Guests: Jay Rockefeller, Derrick Pitts, Jay Murtha, Dana Milbank, Jonathan Turley
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The honorable Nancy Pelosi of the state of California is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives for the 110th Congress.
REP. RON BOEHNER ®, FORMER SPEAKER: It‘s now my privilege to present the gavel of the United States House of Representatives to the first woman speaker in our history, the gentlelady from California, Nancy Pelosi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Pleasure? What happened, Mr. Hastert, somebody sunk your battle ship?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER: We have made history. Now, let us make progress for the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Will that progress require cutting off the money tap for the war in Iraq? The newly minted chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, Jack Murtha, joins us.
Will that progress require looking for the worms under the rocks of the American intelligence community? The newly minted chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, joins us.
And what does he do about the president‘s newest self-written law? Mr. Bush has authorized himself to read your mail.
Why doesn‘t he help our citizens save off intergalactic attacks? Somebody drops a meteorite on a house in New Jersey.
And then there are the UFOs over O‘Hare Airport in Chicago. The FAA first says there were no reports filed about anything strange. Now it admits there were some reports filled out about something strange. So expect lengthy delays on the shuttle to Chicago from the planet Schyron (ph) in the galaxy of Andromeda.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
It‘s a Frisbee.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from Washington.
Just two months ago, many Republicans may have thought it, some may have even said it. You‘ll be able to sunbathe at the Capitol in January before Democrats regain any power there. Today‘s high temperature in the district, 61 degrees, and very sunny.
And in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, especially sunny for the Democrats. Two of the men of the hour will join us here, the new chairman of the House Appropriation Subcommittee, Jack Murtha, in a moment, with his answer to the president‘s proposed surge-and-accelerate option in Iraq, the president confirms tonight whatever that plan is, he will unveil it sometime next week. And the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, on the hunt to find truth about how we were misled into the war in Iraq.
But first, the story of the woman of the hour, California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, making this day in Washington historic on multiple fronts by collecting enough votes to become the first woman speaker of the House of Representatives, second in the line of succession to the presidency, business unusual at her swearing in, Madam Speaker inviting not just her six grandchildren but every child in the chamber to join her on the podium, and accepting the gavel, Mrs. Pelosi recognizing the antiwar mandate that brought her to power, and the women‘s movement that brought her to politics.
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PELOSI: It a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren‘t just waiting, women were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal.
The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end. Shortly, President Bush will address the nation on the subject of Iraq. It is the responsibility of the president to articulate a new plan for Iraq that makes it clear to the Iraqis that they must defend their own streets and their own security, a plan that makes—promotes stability in the region, and a plan that allows us to responsibly redeploy our troops.
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OLBERMANN: I am joined now from the Capitol by the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania.
Congressman, great thanks for your time tonight.
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D-PA), CHAIR, HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE: Keith, happy new year to you, glad to be here.
OLBERMANN: Many would subscribe to the argument that the Democratic takeover of Congress today would not have been possible without you, if you, as a former highly decorated Marine, had not had the courage to speak out against the war on Iraq at a time when that was still a very dicey thing to do so.
Now that the president is preparing to announce a plan that would escalate the number of troops in Iraq in some way or fashion, might you be planning to turn off the spigot, to use appropriations oversight, to use funding to stop him?
MURTHA: Well, one of the problems that we‘ve had in the last couple years is, the leadership on the Republican side wouldn‘t allow the Defense Subcommittee to do the appropriate oversight that was necessary. Now, we‘re going to have hearings, and—soon as they send over the supplemental. And we‘re going to look into detail about the request that they‘re making.
We have some real problems, something I mentioned over a year ago, we have the units in the United States are not ready as a strategic reserve. And if something happened in Iran, something happened in North Korea or China, we wouldn‘t be able to react to that or sustain a deployment.
So we need to get some substantive information that allows us to take the kind of action that many people are advocating. We can‘t do it, because we just haven‘t had the hearings that are necessary.
Now, I‘m talking about hearings, substantive hearings, on the supplemental itself, meaning the $99.7 billion that they‘ve requested. We‘ve never really looked into it, how they‘re going to spend the money and so forth.
Then we‘re looking at the possibility, can we limit the number of redeployments of the troops? Can we say to the White House, Look, you can‘t deploy troops to Iraq until you get these troops in the United States back to where we have a strategic reserve?
