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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/11/12

Guests: Michael Lewis, Kurt Eichenwald

ED SCHULTZ, HOST: OK. Karen Lewis, great to have you with us. We`ll follow the story. That`s "THE ED SHOW." I`m Ed Schultz. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thanks, my friend. SCHULTZ: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. We need to begin with some breaking news. It`s international. It`s out of Libya this evening, in the city of Benghazi. Apparently, a mob descended on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi today and set it on fire. Witnesses say explosions were heard nearby and the men who attacked the American building were armed. There are conflicting reports tonight about exactly how grave the attack was on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in Libya. Most of the reports now citing a Libyan official who says that a staffer in the consulate, in some cases, the person described as an American official, was killed in the attack on the consulate. Now while the State Department has condemned the attack, officials speaking to NBC`s Andrea Mitchell tonight say it is impossible to confirm the "A.P.`s" reporting and other news services reporting about the potential death of a U.S. official in Libya. At least at this time, it is impossible to confirm it. NBC News is working to confirm that report. Again, it`s based on comments from a Libyan official at this time. Also today in Cairo, in Egypt, a group of protesters there breached the outer walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The embassy there has been described as fortress-like. You can see that in some of the images that we`re showing here. The protesters in Cairo reportedly looted some of the buildings inside these outer walls after they breached the perimeter of the embassy complex. They did definitely take down the American flag. You can see there was a large crowd on scene. There were no reported injuries. Both these attacks on American consulate buildings, the consulate in Benghazi and the embassy in Cairo, both of these attacks today were led by groups of people who were reportedly angered by a YouTube video. A YouTube video reportedly linked to an Egyptian American, a video that depicts the Prophet Muhammad in the way that has been perceived as blasphemous. We do not know if the fact that this person is based in the United States and that`s to whom the video is attributed as why the attacks were made on American properties abroad. We don`t know if there were more complex reasons for that. But, of course, this is not the first time that perceived blasphemy or criticism of Islam has been reacted to violently in parts of the Muslim world. It was two years ago that when a Florida pastor promoted what he was calling "burn a Koran day." That spurred days of protests in Afghanistan, ultimately killing nine people there. In 2005, you`ll recall it was cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were published in a Danish newspaper. Those sparked riots around the world. And it was earlier this year in Afghanistan when U.S. service members accidentally burned copies of the Koran, pages from the Koran, in order to dispose of them. The burning of those holy books sparked riots throughout Afghanistan, reportedly killing 30 people overall. But again, breaking news at this hour: a day of violent protests at consular buildings in Libya and Egypt -- the American consulate in Benghazi Libya ands the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt. And reports still unconfirmed by NBC News at this time that one American may have been killed at that U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi. This is an evolving story. We`re still trying to get confirmation of the many of the details here. But we will update you as we learn more. That is tonight`s breaking news. But, of course, it was 11 years ago today, on the day of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, when then-President George W. Bush made his first public remarks about the 9/11 attacks from where he was that day, in Sarasota, Florida. The president was reading to a group of elementary school children when he was informed that the attacks were underway. The president initially continued with that part of the photo-op, reading to kids, but he did cut short the overall event and then explained why to the reporters who were there to recover him. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: Today we have had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country. I have spoken to the vice president, to the governor of New York, to the director of the FBI, and I have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families, and to conduct a full scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act. Terrorism against our nation will not stand. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The attacks had begun that morning at 8:46 a.m. -- what you just saw President George Bush speaking to television cameras at 9:30 am. So, about three quarters of an hour after the attacks began. The president, of course, is most remembered that day for the formal address that he gave from the Oval Office 11 hours later at about 8:30 p.m. But in that 11-hour period between those statements, most of that time, President Bush was in the air, right? In the initial chaos of the unfolding attack, as commercial air traffic was shut down over the entire continental United States, President George W. B was moved to Florida and to Louisiana and to Nebraska. He was moved within Florida, I should say, to Louisiana and Nebraska. He spent the day in flight aboard Air Force one before finally getting to Washington, D.C. that evening to give the Oval Office address. One of the technological, logistical changes that our government has made since the 9/11 attacks is that if God forbid something like that were to happen again, the president would no longer have to land in order to speak to the nation. In Michael Lewis` new long form profile of the president in "Vanity Fair," Mr. Lewis writes, quote, "When they give you the tour, they show you the extra large doors in the middle of the plane to accommodate a president`s coffin, as they did Reagan`s. They tell you about the boxes of M&M candies embossed with the presidential seal, the medical room prepared for every emergency. There`s even a bag that says `cyanide antidote kit`. In the conference room refitted with fancy video equipment since 9/11 so that the president doesn`t need to land to address the nation." Today there were ceremonies marking the anniversary at the Pentagon and at Ground Zero in New York City and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Vice President Biden gave a really emotional speech to family members who had had a loved one die there. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My hope -- my hope for you all is that as every year passes, the depth of your pain recedes and you find comfort as I have, genuine comfort in recalling his smile, her laugh, their touch. My guess, and obviously it`s only a guess, no two losses are the same, but my guess is you`re living this moment that Yates only wrote about when he wrote, "Pray I will and sing I must, but yet I weep." Pray I will, sing I must, but yet I weep. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Vice President Joe Biden speaking today in Pennsylvania, on the 9/11 anniversary. This is the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. In commemorating those attacks on this date is now something we have done for a number of years, but it is also something that`s too new to have a sense of normalcy about it. Nobody knows how you`re supposed to commemorate the 11th anniversary of this, or the 12th or the 13th. It has been over a year now since the United States killed Osama bin Laden, the head of the group that attacked us on 9/11. It`s a presidential election year. It`s a year when one of the wars we launched after 9/11, the one that actually had a connection to 9/11, is a war that`s still going on, but the other long war that we launched after 9/11 has been ended in Iraq. And all of those variables factor into decisions about how we mark this day as Americans, but also how our leaders or our would be leaders mark it, how it functions in politics, how we commemorate 9/11 is a work in progress. We saw today the decision by the White House and the Obama campaign to have Vice President Obama and Vice President Biden mark the day in a way that was very overtly not political, not partisan. It was just about remembering the people who were lost that day, commemorating all the different sacrifices people have made in this country since 9/11 and because of 9/11. And while both sides in the presidential campaign suspended their negative ads for the day out of respect for the anniversary, there`s no ban on campaigning today. There`s no rule about what you can and cannot do. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, gave a speech today before the National Guard Association in Reno, Nevada, and at times it sounded like his normal stump speech. He did go out of his way to attack President Obama, without naming him, but attacking President Obama for defense cuts that are part of the whole sequester deal, which incidentally, are cuts that his running mate, Paul Ryan, voted for in Congress. That`s the kind of thing he`s been stay save saying on the stump. It`s the same thing that he said today in his speech on the anniversary of 9/11. Ands after a week and a half of solid and bipartisan blistering criticism of Mr. Romney for leaving any of discussion of his speech, accepting the Republican nomination for president in Tampa, his vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, didn`t mention the war if his speech either. But after facing all that criticism, Mr. Romney while addressing the National Guard did not have much to say about Afghanistan again. He stated the fact that we are at war in Afghanistan and this was the total indication he gave for what his policy would be in that war should he become commander in chief. He said, quote, "Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice e of our military commanders." And that was it. Mr. Romney has previously been critical of setting a timeline for taking troops out of Afghanistan. When John McCain gave the Republican`s big foreign policy speech at the Mr. Romney`s nominating convention, John McCain`s line on the war was that we should not bring troops home from Afghanistan by the president`s timeline. Mr. Romney also at one point during the campaign said we should bring home troops from Afghanistan right now. At least he suggested that might be the wise course. So, it`s hard to figure out what Mr. Romney`s policy might be on Afghanistan, what he might do with tens of thousands of American troops who would be approaching year 12 of the war in Afghanistan, when a President Romney would be taking over as their commander in chief. If figuring out what conceivably might be his policy on this, we have no idea about given the number of things he`s said about it. That is important. But that`s maybe less important than the fact that Mr. Romney and his campaign try to talk about the war and try to talk about foreign policy and try