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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/26/12

Guests: Michael Isikoff , Wayne Besen, Mike Berlon

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: What? Is this weird? Greetings from the year 2019. Obviously, I`m on the moon, where Newt Gingrich is the president of the moon. How can anybody be president of the moon, you ask, from the past, where you live? Well, back what he was just candidate Gingrich, President Newt, that`s what we call him, President Newt, he not only promised a permanent colony on the moon by the end of his second term, but he declared that that colony would be an American colony. He said once he figured out a way to get a few thousand Americans up here on the moon in our permanent colony here, the moon could then become the 51st state. And so, now, in 2019, Puerto Rico, I guess, is still just a territory, Washington, D.C. is essentially still like an occupied territory, but the moon, well, now we call it North North Dakota, and Newt Gingrich is the first president of the moon. He`s sort of our George Washington up here. Just because I`m wearing this fake costume space suit doesn`t mean I`m kidding about this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By the end of my second term -- (CHEERS) GINGRICH: -- we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American. (CHEERS) GINGRICH: At one point early in my career, I introduced the northwest ordinance for space. And I said, when we got -- I think the number`s 13,000. When we have 13,000 Americans living on the moon, they can petition to become a state. And I will, as president, encourage the introduction of the northwest ordinance for space to put a marker down, that we want Americans to think boldly about the future and we want Americans to go out and study hard and work hard, and together, we`re going to unleash the American people to rebuild the country we love. (CHEERS) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Sorry, it`s just really hot inside this suit. Sorry. You know the stuff that President Gingrich was saying about him becoming president of the moon, because the moon is going to be the 51st state. That was not his most ambitious idea about the moon. In one of the books that Newt Gingrich wrote as a member of Congress, a book called "Window of Opportunity," he talked about how the moon could be put to work fighting crime. Now, come on, you say, how could the moon possibly fight crime? Mirrors! Mirrors that would be angled on the moon to reflect sunlight, I guess, back down to earth, to strategically eliminate some portions of night. Mitt Romney has been making fun of Newt Gingrich for this for a little bit over the course of the campaign, but "Mother Jones" today posted the actual excerpt from Newt`s book where he explains the idea. It says, quote, "Ambient light covering entire areas could reduce the current danger of criminals lurking in darkness. Mirrors could be arranged to light given to metropolitan areas only during particular periods so there could be darkness late at night for sleeping." A couple years after that book came out, and this was posted by BuzzFeed today, Mr. Gingrich proposed that not the moon, but space could be used for something related to farmers. In a speech to a world science fiction convention, Congressman Gingrich said that America could take what he called all the extra farmers and put them on space stations working for a living in orbiting factories. The "A.P." then said that Gingrich lamented that most human beings will have to live and work on earth until at least the year 2500. But candidate Gingrich, Congressman Gingrich wanted to get to work on this farmers working on factories in orbit plan right away. Now, I don`t know what the advantage is to have them working in factories that are in orbit rather than, like, in Michigan, but orbiting factories was Mr. Gingrich`s idea. So Newt Gingrich, president of the moon. Cheers. Same as it ever was. It is not very hard to attack Newt Gingrich for grandiosity, even before he starts talking about being president of the moon. But the fact that he talks about stuff like this can make his trademark grandiosity seem not just pompous, but also sometimes a little -- a little wacky, a little maybe unstable. And that`s pretty much the theme of the Romney campaign`s new round of attacks against Mr. Gingrich. The Romney campaign forwarding to the conservative magazine the "National Review" today a statement from former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole. Bob Dole says, quote, "I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich, but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him, and that fact speaks for itself. In my run for the presidency in 1996, the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them, Newt was in the ad." So, at this point, it`s sort of the standard, Newt would be a bad nominee, Newt would lose the election thing, until you get to this final crank from Bob Dole. And I do mean crank. He says, "Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters," says Bob Dole, "with an empty bucket in his hand -- that was a symbol of some sort for him -- and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it and I`m not certain he knew either." Why was Newt Gingrich carrying a bucket in the 1996 presidential campaign? Wacky! Newt on the moon, right? But the most notable thing though about the attacks on Newt Gingrich from the Republican establishment today, really the most notable about it - - A, they`re going with the wacky and unstable thing. But mostly, it`s the magnitude of it. They just piled on. For example, just look at the Drudge Report today. I had not been there for ages, but looking at it today is remarkable. Drudge is essentially the Republican home page. You know how Republican TVs mostly just have one channel, FOX News. Republican Internet machines have only one web page, the Drudge Report. Look at Drudge. It`s one thing to have the main headline being an anti-Gingrich headline. In this case, I have to say, I have to say it`s kind of rich that they`re going after Gingrich for having uncertain ties to Ronald Reagan when Mitt Romney has this uncertain tie to Ronald Reagan on this record. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I was an independent during Reagan/Bush. I`m not trying to return to Reagan/Bush. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Let`s put aside for a moment the whole Newt`s no Reaganite thing is not that effective an attack for people who support Mitt Romney. But beyond that, just appreciate here the number of anti-Gingrich stories and the unanimity of the anti-Gingrich perspective here, right? Look, "Insider," "Gingrich repeatedly insulted Reagan." "Gingrich opens doors for illegals." "Gingrich admits his ABC claim was false during debate." "Gingrich tells Univision, no perjury during my divorce depositions." "Marianne Gingrich lawyer: Gingrich was never deposed." I mean, this is basically the Republican Party`s home page. Newt Gingrich is a Republican candidate for president, the leading one. In addition to tracking out old Bob Dole today, there was his the from a Ronald Reagan staffer, Eliot Abrams, quote, "Newt Gingrich spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan. He was dead wrong." "The American Spectator" conservative magazine calling Newt Gingrich today, our Bill Clinton, describing Mr. Gingrich as having a, quote, "proclivity for girl hopping." Eww. The editors of another conservative magazine, the "National Review" writing that Gingrich backers say he is, inspiring, but, quote, "what he mostly seems to inspire is opposition." Tom DeLay, of all people, remember the guy with the smiling mug shot? Tom DeLay was on talk radio yesterday calling Newt Gingrich, quote, "erratic and not really a conservative." Mr. Delay also calling Mr. Gingrich undisciplined. today quoting an anonymous top conservative media figure as saying, there`s no one who`s not appalled by the prospect of what could happen if Mr. Gingrich wins the nomination. It could happen. And it would be a disaster. There`s just so much risk on so many levels. Risk. There`s that idea again, right? He`s crazy! Anything could happen. The Republican establishment is essentially rearing up on its hind legs to try to destroy Newt Gingrich right now. Now, Mr. Gingrich does have it supporters, prominent supporters. Sarah Palin has been sort of a lukewarm Newt Gingrich supporter. Fred Thompson says that he likes Newt. Duke Cunningham, speaking of mug shots, Duke Cunningham is still in prison for corruption in California, but Duke Cunningham now says that he`s for Newt Gingrich, too, from prison. But, you know, that right there is kind of the pitiful counter-arsenal that Newt Gingrich has against the Republican establishment. In a normal year, an imbalance like that, the whole establishment versus the guy in prison and the reverse mortgage guy and Sarah Palin, that would mean that Mr. Gingrich`s campaign would pretty much be dead in the water. That imbalance would be fatal. But this year, do not underestimate the importance of the fact that Newt Gingrich has money on tap, $10 million in donations for his super PAC so far from one couple in Las Vegas -- a couple so rich that they could make that same $10 million donation 500 more times and they would still be billionaires. So, Mitt Romney may be rolling out all of these surrogates and supporters, but Newt Gingrich doesn`t need all of that. A, he`s got all the money he wants, and B, he can take care of himself. In between contemplating being president of the moon in Florida today, Mr. Gingrich really went in on Mitt Romney. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: We were drowned in a sea of mud in Iowa. Mud paid for with special interest money, mud paid for by lobbyists in Washington, and a candidate who was willing to say anything and do anything, because he`s so desperate to be president, he doesn`t think the truth matters. We`re not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs, while forecloses on Florida, and is, himself, a stockholder in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while he tries to think the rest of us are too stupid to put the dots together to understand what this is all about. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Wow. Newt Gingrich may have the whole Republican establishment lined up against him, but here`s the thing: he doesn`t need their money and Republican voters may be in an anti-establishment kind of mood, thank you very much. Republican voters are not in love with Mitt Romney, no matter how much the establishment is. And frankly, what Newt Gingrich is saying there about Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney maybe not being such a safe bet for Republicans, maybe not being a good guy to put up against Barack Obama, Newt Gingrich kind of has a point there. NBC`s Michael Isikoff reporting today that Mitt Romney had more money stashed away in offshore accounts than he had previously disclosed. So Mr. Romney is now having to go back and change what he declared when he became a candidate, both this time and from the 2008 race. He`s having to change his candidate disclosures to reflect this previously hidden offshore money that has now been found. Joining us now with some new reporting on Mitt Romney`s overseas investments is NBC News national investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff, who will absolutely forgive