The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/18/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you at home for tuning in.
Robert Draper, who did write the Donald Rumsfeld story that is just out in “GQ,” will be here in just a moment. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson will also be here this hour to defend himself against the criticisms he is facing for speaking out about Dick Cheney.
Republicans may be way overreaching on Nancy Pelosi, Texas Governor Rick Perry tries to reach back on the issue of secession, and we have the highlights of “Eurovision 2009” which is far worse, far better and far more hilarious than “American Idol.”
That is all coming up.
But we begin tonight with a dramatic development concerning the survivors of the upper echelons of the Bush administration—a select group of senior former administration officials who are fast devolving into an eat or be eaten “Donner Party,” dividing into the few who defend the administration and its record, and the increasing number who have gone on the attack either against the administration as a whole or against specific high-profile members of the Bush administration.
One very senior, very high-profile member of the administration who before now had stayed beyond the fray was Donald Rumsfeld. Now, in the latest issue of “GQ” magazine, Mr. Rumsfeld is torn to shreds by his former colleagues. “GQ” correspondent Robert Draper interviewed more than a hundred—excuse me—more than a dozen high-ranking sources he describes as Bush loyalists—including cabinet level officials and military officers—who essentially blame Rumsfeld for some of the worst mistakes of the Bush years.
Take for example, Fran Townsend, assistant to President Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism. Now, Mr. Rumsfeld‘s disdain for Fran was well known inside the administration. But that personal disdain boiled over into a mess for a whole swath of the country in September 2005 as hurricane Rita was in the process of battering the great state of Texas.
Townsend got word that the Texas governor was willing to cede to the federal government control over the Texas National Guard for the hurricane response. That was huge news, very important to the response to the hurricane at the time. And so, Townsend tried to get ahold of Donald Rumsfeld.
What happened next? It‘s harder to explain actually than it is to show. Do you mind if we do a little re-enactment starring THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW players?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (as fake Fran Townsend): Secretary Rumsfeld, please.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (as fake Rumsfeld aide): The secretary and Mrs.
Rumsfeld are at an event.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (as fake Fran Townsend): Put me into his detail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (as fake Rumsfeld security agent): The secretary will talk to you after the event.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (as fake Andy Card, White House chief of staff):
Rumsfeld just called. What is it you need?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (as fake Fran Townsend): I want to know if the president knows what a (BLEEP) Don Rumsfeld is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (as fake Andy Card): It isn‘t you, Fran. He treats Condi the same way. Me, too. He‘s always telling me I‘m the worst chief of staff ever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the Donald Rumsfeld that administration officials knew. Special thanks to THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff for reenactment duties above and beyond the call.
All right. Here‘s another example of Rumsfeld‘s contributions to the nation in his time as defense secretary. Shortly after 9/11, President Bush used religious language to describe the struggle that the U.S. was engaged in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You can see the look on Laura‘s face there. He says, “This crusade,” and she goes—I don‘t think he‘s supposed to say that. This crusade. Yes.
Now, although Rumsfeld himself wasn‘t particularly, demonstratively religious, Rumsfeld took that crusade idea and ran with it. He began presenting the war as a crusade in his daily intelligence briefings. The secretary of defense‘s worldwide intelligence update—which was presented to the president in a very small group of high-ranking officials every day.
This, for example, was the cover page from April 11th, 2003. It features a picture of a group of soldiers praying underneath the biblical verse, “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually.” From April 8th, 2003, a picture of Baghdad‘s Hands of Victory arch with the biblical caption, “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.” And from April 1st, here‘s a soldier on patrol outside Baghdad with the caption, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.”
Those cover pages, which were only distributed to a dozen or so senior officials were passed on to Robert Draper and now grace the pages of his report in “GQ” magazine. They may have been the fast way to the heart of the president, who loved to quote the Bible. Imagine the implications if those had leaked to the press at the time.
Joining us now is Robert Draper. He‘s a journalist and correspondent for “GQ” magazine. He‘s also author of the book “Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush.”
Mr. Draper, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
ROBERT DRAPER, GQ MAGAZINE CORRESPONDENT: A pleasure to be on, Rachel.
MADDOW: First of all, those intelligence briefings, these cover sheets we just showed, those were only circulated to about a dozen senior Bush administration officials. So, am I right in inferring that whoever saved these all this time and passed them on to you has to be a pretty senior level official?
