The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 06/20/11

Guests:
Nan Aron, Peter Diamond, Ian Millhiser
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you, Lawrence.  Thanks for having me.  I really appreciate it.

LAWRENCE O‘DONELL, “THE LAST WORD” HOST:  Thank you.

           

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

OK, tomorrow morning, big deal in American politics.  The former governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman, will officially join the race for the Republican presidential nomination with an announcement speech in New Jersey.  He‘ll be showcasing the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop.

This past weekend, the drumbeat became deafening for the current governor of Texas to join the Republican presidential nomination race.  All of the latest national polling among presidential hopefuls still puts the former Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney well ahead of the field—as he has been in essentially every national poll taken over the last two months.

But it‘s all of those different Republican governors—and don‘t forget little Tim Pawlenty as well—all of the governors square off to try to become the leader, the face of the Republican Party nationally.

As all of those governors jockey for space—spare a thought for the Republican governor who Democrats hope most becomes the face of the Republican Party nationally this year.  Not Sarah Palin.  I speak of the Rick Scott.

Rick Scott, Republican governor of Florida.  Rick Scott, a man who holds the un-coveted title of being the least popular governor in the United States of America.  Rick Scott holds that distinction in a year when there is stiff competition for that title.

In a year where a number of high profile Republican governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Snyder in Michigan are all already looking at poll numbers saying if voters could get a do-over on them, if voters could vote again in that gubernatorial race that elected them right now, those guys would not win re-election.  Those guys would not be re-elected if voters knew now what they knew—knew then what they what they know now.

In that type of year for Republican governors, Florida‘s Republican Governor Rick Scott has been digging a new basement at the bottom of the “my constituents hate me” list.

The latest polling out of Florida shows Rick Scott with a breathtaking 29 percent approval rating.  Just 29 percent of Floridians approve of job their governor is doing.

Now, because of the way he ran and because of his history, nobody really expected Rick Scott to cultivate much support among Democrats in Florida ever.  But Rick Scott has also managed to alienate Republicans in his state, even powerful Republicans in his state.

And so, any real support that Rick Scott had in Florida really appears to have cratered.  Over this weekend, that led to this—newspapers in Florida catching Rick Scott in an attempt to trick newspapers into think that he is more popular than he is.  Newspapers in Florida uncovering a brand new feature on Rick Scott‘s Web site that allows you to fake write a fake letter to the editor, saying how much you love Rick Scott, saying how great a job Rick Scott is doing as governor.  These are fake letters to the editor written by Rick Scott‘s campaign team.

Quote, “While politicians usually disappoint us, and rarely keep their promises, Rick is refreshing because he‘s keeping his word.”

“The Orlando Sentinel” responding today, “It would be even more refreshing to read letters sent by people who actually wrote them themselves.  But it appears that Scott has reached the point where he doesn‘t care about much nuances.”

Rick Scott‘s campaign team writing mat leaves (ph) letter to the editor, fill in proper name at the end.  Just astonishing.

Rick Scott also now writing nonelection season robocalls to try to convince Floridians that they like him given how he has governed so far as their state‘s highest elected official.

Rick Scott is so unpopular in Florida right now that his most significant legislative achievement thus far, the signing of his first state budget that had to be stage-managed to within an inch of its life by his political team.  Governor Scott held his signing ceremony at a heavily, heavily Republican retirement committee.  His staff had anybody who looked like a Democrat at the event physical removed.

You see all these smiling kids surrounding Rick Scott and cheering him on.  “The St. Petersburg Times” reports that those kids were bussed in.  They were handed homemade signs, not made by them, to wave behind Rick Scott there.  See?

And then they were urged to chant a Rick Scott campaign slogan when the signing photo-op thing was all over.  In the midst of all this, in the midst of having to choreograph his own budget signing like it was a North Korean missile parade, the specific policies that Rick Scott has been pushing for, the policies that are so endearing him to his constituents are getting stopped anyway.

Look at this.  Rick Scott‘s big plan to force drug testing on anybody who has committed the grave crime of having a job with the state of Florida, that policy has been halted.  Governor Scott forced to suspend the executive order he used to implement that policy, while the policy gets challenged in the courts by the ACLU of Florida.

And that sort of headline is actually not just a Rick Scott nightmare.  That is turning into a nightmare for big government conservative governors all over the country.

In Texas, the only thing standing in the way of Rick Perry‘s new law mandating that every doctor has to read a government-written script to every Texas woman seeking an abortion, that is a lawsuit, that has been held up by a lawsuit that‘s been filed against the law by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In Mississippi, the only thing standing in the way of the effort of Haley Barbour and Republicans to amend the state constitution to make it harder for a woman to get an abortion, the only thing standing in the way of that is a lawsuit that‘s been filed by a number of groups, including the ACLU.

