The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/20/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you at home also for staying with us for the next hour.
President Obama made his first trip to the CIA today as commander-in-chief, for a private meeting with CIA employees and then a public statement of support for the agency. All in the context of the recent news that it appears that no CIA officers will be prosecuted for torture. I should say “it appeared,” past tense, that no CIA officers would be prosecuted. We actually have some big news to report on that front in just a moment.
Obama‘s trip to Langley today was meant to reassure the rank and file at the CIA about something they should have been mighty assured about before he got there. Obama said since the presidential campaign that he has no interest in prosecuting CIA officers who waterboarded or who carried out other torture techniques under the euphemism of “enhanced interrogations” ordered by Bush administration officials. He repeated that again last week in a written statement on the matter that his chief of staff says he actually wrote himself.
And now, the president said it again today. For the third time, just so everyone‘s clear.
And during his CIA pep talk, Obama acknowledged the brewing controversy surrounding the Bush era memos, purporting to identify a legal loophole for torture, these memos that were just released.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: So, don‘t be discouraged by what‘s happened in the last few weeks. Don‘t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we‘ve made some mistakes. That‘s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States, and that‘s why you should be proud to be members of the CIA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Acknowledge mistakes and then move forward. And by moving forward, the president has said repeatedly he means not prosecuting CIA officers who relied on these authorizations, these legal permission slips, to torture. The question then is—whether or not the people who wrote the permission slips get prosecuted.
This weekend, the White House seemed to rule that out as well. Here was Obama‘s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He believes that people in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn‘t be prosecuted .
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: What about those who devised the policy?
EMANUEL: Yes, but those who devised the policy, he believes that they were—should not be prosecuted either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Those who devised the policy should not be prosecuted either.
That‘s big news.
Before those comments from Rahm Emanuel, we only knew that the administration didn‘t want to prosecute CIA officers, the people who had done the actual interrogating. But those comments would seem to indicate that the administration does not want to prosecute anyone. Just in case you thought Rahm Emanuel misspoke when he said that yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reaffirmed that stance today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED HENRY, CNN: So I understand you‘re saying the people in the CIA who followed through on what they were told was legal, they should not be prosecuted. But why not the Bush administration lawyers, who in the eyes of a lot of your supporters on the left twisted the law, why are they not being held accountable?
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is focused on looking forward. That‘s why.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And the direction that you prefer to look in is more important than laws that are binding? Not elective? Actually, laws that are enforced in a country that‘s supposedly governed by law? Sorry, I digress.
Around the same time the administration was ruling out prosecuting the people who authorize and gave dubious permission for torture, we learned that the extent to which that permission was exercised. In a remarkable detail that was first noticed by blogger Marcy Wheeler at the Website on Firedoglake, the just released torture memos include in the fine print the notice that two prisoners, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, were waterboarded an astonishing 266 times between them. Quoting from the 2005 memo, quote, “The CIA used the waterboard at least 83 times during August 2002 in the interrogation of Zubaydah, and 183 times during March ‘03 in the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.”
A hundred and eighty-three times in one month—that would average
out to six times a day, every day for 31 days. That revelation, of course,
calls into question everything we have been told about the justification
for torture in the first place. Every time you have heard that
waterboarding was used sparingly—think six times a day every day for a
month. Every time you hear it was used as a last resort—think six times
a day every day for a month. Every time you hear that torture is effective
think to yourself, they had to use it on two guys 266 times because, what, it didn‘t work the first 265 times? That‘s how effective this is?
What we thought we knew about torture, what we were told about its use, is plainly no longer true. In terms of the facts of what we know about who we tortured, when and how the facts are new—we have a whole new understanding of what happened and who was involved. And yet, the political reality remains unchanged: No prosecutions.
Up to this point, the White House justification for not wanting to prosecute CIA officers who waterboarded or otherwise tortured people, was that those officers were just following the guidance they were given by the Justice Department, about what was legal and what wasn‘t legal. Now that we see the CIA‘s admission that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed got waterboarded 183 times in a month, we know those officers were not following the guidance in those awful memos—those memos prescribed specific limits on the duration and frequency of that kind of torture.
So, if there‘s going to be a political announcement about immunity from prosecution for CIA officers, it now has to be based on a different rationale.
