get beyond the politics and look for a change.
TURLEY: Just for the clarity of principle.
MADDOW: Jonathan Turley, professional of Constitutional Law at George Washington University Law School, happy inauguration. Thanks for coming on.
TURLEY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Keep your feet to the fire. Very good.
Coming up on part two of our very last “Lame Duck Watch,” NBC correspondent Richard Engel will join us live with the latest news from Gaza City, for the last legacy of the Bush administration abroad may be Israeli troops pulling out of Gaza literally on the occasion and because Barack Obama is being inaugurated tomorrow.
MADDOW: Since 1947, during big political events like the one happening tomorrow, the Federal Government picks somebody to take over the presidency if catastrophe happens. Tomorrow‘s choice is Defense Secretary Bob Gates. He will be held at a military installation far away from tomorrow‘s events just in case. This is one of those moments where you are torn between “happy they think of these things” and “Oh, man, I really do not want to have to think about that.”
MADDOW: Welcome back to Washington, D.C. As we have been reporting, there are a lot of excited people out here on the mall. It is very exciting to be here. And all eyes are on Washington tonight.
But listen, halfway around the world, in a strip of land just twice the size of the District of Columbia, there is a place that will surely constitute one of the major challenges that will confront the new president.
It is our time for our final installment of “Lame Duck Watch.”
Tonight, the ultimate quack, because it is the last chance.
Israeli troops continue to withdraw from the Gaza Strip -
Israeli troops continue to withdraw from the Gaza Strip after a three-week campaign of air strikes and ground assaults that have killed 1,300 people in an effort to clear out Hamas rockets that were being fired into Israel.
One Israeli foreign ministry source told CNN that the withdrawal could be completed by the time Barack Obama was sworn in. It could be that Israel is pegging its military strategy to our political calendar and our political reality.
It seems that Israel wants the new president‘s first Middle East task to be going after terrorism and not encouraging a ceasefire or demanding that Israel withdraw from Gaza. If so, it would make an ironic final entry in the Bush administration‘s foreign policy record, a foreign war that had to be completed before George Bush left Washington.
Joining us now, live from Gaza City, is Richard Engel, NBC News‘ chief foreign correspondent. Richard, thank you as always for being with us tonight.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It is my pleasure. Good morning. It is just about 5:00 in the morning here in Gaza Strip. So I think you can hear right now behind me the call to prayer is beginning as people in the city are waking up.
Most of the Israeli troops have already pulled out of Gaza. Thousands left today, and people in Gaza were on the streets trying to make sense of what had happened. Markets were full. They got their first shipment of goods today in three weeks. People we spoke to hadn‘t been out of their homes since the offensive began.
MADDOW: Richard, are you able to report anything about these reports that the Israeli military, the Israeli government is pegging the timing of this withdrawal to coincide with Obama‘s inauguration?
ENGEL: They say that it is not directly related, that it has more to do with facts on the ground. But Israel had a window to operate with the final days of the Bush administration. The timing of this was never a coincidence.
And as we‘ve talked about before, also the media plan that Israel put in effect was very well-studied. They knew eventually reporters would get in. Israel started to allow journalists to enter the Gaza Strip just this weekend and it was also assumed that by the time there would be a massive amount of media coverage of Gaza. News organizations would be moved on. People would be covering events where you are in D.C., and that there wouldn‘t be anything to talk about.
MADDOW: It is remarkable you have been able to talk to us from Gaza City after so many of your initial reports with us were from the Israeli side of the border, because they would not allow reporters in.
Richard, I know Hamas today was claiming victory in this fight. We know there are PR efforts on both sides. What are you seeing in terms of the efforts by both sides to spin what happened in Gaza over the past three weeks?
ENGEL: Hamas today is making a big show of it. There was a press conference in the building where I am right now with a masked Hamas gunman talking about the losses that his group has taken and the damage that Hamas inflicted on Israel.
On the Israeli side, this was very well calculated. I spoke to a senior rally official about 10 days ago, and he said, “Look, we‘re going to need about 10 more days. At that stage, we‘ll probably allow journalists to go into the Gaza Strip. There will be a lot of damage, but nobody will be interested anymore at that stage.”
And that is pretty much what happened. Israel planned for this operation for about a year and says that all of its troops should be out of Gaza Strip by inauguration time. So this was very well-studied from a media point of view, from a political point of view. Israel didn‘t want to have this ongoing war in place for the next administration.
There are many people in Israeli government who are concerned that Obama will not give Israel the same kind of free hand to operate militarily in the Middle East as the Bush administration gave Israel.
