The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 07/23/09

Guests:
Barton Gellman, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Bob Ingle
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Hey, David.  That was very enjoyable between you and Mr. Pierce.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Thanks.

MADDOW:  Thanks very much.

And thank you for staying with us for the next hour.

Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell will be here this hour to talk about the new old American political strategy of stoking racial indignation for political gain.  This time it centers on President Obama and the Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Department.

The state of New Jersey today reclaimed its status as the most gobsmackingly corrupt state in the union.  Sorry, Illinois.  And we have all of the amazing details from that.

Plus, there is some news from C Street as there always seems to be.

But we begin tonight with a surprise and direct political attack by former Vice President Dick Cheney against the man for whom he chose himself as vice president, George W. Bush.

Since leaving office, former President Bush has surfaced for about five minutes.  He‘s given a few speeches but he has largely taken himself overtly, at least, out of American politics.  The same, of course, cannot be said for the now nearly ubiquitous former vice president, Dick Cheney.

And today, Mr. Cheney threw a roundhouse punch at his former boss over an issue that has reportedly divided the two men for a very long time.  The issue was whether or not President Bush would pardon Cheney‘s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury, and lying to investigators about two years ago.

President Bush did not pardon Mr. Libby.  The guilty verdict still stands.  But he commuted his 2 ½ year prison sentence.  That, apparently, was not enough for Dick Cheney.  Mr. Cheney wanted and continues to want a full pardon.

“Time” magazine has published a new cover story about Bush and Cheney‘s fight over this issue.  It‘s a story that clearly and from my perspective almost astonishingly, obviously, told from the perspective of the Republican sources who are sympathetic to Mr. Bush and not sympathetic to Mr. Cheney.

In response to the story today, Mr. Cheney released a scathing statement.  Quote, “Scooter Libby is an innocent man who was the victim of a severe miscarriage of justice.  He was not the source of the leak of Valerie Plame‘s name.  Mr. Libby is an honorable man and a faithful public servant who served the president, the vice president, and the nation with distinction for many years.  He deserved a presidential pardon.”

“He deserved it and didn‘t get it.”  Usually in politics, you have to do a little reading between the lines.  What does he really mean by that?  What‘s the context here?

In this case, no interpretation needed.  Cheney is saying, “Libby deserved a pardon.  Bush wouldn‘t give it to him.  Bush is wrong.  Love, Dick Cheney.”

Whether or not President Bush or a Bush loyalist returns fire and turns this exchange of fire into a full-blown political war remains to be seen, but it is now quite clear that dick Cheney‘s role in our politics now, the mission of the most prominent Republican in the country is to defend—for lack of a better construct—the Cheney presidency.  A legacy he‘s defended against Democrats, against Republicans, and against the other president in the Cheney administration.

Take the issue of Guantanamo for example.  This was President Bush‘s take on Guantanamo in June 2006.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  I‘d like to close Guantanamo. 

No question Guantanamo sends, you know, a signal that some of our friends.  It provides an excuse, for example, to say the United States is not upholding the values that they‘re trying to encourage other countries to adhere to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  “I‘d like to close Guantanamo,” he says.  Vice President Cheney on the other hand was on the record at the time in favor of keeping Guantanamo open.  June, 2005: Should Guantanamo Base Detention Center be shut down, the detainees move elsewhere?  Mr. Cheney, “No.”  Because—Mr.  Cheney, “Because it‘s a vital facility.”

After President Bush announced that he wanted to close Guantanamo, Mr.

Cheney had this to say—this was July, 2007.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, CNN HOST:  General Powell says he‘d close Guantanamo yesterday.  Would you?

RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  No.  No.  I think you need to have some place to hold those individuals who have been captured during the global war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What‘s important here is that Dick Cheney lost the Guantanamo argument as it was happening.  But even now, after leaving office, he‘s continuing to make his case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  I think they need to keep Guantanamo open.  I think it‘s a mistake to try to close it.  I think, if you didn‘t have it, you‘d have to invent it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s not only Dick Cheney campaigning against President Obama, that‘s Dick Cheney campaigning against George W. Bush.

And the same thing goes for the issue of torture.  Despite Mr.  Cheney‘s insistence now that enhanced interrogation techniques kept us safe for eight years, the program was called off halfway through the Bush administration.

According to a “New York Times” examination of the program, “The consensus of top administration officials about the CIA interrogation program, which they had approved without debate or dissent in 2002, began to fall apart the next year.  CIA officials began to curb its practices much earlier than most Americans know.  No one was waterboarded after March 2003 and coercive interrogation methods were shelved all together in 2005.”