There‘s also an open question about whether the officials involved here will be prosecuted—those who requested the legal authorization for these techniques, the lawyers who themselves authored the memos, or anyone who gave the actually go-ahead to use these techniques, basing their permission on the memos, could they still be investigated and prosecuted, despite assurances from the White House, despite those assurances from Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs? The White House is not the same thing as the Justice Department. And within the Justice Department, new reporting suggests that a very different discussion is under way. This is big news.
“Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas are reporting tonight that Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department is not at all settled on the White House‘s conclusions about not prosecuting Bush administration officials and maybe even CIA officers who acted outside the bounds of the torture memos.
The White House says no prosecutions. The Justice Department is reportedly undecided. Quote, “Attorney General Holder is seriously considering appointing an outside counsel to investigate whether CIA interrogators exceeded legal boundaries and whether Bush administration officials broke the law by giving the CIA permission to torture in the first place.”
Wow. So, even if President Obama doesn‘t want to prosecute, his attorney general might?
Joining us now is “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff. His report appears in the latest issue of “Newsweek.”
Michael, thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK: Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Based on your reporting, it appears that the White House and the Department of Justice may be on very different pages when it comes to the question of prosecutions and torture. Is that—is that what you see going on inside the Obama administration?
ISIKOFF: Well, I have to say, they should be on different pages. Just listening to some of the comments in the last few days, particularly from Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs, about how the president is focused on looking forward, not backward, and he‘s not interested in seeing these people prosecuted.
You know, there are some people at the Justice Department who are listening to that and saying, “That‘s not their decision to make.” Decisions about criminal prosecutions are made by the Justice Department based on evidence, the facts and the law. And there‘s actually sort of a taboo about the White House meddling and dictating to the Justice Department about who should be investigated and who shouldn‘t.
In fact, if you go and Google Justice Department/White House communications, you know, the first thing that will pop up is Justice Department guidelines that very specifically lay out the ground rules for communications between Justice Department and White House on pending criminal cases and when—how those communications should be handled, and what role the White House has in even learning about criminal investigations, much less trying to dictate who should be investigated and who shouldn‘t.
MADDOW: So, are you hearing from sources at the Justice Department that when they heard Rahm Emanuel yesterday and Robert Gibbs today saying there won‘t be prosecutions, in essence, there was surprise? There was anger at the Justice Department?
ISIKOFF: Well, we wrote our story before they made those comments. This is a story that first appeared on the Web on Saturday, in the magazine that came out yesterday. But, I can tell you that people at the Justice Department have been wrestling with this issue for some time.
Senator Carl Levin—who incidentally has a major new report coming out tomorrow night on Defense Department interrogations and harsh interrogations and how they came about—had recommended to Holder, the attorney general, appointing an outside lawyer, a retired federal judge, somebody to look at all the evidence here and reach conclusions as to whether or not criminal misconduct may have taken place.
You know, we do report that Holder has been weighing that idea as a possibility. No hard—the conclusions have been reached; he hasn‘t definitely decided to do it. But I do know that people at the Justice Department are taking this very seriously and don‘t think that they take their marching orders from anybody at the White House on this issue. That‘s considered a no-no.
By the way, just—there was a terrific report today in “CQ,” Jeff Stein, reported about how Alberto Gonzales, the past attorney general, had torpedoed a proposed criminal investigation of Jane Harman, the congresswoman, about her—because she‘s been caught on a wiretap talking to an Israeli agent, but—and Gonzales‘ reason is she didn‘t want—the White House didn‘t want—they wanted Harman‘s backing in defending the warrantless wiretapping program.
That—a lot of people read that and said, “Whoa, wait a second. Attorneys general shouldn‘t be making a call on that basis.” But that‘s very similar of people—to what we‘re hearing today about the White House saying, “Well, we might need some people for health care or other issues. We can‘t have recriminations.”
MADDOW: Separation of powers is separation of powers no matter who holds those powers or what party they‘re in.
MADDOW: Michael, I want to ask you specifically on this issue of CIA officers, not necessarily Bush administration officials. If a special counsel were going to investigate, as you report, whether CIA interrogators exceeded legal boundaries, is that a timing issue? Is that about whether or not these techniques were used, these torture techniques were used on prisoners before the memos were issued or is this about doing things that were beyond what the memos said they could do?
ISIKOFF: Both, actually. If you read the memos closely, there‘s—there are references. There‘s at least one reference to a debate within the CIA and concerns that identified later by the inspector general that some of the interrogators may have gone beyond what was authorized in the memos. So you have that.
