Guests: John Harwood; Tony Cangemi; John Dean
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
“I‘m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. You can‘t blame anybody else. I fired, and there‘s Harry falling, and it was, I‘d have to say, one of the worst days of my life at that moment. He was conscious. I said, Harry, I had no idea you were there. He didn‘t respond.”
Dick Cheney breaks his silence, a scant 95 hours and 10 minutes after the shooting of Harry Whittington. Was the interview a bucketful of softballs and the cliches about the vice president facing only friendly questioning? Surprising statistics that may say otherwise.
And now that we‘ve heard a story, does it add up? A recreation in the field, why many hunting and gun experts doubt that the wounds could have been made from as far away as 30 yards.
And the vice president‘s admission. He had had a beer with lunch the afternoon of the shooting.
Also tonight, head like an egg, body like a champ, best in show, and our new Doggy Wing at the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame.
And the code comes to the movies. Leonardo da Vinci meets Forrest Gump. Why is life like a box of chocolates?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, obviously I can‘t tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
The vice president of the United States has accepted responsibility for the accidental shooting of a Texas attorney during a quail hunt.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, just 95 hours and 10 minutes after it happened, not at a news conference, nor in a written statement, nor to a panel of interviewers from a variety of news organizations, but rather before the more malleable cameras of Fox News, conducted this afternoon in Washington, D.C., and already, in the immediate aftermath, presenting several discrepancies about when the condition of the victim, Harry Whittington, could be safely established, about who decided to keep it quiet until morning and why, about whether Mr. Whittington was Mr. Cheney‘s friend, his good friend, or just an acquaintance of 30 years. The vice president answered each of those three ways.
I add (ph) those discrepancies, whether the vice president‘s account holds water with gun and hunting experts, and the analysis of John Harwood of “The Wall Street Journal.”
First, the vice president, from his interview on Fox News Channel‘s “Special Report with Brit Hume.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRIT HUME,” FOX NEWS CHANNEL)
CHENEY: That was not Harry‘s fault. You can‘t blame anybody else. I‘m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. And as I say, that‘s a moment I‘ll never forget. The image of him falling is something I‘ll never, ever be able to get out of my mind. I fired, and there‘s Harry falling. And it was, I‘d have to say, one of the worst days of my life, at that moment.
BRIT HUME, ANCHOR: (INAUDIBLE) you could have put the statement out in the name of whoever you wanted, and you could put it out the name of Mrs. Armstrong, if you want to. And obviously that she‘s the one who made the statement.
CHENEY: Exactly, that‘s what we did. We went with Mrs. Armstrong. We had—she‘s the one who put out the statement, and she was the most credible one to do it, because she was a witness. It wasn‘t me, in terms of saying, Here‘s what happened.
I thought that made good sense, because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understand hunting, and then it would immediately go up to the wires and be posted on the Web site, which is the way it went out. And I thought that was the right call.
HUME: What do you think now?
CHENEY: Well, I still do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The man shot by the vice president, 78-year-old Harry Whittington, is still in the intensive care unit, but only for privacy reasons, doctors now saying his heartbeat is back to normal, he‘s been eating and even doing some work, his daughter commenting on eyewitness accounts that Whittington was at fault for approaching Cheney, while Cheney was shooting, telling the Texas newspaper “The Austin Statesman Review” that her father, quote, “hasn‘t said anything like that.”
Back to tonight‘s interview. There was, as I mentioned, at least one conflict within the vice president‘s comments. At various times, speaking of Harry Whittington, he described his responsibility because “I pulled the trigger and shot my friend.” He explained he didn‘t think about talking to the media on Saturday night because “My first reaction was my friend Harry‘s been shot.” He also described Mr. Whittington as, quote, “a good friend.”
Yet when asked point-blank how he would describe Whittington, close friend or friendly acquaintance, Vice President Cheney replied, without hesitation, “an acquaintance.”
There also seemed to be several explanations for why the news of the shooting was withheld from all media Saturday night and then presented on Sunday, not to a national venue, nor through a statement by the White House, nor the vice president‘s office.
At various times, Mr. Cheney said that decision owed to the need to make sure all of Whittington‘s relatives didn‘t hear about their father getting shot on television. He also said the news was withheld because nobody really knew what shape Mr. Whittington was in until Sunday morning. He also said turning the task of approaching the local Corpus Christi newspaper to ranch owner Katherine Armstrong made sense because she was an eyewitness to the shooting and he wasn‘t, really.
The vice president also said at one point he thought that the media attention was obviously justified to this story, then said much of it, in fact, was jealousy, because the story first appeared in “The Corpus Christi Caller Times,” and not “The New York Times.”
As promised, I‘m joined now by John Harwood, national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal.”