to talk about national security as little as possible. Today, Romney foreign policy advisor told the Web site BuzzFeed that the whole issue of foreign policy is, and I quote, "a distraction". Actually, he even then went to call it something worse than that. Here`s the quote, "It doesn`t surprise me that the Obama campaign is raising foreign policy because it`s another distraction from the administration`s terrible economic record." He then went on to say, quote, "They are going from one shiny object to the next." To be clear, the shiny object he`s talking about here is the foreign policy of the United States. He`s suggesting that his candidate will not be distracted into talking about something like that it while he`s running for president of the United States. Why should Americans then vote for a man for president who thinks a foreign policy as a distraction, as a shiny object? The Romney campaign has an answer for that too explaining to BuzzFeed that Mr. Romney should not be underestimated on the subject of foreign policy. Quote, "The governor is an extraordinarily well-traveled businessman. He lived overseas as a young man." Now, what that referenced to there is the fact that Mr. Romney spent time as a missionary in France during the Vietnam War. That was part of how he got some of his deferments from the Vietnam War. The advisor continues, "Mr. Romney speaks French. He understands the world, the idea that he`s this naive guy at 65 years old, given his experience heading the Olympic Winter Games and everything else, I just don`t think that`s going to play." While it`s true the Olympic Games that Mr. Romney ran included people from other countries, it did involve people from the other countries coming to America to compete in Utah, which is where those games were run. If that counts as international experience, so should working at an airport or driving a tour bus in a major American city, maybe holding a meeting at the International House of Pancakes. Would that count? The Republican Presidential Campaign is just choosing this year not to compete for the presidency on the basis of foreign policy. And whether or not you were hoping that Republicans win the presidency, that decision to not compete on that issue has dramatic consequences for all of us in the country because it means that of the two major parties, one of them, the Republican Party, has decided to not come up with a new Republican take on foreign policy post-George Bush. There`s not been an evolution in Republican foreign policy since the Bush/Cheney era. They see no need to have learned any lessons, or change their minds, or change their orientation to foreign policy as a party because of what happened over those eight years when Republicans were in charge. While Mr. Romney was giving his "I don`t really want to talk much about Afghanistan" speech today and while advisors were saying foreign policy is a distraction and a shiny object that they won`t be conned into accidentally talking about while campaigning for the presidency, who was spotted giving today`s foreign policy briefing to the Republicans vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan? Who gave him his briefing today? These two guys. You don`t recognize their names in all likelihood. They`re not at all well known outside of the foreign policy establishment. But they are foreign policy types from Washington. And they would be very well known to you if you`re a student of the disaster that was the foreign policy era of Bush and Cheney. The guy on the left is a former George Bush national security staffer. And the guy on the right was one who ran the project for New American Century. You remember that? It turns out that wasn`t just a crazy conspiracy theory in the blog comments. That really was the Republican foreign policy cabal that was selling the idea of an Iraq war even before 9/11. The project for a New American Century was a real thing. They tried to get Bill Clinton to start the Iraq war. They wanted George Bush to start the war before 9/11 happened. And then when 9/11 happened, they said, OK, yes, we`ve got to go now, don`t we? The project for a New American Century really existed and the people who ran it did not get run out of Washington on a rail and forced them into a line of work they would be better suited for, like for example, coloring. No, instead, they are briefing the Republican vice presidential nominee on what to do about foreign policy in 2012. The Republican side never retired the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney foreign policy team. They have seen no need to come up with a new foreign policy idea or two. They don`t seem to really care about foreign policy in terms of the Mitt Romney campaign. They just don`t want to be asked about it. And because of that, because the Republican Party is essentially forfeited on this issue, because on this issue, there are not two plausible sides fighting it out in the election, there`s the governing party, the Democrats, and sort of a right wing peanut gallery that pops up from the previous administration. Foreign policy and the wars are really being handled in our political system differently than any other thing that is being fought over in this election. And you can see that in the polling. Eleven years after 9/11, look at where the American public is 11 years after 9/11 on the major issues of foreign policy. On Afghanistan, on our war in Afghanistan, the proportion of the American public that want troops out of Afghanistan either by the time that President Obama wants them out or sooner than that, when you combine those numbers, it is 82 percent. On Iraq, the proportion of Americans