You also have the question of when the memos were written, the first one, August 1, 2002. We do know that the interrogations of Zubaydah, one of those who was waterboarded 83 times, according to the—according to the memos, began before—before that. Zubaydah was captured in March.
His CIA interrogations began in late May/early June. There‘s a period of
time that it‘s unclear exactly what was done, and whether steps were taken
rough tactics were used prior to the authorization in the memos.
MADDOW: “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff. This is great reporting. Thank you. Thank you for reporting it and thank you for talking to us about it. And if you start hearing which way Holder is leaning—give me a call.
MADDOW: Thanks, Michael.
ISIKOFF: Will do. You‘ll be the first.
As you may have heard, President Obama was polite to Hugo Chavez. That rumbling sound you hear is the crumbling of American power. We‘re officially now no longer a superpower. Please turn in your badges on your own way home to second world status. The Republicans‘ outrage on the president‘s trip abroad—coming up.
But first, One More Thing on the release of the torture memos. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, the man who made “undisclosed” a national punch line, now wants more information, not less, in the public view. In an interview today on the FOX News Channel, Cheney says that he would like more previously-secret memos about interrogations of prisoners disclosed. These are ones that he believes will show how effective torture was.
Quote, “I‘ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people can have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.” Leave it to Vice President Cheney to become a convert to open government only upon the threat of his own arrest.
MADDOW: The protocol, standard operating procedure, etiquette, is to bow before royalty and to salute military superiors. But what does one supposed to do in the presence of a brand new, freshly minted Pulitzer Prize winner? If Miss Manners has an answer, she needs to send it over here quickly because MSNBC political analyst, “Washington Post” associate editor and columnist, and genuinely great person, Eugene Robinson today was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his commentary in the “Washington Post” about the historic significance of the election of our first African-American president.
Gene, from everyone here at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW and everyone at MSNBC, our very, very warmest congratulations on this much-deserved recognition and we‘ll be prepared with the proper bow or salute, or flourish of trumpets or whatever, the next time we see you.
MADDOW: One of the most hard to believe details among the ongoing revelations about the Bush administration‘s secret prisons and keeping people awake for a week or a week and a half at a time, and chaining people to the ceiling, is that one of the lawyers who authored some of the most “1984-esque” opinions, the sure it‘s OK to exploit this guy‘s personal fears by putting rats in Winston‘s cage—I mean, bugs in Zubaydah‘s confinement box, that lawyer—the guy who wrote that, now has a lifetime appointment to a federal appeals court that is just one level below the United States Supreme Court. His name is Jay Bybee.
He was confirmed by the Senate in March 2003, when the newly released torture memo that I can quote from memory now because I‘ve been up all night screaming about it—when that memo was obviously still secret. And when even the revelations about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib were still about a year away, it was spring 2003 when he was confirmed.
In contrast, consider William Haynes. Now, he was a top lawyer at the Pentagon, and like Mr. Bybee, he was also rewarded for his work on torture and prisoner issues with a nomination for a high-falutin‘ appeals court judgeship. Mr. Haynes, however, had bad timing. By the time Mr. Haynes was being considered for his judgeship, the country was sort of hip to the torture issue and Mr. Haynes‘ role in advising Donald Rumsfeld on prisoner issues was enough for Democrats in the Senate to block him from becoming a federal judge.
Jay Bybee got through just in the nick of time. Haynes came a little bit later, he did not get through. If the Senate had known in March 2003 what they know now about Judge Jay Bybee, would they have confirmed him? Perhaps more importantly, now that they do know Mr. Bybee‘s record, should they impeach him?
Yesterday, “The New York Times” made the case, saying, quote, “These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for the job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him.”
Today, Congressman Jerry Nadler, he serves on the House Judiciary Committee, told the “Huffington Post,” quote, “Bybee ought to be impeached. It was not an honest legal memo. It was an instruction manual on how to break the law.”
Mr. Bybee is not commenting on the storm that swirls around him now. “The Wall Street Journal,” however, reports that he did just get himself a lawyer.
Joining us now is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island. He‘s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Whitehouse, thank you so much for making time for us tonight.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND: I‘m glad to be with you, Rachel. Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Your colleague in the Senate, Claire McCaskill, said yesterday on television that her reaction to learning that Jay Bybee had ended up as a federal judge was, and I quote directly here, “Yikes.” Do you share Senator McCaskill‘s worry about Judge Bybee?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, since I‘m on the intelligence committee and I‘ve been familiar with these opinions for some time, I don‘t have the sense of surprise that the “yikes” would indicate, but I think her concerns are very justified.
