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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, SYNDICATED RADIO COMMENTATOR; LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC TAPED: FRIDAY, MAY 15, 2009 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MAY 16-17, 2009

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DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Accidental Atrocity.

WILBURN RUSSELL (Father of Army Sergeant John Russell): (From videotape.) We're heartbroken. His mother's hiding in there, crying. We're sorry for the families involved here.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: These are the words of Wilburn Russell, the father of an American military officer who committed the deadliest acts of brother-soldier-on-brother-soldier violence in memory. That officer is U.S. Army Sergeant John M. Russell, 44 years old, a 20-year military veteran. He entered a counseling center and shot eight of his fellow soldiers. Five were killed. The U.S. sergeant is now charged with five counts of murder. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, offered this insight.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): (From videotape.) It does speak to me, though, about the need for us to redouble our efforts, the concerns in terms of dealing with the stress.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Over 20 percent of Iraq soldiers experience post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. The reason: Soldiers have taken on second, third and fourth tours, adding an average of nearly seven months to their time in combat.

GENERAL PETE CHIARELLI (U.S. Army vice chief of staff): (From videotape.) As long as the demand on forces stays what it is right now and the supply of forces remains the same, it'll be very difficult for us to do anything with that stress.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: One hundred and thirty-four thousand troops currently in Iraq are American, 94 percent of the total. President Obama is looking to change that.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) Let me say this as plainly as I can. By August 31st, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: By that date, troop levels will fall to between 35,000 and 50,000. These 35,000 to 50,000 U.S. residual troops will then train Iraqi forces but will remain until December 31, 2011. After that two and a half years between now and then, in January 2012, the number of American troops remaining in Iraq will still number in the tens of thousands.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: (From videotape.) You're looking at perhaps several tens of thousands of American troops.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Besides this unbelievably tragic fratricide, are there other indications that trouble is brewing in Iraq, particularly when you hear those numbers? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Real trouble, John. And the problem is, General Petraeus worked with the Sunnis out in the west, the Awakening Councils and the Sons of Iraq. He paid a lot of them. They shifted sides, joined us; 100,000 of them. And the responsibility for them has been transferred now to the Shi'a government, which has stopped paying a lot of them, started arresting a lot of them. Some of them are leaving the service. Some of them are turning rogue. And they're killing Americans and they're killing others.

And what that suggests is -- we're supposed to be out of the cities by June 30th -- that that deadline may be slipped. And quite frankly, there's a real possibility, in my judgment, that some of these generals are going to come to President Obama and say, "Sir, this whole thing that we've won could slip and go down the tubes if we don't keep our people in there." I think that's what's coming down the tube.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear General Abizaid or do you recall when he said a few years ago that the longer we stay there and the size of our commitment there deters the onset of taking the responsibility by the Iraqi people and their soldiery themselves? What do you think of that?

MS. CLIFT: Well, first, I want to comment about the ongoing mental health challenges that the military is facing. There aren't enough mental health professionals. There's still a stigma attached to admitting that you have difficulties. And the repeated deployments are really taking their toll.

Having said that, yes, the situation in Iraq, for all the architects of the surge claiming victory, it is still a problem, because the historic mistrust between the Shi'ites and the Sunnis still exists. And we have armed the Sunni Ba'athists, who were our initial enemies. And now, with American arms, they are having difficulty. They're not being welcomed into the government. And they have every incentive to continue their civil war once we remove our major presence.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why are we staying there? I recall we spent about a billion dollars -- billion, "b" as in "boy" billion -- constructing an embassy there. It looks like we're there for the long haul. Is that because of national strategy, or is it because of the oil?

MS. CROWLEY: Well, there are a lot of different elements as to why we went into Iraq and why we're staying in Iraq. And it looks like, based on the Status of Forces Agreement that was originally negotiated by President Bush, it may, in fact, be that the troop levels will be higher than the numbers that you see if the situation does not stabilize itself.

