The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/19/09

Guests:
Victor Fehrenbach, Adam Schiff, Mark Perry, Kent Jones, Steve Benen
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

The Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, gets a huge cheer at the Republican Party‘s reinventing itself meeting today when he uses the word “tea bag.”  Donald Rumsfeld legacy takes another big hit as “Vanity Fair” publishes damning allegations from one of his aides.  And congressional Democrats put themselves—as Keith said—in the way of closing Guantanamo.  Yes, Democrats doing that.

That is all coming up in the next hour.

But we begin tonight with a man named—with a man named Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, an F-15 fighter pilot, an 18-year veteran of the United States Air Force.

On September 11th, Lieutenant Colonel Fehrenbach was picked to be part of the initial alert crew, immediately following the 9/11 attacks.  The following year, in 2002, he deployed to Kuwait, where he flew combat missions over Afghanistan, attacking Taliban and al Qaeda targets.  After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lieutenant Colonel Fehrenbach deployed there, flying combat missions in support of Operation: Iraqi Freedom.

Over the span of his career, he has flown 88 combat missions, including missions that were the longest combat sorties n the history of his squadron.  He logged more than 2,000 flying hours, nearly 1,500 fighter hours, 400 combat hours.

Lieutenant Colonel Fehrenbach is also highly decorated.  He‘s received nine Air Medals including one for heroism.  After 18 years of active duty in the Air Force, this experienced, decorated fighter pilot says he is ready and willing to deploy again, he‘s ready to do whatever his country and the United States Air Force ask of him.

The military is now firing him.  He‘s just been informed by the U.S.  military that his career is over.  After 18 years of service, less than two years shy of being able to retire with a full Air Force pension, he is being discharged under the military‘s “don‘t-ask, don‘t tell” policy.  Despite a record of documented heroism and unblemished career; despite the fact that, he estimates, the U.S. military spent roughly $25 million training him, Lieutenant Colonel Fehrenbach is being discharged.

He is informed of his impending discharge in September.  He and his lawyer have tried to delay his appeal as long as possible, hoping that the new president would fulfill the pledge that he made as a candidate, to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  So far, that hasn‘t happened.

But today, there were two important developments on that front.  The first is the Obama administration‘s decision to accept an appeals court ruling in favor of another discharged Air Force pilot.  Essentially, that ruling said that the government has to prove why the continued service of a gay service member—in this case, a woman—is a threat to military discipline.  The Obama administration could have appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court but they chose not to.

The other development was far less promising.  It came from the Pentagon, which announced today that it has no plans to end “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” and they say do not anticipate being asked to end “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” any time soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY:  I do not believe there are any plans underway in this building for some expected but not articulated anticipation that “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” will be repealed.  This building views “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” as the law of the land until Congress acts otherwise.  To my knowledge, David, there are no internal planning efforts under way in anticipation of a change of that law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  It is in the shadow of these political promises left unfulfilled that Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach now faces his impending dismissal from the military, as a decision that he challenged but so far has lost.

Joining us now for his first ever interview is Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach.

Thank you so much for joining us tonight, sir.  Thank you for your service.

LT. COL. VICTOR FEHRENBACH, BEING DISCHARGED FROM MILITARY FOR BEING

GAY:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  You‘ve been in the Air Force for 18 years.  What was your reaction when you found out that you‘re being investigated and then discharged?

FEHRENBACH:  I was devastated, absolutely devastated, Rachel.  The Air Force has been my life.  I was born on an Air Force base.  The Air Force has been part of my family.  And I have served for 18 years and I was just two years short of retirement.  So, basically, I was faced with the end of my life as I knew it.

MADDOW:  Were you expecting that you would, at some point, redeploy at the time that you found out that they wanted you out?

FEHRENBACH:  Absolutely.  In fact, two weeks before this all came to light—I‘m sorry, two weeks after this all came to light, I was expected to deploy.

MADDOW:  You were expected to deploy two weeks after they told you that they were going to take you out?

FEHRENBACH:  Yes.

MADDOW:  So, you were informed in September.  And I know that the possibility of President Obama winning the election—again, you were told in September, the election was in November—factored into how you decided to proceed with your appeal here.  How did it factor in?

FEHRENBACH:  Absolutely.  This—first, these allegations first came to light in May and I wasn‘t served my paperwork until September.  And my initial reaction was I just wanted this all to go away.  I wanted a quick, quiet, fair, honorable discharge.

But the more I thought about it, about how wrong this policy is, I thought that I had to fight.  And perhaps, with my unique perspective, I could speak out and help other people in the meantime.  So .