MADDOW: Do you think that it‘s possible that an impeachment inquiry is warranted in this case, if only because the circumstances that are known of Judge Bybee‘s career are now so different than when the Senate voted on him in 2003?
WHITEHOUSE: It is certainly possible that an impeachment inquiry is warranted, but I think that decision should probably wait until the Department of Justice‘s Office of Professional Responsibility finishes its investigation into the Office of Legal Counsel and all of these opinions. They‘ve been working on this for, I would say, more than a year now. And I expect it will be a very thorough report. And with that in the offing, I think it can‘t be more than a few weeks away.
Prudence would dictate that we wait and take advantage of all the good work that the Department of Justice and Marshall Jarrett, who ran the Office of Professional Responsibility, has done. And then we‘ll have a much clearer sense as to how proceedings and whether proceedings should begin.
MADDOW: As I understand, that the Office of Professional Responsibility inquiry, the reason that we haven‘t seen that yet is because the investigators took time to allow the people who they were reporting on to respond to that report before it is released. Does that seem like appropriate due process or does that seem like it might be a little soft to you?
WHITEHOUSE: Senator Durbin and I have inquired about that. We don‘t have an answer yet. My understanding is that that is not the traditional way that OPR acts. You do have the chance at the subject of an OPR inquiry to present a defense.
But I‘ve never heard of a case in which somebody‘s actually been entitled to become a co-editor of the opinion or write a chapter in it. It‘s not clear, because we haven‘t seen the opinion, whether that actually happened. This may have been their chance to make their defense. Yet another reason why I think it‘s worth waiting until this OPR opinion comes out.
MADDOW: Sorry. Go ahead, Senator. I‘m sorry.
WHITEHOUSE: I was just going to say there‘s every expectation to—every reason to believe this will be a devastating opinion.
MADDOW: On the issue of both taking a reckoning of what has happened in the past but also moving forward, and the White House has been very firm in its stance that they want to—that they want to look forward and not back, it does seem that there say lot of new information that has come to light since those assertions were first made by candidate Obama and even as President-elect Obama and now by President Obama. Does it seem like enough new information has come to light that there ought to be a wholesale, new inquiry, perhaps starting in the Senate Judiciary Committee?
WHITEHOUSE: I think Michael Isikoff earlier was dead right. The White House has a strong political imperative to reassure the people of America that they are working as hard as they can on getting us out of the economic ditch that the Bush administration drove us into. People are suffering in Rhode Island and across the country. And to have the president be focused in that area is exactly, I think, the right message for them to send out.
But it‘s a completely different question when it‘s the Department of Justice looking at whether the evidence is in place for a criminal prosecution. And I think generating that evidence is important.
We have Senate Intelligence Committee investigation under way. We have the president‘s special task force looking at this question. We have considerable energy and interest behind this. We‘ve got the OPR opinion coming out soon.
So there‘s a lot of evidence that remains to be gathered. And I think no good prosecutor would make a decision about going forward until he had all the evidence in place. The evidence is gradually be amassed.
But, at this point, I would take the Obama administration‘s general description of themselves as interested in going forward and working on the economy and all those things, as general, sort of political discussion and very appropriately so. But in the bowels of the Department of Justice where people actually put together indictments, they look at the evidence and they look at the law, and we need to let that process go forward.
I do not see anything in what the Obama administration has said that would allow anything other than the traditional defenses to be raised, that it was reasonable to rely on these opinions, that people acted in good faith, that they acted within the scope of the opinions, both as to the—what people were allowed to do and the predicates, the predicates for engaging in this conduct in the first place. Once you‘re outside of those, then you are in a world in which you are vulnerable to prosecution, and nobody in the administration has said somebody in that world should not be prosecuted.
MADDOW: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, I hope you don‘t mind if I call you back when that Office of Professional Responsibility report comes out. I‘d love to talk to you about it.
WHITEHOUSE: And I you.
MADDOW: Thank you very much. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, of course, represents Rhode Island. Thank you, sir.
Coming up: More inexplicable excitement than you can possibly imagine, as the right-wing decides that Barack Obama made improper facial expressions at one point on his latest overseas trip. We assess the evidence.
And, a mystery, a very, very easy to solve mystery about the new Yankee Stadium and the really, really good seats down in the first few front rows.