In Georgia, the only thing standing in the way of Republican Governor Nathan Deal‘s new Arizona-style immigration law is a lawsuit that has been filed by, among others, the ACLU.

In Alabama, the only way standing in the way of Republican Governor Bob Bentley‘s Arizona-style immigration law is a lawsuit expected to be filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In Indiana, the only thing standing in the way of Republican Governor Mitch Daniels‘ effort to defund and therefore shutdown that state‘s Planned Parenthood clinics is a lawsuit that has been filed by Planned Parenthood itself.

All year long—all year long, it has been fascinating news and fascinating politics to watch the backlash against what Republicans are trying to do in the states this year.

In the 2010 election, Republicans really did just paint the states red.  They won more legislative seats than at any other time since 1928.  They won 11 governorships that had previously been held by Democrats.  And they have been so aggressive, policy-wise, at the state level that it‘s been almost more than you can keep up with just to follow the reaction, just to follow all the different ways people have reacted in the states and recoiled against what the Republicans have been doing.

From 100,000 people in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, to the largest protests ever at the state capital in Michigan, to the Indiana Democratic legislators who, with much less media attention than their counterparts in Wisconsin, fled the state in order to protest what Republicans were doing there.

The Republican agenda in the states has now led to recall elections.  The sponsor of the emergency financial manager bill in Michigan, the so-called “fiscal martial law” bill, that‘s now facing a recall campaign.  He‘s now facing a recall campaign.

All of the Republican state senators in Wisconsin, all of them who are eligible for recall; they‘re all now facing their own recalls.

It‘s also led to referenda to undo these policies directly.  Organizes in Ohio now saying they have enough signatures to push that state‘s new union-stripping law up for a popular vote in November.

In Michigan, opponents of the state‘s emergency financial manager law are trying to get that law overturned at the ballot as well.

Up in Maine, remember the governor‘s decision to rip down the mural at the Labor Department, that mural that was too pro-labor for the Labor Department?  That led to this moment of the opposite of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You got it.

POLICE:  What?  What are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Putting the mural back up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Putting the mural back up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Putting the mural back up.  They projected the censored mural back on to the state capitol in Maine.

There are two ways in which all of this is important to national politics.  Number one, whatever is happening in the early Republican presidential primary circus right now, it‘s still really is sort of a circus—it‘s kind of a sideshow to the real fight, to the real Republican versus Democrat, right versus left, red versus blue politics that are really unfolding in the states.  Not theoretical arguments about one what one might do if one ever has the luck to get to run against Barack Obama to maybe try to be president some day.  But, rather, how Republicans are governing, what they are doing with the power they‘ve got and how people feel about that.  That is what‘s being acted out in the states every single day.

And the backlash against those policies has frankly been creative and fast-moving and surprising in its scale and its scope and it has been therefore of national importance.  So, that‘s number one.  The real fight is in the states.

And number two, in terms of actually stopping the policies, in terms of actually stopping the real intrusive, big government conservatism in the red states this year, a lot of times, under the radar, what is stopping that stuff is the courts because it‘s the ACLU that‘s suing in Florida to stop  that Rick Scott forced drug testing.  It is the Center for Reproductive Rights that‘s suing in Texas to stop that Rick Perry forced doctor‘s script.  It is Planned Parenthood in Indiana, suing to stop the Mitch Daniels attack on family planning.

The fight is happening in the states.  And what that means, a lot of times, is that it is happening in the courts, which does bring us back to Washington.

At this point in the George W. Bush presidency, Congress had confirmed 144 of President Bush‘s judicial nominees.  At this point in the Barack Obama presidency, Congress has only confirmed 86 of his judicial nominees.  Now, remember, during the Bush administration, judicial confirmations were seen as so low that it was provoking a crisis that was going to cause the Senate Republicans to go nuclear and eliminate the filibuster all together, right, because George Bush wasn‘t getting his nominees through fast enough.

But at that point in the George W. Bush presidency—at that point in his presidency, he was exactly in line with how many nominees President Bill Clinton had confirmed.  And that‘s the Republicans saw was a crisis.

Look where Barack Obama is at right now.  And this is why Republicans have paid so much attention to who gets on the courts in recent years.  At the end of the Bush administration, 10 of the 13 federal courts of appeals had Republican appointed majorities – 10 of the 13.

