The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/17/10

Guests:
Andy Shaw, Suhail Khan, Amir Bar-Lev, Suzanna Wertheim, Kent Jones
Transcript:

CHRIS HAYES, GUEST HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thanks a lot.

           

And thank you for staying with us for the next hour.  I am Chris Hayes, again—here because Rachel has one more night off.

We begin with today‘s late breaking news if the corruption trial of former Democratic Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich.  After 14 days of deliberation, a jury of six men and six women found Blagojevich guilty today on one count of lying to federal agents—one count out of the 24 counts prosecutors had brought against the former governor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  This particular prosecutor did everything he could to target me and prosecute me, persecute me, put pressure on my family, try to take our home, take me away from my kids and arrest me.  The early morning hours on December the 9th with Patti and me in my bedroom and our Little Annie in bed with us, a sitting governor, an that very prosecutor said that he was stopping a crime spree before it happened.

This jury shows you that notwithstanding the fact that the government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me, that on every count except for one and every charge except for one, they could not prove that I did anything wrong, that I did—that I did break any laws.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  The judge has declared a mistrial on those other 23 charges.  Prosecutors say they will retry Blagojevich and his co-defendant brother on the other more serious charges—like the charge he tried to sell or trade President Obama‘s old Senate seat for a new job or campaign cash.

This is a shocking conclusion.  In a case that everybody seemed to believe back in the day was cut and dry.  In the early days of this political corruption scandal, everybody just knew he was guilty.  It was ludicrous he was protesting his innocence—it was ludicrous that he was giving interviews in which he was protesting his innocence—which, of course, he did on this very show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”:  You are probably going to go to trial in an actual courtroom, a criminal trial on this.  Will you also—will you defend yourself in that setting or will you also mount no defense, like you have in the Senate?  Will you defend yourself in court?

BLAGOJEVICH:  Oh, absolutely.  Are you kidding me?  Absolutely.  Yes.

MADDOW:  Do you—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Now, Rod Blagojevich never did take the stand in his own defense—in part, because he was the person most roundly convicted in the court of public opinion before his trial since, I don‘t know, O.J. Simpson.  He went from the guilty corrupt governor guy to that deluded guy with the hair who denies he‘s guilty and goes on reality shows.

Rod Blagojevich wasn‘t just presumed guilty—he was a laughing stock, a symbol of everything that is wrong in American politics.  We heard the tapes, right, from the wiretaps.  And they were comical in their bluntness.

Speaking about the open Senate seat vacated by President Obama, Blagojevich made it clear that nothing for something just wasn‘t going to cut it—he wanted the White House to make him an offer.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BLAGOJEVICH:  And if they treat me without, you know, any real, that they—that they don‘t have any great interest in the Senate seat and they‘re not going to offer anything of any value, then I might just take it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HAYES:  Senate seat was, Blagojevich said, something rather special and it was his.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BLAGOJEVICH:  I mean, I‘ve got this thing and it‘s (EXPLETIVE DELETED) golden.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HAYES:  I still love that quote.

In addition to the charge the former governor tried to sell a Senate seat to the highest bidder, prosecutors also alleged that he tried to shake down the Tribune Company.  His wife Patti can be heard in the background of one call telling her husband to hold up the sale of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs—my beloved Chicago Cubs—because of bad press coverage the governor was receiving.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PATTI BLAGOJEVICH, ROD BLAGOJEVICH‘S WIFE:  Tell them to hold up that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Cubs (EXPLETIVE DELETED) them.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HAYES:  Between the boldness of Blagojevich‘s demands and the salty language he was fond of, it seemed unclear at the time that he was up to really shady stuff.  But was it illegal?

Today, a jury said, no, it was not.  Well, that‘s not quite right. 

They couldn‘t agree that it was.

I think, in an atmosphere of assumed corruption, an atmosphere of low public trust in the institution of government in which the distinction between criminal corruption and the baseline corruption with which government functions grows increasingly blurry, former Governor Blagojevich did all he could to make that distinction even fuzzier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Even if you wanted food for the hungry—I mean, even if you wanted justice, itself, in exchange for the Senate seat, you‘re not supposed to exchange anything for the Senate seat.

BLAGOJEVICH:  Well, I don‘t disagree that one for the other isn‘t.  But there‘s—there are political negotiations and leveraging which is all very much part of the process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Political negotiations and leveraging which is all very much part of the process.  That was ultimately Blagojevich‘s defense.  That it‘s all just politics—just politics.

And in an atmosphere in which politicians routinely solicit money from wealthy people who want something from the government, maybe that wasn‘t such a crazy, crazy notion after all.  Blagojevich‘s ultimate defense seems to be that he was so bad at those, quote, “political negotiation,” that his ineptitude was apparently exculpatory.

Joining us now is Andy Shaw.  He‘s the executive director of the Better Government Association, former chief political reporter at WLS-TV in Chicago and my father-in-law.

Andy, thanks so much for being here.

