The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/16/09

Guests:
Amy Klobuchar, Nancy Youssef, Michael Isikoff
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.  Happy Presidents‘ Day to you.  The president making news today on the plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, or the lack thereof.

The entire Minnesota Senate delegation will be joining us, that would be one Senator Amy Klobuchar.  We will be discussing the political fate of Al Franken, who has decided to start just acting senatorial even if he is not technically a senator yet. 

Plus, could the Bush lawyers who authorized torture actually get punished for having done so?  Michael Isikoff will join us to talk about that possibility.  It is all coming up this hour. 

But first, if day number one of trip number one of the Hillary Clinton era of foreign policy is any indicator, this whole age of diplomacy thing is going to be fascinating. 

Secretary of State Clinton‘s first trip was to Asia.  Her first stop, Japan.  And when Secretary of State Clinton arrives after a 15-hour flight, she arrives.  Start with that fact she is Hillary Clinton, so it is a big deal whenever she shows up anywhere.  And then check out the coat. 

She steps off the plane in what appears to be a standard overcoat except the bottom of the coat remained unbuttoned and the winds of the Tokyo tarmac blew it inside out to reveal some kind of super bad Technicolor dream coat awesome lining thing.  That is a coat. 

That is Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix” meets kimono, meets international super-sophisticate.  We have seen the new foreign policy and it is bad ass. 

It‘s not more bad ass than Condoleezza Rice‘s famous leather boots.  And yes, before you start sending me nasty e-mails, Rachel@msnbc.com, if Colin Powell or Henry Kissinger had ever worn anything that surprising or that awesome when they were secretary of state, I would have made a big honking deal about that, too.  OK?  OK.  Fashion hyperventilation aside.

The secretary‘s dramatic arrival did happen on what was a very, very bad day in Japan.  Today Japan found out that it is having the worst financial quarter they have had since 1974.  1974. 

You know, when economists talk about Japan‘s lost decade really ominously, that lost decade was the ‘90s, which means that they are now going through something that is worse than the thing that every American economist warns us about in Japan‘s economic past. 

And if that weren‘t bad enough, here is Japan‘s Timothy Geithner.  This guy is the Japanese finance minister, and here he is speaking at a press conference in Rome this weekend.  See if you can spot what‘s wrong here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHOICHI NAKAGAWA, JAPANESE FINANCE MINISTER:  (SPEAKING JAPANESE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  OK.  I don‘t speak Japanese, but I do speak hammered, and that dude was hammered, the finance minister of Japan, which is currently having a financial quarter that is three times as bad as ours. 

For the record, Shoichi Nakagawa says that he had just taken too much medicine.  But you saw the tape.  And that is the Japan that Hillary Clinton visited today.  And just on the other side of the Sea of Japan, today also happened to be the 67th birthday of North Korea‘s vociferous pompadour little jump-suited dictator, Kim Jong-il, which of course, is a huge deal to Kim Jong-il. 

Today state-run TV there described him as “an illustrious commander, born of heaven and a peerlessly great man.” Among the dear leader‘s claimed achievements, forcibly celebrated in his country today, an ability to bend nature, officially, pear and apricot trees mysteriously sprouted upon his birth in the middle of winter. 

This year they say that on the occasion of his birthday, a miraculous halo appeared around the Moon.  And my personal favorite among the dear leader‘s powers, the first time Mr. Kim played a round of golf they say he shot 11 holes in one and put up the best score ever recorded worldwide for an 18-hole game, the first time he played. 

What could possibly be a more important day in North Korea than that superstar‘s birthday?  So today in North Korea was a “president‘s day” that everyone was forced to celebrate.  Complete with North Korean couples dancing in unison in the streets.  Don‘t they look happy?  Yes.  They are very happy. 

There was a synchronized swimming demonstration today.  There was a giant flower exhibition that featured of course the lovely flowers known as “Kim Jong-ilia (ph),” I‘m not kidding, the Kim Jong-ilia were flanked by a sculpture of a rocket and a rifle. 

Kim‘s gift to his people on the occasion of his own birthday this year?  Shoes.  He gave shoes.  We get a day off for Presidents‘ Day.  North Koreans reportedly got special rations of shoes.  God bless America. 

So what is the American interest at stake here in the horrific sadness of Kim Jong-il‘s dictatorship?  Well, one of the ways that has threatened to celebrate his birthday is by test-firing a ballistic missile that, according to North Korea‘s neighbors, has the capability of reaching us, the United States, happy birthday. 

A missile test would be especially unsettling for Japan where Secretary Clinton is because when North Korea gets really mad, one of the things they do is that they threaten to turn the Sea of Japan into a “nuclear sea of fire.”  Google that phrase, “nuclear sea of fire.” It is true, they say that, “nuclear sea of fire.” 