When Barack Obama came into office, nearly 60 percent of all active federal judges were appointed by Republican presidents.  And that‘s why the Republicans in Washington are doing everything they can to stop President Obama‘s nominees.

Yes, it is about denying the president a victory and denying the president just something, anything that he wants.  But it is also about the Rick Scotts of the world.  It is about protecting things like Rick Scott‘s little forced drug testing thing in Florida, isn‘t it?

Joining us now is Nan Aron, president for the Alliance of Justice.

Nan, thanks very much for joining us tonight.  Happy to have you here.

NAN ARON, ALLIANCE OF JUSTICE:  Hi, Rachel.  Glad to be here.

MADDOW:  Thank you.  When Republican-sponsored legislation in states gets challenged in the federal court, what types of court system, ideologically speaking, is hearing those challenges these days?

ARON:  Well, as you said, we still have a court system, federal court system, that is easily dominated by a majority of judges appointed by Republican presidents.  And that has very real implications for all of us because most of the judges appointed by these presidents were appointed for political reasons.  They shared an agenda of Republican presidents.  Many of them were pro business, pro-corporate.  Some were anti-choice.

And it‘s interesting, if you just look at recent George Bush‘s appointees, nearly a third of his nominees to the circuit courts were members of the Federal Society.  And as we know, the Federal Society is a right wing organization of lawyers and law students who have been focused on the courts now for decades.

So, who sits on the federal bench?  There‘s a very, very real issue.

As we just saw today in the Walmart case.  Here, we had a Supreme Court basically say to 1 million to 1.5 million women across the country that they cannot band together and bring a class action suit against Walmart, which is systematically discriminated against them.  But it‘s not just at the Supreme Court.  It‘s at the circuit courts as well, as well as the district courts.

MADDOW:  In terms of President Obama‘s nominees specifically, has his nominees faced a tougher road than previous Democratic presidents?  We see at this point in his presidency, having confirmed fewer judges than either George W. Bush or President Clinton at this point in their presidencies?

ARON:  It‘s interesting.  I was doing this work during the Clinton administration, and judge after judge would be blocked.  But, what‘s happening to President Obama‘s nominees is unprecedented.  Last year, for instance, every single one of his judicial nominees was blocked.  And what was so ironic, that most of these nominees were individuals who were supported by Republican senators.

So, the goal then, as is now, clearly implemented by Republican senators, is to try to leave as many federal judiciary vacancies not filled with the hope that a future Republican president will come in and fill them.  We saw that at the end of the Clinton administration – 61 nominees were blocked from confirmation.  And the minute George Bush came into office, boom, every single one of those seats had a name.

So, this is a very intentional, well-designed program to keep as many seats open so that a future Republican president will put judges on.  And as we‘ve seen from George Bush, many of those judges side almost always with big corporations, big business.

MADDOW:  Do you understand why it is that Republicans seem to have

such a clear agenda on this issue and Democrats really don‘t?  There

doesn‘t seem to be any sort of Democratic counter proposal in order to try

or counter-strategy in order to get more Democratic appointees on to the courts the way that Republicans have seemed so unified on this?

           

ARON:  Two things.  One, you know, since Brown versus Board of Education and Rowe versus Wade, the ultra-right wing base of the Republican Party has cared passionately about this issue.  We‘d like progressive groups to make more of a priority and care a little bit more.

I‘m pleased to say, though, that after a pretty slow start on the President Obama‘s part in terms of sending names of judicial nominees to the Senate, there are now many more being nominated.  The danger is, as we approach an election, the window will start to close.  So, it is incumbent on the Senate, particularly the Democrats, to stand up and to fight, and for the president, as well, to stand up and fight hard for his nominees.

We should never allow what happened to Goodwin Liu, one of the best nominees we‘ve ever seen sent to the United States Senate.  We should never see someone as good as Goodwin Liu filibustered by the Republicans.

We all have to stand up and fight for our people.

MADDOW:  Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice.  It‘s been a real pleasure to have you here.  Thanks for your time tonight.

ARON:  Thanks so much for having me.

MADDOW:  All right.  “The Best New Thing in the World Today” involves the international pursuit of a murderous mobster living on the lam.

Also, a gone rogue dental hygienist.  It also involves the ladies of “The View” and Dr. Oz and Ellen DeGeneres.  It‘s the weirdest FBI mob story ever.  We‘ve got way more detail on it today than we ever expected to.  It‘s the “Best New Thing in the World Today,” which is coming up right at the end of the show.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  When Republicans won control of the House last year, one of the threats they leveled was that they would pin the Obama administration to the wall with hearings, lots and lots of hearings.  The new Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa of California, said he wanted, quote, “seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks.”