MADDOW:  Did you think that President Obama, if he were elected, was going to end the policy?

FEHRENBACH:  I did.  I had tremendous hope around September.  And that was actually when I did reversed my decision and decided to fight, because I did have hope that President Obama would follow through on his commitment to change the policy and initiate a policy of non-discrimination.

MADDOW:  There‘s obviously a great sense of urgency in your life right now to “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”

FEHRENBACH:  Yes, there is.

MADDOW:  And, you know, you saw the Pentagon spokesman speaking today and you hear all the talk about how this is being discussed in Washington.  And there just—there definitely just does not seem to be that same urgency among the policymakers and the politicos on this.

One of the things that‘s been proposed is that, even if the policy can‘t be changed through Congress immediately, President Obama could show an act of good faith and do a lot of good to people, like you, by just taking executive action, not to end the policy, but stop implementing it.  To stop—to have a moratorium on the implementation s policy until it can be reviewed.  Would you support something like that?

FEHRENBACH:  Well, Rachel, that would be an immediate solution for me and that would help my case.  But the way I understand it, that‘s sort of a temporary solution.  I think we need a permanent solution from Congress.  I would hope that they would act, and that I would hope that the president moves fast and fulfills his promise to us and proposes a policy of non-discrimination.

MADDOW:  What‘s your response to the overall argument underlying this policy?  I mean, the proponents of this policy say that you personally, you being gay, has a negative effect on your squadron‘s good order and discipline.  How do you feel about that?

FEHRENBACH:  Well, it‘s absolutely false.  Basically, I went to my board and one of the board findings was that my presence was inconsistent with good order, discipline and morale.  And the fact of the matter is, for the last 369 days, I have been going to work every day and doing my duty with absolutely no impact on morale, discipline and good order.

For about 4,000 people who are assigned at Mountain Home Air Force Base, and about 10 people on the entire base even knew about my case up until this very moment.  And those were my immediate chain of command.  There are a couple of the attorneys in the legal office and a couple of investigators in the Office of Special Investigations.  Not one single person that I‘m assigned with in my squadron or that I fly with in my fighter squadron knew about this case until this moment.

MADDOW:  I‘d like to ask about something that‘s not related to “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” so I want people to remember you.  And I want people to think about you when they think about this policy.  Can I ask you and I hope you don‘t mind me asking it.  It‘s better to ask in advance if this was OK.  Could you tell me the circumstances of the Air Medal that you won for heroism?

FEHRENBACH:  Sure.  I think I can tell you the dates exactly.  It was April 3rd, 2003.  And, basically, the Army was making the initial advance on Baghdad and to first take Baghdad International Airport.  And we were initially tasked was taking out basically any enemy positions we found that could stop their advance.

And so, after we have destroyed a couple of missile launchers, we actually found an Iraqi ambush site of about—it‘s about 12 armored personnel carriers that were just less than a mile from the Army advance.  We could see the Army advance moving towards the airport.  At the time, my wingmen had a major aircraft malfunction and he was unable to deliver his weapons.

So, in a short span of time, that was 15, 20 minutes, we were able to employ all the weapons from my aircraft as well as I guided all the weapons from my wingman‘s aircraft while we were under constant AAA fire and I believe we were fired upon approximately eight times by surface-to-air missiles.

MADDOW:  And you took out that enemy position completely?

FEHRENBACH:  We took the entire position out.  And that night, the Army took Baghdad International Airport.

MADDOW:  Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, 18-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, received his discharge letter September 2008 – good luck to you.  Thank you for talking with us tonight.

FEHRENBACH:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  Today, the chairman of the Republican Party attempted to launch post-Bush/Cheney, post-McCain/Palin Republican Party 2.0.  There were some problems with the speech, but there was a lot of wild applause nonetheless.  Steve Benen will join us to discuss.

And, why are Democrats in Congress standing in the way of the Obama administration‘s plans to close Guantanamo?  I have no idea and I‘ve been thinking about it and reading about it all day.  We‘ll get some help on the subject from Congressman Adam Schiff in a moment.

But first, One More Thing—the latest person to call out President Obama for his woefully at best position on “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is Meghan McCain.  On the “Colbert Report” last night, she had this to say about the president‘s delay in repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCAIN, SEN. MCCAIN‘S DAUGHTER:  And I do believe that the Republican Party can be a safe place for the gay community.  President Obama said he was going to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  I think me and a lot of people are still waiting for that.  And the Democratic Party isn‘t necessarily a better place for the gay community than the Republican Party is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  When a Republican says that the Republican Party is as vigilant on justice and equal rights as the Democratic Party, and you can‘t immediately laugh that Republican out of the room—Democrats have a problem.  Mr. President, you have a problem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In February, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison made history in Super Bowl XLIII with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown.  Remember that?  By winning the game, he and the Steelers earned the right to visit the White House.  Yes, the precious memory of a meeting with the sitting president of the United States.