DRAPER: If I told you who it was, I‘d never eat lunch in this town again. So, I can‘t say. What I can tell you is that it wasn‘t an individual who is a so-called disgruntled ex-employee or who is marginalized by Rumsfeld. It was not an individual who had a particular bone, in that regard, to pick.
MADDOW: You do describe your sources for this piece as Bush loyalists. And you had incredibly high place sources, including many interviews with the president himself with the biography that you did of the president. This is, in fact, a comparatively flattering portrait of Bush when you compare him to Rumsfeld. His worst failing sort of in this telling is that he didn‘t fire Donald Rumsfeld.
Do you think that there is an agenda among Bush loyalists to sort of shove some of the blame for the administration‘s failings onto Rumsfeld?
DRAPER: No, it‘s a fair question to ask and any journalist has to do what they can to divine the motives of the people who are giving them information. But the people that talked to me, a lot of them didn‘t exactly like Rumsfeld. And I think this is a particularly salient issue because Rumsfeld incurred—had a facility for incurring so much enmity with the people.
Nonetheless, I think, these people were not preoccupied with their own legacy. They were preoccupied with the president‘s legacy, and their concern was that Rumsfeld, far from aiding and abetting that legacy, had undermined it.
MADDOW: One of the things that you document in this article is a major role for Donald Rumsfeld during Hurricane Katrina. Can you describe what your sources told you about his role in the response to Katrina?
DRAPER: Sure. Basically, what it came down to was this—that in the days following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and particularly when there began to be this perception that New Orleans was in a lawless state, a perception that to some degree was unfounded by which nonetheless was a perception held by relief workers, bus drivers who were afraid to come into the city, there was a real human cry among members of the administration to get boots on the ground in New Orleans, to get active duty troops specifically to supplement the 50,000 or so National Guard troops who were there.
Rumsfeld resisted this. He did not want to commit troop there and he threw up road blocks wherever possible.
As one official explained it to me, even though the president kept asking questions, “Don, how we can do this,” it was as if that Rumsfeld was demanding that Bush find the right key to put in the keyhole, the right question to ask, and it ultimately got to a point where the president pretty much had to demand by Saturday—several days after landfall—for Rumsfeld to bring in troops. But it was a lot of obstructions that Rumsfeld was throwing up and it was quite unusual.
It appeared at that time that was clearly a domestic crisis. When the administration needed all hands on deck, Rumsfeld was not there.
MADDOW: One of the things that is sort of the legacy of the Bush administration around the issue of the Pentagon is how the Pentagon, especially under Donald Rumsfeld, sort of grew to take over so many other previously civilian functions of government. And so, we think of Donald Rumsfeld as this bureaucratic expansionist, sort of taking over everything, sidelining agencies outside the Pentagon, building parallel structures within the Pentagon to duplicate the work of other agencies.
That‘s hard to square with that view of him during Katrina, in which he was essentially shirking Department of Defense responsibility and hoping somebody else would deal with it.
DRAPER: I think, maybe to be charitable to the secretary, his point of view was that the Pentagon, the military had a particular role and others should not encroach on that role.
We have to remember, of course, that there were two wars being waged during this time and he was very hesitant to provide troops for a domestic situation. Nonetheless, it was one in which they were clearly needed, according to members of the administration. The president felt that way himself.
And he didn‘t—you know, he didn‘t come out and say, “Mr. President, I think it‘s wrong for us to commit troops,” he just simply threw up road blocks and gave one explanation after the next, which a number of individuals viewed as tantamount to giving the president the Heisman.
MADDOW: In terms of what will happen next and why this is happening now, do you expect Donald Rumsfeld to sort of come out publicly and defend himself now, the way that the former Vice President Dick Cheney has?
DRAPER: Well, he‘s working on his book now, Rachel, and I expect that he‘s going to devote his attention to that. There had been a concern among a lot of people in the administration, including the president, that the secretary‘s book would be a score-settling kind of book and perhaps this will give him more of an impetus to do so.
There already have been some members of the secretary‘s team who, in op-eds, have defended his legacy and I expect that they will do so. But I don‘t think that—I mean, this is legacy-building season right now, Rachel. So, I mean, it‘s—there are a variety of people who, be it in the Pentagon or in the State Department, have book contracts and are doing what they can to write the first draft of the history of this presidency. Rumsfeld will be doing the same thing, but I don‘t expect him to be full-throated until the book comes out.
