The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/29/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: The president‘s inner circle, Valerie Jarrett, will be joining us momentarily. Senator Amy Klobuchar will join us, Jonathan Turley, Ed Schultz, who sat in the front row at the press conference tonight. Our old friend, Melissa Harris-Lacewell from Princeton will be here.
They‘ll all be here to discuss, among others, President Obama, Michael Steele, Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe, Judge Bybee and the people who all got waterboarded by the Bush administration who the new president has apparently been reading up on.
It is all coming up over the course of the next hour. But we start with President Obama‘s third primetime press conference of his now 100-day-old presidency.
In front of an assembled press corps that included reporters from locals as far flung as Saudi Arabia and Australia and America Blog and the Catholic News Service. He answered a wide range of questions, from Pakistan to the future of the auto industry to his new colleague in the Democratic Party, Arlen Specter.
But perhaps most provocative for his responses on the question on torture. The president was asked 13 questions in total tonight, two of them were on torture. The first question was quite direct. Did the previous administration sanction torture? In his answer, President Obama reaffirmed his own view that waterboarding is torture but he fell short of calling the act of ordering it a crime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I‘ve said and I will repeat is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it‘s torture.
You start taking short cuts and over time that corrodes what is best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.
I believe that waterboarding was torture and I think that the—whatever legal rationales were used it was a mistake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It was a mistake. A mistake. That is a very different word than the word crime. In fact, mistake is exactly the word I used the last time I got pulled over for speeding. I‘m sorry, Officer, I made a mistake. He thought that what I did was both a mistake and a crime and I got an enormous ticket.
You may have heard in that answer that President Obama gave, he‘s also framing the issue of torture as if it were a shortcut. He used the word shortcut. In other words torture can be effective, torture can be efficient, even if it‘s wrong?
That efficient argument, that torture works sometimes argument, is the same one that‘s being made by former vice president Dick Cheney. He has requested that two CIA documents supposedly proving that torture works be declassified and released.
And tonight President Obama said those Cheney documents have not yet been declassified so he couldn‘t say much about them. But he did say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Here‘s what I can tell you. That the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques doesn‘t answer the core question which is, could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques?
And it doesn‘t answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now from the very chilly White House lawn is President Obama‘s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Miss Jarrett, thank you so much for standing out in the cold and joining us tonight.
VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: It‘s my pleasure, Rachel. Good evening to you.
MADDOW: Good evening. Thanks, again.
All right. There were a few specific policy matters that the president discussed tonight in which I‘d love to get a little more detail from you. First, he was asked by Mark Knoller at CBS Radio whether or not he‘s reviewed the documents that former vice president Dick Cheney asked to be declassified.
And I didn‘t totally understand the president‘s answer. So I wanted to ask if I‘m right in thinking that the president implied that he had seen those specific documents.
JARRETT: Yes. He said he had seen the documents and then he said that they were classified so he wasn‘t at liberty to discuss them. But he has reviewed them.
MADDOW: OK. And when the president described waterboarding, which he‘s named as torture, and other interrogation techniques—when he described those things as shortcuts, did he mean that he sees torture as a means of getting useful information out of people more efficiently than you can get it through a normal interrogation?
JARRETT: No. I don‘t think he meant to say it was more efficient. I think he meant to say that it‘s just a way of doing it where hopefully you just get it faster. But that‘s not always the case. And in fact, the point that, I think, he made very clearly is that often we can get the information by other.
But more importantly, Rachel, I think the point is that it makes us less safe to use those kind of techniques. They are used as a rallying cry to terrorist organizations around the world to recruit new members. And I guess the most important point is, it‘s just not who we are as a country. And that we have to be willing to draw a line and say this is just not what we‘re going to do.
How can we have the moral authority on the world stage if we are willing to do those kinds of things right here when we‘re in control? And so I think that was really the clear point.
MADDOW: Is he persuaded at all by the arguments from experienced FBI interrogators and other people who have come out recently since so much more information about torture has come out, persuaded by the arguments that torture is a good way to get false confessions out of people? That it‘s—it‘s actually a bad way to get any unreliable—to get any reliable information out of suspects?
JARRETT: Well, I think he‘s heard that it really kind of depends on a case by case basis. Sometimes you will get meaningful information. Sometimes you get people who will just say anything because they‘re under duress.