But the other thing that has to be done, Keith, and this is the thing that‘s so frustrating, this president needs to consult with the Congress, substantive consulting. In other words, he needs to talk to the people who have responsibility for foreign operations for defense, and the leadership, and tell them what his plan is and then ask for recommendations.
President Bush I did it, President Clinton did it, President Reagan did it. This president does not consult. He has a few people there that tells him what he wants to do, he gets—he answers a few questions. And that‘s the end of the consultation. That‘s not what I consider consultation. So I‘m hopeful that we‘ll have some consultation before he makes this decision.
OLBERMANN: So you stopped the blank check, and you remind the president that there are two other branches of government, or one legislative branch of government, that he needs to talk to.
You talk to the generals all the time. Are they saying they want more troops at this stage of the conflict? And if they say otherwise, why would the president be sending them, when he always says that he listens to the generals on the ground?
MURTHA: Well, this is really another frustrating part of it. For a long time, I was speaking to the generals, and nobody believed it. Now, they‘re beginning to see the generals are speaking out against what they consider a surge, because they have to extend the people that are overseas or they have to redeploy people who have not been in home for less—or more than a year.
So we‘re caught in a very difficult situation, because of the sustainability of our troops, and because the readiness of the reserves at home. And the National Guard Reserve has been used completely.
So we need to get this whole thing together. Now, I would hope this president doesn‘t go for. The public has spoken very clearly. They want our troops out of there, and we need to give the Iraqis the incentive to get our troops home, and we don‘t do it by making speeches about victory. Victory is not—it‘s just a goal, it‘s not an achievable mission.
And the troops—even the troops themself, Keith, have said they don‘t support what the president‘s doing, the way he‘s running the war.
So we can‘t afford to allow this to go forward. We have to find ways to convince this president that he can‘t afford to redeploy more troops into Iraq. We got to get—start the troops coming home, let the Iraqis take over.
OLBERMANN: But you know what happens to people who disagree with this president. Do you think that this is now happening within the military, that the recent news regarding General Casey, that he might be the first of a series of casualties, in a figurative sense, of the military leadership that might be opposed to escalation plans from the president?
MURTHA: Well, I‘m not sure that Casey or Abizaid, who are two fine generals, or that‘s the (ph) result. But they—this has happened in the past. If a general disagrees with the secretary Rumsfeld, he was ostracized, he was put out to pasture.
This is the kind of thing—you need military expertise, professionalism, and they need to give advice. And if they can give advice, and they‘re going to be fired, then they‘re not going to give the kind of advice they need.
So this president has ignored the military, it‘s now ignored the allies. And now he‘s ignoring the election results. And the public is saying, We cannot afford the casualties, we cannot afford the costs, $8 billion a month, Keith. We‘re spending $2 billion a month on logistics alone.
So even a plan that starts to redeploy troops is going to cost us $5 or $6 or $7 billion a month until we get our troops out of there.
So we have to find a way to get our troops redeployed. And we‘re going to work on that for the next two or three months.
The president can announce a surge, but he‘s not going to have the support of the American public. And unless he has some consultation with the authorities in Congress, he‘s not going to have that kind of support either.
OLBERMANN: About support, a final question, Congressman. Do you think that the Democratic Party is united on this? If Senator Levin of Michigan said, as he did today, that he would conceivably listen to some surge if there were the appropriate kind of conditions to it, and guarantees that it would be temporary? Do you think you‘re going to have any trouble lining up as a position for the Democratic Party opposed to an escalation of the war in Iraq?
MURTHA: Keith, I think all of us are willing to listen to a plan that has an achievable mission for the military. So far, I have never seen -- When I spoke out a year ago, I said that this cannot—there‘s no military victory possible. I still believe that.
I have not seen a plan that came from the White House that was achievable. The military doesn‘t believe it, and now the troops on the ground doesn‘t believe it.
So I‘d have to see a plan—I cannot believe they can come up with a plan after four years that‘s going to have—is going to be achievable. But we‘re—in the next three, four months, we‘re going to look at every single request they make, and we‘re going to make it very hard for them to get the money unless they can prove that they need it for what‘s going on in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: I believe that‘s how the government was intended to work. Congressman John Murtha, as of today, officially, the new chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Great thanks for some of your time and your insight tonight, sir.
