The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/25/09

Guests:
Bob Baer, Sen. Ben Cardin, Carol Schultz, Tom Barrett, Kent Jones
Transcript:

ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST:  Good evening.  Thank you, Keith.

And thank you for staying with us for the next hour.  Rachel is still feeling pretty lousy, but we are licensed to carry on in her absence and we appreciate your watching.

We begin tonight with the return of the 46th vice president of the

United States, Richard Bruce Cheney.  Mr. Cheney, who has been

conspicuously absent from the media glare in the recent weeks, re-emerged

last night at 12:15 a.m.  His office fired off a midnight missive to our

own Andrea Mitchell to offer the former vice president‘s reaction to a

trove of CIA documents released yesterday and his response to the news that

a federal prosecutor will be looking into whether CIA interrogators should

face charges for torture

Dick Cheney‘s takeaway from the thousands of pages of heavily redacted documents?  The current commander in chief isn‘t quite up to the job.  Quote, “President Obama‘s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel serves as a reminder if any were need as why so many Americans have doubts about the administration‘s ability to be responsible for our nation‘s security,” end quote.

Aside from the unsubstantiated swipe at the president is somehow endangering the country, Mr. Cheney offered a reminder of the Bush administration‘s apparent blind spot about the Justice Department as sort of its own independent agency.  “President Obama‘s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate”—this serves as another chance to refresh the notion that the Justice Department kind of gets to decide for itself what it does and doesn‘t investigate, the years of 2001 to 2008 notwithstanding.

Among the reams and reams of documents the CIA released yesterday were two reports that Mr. Cheney himself specifically asked to be released.  These documents, Cheney said, would prove once and for all that enhanced interrogation techniques were vital to saving American lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process, and what the consequences were for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The reports he was referring to, one CIA report from July of 2004 and another from June of 2005.  Mr. Cheney spent the spring of this year practically begging that these documents be released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release.  I saw that information as vice president, and I reviewed some of it again recently at the National Archives.  If Americans do get the chance to learn what our country was spared, it will do more than clarify the urgency and the rightness of enhanced interrogations in the years after 9/11.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Now to paraphrase—if only these two documents were released, you would see we need torture.

Well, yesterday, those two documents were released, and what they reveal is not really at all what Mr. Cheney promised.  The documents do lay out specific, valuable information obtained from prisoners.  For instance, quote, “Detainee reporting has helped thwart a number of al Qaeda plots to attack targets in the West and elsewhere.  Not only have detainees reported on potential targets and techniques that al Qaeda operational planners have considered, but arrests also have been disrupted attack plans in progress.”

Well, the document doesn‘t say what Mr. Cheney essentially promised it would say, is that those attacks were prevented because of the use of enhanced techniques, granted a lot of the information in this report is still redacted, but nothing we learned yesterday proves Mr. Cheney 100 percent right.

One section of the June 2005 report hails Abu Zubaydah‘s identification early in his detention of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of September 11th.  Now, the issue here is the guy who actually interrogated Abu Zubaydah, says that information was given up before Zubaydah was enhancely-interrogated.

And yet even after these documents were released yesterday, documents which did not provide proof of Mr. Cheney‘s claims of tortured necessity, Mr. Cheney still took a victory lap, although he‘s doing so with a very different word choice this time around.  Quote, “The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda.”

Did you catch that?  The individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information—that‘s a lot different from what Mr. Cheney was arguing before, that enhanced techniques were the reason that we got this information.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  I saw that information as vice president and I reviewed some of it again recently at the National Archives.  If Americans do get the chance to learn what our country was spared, it will do more than clarify the urgency and the rightness of enhanced interrogations in the years after 9/11.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Now, the information made public in the two documents that Cheney specifically asked for seemed to prove beyond a shadow of government doubt that the outcome is inconclusive.  But it was a vice try.

Joining us now is former CIA case officer, Bob Baer.  He‘s author of the book “See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA‘s War on Terror.”

Mr. Baer, thank you so much for taking the time tonight.

BOB BAER, TIME.COM INTELLIGENCE COLUMNIST:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  You‘re very familiar with the inner workings of the CIA.  So, what is your reaction to former Vice President Cheney‘s claim that the CIA documents prove that torture and other enhanced interrogation methods were necessary and effective?

BAER:  Well, there‘s—I‘ve looked to the documents and there is no evidence that torture led to the disclosure of imminent attacks, “the ticking bomb,” as they call it.  There‘s just no evidence there.  And secondly, this is a CIA report commenting on its own reporting.  I mean, it‘s sort of like Bear Stearns at the end of the year saying we‘ll do our own accounting, and we trust us on this.

So, the jury is still out whether torture has worked or not.  I mean, I have yet to see any evidence that torture has worked.  No good evidence.  And what Cheney said and what‘s come out in these documents don‘t prove anything at all.