who say it was not worth it is two-thirds of the American public. The proportion of Americans who say the Iraq war was worth it is just one-third of the American public. That`s the highest ever number that said the Iraq war wasn`t worth it and the lowest ever number who said it was worth it. In terms of the impact of the Iraq war, look at this, Americans by huge, huge margins agree with the statement that the experience of the Iraq war should make nations more cautious about using military force to deal with rogue states. Also Americans by huge margins think the Iraq war worsened our relations with the Muslim world. Americans by similarly huge margins believe that the Iraq war will not lead to the spread of democracy in the Middle East and it did not reduce the threat of terrorism. Huge margins. The proportion of the country that says defense spending shouldn`t be cut is now below one-third. Should we take unilateral military action against Iran? The country says no. Should we send troops to Syria as was suggested by John McCain at the Republican convention? The answer from the American public is hell no. Would you rather the U.S. military acted along with NATO or acted along the U.N.? We Americans, 11 years after 9/11, now very much prefer the multilateral options and we prefer them in a big way. Should the United States be more willing to make decisions within the United Nations even if this means that we will sometimes have to go along with the policy that is not our first choice, the answer is yes please, work with the U.N. The American public on foreign policy is kind of liberal now. To the extent that you can describe the word liberal to the idea we don`t want to be like Bush and Cheney were anymore. We don`t want to go back to that. Maybe we shouldn`t call that liberal, but there`s no definitely reason to call it any partisan term that`s specific to any party, because what we find about foreign policy in terms of American public opinion really has nothing to do with whether you`re a Republican or Democrat. Look at this from a new report today on American public opinion on foreign policy. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the foreign policy opinions of Americans in red and blue districts are remarkably similar. And the American public is not divided on foreign policy in partisan terms. When one of the major parties is either avoiding the issue entirely or just carrying over from the last administration profoundly unpopular ideas that almost everybody in the country rejects and that could never be sold to the country if they ever became a governing power again, when a president has that much elbow room to maneuver in an area that`s free from electoral challenge, which is the state that President Barack Obama finds himself in right now, when a president has this much authority to move on foreign policy without challenge from the other side of the electoral aisle, it becomes important to understand how that president makes decisions on this very, very important subject. Not just on the anniversary of 9/11 but always. Our guest tonight is Michael Lewis who just spent eight months with the president, on Air Force One, at the White House, in the White House Residence, playing basketball with the president, plumbing the depths of how this president does his job and particularly how this president thinks about war and peace in this strange political era where war and peace are being handled differently than they have been before. Michael Lewis joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, the war in Iraq is over. In Afghanistan, we`re training Afghan security forces and forging a partnership with the Afghan people. And by the end of 2014, the longest war in our history will be over. When the history books are written, the true legacy of 9/11 will not be one of fear or hate or division. It will be a safer world, a stronger nation and a people more united than ever before. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama speaking during a 9/11 Memorial Service today at the Pentagon. Our next guest Michael Lewis, "Vanity Fair" contributing editor, spent eight months with President Obama this year, talking about how this president does his job day-to-day and specifically how this president views matters of war and peace and makes decisions about those things. The details are in the upcoming issue of "Vanity Fair." And it is a brilliant piece of work/ Michael Lewis, thank you for being here. MICHAEL LEWIS, VANITY FAIR: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: Why do you think President Obama let you have this kind of access for eight months and was the idea from the outset that you would talk a lot about war and peace? LEWIS: No. I`m sure he thought I was going to come in right about how he handled the financial crisis, because I have written books about that, and I`ve written nothing about foreign policy. I know very little about it. So I think he was probably shocked when I said that I want to kind of stand on the piece on his decision to go in and save this city in Libya. MADDOW: Yes. LEWIS: So to answer your first question, it`s interesting because he never explained why it was that he let me tag along with him, which is what he did. I mean, he gave me the opportunity to get to know him, which is what I needed to do to write what I wanted to write. And if you think how different that is from most political people, I mean, I found on the sly he`s probably read a few of my books. He never mentioned it. Every politician I have ever met says I love your book. And you can tell they didn`t read it. It`s a culture of flattery that he has no part of. He could