The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/23/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you for staying with us at home for the next hour.
As Wall Street rallies in response to the latest financial bailout announcement, President Obama takes on former Vice President Dick Cheney.
New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, will also join us this hour to talk about a very big policy deal that just happened in his home state.
Oh, and if you didn‘t already have hard feelings for the IRS, for the taxman—stick around. I think we can help you with that.
That‘s all coming up this hour.
But, first, having been battered by a week of near-universal and venomous outrage, the mega insurance concern we all own, AIG, today transformed itself into a new entity, now with 100 percent less “G.” AIG is now AIU.
If you happen to be walking by one of AIG‘s—or, excuse me, AIU‘s Manhattan office buildings on Friday, this is what you would have seen this, the sign “American International Group” proudly adorning the building‘s entrance. Walk by the same building today and—nothing. Just a random unnamed office building. The sign on the building vanished over the weekend presumably as a prelude to a new sign that will read American International Underwriters instead of American International Group.
So, does that make you feel less angry? Does it affect the public perception of this company that after taxpayers gave them tens of billions of dollars they chose a new name that actually sounds like IOU if you say it 10 times fast? AIU, AIU, AIU, IOU, IOU, IOU—I know.
Keeping with the fresh coat of paint theme, this morning, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner unveiled his department‘s latest save-the-economy plan. This time, instead of buying up toxic assets from financial firms, the government is asking private investors to join with it in buying up legacy assets.
Legacy assets? Yes. They are the same thing. They‘re the same bundled mortgages and stuff that we used to call toxic assets—such a hopeless term. Now we call them legacy assets. Very pretty.
It‘s like saying financial rescue plan instead of saying bailout. It‘s like saying economic recovery package instead of stimulus. It‘s like Lehman Brothers private equity will become NB private equity. Prunes will become dried plums.
The Washington Bullets, that‘s too crimish, how about the Washington Wizards. Value Jet, AirTran. Blackwater will become something called XE, but they would like to pronounce “ze.” That I will phonetically pronounce as “she.”
Candlestick Park will become Three-com-park, will become San Francisco Stadium, will become Monster Park, will become Candlestick Park again.
And throughout all of these things, throughout all of this rebranding, they will actually stay the same thing. They will stay the same before their adventure in rebranding.
In these trying times, renaming everything is understandable. I get the impulse. I get why this is going on. And PR firms are being paid a lot to orchestrate this.
But honestly, it‘s not that constructive. And while we desperately need constructive ideas right now, much of what we are getting instead is rebranding. The National Republican Congressional Committee, for example, has now started an effort to rebrand the economic crisis as “the Pelosi Recession.” Well, that‘s helpful.
Some Republican governors have tried to rebrand the stimulus bill as
the thing that is causing the economic crisis, turning down federal money
for people who are unemployed as if federal efforts to stimulate the
economy are what knocked the economy out in the first place. Nevada‘s
Republican Governor Jim Gibbons, who presides over a state with a double-
digit unemployment rate, he is the latest to say that he plans to pass on -
excuse me—to pass on the unemployment benefits offered in the federal stimulus bill.
Gibbons joins South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on the list of Republicans saying, “Thanks, but no thanks” to money for broke, unemployed people during a recession caused and perpetuated by people not having enough money to spend.
And have you heard the Republican response to President Obama‘s proposed budget? This will surely help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JUDD GREGG, ® NEW HAMPSHIRE: The practical implication of this is bankruptcy for the United States. There‘s no other way around it.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, ® MAINE: That is not sustainable. It poses a threat to the basic health of our economy.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, ® ALABAMA: We‘re on the fast road to financial destruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The fast road to financial destruction.
Senator John McCain calls the budget “a threat to the nation.” And your guys‘ alternative idea is what exactly?
Yes. The plans being proposed by the Obama administration to try to save the economy are big and controversial, and they need to be improved and refined, and maybe in some cases, scrapped altogether through a process of rigorous, smart, informed, civic-minded, honest debate. We actually have to get good at the process of making economic policy right now because the economic problems we‘ve got require really good, really smart, well thought out responses.