ANDY SHAW, BETTER GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION:  A pleasure being back with you, Chris.  I kept thinking the next time I would get to talk to Rachel, but here you are.

HAYES:  I know.  It is a disappointment.  You can join the viewers in that.

I guess you—you were actually at the trial for much of it.  The first question is: were you surprised by today‘s verdict?  And do you get the sense the people of Chicago and Illinois are surprised?

SHAW:  I was surprised.  And I think my conclusion after today is that there was a disconnect.  Those of us who have followed these stories in this corruption for many years, and I‘ve probably done 100 of these trials, understand the indictment, understand the burden to prove guilt and seem to feel that the prosecution generally meets the burden.  And they do 90 percent of the time.

But this was a complicated case.  There was no smoking gun.  Rod Blagojevich never made the final phone calls for the quid pro quo.

And maybe most important, none of his alleged transgressions actually resulted in a favorable outcome.  He didn‘t sell the Senate seat.  He didn‘t win legislative changes he wanted to.  He didn‘t get the campaign cash he asked for.  He was essentially a bumbling crook.

HAYES:  Well, that‘s the interesting part.  I mean, you said this to me—we were talking earlier about this.

SHAW:  Right.

HAYES:  There were some cases—my understanding is there were some cases in which he hit people up essentially for what looked like these extortionary quid pro quo donations.  They walked away and said, forget about it, and they still got contracts or they still got the thing that was being held out as the quo.  Is that right?

SHAW:  Right.  And here‘s the trick here: the feds made it very clear that you don‘t have to succeed at your shakedown—you just have to try to do the shakedown.  The jury apparently didn‘t buy that.  And, you know, despite the fact that Rod and his attorney are already campaigning for the second jury, because this case will be retried, they‘re already basically blasting the feds for all of this, we don‘t know if it was 8-4 for conviction or 9-3.

HAYES:  Right.

HAYES:  And, you know, this—at the very least, he perverted and subverted Illinois government.  He disgraced his office and he basically humiliated all of us in Illinois.

Not a single juror would find him not guilty of those charges, but the bar of criminal conduct in a confusing and complicated case apparently was different for a group of jurors who have normal lives than it was for those of us who live in this world.  And so, at the end of the day, they were divided—more divided than we expected them to be.

And the second trial figures to be even more interesting and perhaps more entertaining and, sadly, more expensive than the first one—because we taxpayers in Illinois are going to pay for his defense in trial two, and we, in the second most fiscally bankrupt state in the nation after California, are going to see another bill of $3 million, $4 million, or $5 million.  No one is going to like that here in Illinois.

HAYES:  You say that because Blagojevich has actually tapped out.  So, he‘s probably going to have a public defender, a court-appointed lawyer at some point.

I want to ask this question, though: what does this say about the prosecution of corruption?  I mean, it‘s been a trend in Chicago, right?  Illinois politics have been corrupt for a long time.  Chicago politics is corrupt for a long time.

When there is a breakup of that corruption, it tends to come from federal prosecutors coming in from the outside and kind of busting things up and busting things open and they can‘t do that here—what does that say about the future of governance in Illinois and Chicago?

SHAW:  Well, that‘s a troubling outcome of today.  But I want to remind you that Pat Fitzgerald‘s conviction record is 95 percent in these cases.  He has suffered a setback today, that‘s true, but we have another Illinois governor, the second in a row and the fourth in the last eight, convicted of a felony, facing jail charges and a fine on lying to the FBI.  So, in a sense, he‘s not scot-free.  He says he‘ll appeal that.

But what it does say is that with the honest services provision that was tossed out by the Supreme Court, the bar in these corruption cases is a bit higher and for whatever reason, the feds were unable to bring the jury above the bar.  So, does that mean that he‘s innocent as a hounds tooth as he‘s claimed?  Obviously not.

Trial two could bring in Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Tony Rezko, the fixer from the first case.  And so, it could be a very different case.  I think the sad thing is, it drags Illinois residents through a few more months of this muck, and it costs us a few million additional dollars.

HAYES:  It costs the residents of Illinois.  It is probably good for cable news hosts, I will say.

Andy Shaw, he‘s the executive director of Better Government Association.  The former chief reporter at WLS-TV in Chicago, and my father-in-law—Andy, thanks so much for being here tonight.  We will talk off the TV at some point soon.

SHAW:  Yes, let me ask you one question.  What do I tell all the other in-laws who want to know how they get on the show?

HAYES:  You give them my e-mail address.  How about that?

SHAW:  OK.  I‘ll do that.

HAYES:  See you, Andy.

SHAW:  See you.