have flattered and he didn`t do at all. He never explained why he was letting me have this experience. MADDOW: You write about how he`s different than other politicians than you have known or things you`d expect about other politicians in terms of little personal things like making sure his basketball game is a hard game, right? LEWIS: Yes. MADDOW: What kind of insight does that give you into the way he approaches bigger decisions? LEWIS: He likes a challenging environment and he likes an environment that where people treat him as an equal. But one of the things that quickly became clear to me is I would ask him -- the way I framed the conversation in the beginning was teach me how to be president. Let`s pretend in 30 minutes you`re gone, I`m replacing you, what do I need to know? And it became clear that I think about this as a decision-making job. I had to create an environment if I was going to be a good president where I maximize the likelihood the decision is a good one. So I wanted to find a decision that had his fingerprints all over it. But show me how Obama makes the decision. And oddly when you go into domestic policy, it`s a very poor place to explore that because there`s so much noise. If he comes out, if he advocates anything now, the other side is against it simply because he`s for it. And in some ways, the process is paralyzed. But in foreign policy, not so much. He does have this great latitude. So, you can see his mind in action and his process in action -- and his mind leading to a result. MADDOW: You document in great detail how he made the decision about Libya, how he took the decision-making process from yes or no on a no-fly zone to -- LEWIS: Yes. MADDOW: He decided that was a pointless -- LEWIS: Can I point to summary. All right. So, he`s -- these decisions are thrust upon him. He is presented with a situation. Gadhafi is marching through the desert promising to exterminate a city of people in Benghazi. There are a million or so people in Benghazi. A genocide is probably about to happen. The French and British are proposing to establish a no-fly zone. Obama has a meeting with his senior advisors in the Pentagon to discuss what to do, how to respond to the French proposal. The Pentagon gives them two options. Do nothing or go along and establish the no-fly zone. Obama asks, if we do the no-fly zone, is that going to save the people in Benghazi? They said no. He`s actually marching through the desert. So it doesn`t matter. MADDOW: Not flying. LEWIS: So, he`s not flying. Obama quickly sees this as just political cover. And he gets -- he solicits opinions around the room and outside from people who aren`t the important people. And a number of those people have a view that really we should be thinking about genocide as a national security issue. It may not seem like a national security issue whether we let these million people be exterminated but it creates a mood when you can prevent that from happening. These things in Libya now may be much worse if we don`t encourage our friends and sort of walk the walk and not just talk the talk. So, Obama says to them come back in two hours with an actual solution to the problem so we can consider it. They come back. MADDOW: Two hours later. I got to ceremony -- LEWIS: I`ve got to go to a ceremony and I`ll be back in two hours. Meanwhile, he`s planning the attack on Osama bin Laden`s compound, he`s got a million things going on. This is a sliver of the presidency. And on his decision rests the lives of a million people. It`s incredible. It shows the incredible power of the presidency. MADDOW: Yes. LEWIS: But because he reframed the decision and forced them to give him a good option. And the good option was we have the capacity to go in and stop Gadhafi in his tracks, but we have to make sure that other people have the ownership so we don`t get stuck in the quagmire. And that`s what you get. You got accused of leading from behind. And, in fact, when an American pilot falls from the sky because his plane malfunctions and he`s saved and brought to safety by people in Benghazi. They assume he`s French. They don`t even know we`re involved. But it creates -- it`s a very interesting dynamic he created. He solved the problem. He went outside of the process to solve the problem. The process wanted him to do nothing, didn`t want us in there. And he solved the problem in such a way that it was never -- it was not construed as an act of American imperialism, lust for Libyan oil. It just was a humanitarian intervention and it worked. Now, what`s interesting about this at the end, it`s one of his triumphs what he did in Libya. As a result, you don`t hear a lot about it, because nobody has an interest in talking about what he`s done well. But even he says now, you know, that decision looks like a no-brainer, but it was a 51-49 decision. And every decision that comes across my desk is like that. Even now, I can see how it could have gone wrong, it could have been a mistake to go in. It was a very -- it was not easy to make that decision. MADDOW: In hindsight, everybody says it was -- LEWIS: Yes, obvious. But it wasn`t -- obviously not obvious. MADDOW: I will tell you, the reason I`m grateful that this is out right now is that I feel like it`s critically important for us as a country right now that we`re not having a partisan fight over foreign policy. I think the Republicans are dysfunctional on the issue of foreign policy. They are just deciding not to update post-Bush-Cheney, even though they know Bush-Cheney era proposals will not fly at all. It`s literally a flightless bird with an injury. It would never happen. And I think because we`re not having that