Welcome to the region, Madam Secretary.  And that was the situation that Secretary of State Clinton found as she stepped off the plane in Japan.  The coat was amazing.  Her political star power certainly grabs attention wherever she is.  And she is doubtlessly well-prepared and tough. 

How different from the Bush administration will all of that make Hillary Clinton‘s first trip abroad? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  Joining us now is NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, she is traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  And she joins us tonight from Tokyo. 

Andrea, thank you so much for joining us. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  You bet. 

Hi.  My pleasure. 

MADDOW:  Today Secretary Clinton is in Japan.  And just across the Sea of Japan, Andrea, it is Kim Jong-il‘s birthday in North Korea.  And the north is threatening to test a missile that could conceivably reach the United States.  Is this being seen as run-of-the-mill North Korean bluster or is there any real alarm about this? 

MITCHELL:  The truth is that they don‘t know.  And here it is, the birthday celebration for the dear leader and they‘re talking about firing off another one of those long-range missiles.  And it does—it scares the Japanese, obviously. 

It does create a lot of alarm within the U.S. because the new administration, Hillary Clinton on the plane last night, was telling us all of the great things that could happen to North Korea if they disarm. 

And she was being much more conciliatory than the Bush administration.  Same goals, different language, different tone, if you will.  And while she‘s doing that, they are talking about possibly testing this missile.  So that would be a big setback for this new engagement that the president is talking about. 

MADDOW:  Certainly the change in tone is obvious and palpable.  But on policy is the real issue here.  And you know, in 1994 we had an agreement of sorts with North Korea, the Agreed Framework.  The Bush administration scrapped that in 2002. 

Is there a sense that the U.S. is going to make a big policy change, another big change in course now with Obama and Clinton in charge? 

MITCHELL:  I think the change is that they really want a deal with North Korea.  They think there is a deal that is gettable.  And she was as open as I have ever seen a new secretary of state in saying today that the Bush administration made a mistake in scrapping the deal which, of course, was negotiated under her husband‘s administration. 

And she‘s also suggesting that the intelligence is not at all clear that North Korea was ever cheating a second time around and creating a whole parallel secret nuclear program with uranium enrichment.  So take that, John Bolton, is basically what she is saying. 

You can imagine the reaction that that is going to get from those who believe that North Korea was always cheating and was never willing to actually do a deal. 

MADDOW:  I‘m no expert on the niceties of diplomacy, but when Secretary Clinton said—talked about reprocessing plutonium, she said it was—they reprocessed plutonium because they were given the opportunity to do so. 

I mean, she is talking about the Bush administration screwing up, and as you say.

MITCHELL:  Right.

MADDOW:  . it‘s in blunt terms.  But is that more blunt terms than Americans usually use about themselves in diplomatic circles? 

MITCHELL:  Yes.  It sure is.  And in fact, as you know, the Bush administration blamed the Clinton administration for, they thought, getting snookered by the North Koreans.  That they cut this deal and the North Koreans were cheating the whole time. 

Well, now what Hillary Clinton is saying is that it is not at all clear that they were cheating.  But certainly since the Bush folks cancelled the deal in 2002, then it was Katy-bar-the-door, and that is when, she would suggest, they created all of these nuclear weapons that now threaten not only Japan, where we sit tonight, but conceivably the United States if those long-range missiles are tested and proved to be able to carry these weapons.  That is still a stretch though. 

MADDOW:  Andrea, is it a big deal that Hillary Clinton‘s first trip as secretary of state is to Asia instead of to the Middle East or to Europe? 

MITCHELL:  Yes.  It is.  It‘s really unprecedented.  The fact that she is coming to Asia and singling out Japan, which only today, you know, announced that its the economy has taken a nose dive, the worst economic growth in 35 years here. 

People are crushed here.  They have never had homeless people, temporary workers now laid off and losing their apartments when they‘re laid off.  There has always been a safety net here. 

And the president himself last week saying that Japan and the way they handled their crisis in the ‘90s is a bad example.  That they stopped and started and didn‘t throw enough money about it.  And he doesn‘t want to follow that example for, you know, this lost decade here in Tokyo. 

So there are a lot more layoffs still to come.  And she is kind of expanding the role of secretary of state, talking about tackling the economic crisis here in China, speaking about climate change, meeting tomorrow with the families of the people who were abducted by North Korea, which is a very important signal to the Japanese. 

She is going to university students, she is really trying to enlarge the role of secretary of state and still keep saying, you know, as the Obama administration, as President Obama says, she‘s absolutely walking the straight and narrow when it comes to speaking for the president of the United States. 

She is not going to make the same mistake Colin Powell made in going off in his own way and letting any daylight exist between the secretary of state and the president. 