Seven times—he wanted 280 hearings.  Why 280?  That‘s what he said he wanted.

So far, the first real political traction Darrell Issa has gotten from his numerous hearings is over a controversial gun trafficking sting operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.  The program is now getting enough negative attention that it has led to some speculation that the head of the ATF may be ousted because of it.

If that happens, the person whose job may be on the line is this man, his name is Kenneth Melson.  He gets shorthanded all the time as the head of the ATF.  It should be noted, however, that there is no head of the ATF.  Ken Melson is the acting head because since 2006, the Senate has refused to appoint anyone to run our nation‘s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The ATF has not had an official confirmed director for five years, because the Senate will not confirm one, which is the same reason we‘re not going to get a commerce secretary right now.  We have a nominee but Senator Inhofe does not like his thoughts on the environment—so get ready to be secretary of commerceless, America.

We also don‘t have an officially confirmed deputy attorney general right now.  The number two spot at the Justice Department is only filled until the end of the calendar year and only because President Obama filled it by recess appointment.

We also don‘t have a head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency right

now.  That‘s the agency that‘s supposed to make sure the housing market

doesn‘t blow up again.  That agency cannot have an actual director because

you guessed it—Republicans in the Senate say so.

           

Same goes for the Fish and Wildlife Service.  It doesn‘t get anyone to run it because—well, first, Senator Vitter was blocking a vote on President Obama‘s nominee because he wanted 15 permits for deepwater oil drilling.  Then Senator Mike Lee of Utah wanted some documents released.  And now, apparently, Senator Barrasso wants the review of the protective status of some wolves.

Bottom line, no one is officially running our nation‘s Fish and Wildlife Service.

Also, forget about putting somebody in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Republicans have already promised to block pretty much anyone President Obama nominates to lead that new agency because they don‘t think that agency should exist in the first place.

Even the Federal Reserve board, there‘s supposed to be seven members of the Federal Reserve board.  Right now, there are five.  There are two vacancies on that rather important board.

That‘s in part because Senate Republicans rejected President Obama‘s most recent nominee to the Fed board.  They rejected him as unqualified.  He‘s a Nobel Prize winner in economics.  His field of study is unemployment and the labor market.

Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama led the opposition to this unqualified Nobel laureate by saying, quote, “It is clear to many of us that he does not possess the appropriate background, experience, or policy preferences to serve.”

He won the Nobel Prize in economics and his field is labor markets.  That nominee, Nobel laureate Peter Diamond will join us for “The Interview,” next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  Even someone who won a Nobel Prize for economics wasn‘t good enough to be on the board of governors of the Federal Reserve system, according to the Republicans.  So, Peter Diamond withdrew his nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If you go to the Web site of the Federal Reserve system, you will find its mission statement.

First up: conducting the nation‘s monetary policy by influencing the monetary and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.

Pursuit of maximum employment—that sounds good about now.

Among the areas of expertise a Professor Peter Diamond, a Nobel Prize winning economist, is labor markets.  Employment, and, yes, as Harry Reid said just there, Professor Diamond had to withdraw his nomination to be a member of the Federal Reserve‘s board of governors this year because Republicans in the Senate refused to allow a vote on his candidacy, calling him unqualified—astonishingly.

Peter Diamond joins us now for “The Interview.”

Professor Diamond, thank you very much for being here.  I‘ve looked forward to talking to you for a long time.

PETER DIAMOND, FORMER FEDERAL RESERVE NOMINEE:  Thank you for having me.

MADDOW:  You wrote an op-ed in “The New York Times” after your affirmation was blocked where you said that the confirmation process has become distorted.  What did you mean by that?

DIAMOND:  Well, it‘s been used by the Republicans in part for just general harassment of the administration.  And an example of that was when I got bumped in August of last year.  I was just one of a dozen or so who got bumped for no apparent reason.

There‘s a Senate rule that says when the Senate goes into a long recess, it takes unanimous consent for a nomination to remain in place after the recess.  And a dozen or so, including me, didn‘t get unanimous consent for the nomination to stay in place.  So, the White House had to go through all the paperwork to re-nominate.  It seems like just simple harassment.

MADDOW:  In terms of Senator Shelby objecting to you, he said, “Look what he was in, look in the weeds, he supported all the printing of money, borrowing money, stimulus stuff.  He would just be ratifying what the whole Obama administration is doing through the Fed.”

What do you make of his attempt to—at substantive criticism of you?

