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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/29/13

Guests: Frank Rich, Neill Franklin

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home as well for staying with us for the next hour. We`re going to start tonight actually with breaking news. "The New York Times" is reporting tonight that Barack Obama has chosen a new director for the FBI. If "The New York Times" reporting on this is correct, this choice is going to be a very big, hairy political deal. The FBI became the FBI in 1935. In all of those years that has existed, in all of that time, you want to know how many people have had the job of running the FBI? Six. Six guys in total have ever had the job of running that agency in nearly 80 years. We`ve had lots and lots and lots more presidents that since then, but only six FBI directors, and that is mostly because J. Edgar Hoover was in charge of the FBI for almost 50 of those years. After J. Edgar Hoover was there for half a century, the Congress decided in its wisdom that maybe FBI directors should have term limits, so they`re term-limited to 10 years, 10 years. Ten years, that`s still a really long time, right? In our government, nobody has a 10-year term. That`s a really long time for anybody to be in office. And even with that incredibly and unusually long term that FBI directors can stay in office now, for the current director of the FBI, Congress decided that they were going to stretch it even further than 10 years for him. Robert Mueller was appointed to run the FBI by President George W. Bush in 2001. Bob Mueller took office exactly one week before 9/11 happened. But he was appointed in 2001, so the end of his 10-year term came up in 2011 and that should have been it for him. But the Obama administration and the Senate decided that they would keep Bob Mueller on at the FBI for another couple of years anyway. Most of the reporting at the time said it was, essentially, because the head of the CIA was leaving and the head of the Pentagon was leaving at the time and it was thought the FBI and CIA and military all transitioning to brand new leadership all at the exact same time might be a dangerous national security situation for the country. So, there ended up being a unanimous vote in the Senate to give Bob Mueller another couple of years after his 10 years was up. But that is even up now, and it is time for a new director of the FBI. There`s been a lot of speculation on who it might be. Today, in a surprise move, "The New York Times" is reporting that President Obama has picked to run the FBI the guy who was at the middle of the bizarre late- night hospital room drama that led the guy who`s currently running the FBI to threaten to quit his job in protest when it happened. This was one of the weirdest and most dramatic stories that was ever told about something that happened inside the Bush administration. It was March 2004, the attorney general was John Ashcroft. And as attorney general, John Ashcroft is asked to sign off on some Bush administration surveillance program. He was supposed t sign off as to whether or not he thought that program was legal, and he thought that program was not legal and so he was not going to sign off on it. And that led to the late-night car chase, hospital room swearing standoff that was one of the most dramatic things ever described in a congressional hearing on tape ever. And this is the guy now. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES COMEY, BUSH DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: This was a very memorable period in my life, probably the most difficult time in my entire professional life, and that night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life. So, it`s not something I forget. SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: OK. Were you present when Alberto Gonzalez visited Attorney General Ashcroft`s bedside? COMEY: Yes. SCHUMER: And am I correct the conduct of Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Card on that evening troubled you greatly? COMEY: Yes. SCHUMER: OK. Let me go back and take it from the top. You rushed to the hospital that evening, why? COMEY: I`m only hesitating because I need to explain why. SCHUMER: Please. Give you all the time you need, sir. COMEY: I`ve actually thought quite a bit over the last three years about how I would answer that question if it was ever asked, because I assume at some point, I would have to testify about it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: James Comey, then at this point in the hearing, explains he will not explain what this classified program is that caused this standoff in the hospital room that he`s about to describe. He says he will not describe the classified program itself because he`s in an open hearing, and he will not say what his legal advice was as a deputy attorney general. But nevertheless, even though he won`t describe those two things, he is going to tell the Senate and tell the country the story of what happened on that insane night. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COMEY: Remember the precise date, the program had to be renewed by March the 11th, which was a Thursday 2004. And we were engaged in a very intensive reevaluation of the matter, and the week before that March 11th deadline, I had a private meeting with the attorney general for an hour, just the two of us, and I laid out for him what we had learned and what our analysis was of this particular matter. And at the end of that hour-long private session, he and I agreed on a course of action. And within hours, he was stricken and taken very, very ill. SCHUMER: You thought something was wrong with how it was being operated or administered or overseen? COMEY: We had -- yes, we had concerns as to our ability to certify its legality, which was our obligation for the program to be renewed. The attorney general was taken that very afternoon to George Washington Hospital, where he went into intensive care and remained there over the week and I became the acting attorney general. And over the next week, particularly the following week on Tuesday, we communicated to the relevant parties that the White House and elsewhere our decision as acting attorney general I would not certify the programs as to its legality, and explained our reasoning in detail, which I will not go into here, nor am I confirming it`s any particular program. That was Tuesday that we communicated that. The next day was Wednesday, march the 10th, the night of the hospital incident, and I was headed home at about 8:00 that evening. My security detail was driving me, and I remember exactly where I was, on Constitution Avenue, and got a call from Attorney General Ashcroft`s chief of staff telling me that he had gotten a call -- SCHUMER: What`s his name? COMEY: David Ayres. That he had gotten a call from Mrs. Ashcroft from the hospital. She had banned all visitors and all phone calls, so I hadn`t seen him or talked to him, because he was very ill. And Mrs. Ashcroft reported that a call had come through and as a result of that call, Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzalez were on the way to the hospital to see Mr. Ashcroft. SCHUMER: Do you have any idea who that call was from? COMEY: I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don`t know that for sure. It came from the White House. And it came through and the call was taken in the hospital. So I hung up the phone, immediately called my chief of staff, told him to get as many of my people as possible to the hospital immediately, I hung up. I called Director Mueller, and with whom I`d been discussing this particular matter and had been a great help to me over that week and told him what was happening. He said, I`ll meet you at the hospital right now, told my security detail that I need to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly to the hospital. I got out of the car and ran, literally, ran up the stairs with my security detail. SCHUMER: What was your concern, you were in, obviously, a huge hurry? COMEY: I was concerned that given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that. SCHUMER: Right. COMEY: I was worried about him, frankly. So I raced to the hospital room, entered, and Mrs. Ashcroft was standing by the hospital bed, Mr. Ashcroft was lying down in the bed. The room was darkened, and I immediately began speaking to him, trying to orient him as to time and place and try to see if he could focus on what was happening, and it wasn`t clear to me that he could. He seemed pretty bad off. SCHUMER: And at that point it was you, Mrs. Ashcroft, and the attorney general and maybe medical personnel in the room, no other Justice Department or government officials? COMEY: Just the three of us at that point. I tried to see if I could help him get oriented. As I said, it wasn`t clear that I had succeeded. I went out in the hallway, spoke to Director Mueller by phone. He was on his way. He handed the phone to the head of the security detail and Director Mueller instructed the FBI agents present not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances, and I went back in the room. I was shortly joined by the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith, and a senior staffer of mine who would work on this matter, and associate deputy attorney general. So, the three of us Justice Department people went in the room -- SCHUMER: Just give us the names of the two other people. COMEY: Jack Goldsmith, who was the assistant attorney general, and Patrick Philbin, who was the associate deputy attorney general. I sat down in an armchair by the head of the attorney general`s bed, the two other Justice Department people stood behind me, and Mrs. Ashcroft stood by the bed holding her husband`s arm, and we waited. And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzalez carrying an envelope and Mr. Card. They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzalez began to discuss why they were there, to seek his approval for a matter, and explained what the matter was, which I will not do. And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow, and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me, drawn from the hour-long meeting we`d had a week earlier and in very strong terms expressed himself and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent and said to them, but that doesn`t matter, because I`m not the attorney general. SCHUMER: But he expressed his reluctance or would not sign the statement that they -- give the authorization that they had asked, is that right? COMEY: Yes. And as he laid back down, he said, but that doesn`t matter, because I`m not the attorney general. There`s the attorney general -- and he pointed to me. I was just to his left. The two men did not acknowledge me. They turned and walked from the room. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: And then they tried to say that the program was approved, even without the attorney general signing off on it. Do you believe that happened? And James Comey, the man you just saw testifying there, wrote his letter of resignation. He was the counterterrorism guy, essentially, in the justice department, counterterrorism prosecutor. The day he wrote his letter of resignation was the day of the Madrid bombings. He wanted to resign anyway. He wrote his letter of resignation and prepared it if the White House was going to go through with this. And the FBI director at the time, Robert Mueller, said he, too, would resign if the White House was going to go through with this. And there was a threat there was going to be mass resignations at the top level of the Justice Department if the White House went through with this in protest of the Bush White House acting in a way that its own attorney general said was illegal. But these guys stopped it, in part with a car chase and standoff in the hospital room. And now, today, James Comey, 6`8" former terrorism prosecutor, deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft, the man who sat in the armchair at the head of the hospital room where John Ashcroft was laying there, sick with acute pancreatitis and everybody thought he couldn`t even speak, the guy who sat there and said to the White House, "No, you cannot do this, it is illegal, I will stop it" -- tonight, "the New York Times" has just reported President Obama is about to pick him to run the FBI. Anybody else looking forward to that confirmation hearing? We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The gentleman on the right side of your screen here, the spectacled one, is Senator Reed Smoot. Senator Smoot was a Republican senator from Utah for 30 years, starting in 1903. Standing next to Senator Smoot is a congressman named Willis Hawley, a Republican from Oregon. Together, these two handsome devils sponsored something called the Smoot/Hawley Tariff Act in 1930. It raised taxes on things the U.S. wanted to import from other countries. It was a big tariff introduced by these two Republicans and signed into law by the president at the time, Herbert Hoover, who was also a Republican. President Hoover signed the Smoot/Hawley Act in 1930 and pretty much everybody agrees now in hindsight that it was really a bad idea, but it was Republican President Herbert Hoover who signed Smoot/Hawley into law. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: The recession that FDR had to deal with wasn`t as bad as the recession Coolidge had to deal with in the early `20s, yet the prescription that Coolidge put on that from history is lower taxes, lower regulatory burden, and we saw the Roaring Twenties where we saw markets and growth in the economy like we`d never seen before in the history of the country. FDR applied just the opposite formula, the Hoot/Smally act, which was a tremendous burden on tariff restrictions. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Wait, what was the name of the act there and who did it? What? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: FDR applied just the opposite formula, the Hoot/Smally act. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Hoot/Smally, known to everyone else as Smoot/Hawley signed actually by Hoover, but, hey, call it FDR, what the heck? In 1976, there was a swine flu epidemic in the United States. There were mass vaccination campaigns. The head of the CDC that year asked Congress to fund enough swine flu vaccine to cover 80 percent of the population in the United States. One of the most memorable images of that epidemic was this picture of then-President Gerald Ford himself cheerfully participating in the swine flu vaccination program, trying to encourage everybody in the country to get their swine flu shot, because there was a swine flu epidemic in 1976 under Republican President Gerald Ford. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. And I`m not blaming this on President Obama. I just think it`s an interesting coincidence. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Gerald Ford actually. But still, what a coincidence. This is the battle of Lexington -- the battles of Lexington and Concord were the first battles of the Revolutionary War -- the Revolutionary War, the big fight against the British. Why we`re here, right? The battles of Lexington and Concord were fought in 1775 in the great state of Massachusetts. Here`s Michele Bachmann campaigning for president in the state of New Hampshire. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: You`re the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Michele Bachmann there speaking in New Hampshire. On the left here, that is Oscar-winning, beloved American film icon John Wayne. On the right there, that is serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was convicted of killing more than 30 people throughout the 1970s in Chicago. John Wayne Gacy, the one on the right, he`s the serial killer, and he`s the one from Waterloo, Iowa. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: What I want them to know, just like John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa, that`s the kind of spirit I have, too. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: There`s a very important difference between John Wayne Gacy and John Wayne, but still, you`d think it might matter more to Waterloo than anybody else. This is the outside wall of the former United States embassy in Tehran, that lady is walking past a mural of the Statue of Liberty that`s painted like a death`s head. This is what the American embassy in Tehran looks like today, because it is closed and has been for a long time. The American embassy in Iran was part of the hostage crisis thing that we had with Iran back in the late `70s and early `80s during the Iranian Revolution. Iranian revolutionaries storming the embassy, holding Americans hostage for 444 days, we closed our embassy in Tehran after that, we have not had an embassy in Iran since 1980. Here`s Michele Bachmann speaking in 2011. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: You may have heard that there`s a break-in at the British embassy and the British had to pull their people out. That`s exactly what I would do. We wouldn`t have an American embassy in Iran. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If I were president -- she would close the U.S. embassy in Iran that hasn`t been there since the 1970s. That`s a very bold move. Here`s the thing: as amazing as Michele Bachmann is -- and she is amazing -- as amazing as she is to watch in American politics, she is also on the intelligence committee in Congress, the intelligence committee whose job it is to oversee the CIA and military intelligence program and a bunch of other parts of our government that handle very sensitive intelligence data. It is part of Michele Bachmann`s job in Congress as assigned by the Republican leadership in Congress, to oversee those very sensitive parts of our government. It is easy to not just dismiss Michele Bachmann, but to enjoy Michele Bachmann as the sort of living, breathing embodiment of the crazy in American politics. It is almost a national pastime to watch Michele Bachmann do her thing. That`s what "Newsweek" was getting at with the infamous crazy-eyed cover story that they did on Michele Bachmann during the campaign. But I always feel like it`s worth keeping in mind these words from Matt Taibbi`s "Rolling Stone" profile on Bachmann when she was at the height of her presidential prospects. Quote, "You will want to laugh, but don`t, because the secret of Michele Bachmann`s success is that every time you laugh at her, she gets stronger." Matt Taibbi was making that argument in the context in her run for president last year. Remember, she won the Iowa straw poll. Michele Bachmann forced Tim Pawlenty out of the Republican race by winning that straw poll and him not getting anywhere in it. She did great at the first Republican major debate. For a while, it was not inconceivable she might do well in the long run for that Republican nomination. Matt Taibbi was writing that profile of her, essentially trying to say don`t laugh so hard at Michele Bachmann that you underestimate her affect that you fail to notice she`s kind of popular and this might be possible. Ultimately, of course, Michele Bachmann`s presidential campaign did not go anywhere. She ended up coming in very poorly in the Iowa caucuses, even though she did well in the Iowa straw poll, then it was all over. But for all of the making fun of Michele Bachmann, the thing that is maybe the most important thing about her and that is worth noting on the day that she announced she will no longer run for reelection in Congress, that this is her last term, it`s that she`s more influential than she gets credit for in her own party, and particularly in the conservative media, which so often sets the agenda for her own party. Michele Bachmann may look like kooky also-ran all the time. But she also has a way of saying things that stick. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: We heard from Russia, China, South America -- or South Africa, Brazil, India. We`ve heard from a number of other countries. GLENN BECK, TV HOST: France, Germany. BACHMANN: France, calling for this new expansion of the International Monetary Fund removing (ph) the dollar as the standard of exchange. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Michele Bachmann speaking in March 2009 about this conspiracy theory she had that not only was the world going to drop the dollar as an international standard currency, but the United States was going to drop the dollar because of it, that President Obama was going to abolish the dollar. Very shortly after she repeated that conspiracy theory about how we are abandoning the dollar, FOX News`s then-White House correspondent asked President Obama about it at the White House. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Is there a need for a global currency? BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t believe that there`s a need for a global currency. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: We don`t need to go to a one-world currency to get rid of the dollar? No, there`s not going to be a global currency. Thank you for asking, FOX News. There was also Michele Bachmann`s made up from air assertion that the IRS will now keep conservatives from going to the doctor. Michele Bachmann explaining on FOX. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: There`s a huge and national database that`s being created right now. Your health care, my health care, all the FOX viewer health care, their personal, intimate, most close to the vest secrets will be in that database and the IRS is in charge of that database, so the IRS will have the ability, potentially, will they, to deny health care, to deny access, to delay health care -- this is serious -- based upon our political beliefs. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The Obama administration is going to block you from going to the doctor if you`re a conservative. It`s crazy kookville Michele Bachmann land, right? Just a day later, look, it`s spreading. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just imagine, OK, so you go in and you`re trying to get a doctor`s appointment, right? And they go -- well, we`ve seen from your tax records -- how would that be possible? We see from your tax records you support the Tea Party or conservative groups, you want a doctor`s visit? Three weeks. You want a hip replacement, four years. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re not taking out that plantar wart. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: We`re not taking out the plantar wart because you support the Tea Party. Michele Bachmann was the one who pioneered the idea that in addition to the Republican Party response to the State of the Union, there should also be a Tea Party response to the State of the Union. And while that was an audacious move, you might think subverting the authority of her own party, putting herself front and center at a time when the country should be looking at Republicans for leadership at one kind, rather than two, and also was crazy looking because she wasn`t looking at the camera, that didn`t up just being a Michele Bachmann. The Republicans still do it. They still do an alternate address, and they have figured out how to look at least slightly closer to the camera now. Over here, Senator. There was also Michele Bachmann`s weird beef with the Census back in 2009 when she said that her family would refuse to answer most of the questions on the Census and if you don`t also refuse, the government might round you up and put you in an internment camp. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: Between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that`s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps. I`m not saying that that`s what the administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up in a violation of their constitutional rights -- (END VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, but we`ve had a lot of good years since then. I mean, that was -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Filling out the Census will eventually lead to the government putting you in an internment camp. So it`s a census year, but what are you going to do, America? That`s Michele Bachmann world. Kind of crazy -- it`s kind of crazy, right? Except that Republicans have now introduced legislation to drastically limit the Census Bureau from collecting a lot of the information it collects that we use in lots of different ways to figure out the unemployment rate and stuff like that. That`s actual legislation Republicans have introduced in the United States Congress. Michele Bachmann, over the course of her career in Congress, has been like an exploratory probe to find the edge of the possible in Republican Party politics. She goes out there and she finds the end of the atmosphere, and she knows that you`ll think that what she says is kooky and bordering on just plain nutty, but it doesn`t hurt her when she says the Census Bureau is going to put Americans in internment camp or when she says the IRS is going to distribute health care on the basis of political ideology for patients. She knows that it doesn`t hurt her. I mean, of all the Republican members of Congress, she`s number four in terms of campaign cash, pretty good for somebody who doesn`t run a subcommittee. She has a huge fan base out there, and the more she`s made fun of, the more money she has been able to raise. Even though it seems she`s constantly failing or making a fool out of herself, what she`s doing all of this time is clearing ideological space behind her for other less kooky-seeming Republicans to come along and take the same stance that she takes without the winky, winky eyes. And maybe they are not saying these things as strange and factually incorrect and mispronounced ways she`s saying them, but in a lot of cases they are making the same points, and that says more about the party and it says more about Republican politics and rewards of conservative rhetoric than it does about Michele Bachmann as an individual. As of today, we know that she is going to be gone from the Congress, but all of those other dynamics are still there. Joining us now is Frank Rich, "New York Magazine" writer-at-large. His column is called "Ancient Gay History" in the current of "New York Magazine". Frank, thanks very much for being here. FRANK RICH, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Delighted to be here, as always. MADDOW: I have never talked about Michele Bachmann much on this show. When she was running for president, we covered her as a presidential candidate. But she does weird stuff on FOX and in Congress, we haven`t much talked about her. Now that she`s leaving, I feel like I can see trails of her influence throughout the Republican Party and a lot of really mainstream places. RICH: Well, I think that`s exactly right. I think what we have to remember is that this radical right contingent in the Republican Party started to ascend, and she`s an example, of course, Sarah Palin is another one, with the rise of Obama. They are lit by right-wing ideology dating back to the `60s and John Birch Society and Goldwater movement, also huge Obama hatred. And that really is the base of the party. And I think the aftermath of the defeat last year, they are happy to see someone like Bachmann go, who sort of gives away the game too much and says, with crazy facts and stuff that`s sort of silly and kooky. It gives away that ideology. Now they have slicker people. Even Rand Paul, who`s a real rising star in that party, is views is pretty similar, but he`s slicker, he`s more well spoken, anyone would be better spoken than Michele Bachmann. MADDOW: Hoot/Smally? Come on. RICH: Hoot/Smally. Yes, and you know, Marco Rubio, who is fundamentally a Tea Party guy, but smoothes out the edges, he`s sort of a moderate on immigration. And then you have someone like Ted Cruz, sort of Harvard-educated, smarter version of exactly her views. But that is the base, that is a radical party that we`re dealing