But, not for James Harrison.  Mr. Harrison has now sacked the whole idea, telling a local Pittsburgh TV station he will not be joining the team for a trip to the White House this Thursday for this reason.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES HARRISON, PITTSBURGH STEELERS LINEBACKER:  If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don‘t win the Super Bowl.  So, as far as I‘m concerned, he would have invited Arizona if they had won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Right.  Exactly.  If you win the Super Bowl, you get to go with your team to the White House.  If you lose, you do not get that invitation.  This was not explained to him ahead of time?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Today, the $80 million the Obama administration says it needs to close Guantanamo were denied to the Obama administration by that irrational obstructionist “party of no” called the Senate Democrats.  Democrats?  Yes, the Democrats in the Senate voted down funding to close Guantanamo.

How did we end up with the Democrats blocking the Democratic president‘s plan here?  Well, after President Obama said he would close the prison, just as President Bush said he wanted to close the prison, just as John McCain said he would close the prison, too, Republicans decided to play the completely irrational fear card about that decision.

Remember the video with the “so scary it‘s campy “O‘Fortuna” playing in the background?  Terrorists are going to live among you.  There‘s going to be a terrorist serving you and your family at Chuck E. Cheese if they close Guantanamo.  Every American will have to take in a terrorist like they are exchange students or something.  Ahh!  Ahh!

Never mind that terrorists like Omar Abdel Rhaman, the “Blind Sheikh,” and Eric Rudolf, and Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber guy and Richard Reed and Charles “Freaking‘” Manson have all been in prison in someone‘s hometown in America without incident.  In fact, there is an empty brand new, high security prison in the economically depressed town of Hardin, Montana, that says it would be delighted to take up to 100 of the Guantanamo prisoners since once you‘re a high security environment, a prisoner is a prisoner is a prisoner.  And frankly, Hardin, Montana, needs the jobs.

But the Republicans scary music campaign or something has driven Democrats to distraction on Guantanamo.  Here, for example, was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trying to explain himself on the subject today and tying himself into a “whose on first logic pretzel” in the process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  I‘m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States.  That‘s very clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No one‘s talking about releasing them.  We‘re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID:  You can‘t put them in prison unless you release them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sir, you going to clarify that a little bit.  I mean .

REID:  I can‘t—I can‘t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you.  We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Can‘t put them in prison unless you release them.

As far as I know, there isn‘t usually a step in the transfer of prisoners process where you just let the prisoners run free and then you go chasing after them again.  As far as I know, that‘s not part of that process.

Joining us now is Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Congressman Schiff, thank you very much for joining us.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA:  It‘s great to be with you again.

MADDOW:  Senate Democrats today said no funding to close Guantanamo.  House Democrats made the same move last week.  Please tell me there‘s some secret ninja tactical move going here, that there is more than meets the eye?

SCHIFF:  Well, there is more than meets the eye, I‘m not sure it‘s a ninja tactic.  But the Democrats in both houses do support the decision to close Guantanamo.  It‘s the right decision.  It has to be done.

Guantanamo has been a black eye and, unfortunately, recruiting tool for terrorists around the world.  And more than that, it‘s been ineffective in terms of prosecuting terrorists.

What we did in the Congress, though, was we basically said to the administration that after eight years of being left out of the deliberations on how detainees ought to be handled, because it was all done by executive order and executive fiat under the Bush administration, that we were not willing to continue that in the current administration.  And it took the House and now the Senate withholding the funds for Gitmo to basically get the administration‘s attention.

And actually, I have to say, Rachel, it was very effective, because within days of the House action, the administration, for the first time, announced that it intended to revive the commissions to some degree.  That‘s the first time we heard any indication of what the administration planned to do with the detainees.  So, it had its effect.

It was a blunt instrument, I have to admit, and maybe not the instrument I would choose to use.  But it is important now, almost halfway into the year, if we are sticking to this timetable of shutting the prison at the end of the year, that the Congress be brought in both in terms of conferring as well as the legislation that may be necessary to close the prison.

MADDOW:  There is that sort of complicated matrix of policy and politics here though.  And as the Republicans try to demonize the very idea of closing Guantanamo, despite the fact that Bush said he wanted to close Guantanamo, John McCain said that he would close Guantanamo as president, the Republicans are trying to make political hay there.