Good evening, John.
JOHN HARWOOD, NATIONAL POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:
Hey, Keith, how are you?
OLBERMANN: Obviously, the vice president changed his mind, or was talked into changing his mind, to make a public statement through this interview, presumably in hopes of tamping all this down. Did he succeed, or did he muddle up the timeline even further?
HARWOOD: Keith, I think the vice president was under a lot of pressure to come out and make a statement on this. It‘s hurt the administration and Republican leaders in Congress. I don‘t know what was in their master communications plan for this week, but I‘m pretty sure it wasn‘t explain how the vice president shot somebody and took his time telling people about it.
He did help himself, however, I think, by coming out in very human terms, talking about the trauma of the incident, what he saw, how he felt when Harry Whittington was shot. And in that respect, I think the very fact of him coming out, speaking in his own voice on this, will do a lot to unplug the juice from this story.
OLBERMANN: Discrepancies and omissions in this interview, omissions first. And again, we have no idea if this was Mr. Cheney not being asked a question, or it was edited out, or he refused to answer. We have no idea why this was not mentioned. But we have no answer, let‘s put it that way, to this question. It happened Saturday night at 5:50 local time. The vice president‘s people agree to let the sheriff‘s office talk to the vice president at 8:00 the next morning. That‘s an extraordinary drag time, even in the middle of controversy.
HARWOOD: It is a long time. It‘s, of course, fueled the people who assume the worst about the incident and about Cheney, assumed things like that alcohol was involved, and people wanted to wait until there was no more alcohol in his system. The vice president addressed that directly in the interview with Brit Hume today, saying he had a beer at lunch, but that was hours before the incident.
I think until that statement is contradicted by somebody else with knowledge of what happened, that that‘s likely to stand. And people will have no other choice but to accept the explanation that simply they made arrangements, after the sort of hubbub of getting Whittington to the hospital, to conduct the interview the next day.
OLBERMANN: But to that one particular point. Mr. Cheney did confirm that he‘d had a beer at lunch. He said nobody was drinking thereafter, not that he was impaired by one beer, but people can be, depends on metabolism, on drugs, if you‘re under prescription drugs or other kinds of drugs. There‘s a thousands things that can affect impairment.
There was no reference in the interview about the sheriff‘s office conclusion, statement, that alcohol was not involved, even though they couldn‘t have screened him for it till the next morning. Could that factor later?
HARWOOD: Well, I suspect the investigators interviewed more than just Vice President Cheney before making that report. And, of course, nobody knows what effect alcohol, given what else is going on in somebody‘s system, might have on a person. But I think there‘s no reason, based on what we know, to assume that it had any role in this.
OLBERMANN: This contradiction, and I know it seems like splitting hairs, Harry Whittington is a friend, or is he an acquaintance? And he answers, “An acquaintance,” then he calls him a friend, then he calls him a good friend, then he says he‘s known him for 30 years.
Did the man grow in the vice president‘s esteem over the course of the interview, or are these the kinds of little details that can undermine somebody‘s credibility? If you were in court or were making a statement to the police, and you gave the same description of the same person in three different emotional terms, somebody‘d be saying, Mr. Vice President, you have to pick one or, at most, two of the above.
HARWOOD: Keith, the vice president definitely has credibility problems. In fact, he alluded to them himself in the interview with Brit Hume, when he said the reason—one of the reasons he had Katherine Armstrong put the news out was that she—was that the news media wouldn‘t believe his version of events.
I don‘t, however, think that these varying descriptions of Harry Whittington are part of that credibility problem. As you know, Keith, politicians tend to regard anybody they have met or interacted with as their good friend, even people they can‘t stand. And certainly there‘s no reason to think Harry Whittington‘s in that category. Cheney was in the company of people he had known for quite a long time, the Armstrongs.
OLBERMANN: Headline tomorrow on this, as a final note, John, is it, I‘m the guy that pulled the trigger? What‘s the headline?
HARWOOD: I think it‘s, I‘m the guy that pulled the trigger, and I‘m very happy with the way I got the information out, underscoring the fact that Dick Cheney is calling his own shots, and he‘s happy with what he did, notwithstanding what other Republicans think.
OLBERMANN: I think we‘ll hear a more intentional version of calling his own shots also as time goes by. John Harwood, national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal,” as always, sir, great thanks.
One more thing about this interview, the venue of the vice president‘s first comments about this, the typical immediate reaction might be Fox News? Why didn‘t he just sit down for a hard-hitting interview with Jeff Gannon?