The program ceased to exist in 2005.  Cheney lost the battle to keep it going years ago.  And, yet, after leaving office, he‘s railing against the decisions—not just of the Obama administration—but of his own administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  And I think to the extent that those policies were responsible for saving lives, that the administration is now trying to cancel those policies or end them, that means, in the future, we‘re not going to have the same safeguards that we‘ve had for the last eight years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  And now, we have Dick Cheney‘s insistence that his former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, should have received a presidential pardon -another battle that he lost in office but continuing to fight it, even escalating the fight over this after leaving office.  

Now, it‘s no secret that there is a fight under way broadly speaking for the soul of the Republican Party, what will the post-Bush, post-McCain Republican Party look like.

The most prominent Republican there is in the country is not moving back to Texas or Wyoming or anywhere else, he is staying in Washington.  He‘s waging that fight aggressively, both against Democrats and now overtly against the president—the Republican president he served under for eight years.

I wonder if any Republican will fight back against him.

Joining us now is Pulitzer Prize-winning “Washington Post” reporter, Barton Gellman.  He‘s author of the book, “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.”

Mr. Gellman, thanks very much for joining us.

BARTON GELLMAN, THE WASHINGTON POST:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  The official line from the Bush and Cheney camps is that these two men are still friends, that they‘re still close.  This statement today from Mr. Cheney—and, frankly, what I saw was a vociferously anti-Cheney, pro-Bush piece in “Time” magazine sourced to Bush loyalists, it makes me think that they‘re essentially at war with each other.

Can you tell which is true?

GELLMAN:  Probably neither.  I don‘t think they were ever friends.  Bush was very interesting about this on TV in 2007.  They were close very colleagues and Cheney was important to Bush.  But they didn‘t socialize at all.  And I‘m told they still do talk from time to time, but there‘s no doubt their relationship was damaged.

I mean, the difference here between Gitmo and interrogation policy and all these other things and Scooter Libby, is that this is clearly very personal for Cheney.  And he just accused the president of throwing an innocent man under the bus.

MADDOW:  Yes.

GELLMAN:  A man who had served the president honorably and well, and there are probably worse things you could say about the person, but not so many.

MADDOW:  Why is it so personal for Cheney?

GELLMAN:  Three reasons.  One is, Scooter Libby is a close friend of his.  And he was a vital advisor to Cheney.

The next one is that, after eight years of working together, Dick Cheney asked the president for one thing—if there‘s any one thing you can do for me as we walk out the door here, I want you to pardon Scooter Libby.  And Bush said no.

And the third reason is—this is a little bit tougher one—Scooter Libby fell on his sword for Cheney.  And Cheney knows that.  Cheney knew it at the time, and Cheney could have stopped it.

MADDOW:  Now, I want to talk to you about that, because we all covered and lived through and tried to understand what was going on in the Valerie Plame case.  And at the end of that case, the prosecutor said—and that, of course, that‘s the case from which Scooter Libby was convicted.  The prosecutor said at the end of that case, there is a cloud over the vice president.

We know that Libby was convicted of obstructing the investigation of a crime.  Bush administration officials are now telling reporters that they think that Libby obstructed that investigation because Cheney is the one who committed the crime.  Libby was just protecting Cheney, that‘s why Cheney is trying to help out the guy who took up the fall for him.

Does that all seem evident to you that it was Cheney who was the one who really should have been indicted in that case?

GELLMAN:  Well, let‘s parse this carefully.  Scooter Libby was convicted of lying and of obstructing an investigation into whether there was a crime.  Even if Libby or Cheney could be proof to have outed Valerie Plame, that probably would still not constitute sufficient evidence that they had violated this Identities Protection Act because of a bunch of obscure legal conditions that have to be met.

What Libby was protecting was the fact that Dick Cheney was the one who found out that Valerie Plame was Joe Wilson‘s wife and worked for the CIA.  That Dick Cheney was the one—whose own handwriting introduced as an exhibit of the trial—was the one who introduced the political line of attack which is that Joe Wilson had been set to check out these Iraq nuclear claims in Niger as a junket arranged by his wife.  That Dick Cheney authorized Scooter to talk to reporters.

Now, Scooter Libby was asked under a—several times, “Did Dick Cheney tell you to talk about Valerie Plame?”  And he said, “I don‘t recall.”  He said that several times.

So, it‘s—there‘s no doubt that Scooter was protecting his boss—and his boss‘ boss.