I would like to think that our political process gives us a good venue for doing that. That‘s what it‘s designed for, right? But instead, we are turning down stimulus money to score political points, we‘re naming the recession after different people, we‘re yelling about financial Armageddon and not proposing any alternative to it.
With national challenges this big, we need better politics to address these challenges. Is there any hope of that?
Joining us is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
Senator Brown, thanks for coming back on the show. Good to see you.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN, (D) OHIO: Glad to be back. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Democrats are not unified by any means right now. But you can—I think you can simply say there‘s pretty broad Democratic support for what the president is trying to do on the economy. Is there a Republican plan on the economy that is visible to you in D.C. that we can‘t see from out here?
BROWN: Well, the Republican plan looks a lot like it did in my first year in the House in 1993 when their plan was to vote “no” on everything, their plan was to say the sky is falling, their plan was to say what plunged the nation into depression, recession for sure, depression maybe. It was one thing after another. The same kinds of things that I just heard Senator Gregg and Senator Collins and others are saying that it‘s—anything we do is just going to be a disaster.
The fact is, I don‘t agree with everything in the Obama budget, of course not. But it does—it‘s absolutely right on health care. It‘s absolutely right on education. Really, it‘s a down payment for the future.
And look what, you know, 15 years ago, when President Clinton offered his budget, Republicans all voted no. We got six, seven, eight years of strong economic growth.
When President Bush took office, we had a deficit of $6 trillion. When Barack Obama took office the deficit—excuse me—the debt was double that, about $12 billion. And you can see their economics versus our economics works.
I mean, I don‘t want to make it that way but we need them to come together and work with us. Give us their ideas if they are sound, as many Republican governors ideas are, then we‘ll move with some of them. If they are just opposition and name-calling, then we move forward as we did on the stimulus package.
MADDOW: What I have seen in terms of Republican governors, so far, the way that they have put their head the farthest above water is by turning down some of the stimulus money, saying that they don‘t .
MADDOW: . in particular, want to give any money, additional money to unemployed people because they are worried that will create some sort of obligation to them. Are you seeing something else smart from Republican governors beyond that or is that smarter than it looks?
BROWN: Well, I‘m seeing some Republican governors around the country, like Governor Crist from Florida and Governor Schwarzenegger, who are—who are part of this. They want to support things that President Obama is doing. They welcomed him to the states, they—to those states and a few other states where Republican governors have been more cooperative.
If I were unemployed and living in Louisiana or Texas or South Carolina, one of those states where the Republican governor has been every bit as partisan as Republican House members have been on—since President Obama has been sworn in—I‘d be rather unhappy that I got laid off through no fault of my own and my governor is turning down money for unemployment compensation. I mean, I don‘t get it.
But there have been some responsible Republican governors. The White House has worked with them, accepted and listened to their ideas, accepted some of them. I wish that some of my colleagues in the House and Senate were as open-minded as some of those governors around the country that have done the right thing.
MADDOW: In thinking about trying to match political outrage, political heat, to policy needs, I am struck by how much attention we have spent, myself included, in terms of talking about those AIG bonuses. We got news late today, the New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says that nine of the 10 top AIG bonus executives are going to return those checks.
So, essentially, we are left with a situation where it‘s been really fun to get outraged about those bonuses but now, that problem has been largely fixed and we still have all the economic challenges we had before this scandal. Do you think it was a mistake to get so hung up on that one outrage, this issue, or was it important?
BROWN: Well, I think it‘s important that people have some confidence in their government and in their financial and some confidence in Wall Street and the banking system. And when they saw those AIG bonuses, it just again hurt our efforts to build confidence.
The bigger issue for AIG was that they passed this money on—finally announced that they did—passed this money on, billions and billions of dollars, made 100 cents on the dollar, passed these dollars to Societe Generale, a French bank, Barclays is a British bank, Deutsche, a German bank, Deutsche Bank, and also to Goldman Sachs in New York—made them whole when they shouldn‘t have been made whole. They took a risk, they lose something, and it would have brought the financial system down.
Those are the more substantive serious issues we need to look at with AIG and throughout this financial services industry. We are going to stabilize the financial services industry. We are going to get this economy back on its feet. We need to focus on those issues that will actually do that.
MADDOW: Is congressional oversight going to be key to making sure that that stabilization is done in a way that is less infuriating in the way it‘s been done over the past few months?
