Wednesday, July 9, 2008

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, July 9
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Oddball

Guest: Chris Kofinis, Russ Feingold, Paul Rieckhoff, Michael Beschloss, Rachel Maddow, Richard Wolffe, John Larson

RACHEL MADDOW, GUEST HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Missile defense. Iran test fires nine long and medium-range missiles. The White House denounces the testing. Senator Obama says, "Whatever we've been doing with Iran hasn't worked, let's try more aggressive diplomacy," while John McCain says, "Now, while Bush is still in office, Iran must be isolated." This comes on the heels of reports that U.S. exports to Iran under the Bush administration have increased, including cigarettes.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe that's the way of killing them.


MCCAIN: I meant that as a joke.


MADDOW: The Senate approved the FISA bill, granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms. How did a Democratically-controlled Congress let this happen? Our special guest tonight: FISA bill opponent, Senator Russ Feingold.


SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) WISCONSIN: It's one of the greatest assaults on the Constitution, I think, in the history of our country. We're going to have to fix it, but it is a dark hour for the Constitution.


MADDOW: The Jesse Jackson controversy. He makes a crude remark about Barack Obama after an interview with FOX News. Jackson thought his mic was off, it was not. And now Obama and his relationship with black churches is back in the headline.

On the record. Things get heated at a McCain town hall when a Vietnam vet challenges the senator's voting record on veterans' benefits.


MCCAIN: I thank you and I'll be glad to examine what your version of my record is.


MADDOW: We'll set the McCain record straight, with a little something we like to call "fact checking."

And finally: Was this interview a mistake? Sasha and Malia's dad seem to think so.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We won't do it and we won't be doing it again.


MADDOW: Inside the fascinations with first families and the particularly intense interest in the Obamas.

All that and more: Now on Countdown.

(on camera): Good evening. I'm Rachel Maddow in for Keith Olbermann.

This is Wednesday, July 9th, 118 days until the 2008 presidential election.

Despite the restrictions on Americans doing business with Iran, American exports to that country have increased ten-folds during the Bush administration, with America sending more cigarettes to that country than any other product - $158 million worth.

So far, it doesn't seem to be a laughing matter, right? Apparently not if you're Senator John McCain.

In our fifth story on the Countdown: The Republican presidential candidate, who last year saying, bomb Iran to the tune of the Beach Boys "Barbara Ann," responded to a question about the administration's mix messages trade policy, by joking, quote, "Maybe that's a way of killing Iranians." Yes, still not funny. Trying to find it funny, can't find it funny.

And somehow, just hours later, we're supposed to take his reaction to Iran's missile test very seriously. The latest round of saber rattling coming after Iranian's state media reported it had test fired nine missiles, including a long-range missile, they say, is capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

In an interview with NBC's Brian Williams, McCain said, "Iran needs to be isolated." He stressed that action can't wait until a new president takes office in January. At a news conference in South Park, yes, South Park, Pennsylvania, the Arizona Republican attacked his opponent Barack Obama for what McCain says was Obama's refusal to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a terrorist group in last year Kyl-Lieberman's amendment.


MCCAIN: My understanding that this missile test was conducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. This is the same organization that I voted to condemn as a terrorist organization when an amendment was on the floor of the United States Senate. Senator Obama refused to vote, he's called it provocative, called it a provocative step. The fact is, this is a terrorist organization and should have been branded as such.


MADDOW: Not so fast there, Senator McCain. Senator Obama did support labeling the revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization. He opposed Kyl-Lieberman for totally unrelated reasons.

In fact, last October, Obama co-sponsored his own piece of legislation called the "Iran Counter-Proliferation Act," which called on the Bush administration to, quote, "designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization," end quote.

Misleading much, senator? Especially since you didn't vote on Kyl-Lieberman either.

While senator McCain says he wants to cut off diplomacy between the Iranians and the rest of the world on, the TODAY SHOW this morning, Senator Obama called for aggressive diplomacy.


OBAMA: There's no doubt that we're seeing rising tensions in the area and it's part of the reason why it's so important for us to have a coherent policy with respect to Iran. It has to combine much tougher threats of economic sanctions with direct diplomacy, opening up channels of communication so that we avoid provocation, but we give a strong incentive for the Iranians to change their behavior. We've got to have the kind of aggressive diplomacy that, unfortunately, has been absent over the last several years. If we don't, then we're going to continue to see rising tensions that could lead into real problems.


MADDOW: Senator Obama also decried the hypocrisy during that, as we mentioned earlier, during the Bush years, U.S. exports to Iran have actually increased, massively.