MADDOW: And did I catch you right in saying, though, that the president himself, George W. Bush himself, is concerned about whether or not Rumsfeld is going to be settling some scores on that book?
DRAPER: Not with him. The president had told me during one of my interviews with him for my book that he was concerned that Rumsfeld would go after other individuals and he hoped that that were not the case. But the president felt like he would be, more or less, immune, that he stuck his neck out for the secretary, kept him on indeed far longer than many, many aides in the West Wing had recommended that Rumsfeld be kept on. So, the president is certainly not worried for himself.
MADDOW: Well, I think that after this article, after the publication of this article, I think, a lot of people are saying this as now Bush camp v. Rumsfeld camp. So, we‘ll see if that calculation still holds.
Robert Draper, journalist, correspondent for “CQ” magazine, with impeccable sourcing on this stuff—thank you so much for your time tonight.
DRAPER: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: In just a moment, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson will be joining us to respond to attacks on him this weekend now coming from the entire Cheney family. And the attacks by Republicans on Nancy Pelosi on the torture issue have started to backfire.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Two and a half months ago, Senator Pat Leahy appeared on this show to tell his proposal for a truth commission on torture. And then, the idea sort of petered out. Washington just didn‘t seem to have the stomach for a big investigation. Now, the truth commission idea is back, thanks to the Republicans.
When the Obama administration decided to declassify Bush era documents about torture—that got Bush administration officials on the defensive, and Republicans decided to change their strategy. They abandoned their previous defense on the torture issue which was, “We never tortured no one, it never happened.” Their new tact is that there was torture and it was a crime, but Nancy Pelosi was an accomplice to that crime. If this were a Bugs Bunny cartoon, this would be the point when the coyote had sprinted off the end of the cliff and was hanging there for a second in midair before—poof!
I asked Nancy Pelosi back in February whether or not she was told in 2002 that techniques like waterboarding were being used on prisoners. She told me then and she maintains now that she was never told waterboarding had already been used dozens of time on a prisoner named Abu Zubaydah.
The CIA‘s records say that she was told that waterboarding had been used. Pelosi says those are not accurate. And the Republicans see a disagreement like that the same way that a bass sees a shiny, shiny, shiny, glinting piece of metal spinning through the lake. Never mind the big hook.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER HOEKSTRA, ® MICHIGAN: She made some outrageous accusations last week where she said that the CIA lied to her.
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: Nancy Pelosi has stepped in it big time. You have the speaker of the House who said that she wasn‘t told, she didn‘t have a clue, and in fact, the evidence contradicts that.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, ® HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think she ought to apologize to our intelligence professionals around the world.
NEWT GINGRICH, ® FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I‘ve seen in my lifetime. I think she‘s lied to the House, and I think that the House has an absolute obligation to open an inquiry, and I hope there will be resolution to investigate her. And I think this is a big deal. I don‘t think the speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If that‘s not over the top enough for you, Mike Huckabee went so far as to compose a seven stanza poem, a rhyming poem about how excited he is by this Nancy Pelosi-torture angle. I am not kidding—seven stanzas.
Republicans love this bait. Here‘s the hook. And it is barbed. CIA Director Leon Panetta attached a cover sheet to the initial documents that got the Republicans so excited—a cover sheet that told the House Intelligence Committee that although the documents represented the CIA‘s best recollections of what happened in those briefings, quote, “In the end, the House Intelligence Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened.”
Panetta then sent a follow-up letter to CIA employees, saying that while the CIA thinks the records are accurate, quote, “Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.” In other words, the CIA says it can‘t really vouch for the accuracy of its records. And if Congress thinks something else happened at those briefings, maybe it did. Maybe Nancy Pelosi is right.
And then there‘s Florida Senator Bob Graham, who was in on many of the same types of briefings that Pelosi was. The CIA‘s records show four occasions on which they say they briefed Mr. Graham on detainee issues. But Senator Graham‘s own meticulous notes show that three of those four days, those briefings didn‘t happen. So, the CIA‘s records maybe aren‘t so accurate.
Ultimately, the Republicans attacking Nancy Pelosi as an accomplice to torture concedes that torture took place, and by attacking her recollection of the details of what happened back in 2002 – details she feels pretty sure about—they have added their own voices and hers to the now swelling chorus calling for a full, complete, unedited disclosure on torturer. When, where, and how it was done, who authorized it, who knew about it and who carried it out. Paging Senator Leahy, your idea is back in fashion, thanks to the Republican Party.