MADDOW:  Evidence at the trial showed that Cheney told Libby she‘s CIA his wife is CIA and you can talk to reporters about that?

GELLMAN:  No, the evidence showed that he told Libby—he was the one who told Libby, even though Libby was working pretty hard to find out himself.

MADDOW:  Right.

GELLMAN:  . that Valerie Plame—not only did she work for the CIA, Cheney found out personally from George Tenet that she worked for the director of operations, which made it much more likely that she had covert status, though it still didn‘t prove it.  And he told Scooter Libby he could talk to reporters about Joe Wilson and about the National Intelligence Estimate.

It‘s not probed whether he told Scooter Libby to talk about Valerie Plame.

MADDOW:  As we try to assess the political impact of this—in your view, from what you know about Cheney, what you‘ve reported about him, is there anyone in the Republican Party who he would see as influential right now?  If anybody came to him and said, “What you‘re doing, we understand you‘re personal gig with Scooter, we understand your interest in promoting your own legacy, but you going after Bush like this?  You‘re dividing the Republican Party like this?  This is bad for the party, we need you to stop.”

Is there anyone he‘d listen to?

GELLMAN:  I strongly doubt it.  He cares about the Republican Party. 

They‘re his team.  He wants to promote his team.

But he cares about other things more.  One of them is this, for the reasons I described, the personal reasons, and other is that he really believes that the policies they put into place are the only thing that can protect the country.  He stands four-square behind Guantanamo and harsh interrogation and all of the things you talked about before.  And a fundamental element of that for him is that you protect the people that carried out your policies.

And he, at one point—again in his own handwriting in trial, there‘s an exhibit in which he talks about how Scooter Libby was asked to put his head on the chopping block for the president and you don‘t let it get chopped off.

MADDOW:  Or for the vice president in this case.  He‘s going to do it.  I think a lot of Democrats would be delighted if the post-Bush, post-McCain era in Republican politics is a new Cheney era.  He‘s fighting for that.  We will see.

“Washington Post” reporter Barton Gellman, author of “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency”—it‘s really helpful to have you here.  Thanks for coming in.

GELLMAN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  President Obama‘s remarks last night about the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates are being used as an excuse to try to turn the country‘s level of racial resentment back up to stun.  Princeton Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell will join us in just a moment.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The two big American political sights of the summer are: the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor and this generation‘s version of the ongoing “battle royale” over we need an actual health care system in this country or whether we can keep muddling along with the bad model of the health care system that the insurance companies made out of Popsicle sticks and spit and forms in triplicate sometime back in the Truman administration.

In both of these fights, the Democrats are in dominant political position because of their sheer numerical majority in Congress and, of course, because of their popular new president.

Republicans, in turn, have decided to fight both of these big political fights using the same tactic for each of them.  See if you can pinpoint the tactic here, starting with the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ®, ALABAMA:  A wise Latina woman.

SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  The wise Latina woman.

SESSION:  With your wise Latina comment.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY ®, IOWA:  Your wise Latina comment.

SESSION:  Anybody with him.

KYL:  Decision making based on her biases and prejudices.

GRASSLEY:  Biases and personal preferences.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  We would have picked Miguel Estrada.

KYL:  Decision-making on her biases and prejudices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Oh, nationally televised point made.

See, they don‘t have a problem with Sonia Sotomayor‘s race, but they want everybody to know that she has a problem with theirs.  Yes.

Now, health care is starting to look like the second verse of that same song.  For starters, there was news today of an amazing commission from Congressman Roy Blunt from Missouri, he‘s the man who‘s supposed to be the top Republican on health care in Congress.  He‘s the head of the House GOP Health Care Solutions Group.  They call it that, the solutions group.

Despite that, Congressman Blount admitted today that neither he nor anyone else in the solutions group nor anyone else in the whole Republican Party plans to offer a solution for health care.  He said, quote, “Our bill is never going to get to the floor.  So, why confuse the focus?  Why start diverting attention from this really bad piece of work they‘ve got to whatever we‘re offering right now?”

In other words, in a fight over what to do about health care policy, the Republican proposal will not involve policy.  What do they want to talk about instead?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  We saw white firefighters under assault by agents of Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor.  Now, white policemen are under assault from the East Room of the White House by the president of the United States.

The president‘s reaction to this was not presidential.  We got the ACORN reaction last night.  We got the militant black reaction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That, of course, was de facto Republican Party leader Rush Limbaugh, talk show host, taking issue with the final question of the president‘s press conference on health care last night.  It was about the controversial arrest of the nation‘s leading black intellectual, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates.