MADDOW: Still to come: How a handshake from President Obama sent Republicans off the deep ends, and wipes the history of presidential handshakes from the historical record.
And we‘ll take a look at the extremely weird moment when the Miss USA beauty pageant crossed wires with “HARDBALL.” I don‘t think it meant to. That‘s all coming up.
But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. Our first story involves two phrases you rarely hear in the same sentence, “United Nations meeting” and “high drama.” Today, the twain met. The United Nations held a conference on racism today in Switzerland. It was interrupted by protesters in funny wigs and then by a mass exodus of the meeting‘s own participants.
It all happened while Iran‘s vociferous President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered prepared remarks decrying the legitimacy of Israel. Two protesters wearing colorful wigs, what some might call clown wigs, yelled out, “Racist! Racist!” One even threw his red clown nose at the Iranian president though mercifully, he did not follow through with his inevitable clown shoe.
Ahmadinejad did not miss a beat. He continued on calling Israel‘s government, quote, “The most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine,” at which point delegates from about 30 countries got up and stormed out of the room, leaving Ahmadinejad as the only head of state in the room.
The United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and New Zealand were not even at this meeting in the first place. They all boycotted the entire conference in the belief that it would be a platform for criticizing Israel and an opportunity for exactly what happened with Ahmadinejad today.
The U.N. secretary general and their head human rights official both blasted Ahmadinejad for his comments, though the human rights official said the best response to Ahmadinejad would be to reply to and rebut his comments instead of just walking out on him.
Saturday was a pristine day in New York City, sunny and 78 degrees, barely a cloud in the sky. A perfect day for enjoying America‘s national pastime at the brand-new Yankee Stadium. Saturday‘s a gorgeous day, brand-new $1.5 billion ballpark. The team‘s first weekend home game and 7,000 unfilled seats.
Friday‘s afternoon game was not much better. Many of the seats in the premium sections along left and right field were unoccupied. And you do not have to have Keith Olbermann-esque knowledge of baseball to understand why many premium seats, the ones awkwardly in all the TV camera shots, are empty. They are super duper expensive.
Say you want to see the Yankees play the Red Sox on May 4th, say, and you want to sit in those swanky, gorgeous first section seats, running from first base behind home plate and around the third base, a single ticket would cost you over $2,500. The most expensive seats are $2,500.
The cheapest in that section are over $500. When new stadiums like Camden Yards in Baltimore and Coors‘ Field in Denver and Jacobs Field in Cleveland were just opened, they routinely sold out over and over and over again.
Then again, those stadiums didn‘t open while the economy was circling the drain. Everyone has been talking about the retro-feel of the New Yankees ballpark. Perhaps the era it harkens back to the most is last year before the first AIG bailout.
MADDOW: In the 10 years since the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, we tried to understand how it happened and why it happened and how we should respond so it wouldn‘t be forgotten. Of course it hasn‘t been. So it wouldn‘t happen again - of course it has.
In service to those questions, we as a country, told ourselves some resonant and compelling stories about that killing spree that left 12 students and one teacher dead, and about the teenage killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. We‘ve told ourselves the killers were bullied and friendless, that their perceived oppressors, jocks, were deliberately targeted during the rampage.
We‘ve told ourselves that they were part of a semi-gang called the “trench coat mafia.” We‘ve told ourselves that they listened to Marilyn Manson, that horrifically, murdered a girl just for saying that she believed in God.
It turns out that those stories are not true. None of them are true. Denver journalist Dave Cullen spent years researching and reporting on the killings. His new book, “Columbine” meticulously disassembles the stories that make up so much of the country‘s collective understanding of that tragedy.
Today‘s anniversary can be an opportunity, not only to remember and honor the victims, but to make a renewed effort to get the Columbine story right. If there are to be national lessons learned from that tragedy 10 years ago, it makes sense to base them on what actually happened, not on the stories we have told ourselves to try to make sense of it all despite their distance from the fact.
Joining us now, Dave Cullen, who covers the Columbine shooting for “Slate” and “Salon.” His new book is called “Columbine.” It‘s the culmination of years of reporting on the killings. Mr. Cullen, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight.
DAVE CULLEN, AUTHOR, “COLUMBINE”: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: I‘d like to start with one of the most widely-held impressions of what happened at Columbine and what we know about the two young men who committed that crime, this trench coat mafia idea. What was that group and why did it become so widely-believed that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were part of it?