BROWN: Yes. Congressional oversight needs to be aggressive. We need to begin to fix those things that were broken started months and months and months ago and years ago in the Bush administration. We also need to move quickly as Chairman Dodd and others in the banking committees in both houses, I sit on the Senate Banking Committee, that we need to do to rebuild this regulatory structure.
We had a strong regulatory structure that came out of the depression. We had no real financial failures in the next 50 years until the beginning of the Reagan years when they deregulated. Look what happened with the savings and loan crisis, look what happened with more deregulation with Enron, look what happened with more deregulation in some of these hedge funds, and now, look what‘s happened in the last six months. That‘s directly a result of deregulation.
We need to rebuild this regulatory structure which will last another 50, 60, 70 years and do it right so we don‘t have these kinds of hits to ultimately American workers and that is destroying the middle class in this country. And that‘s our most important work to build that long-term and get our economy and our financial structure much more sound than it‘s been in the last 20 years.
MADDOW: Learning about this crisis has turned into a crash course in learning about regulation and deregulation.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, thank you so much for your time tonight. I really appreciate it.
BROWN: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: President Obama meets the press corps tomorrow night in primetime. It took George W. Bush nine months to do his first primetime press conference. President Obama is already doing his second one. NBC‘s White House correspondent Chuck Todd joins us next.
And later, as part of his president-of-all media tour, Obama on “60 Minutes” has finally become not so cool, not so calm, and not so collected when asked about Dick Cheney. That‘s coming up.
But, first, One More Thing about the Republican response to the economic crisis. Governor Sarah Palin, who made famous the line “Thanks but no thanks,” may have just pulled off a rare “Thanks but no thanks,” but actually, now that I think about it, thanks. Palin initially said she would join other Republican governors/2012 presidential wannabes in rejecting federal economic stimulus money for her state. But after a bit of an outcry at home, Palin‘s lieutenant governor now says she‘s isn‘t technically rejecting the funds. She just wants to have a debate about how Alaska should spend that money.
In other words, you can see cake from her house and you can eat it from there, too.
MADDOW: From unscreened d town hall meetings to “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” to bracket-picking on ESPN, to Ed Schultz‘s radio show, to online video messages both for us and for Iran, to “60 Minutes” last night, President Obama has been wooing the American people in every conceivable media forum, taking the maximum possible interest on the savings account that is his personal popularity with we, the people.
Tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, the president returns to a more traditional message medium, a primetime presidential press conference. But in an unconventional twist and maybe direct manifestation of our country‘s current populist mode, the questions the president fields won‘t all necessarily be completely of, by, and for the Washington, D.C. press corps.
NBC‘s chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd has been asking the public what they would like to ask the president via Newsvine.com and MSNBC‘s “First Read,” he is soliciting suggested questions to ask the president tomorrow night.
Mr. Chuck Todd, White House correspondent, joins us now.
Nice to see you, Chuck. Thanks for taking the time.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You got it.
Good evening, Rachel.
MADDOW: I have to ask you if is this you sort of asking for help with your homework.
TODD: Well .
MADDOW: Why do you think it would be helpful to get suggested questions from the public?
TODD: Well, you know, it comes in this sense. You know, you‘ve heard about the bubble. Everybody talks about the Washington, D.C. bubble, the beltway bubble. I talk about what I call the Amtrak corridor bubble, which is that New York to Washington, D.C. part where it sometimes it feels like that‘s the only part of our world that we think about, and that‘s Wall Street and Washington, which, of course, the nexus of which dominates everything these days.
And it‘s—it just sort of started. You know, this isn‘t a new thing to have reporters solicit ideas out there for the public. But it started just hearing questions from my mom and some friends out there who aren‘t very politically attune, asking various things about the president‘s housing plan to me or asking about various things about the economic bailout, and saying, well, what about this and what about that?
And I‘m thinking, well, you know what, this press conference tomorrow night, we better be asking questions that people are sitting there watching on TV going, well, I hope they ask my question, I hope they ask what I‘m curious about.
MADDOW: The president certainly thinks that people are hearing him and able to hear him through all sorts of nontraditional venues.