HAYES:  If there was some sort of meter that could measure the level of embarrassing behavior generated by the proposed lower Manhattan Islamic community center—yesterday was about a seven.  Today, we are pushing nine at least.  The already embarrassing get embarrassinger—next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  You think the most ridiculous think any news program it was on would be Rod Blagojevich‘s hair.  Tonight, though, the Blago may get topped by the continued railing against the proposed Lower Manhattan Islamic community center.  The big fast embarrassing cringe-worthy controversy over the farcically dubbed Ground Zero mosque continues—up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  Act one of the New York City mosque non-troversy was tragedy.  And tonight, I‘m here to tell you that we have officially entered act two of the New York City mosque non-troversy, which is, of course, farce.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SCOTT ®, FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Barack Obama says building a mosque at Ground Zero is about tolerance.  He‘s wrong.  It‘s about truth.  The truth: Muslim fanatics hurt thousands of innocent Americans on 9/11 just yards from the proposed mosque.  The truth: the leader of the Ground Zero mosque refuses to admit that Muslim extremists use terror tactics.  The truth: the fight against terrorism isn‘t over.

Mr. President, Ground Zero is the wrong place for a mosque.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Just yards.  I like that.

That was Republican gubernatorial hopeful in Florida named Rick Scott.  Rick Scott, of course, was last seen running a company that sell the largest Medicare fraud case with the government in history.  Today, he resurfaced, releasing the television ad titled, you love this—“Obama‘s Mosque.”

Obama‘s mosque, you ask.  Where is Obama‘s mosque?  Does Obama have a mosque?  Is Obama a Muslim?  Please, tell me more about this Obama mosque.

All right.  It‘s not Obama‘s mosque.  It is the proposed community center in Lower Manhattan that President Obama kind of endorsed.

Oh, but it‘s not just Rick Scott making a fool of himself over this issue.  This has ricocheted from downtown Manhattan to Washington, to the great state of Florida and then back up to Upstate New York.

The heated battle between incumbent Democratic Congressman Michael Arcuri and his Republican challenger Richard Hanna—the Republican here, unlike his colleagues, came out with a statement of surprising, enlightened support for the Islamic community center, affirming the First Amendment.

Mr. Hanna saying, quote, “It‘s extremely easy to understand why people are upset by this.  But this country was founded by people who were running away from religious persecution.  So, how can we become what we‘ve beheld and found contemptible other places?”

After that statement, the Democrat in this race—apparently smelling political opportunity in the water—came out in vehement opposition to the community center, saying, quote, “For the sake of the victims and their families, I think another location should be chosen.”

That move forced the Republican, who, again, had previously endorsed the Islamic center, to promptly change his mind.  He also immediately reversed himself and declared that he, too, was now against the community center.

If you can‘t sense what‘s coming next, then you obviously haven‘t been following the farcical politics very long because Republican Richard Hanna who then denounced as a flip-flopper by his opponent‘s campaign—a flip-flopper on what apparently the most important issue of our day.  Profiles in courage all around here, gentlemen.

I said last night the mass hysteria over this Islamic community center was like a long bender we‘ll one day look back on it and feel ashamed of when it‘s over.  I was wrong in one crucial aspect which is that it‘s already embarrassing and the bender is still not over yet.

The latest organization that‘s blatantly trying to eke whatever political game possible out of this is the NRSC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.  Yes, the NRSC, which is now apparently being run by a nontroversy-obsessed spam bot.  Check out this series of press releases turned out by the NRSC yesterday.

Where does David Lee Fisher stand on the Ground Zero mosque?  Where does Michael Bennet stand on the Ground Zero mosque?  Where does Alexi Giannoulias stand on the Ground mosque?  And on and on and on.

More than a dozen straight press releases demanding to know where these Democrats stand on the most important issue of the day.

And this is not to say there haven‘t been various outbreaks of sanity here.  There‘s actually been a number of Republicans who have come forward to criticize their own party over what has unfolded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MARK MCKINNON, FMR. BUSH ADVISOR:  Usually, Republicans are forthright in defending the Constitution.  And here we are re-enforcing al Qaeda‘s message that we‘re at war with Muslims.  I think it‘s a short-term strategy with long-term consequences for the party.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, “MORNING JOE” HOST:  This is madness.  There are elements of our party, Mark, that are marching through the fevered swamps of ideology.  And I say that as an intense, hard-charging small government conservative.

MICHAEL GERSON, FMR. BUSH SPEECHWRITER:  I don‘t think this kind of rhetoric, this broad-brush rhetoric about Islam, I think it actually undermines the war on terror in many ways.  I think that‘s really playing the fire.  It‘s very, very dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

HAYES:  These are prominent Republicans calling out fellow Republicans for how they have acquitted themselves throughout this whole farcical nontroversy.  And today, yet more Republican on Republican backlash over this issue.

This time, in a letter to Republicans written by a group of prominent Arab and Muslim Americans—letter that reads in part, quote, “We are deeply concerned by the rhetoric of some leading members of our party surrounding the construction of the Muslim community center in downtown Manhattan.  While we share the desire of all in our party to be successful in the November elections, we cannot support victory at the expense of the U.S. Constitution or the Arab and Muslim community in America.”

Joining us now is one of the signatories to that letter, Suhail Khan.  He‘s the chairman of the Conservative Inclusion Coalition.  He‘s also a former senior political appointee in the George W. Bush administration.

Mr. Khan, thank you so much for joining us tonight.  I really appreciate it.