Senator McCain last night in Pittsburgh apparently all for those exports, at least jokingly, if they have the potential of killing as many Iranian civilians as possible.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We've learned that the exports to Iran increased by ten-fold during the Bush administration, the biggest export was cigarettes, given that the supposedly the -

MCCAIN: That's the way of killing them.


MCCAIN: I meant that as a joke. As a person who hasn't had a cigarette in 28 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twenty-nine years.

MCCAIN: Twenty-nine years, I'll tell you -

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Exception is supposed to be mainly medical and agricultural, does that need to be revisited, do you think?

MCCAIN: I'd look into it because it is the first, the first that I have heard about it.


MADDOW: Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also, the senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Hi, Richard.


MADDOW: Let's begin with the joke here. I know that Senator McCain says he was joking, says right away that it was a joke. But it is a strange joke, if you're under the impression that American policy towards Iran is to try to change their government's behavior, not to just kill Iranian civilians. Should McCain be getting questions about that rather unsubtle distinction?

WOLFFE: Well, yes. First off, it isn't funny, you're right. But there's a tendency inside the beltway and with journalists in general to say this is just McCain goofing off, and it's McCain being McCain. And we're in a different sort of level here. This isn't McCain now as a gesture and as a friend to the press. This is McCain as a Republican nominee, potential president. So, at the very least, it's a different standard that he needs to be measured by.

Most importantly, if you take it by his own standard and Iran is this mortal threat to America, why would you joke about it? I mean, if it's that serious, then make people wake up to the threat, and, at worst, of course, it just looks un-presidential and unfunny.

MADDOW: Yes, and potentially provocative in a foreign policy setting.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates today said that the Iranian missile test bolsters the administration's argument about the threat that is posed by Iran. How is it that things going wrong proves that the administration's approach works? How is it that things going dramatically wrong makes they ought to keep doing more of the same?

WOLFFE: Well, to be fair, Robert Gates and his Department of Defense have been a moderating voice in the second Bush term. So, you know, against the (INAUDIBLE) horse (ph) talk we've heard from people like Lieberman and the vice president, I think this is actually been in one voice, but more broadly you've got to ask - has the seven years of policy of this engagement of Iran of asking the Europeans to conduct diplomacy, has that worked? And the threat (ph) is, as most analysts look at Iran and say, "No, Iran is much stronger because of Iraq, this missile test is just another sign."

MADDOW: Even after the disastrous joke about killing Iranian citizens with cigarettes, the conventional D.C. wisdom is that the Iranian missile test and that the issue of Iran in general, helps McCain flex his sort of foreign policy and national security muscles. Why is this seen as an advantage for McCain? Is it just that he's a Republican or is there something else here that I just don't see?

WOLFFE: Well, this is a very tricky one, and of course, because when Wes Clark raised these issues, it kind of backfired in a way that was really out of kilter. But, McCain has made the argument and his campaign commercials made the argument that because of his military experience, his national security experience and, therefore, he knows about all this stuff.

Well, it's quite clear from this and confusing Sunni and Shia, for instance, that there are real holes there. That if Obama was to make these kinds of errors, people would be jumping up and down saying, "Rookie, he's inexperienced." So, that's one side of it.

But, I think, more broadly, Republicans are in a hole if they think that every time there is a national security crisis, it's good for them. It's like Democrats saying, "Hooray, it's a recession, it's great for us." It really is not good politics. People want to know how to be safe and secure and prosperous, celebrating a crisis like a missile test is, at least, unseemly.

MADDOW: Richard Wolffe from MSNBC and "Newsweek," thanks for joining us.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: What if Congress had responded to Watergate by immunizing the executive branches lawbreakers and giving Richard Nixon sweeping new powers to snoop. Oh, wait, they just did. They just took 30 years or so to get around it.

Today, the United States Senate, in their vote on FISA, capitulated to the White House unwarrantless wiretapping of American citizens. After killing three amendments that would have denied unity to the wiretapping telecom companies or otherwise soften the constitutional blow, the Senate voted at 2:47 p.m. today, to deny American citizens their day in court against the companies that helped Mr. Bush with his illegal wiretaps.

They voted to deny American citizens the right to judicial protection against unwarranted future eavesdropping.

Seventy-four minutes later, President Bush emerged from the White House to announce that Congress including Democratic senators - Baucus, Bayh, Harper, Inouye, Johnson, Kohl, Landrieu, Lincoln, McCaskill, Mikulski, both Nelsons, Pryor, Rockefeller, Salazar, Webb, Whitehouse and, yes, Obama, had given him everything he wanted.

Turning what could have been a minor updating to let the U.S. eavesdrop on purely overseas calls that happened to come through switching stations, turning that into unchecked power to listen in on American calls to or from overseas as well. Senator Clinton and 26 other Democrats voted nay.