DIAMOND:  Well, he had two kinds of criticisms.  One was that I wasn‘t qualified.  I didn‘t have any background relevant for monetary policy, which, of course, is silly because a key element in determining monetary policy is evaluating the state of labor market, how much unemployment is there, how much of that is for cyclic reasons, how much of that is for structural reasons.

Beyond that and after that opening claim, he identified the fact that I approve of the things that the Fed has been doing.  The Fed‘s monetary policy is the fed‘s policy.  It‘s not the Obama administration policy.  And the Fed faced a severe financial crisis that could easily have put us in as bad a position as the Great Depression.  Certainly could have been much worse than it was if the Fed didn‘t step in strongly to begin with.

I know the American public hates the bank bailouts.  It‘s easy to not like bailouts of the people who were the primary cause of the crisis.  But opposing the bailouts is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.  We need those banks for the economy to function.

Beyond that, the Fed has been trying to stimulate the economy to bring down the unemployment rate.  They‘ve had some success in that their estimate, that they hadn‘t been doing this, thing would be even worse.  And I think that‘s the appropriate measure to look at, not how they cure things, but have they done things to make things better.  I believe they have.

MADDOW:  What do you think the best policy options are available to the government, and to the Fed specifically right now, in order to try to bring down unemployment?  We‘re looking at 9.1 percent unemployment right now.  It‘s been so high for so long it‘s beginning to feel like it‘s changing our nation qualitatively, not just quantitatively—in terms of the number of people hurting?

DIAMOND:  The Fed has been pushing but they‘re limited.  The prime policy of the Fed is to keep interest rates down.  And they‘ve done that.  The so-called quantitative easing to try to bring long rates down as well as short rates helps a little bit but it‘s not a strong tool.

What we need now is another round of fiscal stimulus.  The Republicans and a lot of the public think fiscal stimulus the first round was a failure.  But that‘s a mistake.

The question to ask, like I just referred to, is what would things have been like if we hadn‘t done it?  The question isn‘t—did the fiscal stimulus rescue us?  Because clearly it didn‘t.  The question isn‘t, was the fiscal stimulus as successful as the Obama administration predicted?  Which it hasn‘t been.

The right question to ask is how much more unemployment would we have had without the fiscal stimulus?  And the estimates that are out there say significantly more unemployment.  It‘s brought it down to a painfully high level.  And we ought to have more of it and we should be particularly careful not to do anything out of concern for the long run debt problem, which is not an imminent problem that hurts the short-run position of the economy.

MADDOW:  Peter Diamond, Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor at MIT and for over a year, President Obama‘s nominee to serve on the Federal Reserve‘s board of governors—I have looked forward to talking to you for a long time, sir.  Thank you for joining us tonight.  I appreciate your time.

DIAMOND:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Some unexpected news tonight, that the president is due to make a major, major announcement this week on Wednesday.  We just found out about it tonight.  Last time he made an announcement like this on this subject, we had quite literally months of advance notice that it was coming.  This one they just sprung on us late tonight.

I‘ll have details for you in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  When you are a Supreme Court justice, people tend to name things after you, even build places just to honor you.

This statue, for instance, honors Justice William Brennan in his native Newark, New Jersey.  Consider also the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston.  The Sandra Day O‘Connor College of Law in Arizona.  Brandeis University in Massachusetts named for Louis Brandeis.

And the newly renamed Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Community Center, where she grew up in New York City.  There‘s John Paul Stevens High School in San Antonio.  Earl Warren High School also in San Antonio—and so on and so on.

When we honor a Supreme Court justice, it‘s because we consider them just, fair, deliberate, above reproach.  We like to believe that judges embody not just achievement.  They embody those noble qualities, right?

There also, it should be noted, are guidelines that broadly govern judges‘ impartiality that require it and that protect it.  Judges other than Supreme Court justice are legally bound by a code of conduct for federal judges.

Supreme Court justices themselves are not bound by it, but they are supposed to follow it anyway.  They say that they do.  They are supposed to be above reproach.  They are to self-police.  They are, after all, the Supreme Court.

For example, the code of conduct for federal judges says judges are not supposed to know who donates money for something like a building or a statue that honors a judge, so there can be no question of whether that building or statue was a bribe to the judge‘s vanity.  It seems to make sense.

Same goes for charity causes.  Even if Justice X loves, say, spaying and neutering as a charity concept, he or she should not be directly involved in soliciting funds for charities that do spaying and neutering.  Again, so it won‘t look like a bribe, even if it is a bribe that benefits a good cause.