This assumption, at least in quantitative terms, does not hold up to scrutiny. According to White House records of Mr. Cheney‘s interviews and speeches analyzed by the Web site TVNewser, this is Mr. Cheney‘s fifth interview with Fox since he assumed office, permitting them to now pull ahead of CNN as Mr. Cheney‘s favorite venue. In fact, the NBCs—us, CNBC, NBC Broadcast, we‘ve gotten six interviews with Cheney, ABC three, CBS two, PBS one, and various radio hosts 10.
And good guess, none of those radio hosts was Air America.
So even in the clich’ of ideological assignments, as vice president, Mr. Cheney has given 15 interviews to the Foxes and the conservative radio talkers of America, and the CNNs, NBCs, ABCs, et cetera, 17. Even chronologically, the assumptions about the vice president do not hold up to actual inspection. He‘s done 32 radio and TV interviews in over five years, over five full years in office. Ten of them have come in the last two months.
Quality, difficulty? Those are the other issues. But quantity does not seem to be what many would assume.
One more bit of perspective before we move on to the logistics of the Cheney scattershot event. There is apparently precedent for keeping a shooting by a vice president quiet for a while. Of course, that precedent is from 1804, “The Washington Post” reporting that when Vice President Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in their duel, exactly 201 years and seven months to the day before Mr. Cheney accidentally shot Mr. Whittington -- that is an artist‘s recreation right there—it did not make it into the papers for a week.
“By a gentleman from Philadelphia, we learned,” published the “Gettysburg Sentinel” of Pennsylvania on July 18, 1804, that last week a duel took place at New York, between Colonel Aaron Burr, vice president of the U. States, and General Alexander Hamilton, in which the latter was mortally wounded, and expired in a short time after he was taken from the field. The cause of the duel, or who was the challenger, we did not learn.”
Actually, a week‘s drag time in the 24-hour-a-month news cycle of 1804 was not that bad. This, remember, was before the cable, the Internet or Scott McClellan. This was even before Chris Matthews.
From talking the talk to walking through the walk, does what we know from Mr. Cheney and from the witness match up with what hunting experts know from the field?
And the view from the political firing range. John Dean joins us to analyze how the Cheney story played out all week, how it will now, and how the new drama has impacted Washington‘s other scandals of the moment.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The cartoon from “The San Francisco Chronicle” is meant as satire, of course, but as with all humor, it may also contain great truths. “Liberal Media,” says the mock headline in Don Assmasen‘s (ph) cartoon, “Not Reporting on Parts of Whittington That Didn‘t Get Shot.”
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, setting aside the politics of journalism and the journalism of politics, do we yet know the mechanics of the Cheney-Whittington accident? And do they match up with little details like the laws of physics and the experience of hunters?
A local newspaper at the center of the coverage of the story, “The Corpus Christi Caller Times,” made its own attempt to recreate events using a .28-gauge shotgun and size eight birdshot, slightly smaller than the 7.5 used by the vice president.
Because we still don‘t know exactly where Mr. Whittington was standing, nor how much of the shot actually hit him, this recreation is definitely not precisely accurate, but it does show how birdshot travels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE GONGORA, HUNTER: My name is George Gongora (ph). I‘m a photographer for “The Corpus Christi Caller Times.
I am an avid skeet and trap shooter for many years. What I‘m going to do now with my .28-gauge shotgun, one like the vice president used, is show what the pellet pattern looks like from a distance of about 90 feet.
Quail shooters like .28-gauge, because the pattern is a perfect pattern. A wall of shot hits the bird, and it gives you one of the finest patterns a gun can give.
After shooting the .28-gauge from 90 feet away, shows where the pattern hit his face and torso. So we can pretty much see that at least over 200 BBs have touched this area right here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As I said, that was not a precision recreation. For one thing, Mr. Whittington was shot on the right-hand side of his face and chest, not full on. And Mr. Cheney would have been moving his gun while firing, so it‘s unclear how much of the shot actually hit his friend and/or good friend and/or acquaintance.
It‘s also unclear how much birdshot might have penetrated through Mr. Whittington‘s clothing at a distance of 30 yards, not to mention the fact that the birdshot we saw in that recreation was smaller than the one that the vice president used.
To help us try to clear up some of the discrepancies, just based on the small knowledge we have of all this, I‘m joined by Tony Cangemi, managing partner of Woodland Plantation, a wild-wing hunt club not dissimilar to where Mr. Cheney was shooting on Saturday.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
TONY CANGEMI, BIRD HUNTING EXPERT: Thank you for inviting me.
OLBERMANN: In that interview tonight, the vice president gave us a detail I don‘t think we knew. As Mr. Whittington returned from trying to find the bird he‘d bagged in the previous shoot, he was in a gully, as the vice president described. He was only exposed from some point in the torso upwards, maybe stomach up, maybe low chest up. Does that change in any way what we think happened? Does it clarify it?