The National Republican Congressional Committee blasted out an e-mail press release about President Obama‘s comments on that today saying, quote, “President Obama laid a bold accusation at Massachusetts‘s law enforcement officers from the bully pulpit yesterday saying they ‘acted stupidly‘ while admitting that he didn‘t know all the facts.  Is it presidential to cast harsh judgment of a law enforcement official without all the facts?”

Same goes for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which wasted no time producing an ad today that asks whether it‘s appropriate for the president to criticize the men and women in law enforcement and offering up a petition you can sign if you don‘t think so.

Here‘s a hint.  If you sign the petition, I think they‘ll follow up with you.  How do I know that‘s true?  Well, you can donate money while you‘re filling out the petition if you want to save them some time.

This is chapter one of the art of Republican politics since Richard Nixon.  When surrounded by a more popular opponent whose ideas you can‘t necessarily counter or don‘t feel confident countering, steer as far clear from the ideas and policy, and instead stoke racial indignation among your base when you can.  It has worked before and here we are again.

Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, political science professor at Princeton.  She wrote about the Henry Louis Gates‘ arrest for “The Nation” this week.

Professor Harris-Lacewell, it‘s a real pleasure to have you on the show.  Thanks for joining us.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Absolutely.  It‘s always great to be here.

MADDOW:  First of all, let me ask for your assessment of the president‘s comments last night on the Gates‘ arrest.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  I think, you know, my greatest assessment here was that I—as soon as I heard it, my heart sank only because I knew that that would become the news cycle rather than the conversation on health care—which has been, of course, a whole hour before.  So, here we have a press conference on health care and it becomes a conversation about the arrest of Professor Gates.

Now, I actually think it‘s worth talking about the arrest of Professor Gates.  I think it‘s worth talking about what it means for racial politics in the United States and of how we‘ve reacted to it.  But I think he was most distressed simply that when the question was asked, almost regardless of the answer, I think that that would become our new conversation, you know, sort of in place of the more relevant, and I think, you know, seriously important issues of health care.

MADDOW:  The two campaign committees of the Republican Party have already started fundraising on this.  They‘ve already put out an ad on this see.  So, we know they could move that fast.

Is the lesson here that racial division pace, that racial animus is at least big political bucks?  The speed with which this was seized on and what you—and the reason your heart sank when you were watching this last night, expecting what that reaction would be, is it—doesn‘t just essentially prove the theorem that race pays?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, we‘ll see.  So, what the GOP is up to.  A couple of times, you‘ve asked on this show, “What are they doing with all of this kind of racial politicking?  Don‘t they recognize that there are these huge demographic shifts happening in the country?  Haven‘t they notice that it was a large multiracial coalition that elected our last president?”

But I think the answer is, as I thought about it more and more, is that we‘re looking at a midterm election.  In 2010, what the Republicans are hoping to do is to make enough sort of room in the House, to maybe even possibly retake the House.  Now, this could potentially happen on the basis of a kind of race-baiting strategy.

We don‘t know if it can, but it‘s certainly possible, because in the last midterm election, there was so many sort of conservative Democrats that replace Republicans basically on a referendum on the war in Iraq.  That if the GOP can make this a referendum on race, ethnicity, immigration issues in the U.S., they could potentially make inroads in exactly the districts that they want to retake, get the house, get it just in time for the 2010 census so they can redraw districts for their own benefit.

MADDOW:  So, do you see a larger strategic arc of trying to exploit racial animus then towards that end?  Do you think this is the same tactic which is sort of my hypothesis in the intro here—is this an extension of the same tactic that we saw at work in the Judge Sotomayor hearings?         

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, this is opportunistic.  I don‘t think—although who knows—but I don‘t think that the GOP actually sent the Cambridge police to Professor Gates‘ home in order to arrest him, in order to provoke Barack Obama to say that it was stupid and therefore create this possibility.  Not even I believe that—although it would be quite a militant black thing to say.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Instead, what I suspect is that it‘s simply a moment of opportunity and one that‘s going to reappear over and over again.  After all, we‘re in this unusual space of having an African-American as our president in a country where there is still enormous racial inequality, bubbling racial anxiety.  And so, each time it happened, it becomes an opportunity to try to peg Barack Obama as someone that he‘s not.

I mean, listen, I actually know some militant black people.  And they are not Henry Louis Gates or Barack Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Melissa Harris-Lacewell, political science professor at Princeton—it‘s always so great to have you on the show.  Thanks so much, Melissa.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Absolutely.