MADDOW:  Andrea Mitchell is NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, she is traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Thank you so much for joining us tonight from Tokyo, Andrea.  Take care. 

MITCHELL:  You bet. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  You know who is really important to President Obama now that the Republican Party has decided it is the party of no?  Perhaps the most politically important person in Washington whose name is unknown is the other senator from Minnesota.  Who is it?  Don‘t know.  The entire existing Minnesota Senate delegation, Amy Klobuchar, will join us next. 

And Michael Isikoff will be here later on with some justice-on-the-way for the guys who wrote the torture memos in the Bush administration.  Really? 

But first, we have one more thing about Secretary of State Clinton‘s trip to Asia, as made her dramatic entrance onto the world stage, who do you think was all over the TV machine giving interviews about President Obama‘s first month in office?  Here is a hint.  He doesn‘t hold an official office anymore. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think he is off to a good start.  I think he has got a good team. 

I think he has got a great team. 

MARTHA STEWART, HOST, “THE MARTHA STEWART SHOW:  Many worked for you? 

B. CLINTON:  They did.  Yes, they did work for me. 

And I think that a lot of the things that I recommended in terms of health care reform will come to fruition. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What about Hillary in Asia?  Probably a coincidence that the former president found his way before every TV camera with a working battery in it today on the day his wife took her first trip abroad as secretary of state, right?  Total coincidence, right? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  If you are Senator John McCain, there are good thing and there are bad things about having lost the presidential election to Barack Obama by 9 million votes.  On the one hand, no one can take away from you the fact that you won the Republican Party‘s nomination. 

You were your party‘s standard-bearer the last time they had to pick one.  And with an outgoing Republican president so unpopular he makes ice dams seem like otter pops, you remain the closest thing your party has to a national leader. 

On the other hand that means that the closest thing your party has to a national leader is a guy who lost to Barack Obama by 9 million votes, a Republican who lost Indiana and North Carolina. 

So while it might conceivably be newsworthy that John McCain levied criticisms at Barack Obama on Sunday morning talk shows this weekend, what perhaps is most newsworthy about that is that this guy, John “I lost Indiana” McCain is still the face of the “GOP in Exile.” 

The November election was three-and-a-half months ago and the 99 senators who make up the U.S. Senate have been hard at work since.  One of those 99, however, has been harder at work than most, because she is the only senator from her state. 

The reason Minnesota has only one agreed-upon senator is because the Norm Coleman versus Al Franken race is still technically unsettled.  Early last month, the Minnesota Elections Board declared Al Franken the winner of the election by just 225 votes. 

Norm Coleman pledged an immediate legal challenge.  Republicans nationwide have been raising money to fund Mr. Coleman‘s legal challenges and they are in about their fourth week now.  That said, Al Franken‘s staff as of today is calling him Senator-elect Franken. 

Mr. Franken held his first press conference today since the election saying he was heading out across Minnesota to discuss the economic stimulus package with local municipal officials, which sounds like a very senator-like thing to do, doesn‘t it? 

Asked about his staff calling him “senator-elect,” Mr. Franken said technically it is correct to call him senator-elect, but he won‘t insist on it.  Quote: “I won the recount.  You can call me Al.” And presumably, “if you will be my bodyguard, I can be your long-lost pal.” Joining us now is the entire existing Senate delegation from the great state of Minnesota, Senator Amy Klobuchar. 

Senator Klobuchar, great to see you.  Thanks so much for coming on the show tonight. 

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA:  Well, thank you, Rachel.  It is great to be on again. 

MADDOW:  Do you and your staff actually have tons more work to do because you are Minnesota‘s only senator? 

KLOBUCHAR:  We actually do.  In Minnesota, where we do our case work, this isn‘t just people calling in about votes, it‘s people calling in and saying, my baby that I‘m trying to adopt in Guatemala has been stalled in bureaucratic red tape, or I just came back from Iraq and I can‘t get a job, or I‘m having trouble with my Social Security benefits. 

So these are real cases.  And we have seen a doubling of our calls since early December when people were uncertain about who their senator would be.  And then we also got from Norm Coleman‘s office a number of his existing cases when he had to close his office down. 

And it was all handled professionally.  But the fact is we have double the case work.  I‘m so proud of our staff.  They‘ve been working double time.  We‘ve put more people on the front line. 

But it is a load and we are looking forward to this getting resolved.  As you know, Rachel, the trial has been going on for quite a while now here, I think someone noted today that it‘s almost as long and the Lindbergh baby trial, the kidnapping case and the many trials of century, it has now exceeded that time period. 

So we are hopeful that we will get to the end of it.  And my prediction, Rachel, is that we will have a new senator by the time the ice melts on Lake Minnetonka.

MADDOW:  Which usually is.