MURTHA: Nice to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And for more still on this momentous day here in the nation‘s capital, let‘s call in our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”
Dana, good evening.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Do the postgame show on what Congressman Murtha said there. Did he, in fact, just say that they will be going line by line on virtually every appropriation for Iraq? And if so, what does that mean, practically?
MILBANK: Well, that‘s what he was saying. But let‘s listen to what he didn‘t say, and that is that he did not say that he‘s prepared to cut off funds for Iraq. That‘s what Cindy Sheehan wanted when she sort of hijacked the Democrats‘ press conference yesterday. That‘s what some of the most far left members of the caucus, like Dennis Kucinich, want. They want to cut off funding.
He did all kinds of dodging and weaving when you asked him on that point. He said, We‘re going to have hearings, he‘s saying even the redeployment is going to cost a considerable amount of money.
So he‘s—we‘re seeing that even one of the most aggressive members of the caucus in opposition to the Iraq war is being somewhat cautious here in terms of cutting off the funding. And if the Democrats are not going to cut off the funding for the Iraq war, they don‘t have a whole lot of say when it comes to matters like the surge.
OLBERMANN: But about the surge and about the president, Dana, Mr. Bush saying at his meeting with the German chancellor, Merkel, not that she has nice shoulders tonight, but that he will outline his way forward next week. And maybe the timing is settled, but is the way itself decided on? Might all that talk of sacrifice and victory and 20,000 more troops have been a trial balloon turned into a lead balloon? Is there some sort of forced compromise coming on this?
MILBANK: It certainly might be. It seems, from every indication, that there is no set White House policy still at this point, which is why it had been put off for so much time even before the new year. So nothing is set there.
I think we also have to keep in context, the kind of a surge that we‘re talking about is by itself a symbolic measure. It‘s not the 200,000, 300,000 troops that would actually change conditions on the ground there. That‘s off the table.
And I think what Senator Levin was talking about today, there‘s some sort of a talk of a fig-leaf notion here, a small number of troops being sent for a period of time, coupled with the ultimate pullback, with some sort of a timetable involved.
That‘s hardly—that‘s a lot of symbolism and is hardly a very serious military surge.
OLBERMANN: The seriousness and the symbolism of this big picture of the turnover of power, it happened today, the honeymoon for the Democrats obviously ended yesterday or Tuesday. The Republicans began complaining that the Democrats would treat them the way they used to treat the Democrats, right?
MILBANK: Which is a truly frightening thing, if you‘re in the Republican Party. It‘s remarkable how both sides can switch very quickly. In 2004, Nancy Pelosi was circulating the minority bill of rights, so of course the Republicans ignored her then, and yesterday they came out with Nancy Pelosi‘s minority bill of rights. And, of course, you can expect Nancy Pelosi to do to them exactly what she did—what they did to her.
OLBERMANN: This news from the White House, how does this fit in to everything about the resignation of the White House counsel, Harriet Miers, the ill-fated choice for the Supreme Court who had to be withdrawn, amid the complaints from the right? Is there some indication that the White House is readying itself for a real legal bulldog to be in the role of White House counsel? Because whatever else happens between the Democrats and Republicans now in Congress, they‘re going to require investigations and people who can sign the receipts on the subpoenas?
MILBANK: They sure are getting ready for that. The Miers thing may be more of a personnel issue. You‘ve seen with Khalilzad, with Negroponte, a lot of the generals, a whole lot of changeover for the last two years of the administration here. But clearly, they are preparing for a large number of subpoenas. That‘s something the Democrats are going to avoid doing in the very early days here.
The White House strategy, regardless of the personnel, is clear, they‘re going to stiff Congress every which way they can, which is not unlike what the Clinton White House did to the Republican Congress. So clearly, they have a whole bunch of sort of pit bulls already assembled in the White House, and in the Justice Department. Certainly one of them will wind up replacing Miers.
OLBERMANN: What will the administration pushback against this new Congress be? Is it going to be possible to demonize Pelosi after what happened today?
MILBANK: Well, not with all those grandkids up there. She sure has a lot of them. (INAUDIBLE)...
OLBERMANN: They weren‘t all hers.
MILBANK: The problem is, you can‘t keep bringing the kids back, you can‘t keep bringing the grandchildren back. You have to remember that Tom DeLay was very big into foster parenting, but that did not stop him from being demonized. You‘re going to hear a lot about San Francisco liberals. And Nancy Pelosi is a very careful politician, was very solid today, but has a way of giving the Republicans some fodder in terms of the things she lets slip at the occasional news conference.