MADDOW:  OK.  Coming up: We have an exciting installment of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW “Transcript Theater.”  This time it‘s about new news from the secretive religious group in D.C. that runs C Street.  Stay tuned for that.

Plus, the gobsmacking corruptions sting in New Jersey that netted three mayors, two state legislators and a whole handful of rabbis.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead: When is the arrest of three mayors and two state legislators in the same state on the same day not surprising?  When more than 130 of their state‘s cohorts have pled guilty or been convicted of corruption already this decade.  That‘s New Jersey—and that‘s coming up next.

And, does Ms. Pacman deserve a shot at the Olympics?  Duh!  Kent Jones is on it in just a moment.

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

First up: An exclusive clip from a new interview of the top Republican in the United States Senate by our own John Harwood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC:  How do you feel Senator Ensign has handled the controversy that he‘s been facing?  Do you want him to serve out his term?  And do you support his re-election?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  Well, what Senator Ensign is doing is handling that issue himself.  As you know, it‘s a personal issue to him and to his constituents and I‘m going to let him speak to that.

HARWOOD:  Are you uncomfortable with the idea that the senator‘s parents paying $96,000 to someone to the family that he‘d been involved with?

MCCONNELL:  Well, as I just said, this is an issue that‘s personal to Senator Ensign and his family.  And he‘s going to handle this issue himself and be the spokesman for himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You know, when you‘re a Republican in the Senate who has just announced that you‘re running for re-election and the best that the top Republican in the Senate can say about you is that you should be the spokesman for yourself—that‘s not good.  No one knows exactly how bright the political future is for the conservative family values Nevada senator who admitted to having his parents pay his mistress nearly $100,000.

No one knows if the Republican Party will ever explain why that senator put his mistress‘ teenage son on the Republican Party‘s payroll while that senator was sleeping with the boy‘s mother and then fired the boy when the affair was over. 

No one knows how that senator‘s constituents will feel in the long run about their senate demanding that other politicians resign because of their affairs, but him refusing so far to resign because of his.  No, no one knows exactly how things are going to work out for Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada. 

But, his staffers seem like they‘re starting to get a hunch. 

Yesterday the “Las Vegas Sun” reported that Sen. John Ensign‘s top staffer, his chief-of-staff, John Lopez, is resigning.  As chief-of-staff, John Lopez worked directly with another Ensign staffer, Doug Hampton, who was fired after Ensign started sleeping with Hampton‘s wife. 

And today, the senator‘s office has announced that Ensign‘s communications director is also leaving.  If it wouldn‘t accidentally imply that I thought that presumed-innocent John Ensign staffers were racked, this is the part where I would make reference to the sinking ship.  

One of the sources of the intrigue in the ongoing sex and money scandal is the role in the scandal of the secretive religious organization called The Family, which operates a house called C Street in Washington where Sen. Ensign lives with a number of other members of Congress and where they all pay well-below market rent. 

Other members of Congress and former members of Congress who live at C Street say they knew about Ensign‘s affair months before it ever became public.  And the husband of Sen. Ensign‘s mistress say that members of Congress who live at C Street like Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn actually were involved in suggesting that Ensign arrange a large cash payout to the mistress.  Sen. Coburn vociferously denies that. 

Well, now, members of Congress associated with C Street are starting to get very cagey about talking about the group after a Christian magazine called “The World” described conservative North Carolina Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler as a resident of C Street.  His hometown paper, the “Asheville Citizen Times,” called Shuler‘s office to confirm. 

Shuler‘s office would not confirm or deny it saying, quote, “Sorry about this one, but because of privacy issues, we‘re not giving out any information about the congressman‘s living arrangements.”

A congressman gets to be private about whether he lives in a religious group home that swears its members to secrecy about its activities?  How long do you think a congressman gets to be private about that? 

Not to be outdone, another conservative Democrat, Bart Stupak of Michigan, who has also been listed as a C Street resident in the press so artfully dodged questions about The Family and C Street on a recent conference call with reporters that he has earned himself a new addition of the RACHAEL MADDOW SHOW‘s transcript theater. 

These are actual quotes as spoken by Congressman Bart Stupak on a conference call today as recorded by “The Detroit News.”

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I will not discuss what goes on there because I‘m not there.  Are there other activities going on there?  Yes.  But what goes on and things like that, I don‘t know.  I have my room there. 

I have a room there and I participated in a Tuesday night dinner once in a while there.  So there is no regimen.  There‘s no group stuff I have to do.  You guys are grasping at straws that‘s not there. 