fight, not only is President Obama`s decision-making process really important, and this is a great window into it, but it makes me wonder what it would be like, if he really -- if the Republicans were contesting it, if we were having national debates. It would seem like it would be much more like the decisions around domestic policy. LEWIS: We`re not going to have the debate. But to get back to this president, that decision you can trace back to his Nobel Prize-winning speech, where he actually wrestles with the question what a just war is. And in a speech accepting a Peace Prize before a largely-European audience, he makes a case for war, which is -- and you back away from that and think what are the politics of that? What`s the upside of that? No obvious ones. So, when I -- my experience was whatever else he is, whether you approve or disapprove, he`s an interesting cat. He`s different. He`s different. MADDOW: Michael Lewis, "Vanity Fair" contributing editor, it`s called "Obama`s Way," the new article, the new issue of "Vanity Fair." He`s also the author of "Boomerang," which is not out in paperback. "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World." Michael Lewis, I love talking to you. Thank you for being here. LEWIS: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: It`s great to see you. LEWIS: Great to see you. MADDOW: All right. There was a truly jaw-dropping op-ed in "The New York Times" today. The author is Kurt Eichenwald and he joins us just ahead this hour. We`ve got kind of a big show tonight. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: America`s politicians and the rest of the country spent at least part of this day commemorating the events of September 11th, 2001, 11 years ago, with a solemn day for that reason. But there was also some fresh reporting today about the attacks. It was incendiary, it was in "The New York Times" and its author Kurt Eichenwald joins us tonight for the interview. You do not want to miss this. It`s coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Today, President Obama sent to the Federal Register this notice. Look, "Consistent with section 202D of the National Emergencies Act, I`m continuing for one year the national emergency previously declared on September 14th, 2001. Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14th, 2001 and the powers and authorities adopted to deal with that emergency must continue in effect beyond September 14th, 2012. Therefore, I`m continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency that was declared in 2001 with respect to the terrorist threat." What does the word "emergency" even mean anymore if we establish one for a year in advance? And what we`re calling an emergency now is starting its 12th straight year? It will be a good day in America and a good day in the English language when the word emergency is allowed to get its meaning back. The reason we`re getting a year 12 of our national state of emergency, it`s because of those powers and authorities that we justified with the actual emergency that took place in this country 11 years ago. But there are powers and authorities that the government does not want to give up down the line. More than a year after bin Laden, head of al Qaeda, was killed, 11 years into our national state of emergency declared at the time of the 9/11 attacks, in the middle of a presidential campaign that on one side is basically just refusing to reckon with national security issues as a political matter, we are still faced as a country with basic, current, today questions about our willingness to give our government power to do stuff. One of the things that affects how much power the government ought to have is this thing, it`s called the Constitution -- what we believe our government is legally allowed to do. But even within that basic framework, there`s also the extent to which we think there`s a threat that the government needs to take extraordinary measures to respond to. And there`s the extent to which we think those extraordinary measures will actually keep us safe from whatever that threat is. That`s not just a question of whether we`re scared enough to give the government new powers. It`s whether those new powers really will help against whatever this thing is that we are scared of. And that`s pretty close to an empirical question. That`s why the new bombshell reporting by Kurt Eichenwald which ran as an op-ed today in "The New York Times", but also in his new book is so important. Mr. Eichenwald, in reporting for this new book says it was not just that famous bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S. presidential daily briefing that the Bush administration received and ignored less than a month before 9/11 -- excuse me -- just over a month before 9/11, it was a whole series of presidential daily briefs, all through May and June and July of 2001 -- all warning of a planned major strike by al Qaeda in the United States, which then of course, ultimately happened in September of that year. There`s a responsibility to get history right for its own sake, right? But if we have been telling ourselves all along something that`s untrue about what it would take to keep us safe, if we have been telling ourselves a fairy tale all along about how much government powers and intrusion need to be expanded because what we had before wasn`t enough to reasonably expect the government to act to keep us safe, it is very important that we correct that record and get that right, because how we are living now in this 12th year of our national emergency is still based in part on this idea that way back then before we made all these changes nobody could have