If congressional Democrats are trying to stop the funding in order to get a plan, one would hope the congressional Democrats had a plan of their own that they were hoping the White House would get on board with, that they weren‘t just being an obstruction and trying to get attention without some sort of goal of their own.

Is there a House Democratic goal here?

SCHIFF:  Well, I think that is a fair commentary.  And all I can tell you is, I have a plan.  I‘ve introduced legislation, Rachel, to broaden the jurisdiction of the military courts-martial and try the majority of the detainees in the military courts-martial system, which has been around longer than our country has been around.  It‘s been a very effective venue to balance national security concerns as well as due process issues.

And when I raised in the appropriations committee that I thought this was the best model to use because, among other things, it would allow us to hold up to the rest of the world that we are giving these detainees effectively the same due process we give our own troops when they‘re brought up on court-martial charges.  I was ridiculed by Oliver North, which I took as great praise.

But so—you know, there are some of us that are actively pursuing legislation to set up a model we think would be workable.  I can‘t say that I have the whole Democratic Caucus united behind this concept.  But of us are and have been for some time diligently working on it.

And I would hope and I have conveyed this to the White House counsel as well as our attorney general, that this would be a collaborative process and indeed, that we would work together.  Even if some of this can be done by executive order, it will be stronger legally in the courts if it‘s done in concert with Congress.  And also, I think, it‘s good public policy to have the buy-in of the Congress in how these detainees ought to be detained, how they ought to be tried, what due process should be applied.

I think the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, is a pretty good model to use.

MADDOW:  This is a plan that‘s going to obviously need buy-in on both sides because it‘s going to be controversial every step of the way.  Democrats are certainly getting attention from the White House on this and from me.  I look forward to having you back to discuss the policy here as it gets worked out.  Congressman Schiff—thanks for joining us.

SCHIFF:  Thank you.  Look forward to it.

MADDOW:  Change in a tea bag and other experiments in Republican pout-rage.  It will be coming up on the show in just a moment.

Plus, Kent Jones will introduce us to Ida, the 47 million-year-old fossil.  She seems very nice.  She has a place in Florida, I understand.  It‘s all coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Coming up, Michael Steele drops the euphemisms, drops the hedging, and just full on embraces the tea bag as the symbol of the Republican Party.

And, mad fallout from the Donald Rumsfeld wartime Bible quotation story that just broke in “GQ.”  Now, one of Rumsfeld‘s former aides is turning on him as well.  That‘s coming up.

But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

The security contractor Blackwater or I should say, the security contractor formerly known as Blackwater now known as Xe is associated for most Americans with Iraq.  Iraq is where four Blackwater employees were killed and hanged from lampposts in Fallujah.  It‘s also where Blackwater employees are charged with having killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square.

It‘s where one Blackwater employee was charged with getting drunk on Christmas Eve and then shooting one of the bodyguards of Iraq‘s vice president.  It‘s where Blackwater ultimately was kicked out by the Iraqi government, which yanked their license to operate in that country as of this month.

Blackwater is also operating now in Afghanistan.  And today, we got new details on allegations that four Blackwater employees discharged their weapons this month, killing one Afghan civilian and injuring several others in Kabul after they got into a car accident.  There were initial reports that at least two of the four Blackwater employees involved in the shooting have been drinking before the incident.

Today, the U.S. military confirmed that the contractors were hired to conduct military training in Afghanistan and that they were not authorized to be carrying weapons at the time the shooting took place.  A lawyer for the Blackwater employees, Daniel J. Callahan, tell us the guns were AK-47s issued to the employees by Blackwater or Xe, after those guns were taken from insurgents.  The lawyer says all four contractors are either back in the United States or on their way home now.

Meanwhile, we have just received the first ever report from the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.  That report says that there is no effective oversight of the billions of American dollars that are being paid to contractors for training Afghanistan‘s security forces.  The audit reports that some of the contract oversight staff who are supposed to be making on-site inspections to ensure that contractors are doing what they are paid to be doing in Afghanistan are actually just working out of offices in Maryland—approximately 6,900 miles away from where the work that they are supposedly monitoring is being done.  Heck of a commute, right?

Next up, five members of the Khmer Rouge are on trial for crimes against humanity and a United Nations-backed tribunal in Cambodia.  Between 1974 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge killed nearly 2 million people.  Their leader, of course, was Pol Pot.

One man who was recruited by the Khmer Rouge as a photographer is now trying to raise money for a museum to house artifacts that he collected from this horrendous period in human history.  His big idea for raising money is to sell off some of Pol Pot‘s stuff.  For sale: Pol Pot‘s sandals, some of his clothing, and his toilet.  The asking price is $1.5 million.