I rent a home there.  I almost have to chuckle at your questions.  Number one, I don‘t belong to any such group.  I rent a room at a house on C Street.  I do not belong to any such group. 

I don‘t know what you‘re talking about.  I have no affiliation.  I rent the room at C Street.  I don‘t own the building.  I don‘t know how the landlord has it listed.  I pay rent for a room.  I sleep there.  I spent probably 6:00 in the morning to 10:00 or 11:00 at night working at my job.  I rent a room.  

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Nothing to see here, folks, move along.  I just rent a room from a seemingly extremist religious organization that swears me to secrecy about its activities but does give me advance notice of multiple politician‘s extramarital affairs before they become public.  It‘s just a room like any other.  Why do you care? 

And finally, diplomacy is not always diplomatic.  Take for example the current back-and-forth between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the isolated, weird, Stalinist dictatorship that is North Korea. 

Earlier this week, the Secretary of State said that North Korea‘s missile launches were a desperate demand for attention. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE:  And maybe it‘s the mother in me or the experience that I‘ve had which small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention - don‘t give it to them.  They don‘t deserve it.  They are acting out.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  North Korea apparently did not appreciate being compared to an unruly teenager that was acting out.  In the last 24 hours, a foreign ministry spokesman from North Korea has called Secretary Clinton vulgar, unintelligent, a funny lady, and has compared her both to a schoolgirl and to a pensioner going shopping. 

I repeat, pensioner.  Personally I‘m surprised that a country that can‘t feed it own people would even know how to recognize a person lucky enough to live off of a pension.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Three mayors, one deputy mayor, two state legislators - all from the great state of New Jersey, all arrested this morning along with 38 other people as part of a massive federal corruption and money laundering probe which also swept up a handful of rabbis and a man from Brooklyn accused of conspiring to sell a human kidney. 

For $160,000, he would sell you a kidney.  He promised to entice people to give up their kidneys for just $10,000.  It‘s kind of a nice margin.   The arrested New Jersey public officials are all charged with taking bribes and illegal money. 

The details are straight out of “The Sopranos,” including $97,000 in cash allegedly stuffed into an Apple Jacks box and then passed on to one of the perps.  The “New York Times” says the FBI is anticipating confiscating so much actual cash in this sting that they‘re considering borrowing money-counting machines from a federal credit union in order to process it all.  

According to the complaints filed today, state Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt allegedly took $10,000.  Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith allegedly took $15,000.  Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Baldini allegedly took $20,000.  Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell took $10,000. 

Richfield Mayor Anthony Suarez allegedly agreed to take $10,000.  And Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano allegedly took $25,000 including a $10,000 bribe he took just last Thursday.  That would have been his 16th day in office.  

For American politics, generally, this is incredible.  For New Jersey politics - one of Mayor Cammarano‘s predecessors, former Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo, was convicted five years ago of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a city accountant and a city business owner.  He got more than two years in prison. 

Just yesterday, another New Jersey assemblyman and former Perth Amboy, Mayor Joseph Vas, was indicted for at least the third time this year alone.  This time he‘s accused of knowingly accepting illegal campaign contributions. 

And in totally unrelated news, tomorrow, former New Jersey State Senator Wayne Bryant will be facing up to 10 years in the pokey at his sentencing on bribery and pension fraud charges. 

In big stings like today where they arrest a whole bunch of people at once, these aren‘t new in the Garden State either.  It was just two years ago that the FBI arrested 11 public officials in towns across New Jersey and charged them for taking bribes as well.  

Among those arrested in that sting, two state lawmakers, two mayors, and three Pleasantville, New Jersey city councilmen.  That‘s pleasant.  All told, since 2001, more than 130 New Jersey public officials have pled guilty or been convicted of corruption. 

Not in the history of the state.  Not since it wasn‘t, you know, since colonial times - since 2001.   In the words of acting U.S. attorney in the state, Ralph Mara. Jr. today, corruption among New Jersey politicians is, quote, “a way of life.”  

Joining us now is Bob Ingle, bureau chief for the Gannett‘s Trenton, New Jersey office.  He‘s co-author of the book, “The Soprano State: New Jersey‘s Culture of Corruption.”  Mr. Ingle, thanks for joining us. 

INGLE:  Oh, I love this show.  Thank you for having me. 

MADDOW:  It‘s great to have you here.  I have to imagine since you wrote “The Soprano State” …

INGLE:  Yes.

MADDOW:  … that not only did today‘s news not shock you but the magnitude of it didn‘t shock you. 