It may be that the drawdown of troops that have already begun, committed to by the Status of Forces Agreement, also committed to by President Obama, it may be that we may not be able to hold on to that timetable, because if violence begins to tick up -- and statistically there have been some spectacular attacks recently, but statistically the violence has not dramatically spiked up -- but if it does, based on an absolute deadline for withdrawal of American troops, you may see a reversal, and American troops may be there in bigger numbers, longer.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence, what's our obligation over there, whether under the law of war or morality? What's our obligation? MR. O'DONNELL: Well, under both. It was laid out by Colin Powell to President Bush as a cautionary reason to not do this, which is, if you broke it, then it's yours to fix. And so we went in there and we broke that country, and now it's ours to fix. It's ours to put back together.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a limit on that?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, what this tragedy is about -- what it highlights, anyway; I don't want to specify specifically about this -- but what it highlights is the over-extension of our military, that this guy was on his third tour to Iraq, and these tours are longer than they were promised that they would be. And so you've got soldiers over there under stress levels that no one and nothing in their training has prepared them for in a long-term basis.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I think if the price of stability in Iraq is a continued presence of 135,000 to 150,000 American troops, that I don't think this administration is going to continue that commitment. He's going to let them fight it out among themselves, which is maybe what we should have done several years ago.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I again want to quote Abizaid from a couple of years ago.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, morally --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we are there, we deter the assumption of responsibility by the Iraqis themselves --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, morally and legally --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- because we're doing the work for them.

MR. BUCHANAN: Morally and legally, we've got no responsibility, I believe, until after -- I mean, after the Status of Forces Agreement and after our commitments have all been made. It comes down to then would it be a strategic disaster? And that's the question that Barack Obama and the generals are going to have to answer -- pure, cold national interest according to what they perceive to be the national interest over there. Can we have it go down and collapse after all this effort and -- DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know what the Maliki government now looks like. You know that he is populating it with --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, you and I are not going to decide that.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- a few Sunnis.

MR. BUCHANAN: President Obama and the generals are going to decide that themselves.

MS. CLIFT: The central --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Is Obama's strategy of withdrawing troops from Iraq to beef up Afghanistan in danger of ending up with the worst of two worlds -- renewed instability in Iraq, with no increase in stability in Afghanistan? You got the picture?

MR. BUCHANAN: The possibility --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?

MR. BUCHANAN: The possibility clearly exists.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, the risk is there, but I think the focus has now shifted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's the central front. He's just got a new general. He's putting a new strategy in place. It's too early to proclaim failure there, but certainly possible. Other great powers have failed in that region of the world.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have sources that tell you that Obama is going to pull out even if the situation is not perfectly stable?

MS. CLIFT: I have sources saying that we cannot continue to leave an American force of that strength in Iraq because it is breaking the U.S. military. So I think that answers the question.

MS. CROWLEY: I'm not so sure about that. I don't think that President Obama wants a strategic catastrophe on his hands. And if Iraq blows up, I don't believe that he's willing to walk away from it in the heart of the Middle East, trying to deal with the Iranian nuclear program, trying to deal with the Israelis and getting a two- state solution on the agenda. I cannot picture him walking away if Iraq blows up.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: How far-fetched is it to believe that Iraq is going to grow -- be set off if we leave? How far-fetched is that?

MS. CROWLEY: You mean blow up strategically --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Blow up, yes. MS. CROWLEY: -- with al Qaeda on the premises and --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think al Qaeda is that big and that powerful?

MS. CROWLEY: I think that --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, they were enemies of Saddam.

MS. CROWLEY: But we have non-state-based actors in al Qaeda still floating around Iraq. We've got state actors from Iran and also Syria now flooding over the borders once again. I think that a drawdown, according to the Status of Forces Agreement, might actually create a worse situation. And Obama's going to have -- I agree with your premise there.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MS. CROWLEY: I think he could actually face catastrophe in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think you're being excessively pessimistic about the Maliki government's --

MS. CROWLEY: No, I think --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- takeover of the country?

MS. CROWLEY: -- I'm being realistic. And the Maliki government is getting its sea legs, but it's not there yet.

MR. O'DONNELL: Look, we could come to some definition of reasonable success in both of those places or we could fail miserably in both of those places. And that's the way it's been from day one for both of those invasions.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe we ought to reduce the voltage of what constitutes success, as has been pointed out by --

MR. O'DONNELL: We already have. Oh, we have.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Richard Haass made that point.

MR. O'DONNELL: George W. Bush did that every single day --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We are?

MR. O'DONNELL: -- of the Iraq war. He reduced the definition of what he called victory there.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who did? Who did? MR. O'DONNELL: George W. Bush. Every day of the Iraq war he reduced the ambitions.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: He didn't even use the word success.