Frankly, I would pay half of that just to un-know the fact that someone saved Pol Pot‘s toilet.

And finally, a follow-up to the only story about a reality show that‘s ever inspired true obsession and glee from the entire the staff of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.  That would be the prospect that disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich would be joining the NBC show, “I‘m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”

The shows producers, you‘ll recall, asked Governor Blagojevich to join other stars like actor Stephen Baldwin, who accused the president yesterday of talking jive, and model Janice Dickinson and the bunch of other sort of famous people in the jungles of Costa Rica.  There, the celebrities would have to accomplish gross and terrifying tasks to the delight of viewers watching at home.

Now, unfortunately, Governor Blagojevich‘s plans to join the show were stymied when the judge in his corruption case refused to allow him to travel.  Luckily, producers have reportedly found a replacement for Rod Blagojevich.  The replacement is Patti Blagojevich, the governor‘s wife—hast heard from in her appearances on federal prosecutors wiretaps.  A lawyer representing Patti Blagojevich spoke with “The Chicago Sun-Times” yesterday and confirmed that his client has accepted an offer from NBC and will fly to L.A. this week to sign the contract.

We asked NBC today to confirm the casting decision and they helpfully told our producers, quote, “We have no comment.”  Which is nice.

Mrs. Blagojevich, if you ever want to talk about your expected star-turn right here on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, you would be more than welcome.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  “This change is being delivered in a teabag.  And that‘s a wonderful thing.”  I couldn‘t have said it better myself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIR:  This change, my friends, is being delivered in a teabag and that‘s a wonderful thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican Party.  Just so we understand the political impact of what happened today in the Republican National Committee‘s big meeting I just want you to listen to that one more time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE:  This change, my friends, is being delivered in a teabag.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Hold it right there.  Now start it again and then listen to how the audience responds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE:  And that‘s a wonderful thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Michael Steele finally found something that gets the Republican National Committee on its feet and excited.  For the record, I didn‘t say it.  No one is putting this on the GOP.  This is not some titillating left wing fantasy.  This is the Republicans on their own embracing the tea bag as their symbol and doing so with gusto.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE:  This change, my friends, is being delivered in a tea bag and that‘s a wonderful thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Wonderful.  Mr. Steele‘s speech today to Republican National Committee members was wonderful.  It was billed as a new starting point for the GOP.  He did own up to two Republican mistakes, excessive spending and being changed by Washington.  After owning up to those two mistakes he then declared the official end of the era of apologizing for Republican mistakes.  It was a very short era.

After that was out of the way, there was a lot of Michael Steele giving himself advice and then Michael Steele rejecting that same advice from himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE:  We‘re going to take the president head on.  We have seen strategists writing memos and doing briefings urging the Republicans avoid confronting the president.  Steer clear of any frontal assaults on his administration.  They suggest that instead we should go after Nancy Pelosi who nobody likes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So the advice is, Michael Steele, we should actually start taking on President Obama, not taking on Speaker Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE:  President Obama could not be more partisan, yielding his legislative agenda almost entirely to radicals like Nancy Pelosi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If you are keeping track at home the forget Nancy Pelosi, hit the president head on rule lasted exactly four minutes and one second.  Mr.  Steele also made it clear that in order for the party to rebound the Republicans need to focus on the future.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE:  Today we are declaring an end to the era of Republicans looking backwards.  The Republican Party is again going to emerge as the party of new ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Sounds like an excellent plan.  No more talking about Republican leaders of yore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE:  So in the best spirit of President Reagan, it‘s time to saddle up and ride.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Apparently Mr. Steele neglected to mention the Ronald Reagan invocation exception to the new always look forward rule.  As of right now there is probably no constituency in the country that Michael Steele is more popular with than Democrats and the good people at Lipton, Tazo and Celestial Seasonings.

Joining us now my friend Steve Benen who writes for washingtonmonthly.com.  Steve, thanks very much for coming on the show.

STEVE BENEN, WASHINGTONMONTHLY.COM:  Thank you.  It‘s good to be here.

MADDOW:  All criticism aside, Michael Steele did get a standing ovation for that speech at the RNC.  Do you think that may mean his relationship with the rest of the Republican Party is improving?

BENEN:  It is possible.  When I saw them stand up my first thought was they were really thrilled he only said bling zero times, but he did mention teabagging once.  That said I think there are problems with the Steele chairmanship.  It has been something of a disaster for months.  It has been an embarrassment for months.  And those underlying problems haven‘t gone away.  Steele‘s chairpersonship is still wrought with problems of gaffes and mismanagement at the RNC.  So while I think the speech was well received, I think that in general there is still a long way to go before the chairman has actually got a strong hold on the party.