MADDOW: A big list of all those things that he‘s done recently. He knows that he can connect with people in a regular way, but I was—I was struck at the town hall meetings that he did in California last week, that he didn‘t get asked any questions about the AIG bonuses and that was really at the height of the AIG bonus anger.
I wonder if you think that sort of a demonstration of this disconnect between—in the Amtrak corridor and out of it, in the beltway and out of it?
TODD: Well, it‘s possible. I mean, one caveat to what happened last week, Rachel, is that at the beginning of both town halls, he did address the AIG issue upfront, almost as if to take away a question and actually in that same vein.
Tonight, the president has taken away a potential question tomorrow night when he announced three of the top—he announced potential picks for three of the top four posts at the Treasury Department. You know, that‘s been an ongoing—an ongoing issue, where are—where is the help for Treasury Secretary Geithner? Well, they‘ve announced three appointments of the top four positions underneath Secretary Geithner and therefore taking away a question.
So, I do think that might have helped quiet down a potential question last week from the town hall folks.
MADDOW: In terms of what you posted on “First Read” at MSNBC.com and what you posted on Newsvine, what kind of response are you getting so far? Is there a theme as to what people are asking you to ask the president?
TODD: Well, I mean, I sort of you know, it‘s sort of like Olympic scoring, right, you throw out the high and you throw out the low. In this case, you throw out the left and you throw out the right. There are some partisan suggestions and some questions that, you know, either both overly love or overly hate in what they want to have asked.
But the theme that I‘ve noticed—and it goes to what I saying earlier in an answer, which is, hey, I‘ve seen this housing plan, I‘ve seen this bank plan. Here is my situation.
TODD: And so, a lot of people have shared their own situation. You know, I‘m making my mortgage payment but my house isn‘t worth that much. I still have a job but I might get laid off tomorrow, my IRA or my retirement plan is worth 20 percent of what it was. I might be retiring in the next four years, now I can‘t. It‘s very similar questions. All about or I‘m not under the age of 30 and I can‘t get this tuition assistance that‘s supposed to be there.
So, it‘s very much—I mean, frankly, it‘s like a lot of I think the way, you know, people say they vote their pocketbook when they vote in elections sometimes when it comes to the economy and things like that. A lot of that questions in the middle there, Rachel, a very sort of like—
OK, but what does this stuff mean for me?
And I‘m sort of trying to take all of it and figuring out a way, how do I ask that question without getting a canned response, frankly, from the president? Because I don‘t think wants that either.
MADDOW: Especially because the White House is pretty Web-savvy. And if people are posting all of their suggested questions on Newsvine, they can read them there, too.
TODD: There you go. Fair enough.
MADDOW: Chuck Todd, chief White House correspondent for NBC News—good luck tomorrow, Chuck. Thanks for joining us.
TODD: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: You can go to our Web site: Rachel.MSNBC.com. There, you will find a link where you can write to Chuck Todd to suggest questions that he ought to ask President Obama at the press conference—
All right, pie hole? Yes. Kisser? Whatever you want to call it, President Obama told Dick Cheney in no uncertain terms to shut his last night on “60 Minutes.” Ka-pow! That‘s coming right up.
MADDOW: We have not as a nation seen President Obama lose his well documented cool. That said, last night on “60 Minutes,” he kind of sort of looked like he wanted to open up a little on the issue of Dick Cheney. He didn‘t hit boil, but he did definitely simmer. We will have more on that in just a moment.
But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
Bernie Madoff, as you know, stole a lot of money from a lot of people. So much from so many, in fact, that he could get 150 years in the clink for a nonviolent offense. That is a lot of years, although we won‘t know Mr. Madoff‘s precise fate until June when he‘s finally sentenced.
Between now and June until his sentencing, the judge in the case has to decide if Mr. Madoff will remain in jail or if he will get to go home to his Park Avenue penthouse. In order to help the judge make that decision, the prosecutors in the case have decided to submit to the judge some reminders of the harm that Mr. Madoff‘s scheme caused to real people. The prosecutors assembled a bunch of e-mailed submissions from Madoff victims for the judge, emails detailing the victims‘ personal stories of financial ruin caused by this Ponzi scheme.