MR. O'DONNELL: He eventually gave up the word.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you've got the Aiken solution -- declare victory and get out, right?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that solution?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think one day --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think we're there?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, we're not there, but I think there's a real possibility we could approach there and be there --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he ought to --

MR. BUCHANAN: I think Obama is at real risk now -- and he inherited it -- of doing exactly what Monica said, of this Pakistani thing going down, of Afghanistan going down, and of Iraq winding up with --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the real story behind the fratricide the length of time they've been there rather than the number of tours they've done?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's both. It's both. That's three tours of duty over there --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know it is.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- and all that time --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's also the fact that this war comes back -- the soldiers come home. It's a war without honor when they come home.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, it's not a war without honor.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're honored. They're honored. But the war itself is without honor. MR. BUCHANAN: No, I don't agree with that.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but it's now time -- it's the Iraqis' war, and we've got to begin to wean them from us. And I think that's happening.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's get out.

MR. O'DONNELL: On this tragedy, let's recognize that most of our soldiers are bearing up under this stress and getting through the multiple tours. This was a rare and horrible occurrence.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: We don't know what's going -- the statistics are not good on their recovery from --

MS. CLIFT: Things are not good on the mental health side.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- from the mental health situation; 4,500 have been killed, 35,000 wounded.

MS. CLIFT: And then people say, "Well, why don't they just get out of the military?" Well, what are their choices? Jobs are not plentiful. Their choice is a job in a fast-food restaurant with no benefits for their family, no health benefits for their family.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think my view is clear. They should advance the withdrawal deadline radically.

Issue Two: Reversal of Torture.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) It's therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The hundreds of photos in question show American soldiers apparently abusing terrorist detainees. Earlier this year, the commander in chief said he would release the photos. But last Wednesday he said he would not release the photos; indeed, he would fight a court ruling now in effect that orders the release of the photos.

Top American commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan urged President Obama to keep the photos classified. The dissemination of the photos, they said, would endanger American troops and breed more hostile acts by terrorist jihadist cells worldwide. The president now agrees.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti- American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama adds another reason not to release them -- published photos would inhibit future coalition investigations. PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Moreover, I fear that publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: How badly has Obama damaged his standing with the Democratic left wing? Eleanor, you can speak with authority on that. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: I think the left has a body of decisions that he's made that they're not happy with. But they're still ecstatic that they have him in the White House, so it's not any major damage.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're not going to go anywhere.

MS. CLIFT: No. And I think, you know, he did release the torture memos. There was a backlash. He's now listening to his military commanders. He's going to fight it out in the courts. He may lose, but that buys some time. And I think he's made a decision, in part because of what we talked about in the earlier segment about how all of these military situations are in such a delicate stage now that putting out these pictures is like (flatulating ?) America on the world stage. It's not the time to do that.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, I think the left is going bananas, based on what I've seen in the blogosphere on the left, because it looks increasingly like Bush was right on a whole range of counterterrorism initiatives that he put in place. From Guantanamo Bay to military tribunals, warrantless wiretapping, rendition, it really looks like Bush was right. And I think that the left increasingly is going to be very agitated by the course that this president is taking.

On the pictures, in the end he's doing the right thing. But his heart all along was with the ACLU. And all it would take was one executive order all along by the president to block the release of these pictures, John.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, dodging bullets.

The president's reversal on this issue was a gift to the right, but it spawned outrage on the left. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued for the release and publication of the photographs, cried foul.

JAMEEL JAFFER (Director, ACLU National Security Project): (From videotape.) If you accept the administration's logic, you'd really have to give the government wholesale censorship power, and that's not something that we can accept.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republicans, for their part, loved Obama's back- pedaling. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, quote, "The president made the right decision, and I applaud him for it." Question: Was Obama's decision an honest change of heart, or was this whole thing, the reversal, a set-up from the beginning? Was it a set-up from the beginning?

MR. O'DONNELL: You know, presidents don't want to reverse themselves, so he obviously made two decisions here. But all it is is a tactical decision in a piece of litigation.

It's just saying, "We are going to press forward with the next level of appeal in this case." He was thinking of letting the case end at this point. It's going to ultimately be decided by judges, not the president.

MR. BUCHANAN: Barack --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the reversal of judgment makes him look good. Why?

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because it gives a little conservative sheen there.