Let's bring in our guests today who worked against this bill and urged his colleagues in the Senate to join him and standing up for the rule of law - Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Thank you very much for joining us, sir.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) WISCONSIN: Very good to be on the show.

MADDOW: When Democrats stood up to the president on FISA earlier this year, I think it was widely understood that they looked tough. Republicans tried sort of half-heartedly to go after them for that stance, but it didn't really work. And because of that, I honestly do not understand the politics at work today. Why did a Democratic-led Congress let this passed?

FEINGOLD: This is a sad moment. It really is a black mark, not only on the Democrats but on the Congress, and really, the history of our country. And the he same thing, Rachel, happened with regard to the Patriot Act when we tried to fix it after it had been passed in a flawed way, there was this period (ph) of strength for Democrats held firm and then they collapsed. And the same thing happened again here.

This administration, despite its weakness, somehow was able to raise the specter of being, as they say, soft on terrorism, and, unfortunately, Democrats who can be so strong on domestic issues somehow collapsed. And that's exactly what happened. This is a terrible piece of legislation. It's one of the greatest assaults on the Constitution, I think, in the history of our country. We're going to have to fix it, but it is a dark hour for the Constitution.

MADDOW: You said today that the telecom immunity isn't even what concerns you most about this. That Congress today effectively gave the White House unchecked power to listen in on millions of American phone calls and read our e-mails. Can you explain what these new powers are that you are so concerned about?

FEINGOLD: Absolutely. Now, don't get me wrong. The telephone company immunity is a terrible thing and Senator Dodd and I and others fought hard to get rid of it. It's bad on the merits because it undercuts the rule of law and it also, you know, potentially blocks our ability to find out in court what we believe, which is that the president's warrantless wiretapping program was illegal and a terrible violation of the law.

But even more serious, is the title one of the bill and that's the part where the government is given the ability, potentially to suck up all both communications, all international calls, all e-mails, all text messages that any American might make to their daughter who's a junior abroad, a daughter or a son who is like a soldier in Iraq, a reporter, a business associate. This is a frightening intrusion and it has no court supervision whatsoever, really.

It simply allows this amazing expansion of federal power into an area that really has never been allowed before. And that is the most shocking part of the bill. But either one of them is a sufficient reason to say this legislation was a catastrophe and needs to be fixed at some point.

MADDOW: It was stunning enough to see a Congress argue for its own impotence, in favor of an all-powerful presidency when that argument was coming from the Republicans. But with this vote, I think that voters have to be asking, if there's any meaningful difference between the parties on executive power, between the Democratic vision of executive power and the GOP's, certainly your vision of executive power is different from the president's, but can you say the same for your party?

FEINGOLD: I'm very concerned about it. People have a great deal of right to be disappointed and to look at the 2006 election both with regard to Iraq and say, "What are they doing?"

But, you know what, Rachel? Having a Democratic president, in particular, Barack Obama - should allow us to greatly change this mistake. Barack Obama believes in the Constitution. He's a constitutional scholar. I believe that he will have a better chance to look at these powers that have been given to the executive branch and even though he'll be running the executive branch, I think he will understand and help take the lead in fixing some of the worst provisions.

So, this isn't a huge setback and it would have been much better for Democrats to stand together and not let it happen in the first place because it's much harder to change it after the fact. But I do believe that Barack Obama is well-positioned, both in terms of his knowledge and his background and his beliefs to correct this.

And so, I do think that the people have a right to be disappointed, but they also have a right to hope for change on this issue, in particular, starting in January.

MADDOW: It is heartening to hear your optimism on the prospect of Obama's presidency on this issue, but, of course, his vote today let a lot of us who see this as a real abrogation of the Fourth Amendment to be very concern.

FEINGOLD: No, it was a wrong vote. And any Democrat that voted that way was not voting according to what the people in the Democratic Party clearly want, but, you know, we'll pull together after the election and we'll lay the case out again. This is what this process did, I think, in the last few months. We made it much more clear to the American people about the invasion of their privacy and their rights that's occurring.

And as people take a closer look at it, when we don't have a president who believes in this crazy notion of executive power, we have a Democrat House and Senate, we may actually be able to fix this and I'm not optimistic about it being done right any time in the near future, but I do have good feelings about the potential to do it starting next year.

MADDOW: Senator Feingold, just one last question for you. The prospect has been raised that a President Obama might bring criminal prosecutions against the telecoms or against the administration who ordered this illegal wiretapping, even with these civil immunities that are having been passed in this bill. Do you think that's a realistic prospect and do you think that's something that civil libertarians ought to pressure the Obama campaign on?