me the fact that I`m interviewing him in a fake space suit. Mike, thanks. MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: I`m honored. This is the first time I`ve ever had a chance to report to a space woman. So, it`s really good to be with you. MADDOW: We come in peace. ISIKOFF: Yes. Some pretty interesting developments. You know, the Romney campaign had been thrown on the defensive by those Gingrich super PAC attack ads on Bain Capital and his wealth, and was forced to make this big disclosure this week of his tax returns, months before they wanted to. And so, of course, everybody is starting to scrutinize those hundreds of pages of tax returns released. And one of the things that we discovered was that there are -- there`s income reported in those tax returns that were not disclosed in the financial disclosure form that Romney filed with the Federal Ethics Office, just last year. And in particular, one left out -- the Swiss bank account, about $3 million in it at UBS, opened for the Romneys in 2003, and then shut down in early 2010. And yet there is $1,783 in income reported from that Swiss bank account on the Ann Romney blind trust. You don`t see it in the financial disclosure form. Confronted with this today, the Romney people said they were going to amend this minor discrepancy, as well as include some other offshore investments in Cayman Islands and Bermuda that in the same situation are mentioned, reported in the tax returns, but not in the financial disclosure. MADDOW: So in terms of the big picture here, what you`re saying is that funds -- bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands and these other places weren`t on Mitt Romney`s candidate disclosure filings. They should have been. We didn`t find out about them until now. But had he properly reported what his actual assets were, we would have known that he was offshoring some of his money, or at least some of his family`s money, when he ran for president in 2008. We would have known this last year. ISIKOFF: We would have known more of it. Interestingly, the Swiss bank account was disclosed in the 2007 financial disclosure form that Romney filed, although it was disclosed in the wrong place. It was reported as a personal bank account, not a blind trust bank account. That was wrong, it was a clerical error, the Romney people say. And then it disappears in the one that`s filed last year. I have to give some hats off to candor for one R. Bradford Malt (ph), who`s the lawyer and trustee of the blind trust, because I asked him today about this. Why was the blind -- why was the Swiss bank account closed in early 2010? And he very candidly said, Mitt Romney was preparing to run for president. His exact words was, "I was worried people would write stories not understanding this." So he pretty much acknowledged that they shut it down to avoid having to report it. The problem for Mr. Malt is he didn`t act quickly enough. So, because he didn`t report it instantly, he didn`t shut it down instantly on January 1, 2010, that interest income popped up, the $1,783. It was about a $3 million bank account and a better mathematician than I can figure out exactly how long it was open in 2010. But I think the interesting point here is, they were quite up-front, or Mr. Malt was quite up-front, about the reason for shutting it down, to avoid having to report it. And that does, of course, raise the question, were there other things shut down in late 2009 or early 2010 that don`t show up in that financial disclosure form? MADDOW: Which is the reason why everybody wants to see more years from this guy. ISIKOFF: Exactly. MADDOW: NBC News national investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff -- thank you for filling us in on this. Sorry again about the suit. We`ll PhotoShop it out later. Appreciate it. You know, one of the other things to follow -- we heard Newt Gingrich a moment ago there, talking about Mr. Romney as being an investor in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and in Goldman Sachs. One of the things "The Boston Globe" has been reporting is that while those investments are commonly described as being part of a blind trust, though you can`t really blame Mitt Romney, he didn`t know his money was there, "The Boston Globe" has been reporting that those envelopes were not blind. That Mitt Romney was aware of those things. We`re following that as well. OK. Still to come, we`ve got a best new thing, sort of a blessed new thing actually. Plus, we`ve got another heart to heart that I need to have with PolitiFact. That`s all still ahead. In the meantime, do you want some ice cream? It`s from North North Dakota. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: A poor choice of words from the Mitt Romney campaign this week when they tried to wish and hope away the issue of Mr. Romney`s tax returns. After Mr. Romney released two years of tax returns on the day of the State of the Union, showing that he earns $57,000 a day for not working and thereby pays the mini tax rate of 15 percent that is specifically reserved for very wealthy people who make all of their money by having a lot of money rather than by working, Mr. Romney`s campaign said less than 24 hours later that they thought the issue was done now. They expected people to stop talking about it now. Specifically what the campaign said about the tax returns was, "As far as we are concerned, we put it to bed." Bad choice of words, it turns out, because, A, people are way too fascinated by those tax returns to stop talking about them anytime soon. But, B, the campaign should not be talking about who Mitt Romney`s millions have gone to bed with, it turns out. Here`s why. Do you remember the pray away the gay people? Does that ringing a bell in the part of your brain where upsetting images go? The "you can be cured of your homosexuality" folks, do you remember them? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: He showed us some of his unconventional techniques, in like touch therapy, in which he encourages rob to seek out same-sex mentors in which to recreate a healthy father/son bond. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s nonsexual. It establishes like parent/child relationship. So he didn`t experience this growing up with his dad. REPORTER: Rob, do you feel a sexual connection right now? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don`t. I feel very safe and very comforted and it just feels wonderful. REPORTER: Another technique, bioenergetics, designed to help clients release memories stored in the muscle, in this case, by hitting a pillow with a tennis racket. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was angry with my mother, so I started saying, mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Why did you do that to me! (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was an old clip from CNN back in the Paula Zahn days, showing a self-proclaimed ex-gay man, Richard Cohen, who says he has cured himself of his homosexuality and is now very, very super duper straight as an arrow. And he`s showing some of the means by which he thinks he can cure other people of their homosexuality too. You may recall that we had Mr. Cohen as guest on this program. That interview was notable mostly for him denying things that I read to him from his own book, denying that they were things he had written, even though they were in his book. More interesting, though, was a really good investigative journalist, Mark Benjamin, who was then writing for Mark Benjamin pretended to be gay, he`s not, and infiltrated the "we will cure you quack ex-gay" industry. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Did you find any evidence, any people who suggested to you that it actually works? MARK BENJAMIN, SALON.COM: I did not. I found people who claimed that it works, but they were all in the business. In other words, they were selling books, they were doing, you know, work like Richard Cohen does, allegedly, to show that it works. So, I found people who were making money off of it saying that it works. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The cockamamie snake oil, predatory, pitiful, "you can be cured of your homosexuality" people, that`s the new problem in Mitt Romney`s taxes. It`s not from his personal tax returns. It`s something from something called the Tyler Charitable Foundation. The Tyler Charitable Foundation is something created by the Romneys. They fund it. And it in turns gives grants to various organizations. And because it is a charity, its finances have to be much more transparent than the Romney`s themselves. But this is the Romney`s charity, and the Romney`s charity with the Romney`s money supports a lot of conservative causes that the Romney`s support. CNN did a report on this the other day, finding out that this foundation has supported like pro-gun groups and the conservative think tank at Stanford and some medical stuff. But they also support to the tune of $10,000 in one year alone a group called the Massachusetts Family Institute. The Massachusetts Family Institute is an anti-gay group based in Boston, Massachusetts, that advocates all sorts of anti-gay causes. And that explains that if anybody is gay -- well, you should quit that. Quote, "We encourage the healing of individuals who wish to change their choice of lifestyle through the work of Exodus International, Love Won Out, and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays." So in the same way that one might choose to be like a ski bum or a civil war re-enactor or like, I don`t know, a mathlete, maybe. In the same way that one might choose to be any of those things, these guys say being gay is something that you can just choose not to do. You can decide not to do it. And how do these recommended groups from the Romney-funded organization propose that you do that? They promote magic therapy by which you can be cured of your affliction. Like our old friend, Richard Cohen, advertised. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Another technique, bioenergetics, designed to help clients release memories stored in the muscles, in this case, hitting a pillow with a tennis racket. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was angry with my mother. So I started saying, mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Why did you do that to me! (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mitt Romney`s millions have ended up getting the campaign focused on the broader issue of how Mitt Romney made all those millions and where he stashed some of those millions offshore and whether rich guys like him have rigged the tax code in their favor. This issue of whether or not there was previously undisclosed money that he ought to have put in his forms but he didn`t. But there is also this new revelation that what Mitt Romney has been funding as charity is actually advocacy of the predatory quack industry that sells parents on the ideas that you can ship off your gay son to a guy like this and he`ll ship him back to you straight. Joining us now is the author, activist, and executive director of Truth Wins Out, which is a nonprofit that fights the anti-gay movement, Wayne Besen. Wayne, it`s good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. WAYNE BESEN, TRUTH WINS OUT: Thank you. MADDOW: Let me begin by asking you if my description of the Massachusetts Family Institute is accurate. Do they promote this kind of stuff? BESEN: They absolutely do. In fact, they specifically promote