By submitting the e-mails to the court, the prosecutors also made the e-mails part of the public record, which is how the muckrakers at TalkingPointsMemo.com figured out that the attorneys did not exactly vet these e-mails with a fine tooth comb. How do we know? Well, see, if this rings a bell.
“My name is—name redacted. But my origin is from Republic of Congo. Now I am seeking an assistance to transfer the funds in your country based on the news of their development. If you can assist, I am willing to give you 10 percent of the funds that is U.S. $3.5 million.”
I think I know this guy. He e-mails me, too. Now, while everyone is delighted that Bernie Madoff‘s scheme is over and he is going to the crowbar hotel, is anybody else worried that the people prosecuting him are the last people in America to still fall for the “help me transfer my money from Africa” e-mail scheme ?
Meanwhile, if you are not the name redacted Congolese guy, and you have legitimately earned funds that is U.S. $3.5 million, congratulations on that. And congratulations again because your chance of getting your taxes audited fell last year by more than 1/3. The IRS, the Internal Revenue Service, has been swearing up and down that it would finally crack down on wealthy tax cheats. Why? Because people making more than $500,000 a year, statistically speaking, tend to cheat on their taxes more than people who make less than that.
Taxpayers earning between $500,000 and $1 million a year fail to report 21 percent of their incomes on average. People making between $30,000 to $50,000 a year, in contrast, fail to report about 7 percent of their incomes on average. The IRS has recently pledged to up the number of millionaires that they were subjecting to audit.
But last year, if you were a millionaire, your risk of being audited actually dropped from 6.8 percent to 5.4 percent. Nobody likes the IRS, but honestly, since we need one, shouldn‘t snuffing out tax cheats among millionaires the—like the one thing all Americans agree that they ought to do?
Finally, an update on the World Baseball Classic. With one interruption for a players strike, we here in the United States of America have had a World Series of baseball every year since 1903, except for the two times that the very foreign and exotic Toronto Blue Jays participated, every team that ever played in the World Series represented an American city. Now, that‘s what I call a small world.
If you are really interested in a whole world series, you should probably be really interested in the World Baseball Classic. That said, it is not going so well for the home team. The United States lost last night in the semis to defending champion Japan. The U.S. team lost, in fact, real bad. The final score was: Japan, nine, U.S., four, which wouldn‘t be nearly as embarrassing if we didn‘t call our homegrown final the World Series.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney. I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can‘t reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don‘t torture with our national security interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Start with righteous indignation, mix in seething resentment and chill to an appropriate level of President Obama cool, and you get that. That was the warm up to a fairly carefully constructed presidential smackdown delivered last night on “60 Minutes.” In the interview President Obama took on the former vice president‘s recent defense of the Bush administration torture policies as well as Mr. Cheney‘s recent critiques of the Obama administration.
You might recall that Mr. Cheney has been skulking around the outskirts of former power of late saying things like Guantanamo Bay, secret CIA prisons and torture were, quote, “absolutely essential to preventing another terrorist attack.”
And saying that Obama‘s reversal of Bush-Cheney policies in those fronts puts Americans at risk. But last night, Mr. Obama called the bull puckey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: After all these years, how many convictions actually came out of Guantanamo? How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn‘t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Speaking of advertisements for anti-American sentiment, one made news today. Benyam Mohammed, the British citizen who was released from Guantanamo last month after nearly seven years, after all charges against him were dropped, a British court document released today indicates today that even as the charges against Mr. Mohammed were being dropped, U.S. officials were urging him to sign a deal that would involve him dropping his allegations that he was tortured by the U.S.
Why would we need people to drop allegations of torture if those allegations were spurious? If we weren‘t really torturing anyone, why not look forward to the opportunity to prove that? OK, we now return to the presidential pummeling of Dick Cheney already in progress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I‘m surprised that the vice president is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let‘s assume that we didn‘t change these practices. How long are we going to go? Are we just going to keep on going until, you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that is really going to make us safer?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wow. The exclamation point on that argument is new reporting from our friend, Michael Isikoff at “Newsweek” magazine that the Obama administration is moving to declassify and release three more Bush-era torture memos.
Quote, “The memos written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005 provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA.