FEINGOLD: You know, I'm not ready to weigh into that particular approach. I'll be taking a look at it. I've been focused on trying to get this right and, you know, I and others will look at this, on judiciary committee, intelligence committee, and, of course, the new president will have a chance to look at it. But I'm not ready to weigh in on that point.

MADDOW: Senator Russ Feingold, thank you for joining us tonight.

FEINGOLD: Thanks for having me on.

MADDOW: Thank you.

Jesse Jackson in full damage control mode for crude remarks he inadvertently made into a live microphone about Barack Obama.

John McCain faces tough questions from a fellow Vietnam veteran about McCain's poor voting record on veterans' issues.

And, breakthrough procedures in DNA science leads to a surprising twist in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case today.

All that and more: Ahead on Countdown.


MADDOW: Jesse Jackson makes a remark so crude about Barack Obama that even Jackson's own son is repudiating him. We'll tell you what was said and explore whether this will have any lasting effect on the campaign trail.

The Vietnam vet takes on Senator McCain for his voting record on veterans' issues. McCain tries to tell him he doesn't have his facts straight. We'll get some facts straight out to you.

Ahead on Countdown.


MADDOW: I may be relatively new to this TV machine thing, but I have learned this much thus far. Make sure your microphone is turned off before you say anything nasty about anyone.

Tonight in our fourth story on the Countdown: The Reverend Jesse Jackson is learning that lesson the hard way. Reverend Jackson apologizing tonight for critical comments he made about Senator Obama that were picked up by a Fox News Channel microphone.

On Sunday morning, off air on "FOX & Friends," Jackson was speaking to a fellow guest and apparently reacting to the speech that Obama gave on Father's Day in which he scolded the absentee fathers of children in single-parent households.

As you have already, no doubt, gathered, Fox News was recording the conversation. And just minutes ago Mr. William O'Reilly shared that meant to be private exchange with the cable news world.


REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: See, Barack been, talking down to black people on this faith based. I want to cut his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off. Barack, he's talking down to black people.


MADDOW: Trying to stay ahead of the story, earlier tonight, Mr.

Jackson publicly apologized to Senator Obama.


JACKSON: I have great passion for this campaign and traveled across the country to let them (INAUDIBLE) of our nation, on radio, and TV, and churches, and schools arguing the case for the campaign and want to remain a part of the supportive element of it.

And this thing, I said in a hot-mic statement that's interpreted as a distraction, I offer apology for that because I don't want harm or hurt to come to this campaign. It represents too much of the dreams of so many who paid such great prices and I'm very sensitive to what that means.


MADDOW: In a heartwarming show of family unity, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has issued a statement in which he thoroughly rejects and repudiates the ugly rhetoric of Reverend Jackson, a.k.a., dad.

Senator Obama seems to be taking it much better. His spokesman says in a statement tonight, quote, "As someone who grew up without a father in the home, Senator Obama has spoken and written for many years about the issue of parental responsibility, including the importance of fathers participating in their children's lives. He also discusses our responsibility as a society to provides jobs, justice and opportunity for all. He will continue to speak about our responsibilities to ourselves and each other, and he, of course, accepts Reverend Jackson's apology," end quote.

Let's bring in Democratic strategist, Chris Kofinis, former communications for the John Edwards campaign.

Mr. Kofinis, thanks for joining us.


MADDOW: Is this a problem for Reverend Jackson or is this a problem for Senator Obama or both?

KOFINIS: I think it's a problem for Reverend Jackson. I think the reason why you saw him come out pretty quickly and apologize was indicative of that, and I think, it's even more telling that his son, you know, Jesse Jackson, Jr., came out with a pretty strong and harsh statement condemning what his father said. I think it made it very clear that what, you know, what the reverend said was way over the top.

MADDOW: On the substance of what Jackson said so crudely here and he reiterated some of the thinking behind the statement in his explanations after the fact. On that substance, no matter how crudely he suggested it in the first place, is Obama going to lose support in the African-American community because of his father's day speech, because he called for personal responsibility in that speech?

KOFINIS: Yes, I don't think so. I think some of the mistake that some people make, you know, some on the right, you know, some on the left, and definitely some of the pundits, is they see this race, you know, through race.

And if you really look at, you know, Senator Obama's candidacy, his whole philosophy has been about bringing people together, uniting different groups, it's not specifically targeting one specific individual whether it's African-Americans or Greek Americans or whomever it might be. And I think that is indicative of why he has had such incredible appeal, not only in the Democratic primary, but really has energized, you know, Democratic and American politics, unlike, I think, we've seen in a generation or two.

And I think that's, I think, the fundamental mistake that sometimes people make. They want him to be a different type of candidate. That is not the kind of candidate he is, and to be honest, I don't think it's the kind of candidate he should be.