Joining us now is Greg Sargent, who reports and writes “The Plum Line” blog at WhoRunsGov.com.
Greg, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
GREG SARGENT, WHORUNSGOV.COM: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: We are seeing real unity from Republicans on the Pelosi issue. They seem to see attacking her on the torture issue as a political winner. Is that your assessment?
SARGENT: Well, I mean, I guess we have to keep in mind that any kind of Republican unity is a victory, given what we‘ve seen in the past few weeks from the leadership of the party. I mean, it does take the spotlight off the squabbling among Republican leaders about the direction of the party and it focuses on a lightning rod for the right. So, in that sense, it probably rallies the demoralized base in a way that few other things could.
MADDOW: Greg, in terms of the facts here and the allegations on both sides, when Michael Steele goes on the Sunday shows and says that the evidence contradicts what Pelosi has said about how she was briefed—is that actually true?
SARGENT: Well, I guess we should consider the fact that three Democrats—senior Democrats are all on records saying, contesting the CIA‘s version of what they told these Democrats: Bob Graham, Jay Rockefeller and, of course, Pelosi. The CIA itself, as you pointed out, has said very clearly, numerous times that they are not willing to vouch for the—to take overall responsibility for the accuracy of their depiction of what happened.
And by the way, there‘s a development that hasn‘t really been focused on, but it‘s very important. On FOX over the weekend, Pete Hoekstra, who‘s been pursuing the notes and memos that supposedly will prove that Pelosi was briefed on torture, he said clearly on FOX that he had looked at those and that they wouldn‘t provide a clear picture of what actually happened, and said that there are still other CIA documents out there that have to be obtained in order to establish this.
So, you know, it‘s Steele reading from this—several lines from the chart that the CIA drew up, versus three Democrats, the CIA‘s own concession that the material might not be accurate, and Hoekstra‘s claim that even the notes and memos don‘t prove what supposedly they‘re supposed to prove. So, you know, not looking good.
MADDOW: That means that as they continue to press this—press this allegation against Pelosi, because I think you‘re right that they do see some short-term political gain in hitting her—they see her as a very soft target—as they continue to pressure this .
MADDOW: . pressure her on this, it makes it more likely that there will be more disclosures and those disclosures, it seems, are likely to help her. I mean, she certainly seems very confident that when those documents come out, they will help her side of the story, doesn‘t she?
SARGENT: Well, I mean, you know, one of the facts that just seems to have disappeared from this debate is that Pelosi has said over and over that she wants the documents released. Now, you know—so she supports the release of documents that will prove that she was complicit in torture, not clear.
MADDOW: How does Bob Graham factor into this in a continuing way, Greg—in a continuing way? I know that you did the first interview with him sort of trying to corroborate the briefing story.
SARGENT: I mean, one interesting thing about the Graham stuff is that
keep in mind the timeline of this. The terror suspect had been waterboarded, supposedly, more than 83 times in August of 2002. In September of 2002, Pelosi, early in the month, and then Graham, later in the month, was briefed about this.
Now, imagine if Graham had been told—you know, given a clear sense of the extent of the torture briefing, the torture that had happened—imagine if he had been told something roughly to the effect that the suspect had been waterboarded, you know, four score times or, you know, multiple times. It seems like something he‘d remember.
You know, obviously, we didn‘t—none of us were in the room, no one really knows what was said, but these seem like facts that belong in the debate to me.
MADDOW: Greg Sargent, writer of “The Plum Line” blog at WhoRunsGov.com—thanks for your time tonight, Greg. Appreciate it.
SARGENT: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: After appearing on this show on Tuesday night, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, wrote that torture was used to find excuses to justify the invasion of Iraq. Colonel Wilkerson is here again tonight—already being buffeted by the backlash from his former colleagues inside the Bush administration. This is an issue that is not going away.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson has become a target of the small-but-loud Dick Cheney defense team. Coming up, the colonel will be here to respond to the response to him.
Plus, Texas Governor Rick Perry tries to walk back his comments about secession. And our friend, Ana Marie Cox, has a near-death experience and is saved but an unlikely famous rescuer. That is all coming up.