INGLE:  The only thing that‘s shocking is they needed more than one bus.  Ordinarily, when they take these guys down, it‘s maybe a third of that and they can get them all in one bus.  But today, they had to have three buses or something.  

But you know, you wonder how long this has been going on.  We‘re asked this all the time.  And they‘re doing “Soprano State, The Movie.”  It‘s going to be a documentary.  And so they were going back to research to see where the corruption started in New Jersey. 

And they found an instance where George Washington, who had to come across New Jersey to fight the British with that rag tag army that he had that was ill-equipped, the people of New Jersey wanted to charge the revolutionary army a toll. 

So George Washington wrote a scathing letter to then-governor of New Jersey.  It said, “What the hell, we‘re trying to win a revolution here.” 

MADDOW:  He wrote back, “Forget about it.”

INGLE:  Forget about it.

MADDOW:  I mean, New Jersey seems more corrupt than your average state. 

INGLE:  No kidding.

MADDOW:  There is a way to defend it, though. 

INGLE:  There is.

MADDOW:  You could say that New Jersey corrupt officials just get caught more.  Could you make that case? 

INGLE:  No, I don‘t think you can.  I think it is the most corrupt in the state.  And people ask us who live there, I‘m not a native New Jerseyian.  But they ask, “Why would you want to live in a place like that?”  I said, “Where else could you have that much entertainment?” 

But I think it really is more corrupt.  And I think there are many reasons for that.  For one thing, we have too much government.  When we were writing “The Soprano State,” we tried to figure out some way of comparing how much government we have to the rest of the country. 

And so, we came up with census figures that said the average number of government workers in the country is something like six per square mile.  In New Jersey, it‘s 81.  

In New Jersey, there is a sense of entitlement.  People think they get elected to office and that gives them the right to steal as much as they can. 

MADDOW:  But I‘ve got to say, though - I mean, if you‘re talking about, like, Alaska versus New Jersey, like I would want more elected officials per square mile of New Jersey.  There‘s a lot more people in it than the square mile of Alaska or Nevada or any of those things. 

I mean, what seems remarkable is that you look at these guys, 44 people arrested today, a number of them public officials.  They were all getting away with something like this for a long time, before today happened. 

That‘s why you can end up taking $10,000 on your 17th day in office.  Is there a law enforcement problem in New Jersey which means that these guys get away with it at the state level?  It takes the feds to come in and clean it up.

INGLE:  That‘s what it is.  The New Jersey Attorney General‘s Office seems to be dedicated to the proposition that when anyone of a high profile gets caught or is accused, that gets swept under the carpet. 

They go for the low-hanging fruit, the people that you have never heard of.  But the high profile people seem to somehow get by with it.   We have a thing called the Schools Construction Corp., which was supposed to build new schools, primarily in poor areas. 

They went through $8.6 billion, with a B, in record time and had very little to show for it.  No one has ever been held accountable.  They even brought in contaminated dirt to build a school on.  Then they built the school.  Then they had to tear it down because they found out it was contaminated dirt. 

MADDOW:  More work?

INGLE:  Yes.

MADDOW:  More contracts. 

INGLE:  Now, shouldn‘t somebody be held accountable for that?  I think so.  But it hasn‘t happened.  It‘s a part of the culture that they have in New Jersey.  Everyone just goes along with the system.  And there are people who aren‘t in government. 

I heard a guy call in to a talk radio show this morning and said, “I don‘t think this is a good idea at all.”  And the host said, “Why not?”  He said, “Well, because my family and my friends are going to lose money because of this.”  

MADDOW:  It‘s one way to make money.  Bob Ingle, bureau chief for Gannett‘s Trenton New Jersey office, co-author of “The Soprano State: New Jersey‘s Culture of Corruption,” soon to be a documentary, we have just learned.  Mr. Ingle, thanks very much for your time tonight.

INGLE:  My pleasure. 

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Louisiana‘s Republican Governor Bobby Jindal spent months slamming the Stimulus Bill, you will recall.  Now, guess who‘s handing out giant stimulus checks all over the state with his name on them.  As they say in Mardi Gras, “Throw me something, mister.”  Stay with us.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  For the first time since he has been president, Barack Obama has just done one of the most solemn, important things that an American president can ever do.  He‘s awarded a Medal of Honor.  The Medal of Honor is the nation‘s highest military award. 

And this week President Obama made the decision to confer one on Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti.  Sergeant Monti was killed in action, June 21st, 2006, in Afghanistan.  He was 30 years old.  He was a native of Raynham, Massachusetts. 