MADDOW: It feels like a constant conversation, almost, since it became apparent that he was going to get this nomination, the distance between what he's actually saying, how he's actually campaigning, and how we like to think he is campaigning and behaving. There's been a big distance between those, I think, for a long time. People really do project whatever they want unto him and the media is going to accept it.

Chris, I don't want to get too exact about the phrase that Reverend Jackson used here - forgive me - but we're talking literally about emasculation, the same issue was raised during the primaries when Hillary Clinton supporters talked about her testicular fortitude. Don't Democratic male politicians get their manhood attacked all the time?

KOFINIS: Yes, it's the unfortunate, dare I say, nutty nature of American politics sometimes. I mean, the reality here is this is not about, you know, one group or one individual. I mean, the reality here is this is about Senator Obama trying to appeal across the country and literally lead this country in a new direction.

I mean, I think, when people kind of step back and realize what Senator Obama has accomplished, I think people focus on what the obvious part is - that he's the first African-American candidate - but it's much more than that. He's really offering a bold, new vision that preaches to wide groups of people and that, I think, is the power of his candidacy and that's why, I think, he's going to be the president come November.

MADDOW: Chris Kofinis, former communication director for the John Edwards campaign, it's nice to talk with you again. Thanks for joining us.

KOFINIS: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: A surprising twist in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation. After nearly 12 years under an umbrella of suspicion, today, the Ramsey family is exonerated.

And: It's the Countdown "panda chase of the week." We'll have the shocking conclusion on Oddball, up next.


MADDOW: It was on July 9th, 1872 that sea captain John Blondel (ph) of Thomaston, Maine filed a patent for the first mechanical doughnut hole puncher. The story is that Captain Blondel wanted a hole in his doughnut so he could prop them on the handle of his ship's wheel while he steered his boat. I don't know about all that. But I do know that today is the birthday of Tom Hanks, who played doughnut eating copper Pep Streebeck (ph) in the film adaptation of "Dragnet." Isn't that weirder than weird? Not really.

Anyway, let's play Oddball.


MADDOW: We begin with chopper Oddball pictures from Westland, Michigan, at the city's annual mud pit festival. Organizers combine 200 tons of Wolverine State topsoil with 20,000 gallons of water to create a scene reminiscent of Woodstock '94. Seven hundred children from all over Michigan got messy this year, flopping around in the mud, playing mud volleyball and competing in mud limbo contests. The kids showed up clean and left dirty. Hopefully, without ring worm.

To Chengze Province in China, where they got panda bears like we got squirrels. This one is on the run, and not any more. That was an eight-month-old panda that zoo officials said was stuck on that ledge. The Chengze branch patrol saved the critter by jabbing it with a tree limb until it flipped and fell into their blanket. After the daring rescue, the panda was taken to the zoo, where it got a full check-up and the tree branch was placed back in the old glass case that reads, "break in case of panda emergency."


MADDOW: It wasn't an emergency, panda or otherwise, just kind of embarrassing; at a town hall meeting, John McCain says his voting record on veterans issues is impeccable. A veteran in the crowd called him out on it, and reads his actual record back to him. Last night, we brought you an interview with Barack Obama and family. Why did Senator Obama tell Matt Lauer this morning that interview was a mistake? Those stories ahead. But first the headlines breaking in the administration's 50 running scandals, Bushed.

Number three, I can make a hat, a broach, a Pterodactyl-gate. The "Washington Times," of all papers, complains about a new proposed airplane security measure that has caught the eye of officials at that Department of Homeland Security. It's called the EMD safety bracelet. Safety, yes. But what does EMD stand for? Would you believe Electro Muscular Disruption? That's right. Officials at Homeland Security are considering requiring all airplane passengers to wear a bracelet which if activated by the flight crew electro muscularly disrupts you. I said seat back in the upright position!

Number two, enemies at the gate-gate. After Iran tested missiles last night, John McCain responded in part by singing the praises of the Bush administration's newly signed deal for a missile defense radar thingy in the Czech Republic. Missile defense is one of those big, expensive, glitchy weapons systems that's supposed to make you feel safe. This one, however, has Russia threatening to start a war over it. Russia told the Czechs today if they ratify the missile defense radar thingy with us, Russia will respond, quote, not through diplomatic, but through military technical methods, end quote. Feeling safer yet?

And number one, Katrina trailers-gate. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today released a report that finds that manufacturers knew there were high levels of formaldehyde in the trailers they sold to the government to house victims of Hurricane Katrina. Republicans on the committee released their own report dissenting. Do Republicans claim the formaldehyde levels were not high, or even that the trailer makers didn't know about it? No, even though one company made half a billion dollars on the deal and didn't tell anyone the results of its own formaldehyde, the Republicans blame the government for not having an official standard of how much formaldehyde you can make your customers breathe.