MADDOW:  Steve, one of the big criticisms of Steele‘s speech today was that it was all about becoming the party of new ideas, right?  But he didn‘t actually present any of these elusive new ideas.  That has been sort of a recurring problem in the Republican Party since Obama was elected.  Are enough people pointing this out that is becoming sort of an officially embarrassing thing, talking about new ideas but not actually presenting any?

BENEN:  You would think so.  I was struck by that in the very moment there when Steele went out of his way saying this is party is going to be the party of new ideas and then he just kind of let it hang there without actually following up with any new ideas.

Given his role in the party I don‘t necessarily blame him.  In fairness, it is not his job to come up with new ideas for the party, that is more the responsibility of lawmakers like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.  At the same time, he brought it up as a way of emphasizing the significance yet he couldn‘t actually point to any ideas.  It belies a - undermines a certain argument and it suggests that there‘s a substantive problem that the party hasn‘t quite gotten over yet.

MADDOW:  The opposite side of substantive is the name calling thing that‘s going on right now.  The RNC is set to vote tomorrow on a resolution telling Democrats they should rename themselves as the Democrat Socialist Party.  Mr. Steele is now speaking out against that.  And I guess there is report today that sponsors of the Democrat Socialist resolution might tweak the language to simply just condemn the Democrats for being Socialists instead of demanding they change their name.  Is this maybe what the face of moderation is in the RNC?

BENEN:  Well, perhaps.  It is certainly not the face of the grammar police.  They haven‘t gotten over the notion that it is the Democratic Party.  But putting that aside Steele has been outspoken against this resolution for quite some time I think in part because it would be incumbent upon him to repeat this nonsensical phrase when he does television appearances.

And he has obviously been lobbying the party to drop this whole nonsense.  And apparently this late-breaking word is the party is willing to back off on that.  I think that is probably a good move.  It has been something an embarrassment for the party in general that their number one goal is to beg the Democrats to change their name.  It is a mistake from the start.  And I think in general, if they are backing away from that it‘s a good move.

MADDOW:  Steve Benen of washingtonmonthly.com whose blog I read every single day.  Thank you so much for joining us.  Good night, Steve, it is great to see you.

BENEN:  Good to see you.  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So to the so-called Sunni Awakening that led to decreased violence in Iraq which started in 2006, turns out it maybe could have started in 2004 and saved thousands of lives in the process.

The reason it didn‘t is apparently because of Donald Rumsfeld‘s deputy who wanted to treat the Sunnis as, and I quote “Nazis.”  Too bad the era of Republican apology is officially over.  We‘ll have more on that bombshell in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As the Republican Party continues its search for meaning in the political minority, the former senior members of the Bush administration continue their devolution into the political equivalent of the Donner Party, eating one another to ensure their own survival.

The latest previous loyal Bushie to turn against the administration on torture is Karen Hughes, long time friend and advisor to President Bush who came with him from Washington to Texas.  She tells the “Houston Chronicle”, quote, “I was very vocal in the internal debate.  I was worried about how that would make us look in the eyes of the world.”

It is amazing how clarifying it is to have a new administration in Washington.  All of a sudden everyone is remembering how much they were against torture at the time.  It just never occurred to them to say anything about it publicly until now.

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MADDOW:  Every day now we are getting new revelations about what was happening in the Bush administration while things were going horribly, horribly wrong.  This week former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his reputation are taking the beating.  On this show last night we hosted President Bush‘s biographer Robert Draper to discuss his new article in “G.Q.”  He interviews more than a dozen George W. Bush loyalists who still like George Bush but who are more than eager to spill the beans on all the things that they say Donald Rumsfeld should be blamed for, not sending troops and helicopters to Katrina, Bush loyalists blame Rumsfeld, not caring enough about Hurricane Rita in Texas to even take a phone call about taking control of the National Guard there.  Bush loyalists blame Rumsfeld.  Not following through on protecting uranium and plutonium from smugglers and terrorists.  Bush loyalists blame Rumsfeld.  Recklessly distributing daily wartime intelligence briefings headed up with Bible verses to appeal to Bush‘s crusade mentality about the Iraq War.  Bush loyalists blame Rumsfeld for all of it.