Given those rules, how do you explain this?  “The New York Times” this weekend reporting on the connection between a Dallas real estate baron and a Supreme Court justice by the name of Clarence Thomas.  The real estate baron is named Harlan Crow.  He is both a major contributor to conservative causes and also, “The New York Times” reports, a major contributor to the effort to turn this old seafood cannery outside Savannah, Georgia, where Justice Thomas‘ mother once picked crabs, he wants to turn this into a museum, into the Pinpoint Heritage Museum.

The owner of the property telling “The New York Times” that he had

bumped into Justice Thomas a few years back and told him he hoped this

cannery property could be preserved.  From the paper, quote, “And Clarence

said, ‘Well, I‘ve got a friend I‘m going to put you in touch with.‘”

By last November, the local paper was announcing construction on the Pinpoint Heritage Museum, with a quote from Justice Thomas about the important local and national resource.  An executive for the Dallas real estate magnate tells the local paper only that the anonymous donor is, quote, “a patriot with a love of history.”

So very secretive this Dallas donor patriot with the love of history of this particular spot on the Georgia coast—this particular spot that just happens to be where Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is from?  Very secretive.

Let‘s see Harlan Crow‘s picture again.  Mr. Crow, according to “The New York Times,” has also given Justice Thomas a Bible that once belonged to Frederick Douglass.  That Bible was valued at $19,000.  When Justice Thomas received it, Mr. Crow tried to give $175,000 to a Savannah library in Clarence Thomas‘ honor.  He tried to give that anonymously but he got outed by critics of the justice.

Harlan Crow also appears to have financed the Tea Party group Liberty Central, run by Justice Thomas‘ wife.  That‘s her on the left there.

Mr. Crow reportedly put up half a million bucks for this organization, Liberty Central.

Justice Thomas has frequently been in the news for gifts he has reported and gifts he has not reported.  In 2004, “The Los Angeles Times” nailed him, frankly, for accepting tens of thousands of dollars worth for presents, including tires and also money for a relative‘s education.  After that, Justice Thomas simply stopped reporting that he had received any gifts.

From 2003 to 2007, Mr. Thomas also stopped reporting the money his wife was paid as a political activist and advocate.  Then he retroactively disclosed her income and said he just hadn‘t understood the forms for those four years.

Now, “The New York Times” reports that Justice Thomas has been riding around on Harlan Crow‘s private jet and Harlan Crow‘s private enormous yacht.  He‘s also been hanging out at Mr. Crow‘s summer estate in the Adirondacks, which looks really nice.

And all of these things would all constitute gifts.  But Justice Thomas is not reporting them.

So, we don‘t really know what even he guesses they are worth.

This is not just a matter of checking off box A column B so people can see more meaningless information about their officials.  Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled eight-to-one in a voting rights case—eight-to-one, they ruled against an institute that has ties to Mr. Harlan Crow, the Dallas real estate tycoon.

The one lone vote for the institute connected to Harlon Crow came from Clarence Thomas, Mr. Crow‘s old friend on the Supreme Court.

You heard about that new multimillion dollar museum being built in Clarence Thomas‘ hometown?

Joining us now is Ian Millhiser, attorney, policy analyst and blogger for the Center for American Progress.

Ian, thanks very much for your time.  Nice to have you here.

IAN MILLHISER, ATTORNEY:  It‘s good to be here.  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  You wrote today in think progress about these revelations in “The Times.”  And other things we‘ve learned about Justice Thomas and you compared him to former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas.  That is a pretty staggering blow to levy at any sitting justice.

Why did you make that comparison?

MILLHISER:  Because they have so much in common.  Justice Fortas was disgraced and was forced to resign because he was caught in a gifting scandal.  That was a coalition of wealthy businessmen who gave him thousands of dollars, and then he had an individual sugar daddy who gave him thousands of dollars more.

And when you compare Fortas‘ facts to what‘s going on with Thomas, Fortas had his sugar daddy, Thomas has Harlan Crow.  Fortas has coalition of businessmen.  Thomas has the American Enterprise Institute, which is corporate-aligned think tank that frequently files briefs in front of Thomas‘ court and they gave a gift worth $15,000 to Justice Thomas.  And Justice Thomas does not recuse himself from cases where AEI files briefs.

So, I‘m having a great deal of trouble finding a difference between these scandals.  American has seen this movie before.  And when we saw it before, it ended with the villain resigning in disgrace.

MADDOW:  Reading some reaction to this “New York Times” reporting on the right, they‘re not actually questioning whether or not Harlan Crow has done all the things that “The New York Times” has reported he has done, whether he‘s provided Justice Thomas with all the things he‘s reported to have provided him.