SUHAIL KHAN, CONSERVATIVE INCLUSION COALITION:  Thanks for having me.

HAYES:  First of all, I wanted—I wonder, well, I guess I know the answer to this, but I‘ll ask it anyway.  Why did you and your colleagues decide to write this letter to your fellow Republicans?

KHAN:  Well, since the days of 9/11, we‘ve seen that there‘s been a simmering boil of anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate from the fringe in our country and, unfortunately, that‘s been there.  But responsible leaders in both parties have been ignoring that fringe.  But, unfortunately, now, we see that responsibility has gone away and now, the leadership is embracing some of this hateful rhetoric.  And it‘s just was disgusting and shameful.

HAYES:  Disgusting and shameful is pretty close to how I feel about watching this unfolds.

Can you explain to me why this is happening now?  I mean, I‘ve really been shocked I have to say.  And there are figures like George Pataki, former governor of New York, who I never sort of took to be some big cultural warrior.  Newt Gingrich even for all my disagreements with him, I‘ve been surprised the role he‘s played.

What is going through everybody‘s mind?  Why—why is everybody doing this?

KHAN:  I think, unfortunately, it‘s just short-term partisan gain.  That‘s what people are looking at.  I think for eight years in the last administration under George W.  Bush and the last year and a half under Obama, we‘ve had responsible leadership that‘s been reminding Americans that the attacks on our country on 9/11 were not by a whole faith community and that we shouldn‘t go down the dark days that we did, unfortunately, in the past with Japanese Americans and others by trying to paint a broad brush.

Unfortunately, again, that fringe element that wants to have a war—and a clash of civilizations has unfortunately taken over to a certain degree, and that‘s why my colleagues and other responsible adults want to stand up and say, enough, we need to stand up against this and we need to be united as Americans, as we go forward.

HAYES:  Your former boss, President George W. Bush, has a book that‘s going to come out in the fall.  I think, today, he gave a no comment on this.  I wonder if you think he‘s the kind of voice that could actually stand up and say, “Hey, this is really insane, let‘s cool it here”?

KHAN:  We would—we would welcome that.  He was a voice of reason after 9/11, as you recall, reminding Americans that this was not a war on Islam, but a war on terrorists.  The terrorists tried to hijack a great faith.  And time and time again, he made a very important effort to visit the Islamic centers and to remind Americans, again, that this is not something we need to go down.

And it would be great if he came out—if you remember, even in the

2008 cycle, Colin Powell stood up when there was a lot of chatter going on

           

HAYES:  Yes.

KHAN:  – on the Internet around Barack Obama, then-candidate Obama and he stood up as a man of principle and said this has got to stop.

So, it would be wonderful—we‘re seeing some good people come out and make these positive statements.  You showed those in the beginning of this segment.  But we need more so that we can really kind of head this off the pass, because as you said, it‘s just morphing into—from bad to worse.

HAYES:  Final question here—I know you call yourself a conservative and I know you are a conservative.  You‘re a Republican.  To me, watching this as not a conservative, it seems like this isn‘t just incidental to conservatism, that this kind of tribalist ethos, this sort of populist nationalism against this other, is actually pretty deep in what conservatism is.  And I wonder if you look around and say, do I want to be on the same side of these people?

KHAN:  I disagree with you on that.  I think, you know, the conservative principles that I‘ve always been drawn to is individual liberty, religious freedom, the respect for personal property, for private property, state and local control.  And these are issues that are all at play in this controversy.

And I just want to remind my fellow conservatives and all Americans that let‘s stick to those time-honored constitutional principles of individual liberty and we‘ll be fine.  I really think this is a just bigotry blip.  And I hope we‘ll beat this and we‘ll rise above it as we have in the past.  I just hope that we can do it quicker than later.

HAYES:  Bigotry blip.  A wonderful coinage by Suhail Khan, a hopeful one, chairman of the Conservative Inclusion Coalition, former Bush administration senior political appointee—thank you so much for your time tonight.

KHAN:  Hey, thanks for having me.

HAYES:  The embarrassing, crazy, xenophobic paranoia known as the “furor over the Ground Zero mosque” has reached as far as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  But this ginned up hysteria has a starting point and we know where and who it is.  We shall meet her—next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  For centuries, a cult of eccentrics and amateurs and self-appointed scientists in the Middle Ages tried and failed to turn inexpensive metals like lead into gold.  Now, in the environment of 21st century media apparatus, the political right has figured out how to do this.  They have succeeded in a very special kind of alchemy—it‘s an alchemy that is able to transmute totally crazy, trivial, ginned up fake stories into media-captivating national debates.

So, while everyone sort of sifts through the media goal, that is the planned Park 51 Islamic community center, it‘s useful, I think, to trace it back to its origins as lead.

I did the same sort of thing as a reporter for “The Nation” magazine back in 2007 when I looked into the origins of the “Obama is a secret Muslim” rumor.  What I found was that in all likelihood, the myth originated with a very strange figured named Andy Martin, a perennial Republican Senate candidate, notorious litigant, and self-described independent contrarian columnist, who was raising bizarre allegations about Barack Obama‘s heritage as far back as 2004.