MR. O'DONNELL: Gives something to both sides.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And it helps with the independent vote, doesn't it?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, but, John, he's committing suicide with the left to a degree.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, please. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The left has nowhere to go, like your right. Where are they going to go?

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me explain it to you.

MR. O'DONNELL: They love him, Pat. They love him.

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me explain it to you. Lyndon Johnson was at 70 percent and a big hero in 1965. And what broke first was the left wing, which broke away from him. Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan bombing and no investigation, no prosecution, no commission, military tribunals -- he is stretching the envelope, John, pushing the envelope a little too far, and the left could break.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: He now has -- he now looks good because he reversed his decision. MR. BUCHANAN: He looks good to me and you.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does that lead you to believe that the whole thing --

MR. BUCHANAN: He looks good to me and you. He doesn't look to O'Donnell.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the whole thing -- forget O'Donnell. The whole thing was a set-up from the beginning. Did that occur to you?

MR. BUCHANAN: O'Donnell's right. You don't contradict yourself twice.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Notre Dame Scandal.

ARCHBISHOP RAYMOND BURKE (Prefect of Vatican Supreme Court): (From videotape.) The proposed granting of an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame University to our president, who is so aggressively advancing an anti-life and anti-family agenda, is rightly the source of the greatest scandal.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Archbishop Raymond Burke rebuked the University of Notre Dame. The university's conferral of an honorary law doctorate on pro-choice Barack Obama is what precipitated the archbishop's reproach.

Obama has drawn criticism because of his support also for embryonic stem cell research, and in addition to his abortion view, both of which contradict Catholic doctrine. Besides the archbishop, 68 Catholic bishops have spoken out against the Obama honor. And angry Notre Dame alumni are withholding $14 million in university contributions, and a total of 360,000 signatures petitioned Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to President Obama.

A former ambassador to the Vatican state, Mary Ann Glendon, declined to share the stage with Obama and rejected Notre Dame's prestigious Laetare medal.

As for Obama's Christian faith, he describes his core belief.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) As a starting point, it means I believe in -- that Jesus Christ died for my sins and that I am redeemed through him.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Did Notre Dame's administrators compromise the school's principles by awarding Mr. Obama an honorary degree? I ask you, Lawrence O'Donnell.

MR. O'DONNELL: Not in the least. And the objection to Obama being there comes from people who are nothing but bitter Republican Catholics, because not one of them objected to George W. Bush going there when the pope teaches against the use of the death penalty every day. George W. Bush was pled with directly by the pope to not allow executions to go forward in Texas, and he did. The pope is as opposed to capital punishment, and has been for every one of the 152 cases that George Bush presided happily over in Texas. So they are picking and choosing the guidance from the pope that they want to follow, and it's purely political.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's do a quick round-robin. Did Notre Dame tarnish its reputation by trying to give this award -- by awarding a law degree to Barack Obama?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's an honorary degree to the most pro-abortion president ever in the Oval Office.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It did tarnish its reputation?

MR. BUCHANAN: It is a disgrace and a scandal for the University of Our Lady.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't hold back, Pat.

MS. CLIFT: This is a president who has reached out to the pro- life community, trying to find common ground. I'm with the America Magazine published by the Jesuits, and they say that the protests are a slash-and-burn --

MR. BUCHANAN: You've got the next editor of America right here. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: -- tactic. And this is about the divisions within the Catholic Church more than the divisions with President Obama.

MS. CROWLEY: The two big inflammatory issues here, abortion and stem cell research -- actually, Notre Dame could have done what Arizona State University did this week, which is invite him to give the commencement address but not give him the honorary degree.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You are all correct.

Issue Four: Cheney 2012.

He's on the move, outside the box. Presidents and vice presidents, when their terms in office end, typically enter an entirely new period in their lives -- less power, greater obscurity. Not Dick Cheney -- he's giving speeches and interviews everywhere. When he left office, his approval rating was an astonishing 13 percent. So says a CBS/New York Times poll. But now he's being seen as possibly the new face of the Republican Party, and he's holding his focus straight on Obama.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: (From videotape.) What we've seen happen with respect to the Obama administration as they came to power is they have moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe for nearly eight years from a follow-on terrorist attack like 9/11.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is conservative Dick Cheney laying the groundwork for a 2012 presidential bid? You be the judge.