But I think more importantly he‘s convinced that we can get the same information, same quality information which will help keep our country safe by other measures and that using these measures will actually make us less safe. And that‘s really a very key point here.
MADDOW: I promise not all of my questions for you are about torture, but I do have one more that I just have to ask you, because I just wanted to.
MADDOW: . be clear on what he means, what the position is at the White House. And when he was asked about whether or not the previous administration sanctioned torture, he didn‘t answer directly but he said whatever legal rationales were used it was a mistake.
Is it the position of the administration that those mistakes were not crimes? Or is that up for the attorney—up to the attorney general to decide?
JARRETT: That‘s—you said it right. It‘s completely up to the attorney general. What I think he said clearly is that people who followed those directives, who were ordered to do certain things and did so accordingly, that he thinks that we should not be prosecuted but he leaves the rest of the prosecutorial decisions to the U.S. attorney.
And he thinks that our country should move forward. And he as a president should lead us into the future. We have lots of challenges, as you know, Rachel, on our plate, from the economy to fighting two wars, to health care to our dependency on foreign oil to making college affordable.
These are the issues that the American people really want the president to focus his time on. And he leaves it to his U.S. attorney to decide who should and who should not be prosecuted.
MADDOW: On issues like that, on the economy, on energy and health care and making college affordable, congressional Republicans marked the administration‘s 100th day today by giving you zero votes for the president‘s budget in the House and in the Senate. It seems pretty clear that their strategy is 100 percent opposition on big issues.
Do you think and do you hope that that will change or is it—at this point, just time to make a strategy to get things done around them?
JARRETT: No. No. We‘re not going to give up. We‘re going to roll over our sleeves. We‘re going to work with the Republican Party, we‘re going to work with everybody, because that‘s what the American people elected President Obama to do.
So, you know, he‘s very patient as he said tonight. He‘s very determined. He‘s very willing to fight on behalf of the American people. And there have been examples, Rachel, where we have had bipartisan support.
Just last week, for example, we passed the National Service Bill named after Senator Kennedy. Strong bipartisan support. And it‘s an important bill because at a time like this when our economy is suffering public service is more important than ever. Communities need to come together. Volunteerism is critical. So we were able to come together on that.
Another key piece of legislation that was passed within the first week or so of President Obama‘s administration was Lilly Ledbetter legislation to provide equal pay for women. Again, an important issue. It‘s important the women compete on a level playing field. Bipartisan support.
SCHIP legislation, providing health care for children, again, bipartisan support. So I think what we have to do is really focus on the challenges ahead. Health care is our next big challenge. And we‘re willing to really work hard to gain the support of the Republicans, the independents, everybody, because that‘s what the American people have said.
They need health care. They need it to be affordable. We have to reduce costs and we have to deliver this year on behalf of the American people. And President Obama is confident that there is a will to do so.
MADDOW: When you think about how to move people in Congress, when you think about legislative strategy, I was struck when I saw the latest NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll showing that 81 percent of Americans say they like the president personally.
I have to wonder, if you think about ways to try to use that number to bring over Republicans, even some Democrats in Congress, to try to get onboard with the president‘s agenda?
JARRETT: Well, I think what the president has done and what he committed to do in the campaign, what he‘s done since he‘s been president, is reach out. And he‘s done it in a variety of different ways. He—he‘s willing to bring people together. He wants to talk to people with whom he disagrees.
He said this morning when he was with Senator Specter, he said I‘m going to listen to you particularly when I disagree. We can learn from people with whom we have disagreements. We‘re not afraid to engage people with whom we disagree in order to forge a common ground.
And I think that what is so extraordinary about President Obama and why the American people supported him and elected him as president is that he has the ability to communicate, to engage, to listen, to learn from people with whom he doesn‘t always see eye to eye.
And that‘s what our—that‘s part of what makes our country so great. It‘s what allows us to come together and forge a brighter future. And so, yes, that personality will come in handy. It‘s his character, too. It‘s his integrity. It‘s his honesty, his candor, his courage, his willingness to reach out, his willingness to keep reaching out, even if people don‘t always reciprocate, and he does that because he‘s really fighting on behalf of the American people.
MADDOW: And yet he described as sobering today the sort of realization that it is hard to change the ways of Washington, sort of sobering politic realities of how people think about their, I guess, their own self-interest in Washington.