seen this coming. Joining us for the interview is Kurt Eichenwald. He`s the contributing editor at "Vanity Fair." He`s also the author of "500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars." It`s about the decisions made by the White House in the first 500 days after the 9/11 attacks. The book is out today. Kurt Eichenwald, it`s nice to see you here. Thanks for being here. KURT EICHENWALD, AUTHOR: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: It`s "Vanity Fair" night on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. EICHENWALD: It really is, all of a sudden, the same title I noticed. MADDOW: In the course of your reporting, you gained access to some presidential daily briefings that are still classified. You described what`s in some of them. What did you find in those briefs? Specifically the ones that are still not public information. EICHENWALD: What you had was a time after time after time of the Bush administration being told in some far more level of specificity than we have heard before that something was coming, that an attack was coming. You had a May 1st daily brief that went to the president saying, you know, there is a group in the United States that is planning an attack. You had a daily brief that said there are going to be mass casualty. There was a daily brief that said while it`s been delayed, this attack is still coming. And you know, one of the things -- it points out a number of things. It points out the magnitude of the information that the Bush administration was getting. But, to a degree, it also goes to what you were saying about history. The history that was contorted and faked was, well, the problem here was the CIA. And the CIA didn`t give us information to act. And, you know, I can tell you that`s an allegation that has tormented the people who were involved in developing that intelligence, because they are basically being told for 11 years, you`re responsible for the people who died. And it`s a lie. You know, having seen what`s there, the CIA, the people in the counterterrorist center and other intelligence people around the government were banging the drum, were saying over and over again, we have an attack coming. And, you know, there have been every level of duplicity in terms of dealing with that. In fact, the very horrifying -- I shouldn`t just keep going -- but the very horrifying thing that shocked everybody, the August 6th "bin Laden determined to strike U.S.", that in and of itself was a red herring because that went out there and Condoleezza Rice testified before the 9/11 Commission this is a historical document, which it was. If you read it carefully, it was a historical document. This is what bin Laden is like and he`s determined to strike the U.S. But if we had anything to suggest that there was a strike that was imminent, we would have done something. Well, guess what? That`s what the previous briefings say. MADDOW: It said the attack was imminent. EICHENWALD: It used the word -- I should be careful. I don`t know remember if she actually said the word imminent. But she did say, we were very attentive to this on July 5th. We had a meeting and we were all very concerned about these events. We didn`t have any specificity. You know, one of the things that`s in the book was also in the op-ed piece is four days later, the CIA counterterrorism guys are in a meeting in the basement and say let`s put in for a transfer because we`re going to get blamed for what`s going to happen. MADDOW: We know this is about to happen. EICHENWALD: We know it`s going to happen. No one will do anything. The way one fellow put it to me years ago when I was first interviewing intelligence people about this is the blame is not going to be that we didn`t tell them. The blame is going to be that we didn`t convince them and they won`t let the country know that that`s what they are blaming us for. MADDOW: The language that was in the 9/11 report was his advisors would have told them that if there was a cell in the United States -- if his advisors they would have told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. EICHENWALD: May 1st, 2001, George Bush was told there was a cell in the United States. MADDOW: Let me ask you to respond to something that was said today by Ari Fleischer. (CROSSTALK) MADDOW: Ari Fleischer described you as a 9/11 truther, saying -- which is essentially an allegation that you were saying that 9/11 was an inside job, that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by the U.S. government as a sort of false flag attack and therefore, you should be dismissed as a crazy conspiracy theorist. EICHENWALD: One of the things about Ari Fleischer and all of this people is they are all coming down a well-worn path. If you remember when Dick Clarke, who was the counterterrorism guy at the NSC. He came out and said this is what happened. And suddenly, boom, he`s the most evil person in the world. He`s a liar, he`s this, he`s that. This is what they know how to do. And by they, I mean -- I`m not going to say the Bush administration. These people like Ari Fleischer who can`t deal with facts. I was just talking with Ari Fleischer and I said over and again, Ari, name one fact I`ve written that`s not true. He wouldn`t answer it. And he`s calling me a truther, you know, and basically he`s saying that what I am saying is that George Bush intentionally orchestrated 9/11. And that is -- you know, you read what I say. I cite CIA briefs, this is what Bush was told. And if Ari Fleischer wants to say that`s being a conspiracy theorist, then, you know, never expect we`re going to get real history out of the Bush administration. MADDOW: And getting the real