CANGEMI: I don‘t think so. It may make it a little bit more clear in terms of why he didn‘t see Mr. Whittington so clearly, if he wasn‘t standing in full view, but was partially obscured by the hill.
OLBERMANN: From what we know, and based on your knowledge of the capability of a .28-gauge shotgun and the damage from of 7.5 birdshot, could you do the kind of damage that was done for Mr. Whittington, or to Mr. Whittington, from a distance of 30 yards?
CANGEMI: You actually could. It depends on the type of shot shell you‘re using. If they are using express loads, which are high-brass loads, they‘re higher powered, they‘re higher speed, that‘s another variable that you take into consideration.
Also, the fact that Mr. Whittington was shot on his right side indicates that he wasn‘t in the center of the pattern, but, as you indicated, on the periphery of it, which has no impact on just what the penetration of each individual pellet might be.
But I‘m somewhat surprised that, given warm hunting clothing, because it was supposedly cold that day, that the pellets would have penetrated, especially in the chest area. Of course, in the bare-skin area like his face and neck, you would expect that. But anything that would have penetrated his clothing and then penetrated deeply enough into his body to cause the ensuing heart problem is quite a surprise.
OLBERMANN: And to that point, I mean, let‘s work backwards from that. We have that in the police report that there was a vest, there was cold weather, it was nearly sunset. And yet we know that a piece of birdshot got to the heart, and others, maybe as many as 200, broke through the skin, any protective clothing he was wearing. If you were presented with those results and you worked backwards, where do you—how far away do you think the shooter is in that case?
CANGEMI: Well, the shotgun was probably using an improved cylinder or modified choke. That would draw a pattern of between 32 to 35 inches in diameter. Since he was caught by the periphery, and with the graphics that I have seen show that maybe there was 10 or 12 inches inside the pattern that had struck him, I would say he was probably in the—he may not have been at 30 yards. I couldn‘t say that he was more or less than 30 yards. But it‘s a very real possibility that it was less than 30 yards.
However, when you‘re out in the field, and you‘re out in the open space, any distance is pretty much a guess, unless you actually measure it off. So it may not have been intentional that they called it 30 yards when actually it may have been somewhat less.
OLBERMANN: The doctors at the hospital yesterday said it could have been six and 200, as we mentioned, bits of birdshot still in Mr. Whittington‘s body. Does that volume, I mean, we (INAUDIBLE) saw in that demonstration video that that matched up with the attempt to recreate the peppering from 30 yards, or a distance around 30 yards. But does it to your experience match up with the typical peppering?
CANGEMI: Well, is I said, there are 262 pellets in three-quarters of an ounce of shot, of 7.5 shot. I therefore don‘t think, and he, we know he wasn‘t hit full on by this, I don‘t think there were as many as 200 pellets that could have struck Mr. Whittington. I think it was more likely that there was some number substantially lower than that.
OLBERMANN: Well, they did provide something of a range there in saying six to 200. We have something to play with statistically.
CANGEMI: Yes, that‘s quite a variation.
OLBERMANN: Bird-hunting expert Tony Cangemi, the manager of the Wild Ring Hunt Club, Woodland Plantation, thanks for coming in. Thank you for your insights.
CANGEMI: Thank you very much, sir.
OLBERMANN: More on this. Now, the Cheney accident fits into, perhaps overshadows, the backdrop of all the other problems currently facing the Bush administration. I‘ll be joined by the author of “Worse Than Watergate,” John Dean.
And the big buildup to the “Da Vinci Code” movie. We‘ll have an exclusive preview of the new Tom Hanks film and a (INAUDIBLE). I don‘t care, Tom, I love you. This is a story my producers are forcing me to cover. But we get to look at the trailer before anybody else. Whoo-hoo.
Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: February 15, not merely is it the day in 1907 when Cesar Romero was born, in the “Batman” TV series, he played the Joker, but it‘s the day in 1948 when Ron Say (ph) was born. He was the stockily built baseball player nicknamed the Penguin.
With that coincidence ringing in our heads, let‘s play Oddball.
Caped Crusader. Beginning in Provo, Utah, where we celebrate the births of little Dakota Dean Callister (ph) and Bentley Mae Bushman (ph), born just an hour apart last Thursday night. Nothing odd about that, I don‘t really care, except you factor this in, Dakota‘s mother is Bentley‘s grandmother.
See, little Dakota‘s really big sister, Chelsea, Chelsea is Bentley‘s mother. Chelsea is Sheri‘s (ph) daughter. Mother, 42, and daughter, 22, both pregnant, both gave birth to children on the same day in the same room. So in one hour, Chelsea became a mom, Sheri became a mom and a grandmom, Bentley became a niece, and Dakota became an uncle.