What they‘re questioning is whether or not Justice Thomas accepting these things is anything unethical.  I mean, after all, Supreme Court justices are not technically bound by the code of conduct for federal judges even though they are supposed to follow it.

MILLHISER:  Well, again, when we talk about the Supreme Court, we should be talking about precedent.  I think the Fortas precedent is very clear.  The two incidents are so similar that if Thomas were to do what Fortas did, he would have to resign.

Of course, the trouble with Clarence Thomas is this is the justice who has been most unlikely to follow precedent.  If you look at his interpretation of the Constitution, you know, Rachel, in Clarence Thomas‘ America, whites-only counters are permitted and federal child labor laws are forbidden.

So, he departs wildly from what has come before him.  You see that in his jurisprudence.  And, unfortunately, I think you‘re going see it in how he handles this ethics scandal.

MADDOW:  How significant do you think the reporting is that Harlan Crow, the same donor and contributor and supporter and friend to Justice Thomas paid a half million dollars to help his wife start her Tea Party group?  How significant do you see that?

MILLHISER:  I think that‘s pretty significant, especially because that Tea Party group, I believe, has been involved in supporting the Affordable Care Act.  Ginni Thomas has been the head of two Tea Party groups.  The first one opposed the Affordable Care Act, and the second one we don‘t know.

She‘s now a lobbyist—head of a lobbying group for the Tea Party.  And we don‘t know who her clients are.  And that raises its own ethics scandal because if Ginni Thomas has accepted one dime to lobby to get the Affordable Care Act repealed, that creates a recusal problem for her husband.  She cannot be paid to bring about a resolve and then have her husband vote to make that resolve happen.

MADDOW:  Ian Millhiser, attorney and policy analyst for the Center for American Progress—thanks for joining us tonight.  It‘s nice to have you here.

MILLHISER:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right. “Best New Thing in the World Today” is our first-ever mob-related best new thing.  And nothing about the mob is itself good, let alone best.

But the FBI trying to use the ladies of “The View” and Ellen DeGeneres and Dr. Oz in their hunt for a murderous mobster?  That is good.  That is very, very good.  That is “The Best New Thing in the World Today” and that is coming up in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  OK.  So, the top of the hour is the end of this show and the beginning of the next show, which is “THE ED SHOW.”  John McCain blaming illegal immigrants for wildfires in Arizona, the conservatives on the Supreme Court handing Walmart Christmas in June, the new details on the gap between the very, very, very richest and everybody else and where it came from—it has been a tough day of news, but that means it will be a great night to watch “THE ED SCHULTZ SHOW,” which is tonight, right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  There‘s always been an isolation strain or isolationist strain in the Republican Party, the Pat Buchanan wing of our party.  But now, it seems to have moved more center stage.

SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  From my Republican point of view, the president needs to step up his game with Libya but Congress should sort of shut up.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  At the end of the first year of his presidency, President Obama did something not many presidents have done or are willing to do.  He allowed it to be known that he was mulling over a decision.  He allowed it to be known that he was mulling over decision that he thought was a hard decision.  And he let us know he was taking his time to make that decision.

In fall and winter of 2009, the president‘s decision about what to do with the Afghanistan war he had inherited was a publicly and admittedly drawn out process.  It culminated finally on December 1st, 2009, in a speech in West Point where Mr. Obama announced he would be spending more troops—more troops to Afghanistan but with a deadline.  The counterinsurgents would get 18 months to extra manpower to make a difference in what the president narrowly defined as defeating al Qaeda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies.  And as commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, in 18 months was up, the surge would be, too.  Today, late in the day, with nothing like the weeks and months of advance warning we had in 2009, we got word that the president will announce a substantial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and he will announce that in a day and a half.  Wednesday in Washington, he is due to make this announcement.

We do not know how substantial the withdrawal will be and how fast the rest of America‘s 100,000 troops in Afghanistan will come home, but we will hear it from the president himself on Wednesday.

Then, the following day, he will leave Washington to speak at Fort Drum in New York.

In terms of the political impact of something like this, it‘s sort of hard to estimate what the political impact of an announcement like this will this year, right now, because war politics are frankly become totally unhinged from party politics.

A new poll for “The Hill” newspaper in Washington finds that 72 percent of Americans believe the U.S. is fighting in too many places in the world.  Only 32 percent of Americans say the U.S. safer because of the war in Iraq.  Only 36 percent say the U.S. is safer because of the war in Afghanistan.

At the conference of mayors in Baltimore today, a bipartisan group of mayors from across the U.S. passed a resolution urging Congress to quickly end both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and spend that $126 billion a year at home, instead of in Kandahar and in Baghdad.