Exodus International, which is the largest ex-gay organization in the world. This is a very strange group. They do all of the things you said, but they also have lipstick and makeup seminars for lesbians and they teach gay men how to play touch football, trying to make them more masculine. And they also promote North (ph), a group that`s so bizarre that they say gay men can become more masculine by drinking Gatorade and calling their friends dude. MADDOW: Wow. So if I call my friend -- no, that doesn`t work the same way. I always forget. In terms of Love Won Out and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, same thing, they`re promoting the idea of healing homosexuality through sort of quack therapy? BESEN: Yes, Love Won Out is particularly tragic, because it targets children. When kids come out, sometimes the parents of these are religious households freak out, and they want to know where they can get answers. So they go to Exodus International`s Love Won Out programs and they say, if you just come to our ministries and pay us money and buy our books and buy our DVDs, we can help them go from gay to straight. It`s very tragic. One of the sad parts of Love Won Out, they say particularly if you`re a lesbian, you only became that way because you were sexually molested or were abused or weren`t raised right. And parents, of course, are terribly fearful that their child was molested. And you could see the parents crying at these events, thinking something traumatic and terrible happened to their child when indeed nothing did happen. There`s nothing scientific about these groups. They`re rejected by every respectable mental health organization in the world, including the American Psychiatric association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and so on and so on. Basically, anybody with credibility rejects attempts to change sexual orientation. MADDOW: So, to have Mitt Romney funding a group with a considerable amount of money, that promotes this -- I mean, he obviously wants to be seen as an anti-gay candidate. He`s been out on the stump just within the last 48 hours, talking about how he will promote a federal constitutional amendment to ban the recognition of same-sex marriages and all this other stuff. He wants to be seen as anti-gay, particularly rate now in the campaign. But is the Massachusetts Family Institute promoting this ex-gay stuff, is it considered mainstream even in the anti-gay part of the political world? Or is this fringe stuff? BESEN: Well, I think it`s fringe to most people, but in the anti-gay Republican part of the party, this is seen as mainstream. They really do believe you can pray away the gay. And Mitt Romney ought to be ashamed of himself for supporting this in any way, shape, or form with his money. Mitt Romney has been very craven and absolutely disingenuous in his career. You know, this is a guy who started out when he ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy saying he`d be better for the LBGT movement because as a Republican, he`d get more legislation passed. And then when he tried to run for governor, he said he actually supported the gay pride parade and said he`d support nondiscrimination clauses in the law. And then, suddenly, he decides he wants to run for president and he becomes all anti-gay and did everything in his power to stop marriage equality from happening in Massachusetts and when it did occur, he tried a 1913 law that was used to punish interracial couples so they couldn`t marry in Massachusetts. He used it so out of state couples, gay couples couldn`t marry in Massachusetts. And even -- and the worst of all, there was a governor`s conference to stop LBGT suicides in schools, and he supported this until he decided to run for president. And then he got rid of this group that was saving young kids from killing themselves. It seems he`ll say anything, he`ll do anything, he`ll be pro-gay one day, anti-gay another -- anything to advance his political career and it`s very shameful, in my view. MADDOW: Wayne Besen, author and executive director of Truth Wins Out -- Wayne, thank you very much for joining us tonight. You`ve done more than anybody do explaining these groups to the rest of the country. I really appreciate it. It shouldn`t be noted that if anybody has a chance to ask Mitt Romney a question on this, I never do, they never return my calls, you might just say -- hey, your family foundation has been funding the promotion of pray away the gay organizations. Do you believe that homosexuality can be cured through therapy or praying, because that`s what you`ve been funding? Do you believe that? You could just ask. It wouldn`t take long. He might not kill you. Best new thing in the world still to come. It involves a very happy ending for a famously grumpy person. Plus, the psycho effort to keep President Obama`s name off the ballot this the fall in the great state of Georgia. That`s all ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This weekend, as you may know, is the first homecoming parade to mark the end of the Iraq war, in the great city of St. Louis, Missouri, a truly, truly grassroots effort to say welcome home to the troops with the first-ever anywhere in the country parade to mark the end of the war. We spoke with one of the organizers of the parade a few days ago here on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, and today we learned of the country`s largest organization of this generation of veterans, of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, is going to be marching in the St. Louis parade. So, if you are any traversable distance from St. Louis, Missouri, this weekend, here`s what you need to know. It is Saturday, it starts at noon in downtown St. Louis and a link to all of the details if you would like to participate or just watch it here, is at our Web site, (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Here might be thing even more un-Googable than gun rights and Rick Santorum, but for totally different reasons than either of those things. The phrase "Obama born." Just those two words, "Obama born." Say you were looking for the president`s birthday or something. Type those two words into the Googler and wait for the giant hole of crazy to open on your computer screen. Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories. Is Barack Obama a natural born citizen of the United States? Where was Obama born? Obama born in Kenya? His grandmother says yes. All of that without scrolling. Take it for me, and I just crawled out of a moon suit, never set yourself a Google alert for "Obama born," because the Internets will sent you a hot mess conspiracy theory every 15 minutes. Just last week in Alabama, a county judge dismissing yet another lawsuit trying to keep President Obama off the ballot in that state, because his father was born in Kenya, or something. The Birmingham news reported the same day that the same judge had dismissed another lawsuit trying to keep President Obama off the ballot for some fake foreign reason. The Birmingham paper says it was actually the third lawsuit like it this month, just in Alabama. One of the plaintiffs in one of those cases asked the judge to step down, because of, quote, "racial bias and a lack of judicial discretion." Put more simply, he asked her to recuse herself from a suit about the president being secretly foreign, because she`s black and the foreign usurper president is black too. So you can see the conflict. Another plaintiff says this new cluster of suing is both informal and intentional. A little kitchen table project in the old confederacy to try to get President Obama off the ballot. Ah. We can be glad that judges around the country are generally throwing these lawsuits out rather than wasting public resources on them. But look at what they`re doing in the great state of Georgia. Just look at this. In Georgia on Monday, a judge ordered President Obama to appear at a hearing for one of these lawsuits to consider the evidence. The plaintiffs are being represented by, oh, yes, the astonishingly strange dentist from Orange County, California, named Orly Taitz. These days, Orly Taitz drags around the U.S., pushing her case over and over, wherever she thinks anybody might listen. But it`s not just the astonishing Russian dentist, at least in the in Georgia. In Georgia, the plaintiffs also have this man for a lawyer, Mark Hatfield, a Republican state representative, duly elected by the people of Georgia and entrusted by the people of Georgia with high public office. Representative Mark Hatfield, the honorable Mr. Hatfield, despite the veneer of respectability that comes with having an elected official involved in your case, you kind of feel almost duty bound as a patriot to ignore this sort of thing, right? I mean, these cases are like trying to divide by zero. They`re halfway between nonsense and zero. Wherever that is, look up and you`ll see Orly Taitz smiling at you. You don`t want to dignify this nonsense or elevate by paying it any attention. You want to ignore it until it goes away, as it should. And so, when they held the hearing in Atlanta today to look at al the evidence that could be dragged back off the rabbit hole of craziness with the exhibits and the whatnot, when they held the hearing, President Obama was not there, obviously, and neither was his lawyer. They told the secretary of state they would not be attending because these kinds of claims have been found baseless and also a, quote, "sanctionable abuse of our legal process." The Georgia secretary of state, get this, wrote to the president`s side and said this, quote, "If you and your client," the president, "if you and your client choose to suspend your participation in these proceedings, please understand that you do so at your own peril." At your peril, Mr. President, so says the secretary of state of Georgia. Ridiculous as this case may be, there is some peril here. What`s at stake is whether an incumbent president can, in fact, appear on the ballot in an American state. As ridiculous as that may sound, that is what`s at stake here. Joining us now is Mike Berlon. He`s chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party. Mr. Berlon, thank you very much for talking to us about this, I guess, story. Appreciate your time. MIKE BERLON, GEORGIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, thank you so much for having me on this evening. MADDOW: If anybody had told you this case would kick off your 2012 political season, would you have believed them ahead of time? BERLON: Not really. I mean, this has been thoroughly and richly litigated for a long time. And every court that`s looked at it has determined that the president is a citizen. But I understand the strategy. I mean, you know, they`re doing their very best to get the president off the primary and general ballot, hoping that they can just win the states without there being a contest for the electoral votes. And in Georgia, a good example, I mean, in 2008, the president got 47.5 percent of the vote. I mean, with our changes in the demographics, I mean, we have a got shot at winning the state this year for the president, so we take this very seriously. MADDOW: Do you think Georgia Republicans realize how -- I`m sorry to use the phrase -- but how backward and racist the birther trip seems? I mean, there`s a state representative who`s acting as counsel in this case. BERLON: Well, you know, I think the mainstream Republicans really do understand that it`s way beyond the pale. But