CULLEN: Well, that was a group that was in the high school, sort of a nebulous group, the year before. And it didn‘t really exist anymore and the killers were only very loosely associated with it. It had nothing to do with the murders.
But you know, they did wear trench coats, largely to cover all the weaponry they had and also as a fashion statement. But we took little bits of fact - most of these myths were grounded in some kernel of truth. But we took them and ran with them.
And I think that one, in a way, was comforting to us. Most of these were, because anyone in America could feel like - well, we don‘t have trench coat mafia in our school or in our house. So we‘re saying, it‘s not going to happen here, when in fact Dylan Klebold, in particular, was very typical American teenager.
MADDOW: And one of the things you document in “Columbine,” is that Eric Harris really was not. Essentially, you describe him as a psychopath, as somebody who should not have been seen as being anything like a normal kid. And any stories that we tell ourselves about his normalcy, how anybody could turn out to be a kid who does something like this really are ought to be seen as myths.
CULLEN: Right. Eric was clinical textbook psychopath - in the clinical sense, not the Hollywood sense of it. But a person who has complete lack of empathy for other people - he would do anything just for the most trivial gain for himself.
And typically, psychopaths are not violent. You see them as conmen, crooked politicians, white-collared criminals. But when you get a psychopath and put that together with a really, really bad sadistic streak, you get someone like a Jeffrey Dahmer or an Eric Harris.
MADDOW: One of the other myths that has been resonant and has become part of the modern fables that Americans tell one another about our country and about who we are is this idea that one young woman was killed directly after and because she expressed a belief in God. Can you explain how you know that that‘s not true and what we do know is the truth of that particular shooting?
CULLEN: Sure. It was the Cassie Bernall story. And we know what actually happened because we‘ve got eyewitness testimonies from the only two girls who were right there and sought one under the table with her.
And then, we also have tragic 911 call from the library by a teacher who - she dropped the phone once it got really bad and left it off the cord. So that entire call was recorded. All the killings were recorded on audiotape. And the FBI enhanced that and the investigators can hear. That was never released because it is horrifying, but the investigators were able to listen to it.
So what happened is, there were actually two girls involved here. Cassie Bernall was under the table praying. Eric Harris came up to the table, slapped his hand on it and said, “Peek-a-boo!” He put his gun under the lip of the table and shot her in the head and she died instantly.
Meanwhile, another girl, Val Schnurr, was hit by a buck shot from a shot gun blast by Dylan Klebold. She was injured. She was crawling away to safety, actually bleeding. Dylan stopped her and, you know, taunted her, said, “Do you believe in God?” She said, “Yes.”
And actually, they had an exchange about it. Then he got distracted. He didn‘t care about her. He didn‘t care who he killed. So he got distracted and walked away. She lived to tell. She‘s doing fine. She was just at the memorial today. She‘s a wonderful young lady.
But to the actual story, it was also a good story, too. But there was just a misunderstanding with one boy in the library initially who misidentified Cassie. And we in the press didn‘t ask enough tough questions and didn‘t want to ask the victims, you know, “How do you know this? Are you sure?” You know, we didn‘t verify. We took the story. It was a great story, and we ran with it.
CULLEN: Dave, one last question for you and this is actually about the continuing coverage of this story on this 10-year anniversary coverage. I know that you were part of an episode of the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” which although it was already filmed, Oprah decided not to air it today, saying it focused too much on the killers.
I have to ask you if you‘re disappointed in that decision. I feel like I understand that decision, looking at the tape thinking, “Oh, we might have got the tone here wrong somehow.” How did you feel about that?
CULLEN: Well, I do understand. And, of course, I was disappointed. But you know, I also - I worked with the Harpo people for about three weeks working and putting the show together. And I was incredibly impressed by them. They‘re really professional and with Oprah. They did what they - they made what they felt was the right decision.
With respect to the people out there, it is a tough day. I just came from the memorial ceremony and it‘s a tough day out in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so I understand that.
MADDOW: Dave Cullen is author of the book, “Columbine.” It seems like we spent all this time to trying to figure out how to respond to the myths of Columbine. I think your book goes a long way toward us figuring out what to do, based on a better understanding of what actually happened. Thanks very much for joining us tonight, Mr. Cullen.
CULLEN: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: If you did not feel quite right over the weekend, it may have been because President Obama just threw away 232 ¾ years of America‘s standing in the world by shaking hands with Hugo Chavez. It‘s all over now. Sorry. Chris Hayes is next.