MADDOW: And I have to ask also just personally, how has your transition been these past 100 days? I wonder if working in the White House is actually a good job?
JARRETT: Oh, my goodness, Rachel. The most extraordinary job of my life. It is such a—you know I don‘t want to sound hokie here, but it is such a privilege to work in the White House, to serve our country.
There really is no greater honor or no greater thrill in my life than public service. And so each day when I come to work I literally pinch myself. I can‘t believe it‘s true. So my transition has been terrific. It‘s a wonderful team that President Obama has surrounded himself here in the White House as well as throughout the agencies.
A terrific Cabinet. It‘s a—it‘s just an adventure of a lifetime. It‘s challenging. It‘s rewarding. And there‘s so much hard work that lies ahead.
MADDOW: And cold toes.
JARRETT: And cold toes.
JARRETT: And cold toes. But summer‘s on the way. I love the summer and I understand that the Washington summers are something to look forward to.
MADDOW: Yes. They‘re at least sweaty. There‘s at least that.
White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, thank you so much for taking time to talk to us tonight. Appreciate it.
JARRETT: My pleasure. Good night, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Good night. Thank you.
Another question raised by the first 100 days of the Obama administration is, of course, how goes the first 100 days of the Republican Party being completely out of power in Washington, D.C.?
Republicans picked Michael Steele to be their leader, they voted no unanimously on a lot of things that passed anyway. They lost a special election in a district where there are 70,000 more Republicans than there are Democrats and they lost a very senior senator, Arlen Specter, who is now a Democrat.
Minnesota‘s lone senator Amy Klobuchar will join us to give us her take on that next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I do think that our administration has taken some steps that have restored confidence in the American people that we‘re moving in the right direction and that simply opposing our approach on every front is probably not a good political strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is about as far as the ever diplomatic President Obama will go. Being obstructionist partisan is not a good strategy for you guys.
It‘s not just his 100th day in office now. It‘s also the 100th day of the Republican Party‘s political exile. Their search for a political bottoming out from which to rebound.
How‘s that coming so far? Well, day 99 saw Arlen Specter become Democratic senator number 59.
On day 100, Senator Olympia Snowe, one of the two surviving moderate Republicans left, wrote an op-ed in the “New York Times” offering her view that her party is destroying itself by chasing everybody but staunch conservatives out, saying, quote, “There‘s no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract to into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities.
Over at a Web site called FOXnation.com, an online effort to rally anti-Obama sentiment, that Web site linked to this op-ed by Senator Snowe under a headline that read, “Don‘t Let the Door Hit You.”
In other words conservatives are delighted to see Senator Specter defect to the Democrats. They‘d be happy to see Senator Snowe leave the party as well. This is a keen example of the rarely used small tent political strategy.
Tonight President Obama welcoming Senator Specter to the Democratic Party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I do think that having Arlen Specter in the Democratic caucus will liberate him to cooperate on critical issues on health care, like infrastructure and job creation. Areas where his inclinations were to work with us but he was feeling pressure not to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Meanwhile, the “Washington Times” reports that top GOP officials are pushing a resolution that would limit Republican Party chairman Michael Steele‘s control over the party‘s spending. By the way, Michael Steele‘s control over the party‘s spending is sort of exactly the amount of power Michael Steele has in the party.
As the Republicans who try to get more Republicans elected to office have been busy kicking and being kicked out of the party today, the Republicans who actually are in office did their part as well, shoring up their complete isolation from the current practice of governing and making policy by voting in unison again to give zero Republican votes today to the budget.
Joining us now is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Senator Klobuchar, thanks so much for joining us. Nice to see you again.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: It‘s great to be on again, Rachel.
MADDOW: President Obama tonight gave some political advice to the Republican Party suggesting that it‘s not a good political move for them to just be obstructionists. Are you happy to hear him give that advice or would you sort of hope the Republicans would keep doing what they‘re doing?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, you know, I think it‘s good advice. It‘s good advice because two functioning parties and two that have their disagreements but are willing to work together is important for this democracy. So I think his advice was not pure political advice. It was also advice of let‘s get this country moving again and I am not yet ready to give up on this idea that we‘re going be able to do some things together.
The stimulus bill, you did see, three of them, now one is with our party, came over and worked with us. I think health care, Rachel, has a lot of possibilities. There‘s been a lot of bipartisan work going on already. This is no longer the politics from when the Clintons tried their health care plan.