with now. MADDOW: Do you think that somebody like a Ted Cruz or a Marco Rubio or a Rand Paul can perform the same function that she does, which is to test the boundaries, to see how far you can get out there? I mean, I almost feel like I said exploratory probes, it`s almost like she`s a heat shield, nothing can really hurt her. There`s nothing -- her political career itself is somewhat disposable, but she goes forward as a test case to see how far others can push safely. Can senators and others that have more credibility that she has not push as hard as she could? RICH: I think so. I think, first of all, anyone who`s running for president is smart enough in that party not to push at least in public until someone catches them, you know, a fundraising small dinner or something, not to say this stuff in public. I think people who don`t have those national aspirations, the next Michele Bachmann, Allen West, whoever, they`ll surface, and they will keep pushing it. For one thing, it`s a huge magnet for raising money. As you said, I mean, look how much money she`s raised, someone who seems like a flake in real terms, but there`s dollars in those hills and a lot of it from fat cats and people like the Koch brothers. MADDOW: Does -- when I think about the Louie Gohmert, Steve King, Michele Bachmann, sort of that wing of House Republicans, to me, that`s very -- Allen West, I would put there, too, before he`s gone. To me that is sort of the entertainment wing, and I don`t mean this in a derisive way, but there`s a lot of crossover between sort of one-liner, stand-up style comedy, call and response stuff, entertaining politics that does raise a lot of money and gets people to their feet at speeches and can function very well at debates and sometimes at presidential-style campaign events. Is there always a need for people who can do that in conservative politics? And how come Democrats don`t have a cadre like that? RICH: Do you think the Democrats would -- like wasn`t Al Franken supposed to be that? Turned out to be -- MADDOW: Right, driest senator in the world. RICH: Exactly. Given the ties between the entertainment industry and liberalism and the Democratic Party, but Democrats somehow just don`t seem to produce them, and Republicans do. MADDOW: Anthony Weiner was close for awhile there before the immolation, but -- RICH: But even he wasn`t a lot of laughs until he went off the deep end. MADDOW: Laughing at, not laughing with. RICH: Exactly. But the truth is, it`s strange. When there has been kind of wit in the Democratic Party, it`s been very dry. Jack Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, and not a lot lately. I mean, Obama can be amusing, but it`s not this kind of fire brand, sure-fire entertainment stand-up comedy club type of shtick. MADDOW: Alan Grayson needs to get, like, a zillion dollar PAC where he just grows people who will face -- RICH: He was the closest, but even he wasn`t as sharp. Michele Bachmann, as silly and uninformed as she was, and some ways she was a really good performer once she figured out how to look at a camera. Always a plus, I might add. MADDOW: If she ever forms a hoot/smally PAC, I might be tempted to break NBC rules and contribute. Frank Rich, "New York Magazine" writer-at-large -- Frank, it`s always great to have you here. RICH: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: Thanks a lot. Appreciate it. All right. Lots more to come tonight, including some groundbreaking news out of Colorado from the never thought I`d live to see the day file. And also, chart imitates life. It`s all coming up. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We have some more breaking news to report tonight. Law enforcement officials are telling NBC News tonight that two anonymous letters sent to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and to the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns that have heads up have preliminarily tested positive for ricin. Both letters, we`re told, originated in Louisiana. One was received and opened in New York City on Friday. The second letter was opened this past Sunday in Washington, D.C., at the headquarters of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Law enforcement officials are telling us the letters were identical in nature. That they contain threats about the mayor`s support for gun control legislation. But again, the bottom line here, the breaking news is that law enforcement officials are telling NBC News tonight that two letters have preliminarily tested positive for ricin, sent to Mayor Bloomberg and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Further testing of those letters is under way. We`re told that the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and NYPD are investigating these threats. We`ll have more on these stories as it develops. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In this beloved country, you cannot legally buy alcohol unless you are at 21 years old. The rules on how, when, and where you can buy alcohol and where you can legally consume it, those rules vary from state to state, but pretty much everywhere in the country, alcohol is taxed, rules about advertising it and selling it are different than they are for nonalcoholic beverages. You can`t have an open container of alcohol in a car. You cannot drive a car while under the influence of alcohol. Booze is legal in the United States of America, but there are rules. And the same goes for pot. Not everywhere, not even in most places, but as of today, officially, in the state of Colorado, we now know the rules that that state is setting up to regulate the legal use of marijuana by Colorado residents. In November, Colorado, along with Washington state, passed a statewide ballot measure to legalize pot, to amend the state constitution to allow for the regulation of pot to be more like alcohol and less like what it is everywhere, an illegal drug that can send you to prison if you get caught using or selling it. The Colorado measure passed by more than 10 points, and even though the state`s Democratic governor did not support the measure, it did pass by a lot and now, Governor Hickenlooper has signed into law the legal framework how Colorado wants to handle legal pot smoking in that state. So, here`s the basics of what they`ve decided: first, you have to be 21 years old. Colorado residents over age 21 will legally be allowed to possess up to an ounce of pot. If you want to sell pot, you will have to be licensed by the state. Sellers have to verify that the person they are selling to is a Colorado resident. If the person they are selling to is not a Colorado resident, you can still sell to them, but you`re limited in how much you can sell. You can only sell them a quarter ounce of pot. Pot sellers have to allow the state to lab test the product that they are selling. No, you cannot sell pot brownies or other pot-infused food alongside other normal food in your restaurant. And if you do sell pot-infused food, it has to be to go or not for here, for some reason. No business selling pot can be within 1,000 feet of schools, drug treatment centers, or childcare facilities. There`s going to be a new state limit for THC in your system, the active ingredient in pot. The new state limit for that in your system, for assessing whether or not you are driving while stoned, and that standard will coexist alongside the blood alcohol level, that`s used to assess whether you are driving while drunk. Pot will come in containers that are child resistant and the labels have to tell you how potent that pot is. Also, this is kind of a weird one, magazines that are about the pleasures and wonders of smoking pot, magazines like "High Times," or whatever, they will have now to be kept behind the counter and out of sight the way that porn is. And that thing about the magazines is, honestly, kind of weird, but you know what? A lot of states have weird laws about booze, too. It`s the kind of nature of the beast. In Utah, bar tenders have to pour cocktails behind a curtain. People are worried about prohibition stuff. But, of course, the big kahuna in all of this in Colorado is the tax issue. If pot is going to be legal in Colorado, then pot, like alcohol, like cigarettes, like lots of things that the state doesn`t necessarily endorse you using but recognizes that you can, marijuana as a legal product in Colorado is going to be taxed up the wazzu. The normal Colorado state sales tax is 2.9 percent, but the plan in Colorado now is that the sales of pot in the state are not going to be taxed at 2.9 percent, they are going to be taxed at a 10 percent sales tax. And on top of that 10 percent sales tax, they`re also going to add or they want to add, at least, a 15 percent excise tax on top of the sales tax. And on top of that, local cities and towns can decide if they want to add their own taxes on, as well. So, it`s going to raise a lot of money. The first $40 million in revenue raised on pot in Colorado is slated to pay for school construction. That was in the ballot measure that everybody voted for in November. Beyond that, the revenue is also slated to pay for enforcing these new pot regulations and for new educational efforts to let kids know that smoking pot makes you boring. Presumably, the educational effort from the state will be a little more broad than that, but maybe that is where they`ll start. The idea of regulating and taxing marijuana the way we do for alcohol has been a hypothetical discussion for so long now that it`s almost hard to believe that it is coming true, but it is coming true in Colorado, with one major caveat. Pot is still illegal federally, no matter what happens in that state or any state. Look, there it is, in the Controlled Substances Act in federal law, it`s actually listed right between LSD and Mescaline. And marijuana has been listed there for so long, they spell it Maryh. Instead of Maryj. Marihuana. Colorado`s moving ahead with not just the theory, but the practice of treating pot as a legal drug like alcohol. Colorado is going ahead but the federal government is not going ahead. So what happens next here? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signing into law the state`s new rules and regulations governing the legal sale of marijuana in the state of Colorado. Joining us now for the interview is Neill Franklin. He served as a narcotics officer with the Maryland State Police and is commander of training for the Baltimore Police Department. Major Franklin is a 34-year police veteran. He`s now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Major Franklin, thank you very much for being here. It`s nice to have you with us. NEILL FRANKLIN, LAW ENFORCEMENT AGAINST PROHIBITION: Hey, Rachel. It`s great to be back. MADDOW: So, this has been a hypothetical for so long, states treating marijuana basically more like alcohol than like a schedule one drug. How do you think Colorado has done drafting these regulations? FRANKLIN: I think they`ve done a wonderful job. The people of Colorado have done a wonderful job. The team that was in place to craft these regulations have done a wonderful job, and now, the governor has done a wonderful job moving this policy forward. It`s a great day. MADDOW: If everything proceeds as expect, people can