MADDOW: President Obama was in Trinidad this weekend at a hemispheric (UNINTELLIGIBLE) doing the international summit thing. As this is wont to happen at such event, the president of another country, specifically the president of Venezuela, stood right in front of President Obama more than once.
President Obama responded with standard social graces. And that, according to President Obama‘s critics on the American right, was a diplomatic disaster. Here‘s Republican windbag emeritus Newt Gingrich on the “Today” show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Everywhere in Latin America, enemies of America are going to use the picture of Chavez smiling and being with the president as proof that Chavez is now legitimate, that he‘s acceptable.
MEREDITH VIEIRA, CO-HOST, THE “TODAY” SHOW: Do you think he should not be trying to mend relationships with other world leaders?
GINGRICH: How do you mend relationships with somebody who hates your country, who actively calls for the destruction of your country and who wants to undermine you?
VIEIRA: But we certainly have mended relationships that have hated us in the past. Russia comes to mind. China comes to mind.
GINGRICH: But we didn‘t rush over, smile and greet Russian dictators.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Isn‘t Newt Gingrich a history professor? It‘s funny because as far as I remember history includes - let‘s see, President Kennedy with Nikita Khrushchev, President Nixon with Leonid Brezhnev, President Ford with Brezhnev - that was a cute coat. President Reagan with Mikhail Gorbachev. Smile, everyone. Smile.
And here‘s some cell phone video of President Obama giving President Chavez the business end of a stern talking to. President Gingrich‘s lecture didn‘t include this footage. But the historical blind spot is not limited to handshakes with evildoers. What about the Saudis?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: What I find distressing is that this administration is opposed to looking for oil offshore, but the president bows to the Saudi king.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Bows to the Saudi king? President Obama shouldn‘t bow to the Saudi king. He should do what President Bush did, talking about our addiction to oil and then, what was it that he did? Oh, yes, no bowing. President Bush was more of the hand-holder type. And there was - oh, the kissing. That was the customary peck on the cheek.
You know, the bowing isn‘t OK, but the kissing is OK. It‘s going to be hard to remember these things. They are way more complicated than I thought they were.
Joining us now, Chris Hayes, Washington editor with “The Nation” magazine. Chris, thanks for coming on the show. I hope you can help me explain this.
CHRIS HAYES, WASHINGTON EDITOR, “THE NATION” MAGAZINE: Yes, I‘m thinking Newt Gingrich should write a kind of Newt‘s guide to diplomacy in which he has every world leader and then like a smiley face next to it or a frowny face, you know, just so that you have a cheat sheet every time you go to one of these big events.
MADDOW: But you have to remember like the smiley face could mean yes to kissing but no to bowing - yes to bowing, no to kissing? I mean, is there a reasonable way to explain why it‘s OK to kiss King Abdullah but it‘s not OK to bow? Is there any way to explain that?
HAYES: No there‘s nothing to principled here. I mean, first of all, Newt Gingrich - I would love to find him a distant retirement community that we could put him in and he could play golf all day long.
I mean, there‘s no principled objection that‘s happening here. What‘s happening here is the right is tremendously discredited. They‘re facing a very popular president. And so what they are doing is kind of going to this grab bag of talking points that they generally have about generic Democrats that have served them well for four decades and just tossing them out and seeing what sticks.
So Democrats are soft on - you know, soft on the bad guys or they‘re insufficiently patriotic or they cede ground to our enemies. And so they‘re just tossing that out. There is nothing actually of substance here.
MADDOW: Also not preparing adequately for the Y2K bug. It‘s just like - what is it, with you guys? Come on. Well, Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada says it was irresponsible for the president to be seen kind of laughing and joking with Hugo Chavez, saying Obama somehow hurt the prestige of the presidency.
Is there any sort of code about the laughing and joking, specifically the facial expressions?
HAYES: First of all, let me just say that Hugo Chavez, whatever his problems, and there are problems. No one is getting - you know, no Venezuelans are receiving the kind of treatment the fallen (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are receiving in China. And no one raises a hackle when we, you know, smile with the Chinese president or pause for photo-ops.
President Bush had Islam Karimov, the dictator of Uzbekistan, who human rights groups accused of terrible, ghastly crimes. And he was actually in the White House smiling with the president and no one raised a hackle.
So there is just no absolute standard here from the conservatives. They don‘t like Hugo Chavez because he is a leftist and because he said mean things about George Bush. But there is no actual moral basis to their objections.