Now you‘ve got businesses who are concerned about health care costs, businesses having trouble competing internationally, small businesses hardly able to afford health care for their employees, families struggling with affordable health care. I think that‘s one issue where you‘ll see some bipartisan work.
MADDOW: Your new colleague, Senator Specter, and he is brand new, did vote against the president‘s budget today. I wonder if Democrats in the Senate put any special you‘re-a-Democrat-now pressure on him?
KLOBUCHAR: I don‘t think so. I think his vote—he had already said how he was going to vote. I think that was expected.
You know Arlen Specter is going to be, as the president said today, he‘s an independent thinker. He‘s not going to vote lockstep with the Democratic Party or with the president. But I think on many key issues that he cares a lot about, he will be with us. And I think Senator Snowe‘s editorial was incredibly interesting because here‘s she‘s saying—I think her word was umbrella.
We need to have an umbrella that‘s big enough to include people of divergent views in the Republican Party. And I think that, hopefully, Senator Specter‘s move will push people on the Republican side to work more with this new president who clearly, as you saw today to anyone that watched him, saw that same calm, cool demeanor that really strong spine that has led us through a lot of these crises.
When he listed all the things that were thrown on his plate, from—I didn‘t think he mentioned the pirates, but from the pirates to the flu to the wars to everything that‘s been happening in North Korea and to this economy, I think that there is a lot more work to be done. He certainly isn‘t running a victory lap but we are on the right course.
MADDOW: When you look at the way that conservative groups have responded to Olympia Snowe in the way that she has spoken out in support of Arlen Specter‘s assessment of what‘s going on with the party, the way that she was attacked today, essentially told that she should leave the party today, and some conservative quarters after writing that op-ed.
Do you feel like you‘re in a position to say come on in, the water is fine?
That she should consider making the leap as well?
KLOBUCHAR: I think Senator Snowe will make her own decisions. And I think what she was saying to stepping back, someone said, let‘s look at our party and how we can improve things. Because as I said, Minnesota had a tradition years back of a very strong moderate Republican Party. And there are a number of moderate Republicans in our state.
And I‘ve always said that doesn‘t mean they always vote Republican, but what it means is that you can have discourse on issues and you can try to work together on things. And I think it‘s that kind of stability and that kind of openness and the willingness to work together that the president has been pushing.
I love that he‘s still doing it even though some of them are not that open to it. And again, being there every single day, I started my morning yesterday at a bipartisan breakfast that we do every week where we work on issues, where we can find common ground, I still think there is hope, Rachel. I still think there is hope.
MADDOW: Senator Amy Klobuchar, maintaining her optimism even as she struggles with being Minnesota‘s.
KLOBUCHAR: I‘ll wait.
MADDOW: . lone senator.
KLOBUCHAR: I‘m not struggling. It will be done soon. You know I keep giving you predictions. Remember when I said it will be done when the ice melted and—OK, now this is my last kitschy prediction.
KLOBUCHAR: When the corn is knee high on the Fourth of July.
MADDOW: When the corn.
KLOBUCHAR: And if it‘s not done by then, yes, then I‘m going to be mad. I won‘t have anymore fun—I‘ll just be really mad.
MADDOW: Then the optimism goes away, no more kitsch, just anger.
MADDOW: At that point.
KLOBUCHAR: That‘s it. That‘s what going to happen.
MADDOW: You hear that Norm Coleman? You hear that? She‘s going to be mad after the Fourth of July.
Senator Klobuchar, thank you as always. It‘s great to have you on the show.
MADDOW: All right.
KLOBUCHAR: Excellent. Thank you, Rachel.
All right. Coming up, MSNBC‘s Ed Schultz is at the White House. He‘s fresh from President Obama‘s press conference in which he sat in the front row.
And later Judge Jay Bybee. He had torture memo infamy. Finally commented on torture memos. Constitutional law professor, Jonathan Turley, will join us. Stay right there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF ZELENY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: During these first 100 days what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most about serving in this office, humbled you the most and troubled you the most?
OBAMA: Let me write this down.
OBAMA: I‘ve got the.
ZELENY: Surprise. Troubled.
OBAMA: I‘ve got the—what was the first one?
OBAMA: Enchanted. Nice.