MR. CHENEY: (From videotape.) And I think we win elections when we have good, solid conservative principles to run upon.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Cheney the GOP's rising star in 2012, or is he a supernova that blows up? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't think we're going to see him out in Iowa -- (laughter) -- going into the little diners.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have stranger things happened in American politics?

MR. O'DONNELL: No, nothing stranger than that.

MR. BUCHANAN: No stranger than that. Richard Nixon coming back was big, but that would be bigger still.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, don't forget, if we assume a decline in Obama's standing --

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, let me make a quick point, though, about Cheney. He has his -- I mean, he's got his convictions. He's talking to an issue on which the Bush administration was regarded highly, domestic security. And he is standing his ground. And the Democrats -- clearly Obama doesn't want a fight on this ground. He doesn't want prosecution, commissions. The left wing of the Democratic Party does and the center of the Democratic Party does not. So I think Obama -- I mean, I think Cheney has helped himself appreciably. Whether it's good for the party, I don't know.

MS. CLIFT: But the --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: But the irony of going after Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats on this issue makes it more likely that we will have some kind of truth commission, because everybody wants to get to the bottom of this.

MR. BUCHANAN: People love it.

MS. CLIFT: You think he would love it? You think he's going to be exonerated? I don't think so.

MR. BUCHANAN: He'd be a hero.

MS. CROWLEY: I do. I do, which is why he filed the FOIA request to have the CIA memos released that tell the other side of the story, not just the interrogation tactics but how productive they were in extracting information that saved American lives. And I think -- you know, you're talking about Cheney looking forward. Cheney's life's work is this nation's security. As a member of Congress, as a White House chief of staff --

MR. O'DONNELL: Which he failed at miserably.

MS. CROWLEY: -- as a Defense secretary and as the vice president --

MR. O'DONNELL: 9/11 occurred on Cheney's watch. 9/11 occurred on Cheney's watch.

MS. CROWLEY: But what he is doing now --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CROWLEY: What he is doing is defending the policies that defended the nation over the last seven years.

MR. O'DONNELL: If defense of the nation is Cheney's claim, he is the biggest failure in the history of the vice presidency. 9/11 was in the year 2001, when he was vice president and when he had access to the FBI's information and the CIA's information that this was going to happen. He ignored it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: A rumor spread late this week that Dick Cheney had specifically urged waterboarding to be used on a terrorist. If this rumor is true, would Cheney still have a chance to win the GOP primaries about two years from now?

MS. CLIFT: The rest of that rumor is that he ordered waterboarding to be used to extract information to find a link between 9/11 and al Qaeda and Iraq --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MS. CLIFT: -- which is non-existent.

MR. O'DONNELL: Before the Iraq war --

MS. CLIFT: And waterboarding somebody 183 times didn't work.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- so that it could be used to justify a war.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. O'DONNELL: He was trying to create intelligence --

MS. CLIFT: Absolutely.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- to justify a war. MR. BUCHANAN: How do you know that? That has not been established.

MR. O'DONNELL: The sequence has been established.

MR. BUCHANAN: It has not been established.

MS. CLIFT: It's established.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What, that rumor?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, you're talking rumors. Exactly right.

MR. O'DONNELL: The sequence was established that this happened before --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I am.

MR. BUCHANAN: Do you blame FDR for Pearl Harbor?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, I do not.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, why do you blame Cheney for 9/11?

MR. O'DONNELL: I do not blame Cheney for 9/11. I'm saying --

MR. BUCHANAN: You just said he was --

MR. O'DONNELL: If Cheney's claim is "National security and keeping this country safe was my mission," he failed.

MR. BUCHANAN: Did FDR fail to keep this country --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Did FDR fail to keep this country safe?

MR. O'DONNELL: This is the presidency where 9/11 occurred.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, I want a direct answer. Is Cheney the GOP's rising star in 2012, yes or no?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I don't think a rising star.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who else is out there? Who leads the party?

MR. BUCHANAN: You mentioned it last week.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who leads the party?

MR. BUCHANAN: Huntsman and Pawlenty, as you said, John.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who's going to lead it? MR. BUCHANAN: I think right now I would bet on Romney.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Newt still leading it?

MR. BUCHANAN: I would bet on Romney if I had to bet on one right now.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, quickly.