The guy who finished first who won the Republican leadership straw poll this weekend was a guy who used to be a lonely anti-war voice in the Republican Party.  This guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We shouldn‘t be the warmongering.  We shouldn‘t be the policemen of the world.  We shouldn‘t be in 130 countries and 900 bases and fighting undeclared wars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Ron Paul came in first in the straw poll this weekend.

The guy who came in second in the Republican leadership straw poll, Jon Huntsman—announcing his presidential campaign tomorrow.  One of the two campaign platforms will be getting out of Afghanistan.

The third and fourth place finishers in the straw poll were Michele Bachmann, who voted to defund the war in Libya this month.  And Herman Cain, who at the first debate made his big splash of the night, inveighing against U.S. intervention in Libya.

Congress may again this week take up legislation to defund the war in Libya and the controversy over the War Powers Act and whether Congress was adequately consulted.

Congressman John Garamendi of California floated the idea at the Netroots Nation conference this weekend that Congress may also consider eventually defunding the war in Afghanistan if it persists.

All eyes will be on the president on Wednesday when we will find out how and when America‘s longest war will finally end.  But as for the domestic political impact of that announcement, at this point the forecast is for chaos.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  “Best New Thing in the World Today” is about fugitives, about how the most wanted fugitives in the world get gunned after.

You can still get the Osama bin Laden FBI most wanted fugitive wanted poster at the FBI‘s Web site.  But now, it also includes this handy reminder “deceased.”

The new guy in charge of al Qaeda is this guy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who like bin Laden, has a $25 million reward on his head.

But you know who has the largest reward on his head as an American citizen, as somebody from this country, someone who they‘ve been looking for for so long that his earliest mug shots were from when they still had guys pose in hats, since that‘s what they would look like on the streets.  This was 60 years.

Here‘s what this guy looked like 30 years ago.  He‘s now 81 years old. 

He‘s been on the lam since the mid-‘90s.

Here‘s him on the goat—literally, there‘s like a handful of pictures of him and one of him mysteriously shows him cuddling a goat.  I don‘t know.

He is Whitey Bulger.  The reward for information leading to Whitey Bulger‘s arrest is 2 million bucks, the largest reward for any domestic suspect in the United States.  Whitey Bulger is a Boston mobster.  He‘s wanted for 19 murders.

These are some of the only known photos of him.  These were all published by “The Boston Globe.”

“The Best New Thing in the World Today” is that we just learned a whole lot we never knew before about how they are trying to catch Whitey Bulger now.  Whitey is believed to be on the run, along with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

The FBI held a press conference in Boston today to announce details of their current strategy to find Whitey by finding Catherine.  And they think they fill Catherine with the little help from the ladies of “The View.”  Seriously, if you watch “The View” or Ellen DeGeneres or daytime soap operas, you may also soon find this see.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  This is an announcement by the FBI.  Have you seen this woman?  The FBI is offering $100,000 for tips leading to Catherine Greig‘s whereabouts.  These photos are from the early 1990s.  Greig has had plastic surgeries.  She is wanted for harboring James “Whitey” Bulger, a fugitive on the FBI‘s 10 most wanted list.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The theory behind this FBI ad is that the women who watch Ellen or Dr. Oz or “The View” or “Regis and Kelly” might also themselves spend time at beauty parlors or getting a little work done and that is the kind of place where you might run into Whitey Bulger‘s fugitive girlfriend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She‘s likely to have well-kept teeth due to previous work as a dental hygienist.  And she likes to frequent beauty salons.  And prior to her fleeing with Bulger, she had multiple plastic surgeries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Now, I‘m not kidding here.  But a year ago, the FBI started putting in ads in the newsletter of the American Dental Association and the “Plastic Surgery News” published by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.  The ads say, “Have you treated this woman?”  They then list all the procedures she‘s over the years, from breast implants to something called lower blepharoplasty.

From the dental ad and the plastic surgery ad, they say they got over 100 tips.  And so, now, they are doubling down.

Ladies who watch “Dr. Oz,” if you have ever sat down to for a mani-pedi next to Whitey Bulger‘s girlfriend anywhere, that‘s $100,000 for you if your tip means they find Catherine Grieg and there‘s $2 million for you if your tip leads through her to Whitey Bulger herself.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the FBI when they decided they were going to go with this strategy.

All right.  I‘ll call the plastic surgeon trade publications and you -

do you think we could get on “The View”?

           

“Best New Thing in the World Today.”

Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”  Have a 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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