MADDOW: Richard, you have spent so much time in the Middle East in recent years. George Bush is pegging the idea of his legacy being redeemed and him being viewed positively by history on what he has done in the Middle East. That‘s what he talks about - being viewed positively, that‘s what he talks about. How is Bush viewed from the Middle East today?
ENGEL: Most people that certainly in Gaza, in particular, but across the Middle East will be very happy to see a change of administration. Although Bush‘s policies have been mostly focused on bringing democracy, that‘s not what he‘s associated with here. They associated with him with bringing wars to, not only the Middle East, but the larger Islamic world.
A lot of people are looking with great excitement and hoping that there will be a change of policy with the new administration. So if Bush is trying to peg his legacy on change in the Middle East, I think the problem is that it‘s not the kind of change that people had been looking forward to. And people won‘t remember Bush very fondly, at least in the short probably medium term.
MADDOW: Thank You, Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, live from Gaza City tonight. Thank you so much for coming on. Get a good night‘s sleep and stay safe.
ENGEL: Always a pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith‘s special comment on prosecuting torture. Why President-elect Obama and how President Obama must deal with the past so that we can all look forward.
And next on this show, a few final thoughts from Washington on the night before the inauguration. I‘m going to get mushy. There‘s your warning. Sorry.
MADDOW: I‘ve been in Washington for a couple of days now, spending a lot of time maneuvering around a very crowded, very happy, very high security Washington, D.C. I‘ve gone to a few events here and there, but I‘ve also just talked to folks on the street about their inaugural experience so far.
And I can tell you from my anecdotal, admittedly subjective experience that what you suspect is true. There are a ton of inspiring stories here from people who have made the trip to Washington from all over to ensure that their answers and their children‘s answers to the “Where were you when” question for at least this “where were you when” moment will forever be, “I was there.”
Seven of the Little Rock Nine are here, the African-American high school students who bravely integrated Little Rock‘s Central High School in 1957 with the protection of the 101st Airborne.
The surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen are here. The pioneering, black fliers who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II before our military was desegregated.
This is historic stuff. This is spine-tingling, cynicism-extinguishing new day in America stuff. And don‘t believe me about that. Believe how we‘re all behaving, not just our government but our people, the folks at large.
If you Google the phrase, “inauguration watch party” in quotes, watch the cavalcade of results that come in, all totally unconnected, all decentralized, all popping up organically and independently.
Durham, North Carolina, Richmond, Virginia, Savannah, Georgia, Austin, Texas, Dearborn, Michigan, Quincy, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sacramento, California, Columbia, Missouri, Miami, Florida, Licking County, Ohio, Saratoga Springs, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Thousands and thousands and thousands of watch parties, people coming together across the country to watch with members of their own communities.
Honestly, it‘s kind of heart warming - Google it - “inauguration watch party.” But then, try Googling the phrase “people‘s inaugural ball” just to get an example of the kind of thing that is happening around this particular political situation.
A businessman named Earl Stafford made a faith-motivated decision to bring more than 400 disadvantaged Americans to D.C. to experience the inauguration. Luxury hotel rooms, transportation, a breakfast speech by Martin Luther King III, seminars about how to manage their finances, manage their budgets and their healthcare and develop job skills.
And because this idea as cool as it is charitable, it was also a lavish people‘s inaugural ball. Mr. Stafford‘s largesse, an expected $2 million of his own money, is an inspiration in and of itself. But as word spread of the people‘s ball, so many people volunteered to help with the event that some would-be volunteers had to be turned away.
200 tuxedos were donated for guests to wear. A shoe company in Atlanta sent 100 pairs of men‘s shoes. So many ball gowns were donated that the project couldn‘t accept any more. Beauticians and barbers and seamstresses all volunteered to provide services to make sure that the people at the people‘s inaugural ball had as awesome an experience as possible, this outpouring of volunteerism in the midst of the worst economy most of us have ever known.
So hats off to the people inaugural. Hats off to the attendees, to the volunteers, to the would-be volunteers and to everyone who has got themselves to D.C. by hook or by crook for this event and who was getting together with family or friends or folks down the block tomorrow to watch this historic moment happen in our lifetime, in our country. How cool is that?
And to see everything going on in Washington tomorrow, please be sure to tune into MSNBC when you get up. I‘ll see you here from the mall beginning around 9:45 a.m. Eastern along with Keith Olbermann and Chris Mathews and Gene Robinson. We will be back at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for a special inaugural edition of our show, and for hours and hours after that.
Thank you for watching tonight, and we‘ll see you in the morning.
“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>