ZELENY: And humbled.
OBAMA: And what was the last one? Humbled?
ZELENY: Humbled. Thank you, sir.
OBAMA: All right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Still writing there at the end, enchanted.
That was just Jeff Zeleny asking a four-part question for President Obama and the president‘s slightly hilariously nonchalant handling of that complicated question.
But in the course of answering actually all four parts of the question President Obama got a little more—I guess the word is chalant in answering the enchanted part. In particular, it was clearly a very reflective moment and it appeared, at least on television, to be a spontaneously emotional moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Enchanted. Enchanted. I will tell you that when I meet our service men and women, enchanted is probably not the word I would use.
But I am so profoundly impressed and grateful to them for what they do. They‘re really good at their job. They are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices on our behalf. They do so without complaint.
They are fiercely loyal to this country and the more I interact with our service men and women from the top brass down to the lowliest private, I‘m just—I‘m grateful to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: MSNBC‘s Ed Shultz is the host of “THE ED SHOW” and he was right there in the front row tonight at the press conference.
Ed, it is good to see you. Thanks for taking the time.
ED SCHULTZ, HOST, “THE ED SHOW”: It‘s great to be on with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you that—about that moment that we just replayed there. How did that moment play in the room? In the room that I‘m in it, watching on television, it played as really emotional.
SCHULTZ: I will tell you, Rachel, the entire room was absolutely captivated, on the edge of their seat waiting for the president to finish that response because it was such a moment of genuine personality and real feel.
This president has a tremendous way of communicating. And I think that tonight he expressed himself in a manner that maybe we haven‘t seen before, because he wanted to maybe let his guard down a little bit and show the American people—you know, he‘s been affected by the great Americans he has met that‘s been serving in the military. They have a very profound effect on him.
I think his appreciation for the service to the country by the military personnel is different than maybe it was a year ago. And that‘s what I took from it.
I also took that this is the same guy that was at the first press conference and the second press conference. He‘s very poised. He‘s a quick study. He knows the issues.
And I like the way he answers the questions from the standpoint, he leaves almost no stone unturned. He genuinely wants to make sure that he gives the reporters an answer. I thought he hit it out of the park tonight.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: In terms of his demeanor, I thought that he showed the most humor and sort of the most spirit, even the most fire maybe, when he was talking about he didn‘t want to be meddling in the private sector. He didn‘t want to be running banks and car companies. I wonder if you felt like he was talking to his critics on the right there.
SCHULTZ: Well, he might have been. But I think he really wanted to genuinely show the American people tonight, look, he didn‘t—you know, first of all, he was surprised about all the big problems that are there. In fact, he talked about when he first got into the race, you know, it was two wars, it was what‘s going on in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then it just got bigger and bigger and bigger, and he was surprised by that.
But to your point, I think the president really feels that he is gaining momentum in this job, that he is getting better. There is a real quiet confidence about this man. And part of that confidence is, he wants to see other people succeed.
He wants to see a lot of things happening. He thinks he can take on a lot of things. In fact, he even joked about that tonight that people have criticized him for trying to take on too much.
But not running the banks and not running the automobile industry, I thought it was a direct message to his critics. I think you‘re right on that, because we all hear—all this talk about big government and with markets very tight as far as credit is concerned, we‘re all wondering when that‘s going to loosen up. The president said it tonight—he does not want to run the auto industry and he doesn‘t want to own banks and that maybe another problem with the stress tests that are coming out.
MADDOW: One last politics question for you, Ed. Did you—did you feel like the president shifted his position at all tonight on the issue of bipartisanship? I mean, since the last press conference, there is one new Democrat in the Senate, Al Franken is probably that much closer to being seated .
MADDOW: . and becoming the 60th seat. Did you hear any inflection on how to work with Republicans?
SCHULTZ: Well, you know, that‘s an interesting question, Rachel, because this president, again, showed who he is tonight in a very consistent manner. Even with the defection of Arlen Specter, it‘s not going to change Barack Obama‘s position when it comes to dealing with people and debate and listening to other opinions.
I guess I could put it this way—that he doesn‘t appear to be a leader of the free world that‘s going to politically overplay his hand. It‘s not in his makeup. He understands how important debate is. He understands how important all opinions are and he‘s going to respect them.