Funny, when Democrats do want those standards, the Republicans usually say, you're regulating us to death.


MADDOW: Try as they may, John McCain's campaign staff cannot control everything. During Monday's town hall meeting in Denver, the very same one where the diminutive sign-carrying librarian was escorted away, McCain faced an unexpected challenger inside. Our third story on the Countdown, John McCain's war record as a senator.


MCCAIN: I see a person with a funny hat on that says Vietnam Veterans, so I would love to recognize you first, sir.


MADDOW: A joke that fell flat right out of the gate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, veterans and all Americans admire your service in Vietnam. We haven't heard an explanation of why you voted against your colleague's proposals to increase health care funding in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, when we had troops coming back from two wars?


MADDOW: Instead of the answer the questioner is looking for, McCain now takes credit for the G.I. bill and takes a political shot at Jim Webb.


MCCAIN: On the issue of the GI Bill, I was disappointed that Senator Webb didn't support making it permanent, and Senator Graham and I and other veterans will be looking to try to extend that to all veterans, not just 2001. I hope you urge Senator Webb and others to agree with that.


MADDOW: Wait, what about what the guy asked about? Voting record? If anyone in the room was still wondering about that, we got a little whitewash.


MCCAIN: I received every award from every major veterans organization in America. But the reason why I have a perfect voting record from organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and all the other veteran service organizations is because of my support of them.


MADDOW: McCain is trying his best, but, clearly, this soldier is going to go on fighting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do not have a perfect voting record by the DAV and the VFW. That's where these votes are recorded. The votes were proposals by your colleagues in the Senate to increase health care funding of the V.A. in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and you voted against those proposals. I can give the specific Senate votes, the numbers of those Senate votes right now.


MADDOW: Senator McCain, now on the defensive, takes his final shot.


MCCAIN: I thank you and I'll be glad to examine what your version of my record is. But, again, I've been endorsed in every election by all of the veterans organizations that do that. I've been supported by them and I've received their highest awards from all those organizations. So, I guess, they don't know something you know.


MADDOW: Let's turn to Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American, also the author of "Chasing Ghosts," a really good memoir about his time serving in Iraq. Hi, Paul. It's nice to see you.


Great to be with you.

MADDOW: Paul, first up, what's your reaction to just seeing that exchange, to seeing that tape? It was a more than spirited discussion. Are you surprised to see McCain's flopability, his sensitivity on this issue?

RIECKHOFF: I am. But I think he should be sensitive about it because his voting record is not very strong. Disabled American Veterans gave him a 20 percent rating out of 100. Our organization, the IAVA, gave him a D rating in the last voting session. He does not have a perfect voting record from the VFW. He has consistently voted against increased funding at the V.A. And he has been a major opponent of the new GI Bill. So he doesn't really have a record to stand on with regard to his veterans positions.

MADDOW: As you said, your group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, on your legislative scorecard, you gave McCain a D. In contrast, you gave Obama a B-plus. The Disabled American Vets, as you said, they said McCain voted with them just 20 percent of the time. Obama gets an 80. And the Vietnam Veterans of America got McCain down for nine votes with them, 15 votes against them. Why does he keep claiming that all the veterans groups have given him their highest awards? Why is he able to repeat this claim?

RIECKHOFF: I think it's because a lot of people don't dig down and really examine the votes. Veteran votes are not sexy. Sitting on the Veteran Affairs Committee is not a very exciting spot to be in, but it's critically important to the 25 million veterans in America, especially to the almost two million veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Specifically on the GI Bill, Senator McCain opposed it throughout the process. This has been in the works for 18 months. Senator McCain saying he supports the GI Bill is like Reverend Jesse Jackson saying he's helping Senator Obama's presidential campaign. It just doesn't match up here.

MADDOW: It seems to me that veterans themselves, veterans are the ones who have been willing to say there is a difference between McCain's own heroic service as a POW and him having good judgment as a politician about getting us in and out of wars. And there's a difference between McCain himself being a veteran and him doing right by veterans as a politician. Do you think veterans are less intimidated by the politics around military issues, while other people tend to see it as walking on egg shells. They tend to treat the issue with too much sensitivity.

RIECKHOFF: I do. I think that veterans are a political jump ball.

They're not beholden to any political party, Republican or Democrat. Senator Obama is going to have to work for their votes this year and so is Senator McCain. Because he's a Vietnam Veteran, he does earn our respect. He has a tremendous understanding of combat. He understands post-traumatic stress disorder and issues like that. But he is going to have to put his votes where his mouth is.