MS. CLIFT: The fact that you're so desperate to find names is really a commentary on the state of the Republican Party.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: And Dick Cheney does not help.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead.

MS. CROWLEY: I am a true blue Cheney-ac, unapologetic Cheney-ac. But, no, he's not running for president.

MR. O'DONNELL: Pawlenty's their best player in the field right now. But it's going to be very hard for any of them to emerge as long as Cheney, in his self-image polishing, dominates the airwaves.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Grade --

MR. O'DONNELL: The only Republican any talk show wants is Cheney.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly. Grade Huntsman on an A to F scale in terms of --

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't think he's as strong as Pawlenty.

MR. BUCHANAN: Don't forget Sarah.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction, Pat. Ahmadinejad is up for re-election next month, June. Will he make it?

MR. BUCHANAN: He will make it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I'm purely guessing. No, he will not make it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: I agree with Eleanor. No. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence.

MR. O'DONNELL: I'm going to go with Buchanan's wisdom in foreign affairs. (Laughter.) He'll squeak it out.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll extend his wisdom. By a big margin he'll win.

Bye-bye.



END.

release them -- published photos would inhibit future coalition investigations. PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Moreover, I fear that publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: How badly has Obama damaged his standing with the Democratic left wing? Eleanor, you can speak with authority on that. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: I think the left has a body of decisions that he's made that they're not happy with. But they're still ecstatic that they have him in the White House, so it's not any major damage.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're not going to go anywhere.

MS. CLIFT: No. And I think, you know, he did release the torture memos. There was a backlash. He's now listening to his military commanders. He's going to fight it out in the courts. He may lose, but that buys some time. And I think he's made a decision, in part because of what we talked about in the earlier segment about how all of these military situations are in such a delicate stage now that putting out these pictures is like (flatulating ?) America on the world stage. It's not the time to do that.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, I think the left is going bananas, based on what I've seen in the blogosphere on the left, because it looks increasingly like Bush was right on a whole range of counterterrorism initiatives that he put in place. From Guantanamo Bay to military tribunals, warrantless wiretapping, rendition, it really looks like Bush was right. And I think that the left increasingly is going to be very agitated by the course that this president is taking.

On the pictures, in the end he's doing the right thing. But his heart all along was with the ACLU. And all it would take was one executive order all along by the president to block the release of these pictures, John.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, dodging bullets.

The president's reversal on this issue was a gift to the right, but it spawned outrage on the left. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued for the release and publication of the photographs, cried foul.

JAMEEL JAFFER (Director, ACLU National Security Project): (From videotape.) If you accept the administration's logic, you'd really have to give the government wholesale censorship power, and that's not something that we can accept.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republicans, for their part, loved Obama's back- pedaling. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, quote, "The president made the right decision, and I applaud him for it." Question: Was Obama's decision an honest change of heart, or was this whole thing, the reversal, a set-up from the beginning? Was it a set-up from the beginning?

MR. O'DONNELL: You know, presidents don't want to reverse themselves, so he obviously made two decisions here. But all it is is a tactical decision in a piece of litigation.

It's just saying, "We are going to press forward with the next level of appeal in this case." He was thinking of letting the case end at this point. It's going to ultimately be decided by judges, not the president.

MR. BUCHANAN: Barack --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the reversal of judgment makes him look good. Why?

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because it gives a little conservative sheen there.

MR. O'DONNELL: Gives something to both sides.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And it helps with the independent vote, doesn't it?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, but, John, he's committing suicide with the left to a degree.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, please. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The left has nowhere to go, like your right. Where are they going to go?

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me explain it to you.

MR. O'DONNELL: They love him, Pat. They love him.

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me explain it to you. Lyndon Johnson was at 70 percent and a big hero in 1965. And what broke first was the left wing, which broke away from him. Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan bombing and no investigation, no prosecution, no commission, military tribunals -- he is stretching the envelope, John, pushing the envelope a little too far, and the left could break.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: He now has -- he now looks good because he reversed his decision. MR. BUCHANAN: He looks good to me and you.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does that lead you to believe that the whole thing --

MR. BUCHANAN: He looks good to me and you. He doesn't look to O'Donnell.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the whole thing -- forget O'Donnell. The whole thing was a set-up from the beginning. Did that occur to you?

MR. BUCHANAN: O'Donnell's right. You don't contradict yourself twice.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Notre Dame Scandal.