KLOBUCHAR:  . that is (INAUDIBLE) to be.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  Yes, go ahead.

KLOBUCHAR:  April 11th. 

MADDOW:  April 11th. 

KLOBUCHAR:  April 11th. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Is that the sort of thing where you guys throw a cinder block in it to really help things along? 

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, oftentimes people dive into it to show how tough they are in the cold. 

MADDOW:  OK. 

KLOBUCHAR:  But anyway, hopefully we will get this done in about a month or so, because the trial has been going on.  It could be even sooner.  But I‘m hopeful we will get this done and we will have a new senator from Minnesota. 

MADDOW:  Well, let me ask you a little bit about that timing though, because Senator Cornyn from Texas, whose is the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he says he wants Norm Coleman to keep pressing these legal challenges however long it takes. 

The NRSC is holding $5,000-a-plate fundraisers for Mr. Coleman to keep up his challenges.  How do you feel about that?  Do you feel like there is a fair fight going on here or do you think they ought to back off? 

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, first of all, this was an incredibly close election.  I think the recount was fair.  The people of our state, when you ask them and you look at how they respond to polls, they all pretty much—something like 70 percent of them think that the recount was fair. 

Now Senator Coleman has a right to pursue his legal challenges.  I have never quarreled with that.  And my hope though is that get resolved soon.  So I would hope that if there is a decision made by this board that still shows Al Franken ahead, these three judges, after a bipartisan canvassing board has already found him to win the recount, that it will end there and that we won‘t go on and on and on. 

MADDOW:  One of the reasons that the Republicans have decided to sort of take a stand on the Franken and Coleman fight here is because they believe that having Al Franken in the Senate will really change the dynamics of how politics work through the Senate right now. 

Do you think that it would be a big difference to the Democrats to have 59 versus 58 Democratic senators?

KLOBUCHAR:  You know, we were just able to pass a major bill with 58.  But it would certainly be nice to have an additional senator.  It was very clear that every vote counts with this major first step that President Obama took to restoring our economy, getting it back on track.  And as you know, there were some prolonged negotiations.  So I think having an additional senator would be a good thing—certainly a good thing for our state. 

MADDOW:  In Minnesota, last question here, are you experiencing sort of national pressure as leading lights from the Republican Party try to weigh in here?  Have Democrats been weighing in as much as Republicans have? 

KLOBUCHAR:  People have on both sides, but for the most part, our state believes in our system.  We let the recount go as it should.  A bipartisan group made decisions.  And now the judges are doing the same thing.  They are not political judges.  We have faith we will get this done. 

We are counting the votes here, which is important, the recount was very thorough.  So we believe this is going to get done on a state basis without a lot of outside interference. 

MADDOW:  Senator Amy Klobuchar, the entire Senate delegation from Minnesota. 

(LAUGHTER)

KLOBUCHAR:  And, Rachel, you know the good thing, there is not a lot of friction in the delegation.  We don‘t have a lot of fights. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  If you do have a fight.

KLOBUCHAR:  We have a lot of unity.

MADDOW:  . I will mediate.  You call me. 

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Senator Klobuchar.  Take care.

KLOBUCHAR:  Thanks for having me on. 

MADDOW:  So when it came to controversial issues during the Bush era, issues like say torture, rendition, offshore secret prisons, Bush administration lawyers sort of treated the Constitution like an Etch A Sketch.  Torture is illegal?  Not if you just shake the law real hard and start over. 

Neat.  Nothing is immutably illegal, right?  Well, now an internal Justice Department report on the Bush administration‘s legal Etch A Sketching is causing much consternation among Bush‘s senior lawyers.  A little later on, Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff will be here with the story, and to help us scrub, rinse, repeat. 

But first, one more thing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Twenty years ago Soviet troops finally left Afghanistan after 10 long, awful years there.  Then their own country promptly collapsed.  When do we get to leave Afghanistan and can we do so under better circumstances than they did?  That is coming up in just a moment.

First, though, it‘s time for a couple of underreported “holy mackerel” stories in today‘s news.  First, we go to the “Department of Sad Ironies” in our new, hopefully not too great depression.  The childhood home of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has just been sold after it was foreclosed on. 

Bernanke grew up in Dillon, South Carolina, a community where even though they celebrate Ben Bernanke Day, they are still suffering from a more than 14 percent unemployment rate.  According to The Wall Street Journal, a teenaged Ben Bernanke waited tables wearing a serape at South of the Border, a roadside attraction just outside of town. 

In 2006, the house where Ben Bernanke grew up was sold to a South Carolina Army National Guard soldier who got a lousy mortgage on it that cost him more than 10 percent interest.  That really bad mortgage got packaged into a mortgage-backed security, of course, and we all know how this story works out. 