Specifically on the GI Bill, he was warned. He knew that if he voted against this GI Bill, there would be a political price to pay. Yet he still, when 75 other senators voted for the GI Bill, he was at a fund-raiser in California. There were 53 original sponsors of the GI Bill. Those are the 53 senators that should get credit. Ten were Republicans, people like Senator Warner, Senator Hagel, they were out in front of this issue early. And Senator McCain was not. He really can't take credit for being a strong advocate for the GI Bill. and a lot of other veteran issues.

MADDOW: Yet we saw the president call out and thank president -

Senator McCain by name when he did sign that bill. Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, thanks for joining us.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Rachel. Any time.

MADDOW: Senator Obama's comments on the "Access Hollywood" interview with his family that we brought you last night, quote, we won't be doing it again. We'll put the interview Obama calls a mistake into perspective.

And some further perspective on the unsolved Jonbenet Ramsey murder case. Almost 12 years later, we know who investigators say did not murder the Colorado six-year-old. The investigator's statement comes with an apology.


MADDOW: A surprise development in a case that has remains unsolved for more than a decade. In our number two story on the Countdown, keeping count. The murder of Jonbenet Ramsey in 1996 caused an unseemly sensation and laid a veil of suspicion over her parents and older brother. Prosecutors have now finally cleared the Ramsey family. NBC News' John Larson on the new evidence that made that happen.


JOHN LARSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 11 years of accusation and suspicion, the stunning news came in a letter. The Boulder D.A. saying there is significant new evidence found through new methods of DNA analysis that lead investigators to say that John Ramsey, his wife and family are no longer under suspicion. Finally, an apology from the D.A. for its handling of the case.

John and Patsy Ramsey insisted they were innocent from the beginning. Ever since the body of their daughter Jonbenet was found strangled in their basement in 1996, fueling a national obsession with the crime.

JOHN RAMSEY, FATHER OF JONBENET: I did not kill my daughter, Jonbenet.

PATSY RAMSEY, MOTHER OF JONBENET: I did not have anything to do with this. I loved that child with my whole of my heart and soul.

LARSON: But what the sheriff called the umbrella of suspicion never fully lifted until today, thanks to what experts call touch DNA analysis.

(on camera): DNA experts were just recently able to compare a sample left by an unknown male who had touched the leggings worn by Jonbenet with a sample previously found on her. Those two samples matched.

(voice-over): And they do not belong to John Ramsey or his family.

J. RAMSEY: The most important thing was that we now have very, very solid evidence. And that's always been the hope, at least in the recent past, that that will lead us to the killer eventually.

LARSON: That may be difficult. The DNA sample does not match anyone currently on file. Although gaps in the system prevent a conclusive search. K-USA reporter Paula Woodward broke the story.

PAULA WOODWARD, K-USA: There's a huge backlog of DNA that has never been tested or entered into the national database.

LARSON: Today's revelation should, however, eliminate any last lingering doubts about the family.

LAURIE LEVENSON, LOYOLA LAW PROFESSOR: This is a tragedy any way you look at it. Jonbenet's dead. Her mother died while she was still under a cloud of suspicion. And even for the family now, this apology may be too little, too late.

LARSON: Now the long, sad search can continue for a killer.

John Larson, NBC News, Los Angeles.


MADDOW: Barack Obama says the first media interview with his children will also be their last. Is the fascination with the Obamas more intense than with other famous political families? Is that a problem? That's next on Countdown.


MADDOW: If you happened to enjoy hearing Malia and Sasha Obama talk about the kinds of things that could only matter to a kid in the midst of an historic presidential race, you're in plenty of company. But don't get used to it. The refreshingly innocent, and equally harmless interview was the first and the last one that Senator Obama plans to allow. In our number one story on the Countdown, the presumptive Democratic nominee said he was surprised by all the attention the interview received. Mr. Barack star himself surprised by media attention.

As a parent he's, of course, entitled to realize that he may have made a mistake in this area. Or, perhaps there's something more sinister at hand. Is Senator Obama upset that his daughters have handed voters a truly compelling reason not to vote for him?


MALIA OBAMA, DAUGHTER OF BARACK OBAMA: This is what you do, daddy.

OBAMA: Uh-oh.

MA. OBAMA: It's not that bad.

OBAMA: OK, good.

MA. OBAMA: But when you come home, you have your big gigantic bag and you leave it in the bedroom. Sometimes I trip over it.

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA: Yes, you leave your bag.

SASHA OBAMA, DAUGHTER OF BARACK OBAMA: You leave your bag right there.

MI. OBAMA: And it's heavy.

OBAMA: I'm putting it back -

MI. OBAMA: It's right in the front door. It's like, he's home.