Here‘s what else I learned about Andy Martin at the time.  He was known as one of the most notorious litigants in the history of the United States, having filed hundreds, possibly thousands of lawsuits often directed at judges who ruled against him.

He once referred to a federal judge as a, quote, “crooked, slimy Jew, who has a history of ling and thieving common to the members of his race,” and once attempted to intervene in the divorce proceedings of a judge who ruled against him, petitioning the state court to be appointed as the guardian of the judge‘s children.

We saw similarly bizarre origins when we traced back the birther movement that.  That began with famed dentist/realtor/lawyer Orly Taitz, whose $20,000 fine for filing for those lawsuits was just upheld by the Supreme Court.

Somehow, even with Orly Taitz as the conspiracy theory movement‘s advocacy-in-chief, birtherism managed to make its way to the floor of the United States House of Representatives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING (D), IOWA:  A little baby with ink on their foot stamped right there on the birth certificate.  And there‘s one in this country we haven‘t seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  This latest bit of wingnut alchemy is no different.  Meet Pamela Geller, perhaps the original metallurgist who set herself with the task of transmuting the lead of an entirely noncontroversial Islamic basketball court/cooking school in Lower Manhattan into a tectonic symbol of the eternal clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.

Who you ask is Pamela Geller?  I‘ve never heard of Pamela Geller. 

Well, I‘ll tell you about Pamela Geller.

In its analysis of the evolution of the Lower Manhattan mosque project this week, Salon.com traced the hysteria back to Geller.  Geller has a blog called “Atlas Shrugs” where she refers to the community center project as the, quote, “monster mosque,” aimed at Islamic domination and expansionism.  She‘s the founder and executive director of the group called Stop Islamization of America, which doesn‘t really roll off the tongue, through which she has been actively protesting the project.  Here‘s the argument Pamela Geller brought with her to the mainstream media. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAMELA GELLER, BLOGGER, “ATLAS SHRUGS”:  It is a triumph.  It‘s triumphant.  We know the Islamic pattern is to build giant mosques on cherished sites of conquered lands.  We know from research done by SANE that four out of five mosques preach hate and preach incitement to violence. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  You have that straight from the deep dark corners of the free-of-fact, full-of-hate right-wing blogosphere to your television screen.  Well, on the subject, here are a few more things you weigh might want to know about Pamela Geller‘s perspective. 

She‘s a birther and a deather.  She believes President Obama is setting up a secret shadow government and that he is trying to organize a private youth army which he‘s recruiting from America‘s high schools, naturally. 

She appears to really enjoy calling the people whose politics she disagrees with Nazis and often seems to mean it literally.  Perhaps most bizarre of all, she believes that her blog caught a very important scoop when it was able to report that purple is the Obama administration‘s, and I‘m quoting here, “official gangster color,” as in when administration officials are readying for a political fight they all wear the color purple. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is where the Ground Zero mosque controversy originated.  It is conceived in the same crank workshop that churned out Obama gang colors.  It would be funny if it weren‘t also very scary, because out of this workshop of insanity has become a position now being adopted by the Democratic Senate majority leader. 

Well, let‘s just hope the Senate doesn‘t decide to consider a bill banning the color purple.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  Pat Tillman‘s death on a battlefield in Afghanistan became an emblem for this country‘s response, both personal and military, to the September 11th attacks.  Tillman was a pro football star who walked away from a multimillion dollar contract to join the army rangers and became arguably America‘s most famous soldier. 

April 2004, Corporal Tillman died during his second tour in Afghanistan, killed by friendly fire, though the military covered up that fact, opting instead to fabricate a story of a heroic death while fighting the enemy. 

The broad outlines of Pat Tillman‘s story may be familiar, but a new documentary “The Tillman Story” provides fascinating new details about his life and death. 

Joining us now is Amir Bar-Lev, the director of “The Tillman Story” opening this week in New York and Los Angeles.  Amir, thanks so much for coming to talk to us. 

AMIR BAR-LEV, DIRECTOR, “THE TILLMAN STORY”:  Thanks for having me. 

HAYES:  I guess I wonder, first of all, what don‘t people know about the story?  And I think the broad outlines of it are kind of familiar because it got a lot of press but have been kind of receded.  What were you surprised by working on this?  What do you think people don‘t know about this story?

BAR-LEV:  I was surprised at how far off the mark people‘s perception of this story is to begin with.  I mean, I think there‘s a sense that this is a story that is over, that this is something, you know, we look back on about the Bush administration. 

In fact, this is a story that continues to this day.  Nobody‘s ever really been called to account for their actions.  And even yesterday, there was a new chapter in the story where the military issued a press statement with a further lie.  They said, “We are deeply apologetic to the Tillman family from the mistakes made.” 