STEWART:  I want you to take us inside a little bit.  Can you say that the U.S. interrogators can get information from terror suspects using these techniques that existed before the post-9/11 methods was introduced?

BAER:  Well, I‘ve never seen torture work.  I‘ve spent 21 years in the CIA.  It isn‘t—and watched other countries use torture and it never worked.  In fact, there was a rule, a very fixed rule in the CIA—don‘t accept tortured information because it‘s unreliable.  And that was across the board.  It went from China to Zimbabwe to every country in the world.  It‘s unreliable.

STEWART:  And the theory is because someone will say anything to stop being tortured.

BAER:  Well, wouldn‘t you?  I mean, everybody does.  They‘ll figure out what the interrogator wants and they‘ll answer that question in the way they think the interrogator wants the answer.

STEWART:  Mr. Cheney has repeatedly made the argument that CIA interrogators should not be subject to potential investigations or prosecutions.  He said the decision yesterday to appoint a federal prosecutor to look into possible prosecution said—he said it‘s a grave mistake.  What‘s you‘re view of that?

BAER:  If I could be just a little bit direct on this.  It was his administration that appointed a prosecutor to look into the CIA for the destruction of 92 tapes.  It‘s his prosecutor, Durham, who is now the special prosecutor.  I mean, this isn‘t much of a change at all.

And, you know, there is not a witch-hunt so far.  I can‘t tell you what‘s going to happen in the next six months.  But Durham is say very competent prosecutor who does not intend to take down the CIA for political reasons.  There‘s just no evidence of it.

STEWART:  Now, the information released yesterday gives us much more insight into what CIA interrogators were doing out in the field after 9/11.  Quite a bit—I was reading through the report, they used the word improvised a lot, going off script.

Can you help us understand—does the responsibility lie within these individuals who carried out these acts, off script, improvised, or those who were in charge who weren‘t watching their own program closely enough or even looked the other way?

BAER:  Alison, the problem is the CIA is not equipped to do hostile interrogations.  Let me put the word torture nicely, hostile interrogations.  It‘s filled with liberal arts majors who go out and collect intelligence without coercion.

So 9/11 comes along.  The White House is desperate to do something.  It turns to the CIA.  Many administrations, Democrat and Republican have, and said do something this.

So, guys, like you and me, will go out and then all we know about torture is we watch “24,” and suddenly, these guys are put on the line and they improvise and they use mock executions.  They threaten mothers and children and the rest of it.  And it looks like the amateur hour because it is the amateur hour.  This is not the role of the CIA to do abusive interrogations.  I mean, if anybody should be doing them, it should be the military or the FBI.

STEWART:  What was your reaction when you realized that these memos were going to be released?  Do you think it‘s a good thing?

BAER:  Well, it‘s a good thing because, look, Alison, I‘m afraid we‘re going to be attacked again and everybody‘s going to say, you know, under this administration, maybe and say, they do something, we have to start going back to torture.  What we need to know is, was it really useful or wasn‘t it?  And no one‘s answered that question in spite of what Vice President Cheney says or former vice president.

STEWART:  Former CIA case officer, Bob Baer, thank you for your time tonight.

BAER:  Thank you.

STEWART:  Coming up: The man convicted of murdering 270 people by bombing Pan Am Flight 103 walks free to a hero‘s welcome in Libya.  Was it blood-for-oil deal?  The British government had been silent but as the calls for clarification grew louder, authorities have been forced to speak.  Senator Ben Cardin wants answers and he joins us next.

(MUSIC)

STEWART:  But first, “One More Thing” about the CIA documents released yesterday.  It turns out it‘s not just Dick Cheney who‘s choosing to see what he wants to see in the documents.  According to “The Weekly Standard,” a GOP memo circulating on Capitol Hill is offering dissents (ph) of CIA interrogators by highlighting this line from the report.  Quote, “Agency senior managers believe lives have been saved as a result of the capture and interrogation of terrorists who were planning attack,” end quote.

End of story, right?  Lives were saved.  Attacks prevented it.

Well, until you read the line that the GOP memo selectively he leaves out, the line that came right before that one, quote, “This review did not uncover any evidence that these plots were imminent.”  Except that Vice President Cheney said imminent attacks were prevented.  Context, anyone?  Bueller?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  We‘re just eight months into 2009, and already, this has been the deadliest year for coalition forces in Afghanistan.  Four U.S.  service members were killed today by an IED while on patrol in the south.  That brings the total number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year to at least 172, and the total number of coalition forces killed to 295.  To put this in perspective, in all of 2008, 294 coalition troops lost their lives.

But it‘s not just the military falling victim to the violence.  Today, five car bombs blew up almost simultaneously in the city of Kandahar, flattening buildings and killing at least 41 people.  The attacks come in the midst of the country‘s sorting out who won last week‘s presidential election.