But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
Four months ago, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 took off from New York‘s LaGuardia Airport and almost immediately ran into a flock of Canada geese which knocked out both engines. The pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was able to safely land the plane in the Hudson River without a single serious injury or death. But as lucky as those passengers were that unforgettable day, they were still passengers—meaning that they had their personal items stowed in the overhead compartment or below the seat in front of them. And the plane had a cargo hold full of luggage.
The 150 passengers aboard Flight 1549 are now, four months later, starting to get their luggage back—and they are noticing some odd circumstances. For example, while passengers have received plastic bags of coins from their wallets, many have reported that their paper money is missing. British pound notes, also paper money, have showed up, but the American money, so far—poof.
Another passenger reports that his clothes shrunk so much that they can fit his 9-year-old grandson now. Of course, those items are not the most perplexing things to have arrived in the mail for passengers of Flight 1549, that distinction belongs to the contract sent out by U.S. Airways‘ insurance company, AIG. AIG is offering passengers on Flight 1549 $10,000 apiece if they agree to not sue the airline. I know there‘s a bailout joke in there somewhere.
Finally, the 20th president of the United States, James Garfield, did not have an easy time of it. He was only in office four months before he was shot by a disgruntled office-seeker. Two months later, after some spectacularly unsanitary medical care, President Garfield died. Adding insult to injury, they keep some of his ribs and his spine at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C.
That said, Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, is proud to have had James Garfield as both an alumnus and as a president of the school. And on Thursday of last week, they dedicated an old statue of Garfield that a school trustee picked up at an auction. That was on Thursday. On Friday, commencement day at Hiram, someone removed James Garfield‘s head.
Fair warning, if you choose to seek out more information on this news story by say, Google News, searching the phrase statue beheaded, you will need to spend some time narrowing your query. I learned the hard way today that statues get beheaded all the time. For example, just last week, a German court fined a man $1,200 for lopping off the head of the wax statue of Hitler at the Berlin branch of Madame Tussauds.
Last month, the statue of the Virgin Mary lost her head in Santa Monica, on Easter Sunday no less. Police are investigating that one as a hate crime. The week before that, the statue of India‘s first prime minister, Nehru, got his head cut off at the India House in London. Two days before that, someone cut off Ringo Starr‘s head in Liverpool. That was not technically a statue, it was the Beatles in topiary - “the fab foliage.” They called it “Thicket to Ride.” Someone took off Ringo‘s with a hedge trimmer.
The week before that, a slew of statue beheadings in Bridgeton in Southern New Jersey, at least three of them, plus some other miscellaneous statue assaulting.
A couple of years ago, it was the statue of George Washington at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. Someone left a dollar bill with the picture of George Washington cut out of it on the neck of the statue where the head used to be.
I don‘t think any these things are related, but it does make me wonder if there is some central place where all the statue heads end up.
MADDOW: Did the bush administration use torture to try to obtain false confessions about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda that did not exist in order to justify the war with Iraq? It is a charge that is gaining attention and credibility.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell‘s former chief-of-staff, was on this show next week. He will join us again in just a moment. He wrote last week in “The Washington Note” that Vice President Cheney‘s office, quote, “ordered torture to find justification for the invasion of Iraq.”
Wilkerson is backed up by recent reports. On April 21st, “McClatchy Newspapers” reported that an anonymous former senior U.S. intelligence official said, quote, “Extreme methods were used to establish the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq.”
Last week on this show, former NBC news investigator producer Bob Windrem reported that Vice President Cheney‘s office suggested an Iraqi intelligence officer be waterboarded in Iraq to try to prove the connection the White House wanted.
Charles Duelfer, the Iraq weapons inspector also said on this program that Washington urged the use of aggressive techniques to try to establish an Iraq-al-Qaeda connection.
And Maj. Paul Burney, an army psychiatrist who was present at some interrogations, testified to the Army Inspector General‘s Office in 2006 that, quote, “We were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link, there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”
But it is Col. Wilkerson‘s comments that have brought on the Republican pushback, “The Weekly Standard” alleging that, quote, “It is doubtful that any part of Wilkerson‘s story is true.”
And Liz Cheney, on ABC this weekend, pausing to attack - paused to attack Mr. Wilkerson in the midst of her defense of the man she calls the vice president, who was also known as her dad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIZ CHENEY, DAUGHTER OF FMR. VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: You‘ve also got to look at the source of some of these allegations. And one of the big sources is, you know, col. Wilkerson. Now, Col. Wilkerson gets coverage because of his associations with Gen. Powell …
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Former chief-of-staff -
L. CHENEY: … and has made a cottage industry out of, you know, fantasies about the vice president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he‘s not -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Col. Wilkerson, it is great to have you back on the show. Thanks for joining us.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FORMER CHIEF-OF-STAFF TO SEC. OF STATE COLIN
POWELL: Good to be here.