And so, I think that—in other words, he didn‘t come out and say, “Hey, we are going single payer. We are going to change a lot of things in health care because we got another vote. And who knows we might get a few more.” He is very even-handed in the way he wants to run this country and have the debate open and very respectable, which is truly a change.
MADDOW: MSNBC‘s own Ed Schultz, host of “THE ED SHOW”—Ed, you‘ve been doing a great job at 6:00 Eastern. Keep it up. Thanks to your time tonight.
SCHULTZ: Thank you, Rachel. Great to be on with you.
MADDOW: All right. Coming up: Probably the major headlines from the president‘s third primetime press conference with things like torture and state secrets. A lot of the stuff I really want to hear Jonathan Turley‘s take on. Luckily, Jonathan Turley joins us next.
MADDOW: On the occasion of President Obama‘s 100th day of office, we offer up a special 100 days without torture edition of our ongoing series “Scrub, Rinse, Repeat.”
Like George W. Bush before him, one of the major themes of President Obama‘s first 100 days in office was reversing things, cleaning up after things done by the previous president.
For George W. Bush, that meant things like undoing a Clinton era rule that restricted how much arsenic we could have in our drinking water. It meant backing us out of Kyoto Treaty on global warming. It meant cutting Clinton era funding for research on energy conservation.
For President Obama, it has meant a bunch of policy changes on things like global warming, green lighting stem cell research, overturning a Bush era court ruling on equal pay discrimination. But so far, the most contentious post-Bush cleanup operations have involved the Constitution and national security.
In his first week in office, Obama banned torture, established new rules for interrogations, ordered that Guantanamo be closed within a year, and ordered the shuttering of the CIA‘s network of secret persons. He also allowed the declassification of a number of Bush era documents which show just how bad and how top down organized the Bush torture program was. Now, Obama is stuck with the question of how to deal with the Bush era officials who devised and implemented that program.
Here is how he addressed the issue of banning torture tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: I am absolutely convinced it was
the right thing to do, not because there might not have been information
that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this
treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways
in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: People being subjected to these techniques did give us some information? Did yield some information it‘s just that we could have gotten it through other means? Even though the torture program was reverse-engineered from a Chinese program to produce false confessions? That is new language coming from the president and it is unclear how it will affect the issue of investigations and prosecutions of Bush era official.
Meanwhile today, one former Bush official, a torture memo author, Judge Jay Bybee broke his silence on the issue. He issued a statement to “The New York Times” defending his work. He said, quote, “The legal question was and is difficult. And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.”
Judge Bybee is saying, in other words, it was an honest effort, and a good faith analysis because one way Judge Bybee could be impeached, disbarred and/or convicted for writing those torture memos is if proven that his legal reasoning in those memos was not just laughably bad law but that it was made up in order to come to a conclusion that policymakers had told him to come to.
You know, the other way he could be impeached, disbarred and/or convicted would be to just charge him with conspiracy to commit torture. That could actually work for everyone involved in the torture program, right at the very top. Since Judge Bybee seems suddenly chatty about the whole torture memo thing, Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, chair of the judiciary committee, took it upon himself today to cordially invite Judge Bybee to share his thoughts with his potential impeachment jury via testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
We checked with Senator Leahy‘s office this afternoon, so far no RSVP from Judge Bybee and the senator‘s office is, so far, not saying whether a less polite, more subpoena-like invitation could be following.
Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School—Jon, thank you so much for coming on the show.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV. LAW SCHOOL: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, the president tonight would not explicitly say that the Bush administration sanctioned torture. What does that say to you about where the possibility of investigations and prosecutions is at?
TURLEY: Well, it‘s obviously disturbing to hear torture still referred to by the president as a technique. It‘s like saying bank robbery is a technique for withdrawing money from a bank. It‘s not a technique. It‘s a crime. And in the law, it‘s very important to call things as they are.
And I think that the president, in calling it a technique and a mistake, is really shocking many people around the world. There‘s—if there is one thing that you should be able to call for what it is consistently, it is torture. Now, I do think that, ultimately, this question will be left to Eric Holder and he will have to decide whether there will be a special prosecutor which, in my view, is absolutely essential, but most importantly, whether they will investigate.
The clock is ticking, and as it ticks away our credibility because of this delay. A lot of the world is going to get more uncomfortable with our commitment to our treaty obligations.