ARCHBISHOP RAYMOND BURKE (Prefect of Vatican Supreme Court): (From videotape.) The proposed granting of an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame University to our president, who is so aggressively advancing an anti-life and anti-family agenda, is rightly the source of the greatest scandal.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Archbishop Raymond Burke rebuked the University of Notre Dame. The university's conferral of an honorary law doctorate on pro-choice Barack Obama is what precipitated the archbishop's reproach.

Obama has drawn criticism because of his support also for embryonic stem cell research, and in addition to his abortion view, both of which contradict Catholic doctrine. Besides the archbishop, 68 Catholic bishops have spoken out against the Obama honor. And angry Notre Dame alumni are withholding $14 million in university contributions, and a total of 360,000 signatures petitioned Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to President Obama.

A former ambassador to the Vatican state, Mary Ann Glendon, declined to share the stage with Obama and rejected Notre Dame's prestigious Laetare medal.

As for Obama's Christian faith, he describes his core belief.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) As a starting point, it means I believe in -- that Jesus Christ died for my sins and that I am redeemed through him.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Did Notre Dame's administrators compromise the school's principles by awarding Mr. Obama an honorary degree? I ask you, Lawrence O'Donnell.

MR. O'DONNELL: Not in the least. And the objection to Obama being there comes from people who are nothing but bitter Republican Catholics, because not one of them objected to George W. Bush going there when the pope teaches against the use of the death penalty every day. George W. Bush was pled with directly by the pope to not allow executions to go forward in Texas, and he did. The pope is as opposed to capital punishment, and has been for every one of the 152 cases that George Bush presided happily over in Texas. So they are picking and choosing the guidance from the pope that they want to follow, and it's purely political.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's do a quick round-robin. Did Notre Dame tarnish its reputation by trying to give this award -- by awarding a law degree to Barack Obama?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's an honorary degree to the most pro-abortion president ever in the Oval Office.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It did tarnish its reputation?

MR. BUCHANAN: It is a disgrace and a scandal for the University of Our Lady.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't hold back, Pat.

MS. CLIFT: This is a president who has reached out to the pro- life community, trying to find common ground. I'm with the America Magazine published by the Jesuits, and they say that the protests are a slash-and-burn --

MR. BUCHANAN: You've got the next editor of America right here. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: -- tactic. And this is about the divisions within the Catholic Church more than the divisions with President Obama.

MS. CROWLEY: The two big inflammatory issues here, abortion and stem cell research -- actually, Notre Dame could have done what Arizona State University did this week, which is invite him to give the commencement address but not give him the honorary degree.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You are all correct.

Issue Four: Cheney 2012.

He's on the move, outside the box. Presidents and vice presidents, when their terms in office end, typically enter an entirely new period in their lives -- less power, greater obscurity. Not Dick Cheney -- he's giving speeches and interviews everywhere. When he left office, his approval rating was an astonishing 13 percent. So says a CBS/New York Times poll. But now he's being seen as possibly the new face of the Republican Party, and he's holding his focus straight on Obama.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: (From videotape.) What we've seen happen with respect to the Obama administration as they came to power is they have moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe for nearly eight years from a follow-on terrorist attack like 9/11.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is conservative Dick Cheney laying the groundwork for a 2012 presidential bid? You be the judge.

MR. CHENEY: (From videotape.) And I think we win elections when we have good, solid conservative principles to run upon.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Cheney the GOP's rising star in 2012, or is he a supernova that blows up? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't think we're going to see him out in Iowa -- (laughter) -- going into the little diners.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have stranger things happened in American politics?

MR. O'DONNELL: No, nothing stranger than that.

MR. BUCHANAN: No stranger than that. Richard Nixon coming back was big, but that would be bigger still.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, don't forget, if we assume a decline in Obama's standing --

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, let me make a quick point, though, about Cheney. He has his -- I mean, he's got his convictions. He's talking to an issue on which the Bush administration was regarded highly, domestic security. And he is standing his ground. And the Democrats -- clearly Obama doesn't want a fight on this ground. He doesn't want prosecution, commissions. The left wing of the Democratic Party does and the center of the Democratic Party does not. So I think Obama -- I mean, I think Cheney has helped himself appreciably. Whether it's good for the party, I don't know.

MS. CLIFT: But the --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: But the irony of going after Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats on this issue makes it more likely that we will have some kind of truth commission, because everybody wants to get to the bottom of this.