MADDOW: I have to ask your reaction, first of all, to Liz Cheney attacking you in the way that she did yesterday morning on ABC.
WILKERSON: Rachel, I don‘t pay a lot of attention to Liz Cheney. Her bona fides are that she‘s the vice president‘s daughter just as her bona fide is when she was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the Secretary of State‘s Office for Middle Eastern Affairs, or that she was the daughter of the Vice President, meaning that for Dick Cheney, nepotism was alive and well in his government.
MADDOW: Well, you - as you‘ve gotten this pushback from Liz Cheney and from others, let‘s get specific about your accusation and the way that it‘s being taken apart. You wrote, quote, the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002.”
“Its principle priority,” you said, “for intelligence was not aimed at the preempting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda.”
So you‘re saying the number one priority of those interrogations
of the intelligence direction of those investigations was to get an Iraq and al-Qaeda link?
WILKERSON: I‘m saying that by that time, we had done some things that had severely limited al-Qaeda‘s operational reach. Not the least of which was to tear them a new rear end in Afghanistan. But we‘d done some other very sophisticated things, too, that had put al-Qaeda very much on the defensive.
At that point, even though the chatter might have gone up at times, I think those of us who were really in the business of looking at this knew that the possibility of another attack had receded somewhat.
So at that point, as we were building up a march to war with Iraq, it‘s come to my attention in a number of ways, independently corroborating one another, that our priorities at least were equal if not exceeding the priority to thwart another attack to find out intelligence that would link al-Qaeda with Baghdad with the Mukhabarat and give the administration a lot more weight in its marketing of the war with Iraq when that marketing commenced.
MADDOW: You also said - and I‘ll ask you about this other specific language that you use. You said, “So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney‘s office that their detainee was compliant (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP‘s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qaeda-Baghdad contacts yet.”
Then you say, “This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Are you saying it was Cheney ordering under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts.” Are you saying that it was Cheney‘s office ordering the waterboarding in Egypt of al-Libi or are you talking about someone else?
WILKERSON: No, I‘m talking about another individual. And it‘s the pushback against me from even my own interlocutors in the last 24 to 48 hours has been - well, Tenet gave those instructions, not the vice president.
And my reaction has been, any time George Tenet gave instructions like that, he had cover from the vice president. Otherwise, George Tenet would never give instructions like that.
This was a very close group of people who were performing this. The only one I don‘t know whether it included or not was the president of the United States. There‘s still grave doubt in my mind that the president was very intimately involved in the details of this process. I think it was almost exclusively the vice president.
And the vice president kept this information very close for obvious reasons. He didn‘t want it to leak, and it was a very secret operation. And the vice president didn‘t want anyone to know about it other than those with a need to know, meaning those who were actually executing it or carrying out his instructions to execute it, in this case, DCI George Tenet.
So my assumption that it came from the Vice President‘s Office, I think, is based on pretty firm ground.
MADDOW: And when you talk about your investigations into these matters and the independent corroborating information you‘ve been able to put together, were these things that you knew about contemporaneously or are other people telling you this now in retrospect, knowing that you‘re speaking out essentially in an effort to try to get this information out there into the public sphere?
WILKERSON: That‘s certainly part of it. But in 2004, April, when photographs from Abu Ghraib were eminent, Sec. Powell came to my office and walked through the door and he said, “I need you and Will Taft,” his legal visor, “to get to the bottom of this. How did we get to Abu Ghraib? How did we - give me a chronology. Give me the reasons how we got there.”
And I began at that point an investigation, and I kept up with that investigation, classified documents, unclassified documents and so forth, throughout the rest of the year until the election. And until January, we left the State Department.
And then after that, I still had a grave interest in it, even though I did not have the classified documents anymore. Lots of people made those documents available to me as soon as they became unclassified. And I began to put together my own audit trail as it were as to how all of this happened.
And I created a lot of contacts in doing that in the agency, in the military, in the diplomatic service and so forth. And a lot of people have talked to me over that time and I have been very careful to corroborate what I‘m saying with multiple sources, just as I was told to do by George Tenet out at the CIA as we prepared Powell for the 5 February presentation at the U.N.