And the family tree became twisted into a knot and fell over (ph).
To Spokane, Washington, where all at this middle school, math has never been so sexy. That‘s because the seventh-grade textbook instructs the kids to call a 1-900 number to check out their math problems. And, you guessed it, it is now a phone-sex hotline number. Carry the one, for God‘s sakes, carry the one.
The book is a few years old. The original number, obviously, has changed hands. But not to worry, there‘s still plenty of arithmetic to be done. For instance, if Johnny spends 28 minutes on the phone with Trixie at $3.999 a minute, plus the $3 connection fee, how much is going to show up on Mommy‘s credit card, and how long before Johnny is able to sit without pain again?
Many other things you could have said there.
Finally to Florida, the oddball state where good, old-fashioned social worker caught on tape in a high school stealing credit cards out of the guidance counselor‘s purse story, surveillance cameras capturing 42-year-old Sharon Waldo (ph) snatching the plastic from the counselors and assistant principals‘ offices. Just so easy to blame the kids.
Police say she later went on an $800 shopping spree, b but when confronted with the tape, Waldo confessed. So where‘s Waldo? In the Big House.
The Big House for dogs, the Westminster Kennel Club Show at Madison Square Garden in New York. Rufus best of show. But they‘re all Hall of Famers, so we‘ll open a COUNTDOWN wing just for the pooches tonight.
And one just for him, Scientology, indoor rope climbing, singing along to Kanye West, it‘s a busy and rewarding life. The latest update in a moment.
First, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
And a theme, a lost and found theme tonight.
Number three, Mary Donaldson of Plymouth England. Rescuing scouring the British coast after an electronic distress signal began to transmit. Somebody was missing at sea. They honed in and they found it coming from Mrs. Donaldson‘s house. It was her new digital TV. It was malfunctioning. You think?
Number two, David Duquette and Michael Fitzgerald, two cons who escaped from the Appalachia Correctional Institute in Florida over the weekend. They were assumed to be at large in the area until they were found hiding in a small building on the prison grounds. I knew we should have looked there first.
And number one, Gerald L. Mack of Kelso, Washington. Lost, the antiques, furniture jewelry, credit cards and guns, at least a local residents, all stolen. All, police say, found in Mr. Mack‘s home. How did they found all the loot? Mr. Mack had a sign in the house that said, “Do not open door and let anyone in. Stolen stuff visible.”
OLBERMANN: Mr. Cheney on camera. Mr. Cheney saying you can‘t blame anybody else, although never saying quote, “It‘s my fault.” But also Mr. Cheney saying much of the media attention to his event owed it to jealousy over which newspaper he and his eyewitness chose to release the story to.
Our number three story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, is this enough? Might we see him repeating it somewhere else in the future. In a moment, Nixon White House counsel John Dean.
Cheney on the shooting, quote, “You can‘t blame anybody else. I‘m the guy who pulled the trigger.” Cheney on allowing the ranch owner to get the word out, quote, “I thought that was the right call. I still do.”
But what did the vice president fail to address? What other issues waiting in the wings? Mr. Cheney was questioned about the CIA leak investigation. Lest we forget it was just last Thursday reports that Mr. Cheney‘s former chief of staff, Mr. Libby had already testified he was authorized by superiors to disclose classified information to reporters, this in a letter written by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, part of court papers filed by Mr. Libby‘s defense team. Mr. Libby‘s lawyer denies that he will raise authorization by superiors as a defense.
Domestic spying by the NSA not a focus of the interview. The White House effort to slow or kill a congressional investigation, though, might be working, according to the “Washington Post.” Some Republican lawmakers suggesting that mere congressional oversight of the program may quell their concerns or better yet drafting legislation that would essentially bring the program within the letter of the law retroactively. As promised, we are joined by John Dean, columnist for findlaw.com. Author of “Worse than Watergate,” the secret presidency of George W. Bush. Good evening, John.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Keith, how are you?
OLBERMANN: On the substance and timing of that interview, right message, four days late or did he leave too many loose threads?
DEAN: Well, he certainly left a lot of holes happened. And first of all, it‘s a terrible accident, no question. But it‘s a travesty the way he has handled it with the media. He knows better. He is a seasoned hand and he knew exactly what he was doing and he was somewhat overcome by the situation and obviously didn‘t want anyone else to come in and help him out and I don‘t really think that is an appropriate way for him to proceed under the circumstances.
It was a big story.