And this word, “mistake,” is, itself, part of this conspiracy.  There was never - a mistake would be if I, you know, knocked over my water here.  This was a deliberate attempt to cover up the facts for which nobody has ever taken credit. 

HAYES:  Yes.  I mean, one of the things that becomes clear in the film is that the preposterous story that was told about his death, really, was so far from what actually happened.  It couldn‘t be a mistake.  It had to be fabricated.  How high up does that go? 

BAR-LEV:  Well, it looks like it went all the way to the White House, you know.  But what happened was they made an error.  They underestimated Pat‘s mother, Danni Tillman and they handed over 3,500 documents pertaining to his death. 

And from this little cottage up in the Sta. Cruz Mountains she painstakingly, over a year‘s time, un-redacted these documents.  And what‘s in there, I think, is going to shock people when they see it. 

I mean, there‘s no question as to whether or not this was a mistake.  There are documents in there that says things like the “Tillman game plan.”  At the highest levels, there‘s E-mails from the White House talking about how they were going to manage the story to deceive the American public. 

HAYES:  “The Tillman Story” was one of a few stories from that time.  There was Private Lynch and her rescue that was portrayed in crazy cartoon-ish ways.  I wonder what kind of perspective you gained about that time in American history when there was this really intense sort of jingoistic fervor that gripped the country and this real kind of collective desire for mythos that Pat Tillman became sort of wrapped up in.  What did you learn about that period? 

BAR-LEV:  Well, you know, I don‘t know if that period is over.  I mean, you know, I think it says a lot about our culture.  It‘s too easy to point the finger only at the Bush administration. 

I mean, you mentioned Jessica Lynch.  Pat Tillman was involved in that operation and he - from the wings he said, you know, this is a movie.  They‘re basically constructing a movie. 

And the sad tragedy of it all is, you know, we didn‘t get - there‘s some shocking footage from the Jessica Lynch operation in our film that people haven‘t seen.  We didn‘t get handed that footage in some garage by some deep throat in a paper bag.  We got it from the mainstream press. 

The reason folks haven‘t seen it is because the mainstream press chose to omit that, chose to leave it on the editing room floor so they could construct this idea of the female Rambo from - you know, from the mountains of West Virginia. 

This mythos works because this is - you know, we want to see our movies played out in the news.  And you know, I think it‘s a story about the government.  It‘s also a story about the press.  And it‘s also a Hollywood story. 

HAYES:  You basically say, you know, in the film there is sort of - it‘s a story about a story.  It‘s the story about the myth of Pat Tillman.  It‘s sort of the story of Pat Tillman.  What did you learn about the actual flesh-and-blood human being, son/husband that was Pat Tillman? 

BAR-LEV:  Well, you know, we worked on the film for three years.  And it was a tremendous opportunity to spend time with this very, very unique family.  They‘re irascible.  They‘re prone to F-bombs.  We just got an R rating because of it. 

HAYES:  That‘s very impressive.

BAR-LEV:  And you know, I think people are going to be surprised to see that this is a somewhat uplifting story despite its tragedy.  But Pat - you know, Pat was a guy with strong opinions who was absolutely willing to change those opinions.  That‘s not what‘s known about him. 

He‘s been turned into this square-jawed guy with a one-track mind, when, in fact, he was a committed guy, a loyal guy, a patriotic guy.  But he was a guy willing to see things from different points of view, willing to question his own beliefs. 

He was a guy who changed his beliefs once he saw what was going on after his first deployment and he was involved with that Jessica Lynch operation.  He was a guy who, in an earlier time, some people would have would have called a flip-flopper. 

HAYES:  Amir Bar-Lev - he is the director of “The Pat Tillman Story.”  It‘s a wonderful film.  It‘s opening, if I‘m not mistaken, in New York and Los Angeles this weekend.  Am I right? 

BAR-LEV:  That‘s right. 

HAYES:  Great.

BAR-LEV:  Thanks for having me, Chris. 

HAYES:  Thank you so much.  It‘s really a pleasure. 

BAR-LEV:  OK. 

HAYES:  A ton of homeowners still owe more on their houses than their houses are worth and it is a huge problem.  But wait, cable news substitute anchor, every element and detail of anything having to do with the housing crisis confuses and alienates me. 

But it doesn‘t have to.  It‘s not that hard to understand and it‘s important.  And there was a government program that was supposed to fix it.  But guess what?  The good reason for no good reason is not fixing it.  I promise a compelling look at a previously too-wonky-for-TV problem, coming up.

           

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  We sent our own Kent Jones to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando and, surprisingly, he came back.  A video trip to Hogwarts is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  So yesterday, Kent Jones filed a report on the “Star Wars” convention in Orlando.  “Star Wars” wasn‘t the only game in town.  In fact, it might not have been the nerdiest thing in town.  Am I mistaken, Kent? 