And I‘ve been very careful about how I put these sources together. And I have not spoken out until I had a very firm idea in my mind of what was happening and when. I am a little confused about al-Libi, I‘ll admit that, because we didn‘t learn about him until we were out to CIA getting ready to go to New York and present Powell‘s presentation.
I‘m told now that he was tortured as early as February 2002 which was a year before that. So I‘ve still got to put that piece together.
MADDOW: Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff of Sec. of State Colin Powell, independent torture investigator on behalf of the nation, thank you for your time tonight, sir. It‘s always good to have you on the show.
WILKERSON: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: If at first you do not secede, try, try to deny it. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas tries to deny his dream of a Texas-free America and America-free Texas. That‘s coming up next.
MADDOW: As the Republican Party continues its search for meaning in the political minority, one tried and true path into the hearts of Americans is to reach us through pop culture, to have politically-minded celebrities appear in public and tout the virtues of the party and its core beliefs.
That presumably is why viewers of “Fox and Friends” were treated today to an appearance by the youngest Baldwin brother, Stephen Baldwin, who is an out and proud conservative Republican. Here is Mr. Baldwin‘s take, which he offered on live national television, for example, on President Obama‘s commencement address at Notre Dame this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN BALDWIN, ACTOR: When it comes to President Obama, all I can say is - just talking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Youngest Baldwin brother goes on Fox News to accuse President Obama of talking jive. How long before they run him for Senate, do you think?
MADDOW: “I have never advocated for secession, and I never will,” so says the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, in an op-ed in the “Austin American Statesman” this weekend.
Can you imagine, in this day and age, in the 21st century, a governor of an American state having to defend himself against a charge like that? Why would anyone ever even think about alleging that Rick Perry had advocated secession?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX): We think it‘s time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the State of Texas. There is a point in time where you stand up and say enough is enough, and I think Americans and Texans, especially, have reached that point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Texans have reached that point. Saying enough is enough to America. Anything you want to add to your “I never advocated secession” defense, governor?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: Texas is a unique place. When we came in the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that. We‘ve got a great union. There‘s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, what knows what may come of that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Who knows what might come of that. I know. I know what might come of that. You might get accused of advocating secession, governor.
We‘re joined now by Wayne Slater, senior political reporter for “The Dallas Morning News.” Mr. Slater, thanks very much for joining us.
WAYNE SLATER, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS”:
Great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So we haven‘t exactly denounced secession, and in some cases he seems to be raising it as an actual option. Is he parsing here?
SLATER: Absolutely, he‘s parsing here. Look, after those tea parties, those protest tea parties, he was talking very sympathetically about all those who were calling for secession.
I was at one of the tea parties with the governor. People were shouting, “Secede! Secede!” These were the people - the populists, the conservative part of the Republican base that he wants to appeal to, that he was clearly trying to appeal to.
So he liked to talk about secession, but a funny thing happened on the way to the appeal to the populist wing of the party. And that‘s that it‘s good if they‘re talking about you, but it‘s not good if they‘re making fun of you.
And late-night hosts, comedians, some folks in the beltway and commentators like Rachel Maddow have basically talked about him in a way that he‘s not so much Jefferson Davis as a joke.
MADDOW: So you‘re saying that this is working for him in Texas, this is particularly for him with Republican primary voters. It just may not be working with him if he has broader aspirations or maybe even for the general election in Texas?
SLATER: That‘s really the problem. You‘ve got your finger on it. His people believe that in the primary next March against Kay Bailey Hutchison, a more moderate candidate, that this call to social conservatives on abortion, on prayer, on secession, on states‘ rights will pay dividends.
But then, when he runs in the general election, that could be a problem. And more to the point, it really has seen - I think folks have seen outside of Texas a kind of aspect of a personality, a caricature of Rick Perry that doesn‘t bode well for him if he wants to be a national candidate. So I think that‘s what he is trying to do and dial back and say, “You know, I never really proposed secession. I‘m really a serious guy.”
MADDOW: Well, once he gets into the sort of details about it - I love how he talks about Texas electing to join the union in the mid-1800s like, “It was something we might or might not have done. Maybe would have worked out better if we hadn‘t.”
The Texas constitution doesn‘t actually grant the State of Texas the right to secede. Even the Texas Secede Organization, the official secessionist organization in the Lone Star State acknowledges that.