With about 10 percent of the official tally in, President Hamid Karzai and his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah are virtually tied, with Karzai ahead by a couple of point.  However, opponents are complaining of widespread election fraud.  If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held most likely in October.

Now, here in the states, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin went where few in government have gone before, by telling the editorial board of the “Appleton Post-Crescent” that it‘s time to discuss a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan—all that is life during wartime.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  There are now two searing images from the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.  First, the burning wreckage from the December 21st, 1988 flight that killed 270 people – 189 of them Americans.  And now this—the image of the hero‘s welcome in Libya for the only person convicted in the crime.  The Libyan intelligence agent was just freed from a Scottish prison because he is dying of cancer.  Abdel Basset al-Megrahi served just eight years of a 27-year minimum sentence.

As we reported last night, there‘s widespread suspicion that al Megrahi‘s release was part of a deal involving access to Libya‘s huge oil reserves.  Critic say they found evidence of a deal when Libya leader Ghadafi thanked British Prime Minister Gordon brown and the British government for securing al Megrahi‘s freedom, and when Ghadafi son told Libyan television on the plane ride back to Libya with Megrahi that negotiations over oil and gas contracts were always linked to his release.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFID MALE (through translator):  In all the trades, oil and gas deals, whenever British interests came to Libya, we always put you on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  British Foreign Secretary David Milibrand said that claim is, quote, “a slur on myself and the government.”  And today, facing a firestorm of criticism in Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown responded publicly for the first time to the news but still did not say whether he supported the decision to free al Megrahi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON BROWN, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN:  When I met Colonel Ghadafi over the summer, I made it absolutely clear to him that we had no role in making the decision about Megrahi‘s future, because it was a quasi judicial matter, because it was a matter legislated for by the Scottish parliament and not by us.  It was a matter over which we could not interfere and had no control over the final outcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Now, the issue with that statement, “The Times of London” reports, that weeks before al Megrahi‘s release, a British government minister sent a letter to the Scots suggesting they let the convicted terrorist go.  And according to “The New York Times,” Peter Mandelson, Britain‘s business minister, admitted that he had discussed al Megrahi twice this year in meetings with Ghadafi son, including one talk a week before the announcement, though he denied negotiating any release in exchange for oil deals.

Yesterday, an emergency session of parliament, Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice secretary who freed al Megrahi, blamed the prisoner transfer agreement negotiated by former Prime Minister Tony Blair as the reason al Megrahi was even eligible for release.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNY MACASKILL, SCOTTISH JUSTICE SECRETARY:  Throughout the negotiations and at the time of the signing of the PTA with Libya, the Scottish government‘s opposition was made clear.  It was pointed out that the Scottish Prison Service had only one Libyan prisoner in custody.  Notwithstanding that, the United Kingdom government failed to secure, as requested by the Scottish government, an exclusion from the PTA for anyone involved in the Lockerbie air disaster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Now, that agreement was brokered in 2007, the same year that British Petroleum finalized a $900 million exploration deal with Libya.  Did the British government put pressure on Scotland to release al Megrahi to clear the way for oil deals?

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Ben Cardin from Maryland.  He sits on the foreign relations committee and is the chairman of the homeland security and terrorism subcommittee of the judiciary committee.

Senator Cardin, thank you so much for being with us tonight.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D) MARYLAND:  My pleasure.

STEWART:  There are a lot of difficult aspects to this story—victim‘s rights, the release of a terrorist, money as a motive.  What bothers you the most about the release of al Megrahi?

CARDIN:  Well, bottom line, this is a terrorist who showed no compassion for the hundreds of victims that were killed as a result of his terrorist activities.  And now, the Scottish government released him for humanitarian reasons.

It makes no sense.  It‘s outrageous.  It should never have been done.

We then watch him get a hero‘s welcome on his return to Libya.  This is outrageous.  And now, with the additional information coming out about economic oil deals between Great Britain and Libya, it just raises questions and it‘s certainly very troublesome.

STEWART:  Do you think the decision to release al Megrahi was politically or financially motivated?

CARDIN:  I know it was wrong.  I don‘t know whether it was politically-motivated or financially-motivated.  It should never have happened.

The United States expressed our strong views about this.  We certainly want the Scottish government to do a complete investigation to find out what happened here.  As to whether their justice system was compromised, I think the international community and the United States has a right to know that.

But, right now, all we know is that someone who should never have been released after just eight years of his prison sentence is back in Libya.

STEWART:  Senator, you‘re quoted in “The Independence” as saying, quote, “I think it‘s very serious and I think there should be consequences.”  What kind of consequences do you think there should be and for whom?

CARDIN:  Well, the consequences I was referring to was between—was with Libya.  The United States has many bilateral issues between Libya and our country.  I think there should be consequences based upon not just the release but the manner in which Libya welcomed back this terrorist.