OLBERMANN: I think you know something about this following subject that I‘m going to ask you about, in fact, I can‘t think anybody better at ask - or answering this question. Was this - and I posed this last night, we have assumed this was an attempt simply to delay this information getting out until it could be handled, managed, massaged, whatever, is that the only possible explanation? Could there have been an attempt, or an aborted attempt to cover this up completely so people would not know this is what happened?
DEAN: Well, we know Dick Cheney has a history of not wanting to volunteer anything to the news media. I think his first reaction—There was no press person there. He made a fairly good explanation of the early response why he didn‘t do anything, and that was plausible. As it goes on into the 24-hour period, it begins to get a little hazy as to why he didn‘t come forward. And you know, as I said, I think he knew exactly what he was doing. And it was a little bit of in your face.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned discrepancies, I have my favorite, what do you see as the largest remaining discrepancies in this story?
DEAN: In the story? Actually, my wife, Maureen raised it when she read the transcript, and it‘s the fact that the different accounts by Ms. Armstrong, who says she was an eyewitness, but then says her first reaction is she sees the Secret Service running over to the vice president, towards the vice president and thinks something happened to the vice president. How is she an eyewitness if she didn‘t see the shooting?
OLBERMANN: I had asked John Harwood about this before and he did not seem to put too much measure to this. In the interview with Brit Hume tonight, the vice president called Mr. Whittington a friend, called him a good friend and said they had known each other for 30 years and then asked directly, is he a friend or - let me read it. “Would you describe him as a close friend, friendly acquaintance or what?” And Mr. Cheney answered without a pause, “No, an acquaintance.” Three different descriptions of one man in one interview. Is that the kind of thing that a detective or lawyer in a courtroom would pounce on?
DEAN: Well, if you were impeaching a witness, you could have some fun with it. But I think what Cheney was doing here is that he wanted to be warm and friendly towards the man he shot and to call him a friend and to embrace him, if you will. When Brit pressed him, he had to really say he is really only an acquaintance and I think just the fact of the way the sequence of the questions come, it forced him to back into the acquaintance and not somebody he is a close friend with.
OLBERMANN: Nowhere today is there any suggestion that Mr. Cheney consulted the president on getting the information out or what to do in the last few days. Did we just get a clear picture of who wears the pants in the administration?
DEAN: We certainly got—one of the very interesting lines that slips by and when I heard it, I didn‘t catch it, it was in the transcript, I saw it, when he starts to talk about if he had spoken to Karl Rove and he in essence starts to say, “Karl talks to,” like he doesn‘t talk to the vice president and then goes back and said Karl talked to Karen Armstrong and they were mutual friends. He had hunted there.
But the isolation point came very clearly through in the printed edition of the transcript of how compartmentalized this White House is. That apparently Rove doesn‘t really have much access to the vice president and they weren‘t taking his advice to get the story out or anybody‘s advice to get the story out.
OLBERMANN: In the midst of all of this, as we said, as this has dominated everything since Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, anyway good news and bad news on the V.P. on the leak investigation. The shooting incident has more or less pushed that off the top of the news charts, at least for the moment.
But if Mr. Libby defends himself by saying my superiors authorized me to make the disclosures, even though his attorney says he‘s not going to do that, is that a missing link in taking the investigation into the vice president‘s office or would still more be required to make that big leap?
DEAN: It‘s interesting that Brit Hume did bring that in as the last question raised the—tried to get into it and Cheney wasn‘t going to go there and refused to enter into that area but did say in response to as question as to whether he had power to declassify that there was an executive order out. This is very unusual. I had written a couple of those executive orders in my days and while he immediately then turns to the fact and talks about the fact that the president and the vice president, as well, have the power to classify and doesn‘t come back to the declassification.
I‘ve got to go back to the law books or the executive order books tonight to see what he is talking about because I‘m not familiar with anyone having unilateral power to declassify.
OLBERMANN: That will be another element to this story. We can come back to you on it when you have that research done. John Dean, the author of “Worse than Watergate,” as always, great thanks to you and your star researcher, lovely and talented Mrs. Dean.
DEAN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, Millions have read the book, now here comes the movie, we will have a sneak peek at a trailer for “The Da Vinci Code” and deconstructs - I don‘t care at all. But you get to see some Tom Hanks Da Vinci Da Video. Tom Cruise is certainly keeping his P.R. machine busy.
Yesterday the report of the split with Katie. Today he is climbing up a rope where? Why? All ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Boy, the producers are really hitting me over the head tonight. A feature on “The Da Vinci Code,” that nonsense book, many of whose readers can‘t really believe is really fiction.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, on the other hand, I was told there are exclusive clips of the movie version starring Tom Hanks. Well, I know Tom Hanks.
OK, then. Another story my producers are forcing me to cover. And it could be worse. It could be much worse. It could be exclusive clips from Steve‘s Martin‘s version of Inspector Clousseau. Yech. Here is Katie Couric.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a great scientist and a great art activity and the most fascinating, beguiling mind at the time.