history of this right is really important, not just for that history but for the decisions we`re still making. EICHENWALD: Absolutely. MADDOW: Kurt Eichenwald, contributing editor of "Vanity Fair" -- the new book is called "500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars" -- and you lit everybody up today with this op-ed based on the reporting. Thanks for talking to us about it tonight. EICHENWALD: Thanks for having me. All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Jim Cramer at CNBC is what Jolt Cola, a triple shot of espresso, and six Mountain Dews look like when consume by someone who knows something about Wall Street. Well, today, CNBC`s Jim Cramer made news that had nothing to do with stocks or bonds or money of any kind. Jim Cramer made news on the biggest political story in the country right now. And that pretty incredible item is next. I told you it was a big show. It`s a big show. Stay tuned. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In the world of cable news famous, Jim Cramer is seriously famous. He hosts a show called "Mad Money" every week night on CNBC. And the flavor of it is Jim Cramer being loud and off the hook and right to the point, here`s what to do with your money. Jim Cramer is a bigger than life kind of famous person. He`s also a very nice guy. Like a lot of famous, Mr. Cramer also has a big Twitter following. His tweets are followed by more than half a million people. Well, this morning on Twitter, Jim Cramer posted this. Quote, "I have a problem. My dad, a vet, won`t be allowed to vote in Pennsylvania, because he does not drive, he is elderly and can`t prove his citizenship." Famous Jim Cramer`s family problem it turns out is shared by a startling large number of not famous people in Pennsylvania. This is a new problem. It started in March when Pennsylvania Republicans passed a law to make voting harder. The law banned you from voting unless you show new kinds of documentation you never had to show before and that thousands of people do not have. Pennsylvania`s new voting law has been called the strictest in the nation. In the court cases that are fighting it, it`s estimated it may ban from voting 700,000 people, more than a million people, more than enough to swing the election. When you have that many people suddenly cut out of the most basic exercise of citizenship, you are bound to know one of them. It stops being a lighting strikes kind of deal and it starts being a real headache, a real pressing problem for you or somebody in your life. This voter, for example, Michael (INAUDIBLE), he calculated the time and money he spent getting his new ID, the one that`s required if Pennsylvania. There`s nothing strange about him. He`s a guy who lives in Philly, uses public transportation, doesn`t have a driver`s license. To get the ID he`ll need to vote, it took a lot of motivation, took him six hours that he spent two days, including missing time off from work. The expense amounts to just over $65. And he`s not an unusual case. ABC News today chronicled, quote, "DMV trips from hell. Pennsylvanians shuttling back and forth from home to the offices of the state Department of Motor Vehicles trying to get through the process, facing long drives, long lines in government offices, long waits at the mail box, repeat trips to the DMV, more document gathering, more waiting." It does seem that Pennsylvania Republicans would rather not have headlines like that one about their new law. Last month, they won a round in state court when a lower court judge upheld the law. The next day, the lead plaintiff in that case, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite, she got her ID. She did not have the required documents, but the state gave Viviette Applewhite the ID anyway. They made an exception for her after her case got a ton of publicity. A state official told a reporter tagging along for Viviette Applewhite`s ID adventure that other voters could always try it. They could present whatever documents they do have, and try to persuade a collect to help them too, might work. Pennsylvania is promising ahead of the election that no one legally entitled to vote will be denied the right to do so. But given that state officials are advising Pennsylvanians to just try persuading the clerk to give you an ID that you will be banned from voting if you can`t get, what exactly does legally entitled to vote in Pennsylvania mean anyway? For one thing, it clearly can mean that you got help that somebody smiled on you. This afternoon, about six hours after CNBC host Jim Cramer first posted on Twitter that his dad wouldn`t be able to vote, Mr. Cramer tweeted again, quote, "Pennsylvania Department of Transportation read my tweet and came directly to the rescue of pop and did so in a terrific way so he can vote." On a personal and small level, congratulations to Mr. Cramer and his dad for their personal great victory. It`s clearly happy news for a citizen who loves voting and a son who loves his dad. And as for the other several hundred thousand Pennsylvanians who won`t be able to vote, but whose inability to vote is not likely to garner sympathetic headlines or a personal rescue by the state, thanks to an angry tweet by a celebrity -- well, for you there`s just one last hope. Thursday of this week, Pennsylvania Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of this new law and whether Pennsylvania`s new redefinition of what it means to be legally entitled to vote is as outrageous for everyone as it is for the people who are getting Governor Tom Corbett bad press he doesn`t like. We will keep you posted on that. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END