OBAMA: I'm so eager to come and see you guys.

MI. OBAMA: That's a good one. That's one. Stubbed my toe on that bag.


MADDOW: Senator Obama is careless with his briefcase. Shock, I know. The family interview with Maria Menounos came at a time when the Obamas were particularly relaxed, and maybe off their guard as they celebrated Malia's birthday. Here's how Senator Obama explained it to "The Today Show's" Matt Lauer.


OBAMA: You know, I think that we got carried away in the moment. We were having a birthday party and everybody was laughing and suddenly this thing cropped up. And I didn't catch it quickly enough and I was surprised by the attention it received.

MATT LAUER, "THE TODAY SHOW": If you had to do it over again -

OBAMA: We wouldn't do it again and we won't be doing it again.


MADDOW: Let's bring in NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Good evening, Michael.


MADDOW: I'm great, thanks. Senator Obama is basically admitting it was a mistake to allow his daughters to be interviewed. Let's start there. Do you think it was a mistake?

BESCHLOSS: I think maybe one time it wasn't. You saw how charming and nice those girls are. I think they were worth probably an awful lot of votes. People were probably very attracted to that. I think it's only a mistake if he puts those girls in play by suggesting in some way to other reporters you could interview them, too, and bringing up those girls with a lot of publicity. You see how well-raised they are, the fact that they are so normal and nice and real. He knows that that wouldn't have been possible if he brought them up like mini Shirley Temples.

MADDOW: The larger point of this seems to be that Senator Obama may have a genuine interest in portraying himself as a family man and a regular guy. And his daughters had already appeared in a Christmas-time ad during the primaries. They've also rarely been at some of his speeches. And that didn't seem out of bounds or exploitative in any way. It certainly didn't arouse any controversy. So, strategically, where does Senator Obama draw the line for the rest of the campaign and if he becomes president? And where have candidates and presidents in the past drawn that line?

BESCHLOSS: I think what he basically says is that, of course, my daughters are going to come to events and certainly to my inauguration. They might be at other ceremonies if I'm elected. But I would like them to have the same zone of privacy that the media and the public gave to Chelsea Clinton, for instance, for her eight years in the White House, and to Caroline Kennedy. Jackie Kennedy, when John Kennedy was elected in 1960, really freaked out at the idea that Caroline might be in the public lime light. She once walked before the inauguration through a room full of reporters, Caroline did, and they asked her what her father was doing and she said, my father is upstairs with his shoes off not doing anything. They had a laugh, but Jackie thought that that boded very badly. She spent that whole presidency working very hard making sure that she and her brother, John Jr., were not exposed.

MADDOW: That precedent issue, both for individual candidates and the historical precedent, is important here. Prior to this "Access Hollywood" interview, the press had honored the Obama campaign's ground rules that the daughters not be photographed. For example, Senator Obama would go to one of his daughter's soccer games and there were photos of the senator, but not of the girls playing soccer. Any possibility that this "Access Hollywood" interview is enough to jeopardize the press continuing to follow those ground rules?

BESCHLOSS: Not at all. That's the reason he was so hard-lined with Matt this morning, saying this will not happen again. He wants to make the point that they're not going to be giving out interviews. He doesn't want them in the spotlight when they're at these family events. And, you know, we sometimes are all of us jaded about the media sometimes. But one of the things that the media has been wonderful about is - I mentioned Chelsea Clinton, for eight years she really was very much protected during a time when Bill Clinton and Hillary were involved in a time of great controversy. Even in this day, I think a president or a candidate can expect that zone of privacy.

MADDOW: There has been such fascination with all things Obama in this season. The media going ga-ga over a fist bump like nobody's ever done that before. Do you think Senator Obama was genuinely surprised that this interview popped up on all the networks? Should he have been surprised?

BESCHLOSS: I think probably he was surprised because they have been so careful about not exposing these girls to a lot of publicity that I don't think he would have done anything that he would have known would have jeopardized that, or established a precedent that would have put them in play. I take him at his word what he said this morning.

MADDOW: Michael, one last thought on this, which is that Senator Obama, if he does become president, is going to have to confront this as a president and not as a candidate. Do you think he can expect to afford them as much privacy Chelsea Clinton was afforded?

BESCHLOSS: I think he can and I think he must. And I think they have tried very hard to do that thus far. And where it begins is to have a president and first lady who knows how important this really is.

MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, presidential historian for NBC News.

Thank you for your time tonight.

BESCHLOSS: My pleasure, Rachel. Be well.

MADDOW: Thanks. This is Countdown for this, the 1,897th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Rachel Maddow, in for Keith Olbermann. You can catch me every week night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on Air America Radio, except when I'm here. Thanks for watching.