Rumsfeld‘s spokesman issued a response on the Bible verse briefing today saying that Donald Rumsfeld only occasionally saw the world intelligence update and no one who made that update reported to him.  Awkwardly the cover sheets are actually called the “Secretary of Defense Worldwide Intelligence Update”.  Which makes it kind of hard to argue they didn‘t have anything to do with the secretary of defense.

And now another revelation.  Donald Rumsfeld‘s former special assistant Jerry Jones is speaking out against Rumsfeld as well telling reporter David Rose at vanityfair.com about a previously unknown Rumsfeld disaster, or in this case a disastrously missed opportunity.

In Iraq probably the single most important factor in bringing down the violence and changing the course of war in 2007 and ultimately into 2008 was the decision by Sunni tribes in western Iraq to stop fighting U.S.  forces and instead to fight extremist groups within the insurgency like al Qaeda.

Now Rumsfeld‘s former special assistant tells “Vanity Fair” that that could have happened two years earlier.  The Sunnis made overtures to the U.S., the same overtures back in 2004 but that Rumsfeld‘s ideological neoconservative deputy Paul Wolfowitz responded to those overtures by calling the Sunnis Nazis and kiboshing the whole plan.  Weirdly we actually got a bit of foreshadowing about this revelation last week in our interview with former UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer who on this show we described the harsh view top bush officials had about minority Sunnis.

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CHARLES DUELFER, FORMER UN WEAPONS INSPECTOR:  It is important to remember the context of the times.  We had just gone into Baghdad.  This was April 2003.  Saddam was gone.  What was different about this than other circumstances where the United States, its enemies, all the Iraqis, the senior Iraqis at that point, they wanted to be on our side.  Bear in mind this is before we made the disastrous decisions that informed the Iraqis that we were going to treat their Army as an enemy and that all Baathists were going to be treated as Nazis.

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MADDOW:  All Baathists, the political party dominated by Sunnis would be treated as Nazis.  Well, “Vanity Fair” now quotes Paul Wolfowitz as twice calling Iraqi Sunnis Nazis.  Once in writing, once in a meeting, both times in the process of shutting down proposals for U.S. forces to work with Sunnis.  A policy that finally went through once Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz were gone, but not before 2,000 Americans and thousands more Iraqis would die in the escalating war between 2004 and 2006.

Joining us now is Mark Perry, he is director of the Conflicts Forum, he is author of a forthcoming book called “Talking to Terrorists.”  He was a major source for “Vanity Fair‘s” David Rose for this story.  Mr. Perry, thanks very much for joining us.

MARK PERRY, CONFLICTS FORUM:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  David Rose reports in “Vanity Fair” in part on the basis of documents he got from you that the Sunni awakening could have happened way earlier than late 2006.  Did you find the idea had support but it got kiboshed in Washington?

PERRY:  I was given documents that showed in December 2003 that Donald Rumsfeld was being pushed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff open to the Jabouri Tribe in Anbar.  He passed on these documents to Paul Wolfowitz and to people in the State Department and Wolfowitz wrote back in one of the documents I saw, in the margin of the documents, they are Nazis.  And that ended the attempt on the part of the military in that time in December to open.  In July of 2004, the U.S. Marine Corps, the 3rd Civil Affairs Group, the real heroes here, opened to the Sunni tribes and when Paul Wolfowitz found out he went crazy called in people from the Pentagon who were part of it and said, don‘t you know, they are Nazis?

So, there was a real attempt to stop the military, what the military thought was a good program to open to the Anbar tribes, to the moderates in the Anbar tribes and get them to turn the guns on al Qaeda and Wolfowitz and frankly Condi Rice put an end to it.

MADDOW:  So even as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Marine Corps are making recommendations that this should be pursued, Rumsfeld delegates the decisionmaking on this matter essentially to Paul Wolfowitz.  It seems that the “Vanity Fair” piece implies again on the basis of your information that Rumsfeld himself may have thought this sort of a rapprochement was a good idea.  Because he delegated the decision-making to Wolfowitz, that‘s why it got kiboshed.  Is that true, is that accurate?

PERRY:  I‘d go a bit further.  I know people will just be horrified by this but in some sense Donald Rumsfeld is kind of a hero.  He really wanted to push this and he was stopped, he was stopped by the White House, he was stopped by Paul Bremer, he was stopped by Condi Rice, he was stopped by Wolfowitz.

And he, I think, really tried to look the other way as the Marines opened up to the insurgency.  I‘m not saying Donald Rumsfeld‘s a hero but he‘s not the guy who stopped this.  The guy who stopped this is Wolfowitz, Paul Bremer people in the State Department and Baghdad and after a time Marines in Anbar ignored all that and went ahead with their contacts anyway.