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Possibly, Chris.  You know, if there‘s one complaint people have about this show, it‘s just that there isn‘t enough Harry Potter.  So when I found out the University of Central Florida, College of Medicine was hosting an exhibit called “Harry Potter‘s World: Renaissance, Science, Magic and Medicine,” I was like, “Expecto Orlando.”  Let‘s go. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  But first, I had to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando.  Research, obviously.  Bought a beer, you know.  OK.  Now, I was ready for the exhibit, a very cool historical Potter-centric look at potion, monsters, herbology, magical creatures. 

(on camera):  Half horse, half man - centaur. 

(voice-over):  Fantastic beasts and even immortality.  My guide is Dr.  Mark Waddell of Michigan State University who developed a college course about science and Harry Potter and whose knowledge of both is positively Dumbledorian. 

(on camera):  So doctor, do any of your colleagues say, “Dude, Harry Potter, really?” 

DR. MARK WADDELL, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY:  I‘ve had a few raised eyebrows for sure.  There‘s a little bit of sort of intellectual snobbery around Harry Potter just generally. 

But I think when they see the kinds of audiences that this exhibition is reaching, that‘s something that my colleagues really prize, is reaching wider audiences.  So if you can use Harry Potter to do that, then we should. 

DANIEL RADCLIFFE, ACTOR:  I am the chosen one.  OK.  Sorry. 

JONES:  The Harry Potter series is like the geek handbook, right? 

WADDELL:  Well, I think that is - one of the great messages of those books is that you need courage to survive things but you also need your brain.  You need knowledge and learning. 

And I think geeks really, really respond to that.  But it‘s not about being the popular kid at school.  It‘s about being smart. 

JONES:  Hermione saved their bacon over and over again. 

WADDELL:  Exactly. 

JONES:  Without her knowledge -

WADDELL:  Exactly. 

JONES:  They‘d be gone. 

WADDELL:  Exactly. 

JONES:  Maybe Voldemort (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a long time ago. 

WADDELL:  You‘re right. 

JONES:  So do you remember buying your first book? 

WADDELL:  I do.  In fact, I bought it twice.  I bought a copy in Latin as well. 

JONES:  In Latin? 

WADDELL:  To practice my Latin.  That‘s right. 

JONES:  Give it up. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAYES:  Wait a second, they publish Harry Potter in Latin? 

JONES:  Yes.  And he bought it -

HAYES:  Amazing. 

JONES:  So he could practice his Latin.  Got to love that.

HAYES:  Well, thanks, Kent.  I‘m disappointed you don‘t have a flying broom t-shirt or something today. 

JONES:  Well, give it time - someday. 

HAYES:  Next time.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” director Spike Lee talks about his new documentary on New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina. 

Coming up on this show, the remarkable and enraging story of a woman who spent 14 months fighting her bank to stay in her home.  You know how awful it is to call up your phone company and got the run-around?  Try getting a loan modification.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  There are a few reasons our economy nearly imploded two years ago.  If you had to choose one culprit, it would be too much debt.  Basically, during the housing bubble, households and banks had taken out tons of debt with the assumption that housing prices would go up forever.

And when they didn‘t, they were left with all that bad debt and no way to pay it.  That debt was so colossal.  It was so earth-shatteringly large that it looked like it was going to bankrupt the biggest banks in the country and take the whole system down with it. 

Then they got bailed out.  The banks, that is.  The bailout didn‘t get rid of all that bad debt.  It just allowed banks to move it around, paper it over, offload it on to the Federal Reserve‘s balance sheet. 

Households weren‘t given this option.  So all that bad debt is still there, and it‘s hung around the necks of homeowners all over the country like the proverbial millstone. 

Statistics on this are just staggering.  According to “Reality Trac,” foreclosure filings increased four percent in July, making it the 17th consecutive month with foreclosures on over 300,000 properties; 21.5 percent of mortgaged homes are underwater. 

Homeowners, who own more, owe more than their home is worth.  It‘s one of the big problems.  The Obama administration inherited this housing debt problem when they took office.  To solve it, they came up with a program I‘ve discussed on this show before, the Home Affordable Modification Program or HAMP. 

The idea was that it was going to induce banks to modify people‘s mortgages so they could afford to stay in their homes, which sounds good but it hasn‘t really happened.  As I‘ve noted previously on this program, HAMP has been a disaster, probably the biggest disaster of this administration. 

The Obama administration is now making a push to get struggling homeowners into this program with a PSA.  Here‘s a portion of it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Making home affordable is a free program from the U.S.  government that has already helped over one million struggling homeowners like these, and we want to help you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Government may want to help you, but when many homeowners try to get help, they are stuck in the kind of bureaucratic limbo so interminable and anxiety-producing it makes being on hold with your cell phone company look as relaxing as a full body massage. 

Recently, the independent nonprofit investigative reporting entity “Pro Publica” has asked struggling homeowners who have applied for loan modification or HAMP to share their stories and have undertaken a massive investigation on how HAMP is faring.  And the results are ugly. 

Homeowners told “Pro Publica” that they have been seeking modification for, on average, more than 14 months.  The process is only supposed to last a few months.  On average, homeowners seeking modifications reporting having to send the same documents nearly six times. 