So it‘ll be tough work for the Republicans. But you can demonize anybody in this game.
OLBERMANN: Yes, just get the coronation over with, and everybody get to work. And that‘s probably the Democrats‘ best strategy from here on in.
Dana Milbank of MSNBC and “The Washington Post.” As always, Dana, great thanks for your time tonight.
MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And what about the Senate? The new Intelligence Committee chairman, Jay Rockefeller joins us here on prewar intelligence and midwar escalation.
And pushing the legal envelope, literally. President Bush gave himself the right to open and read your mail. Senator Rockefeller on that, Jonathan Turley on the latest violation of privacy, next.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: First it was the warrantless eavesdropping on domestic phone calls and e-mails. Then the administration decided the same authority is grounds for physical searches of terrorism suspects and their homes or offices, warrant optional.
But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the president not yet done, going a little Luddite on us. A new claim of power, the authority to open the mail of any American without a warrant, justified—loosely, perhaps—by national security.
In today‘s “New York Daily News,” the president used one of those signing statements, now infamous, where he signed a bill passed by Congress, and then issued a statement on the parts that the executive will use and execute as he pleases. In other words, turning it on its head.
What he signed on December 20 of last year, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. The exceptional power he claimed in his statement, though, being revealed more than a month after the Democratic Congress had been elected, but obviously just before it took power. And a pushback by Congress may finally be in the works. More on that later with Senator Rockefeller.
Top Senate intelligence aides told “The Daily News,” quote, “It‘s something we‘re looking into.” Amen.
It‘s a pleasure to be joined in the studio by our friend, the constitutional law expert, professor at George Washington University, Jonathan Turley.
Good to see you in the flesh, sir.
JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Thanks.
OLBERMANN: And not in Guantanamo Bay, after the way we‘ve talked the last couple of months.
Is this a new high and low? I mean, we had the wiretapping, we had the e-mails, we had phone calls, we had all that. But here‘s a president who basically drafts, amends, and signs his own laws, making the rest of the government superfluous, right?
TURLEY: Well, that‘s the amazing thing about that signing picture of all these legislators grinning as he signs a law that he is in the very process of rewriting, and saying, I don‘t have to do any of this. And that‘s part of the problem. We have a system that has survived this long, because it‘s stable, it has this divided government, these shared powers.
This is a president who still remains uncomfortable within that constitutional skin. He just has a hard time playing well with the other branches.
OLBERMANN: But what do you—how—what kind of response can there be to that? Because if a bill specifically says, You can‘t open first class mail without a warrant, and he says, No, no, that‘s fine, yes, but, I‘m going to open some first-class mail without a warrant, do you stop him with another law? Can he simply attach a signing statement to a law saying you can‘t do this that says, Oh, yes, I can?
TURLEY: Well, that is obviously the problem, is that you have a president who‘s not recognizing a fundamental tenet of our constitutional system that he constitutionally took an oath to protect. But there is a bill that has been offered by a Republican, Specter, that tells courts not to obey, not to follow these signing statements. That‘s one step that they can take.
But the most important one is hearings to pull in the attorney general, to pull in some of these officials and say, We‘re not going to get anything done until we go back and review the rules of this game. It‘s just like being in the middle of World Series and having one team just reinvent the game and say they‘re going to use a beach ball or something. It—it just—you can‘t finish the game.
OLBERMANN: What‘s the purpose, though, of these tricks, these charlatans‘ (ph) deployments? Because could he not -- (INAUDIBLE) apart from what‘s already on the books regarding opening dangerous mail or threatening mail or, you know, mail that may be vital to the national security—apart from what‘s already there, can he not get a special order when necessary for things that—isn‘t it—or does he not already have the power he is stealing in this case?
TURLEY: Well, yes, he actually can easily get a warrant. I mean, there‘s no judge on earth that would prevent the president from opening a letter that he believes has a bomb in it. In fact, the courts have recognized that‘s already an exigent circumstance.
And that has led a lot of people to wonder what‘s really behind some of these things. And there‘s a lot of us that have become cynics in the last few years. We believe—at least, I believe—that there‘s a great deal of illegality that‘s occurred under this administration, including possible crimes.