MADDOW:  Wolfowitz did work for Rumsfeld, though, yes?

PERRY:  There doesn‘t seem to be any question about that.

MADDOW:  Do you think that an American Iraqi-Sunni alliance in 2004 would have saved American and Iraqi lives?

PERRY:  I think that if the initiative had been supported as it should have been by policymakers in Washington.  If we had not been filled with our own sense of ideological rightness.  If we had really pushed it hard, it could have been done much earlier and I think you‘re right, it would have saved thousands of lives.

MADDOW:  Do you know of other instances in which Wolfowitz specifically used that word “Nazis” in talking about the Sunnis, do you have any insight into why he thought that?

PERRY:  My—my understanding is that Mr. Wolfowitz at the end of the First Gulf War was very horrified by what was happening to the Shia tribesmen in the south and he was really haunted by what happened and felt guilt-ridden that the United States had not done much to help them.  And wanted to really empower them in their own country.  And began to look at them as a special kind of a victim.  That‘s what I‘ve been told, that he was so powerfully driven by what had happened at the end of the First Gulf War that he took this position.

MADDOW:  Mark Perry, director of Conflicts Forum and author of the forthcoming book called “Talking to Terrorists”, thank you for your time tonight and thanks for contributing to what we know about this subject.

PERRY:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  Coming up on COUNTDOWN, Keith‘s special guest is Elizabeth Edwards.  Next on this show, has the missing link finally been found?  My friend Kent Jones investigates.

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MADDOW:  We turn now to our stuff that happened a really, really, really long time ago, correspondent Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, MSNBC:  Hi, Rachel.  Stuff from really, really long time ago.  Exciting fossil news at the Museum of Natural History today.

MADDOW:  OK.

JONES:  Check it out.

MADDOW:  All right.

JONES:  Meet your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great a thousand times great grandmother, Ida.  Ida is a perfectly preserved fossil that could be the missing link between humans and apes.

And now, after 47 million years, she‘s famous.  After a splashy coming-out party in New York today, books documentaries, TV specials are all in the works about the pre-Jurassic “it” girl.  Paleontologists are still in the early, gushy part of the romance.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This specimen is really like finding the Lost Ark for archeologists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you realize what the Ark is?

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JONES:  Ida was three feet long, sort of cat-like with fingernails and opposable thumbs which would explain this.  Ida is part of the line that includes monkeys and apes.

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CHARLTON HESTON, ACTOR:  Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape.

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JONES:  And eventually, us.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t have any (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

Yeah, you‘re a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  You‘re a whore.

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JONES:  Scientists say Ida‘s hind legs led to primates standing upright.  A breakthrough that could finally confirm Charles Darwin‘s Theory of Evolution.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We, the people of the United States .

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JONES:  Which needs defending from time to time.  Thanks, Ida.  You look great.

MADDOW:  Wow.  OK.  Cat-like but with opposable thumbs.

JONES:  Opposable thumbs and fingernails and apparently could stand upright paving the way for all the primates that followed including .

MADDOW:  Us.

JONES:  Yeah.

MADDOW:  When I first got together with Susan she had a cat that was 40 years old and I used to have nightmares that that cat would walk around on its hind legs and kill me.  My recurring nightmare.  I really like this person that I just met but that cat and my recurring nightmare was that that meow-meow would come and stalk me.  She‘s really not (ph) for me.

JONES:  I think it‘s all fine.  You‘re going to be fine.

MADDOW:  All right.  I have a “Cocktail Moment” for you.

JONES:  Great.

MADDOW:  The St. Paul Saints minor league team in St. Paul, Minnesota, beautiful St. Paul, Minnesota.  The great thing about minor league baseball, there is a million things about minor league ball, as you know I‘m a big fan but very good at marketing and the St. Paul Saints have done very well with their mascot.  They always have a pig as a mascot.

JONES:  Oh, good.

MADDOW:  But it gets sort of a new name every year.  In 2001 their mascot was named Kevin Bacon.

JONES:  Uh-huh.

MADDOW:  In 2003, it was Piggy Smalls, Notorious PIG.

JONES:  Inevitably.

MADDOW:  2008, it was Borok Ohama, looks like Obama if you squint. 

Now their new one just revealed is Slumhog Millionaire.

JONES:  Oh look at Slumhog.  Fantastic.

MADDOW:  Thank you very much, Kent.

JONES:  Sure.

MADDOW:  Thank you at home for watching tonight, we‘ll see you again tomorrow night.  Until then you can e-mail us, rachel@msnbc.com, and check out our iPhone application, it‘s very cool at our website rachel.msnbc.com.  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.

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