Releasing more Bush era torture memos is another promising step in the many-step process of post-Bush Washington cleanup. But substantively, is President Obama doing more than saying and showing the right things? Is he actively doing enough to hold the previous administration accountable and to change America‘s ways? What else should he be doing? What else could he be doing?
Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University Law School. Professor Turley, thanks so much for coming on the show tonight.
JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: So President Obama says all the right things to “60 Minutes” about the Bush administration‘s torture policy. And the Obama administration is planning on releasing these torture memos, repudiating the policies, promising to work to change them going forward.
In terms of lining themselves up with the Constitution, how substantive are these moves? Where would you put the Obama administration‘s policies on these issues as we speak tonight?
TURLEY: Quite frankly, I have to put it very, very low. Yes, the fact that he is having a dialogue with Dick Cheney that he finds irritating is understandable. I mean, Vice President Cheney comes off as sort of the cranky uncle you can‘t get rid of at Thanksgiving dinner.
But there is more to it than that. And the reason Obama seems very irritated by it is that he is responsible for the conversation. Because he‘s the one that is blocking a criminal investigation of Vice President Cheney and President Bush and other Bush officials. It is like a bank robber calling up and asking him to debate bank robbery.
President Obama would say, “Listen, fellow. That is a crime.”
But of course, he hasn‘t said that with Dick Cheney. He can‘t say that.
Instead, he says, “How long will it take for us to reconcile our values?”
These are not just our values. They are the law.
He should be saying what you are describing is a crime. And if he would allow an investigation to well-defined war crimes, Dick Cheney would not be making public statements. He would be surrounded by criminal defense counsel.
And yet the president refuses to allow the investigation of war crimes. And we just found out the international Red Cross, also the definitive body on torture, found that this was a real torture program. And yet, the president is having a debate with the guy over whether it was good policy.
MADDOW: In this case, we keep running up against politics versus law, politics versus law. For the legal case here, is all the president needs to do - the only thing he needs to do is get out of the way of prosecutors who would take this as a matter of law regardless of the politics here?
TURLEY: Rachel, let‘s be honest here. It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it. There‘s no question about a war crime here. There is no need for a truth commission.
You know, some people say, what do you need, a film? We actually had films of us torturing people. So this would be the shortest investigation in history. You have Bush officials who have said that we tortured people. We have interrogators who have said we tortured people. The Red Cross has said it. A host of international organizations have said it.
What is President Obama waiting for? And I‘m afraid the answer is a convenient moment. The fact is he has been told by his adviser that it would be grossly unpopular to investigate and prosecute Bush officials. Well, that is a perfectly horrible reason not to follow principle.
When we talk about values, the most important one is that the president has to enforce the laws. He can‘t pick and choose who would be popular to prosecute.
Should he be appointing a special prosecutor? What should he be doing?
TURLEY: He should be appointing a special prosecutor. There is no question about that. This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I have seen in my lifetime. There is no debate about it. There is no ambiguity. It is well known.
You‘ve got people involved who have basically admitted the elements of a war crime that we are committed to prosecuting. We don‘t need a truth and reconciliation commission because we are already reconciled to the rule of law. There is nothing to reconcile to.
What the people have to reconcile are the people who broke the law. They need to reconcile with the law. And he happens to be having a debate with one of those people as if they are talking about some quaint notion of policy.
MADDOW: I wonder, ultimately, if the fact that Dick Cheney continues to talk about this issue and continues to promote it as if it is a solution and something the Obama administration ought to feel ashamed for not having continued will ultimately be the thing that creates the political room the Obama administration feels that they need in order to proceed legally. They may just need to get that mad.
TURLEY: Rachel, I wish that were true. But you know, it is sort of like every great villain in every bad movie, dialoguing to prevent something happening. You know, Cheney is dialoguing. He‘s trying - the more he talks in public, the more he makes this look like a policy and not a legal issue which is exactly what he wants.
And the reason that the Obama administration is now pulling back on the truth commission is because they have finally realized that if the truth commission actually investigates, it will be the shortest investigation in history. There is no question there is a war crime.
And at the end, people are going to wonder how and why did you block this? It is like a live torpedo in the water and it is going to come back and hit him. And that is why President Obama is beginning to pull back.