MADDOW: My favorite when Bush hosted who was the head at that time of the supreme council for Islamic revolution in Iraq. And he had the red carpet treatment at the White House. Then Bush sent him home and made him change the name of his organization.
And that was really showing him. All right. Chris, last question. President Obama, a very popular president, not just here, but around the world. He has a much higher popularity rating in Venezuela than Hugo Chavez does. Did Obama somehow get taken advantage of by Chavez? I mean, is it possible that Chavez is trying to glean something off Obama‘s popularity?
HAYES: I‘m sure he is. I mean, he clearly wanted to get the photo with Obama. But at the end of the day, who really cares? I mean, is a photo going to be what resuscitates the political fortunes of Hugo Chavez? If he is really so terrible as all the right-wing says, are the Venezuelan people going to be fooled by a photo of Chavez with Galiano book? Of course not. I mean, it‘s a ridiculous accusation.
MADDOW: But easy to talk about, that‘s for sure. Chris Hayes, Washington editor with “The Nation,” thank you very much for your time tonight, sir. Nice to see you.
HAYES: Nice to see you, too, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Rudy Giuliani declares himself the poster child for what makes a moral marriage. Charmed, I‘m sure.
Next on this show, a special cocktail moment with my friend Kent Jones, the Miss USA pageant gets really political and then really snippy, really fast. That‘s coming up.
MADDOW: We‘ve got a special cocktail moment tonight. It‘s the beauty spot cocktail. Miss North Carolina, Kristen Dalton, named the winner of the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas this weekend. But is there a cloud over her title?
With the details here is our chief beauty pageant question-and-answer correspondent, Mr. Kent Jones. Kent, please tell me what happened.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: There could be a cloud, Rachel. There were all the usual beauty pageant niceties. But check out the questions the finalists were asked. Who wrote these, Chris Matthews? Let‘s play hardball.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE MISS USA JUDGE: Do you believe that taxpayers‘ money should be used to bail out struggling U.S. companies? Why and/or why not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE MISS USA JUDGE: Do you think the U.S. should have universal health care as a right of citizenship?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE MISS USA JUDGE: Hillary Clinton announced last month that the U.S. is pledging $40 million to help Afghanistan hold elections in their country. With our country in recession, is this the right thing to do?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: Oh, yes. He did ask that. Now, just for the record the contestants voted no on the bailouts, a non-answer answer on healthcare, and yes to aid in Afghanistan even in a recession. No word on EFCA. But that must be next.
MADDOW: I can see it in Miss Utah‘s eyes that she was going there on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I could just see her walking into that one. That‘s incredible.
JONES: Yes. I was very impressed with that.
MADDOW: They‘re not always like this, are they?
JONES: Never. To my knowledge, no.
MADDOW: I love this new model of beauty pageant.
JONES: It is fantastic. However, then there was controversy. Miss California Carrie Prejean was asked if she supported same-sex marriage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS USA CONTESTANT: Well, I think it‘s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And, you know what, in my country, and in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and woman - no offense to anybody out there. But, that‘s how I was raised, and that‘s how I think it should be, between a man and a woman. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: OK. So, the broad-minded Miss Prejean wound up in second, not first. And today, an unapologetic Miss California told “Access Hollywood” that her stance on “opposite marriage” in her country cost her the crown.
JONES: Then, she helpfully pointed out that her sister is a gay-rights activist. Deal with that, America. How long do you think it will take before the Prop 8 crowd turns Carrie Prejean into, I don‘t know, Rosa Parks? Brave Carrie robbed of crown by gay agenda shock troops. I can see the headlines, Rachel. And my outrage is uncontained.
MADDOW: You can‘t be that mad as long as in her country opposite marriage is legal.
JONES: In her country, opposite marriage is illegal.
MADDOW: Opposite marriage is -
JONES: Opposite marriage - illegal.
MADDOW: I‘m very proud we have the choice. I am having a South Carolina flashback but I understand.
JONES: Yes, indeed.
MADDOW: I look forward to the fervor on this one.
JONES: I think it‘s going to keep happening, as -
MADDOW: It started with Perez Hilton.
MADDOW: All right. Thank you very much, Ken.
MADDOW: I appreciate it that. Thank you for watching tonight. We will see you here again tomorrow night. Until then, you can E-mail us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Our podcast is at iTunes or at Rachel.MSNBC.com. You can also hear me coast to coast on Air America Radio. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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