And by having signing statements like this, the president preserves the argument that he was acting on the collar (ph) of law, that he all along read this in a particular way, even though nobody else did. And so there‘s a suspicion that just before the Democrats started to investigate, the signing statements are continuing to lay some plausible deniability that they didn‘t violate the law knowingly.
OLBERMANN: Does that mean that one of these two statements is necessarily true, either that the president and only a handful of others know of some monstrous plot against us that involves plotters who send each other notes by mail and e-mail and make phone calls to each other, or that, two, the president is still taking advantage of 9/11 and is taking for himself powers against which we had a revolution in this country in the 18th century?
TURLEY: Well, it‘s hard to believe that the next al Qaeda is going to be sent by a letter, some Dear John letter that‘s going to be opened by the president and busted open.
You know, the fact is, this president has an obsession with this concept of an absolute ruler, the absolutely president. And he‘s surrounded himself with fairly radical law professors who told him what he wanted to hear, that you could take a citizen off the street, unilaterally strip him of all of his rights, hold him until you wanted to release him, if at all.
And people like Viet Din (ph) and others told him that. And so they facilitated this obsession. And you still see that. He will not let go of this idea that he has this type of Caesar-like authority.
OLBERMANN: Well, as you well know, and the only thing I remember from a prelaw class, was that ignorance of the law, or ignorance that you‘re getting bad advice about the law, is no excuse.
Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, always a pleasure and an education, especially in person. Thank you, sir.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right.
Also tonight, no, this is not the celebratory ball for the opening of the 110th Congress, though it does constitute a tough night for creationists. We‘ll explain that.
And proof that sometimes good things do happen to good people. A New York hero who risked his own life to save another subway passenger gets at least some of the accolades he deserves.
That‘s ahead. This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1581, James Ussher (ph) was born. Later in life as the archbishop of Armaugh (ph) in Ireland, he Ireland, he analyzed the Bible and concluded the earth has been created on October 23, 4004 B.C., at 9:00 in the morning. In an effort to match his logic, to find out when Bishop Ussher had been created, later on they cut him open and counted his rings.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Nepal, where members of one tribal community are trying to revive the traditional monkey dance, and you know what, we‘re willing to do our part to revive it too, but here‘s a little hint guys, needs more monkeys. Not that watching men with big fury tails dance around in circles is not entertaining, but what makes a great monkey dance is the tensions that always accompanies the risk of sudden poo flinging. For that you need real monkeys. Check back with you guys next year, B minus.
To the Internets where these guys get a B plus. I‘ve got feeling that‘s going to drive their GPA‘s up significantly. One of the golden rules of the Inter-web, if I‘m going to waste three minutes of my life watching your video, I want to know you wasted about three years of your life making it.
Also tonight, if Jack Murtha has got financing of the war covered in the House, then it‘s Jay Rockefeller overseeing the pre war intelligence in the Senate. The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee joins us next. Keep watching the skies. The F.A.A. denies it received reports about a U.F.O. over one of Chicago‘s airports, then admits it, that‘s through the freedom of information act. Those stories ahead, but now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of the day.
Number three, Randy Johnson. We told you here Tuesday that a source close to the baseball veteran insisted he would be traded by the New York Yankees, probably by the end of the week, probably back to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Today he was. The Yankees get a relief pitcher, and three prospects from Arizona, two pitchers and a shortstop named Alberto Gonzales. One of the pitchers is named Harriet Myers. I quit.
Number two, Geraldo Rivera, his endlessly promoted syndicated Fox smarm-fest, Geraldo at Large, has been canceled. I told you you should have called it Geraldo Has Escaped.
And number one, George Alex Martinez of Longmont, Colorado, dumb criminal of the week. Robs a bank, takes drawers full of cash with him, leaves his wallet. Says a local detective, quote, that really helps us out. You think?
OLBERMANN: While much of the attention today focused on the House, the chamber often seen, to put it indelicately, as the grown ups also changed hands by the slimmest of margins, a margin made all the more tenuous by one Democrat Senator‘s recent health problems.
The Democrats now control the Senate. We cannot know which hearing or even which committee, but in our number three story in the COUNTDOWN, we can say with relative certainty that we will see history made this year. The Democratic Senate puts the constitutional notion of checks and balances to the test in a stunning array of likely conflicts with the Bush administration, over Katrina, over no bid contracts, over energy policies, over Guantanamo Bay, over renditioning, over torture, over habeas corpus, over warrantless searches, over 9/11 intelligence, over Iraq intelligence, and much more.