The easiest thing to do is get out of the way, say, “You know what, this is not about values. This is about the law. I took an oath to God to enforce the law. And you know what, fellow? You are going to be a target of an investigation. And maybe you are not guilty. Maybe you are. But it is not for me to decide it. It‘s for a special prosecutor.”
MADDOW: Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington Law School, thank you for joining us tonight.
TURLEY: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: New Mexico is now the second state in the union to ban the death penalty since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson made that call personally. He will be here to tell us how he made that decision, how he feels about it. It is coming up, next.
MADDOW: We are all more than the worst thing we have ever done. A million years ago, I was at a meeting at a legal nonprofit called the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. And as I was walking out the door of EJI, that quote, “We are all more than the worst thing we have every done,” was on a piece of paper upon the wall.
I have never seen it before, and I have remembered it ever since.
The quote is from the Catholic nun who was the hero of “Dead Man Walking.” Remember that film of Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon? Susan Sarandon‘s character was based on Sister Helen Prejean, who is probably America‘s foremost anti-death penalty activist.
And at that time - this was about 10 years ago, I was 11, just kidding. It was about 10 years ago - at that time, activism against the death penalty felt like one of the all time, great American lefty lost causes. I mean, the enthusiasm with which states were killing their prisoners at that time seemed unstoppable.
After the Supreme Court legalized the death penalty in 1976 - check this out - we went to zero, one, two prisoners being killed a year by the end of the ‘70s, to the mid-teens at the end of the ‘80s, to almost 100 people being killed per year at the end of the ‘90s.
To argue that the U.S. should stop killing its prisoners, at that point, was like shouting into a wind tunnel. But now, at the end of 2000s, look at that. The number of prisoners we are killing is dropping by a lot.
And for only the second time since 1976, when the Supreme Court said the death penalty was constitutional, for only the second time since then, an American state has just made capital punishment illegal.
Five days after both houses of his state legislature passed a bill outlawing capital punishment, facing a midnight deadline by which he had to either veto the bill or sign it, a governor who had been a life-long proponent of the death penalty, decided to spend last Wednesday afternoon first at Catholic Mass and then at the state penitentiary, the pen that held his state‘s lethal injection chamber.
Heading back to the state capitol that day, the governor made what he said was the most difficult decision of his political life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D-NM): Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives or who dies for their crime.
If the state is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect. It can never be wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is the Democratic Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. Gov. Richardson, thank you for your time tonight.
RICHARDSON: Thank you very much, Rachel.
MADDOW: You have been a proponent of the death penalty in the past. You said you changed your mind because of a lack of confidence in the judicial system. I have to ask if that means you believe in the death penalty in theory but not in practice.
RICHARDSON: Well, yes. My personal view is that in the most extreme cases, the most heinous of crimes, the death penalty is applicable. However, as a public official who has to decide in upcoming cases, I felt that the alternative presented to me, life imprisonment without parole, was possibly even a tougher alternative.
I saw the prison. I saw those cells, the last 10 years, 130 exonerations of death row inmates, mainly minorities in our prison systems. I also saw flawed DNA evidence. I read about prosecutorial abuse. And I think in good conscience, I felt, as a leader in my state, I couldn‘t impose a personal view that I had in the most extreme of cases.
So I decided to look at this alternative which seemed very viable. And after going to mass, after searching my soul and what you described as my most politically difficult decision, and after visiting a prison where I saw very, very dire conditions for individuals on death row in a Level 6 prison, I decided that life imprisonment without parole was a better alternative.
And then I saw this internationally, America isolated as one of few countries with the death penalty, saddled along with other repressive regimes, that had the death penalty. I said I want to be in my state somebody that ends the death penalty but still has an alternative so that we can tell our law enforcement officers the men and women that go out and defend us, that there is a punishment, that there is a deterrent.
MADDOW: The law that you have signed is not retroactive. And there are two men who are on New Mexico‘s death row right now. Their fate is sort of unclear. Why not commute their sentences if you don‘t have faith in the system being able to act perfectly in this case?
RICHARDSON: Rachel, the law is prospective. It starts July 1 and I have to honor that. And these two individuals, I think, are on death row. And one of them, in my judgment, still deserves the death penalty for the most heinous of a crime in killing a police officer.