STEWART:  Well, let me pose this question to you.  You know, just last year, the U.S. secretary of state was on a friendly-ish visit to Libya.  Libya destroyed its WMD.  It‘s reportedly helped the U.S. with certain terrorists and counterterrorism efforts.

A U.K. columnist posed this issue.  It said, you know, is it better to have a reasonable trading partner in Libya rather than let the country revert back to its old profile of a terrorist haven?  Is there any validity to that argument?

CARDIN:  Well, we certainly don‘t want them to revert back to how they used to be.  But maybe that‘s exactly what‘s happening.  Their conduct in walking back as terrorists certainly raises a lot of questions.

No, we want Libya to continue its progression away from terrorist activities or support of terrorist activities, and that‘s a major objective of U.S. policy.  But you just can‘t ignore what happened here.  This is just outrageous.

STEWART:  Does this release Megrahi have potential to strain U.S./British relations?

CARDIN:  I don‘t think so.  I think that there‘s a lot of questions that need to be answered, particularly with the Scottish authorities as to how they acted.  But our relationship with England is substantial and solid.  I don‘t expect this to affect that relationship, but I do think there needs to be answers.

STEWART:  You used the word “substantial.”  And I‘m wondering what the United States can do that would be substantial—what kind of response?

CARDIN:  To Libya?  I mean, there‘s a lot on the diplomatic side.  There‘s certainly issues about economic relations between our two countries.  There are—the administration has a lot of tools at its disposal to make it clear that this was wrong, and it will not go without notice.

STEWART:  Would you like to see those tools used?

CARDIN:  Oh, absolutely.  I think there should be a consequence to this.

STEWART:  And finally, have you heard from any of the victims‘ families since you made your remarks?

CARDIN:  I have not.  Clearly, I‘ve been reading some of the press accounts and this is—this is certainly been very traumatic for the families to have to relive the tragedy and then see the—one of the persons who was responsible for it treated as a hero back in Libya.

STEWART:  Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, chairman of the homeland security and terrorism subcommittee—thank you for taking the time tonight, Senator.

CARDIN:  Thank you.

STEWART:  And the latest round of the health care reform debate, Republican Party Chair Michael Steele squares off against his more formidable opponent yet, Michael Steele.

That and more mixed messages coming up in a few minutes with Pulitzer Prize winner Connie Shultz.

Plus, I‘ll talk to the man who may be “Mayor of the Year,” Milwaukee‘s own Tom Barrett, who tried to save a constituent and was brutally attacked while doing so.  Good guys—straight ahead.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  He was for Medicare before he was against it, and it took him less than 24 hours to totally reverse his position.  RNC Chairman Michael Steele‘s remarkably fast flip-flop—coming up.

But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news—beginning with $1.6 trillion.  That gobsmacking number is the amount that this year alone we, as a country, will spend above and beyond the amount we take in.  May I present to you—our deficit.  It is actually the CBO that presented this number.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this huge, giant, enormous gap is due to the economic downturn.  You see tax collections have fallen off more sharply than at any time since the Great Depression.

But despite the big, scary deficit number, today‘s economic news was dominated by the early announcement from the vacationing president himself, that Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, would be re-nominated to serve another four-year term—the same Ben Bernanke who was at the wheel when the recession hit.  So fingers crossed, his next four years are way, way, way, way better than the last four.

Next up: As Rachel has discussed a number of times—one of her favorites.  The “cash for clunkers” program was quite popular, judging by the number of people who wanted to de-clunk their lives.  The basic theory of the program was, get old gas guzzlers off the road, help people buy more efficient vehicles, help the environment, help the dealers, help the manufacturers, help the furloughed auto workers, catch some criminals, yes, and unanticipated positive effect that no one other than the writers of “Law & Order” could have foreseen, a murder was solved.

On August 8th, this man, Timothy Kissida, was driving his light blue BMW in Phoenix, Arizona, when he hit and killed a 52-year-old bicyclist named Charles Waldrop.  Kissida fled the scene and later that same day tried to ditch the evidence.  First, Kissida took the car to an auto body shop to get it fixed.  Then he tried to get rid of it through the “cash for clunkers” program, telling the dealer he hit a javelina.  Do you know what that is?  It‘s a little pig-like creature in the desert southwest.  That‘s when anonymous callers tipped off the police.

Detectives have now seized the car and arrested Mr. Kissida.  He‘s charged with one count of leaving the scene of a fatal collision and one count of tampering evidence.  More charges are likely to follow.  And now the writers of “Law & Order” are going out for a cocktail because episode five is basically written.

And finally, it‘s hard to imagine there‘s a community on this planet that has not yet been infiltrated by a McDonald‘s.  Mickey D‘s is the world‘s largest chain of hamburgers.  It serves about 15 million people per day in more than 30,000 restaurants.  Its operating income is measured in billions.  It even has its own Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Illinois.