Joining us now, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, who‘s role as the new chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence puts him on the front line of coming clashes between the White House and the Democratic and the Democratic Senate. Senator Rockefeller, great thanks for your time tonight.
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Thank you, Keith, very much. I hope the fighting isn‘t between the White House and the Congress, but we are doing an effective job with the war and terror and al Qaeda all across the world. But, you know, we‘ll see how that works out.
OLBERMANN: That would be preference, I think, in all quarters. To the question of intelligence, per se, in a moment, but let me start with Senator Levin‘s comments that he could listen to arguments for a surge in Iraq with conditions. Can the country listen to that now, or was the November election pretty clear that people want fewer troops in Iraq, not more?
ROCKEFELLER: Actually, I know Carl very, very well, and I am a little surprised that he said that, because he‘s been very—it‘s a conviction that I have shared that at this point, whether you surge 20,000 or 40,000, it really isn‘t going to—it‘s going to end up with the same thing. There is no military solution. And the thing that I use is that 60 percent of all shots that are taken to individuals in Iraq, by anybody, are at Americans. So more people there, more people to be shot at.
OLBERMANN: The issue of intelligence that is before us. It means a lot of different things, but it would still seem that pre-war intelligence looms not just largest, but overwhelmingly largest, how are you going to get to the truth about what happened in this area, in 2002 and 2003, if the White House is already refusing to turn over documents?
ROCKEFELLER: The White House refusal to turn over documents is a problem. For example, authorization, you know, different things which they have, which under the National Security Act we have a right, on the Intelligence Committee, to have. They have been very selective in what they allow us to see. Having said that, I think that we can find some way to work our way through this.
You know, Keith, if I can just be honest with you, I really—I am really sick of the way the Congress has been behaving together with the administration over the past five years. It‘s been neither side cooperating, doing anything with the other side. Congress can‘t do anything without the president; the president cannot do anything without us. If the country wants two years more of this stalemate, then I must have misread the election results.
OLBERMANN: The subject here is obviously very personal for you. Your letter to the vice president from the 17th of July, 2003, it spoke of your lingering concerns about the domestic surveillance, after you were partially, I guess that‘s the correct terminology, partially briefed about that surveillance. Obviously you were seriously hamstrung when you wrote that, even when you revealed the existence of the letter.
Is there more that can you say about the letter and that topic, as of today, in your new role?
ROCKEFELLER: No there isn‘t. I can say that I have also written the vice president again, on pretty much the same matter. So it‘s not just that single letter. But, the problem is, if you are doing something like listening to peoples‘ conversations, there are certain rules. I am not against the doing of that, provided it follows the law, the constitution, and is done ethically, and it‘s done, you know, with a warrant.
OLBERMANN: And this dovetails with the report today, in the “New York Daily News,” of the president‘s signing statement, authorizing him to open mail. The would be a trifecta. That‘s phone calls, the Internet and mail. Can a president simply write his own law, permitting him to engage in what amounts to personal spying, domestic spying, and if not, what are you going to do about it?
ROCKEFELLER: I don‘t think that that can be done. The president obviously took the War Powers Act to mean a full range of authority, that he could do really anything that he wanted to. I think he has made it much broader to suit his purposes, and he regards Congress as a nuisance, because, frankly, we are going to do much harder oversight than has been the case in the last four or five years.
OLBERMANN: Senator Jay Rockefeller, the new chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, on day one of that, thank you for some of your time on this vital first day, in this vital position.
ROCKEFELLER: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the praise and the rewards, and the political exploitation now flooding in for the New York City subway hero. And late report of more heroism in Big town.
And Tara Conner, is Donald Trump‘s Miss U.S.A. really going from rehab to the cover of Playboy? It kind of proves Rosie O‘Donnell‘s point about Mr. Trump, does it not. Details ahead here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Old prejudices about not relying on the kindness of strangers in New York City are not precisely true. You lost a shoe heel, something else small, forget about it. Big stuff? Get a New Yorker any day.
This morning in the Bronx a pair of brothers caught a toddler who had fallen out of an open window, four stories up, saving the child‘s life. And two days ago, another life was saved when Wesley Autry jumped in front of a moving train to help a stricken man who had fallen onto the subway tracks. Now, in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Autry is being offered everything from medals to TV appearances, to scholarships for his children.