The National Guardsman got his civilian factory job hours cut back.  His ex-wife,  with whom he shared mortgage payments, she lost her job altogether, they fell behind on payments, and the home was foreclosed on. 

The young man who bought the house at auction after foreclosure is himself a banker, 27 years old.  He tells The Wall Street Journal he is very excited to be living in the Fed chairman‘s boyhood home.  He says he is thinking about putting up a plaque in Mr. Bernanke‘s honor. 

A case, of course, could be made that the most fitting commemoration of Mr. Bernanke‘s career might just be the sad sales history of the house itself. 

And do you remember the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show “wardrobe malfunction” thing-y where her top came off and everybody acted very shocked and Washington dissolved into a really embarrassing conniption about decency?  Well, one of the more embarrassing decency crusaders at that time was a young Virginia congressman named Eric Cantor, who inveighed on the House floor about how “the use obscenity should not and cannot be tolerated.”

Representative Cantor noted that he is a parent.  He said quote: “The recent violations that have occurred disgusted not only me but damaged our society.” If the name Eric Cantor is ringing a bell for you, it‘s because he is also the guy whose office e-mailed around this anti-union Web ad that is so, I guess, obscene, that I can‘t play actually play enough of it on television for you to have any idea what the point of the ad is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (expletive deleted) amalgamated federalization—hey, I don‘t know what the (expletive deleted) it means.  All I know is we‘re hard-working tax-paying people like you and we don‘t take (EXPLETIVE DELETED) from nobody.  You got that (EXPLETIVE DELETED). 

(EXPLETIVE DELETED)

MADDOW:  This was sent out by “Mr. Don‘t Swear,” “Mr. No Obscenity. 

Congressman Cantor apologized last week for having sent that around. 

But now, today, he is sort of back at it.  Congressman Cantor has posted online a Web video bragging how Republicans were against the Economic Stimulus Bill.  Wow.  We produced a zero.  Awesome. 

You guys know you lost anyway, right?  That it passed alongside your zero?  Anyway, so far, I have showed you what this new video from Eric Cantor looks like.  Here is what it sounds like. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE TYLER, SINGER (singing):  I‘m back.  I‘m back in the saddle again

(CAPTION READS:  0 House Republicans voted for the Democrats‘ wasteful spending bill.)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  OK.  The song that anti-obscenity, family values crusader Eric Cantor has chosen as the hook for his new video which brags about the Republicans losing the stimulus debate, that hook is a song by Aerosmith called “Back in the Saddle” which is about hookers. 

Actually, it is specifically about one hooker.  The lyrics are sung from the point of view of a man who is very happy to be enjoying the services of a hooker who seems very nice.  Her name is Suki. 

I wanted to try to give you all the lyrics to the song so you could see exactly what I‘m talking about in the event that you‘re not totally up on your circa 1976 Aerosmith.  But Congressman Cantor did help pass the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act so I can only give you the redacted hooker-related lyrics.  You can look them up on your own.

Congressman Cantor, I‘m all in favor of hooker-related art and music. 

Are you, too?  Do you want to talk about it?   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Happy Lincoln-ton‘s Day or Washing-Linc‘s Day.  Or whatever.  Presidents‘ Day is so generic.  Today, aficionados of either Washington or Lincoln quietly fumed about the fact that those two have been unofficially combined into today‘s holiday while our one and only current president was himself on the move. 

President Obama flew from a weekend at home in Chicago back to Washington.  He‘s getting ready for a Tuesday trip to Denver to sign the $787 billion Economic Stimulus Bill. 

After that, the president is reportedly going to announce his much-anticipated plan to help homeowners in a speech in Arizona.  And on Thursday, Mr. Obama will make his first trip as president to a country on the metric system, Canada. 

What the president hasn‘t firmly scheduled is a decision about war, about how many further American troops will be deployed to Afghanistan and most critically, what the American mission will be in Afghanistan during the Obama administration. 

Today, on Air Force One, the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president‘s decision on Afghanistan will be made within days, not weeks, which is exciting.  Except we keep hearing that. 

Here, for example, was Defense Secretary Bob Gates saying that very same thing last Tuesday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  The president will have several options in front of him and I think he will make those decisions probably in the course of the next few days. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We keep hearing this “in a few days” speculation about when Obama is going to state his goals for Afghanistan.  Maybe, ultimately, this decision is taking more time than anyone expected. 

Today, “Politico.com” reports that what was assumed to be a limited, specific thumbs-down or more likely thumbs-up decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan now is instead being considered in a lot of depth. 

Citing unnamed officials familiar with White House deliberations, “Politico” reports, quote, “Obama and his aides are questioning the timetable, the mission and even the composition of the new forces.”