you got -- you`re right, but you have a Republican House representative who`s pushing this, and although the Republican Party in Georgia really doesn`t have anything to do with it, it`s still a very serious matter that we have to address. I think most Republicans in Georgia would just like to get on to addressing the issues, and so would we. But we still have to take this very seriously, because we`re not sure what the outcome`s going to be. MADDOW: If that`s true, and I have no reason to doubt that it is, that a lot of Georgia`s Republican leadership, or the mainstream of Georgia Republicans would have liked this thing never to have happened. They don`t agree with it, they`d like it to go away. If this case goes against you, goes against the president -- I mean, conceivably, that could happen. I still can`t believe the judge ordered the president to appear. Do you see Georgia Republicans, mainstream Republicans coming forward to help you and the Democratic Party keep President Obama on the ballot in Georgia? Do you think you`d get support from them and whatever you had to do to keep them on the ballot? BERLON: You know, I`d like to think that`s the case, but I`ll tell you the truth, when it comes to politics, I don`t think that would happen. I think that if the secretary of state made the decision to take the president off the ballot, no one is really going to jump up to help us. But we have a good strategy in place, and we will do whatever we have to within the rules to make sure the president`s on the ballot in both the primary and the general election. MADDOW: I don`t want you to tell me the parts of your strategy that you don`t want to let be known publicly. But can you tell us what you`d do to keep him on the ballot of this proceeding keeps going the way it has been? BERLON: Sure, basically. I`m not actually representing the president in this case. I`m the chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia. But let`s say for example the secretary of state decided to throw the president off the ballot or wasn`t going to allow him to appear, we have a couple of avenues. The avenue for the party would be to file a lawsuit in federal court and ask a federal court to enjoin this and put it back on the ballot. Now, in Georgia, we`ve already had decisions in the middle district of Georgia about the president`s citizenship, and in fact, in that case, in the middle district of Georgia, they actually sanctioned the attorneys about $20,000 for bringing what they perceive to be a frivolous lawsuit. And so, we still have to take it very seriously, but we have all the bases covered and we`re going to do whatever we have to. It`s just amazing that after three years, that we`re still fighting these issues. I mean, they`re barely worth addressing, but you can`t ever underestimate what`s happening. MADDOW: Mike Berlon, chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party -- thank you again for helping us understand this. You seem like you`re being remarkably levelheaded about it. It is such a circus. I imagine it`s hard to not get really frustrated, but thanks for talking to us about it. BERLON: Thank you very much. Have a great evening. MADDOW: Thank you. All right. Right after the show, on "THE LAST WORD," this is important, Lawrence O`Donnell is going to be here live breaking down tonight`s Republican debate, fresh and hot. You`ll want to see that. Plus, his special guest is Elizabeth Warren. Yes, that Elizabeth Warren, so you have to watch Lawrence tonight. And here, our little talking to with PolitiFact continues, even though my girlfriend, Susan, is now afraid they`re going to start following me home at night. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Correction. Last night, we used this CBS news poll when talking about reaction to the president`s State of the Union speech. It shows, obviously, a very positive reaction to that speech. So far, so true. What we know about polled reaction to the president`s speech this year was very positive and that CBS poll did gauge reaction to President Obama`s State of the Union. However, that CBS poll gauged reaction to last year`s speech, not this year`s. The year on the dateline posted at the CBS Web site was easy to overlook. For whatever reason, this particular CBS poll befuddled everybody left, right and center yesterday. The Raw Story, the conservative Web site, Hot Air, the widely read Political Wire blog, which is right down the middle, and not to mention lots of TV shows, including this one -- all used it as if it was reaction to the 2012 speech when it was actually reaction to the 2011 one. Of course, it is cold comfort to us that other people made the same mistake that we did. Bottom line is we screwed it up, too. It was our mistake and I very much regret the error. See, I think that`s what you`re supposed to do when you screw up. You say you were wrong. You say you`re sorry. You fix it. It is no fun, but it is simple to do. Which brings me to another part of last night`s show -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: PolitiFact, you are fired. You are a mess. You are fired. You are undermining the definition of the word "fact" in the English language by pretending to it in your name. The English language wants its word back. You are an embarrassment. You sullied the reputation of anyone who cites you as an authority on factishness, let alone fact. You are fired. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was me expressing feelings about the self-anointed fact checkers last night, who called themselves PolitiFact. PolitiFact describes itself as a straight down the middle, nothing but the facts journalism outfit. But they do a patently terrible job at the thing they say they do. Now, lots of people are bad at their job and who cares? The reason it matters that PolitiFact is so bad at its job is because fact-checking is such an important job in our country and in our politics, that a group so recklessly and relentless at that job occupies the brand that is fact- checking in American politics is something that should bother all of us. Here`s a new example of what I mean. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NARRATOR: For the first time in 13 years, our dependence on foreign oil is below 50 percent. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was an ad run by President Obama`s reelection campaign. The president repeated that statement during the State of the Union. Our dependence on foreign oil is below 50 percent for the first time in 13 years. PolitiFact decided to check that. They went to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. They found this report: U.S. oil import dependence declining no matter how you measure. Quoting from the report, "Whichever way it`s defined, U.S. dependence on foreign oil has dramatically declined since peaking in 2005. U.S. dependence on imported oil fell below to 50 percent mark last year for the first time since 1997." OK, there it is right there. Fact, acknowledged by PolitiFact. For the first time in 13 years, our dependence on foreign oil is less than 50 percent. That`s what the president said. PolitiFact checked it out, found it to be factually accurate, otherwise known as true. So, president says thing A, PolitiFact finds thing A to be true. PolitiFact rates president`s statement -- half true. Seriously? This is PolitiFact. This is why PolitiFact is fired. Apparently, they think they have inferred a causality claim by virtue of the fact that the president said this true thing and that somehow makes this true thing not true anymore or something. Under the same logic, if the president went outside and gave a speech in the rain and said thanks for coming, I appreciate your being here because it`s raining, PolitiFact would fact-check whether or not it was raining and find it half true even though it was, in fact, raining, because somehow raining implied to PolitiFact that the president was claiming to be El Nino. PolitiFact, you sometimes rate the president`s statements true and sometimes rate him false. You sometimes rate me true. You sometimes rate me false. You sometimes rate Rush Limbaugh true. You sometimes rate him false. Nobody cares anymore. It is not personal. It`s not ideological. It`s about you. It is about your competence and your indecent appropriation of the word "fact." If Americans are being trained to think PolitiFact when we think about fact-checking, then the whole idea of checking fact is being undermined by how bad you are at your job. I hereby implore all of us who are interest in the word "fact" continuing to mean something, all of us left, right and center -- I implore all of us to stop playing the bullpuckey lottery. If PolitiFact rates you true, it`s no more a budge of honor that if you rate "pants on fire." If you want to assert the truth or falseness of something else that somebody else did in politics, a citation from PolitiFact cannot help you with that. If PolitiFact could be stripped of the word "fact," they should be. In the meantime, let their derision be a source of pride. Let their support be a source of anxiety. No more, the gig is up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK, best new thing in the world. Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts was here with us a couple of weeks ago. We talked about defense policy and counterinsurgency -- things I`m very, very interested in. But I could only sort of focus during that interview, I was distracted -- I was distracted by his big, new fancy ring. Look at that, on the third finger of his right hand. You see that? Hey, what`s that? Did you always have that big, fancy, shiny new ring? No, he did not. And now the world knows why? Breaking from New England cable news, Congressman Barney Frank intends to marry his longtime partner Jim Ready, will wed in Massachusetts. And yes, it`s true. The congressman`s office confirmed today that he is, in fact, engaged to be married to this handsome devil, Jim Ready. Mr. Ready and Congressman Frank have been together for about five years. If you`ve ever had the chance to be in the room with the two of them together, today`s announcement may spark any number of reactions from you. But it will not cause you to feel surprise. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Look, I have a partner now, Jim Ready. I have an emotional attachment. I`m in love for the first time in my life. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Congressman Frank announced a couple of months ago that he will retire at the end of this term. But when he and Jim marry, he will be the first-ever member of Congress married to a same-sex spouse. And, of course, because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law, even though the Obama administration opposes it, Jim Ready will be the only congressional spouse who will not receive the financial and other benefits that accrue to anybody else who is married to a member of Congress. The happy couple have not released details about their wedding. They do not appear to be registered at Filene`s (ph). I checked. But that`s as much as I`m going to bother them about it. After serving in the U.S. congressman for 32 years, Barney Frank deserves his privacy and a nice ring and happily ever after. Mazel tov, Barney and Jim, from all of us here, best new thing in the world today. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell who`s going to be recapping the debate tonight. Stick with us. Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END