And almost half of the homeowners who responded say they were incorrectly advised to fall behind on their mortgage in order to qualify for a modification. 

This is one of those issues that can get lost in statistics, all these numbers and basis points, interest rates, percentage of people underwater on their mortgage.  It could seem very abstract but it‘s a human problem.  It‘s about real people attempting to wriggle out from under all this bad debt so they can take care of other aspects of their life. 

Our next guest is one of those people.  Joining me now is Suzanna Wertheim, who has been trying to work with Wells Fargo to modify her mortgage since January 2009.  She was profiled on “Pro Publica” recently.  Suzanna, thanks so much for being here. 

SUZANNA WERTHEIM, HOMEOWNER:  Thank you. 

JONES:  OK.  Can you tell us a little bit about your situation?  What got you to this point?  How did your troubles start as it were? 

WERTHEIM:  Well, in December of 2008, the very first week I lost my job in the morning.  I was a hospice nurse.  And in the afternoon, I had an appointment with my oncologist and found out that I had - my breast cancer had metastasized and was terminal. 

Later on that month, I had been talking to the county about getting my property taxes lowered.  And later on that month, the bank sent me a note saying they were going to - that they had paid the escrow balance, as it were. 

And I was - they were going to - I had to pay that immediately and I would lose my right to argue with the county about the assessment. 

HAYES:  So you received your diagnosis.  You lost your job.  How long had you been in this home? 

WERTHEIM:  I bought it in July of 2005, so right at the top of the market. 

HAYES:  Right at the top of the market. 

WERTHEIM:  Yes. 

HAYES:  So presumably, you‘re underwater.  You don‘t have a job.  My understanding is your treatment is very expensive. 

WERTHEIM:  Correct. 

HAYES:  Fall behind on the mortgage.  Can‘t afford to pay it.  At what point did you call up and try to participate in this HAMP program, try to get Wells Fargo to modify the terms of the loan? 

WERTHEIM:  I‘ve been talking to them about loan modification for over 16 months.  The HAMP modification - really, I think, the first time I heard about it was in June, and I didn‘t really apply for it.  They just basically told me I didn‘t meet the qualifications. 

HAYES:  You didn‘t meet the qualifications.  If you don‘t meet the qualifications, then who could possibly meet the qualifications? 

WERTHEIM:  Exactly.  Exactly.  But who‘s really sure what the qualifications are? 

HAYES:  So describe this process to me.  I mean, what happens?  You

call Wells Fargo and you say, “Can we modify this loan?”  And what do they

tell you?  What is taking 16 months?  What -

WERTHEIM:  It‘s just amazing.  This is the most Kafka-esque situation I‘ve ever - I mean, it just - it boggles the mind.  I have sent in the same papers.  You‘re supposed to send in the paperwork every 30 days. 

I‘ve sent in the same paperwork seven times in three days because they have lost it so often.  These are documents with my social security number, my bank accounts, my bank statements, my children‘s social security numbers, you know, medical information, personal information - everything you could imagine.  And this paperwork disappears on a regular basis. 

HAYES:  And the bank just says they don‘t have it and you need to send it again. 

WERTHEIM:  Exactly.  And everybody that I‘ve talked to, whenever you fax something in, you‘re supposed to report in, you know, the next morning to see if they got it. 

HAYES:  Let me ask you this question.  What have you been doing in the interim?  I mean, it seems like you must be - I know you have this diagnosis - living in this limbo.  What has that been like? 

WERTHEIM:  It‘s so stressful, I can‘t even tell you.  At this point, I

feel like I‘ve kind of put up a wall.  But I was just - it can‘t be good

for, you know, a healthy person and I just think, you know, if there‘s one

you know, this is not a time in your life when you want to add additional stress.  You should be with your family. 

And as a hospice nurse, that‘s what I tried to give to other people.  And I just find it extremely ironic that I‘m in this situation now. 

HAYES:  I‘m not sure if they‘re watching in the White House this evening.  But on the off-chance that they are, I wonder what you would say to the Obama administration, to the people that are running the HAMP program or trying to manage banks into giving these modifications.  What is your message for them about where you are and what this process has been like? 

WERTHEIM:  Please, please, have some oversight and some compassion.  There are so many people - I haven‘t met one - there are so many people now that need help, people like me who are sick.  And it‘s not - when I got my loan, I could afford my house.  It wasn‘t a pipe dream. 

It was just - you know, I‘m in a terrible situation.  I‘m exactly, as you said, the kind of person that the HAMP modification is supposed to help.  I just - the rules - I hear different rules about the HAMP program.  I was told that I would have to make $9,000 a month in order to qualify for my loan. 

HAYES:  Suzanna Wertheim, I‘m really, really appreciating your coming on tonight.  Thank you so much for sharing your story.  And good luck to you. 

WERTHEIM:  Thank you. 

HAYES:  That does it for us tonight.  I‘m Chris Hayes in for Rachel.  You can read more of my work at “TheNation.com” or follow me on Twitter, user name ChrisLHayes.  “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.

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