start to seek licenses to sell pot in October. People could be open for business in January. Individual towns and cities in Colorado can opt out. You can decide that in your town there can be no legal places to purchase marijuana. What do you think is going to happen first? I mean, there`s a question of what`s going to happen with the federal government. But if they`re allowed to proceed, how do you think this is going to change crime and safety and drug use in the state? FRANKLIN: Well, you ask a number of things there. This is going to be very similar to alcohol. You`re going to see different policies in different communities. And they have the option to do that. From a public safety perspective, this is really what`s needed. We, the police, need to get back to violent crime. We need to get back to focusing on violent crime. It`s a great day that we`re not out there chasing marijuana users in Colorado and the state of Washington. Thousands of fewer arrests and more focus on those people that are committing the robberies, the rapes, the murders, the burglaries, and that`s where we should be. This is a great opportunity for the police to get back in touch with the community. MADDOW: What do you make of the argument that marijuana is a gateway drug? That it may be something that doesn`t itself cause much more harm in people`s life than alcohol does, which, of course, can be misused, but that it leads people into harder drugs that really have no role in our society and that we should be more tougher on it by prohibiting marijuana as well. FRANKLIN: There are no valid studies to indicate such. As a matter of fact, it is the environment that is the gateway into the things that cause us problems in society. So it`s the environment of the drug dealer on the corner. Now, these policies of legalization for marijuana, that environment will go away for those who choose to use marijuana. MADDOW: In terms o the federal government here, your role as an advocate, not just as a police veteran, you have been advocating these issues a long time. What do you think the federal government is going to do in terms of whether or not Colorado is going to be allowed to go ahead with this experiment? FRANKLIN: Personally, I think they`ll be allowed to go forward. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for Obama administration, Department of Justice, it`s an opportunity for them to do what they said they`re going to do. They want more of a health-centered focus on our drug policies in this country. So this is a great opportunity. They`ve said you can`t arrest our way out of the problem. And if you`re not going to arrest your way out of the problem, there`s only one way to go, that`s legalization. So, it is an excellent opportunity for them. We have Colorado and Washington state. Two states for experimentation, to see how it is going to go. If they follow the alcohol models that we have cross the country, it`s going to be a great success, not that alcohol is, but it`s better than prohibition. MADDOW: Neill Franklin, executive director of law enforcement against prohibition, 34 year police veteran, former narcotics police officer, thank you very much for your time, sir. It`s great to have you here. FRANKLIN: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Chart imitates life. In the House, the Republicans are in control. So, a lot of what the House does is voting to repeal Obamacare over and over again, 37 times now. When Democrats go to their job in the House, no matter what they want to work on, they have to spend their time voting on fake repealing Obamacare because the Republicans run the place. But now, Democrats are still trying to make the most of that. When House Democrats go home this week, their leadership sent them all with encouragement and instructions to talk to constituents about Obamacare, reminding them to talk to constituents about how being a woman, for example, will no longer be treated as a pre-existing condition. In public opinion about health care reform, both parties think they have the upper hand, both are trying to press their advantage. And it is therefore that the facts of what Americans think about health care are so poorly understood. Here, for example, is this week`s CNN poll on the subject. Majority of Americans still oppose the nation`s new health care measure, 54 percent of those questioned say they oppose it. Fifty-four percent opposed. In the red there we have a graph there, 54 percent opposed, 43 percent for Obama care. So, clearly, most Americans hate Obamacare, right? This is the headline out of the CNN poll. But if you`re willing to commit long enough to read past the lead, you might want to tweak the headline. In what sense are people opposed to health reform? Well, of that 54 percent opposed, 35 percent are legitimately against it, think it`s too liberal. But the other 16 percent are against it because it doesn`t go far enough, they want a more liberal policy. So, this is what public opinion looks like on Obamacare: 43 percent flat out support it in blue, red is minority who oppose it, think it is too liberal. But the green is folks who want even more. So when you read the headlines, you think that it`s that everybody is against it, you wouldn`t be wrong, that`s what the headline said. But the headlines themselves are wrong. The real results are more like this. There are wild differences between those who say they oppose Obamacare, only 35 percent are against it because it is too liberal. Most like it or want more. Chart imitates life. That does it for us tonight. Thanks for being with us. 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