KATIE COURIC, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: One of history‘s most enigmatic figures. Leonardo Da Vinci‘s genius has begun part of pop culture, thanks to the novel and soon to be released movie that bear his name.
In this never before seen clip from Ron Howard‘s film version of “The Da Vinci Code,” the Louvre‘s curator is found dead in the pose of Leanardo‘s celebrated drawing.
TOM HANKS, ACTOR: “The Vetruvian Man.” It‘s one of Leonardo Da Vinci‘s most famous sketches.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the scar on his skin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Devil worship.
HANKS: No. No. No. No. No. No. The pentacle before that—this is a symbol for Venus and represents the female half of all .
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are telling me that Soniere‘s (ph) last act on earth was to draw a goddess symbol on the chest? Why?
HANKS: Obviously, I can‘t tell you why.
COURIC: It‘s the first of many clues leading back to Leonardo, but how much does this modern murder mystery have to do with the real man?
HANKS: Da Vinci?
COURIC: What we do know is that he didn‘t intend to be mysterious. Born in 1452 in Vinci, Italy, Leonardo was more than a painter. He pursued knowledge across many disciplines.
PROF. MARTIN KEMP, AUTHOR, “LEONARDO”: He is curious to a degree which is almost beyond the bounds of curiosity.
COURIC: He left behind thousands of pages of notes and sketches of his ideas and inventions. Everything from optics and architecture to anatomy and military machines. He even imagined a means for human flight. But his strange habit of writing in reverse wasn‘t for hiding secrets. For left handed Leonardo, there were practical reasons.
KEMP: Someone who is left handed can very often do mirror writing. He is writing very quickly in terrifically slow dry hands. It was just natural for him to go across the page in the opposite direction.
COURIC: As for hidden messages in Leonardo‘s art, like the “Mona Lisa,” the Da Vinci code suggests that the paintings name is an anagram for “amon l‘sa,” signaling his belief in the sacred feminine. But there is a problem.
KEMP: “Mona Lisa” is not Leonardo‘s name. Leonardo calls her “La Giaconda.” “Giaconda means “The Smiling One.”
COURIC: And what about the claim that he led a secret society charged with protecting the Holy Grail and alternate version of Christianity?
KEMP: Leonardo‘s life is well-documented and there is no evidence of involvement with secret societies.
PROF. DAVID NOLTA, MASSCHUSETTS COLLEGE OF ART: He is trying to break the ground as an artist, just as he is as a scientist, as a mathematician. But I don‘t think he has got a subversive message for an enlightened few.
COURIC: But as riddles are solved, new ones emerged and may be all the speculation and guessing games would have actually pleased Leonardo.
KEMP: I think Leonardo to become at least quasi-immortal would be a great pleasure to him.
COURIC: A 16th century genius now basking in 21st century celebrity.
OLBERMANN: A very fine line indeed between genius and crazy. That is the segue to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” Tom Cruise once again paying his publicists overtime.
And what difficult to put the kibosh on the of a breakup if your client is acting out at a Kanye West concert, allegedly going wild during the “We Want Prenup” line in the song “Gold Digger,” throwing his hands up in the air, according to “In Touch Weekly.” According to witnesses, the actor was hanging from a nine-foot high balcony and complaining, quote, “All these people are making me crazy,” before having his “Mission Impossible” moment climbing up the cables to a VIP box.
Once there, the report continues, Scientology‘s most famous spokesman tried to convert fellow concert goers. He told us that Scientology changed his life and his fiancees life, said one of them. That last part sort of contradicts the “We Want Prenup” stuff, of course.
Cruise‘s publicist, who said he was at the show, denies all of the above.
No denying the influence of the movie “Brokeback Mountain.” It‘s gotten Willie Nelson to record a song about - well, about what the title would suggest. “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other.”
The song was written almost two decades ago by singer-songwriter Ned Sublet (ph) during the urban cowboy era. Maybe the rhinestone epidemic was the inspiration behind this line. “Inside every cowboy there is a lady who would love to slip out.”
Whatever the case, Nelson agreed to record the song last year. It premiered on Howard Stern‘s satellite radio show yesterday, just in time for Valentine‘s Day.
Well, as some of the cowboys say, “That dog hunt.” How about this dog? The nation‘s top dog has a big head, inspiring us to open a new pooch only wing at the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame. There‘s the runner up.
That‘s next but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s nominee for “Worst Person in the World.”