SLATER: That‘s right.
MADDOW: So, why has the option of secession remained such a romantic notion for Texans in particular?
SLATER: Yes I think - when you say the word “secede” in Texas, talk about states‘ rights, freighted with other problems in terms of our more recent history in the south. When you talk about that, especially secession, it appeals to the mythology, the sort of instinct, the romantic notion that we are rugged individualists in this state.
It plays to those, not only the families who have lived here for years, but people who have come to - moved to Texas and see themselves as part of this rugged, individualist tradition.
So I think what people like is the idea that we are rugged. We are individuals. The idea of secession we could leave if we wanted because we used to be a nation at the same - we don‘t need the federal government. At the same time, of course, we are taking billions of dollars in federal money.
MADDOW: Wayne, at the top of the show tonight, we had Robert Draper who‘s got a piece in “GQ” right now that‘s all about Donald Rumsfeld. And there‘s a great Rick Perry anecdote in it which is not a main player - he‘s a bit player.
But he essentially says that he was ready to cede control of the Texas National Guard to the federal government in response to Hurricane Rita. Draper brings up that anecdote to whack Donald Rumsfeld with it. Is that going to whack Rick Perry ultimately as well?
SLATER: It‘s not helpful at all, when you‘re talking about how bad the federal government is and then you‘re asking for money and, in this case, want to turn over the National Guard to the feds. That‘s the kind of thing that plays badly among the base.
MADDOW: Wayne Slater, senior political reporter for “Dallas Morning News” thanks you so much for joining us, Wayne. It‘s always great to see you.
SLATER: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” President Obama labeled un-American by Dick Cheney‘s daughter. Keith begs to differ.
Next on this show, forget “American Idol.” My friend, Kent Jones, brings us just enough of the terrifying cheese that is the Eurovision Song Contest.
MADDOW: We turn to our chief Euro pop correspondent, Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
JONES: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: Hit me with some Euro pop.
JONES: One moment here. We have “American Idol.”
JONES: Europe has Eurovision, which is this huge contest. Every nation in Europe promotes one song and then everybody votes on it. Here we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES (voice-over): It‘s like “High School Musical” meets the World Cup. We have Eurovision to thank for such artists as Abba.
New Celine Dion -
And two years ago, my personal favorite, Finnish metal band, Lordy.
This year, the competition was fierce.
But the winner was Norway‘s finest Alexander Rybeck and his song “Fairytale”.
I‘m in love with a fairytale, even though it hurts. It sure does. Check out the dancers. What are they called - “The New Kids on the Fjord?”
All right. Call me a hater. When I see this, only two things
come to mind. This -
DANIEL RADCLIFFE, ACTOR (as Harry Potter): Expecto patronum!
JONES: And this -
Do you ever wonder what happens to countries that didn‘t invent blues or jazz or rockabilly or R & B or funk or hip-hop? This happens.
MADDOW: Oh, I have to say - OK, the Lithuanian guy whose gimmick was
fire in the hand -
JONES: Very effective .
MADDOW: Very impressive.
JONES: Very good
MADDOW: And points, too, for the avant garde Russia with the big crying lady.
JONES: Oh, yes. Letting it out.
MADDOW: It was kind of like Bjork, Sinead O‘Connor nightmare.
JONES: Passion -
MADDOW: Yes. Thank you, Kent. Terrifying.
JONES: A little bit.
MADDOW: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for a week. All right.
MADDOW: A cocktail moment for you that combines three of my favorite
JONES: All right.
MADDOW: Our friend Ana Marie Cox …
JONES: Very good -
MADDOW: … a regular on the show -
MADDOW: Amtrak -
MADDOW: And scary stories that end well.
MADDOW: Ana Marie Cox, last month, was on a New York-to-Washington Amtrak train last month.
MADDOW: She ate some lentil salad and had an allergic reaction and her throat tightened up. And she said it was indescribably terrifying.
MADDOW: Yes. Greta Van Susteren from Fox News …
MADDOW: … was sitting on the same train car, recognized she was in trouble, brought her a Benadryl and saved her life.
MADDOW: I know. They met again at the ladies‘ room at the White House Correspondents‘ Dinner and Ana Marie said thank you.
JONES: What are the odds?
MADDOW: Very nice. Thanks, Kent. Thank you for watching.
“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. .
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>