This is his father, Paul Monti, speaking with his hometown paper, the Brockton, Massachusetts “Enterprise” this past Memorial Day about his son and about how his son lost his life. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL MONTI, FATHER OF JARED C. MONTI:  I‘m the father of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.  My son Jared was 30 years old.  Jared was with the 10th Mountain Division at the time he was killed.  He was in the mountains of Afghanistan. 

His small unit of 16 men was attacked by about 70 Taliban.  And in the ensuing battle, three of his soldiers were downed and from his position of safety, Jared decided that he had to try to save his friends, his comrades.  So he attempted to go out and save one of the guys.  He was driven back by heavy fire. 

That didn‘t stop him.  He wasn‘t the kind of kid that could be stopped.  He tried a second time and again was driven back by heavy fire.  On the third time, he tried again.  And at that point, he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and he was killed at that point. 

He was a wonderful kid.  He had two bronze stars, Purple Heart, five Army commendation medals, four Army achievement medals and many others. 

And yet he was a very, very humble kid.  He never even brought those medals home to show mom and dad.  We finally found out about most of them after, because he didn‘t want any accolades.  He would say, “I was just doing my job.  That‘s all I was doing.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The nation‘s highest accolade will soon be added to those already awarded to Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti.  The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in the United States Military.  It‘s awarded to a service member who distinguishes him or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity as the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action with an enemy against the United States. 

Only five Medals of Honor have been awarded thus far to those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  No Medal of Honor has been awarded since Vietnam to a soldier who survived the fight for which he was honored.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We turn now to our sofa sports correspondent Kent Jones.  That sounds dirty.  Is that how you mean it? 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Not at all. 

MADDOW:  Great, not at all.  Thank god. 

JONES:  I‘m going to pose a fairly bold question here. 

MADDOW:  OK.

JONES:  Should videogames be included in the Olympics?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(voice-over):  “Wired” magazine posed this question to some Olympic skiers and snowboarders.  The super-buff athletes were respectful of gaming saying it took exceptional hand-eye coordination and strategy. 

But put gaming in the Olympics?  Sorry, dude, you‘re still doing it on your sofa in your sweat pants with your thumbs.  The Canadian speed skater Christina (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you can‘t just imitate the sport.  The whole idea of sports is doing it, without a tiny bit gamist.   

But the jocks are trying to keep the nerds in their lockers?  I guess it all depends on what your definition of “sports” is.  For instance, is this a sport?  What about this? 

(MUSIC PLAYING)

And OK, big, tough jock, what about Tron, huh?  Are you telling me Tron is not a sport.  Really?  And if video-gaming is a sport, then which ones?  The games I used to play?  And if “Frogger” is allowed in the Olympics, then why not “Twister” or even Twitter?  You know, texts don‘t send themselves.  What about this?  Or this?  Or this?  Or even this?  Maybe they have a point. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Very nice.

JONES:  No tanning in the Olympics.  No. 

MADDOW:  Nor flair bartending.  

JONES:  No.

MADDOW:  Did I ever tell you about the time when I was in elementary and we were an Atari family.  Yes, I‘m that old.  I came home from elementary school and my mom was playing the Atari. 

JONES:  Oh, yes.

MADDOW:  That was like melt part of the brain. 

JONES:  Mom, no.

MADDOW:  She was really good at Kaboom. 

JONES:  All right. 

MADDOW:  Anyway - a cocktail moment for you, Kent. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I know we‘ve been covering the John Ensign sex and money scandal for weeks now. 

JONES:  Oh, yes. 

MADDOW:  The sex scandal after saying other politicians should resign if they have affairs, and then his parents giving his mistress $100,000. 

JONES:  Right. 

MADDOW:  We used a graphic a little while ago that called him Johnny Cash for this.  And you will recall we got a call from Johnny Cash‘s manager saying, “Oh, please do not associate Johnny Cash with this Senator from Nevada.” 

JONES:  Understandable.

MADDOW:  We then switched to a new graphic.  We used John Dough - cash dough.  Right?  Now, John Doe is mad.  John Doe from the Band X of whom I am a huge fan, again. 

JONES:  Yes, of course.

MADDOW:  The weird thing is, and I‘m not kidding, I was actually on my iPod listening to John Doe‘s last solo record with “The Golden State” on it at my desk when I got the E-mail from the manager guy at Yep Roc Records saying, “Not Johnny Cash; not John Dough either.” 

JONES:  Not John Dough.

MADDOW:  Yes, we need a new one. 

JONES:  Well, I‘ll think about this. 

MADDOW:  Thanks, Kent.  Thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” 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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