You know what this means?  It means delay on a new Afghanistan plan, surely.  But it also means a war that is not on autopilot which seems promising for Washington politics on the war. 

Much less promising are the politics on the ground in the region.  On Saturday, for example, President Obama‘s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrook - he met with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. 

Late that night, after they met, there was a surprise announcement that Karzai and Holbrook would do a press conference the next morning which is very neat. 

But then, according to the AP, quote, “After Karzai aides canvassed the room to see what journalists wanted to ask, reporters were told that no questions would be allowed.” 

Karzai actually told the reporters, according to the AP, quote, “These reporters are doing very bad things.  We are not answering their questions.”  Oh, democracy. 

Over the border in Pakistan, we‘ve got news that the government, a provincial government there, will allow for Islamic law to be imposed in the Swat Valley.  That‘s a key demand of the militants who have been fighting there for months. 

We‘ve also got reports of two new U.S. drone missile strikes in Pakistan.  We need to know what the plan is going to be here.  And most of all, we need it to be a really, really good plan. 

Joining us now is Nancy Youssef who is Pentagon correspondent for “McClatchy Newspapers.”  Ms. Youssef, thanks for joining us.  Nice to see you again.

NANCY YOUSSEF, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, “MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS”:  My pleasure, thank you. 

MADDOW:  President Obama is delaying an announcement, at least for the meantime, on troop levels in Afghanistan.  Do you think that is a sign of strength, a sign of weakness or a sign of complex thinking here? 

YOUSSEF:  Well, I think it is a sign that there needs to be a strategy agreed upon before those troops are deployed so it is clear what their mission is, how many troops are needed, where they need to be placed, what kind of support and equipment they need. 

And I think before there is a real enthusiasm to back General McKiernan‘s request for four brigades and as a discussion on the strategy reviews go on, there is a realization that perhaps they need to really answer the basic question what is the in-state before the troop deployments go out. 

MADDOW:  Well, what are the range of options?  What are the possibilities that President Obama is choosing between? 

YOUSSEF:  Well, Gen. McKiernan, who is the top commander in Afghanistan has asked for four brigades.  And originally, the idea was that most of those who would go in the south where the narco trafficking happens and Taliban - which funds the Taliban‘s forces and equipment. 

And now we‘re hearing that it might be just one brigade.  One of the things that they have to balance is not just the needs in Afghanistan, but the troop demands in Iraq. 

At this point, they have about - the option of about two brigades.  But if they can pull troops from Iraq then that gives them more options to send more troops into Afghanistan. 

The other thing they have to factor in is the time it takes to train those troops.  Right now, those troops are training for Iraq because they are expecting to go to Iraq.  And it will take them at least two months to train them towards Afghanistan. 

So that‘s - those are all the factors that sort of come into play.  We have heard as little as one brigade going into Afghanistan.  So at this point, we are assuming somewhere between one and four brigades. 

MADDOW:  In terms of thinking about the overall region and stability issues and how government interacts with military goals in this region, we‘ve learned that a provincial government in Pakistan has come to some sort of attempted negotiated peace with the militants in the Swat Valley. 

Do you think that the Taliban will see that as a win?  And will that be seen as a plus or minus of our overall political work in Afghanistan? 

YOUSSEF:  Well, it gets to that bigger question of what kind of government do we think would best function in Afghanistan.  Before, there was a real push to back Hamid Karzai in a more centralized government.  And that appears to not have worked. 

They call Hamid Karzai the mayor of Kabul because his reach is only that far.  And there‘s been a real discussion that perhaps they need to have a more decentralized approach. 

There has also been talk about negotiating with the Taliban as high as Mullah Omar.  The United States hasn‘t supported this, but some in Afghanistan do. 

So I think the agreement that happened in Pakistan, I think, brings up that question again about what kind of negotiations need to happen with the Taliban?  Can they be co-opted into the governance of Afghanistan?  And how far up the Taliban can the United States accept Afghanistan going? 

But I think, going ahead, negotiations with the Taliban will happen.  Remember that the word Taliban - there are varied types of Taliban - the military calls big “T” Taliban, little “t” Taliban.  The big “T” are that ones that are not - they can‘t negotiate with.  And little “t‘s” are the ones that sort of enter for financial reasons or because they forced to enter. 

So I think there is this feeling that there are a lot of people that they can negotiate with.  It is just a matter of figuring out who.  But the negotiations in Pakistan certainly is something to look at in terms of what kind of negations going forward in Afghanistan. 

MADDOW:  Nancy Youssef, the Pentagon correspondent with “McClatchy Newspapers.”  I‘m a real fan of your work.  I read everything that you write for “McClatchy.”  And I thank you for taking time to joins today. 

YOUSSEF:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.  If the law says that torture is illegal and the president wants people to be tortured anyway, then how should a president proceed? 