MADDOW: Valerie Jarrett suggested earlier this hour on this show that it would be up to Eric Holder to make those decisions about whether or not there are going to be further criminal investigations and potential prosecutions as the administration has said. But she reiterated what we heard from the president tonight, the sort of inkling—that, yes, we got useful information via torture. It‘s just a problem that we might have been able to get it through other means that we‘re torture.
Does it seem strange to you that they might be sort of going down that path that Dick Cheney started by talking about the efficacy of these things as interrogation techniques?
TURLEY: Well, that‘s what is so strange about the Obama administration. There are very clear lines of principle here, very clear lines of law. The idea or the notion that torture works is expressly rejected in treaties that we have signed, in cases that we have prosecuted. It does not matter what is yielded in torture.
And it‘s also not a decision for the president. It‘s not—you know, whether he feels it‘s the right decision or wrong decision, it‘s not his decision to make. It‘s a crime. It‘s a war crime for which we have prosecuted people for decades.
And so, this whole, you know, engagement of this question is really disturbing. Because the idea is that, you know, you could have a local sheriff who said, “Yes, we beat the suspect.” But he ended up showing us where the evidence was. Well, you know, that “Dirty Harry” approach to the law is for the movies, it‘s not for the White House.
MADDOW: Jonathan, did you already know that the Obama legal folks, that Greg Craig and the White House, and that Eric Holder at the Justice Department were working on trying to narrow the state secrets provision to make it less broad or was that a surprise when you heard the president say that tonight?
TURLEY: That was a surprised. We had—we knew—many of us knew that there were people in the administration—I talked to some of them—who understand the abuses of the state secrets program. What I did not understand was the president saying, “Well, we had to pull the trigger on these cases because they came up a week after we came into office.”
There‘s not a court in this land that would give the administration more time to hammer out its position on state secrets, and there‘s not an attorney, including myself, who legislates on this field, that would not give the administration plenty of time if they said they were examining it.
The performance so far by the Obama administration is extremely disappointing and dangerous. In some cases, they went beyond where President Bush was in these filings.
MADDOW: We‘re going to need some more information from the administration on that. The timing issue did seem strange particularly hearing it from the president directly as the explanation for why they needed to file the way they did, even though they are reviewing it. And, of course, we need to know more about they‘re thinking about where they want to end up on that issue. I think that‘s all going to be a hard day‘s work tomorrow.
Jonathan Turley, constitutional law professor at George Washington University Law School—thanks so much for joining us.
TURLEY: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Next: Melissa Harris-Lacewell joins us to review the ground of the first—that the first African-American president has covered in his first 100 days. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Every step we‘re taking is designed to help all people. But folks who are most vulnerable are most likely to be helped because they need the most help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Asked at a previous press conference—you might remember
about the historic significance of him becoming the first African-American president, Barack Obama replied that that tide of good feeling lasted about a day before everybody just wanted him to get down to business. And if you‘ll recall, January 20th, it might not have been a whole day before the issue, the topic, the celebration, the fact of his race receded behind our current series of mega-crises.
That said, on Monday, “The New York Times” reported that the number of African-Americans who viewed race relations in America as generally good has doubled since last July. In the estimation of our friend, Princeton politics professor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, quote, “African-Americans are feeling racially optimistic because they respect how our first brother president is handling his business.”
Putting aside for the moment how funny it is to hear me say the word “brother” when I‘m talking about neither a typewriter nor my actual sibling, this is a conversation I have been looking forward to having with our next guest, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton—Melissa, thanks for joining us.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIV. POLITICAL SCIENCE PROF.:
MADDOW: Is there a racial equality implication of day 100 of the Obama presidency that is different than what it was on day one?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: There is. I mean, as I pointed out in the piece I wrote for “The Nation,” and we‘re not really supposed to say this, but African-Americans are pretty excited that nobody has shot at Barack Obama in the past 100 days.
MADDOW: Oh, my God.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: And I know we‘re really not supposed to say that. But I do want to point out that in this country, it has been pretty standard practice from the period of enslavement through Jim Crow and lynching, that, in fact, African-Americans who achieve at the level that Barack Obama has achieved have often been subject to violence. So, it‘s a new day in America that the guy is still giving press conferences 100 days later.