The bronze. To whoever stole a business add sign from a company in Crystal River, Florida. It was outside the Advanced Family Hearing Center, it was a four foot tall fiberglass ear. There were two of them but now, says manager Amy Wilde (ph), one of them was gone. Maybe it wasn‘t stolen. Maybe it has just been borrowed. You know, lend me your ear.
Our runner up tonight. Well, management at the Adidas Sporting Goods Company made a deal to outfit the German national ski Olympic team and it proceeded to deliver to them in Turin 30 caps bearing the colors of Belgium, not Germany, where they‘re from, but Belgium, the country that Germany rolled through at the start of both world wars. A lot of Belgian ghosts laughing it up big time right now.
But our winner, oh, Ann Coulter when she took the bronze earlier this week, we suggested she need to be creative to do better. Well, she‘s been creative, “Palm Beach Post” quoting voting records from Palm Beach County, Florida. They indicate that in last week‘s county council election, she voted in precinct 1196, about four miles north of her home.
Well, applause to Ann that she voted in local election but was supposed to vote not in precinct 1196 but in precinct 1198, the one in which in her home stands. Florida law makes it a felony to knowingly vote in the wrong precinct. Violators can be fined up to 5,000 and go to jail for five years.
So stay tuned for Ann‘s unexpectedly passionate plea in her column for prison reform. Ann Coulter, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: There was an awful mess at New York‘s Madison Square Garden this morning. The Westminister Kennel Club Dog Show had come to an end, yet there were general manager Isaiah Thomas, coach Larry Brown and 10 of the players on the 14 and 40, New York Knicks each being carted out in one of those doggie crates. Oh the humanity.
Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, seriously, for the 130th consecutive year, a dog has been selected “Best in Show” at the Westminster. Rufus. Formal name, Champion Rocky Top Sundance Kid,” one of those Captain Picard dogs, tan and white mixed color bull terrier selected as best in last night because the head was perfectly shaped like an egg.
Rufus was the one who got to hear, “You, the Dog,” along the way, he defended a Dandie Dinmont terrier owned by Bill Cosby, a dog that had been raised entirely on a diet of Jell-O pudding.
So Rufus, the egg headed dog goes right to the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame, there is only one problem. We haven‘t had a canine wing of the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame. Kind of embarrassing insomuch as on the Chinese calendar, it‘s the year of the dog.
MR. BURNS, CARTOON CHARACTER: Good day. Smithers, release the hounds!
OLBERMANN (voice-over): Here deep inside the bowels of the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame, we have been plagued with angry emails and questioning our admissions policy. Essentially, what they are saying, yes, we like the Animal Hall of Fame. Pinky the Cat is great. That bear on the trampoline is terrific. What about the dogs? You, the people, the fans of the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame, you are asking the age old question, who left the dogs out? Who? Who? Who? Who? We did!
Unless you count the skateboarding dog, the dog that let‘s a monkey ride on his back among a bunch of other dogs. But that‘s not important. What‘s important is that tonight, we right our wrong by dedicating an entire new wing in the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame, the Dog Wing. Sure, sometimes we take doggies for granted.
WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: Excuse me! Excuse me! What are you doing?
JACK BLACK, ACTOR: That‘s how I roll.
OLBERMANN: Sure, sometimes they mess when they are not supposed to.
GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: He‘s making progress on the ground.
OLBERMANN: And all cultures have not exactly treating them the same way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, look at how beautiful these dogs are, and in some countries these dogs are eaten.
OLBERMANN: In the doggy wing, baby stealing the dingoes need not apply, but if your dingo can sing, send your dingo in.
Having half the legs you are supposed to have, may stop some animals but not the dogs we honor here. And to make it here, you don‘t have to be perfect.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This dachshund, Rusty, suffers from narcolepsy, a condition that causes him to suddenly fall asleep when he‘s trying to do other things.
OLBERMANN: You don‘t have to be perfect. But you do have to at least try. Any dog can fly through the ease with the greatest of ease but can he do it blindfolded? Any dog spring his buddies from the jail that is the local kennel. But how many can swim the bay from Alcatraz to San Francisco?
There are the famous TV star dogs, like Scoobie and Snoopy and Benji and Lassie and Pluto. But how many of you dogs have debated the president?
BUSH: That‘s totally absurd!
OLBERMANN: Alas, it‘s true. While all dogs may not get into the Hall of Fame. They all go to heaven. Even the hideously ugly ones.
So while they are here on earth, let‘s treat them well. Let‘s salute the immortals, COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame Dog Wing. Rusty!
OLBERMANN: Have a nice nap. That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, 1,021st day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck. Our MSNBC coverage continues now with RITA COSBY, LIVE AND DIRECT. Good evening, Rita.
RITA COSBY, MSNBC HOST: Good evening Keith and good evening everybody.
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