One idea is to get government lawyers to say, “Illegal schmillegal(ph).  We say it‘s just fine.”  That is the cue-card version of what in the Bush Justice Department.  That‘s what senior Bush administration lawyers told their boss. 

Well, a new Justice Department report may make those lawyers wish they had not done that. Welcome back accountability.  Up next, “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff is here to help us scrub, rinse, repeat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Not all slumber parties are created equal, there is the kind that your parents let you have in elementary school.  And there‘s the kind that you have because your state is about to start bouncing checks. 

Here‘s one of the California state capitol in Sacramento.  No DVDs, no popcorn, no prank-calling any teachers.  Just a $42 billion budget deficit threatening to make the great State of California insolvent.  Lawmakers worked and slept through a marathon weekend session only to come up one Republican Senate vote short of a budget agreement that would have cut spending and increase taxes to try to financially save the state. 

Now, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to send 20,000 lay-off warnings to state workers tomorrow morning.  If this federal stimulus bill would have been all tax cuts like the Republicans wanted, instead of spending that included aides of states, we could have had slumber parties in just about all the statehouses this week.  I‘m just saying.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Barack Obama wrote a book called “The Audacity of Hope” which I think may be why the Bush administration doesn‘t always get its due for being audacious. 

One of Bush and Cheney‘s most audacious capers as far as I‘m concerned was deciding that they could get away with doing illegal stuff by simply having administration lawyers say that illegal stuff wasn‘t illegal anymore. 

One of their marquis legal enablers was John Yoo, a 30-something conservative at the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department.  Mr.  Yoo is credited with having written much of the infamous and now rescinded 2002 memo that attempted to redefine torture to mean that pretty much short of organ failure or death was OK. 

Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee signed off on that sparkling piece of legal machismo.  And Bush tried to make him a judge.  Mr. Yoo also authored another memo the next year, also now rescinded, which essentially said illegal interrogation techniques are not necessarily illegal because of commander-in-chief power.  In other words, because the president says so. 

That little voice you are hearing in your head right now is the ghost of Nixon, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” 

Well, here is where today‘s news comes in.  Apart from bad policy, this strategy was outrageously bad law.  Senior White House lawyers were essentially writing get-out-of-jail free cards instead of advising the president on what the law actually said. 

New reporting from Michael Isikoff in “Newsweek” magazine indicates that some form of accountability could come soon in the form of a Justice Department report on the conduct of Bush administration lawyers. 

“Newsweek‘s” investigative correspondent and MSNBC‘s newly-minted contributor Michael Isikoff joins us now with the emerging details on this report. 

Michael, thanks for coming on the show and congratulations on your new MSNBC gig.  We are very happy to have you here. 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK”:  Thank you.  It is a pleasure, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  The John Yoo and Jay Bybee torture memos were criticized and rescinded by a Bush administration official.  But now, you are reporting that they are being assessed in some other way by the Justice Department in retrospect? 

ISIKOFF:  Right.  About the year ago, the head of something called the Office of the Professional Responsibility, which is the Justice Department‘s ethics watchdog unit, disclosed to Congress that it has been investigating whether or not the authorship of these memos met the legal standards, professional standards of Justice Department lawyers. 

And this has enormous consequences because, as I report in “Newsweek” this week, this report was essentially complete by the end of last year, towards the end of the Bush administration. 

It found - it had very critical findings about the work of John Yoo, of Jay Bybee who, by the way, is a federal judge.  And subsequent chief of the Office of Legal Counsel Steve Bradbury - the report drew strong objections from then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy and has not yet been made public.  In fact, it has yet been presented to Eric Holder. 

But we understand that if the report goes forward as it was presented to Mukasey, it recommends disciplinary - that the report be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary actions against the lawyers, which would be a huge embarrassment, obviously. 

It finds that the entire legal edifice of Bush and counterterrorism policy was based on, not just shoddy legal analysis, but unprofessional and potentially unethical legal analysis. 

Now, we have to be cautious here because we haven‘t seen the report.  We haven‘t seen the basis for this.  But the sequences of such a finding would be enormous, not just for those lawyers but for the whole argument about whether there should be a truth commission or continued investigations.

Remember, the pushback against that has always been, well, there were valid legal memos from the Justice Department that justified waterboarding.  And now, if these legal memos are called into question, that changes substantially the equation. 

MADDOW:  So if the argument against prosecuting anybody for torture is that people were acting in accordance with the memos that told them it‘s OK, if it turns out that those are memos are bunk, that might get their authors disbarred or something, does that actually materially change that as a legal defense though to prosecution?  Or does that only change the political calculation about prosecuting? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, it certainly changes the political calculation and it

probably does not change the calculation for, say, CIA officers who were

relying on these memos.  But what‘s really interesting about this report is

in this investigation is they just didn‘t reach a legal conclusion. 