MADDOW: That said, you will—you have to admit, that‘s a bit of a low bar for success—still kicking.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: It is a low bar. But this is maybe the point about where we were in America when we elected Barack Obama. Part of what was exciting about electing your first African-American president less than four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and really reopened the racial question in America, is that at that moment in August of 2005, I don‘t think we would have thought it was possible that we would have elected the first black president in the next presidential election cycle.
So, although the bar is low, it‘s also sort of a stunning turnaround in how black Americans are feeling about our sense of ownership of this country.
MADDOW: When you look at the really high approval ratings for Obama in his 100 days among African-Americans, I wonder if you think that there are certain things that African-Americans are appreciating about how Obama is doing as president that aren‘t resonating in the same way for non-African-Americans—not just the way he‘s being received, but the way he‘s acting, the way he‘s governing.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Sure. I mean, you know, I—there is—there‘s a lot of multiplicity of viewpoints and opinions within the African-American community. So, even though you see very high approval ratings, you also see tough folks—like that question tonight, what are you doing specifically for black men‘s unemployment? So, there‘s a push and pull.
But I do think African-Americans appreciate the kind of candor and transparency with which Barack Obama is governing. There‘s also a kind of stylistic part of the whole Obama family that on the one hand is a little Cliff Huxtable, but on the other hand, he does things like shoot pirates and fire the head of G.M. So, that‘s really like, you know, almost street guy (ph) gangster. I mean, so he‘s got these multiple elements of blackness operating in ways that I think are very familiar to African-Americans.
MADDOW: Melissa Harris-Lacewell from Princeton University—it is always great to have you on the show. Thank you so much.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: It‘s always fun to be here.
MADDOW: All right. So just how much can really change in 100 days? Our special 100 days retrospective bureau chief, Kent Jones, will take a very special look back—next.
MADDOW: With his proud if slightly wacky perspective on this presidential anniversary, we now present our special 100 days retrospective bureau chief, Kent Jones.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hello, Rachel
JONES: You know, I have been doing a lot of thinking about this.
And I hope this piece expresses my feelings about this very special day.
JONES (voice-over): It was a time of hope and anxiety and change. How many of us remember what America was like 100 days ago? A gallon of gas cost $1.84, a loaf of bread $1.40, a ShamWow costs $19.95 – while supplies last. It was a simpler time.
One hundred days ago, everyone was connected to the Internet and spent their time on Twitter—even at work. OK—especially at work.
Movies were popular, one favorite was called “Twilight,” the story f a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire, and then they don‘t have sex.
And America loved following the antics of their favorite comedians.
But the biggest event 100 days ago was when the former senator from Illinois, Barack Hussein Obama, was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.
One hundred days ago, America was in hard times economically. President Obama responded to the crisis by shoring up the banks, the auto industry, and by passing a sweeping economic stimulus package. Eager to help, Republicans responded to the crisis by calling Obama socialist—and a fascist, and a Marxist. Undone by Obama‘s popularity, the Republican Party attempted to regain its majority by trying out new leaders.
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: You‘ve no reason, none, to trust our words or our actions.
DICK CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We‘re the bad guys.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, ® MINNESOTA: We have to fight for our freedom and the future of our country.
CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS CALIFORNIA: We live in a land that you can choose same sex marriage or opposite marriage.
GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® ALASKA: Future of America bumper sticker, Piper Palin for president, 2044.
JOE WURZELBACHER, JOE THE PLUMBER: You know what to do! Vote now!
JONES: Getting good, isn‘t it?
MADDOW: Spectacular, Kent.
JONES: Yes, thank you.
MADDOW: And, you know, the Miss California opposite marriage lady .
MADDOW: Do you remember the anti-gay marriage group that was doing 2M4M, “2 Million for Marriage,” which is an awkward (INAUDIBLE) that I‘d referenced?
MADDOW: She‘s actually going to do ads for them now?
JONES: Oh, fantastic.
MADDOW: I know.
JONES: It‘s just—deeper and deeper.
MADDOW: It‘s going to be rich for us. Also, Michele Bachmann, apparently this week I heard this on “COUNTDOWN” tonight—talked about the “Hoot-Smalley” tariffs having been very dangerous during the Depression.
JONES: A little .
MADDOW: Thank you so much, Kent. That was lovely. Thank you.
KENT: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Thank you at home for watching tonight. A special live edition of “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now. Have a great night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>