MR. BUCHANAN: People love it.

MS. CLIFT: You think he would love it? You think he's going to be exonerated? I don't think so.

MR. BUCHANAN: He'd be a hero.

MS. CROWLEY: I do. I do, which is why he filed the FOIA request to have the CIA memos released that tell the other side of the story, not just the interrogation tactics but how productive they were in extracting information that saved American lives. And I think -- you know, you're talking about Cheney looking forward. Cheney's life's work is this nation's security. As a member of Congress, as a White House chief of staff --

MR. O'DONNELL: Which he failed at miserably.

MS. CROWLEY: -- as a Defense secretary and as the vice president --

MR. O'DONNELL: 9/11 occurred on Cheney's watch. 9/11 occurred on Cheney's watch.

MS. CROWLEY: But what he is doing now --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CROWLEY: What he is doing is defending the policies that defended the nation over the last seven years.

MR. O'DONNELL: If defense of the nation is Cheney's claim, he is the biggest failure in the history of the vice presidency. 9/11 was in the year 2001, when he was vice president and when he had access to the FBI's information and the CIA's information that this was going to happen. He ignored it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: A rumor spread late this week that Dick Cheney had specifically urged waterboarding to be used on a terrorist. If this rumor is true, would Cheney still have a chance to win the GOP primaries about two years from now?

MS. CLIFT: The rest of that rumor is that he ordered waterboarding to be used to extract information to find a link between 9/11 and al Qaeda and Iraq --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MS. CLIFT: -- which is non-existent.

MR. O'DONNELL: Before the Iraq war --

MS. CLIFT: And waterboarding somebody 183 times didn't work.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- so that it could be used to justify a war.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. O'DONNELL: He was trying to create intelligence --

MS. CLIFT: Absolutely.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- to justify a war. MR. BUCHANAN: How do you know that? That has not been established.

MR. O'DONNELL: The sequence has been established.

MR. BUCHANAN: It has not been established.

MS. CLIFT: It's established.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What, that rumor?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, you're talking rumors. Exactly right.

MR. O'DONNELL: The sequence was established that this happened before --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I am.

MR. BUCHANAN: Do you blame FDR for Pearl Harbor?

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, I do not.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, why do you blame Cheney for 9/11?

MR. O'DONNELL: I do not blame Cheney for 9/11. I'm saying --

MR. BUCHANAN: You just said he was --

MR. O'DONNELL: If Cheney's claim is "National security and keeping this country safe was my mission," he failed.

MR. BUCHANAN: Did FDR fail to keep this country --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Did FDR fail to keep this country safe?

MR. O'DONNELL: This is the presidency where 9/11 occurred.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, I want a direct answer. Is Cheney the GOP's rising star in 2012, yes or no?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I don't think a rising star.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who else is out there? Who leads the party?

MR. BUCHANAN: You mentioned it last week.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who leads the party?

MR. BUCHANAN: Huntsman and Pawlenty, as you said, John.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who's going to lead it? MR. BUCHANAN: I think right now I would bet on Romney.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Newt still leading it?

MR. BUCHANAN: I would bet on Romney if I had to bet on one right now.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, quickly.

MS. CLIFT: The fact that you're so desperate to find names is really a commentary on the state of the Republican Party.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: And Dick Cheney does not help.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead.

MS. CROWLEY: I am a true blue Cheney-ac, unapologetic Cheney-ac. But, no, he's not running for president.

MR. O'DONNELL: Pawlenty's their best player in the field right now. But it's going to be very hard for any of them to emerge as long as Cheney, in his self-image polishing, dominates the airwaves.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Grade --

MR. O'DONNELL: The only Republican any talk show wants is Cheney.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly. Grade Huntsman on an A to F scale in terms of --

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't think he's as strong as Pawlenty.

MR. BUCHANAN: Don't forget Sarah.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction, Pat. Ahmadinejad is up for re-election next month, June. Will he make it?

MR. BUCHANAN: He will make it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I'm purely guessing. No, he will not make it.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: I agree with Eleanor. No. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence.

MR. O'DONNELL: I'm going to go with Buchanan's wisdom in foreign affairs. (Laughter.) He'll squeak it out.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll extend his wisdom. By a big margin he'll win.

Bye-bye.



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