I talked to a number of Bush administration lawyers who had been questioned as part of this.  And they said that the OPR investigators who did this report got internal E-mails, internal drafts, back-and-forth correspondence with the White House to reconstruct how these memos came to be crafted. 

And if in fact it‘s shown that, essentially, senior officials in the Bush administration at the White House and others were dictating and in collusion with the lawyers for the Justice Department to sort of, you know, predetermine what the outcome was, then, in fact, the look into how these memos could go elsewhere could go beyond just the authors of these memos into the people who - the clients that they were seeking to please. 

MADDOW:  That would change the entire political argument about whether they did what they did because they have been advised it was legal versus doing what they wanted to do …

ISIKOFF:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  … and then getting legal advice to back themselves up.

ISIKOFF:  Right if they said, “Here‘s the opinion we want.  Go find us the justification to do it,” then that‘s a different kettle of fish. 

MADDOW:  Michael Isikoff, MSNBC contributor and “Newsweek” investigative correspondent.  This is a fascinating story.  Thanks for joining us, Mike.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” for the first time in nearly 20 years, very important news, the Simpsons is getting a new opening sequence.  Harry Shearer joins Keith to talk about this momentous event.

Next on this show, I get just enough culture from my friend, Kent Jones.  He will have some inside dope that will help you dominate your office Oscar pool - void where prohibited. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Now, it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Good evening, Rachel.  You know Nate Silver, right?  The big brain from “538.com” who pretty much smoked all the other pollsters in last year‘s election.  Well, now, he‘s crunched the numbers and has come up with these picks for this years Oscar winners. 

Check this out.  For best picture, “Slumdog Millionaire” at 99.7 percent possibility there.  Best Director Danny Boyle for “Slumdog” 99.7 percent possible.  Lead actor, Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler” at 71.1 percent.  Lead actress Kate Winslet for “The Reader,” 67.6 percent.  For supporting actor, Heath Ledger, “Dark Knight” at 85.8 percent.  And for supporting actress, Taraji P. Henson for “Benjamin Button” at 51 percent.  Little bit of an upset there.

Oh, one more thing, Silver predicts that before the end of the week, that cute guy at the coffee place will finally ask you out. 

Why are you shaking your head?  It‘s Nate Silver.  He‘s never wrong. 

Next, speaking in a big science meeting this week, Dr. Alan Boss says there could be 100 billion earth-like planets in our galaxy.  Dr. Boss says many of these planets could contain primitive bacterial life forms that, unfortunately, think that tax cuts will solve all of their economic problems.  There‘s a lot of evolving still to be done out there, people. 

Next, a new study out of England found that cows that are given names produce more milk than those that don‘t.  Buttercup, you the cow, go!  Researchers concluded that when employees are treated with kindness and respect, they are more productive.  This has been today‘s “Just Enough” management seminar. 

And finally, employees of Russia‘s nuclear power industry fight the long winter blahs by honoring one of their coworkers with the title “Miss Adam.”  Here‘s one of the year‘s candidates Alonya Karsanova(ph).  Lots of conflicting messages going on right there.  Take your time and sort those out.  Rachel.

MADDOW:  Is that the cooling pond just behind her? 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  OK.

JONES:  Apparently, she‘s cool. 

MADDOW:  Cool.  She‘s cooling down. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Kent, it is a holiday. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  It is Presidents‘ Day here.  I‘m using this to introduce something that we might do regularly, the cocktail moment. 

JONES:  Oh, very nice.

MADDOW:  Yes.  I recognize that my taste in news tend to run slightly to the darker side.  I like to talk about war a lot. 

JONES:  Well, it is in the news. 

MADDOW:  It is in the news.  I recognize that I have somewhat heavy taste, and so - but I also have taste for the lighter things in life. 

JONES:  You do. 

MADDOW:  And every once in a while, you‘ve got to make a little room for stories that go down a little bit smoother, taking the edge off.  So the cocktail moment is the idea.  Today‘s cocktail moment is actually a little disturbed look again at our top story.  Did you see the Hillary Clinton coat when she got off the plane in Japan? 

JONES:  Show me. 

MADDOW:  Here it is. 

JONES:  Oh, yes.

MADDOW:  Look at the coat.  This is a black trench coat, when caught by the wind, showing the lining of magical wonderfulness. 

JONES:  That‘s fantastic, really.

MADDOW:  I don‘t know if that‘s going to solve all the world‘s problems, but it‘s the closest thing I know. 

JONES:  I‘ve never heard you covet a coat before. 

MADDOW:  That‘s it.  That‘s as far as it goes. 

JONES:  That one.  I want that one.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  And thank you at home for watching today. 

“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. 

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