But this global reach hasn‘t stopped the company from trying to reach out to one community in particular in a way that far for some reason just doesn‘t seem—well, I will let you decide.  McDonald‘s has launched a new Web site called 365black.com, whose contents sort of speaks for itself.  Quote, “Like the unique African Baobab tree, which nourishes its community with its leaves and fruit, McDonald‘s has branched out to the African-American community nourishing it with valuable programs and opportunities.”

Like the ancient Baobab tree—at this point, you can announce the urban area uniform as a kinta cloth and produce a video about how much black people love fast food.  Oh, wait, you did that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KASEY SHORT, MARKETING MANAGER:  We all know and love McDonald‘s.  That‘s where we get some of our favorite foods, like hamburgers, premium chicken, McGriddles and, of course, the fry.  But we‘d like to give you a deeper look into our corporation, to see all of the business opportunities going on under the arches.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  All right, to be fair, McDonald‘s “365 Black” initiative has partnered with some great organizations, like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and has recognized black achievements in various fields. 

Now, we did reach out to McDonald‘s for comment but did not hear back before airtime.  The point whether it‘s “365Asian.com” or a “365Jewish.com” or even a “365White.com,” it might not have merited our attention or the attention of many African-American bloggers who have written about this, like the one who called it condescending, or the one who summed it up with, “I‘m hatin‘ it.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Big news in the fight over healthcare reform tonight.  The Republican Party is staking out new ground, redrawing the battle lines, dramatically switching strategies.  RNC chair Michael Steele, who is naturally on the frontlines of these new tactical developments, chose today to take on the toughest enemy of all, a man who and can the be out-argued, a man willing to do or say anything to win, and his name, Michael Steele. 

Yes, you‘re about to see is a brutal Steele versus Steele political smackdown.  In one corner, the Michael Steele of Monday, the one casting himself and his party as the noble defenders of Medicare.  And the other, the Michael Steele of today, the one taking on the, quote, “already bankrupt program we can‘t afford.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  Our seniors have really come under fire in the last few weeks as more and more proposals look to be cutting benefits out of Medicare program. 

This single-payer program known as Medicare is a very good example of what we should not have happen with all of our health care. 

We want to make sure that we are not cutting the Medicare program. 

Government cannot run a health care system.  They‘ve already shown that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Why fight the Democrats when you can adopt the Democrats‘ position for a day and then fight yourself?  I‘m all for people evolving their positions over time - but over time, I‘m thinking, you know, more than 24 hours. 

But Michael Steele isn‘t the only Republican who suddenly seems to be representing both sides of the debate over health care reform.  What you‘re going to see next is really heartbreaking, and I mean this.  It‘s an exchange between a constituent at a town hall meeting and a Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  See, Mr. Coburn, we need help.  My husband has traumatic brain injury and his health insurance will not cover him to eat and drink.  And what I need to know is how you are going to help him where he can eat and drink. 

We left a nursing home, and they told us we‘re on our own.  He left with a feeding tube.  I have been working with him but I‘m not a speech pathologist, a professional that takes six years for a master‘s.  And I‘m trying to get him to eat and drink again and speak. 

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK):  Well, I think first of all, yes, we‘ll help. 

The first thing we‘ll do is see what we can do individually to help you

through our office.  But the other thing that‘s missing in this debate is

us, as neighbors, helping people that need our help.  You know, we tend to

-

(APPLAUSE)

The idea that the government is the solution to our problems is an inaccurate, a very inaccurate statement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Now, Sen. Coburn‘s office says they have followed up with that woman, that members of his staff are working with her.  And we, of course, sincerely hope they can help her and her family. 

But while it‘s commendable that Sen. Coburn is helping this woman as she struggles to get vitally important health care for her husband, he seems to be forgetting that as a U.S. senator, he is the government.  And he‘s using his office as an official of the government to help this poor woman and her family. 

Of course, it‘s great that he‘s helping her but it‘s just plain old confusing to hear within one answer that his office will help, but that he decries government involvement in health care.  He might want to be careful because here‘s the thing, if Sen. Coburn‘s answer to everyone who‘s un- or underinsured is, you know, “Give me a call,” he may have about 71 million voicemails very soon. 

Joining us now is Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who has been writing about the healthcare debate for “The Plain Dealer” in Ohio.  Connie, nice to see you. 

CONNIE SCHULTZ, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING COLUMNIST, “THE PLAIN DEALER”: 

Thank you, Alison.  It‘s good to be here. 

STEWART:  After offering to help this woman and her husband, Sen.  Coburn argued that people should be helping each other instead of getting the government involved.  In your opinion, does this position have a place in the current big-picture health reform debate? 