So I‘m not going to look back. I feel that my decision is prospective. By the way, with these individuals, they could have a life sentence of possibly just 20 years, which would be less severe than life imprisonment without parole.
So I‘m not going to deal with those cases. I think those are valid. They should go through their own legal process and the law in New Mexico will be prospective. And we will join New Jersey as the two states that have recently initiated repeal legislation.
MADDOW: Governor, I know that there are term limits in New Mexico. Your second term ends next year. You won‘t be running for governor again unless the term limits law changes. Does that affect your decision-making here? Do you feel that this is a big political risk?
RICHARDSON: No. You know, I consulted a lot of people as I made my decision. I talked to law enforcement officers. I had constituent hours. Over 200 people came to see me for five minutes expressing their view on a variety of subjects in addition to the death penalty.
I had close to 74 percent individuals contacting my office. Phone calls through the Web, through the Internet. So I felt that I had to make a decision talking to as many people with a different point of view as possible.
Now, you can‘t have politics look at the decision like this. You‘ve got to do what‘s right. You know, the consequences - when you make a tough decision, you‘re always making people mad. But I felt that a majority of my constituents, as is America, is moving in the direction and repealing the death penalty.
The world has moved ahead of us, Europe and Latin America. Most nations have repealed it and I think the time has come to take those steps as a nation. And I, in my small way, contributing in my state of New Mexico taking that decision but not saying there‘s not going to be a death penalty. The alternative, life imprisonment without parole, I think is a very, very severe penalty, too.
MADDOW: Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, thanks for making time for us tonight. Thank you.
RICHARDSON: Thank you.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” President Obama becomes the first president to skip the Gridiron dinner in his first year of office, first one since Grover Cleveland. Why did he do that?
Next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones.
MADDOW: I was just dancing a little bit to that and I forgot I hurt my back this weekend. I kind of like - you better go, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: It‘s infectious.
JONES: You know, I don‘t normally get into the weekend box office returns thing. But this week was interesting. In third place was the Julia Roberts movie, “Duplicity.” In second was the bro-mantic comedy, “I Love You, Man.” And in first place was the movie “Knowing” where Nicolas Cage tries to save the planet from a global catastrophe.
Well, how did that feel-good story beat out Julia Roberts and the guys from “Knocked Up?” Explained the box office analyst, Paul Dergarabedian, quote, “In a doom‘s day scenario, dollars and cents don‘t really matter anymore. And I think that‘s what‘s really appealing to people. Who cares about mortgages anymore if the world is going to blow up?”
Wow. You know, a movie about Nick Cage paying everybody‘s mortgage?
JONES: That I would go see (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Next up, major Red Sox news for you, Rachel. Famously cranky ace Curt Schilling announced he‘s retiring after a long time in the big. The 42-year-old right hander is probably most famous for pitching the 2004 ALCS bloody sock game against the Yankees, a story he‘ll be telling every 10 minutes for the rest of his life, when he‘s not shouting at birds, mail boxes and the wind.
MADDOW: Oh, Curt.
JONES: Oh, Curt -
MADDOW: Yes. I won‘t really miss - I shouldn‘t say that.
JONES: I shouldn‘t say it, but -
MADDOW: I shouldn‘t say it but I‘m feeling it right here.
JONES: Understood. Finally, on board the International Space Station, this weekend, engineers were trying to figure out why a water purification system that recycles urine into drinking water wasn‘t working properly.
MADDOW: Oh, god.
JONES: And how do they know the urine purification system isn‘t working?
MADDOW: Talk about drawing the short straw on chore day.
JONES: OK. We‘ve got a little thing we need to clear up.
MADDOW: You drink it. You drink it.
JONES: No, don‘t you drink it.
MADDOW: Cocktail moment for you.
MADDOW: We talked about the World Basketball Classic on Ms.
MADDOW: I got an E-mail from Keith Olbermann.
JONES: Oh, my.
MADDOW: “Don‘t be talking bleep about my sport. It‘s a brand name, the World Series.” The World Series, and he says they started using it in 1886 not 1903. I stand corrected.
JONES: There you have it.
MADDOW: “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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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.>