SCHULTZ:  I have to say that first and foremost, when I watched that video, and I‘ve watched it a couple of times, think of what it took for that woman to go to that meeting and to bleed that way publicly, and his response is so dispassionate. 

I don‘t understand why the first thing he said wasn‘t, “I am so sorry this is happening to you in America.  I‘m so sorry that you are suffering and that your husband is suffering.” 

Instead, he‘s got a very immediate response which all senators can have.  Yes, his office will make a difference for her.  That‘s the whole point.  When the government gets involved, it can solve these problems and he knows that.  And at least, you want to give him credit for doing that.  I guess that‘s true. 

What I don‘t understand is how he isn‘t willing to acknowledge it.  And what is this neighbors helping neighbors?  What are they supposed to do, throw bake sales to help raise this money for health care?  What does this mean, neighbors helping neighbors? 

I would say that the majority of Americans who are asking for universal health care are certainly asking for affordable health care for all Americans, that‘s helping your neighbor.  That‘s advocating for your neighbor.  And we do know that despite some of these outbursts at town hall meetings, we know that the majority of Americans do want healthcare reform. 

STEWART:  One of the frustrating things about trying to learn more about the healthcare debate is this manipulation of fact on all sides.  The RNC chair is continuing to tell people that there‘s this manual out there encouraging veterans to check out early. 

SCHULTZ:  It‘s a lie. 

STEWART:  Why are the anti-reform people moved onto veterans? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, I think they are running out of steam on America‘s number one most vulnerable group, senior citizens.  And so now they‘re trying to prey upon veterans because, as we know, during the previous administration, there were a lot of problems with veterans‘ health care and the way veterans were treated, period.

So they‘re feeling vulnerable.  And you know, the other thing is, don‘t forget always that we‘re hardwired to fear.  We will believe something that we‘re supposed to be afraid of first.  We retreat then we‘ll look back later to see whether we had a real reason to be afraid. 

And they‘re preying on fear.  And this has become a game for too many of the Republicans.  And I wish - I would make an appeal to the elected Democrats in the Senate and the House.  You know, you campaigned across the country to elect Barack Obama.  You campaigned across the country telling Americans you can trust this man.  You can trust what he‘s proposing for America. 

This is no surprise now that he‘s proposing healthcare reform.  It was a major plank of his campaign.  If you thought we could believe in him, then I wish each and every one of you - that would be the universal message now, we can trust him.  We can trust this plan.  We can trust that we can change the way health care is delivered in this country. 

STEWART:  You‘re a very interesting person to talk to because, of course, you‘re a columnist in the politically important state of Ohio.  You‘re also married to the Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. 

SCHULTZ:  Right. 

STEWART:  Can you give us a sense of how this debate is playing out in your front yard? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, in Ohio, I get on average - this is not exaggerated, I have been counting because I‘ve been trying to keep track.  I get at least 50 E-mails a day that are those chain E-mails that have - it looks very official.  And it has, section by section, on all the healthcare proposals and they‘re all flat-out lies. 

“PolitiFact.com” has done a wonderful job of showing just how badly-written these are.  They‘re not true, is basically what they‘re showing.  And my husband, the senator, got one earlier last week from an attorney who said, “Here‘s why I‘m afraid of this healthcare reform.” 

My husband started to read a couple lines from it and I said, “Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  I can tell you exactly what that is.”  And I got on “PolitiFact.com” and I showed him the E-mail. 

STEWART:  And you mentioned town hall meetings earlier and there was one held by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa yesterday. And a man in attendance reportedly compared President Obama to Hitler and said he‘d take a gun to Washington if enough people would go with him.  How worried do you think we should be about violent language like this? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, I felt this way from the moment that Sarah Palin started campaigning and using hate language.  And I wrote extensively about that during the presidential race.  This hate language is stirring up the worst among us.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has been talking about how the, you know, citizen militia is churning again because of the hate talk. 

This is not without consequences.  You know, my husband and I both have been getting some threats.  You expect that.  I mean, we‘re in the public and we‘re advocating for something as a columnist and as a senator. 

But I do worry that innocent people are feeling scared.  And when people get scared, they run.  They run away from it.  They don‘t want to embrace change.  And in that way, I think the Republicans are hoping they can win because it‘s the only way people who oppose healthcare reform right now are going to win and that‘s why making everybody just scared to death. 

I don‘t think it‘s going to work.  I don‘t think the majority of the Americans are buying it.  But I hate seeing people preyed upon like this.  If you could take some of the calls I have been getting from senior citizens across the state, it would break your heart. 

STEWART:  Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Plain Dealer,” in Cleveland, thank you so much for taking the time tonight. 

SCHULTZ:  Thanks for addressing the issue yet again, Alison.  I appreciate it. 

STEWART:  Coming up, the other thing that made Milwaukee famous.  Mayor Tom Barrett will be here with the amazing story and scars to prove it, next.  Stay with us. 

But, first, one more thing about the Republican effort to make healthcare reform sound scary.  Remember the thoroughly bogus, completely debunked honest-faced, ridiculous conspiracy theory about so-called “veteran‘s death book?”  You know, the one Congressman and Retired Rear Admiral Joe Sestak, who came on this show last night to express outrage about?  Well, guess who didn‘t get the memo? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE:  You have a manual out there telling our veterans, you know, stuff like, are you really a value to your community?” you know, encouraging them to commit suicide. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  In this healthcare debate, no one is asking veterans to question their value to the community and to suggest so is wrong is more ways than one. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  In case you missed her, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann wants you to know something in addition to her recent contributions to the healthcare debate, which include urging states to revolt against reform, pronouncing Sarah Palin‘s death panels true, and encouraging supporters in a very awkward anti-abortion way to tell the government, “Hands off my body.”

In addition to all of that, she has these pearls of wisdom which she shared with listeners on a telephone town hall last week about how to help shape policy.  Quote, “That‘s really where this battle will be won, on our knees in prayer and fasting.  We‘re asking you to do all of it - pray, fast, believe, trust the Lord, but also act.” 

Now, using a reverent communication with your God to win a political battle seems like wasting the Big Guy‘s time when there are people out there praying to get the treatment they need for their late-stage disease which caused them to have no choice but to fast because, you know, the cancer spread and they can‘t eat. And they can‘t act on getting care for the disease because they don‘t have insurance. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM JACKSON, MILWAUKEE RESIDENT:  The mayor‘s doing exactly what I would have done.  You know, you want to help people. 

GOV. JIM DOYLE (D-WS):  He was a great hero.  He saved people‘s lives. 

He did a great thing. 

JOHN MCADAMS, MARQUETTE PROFESSOR:  People think very well of him right now.  He‘s a bona fide hero. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Politicians are called many things these days but hero, we haven‘t heard in a while.  That‘s exactly what many in Milwaukee are saying about their mayor, 55-year-old Tom Barrett. 

Leaving the state fair with his family last Saturday, the mayor heard a woman screaming for help and he ran to her aid and wound up being attacked by a man wielding a metal pipe.  The attack so vicious, he was hospitalized for days before being able to hold a press conference. 

You can‘t keep a good mayor down.  He returned to work yesterday.  Around Bruce City, the mayor has now become, well, a local hero.  A local brewery has even made a t-shirt with a superman logo and a caption saying, “Our mayor ain‘t no cream puff,” suggesting that the mayor is tougher than the famously delicious Wisconsin state fair cream puff. 

Here now, the brave man himself, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. 

Mr. Mayor, thanks for joining us tonight.

MAYOR TOM BARRETT, MILWAUKEE:  It‘s my pleasure.  It‘s great to be here. 

STEWART:  So I want to take you back to the beginning.  I hope you don‘t mind retelling the story a little bit.  What happened that made you realize something was going wrong on the street? 

BARRETT:  I was walking back to the car with my two daughters who are 10 and 12 along with my sister and my 20-year-old niece.  And we heard a woman crying out that we should call - “Someone call 911!  Call 911!” 

So my daughters looked at me and I immediately grabbed my phone.  And by the time I could push the send button on the phone, this fellow came out of nowhere and grabbed the phone and started stomping on it. 

And things went very bad very quickly after that.  And we could see immediately that this was the problem.  The issue was not that a little girl had locked in the car or that she was sick, but this guy had been, in essence, terrorizing the grandma and her granddaughter. 

He was the father of the daughter and was seeking to see her.  And he had been drinking.  And this is what we learned since then.  I didn‘t know any of this.  He didn‘t know me.  I didn‘t know him. 

But he made a few comments that were very scary and I immediately said to my sister, “Take the girls across the street,” and she did that.  He made more statements.  And all of a sudden, I realized that this was going to be a very, very ugly evening.  And sure enough, it was. 

STEWART:  Now, did you see the pipe coming? 

BARRETT:  I still, to this moment, have never seen the pipe.  I know I‘ve been hit by a pipe. 

STEWART:  You felt the pipe clearly. 

BARRETT:  Yes.  But it was under his t-shirt.  He was holding something under his t-shirt.  And it was not clear.  I think he wanted me to believe that it was a gun.  I could see there was something metal under his t-shirt. 

And so the question was, is it a gun or is it a pipe of some sort?  And I obviously didn‘t want to find out.  And he came at me.  I took a swing at him.  But I have to admit I lost the battle with the pipe. 

STEWART:  Did he say anything to you at all during the course of this? 

BARRETT:  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes - yes.

STEWART:  You said he was muttering things, I assuming things that you can‘t say on television. 

BARRETT:  Right.  And I don‘t think I should go into that because of the criminal proceedings.  There was enough there and it will come out in the criminal proceedings.  And I feel confident anybody, anybody would have certainly felt that their life was in danger. 

STEWART:  Can you tell us about your injury.  How is your paw? 

BARRETT:  My paw?  It‘s still here.  It‘s bandaged up pretty well here.  And I think it will be 10 to 12 weeks before we know what the damage is.  I think that most of the injuries, I would have liked to believe, they were from my hitting him.  That is sort of my Clint Eastwood version of what happened. 

I think in reality, though, they‘re from when I was down on the ground guarding my head as he was hitting me with the tire iron.  I think that‘s where most of these injuries are from. 

I‘ve got a few new teeth in the last couple of days.  And I‘ll get a couple more of new teeth in the next couple of weeks.   But the scars along the face are coming along pretty well. 

STEWART:  You returned to work yesterday.  How did you do?  Was it tough to get back to work? 

BARRETT:  It was tough.  I‘m more tired than I‘ve usually been.  And so I‘m taking more naps.  But I want to slowly get back in the set.  This is a budget time for Milwaukee.  It‘s a very difficult time budget-wise for us. 

And September 24th, I have to present my budget.  So this afternoon, we spent some time, a little over an hour, working with my budget staff.  I‘m preparing that and just making sure things are in order.  I‘ve got a great staff and great people who oversee Milwaukee, who are keeping the train running.  So I‘m very thankful about that, obviously. 

STEWART:  Since you decided to talk about business.  I‘m going to talk about the governor‘s race, perhaps.  Governor Jim Doyle announced not seeking re-election.  Your name has already come up. 

BARRETT:  Well, I appreciate that.  I‘m always flattered by that.  And that‘s next year.  I think one of the criteria for a politician is whether he or she is able to shake hands.  I have to make sure I can shake hands before I make any decisions. 

So that is still a number of weeks off.  But I certainly appreciate the people saying nice things about me.  I think any elected official likes that. 

STEWART:  All right.  You can only use the handshake dodge for a couple of more months. 

BARRETT:  That‘s right.  I‘ll use it as long is a can. 

STEWART:  Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  It was very brave of you, sir. 

Thanks for your time tonight and I hope you feel better. 

BARRETT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much. 

STEWART:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith has a “COUNTDOWN” special report on the truth behind insurance giant United Health Group.  And next on this show, Sen. Alec Baldwin.  Question mark?  Kent Jones investigates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  We turn now to our show-litical correspondent, Kent Jones. 

Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Alison.  Time to debunk a rumor here.  A representative for Alec Baldwin has said he has no plans to move to Connecticut to run against Joe Lieberman for U.S. Senate in 2012. 

Baldwin told “Playboy” magazine something to that effect last week, but not happening.  So that‘s OK with me.  You know, not everyone belongs in politics.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Actors. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

JONES:  Body-builders -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m a cop, you idiot. 

JONES:  Wrestlers - 

JESSE VENTURA, WRESTLER:  Everybody wants to know Jesse “The Body‘s” private life. 

JONES:  Even porn stars -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m going to get rid of the car tax and put a tax on breast implants instead. 

JONES:  They all wanted to go into politics.  I‘d say go ahead.  Knock yourself out.  Be honest.  Did anyone feel culturally bereft when these guys left show business?  The world of art did replace somehow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, it‘s my stock.  I haven‘t felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan show. 

JONES:  The world of politics, however, is like a bad actor‘s game preserve. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES FORMER PRESIDENT:  We cannot wait until the final proof, the smoking gun.  It could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. 

JONES:  Alec Baldwin is literally too good for this. 

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR:  As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado.  Anybody want to see second prize?  Second prize is a set of steak knives. 

JONES:  See.  Suspiciously good chops.  If Alec Baldwin really wants to be a player on the national political stage, he‘s going to need to give up being smart and funny on TV and make a few movies like “Kindergarten Cop.”

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR:  Who is your daddy and what does he do? 

JONES:  Then, he‘s going to have to become a Republican.  Then, he‘ll need to be elected governor someplace, serve for, I don‘t know, a year and a half, and then quit. 

FMR. GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 

Some straight talk for some, just some in the media. 

JONES:  After that, the sky‘s the limit. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  I won‘t have it.  “30 Rock” is too funny.  I will not have it. 

JONES:  No, I‘m waiting (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

STEWART:  I‘ll campaign against it. 

JONES:  Absolutely.

STEWART:  Just because I like “30 Rock” too much. 

JONES:  I‘m counting on you.

STEWART:  Not just because I‘m here.  Yes, “Playboy” magazine, that staunch bastion of political reporting. 

JONES:  Well, there it is. 

STEWART:  Bye-bye, Kent.  Bye-bye.  Thanks for watching.  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Rachel Maddow.  Reminder, you can E-mail us at rachel@msnbc.com.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts now.  Good night. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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