As our correspondent Rahima Ellis reports, he continues to insist he is not a hero, and publicity conscious politicians and businessman continue to see him as an opportunity.
RAHIMA ELLIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, in a suit and tie, Wesley Autry, the construction worker turned hero, was honored at New York City Hall by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: It is my great pleasure to introduce a great man.
ELLIS: His two young daughters, who cried through their father‘s remarkable act of bravery, today smiled as he accepted New York‘s bronze medallion, the city‘s highest award for citizenship.
WESLEY AUTRY, SUBWAY HERO: What I did is something that any and every New Yorker should do.
ELLIS: But Tuesday, this 50-year-old Navy veteran did what few people could. In a split second decision, Autry jumps to rescue a stranger, who had fallen onto subway tracks, pinned into a narrow gap between the rails as the train barrelled over them, with only inches to spare, both men survived.
New York‘s Super-man now has become a coast-to-coast celebrity, featured on the national news, David Letterman, and inspired many to offer him rewards.
DONALD TRUMP, “THE APPRENTICE”: This is a brave man. So, congratulations.
ELLIS: Donald Trump gave him 10,000 dollars.
AUTRY: This is will by daughter‘s college, college tuition.
ELLIS: There is a 5,000 dollar check and scholarship offers for his daughters from the film school where the man he rescued is a student. A paid vacation for his family to Disney World. And yep, a year‘s worth of free rides on the subway.
AUTRY: I am going to enjoy my 15 minutes of fame.
ELLIS: Tonight humbly accepted by a man who says he was just in the right place at the right time.
Rahima Ellis, NBC News, New York.
OLBERMANN: On to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, keeping tabs, and now that Donald Trump has given Miss U.S.A. a second chance by sending her to rehab, he may also allow her to appear on cover of Playboy magazine. Miss U.S.A. Tara Conner, scheduled to be out of the rehab clinic in a week and a have—she had gone there after some unseemly partying in a club, and after the Donald, who co-owns the Miss U.S.A. pageant, resisted the temptation to say, you‘re fired.
But now comes the offer from Playboy to pose, ostensibly just for the cover, which Trump is considering, quoting, one of the reasons my pageant‘s are popular is that we have kept up with times. We are looking at it very seriously, as, I guess, would readers of the magazine.
Meanwhile the self described princess of America, Paris Hilton, has been fired from two clubs that were named after her. Club Paris in Orlando and in Jacksonville, the owners saying the establishments will no longer be associated with Mrs. Hilton because she does not show up for scheduled appearances.
The hotel heiress had no comment on the pesky night club issue, but she did tell Australian Cosmo that she has a new bed fellow. Quote, yes, I have kissed a lot of guys, I like to kiss, but that‘s it. I don‘t go home with anyone. I sleep with my animals, like my baby monkey, Brigitte Bardeaux (ph).
Could have been worse. Could have been aliens, like the once in the U.F.O. That, it proves, was indeed reported over Chicago. That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest lists of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
And the bronze, and I kind of feel bad about this one, but only kind of, the late Marvin Dixon of Toledo, killed when the porch roof on a vacant house collapsed on top of him. Mr. Dixon was trying to steal the iron supports from the roof when it collapsed on top of him.
Our runner up, Bill-O, evidently responding to Tuesday‘s special comment, he told his steadily decreasing audience, you also heard an NBC commentator say President Bush is allowing Americans to be killed in Iraq for money and other insane stuff. OK slappy, I mean, I realize ten minutes is a long time for you to pay attention unless there‘s porn, but the phrase killed in Iraq for money and other insane stuff even makes you look more dim-witted than usual. War profiteering. Have one of your producers let go of the Falafel and look it up for you.
But the winner, Senator John McCain of Arizona told us today that he knew that the war in Iraq was, quote, probably going to be long and hard and tough, and that he was sorry for anybody who voted for it that thought it would be some kind of an easy task. Senator McCain, on CNN, on September 24th, 2002, I believe that the success will be fairly easy. Senator McCain on CNN on September 29th, 2002, we‘re not going to have a blood letting of trading American bodies for Iraqi bodies.
Senator McCain on this network on January 22nd, 2003, we will win this conflict. We will win it easily. What‘s that called again, flip flopping?
Senator, we keep all the tapes of these interviews, come on. Senator John McCain of Arizona, both of him, today‘s worst persons in the world.
OLBERMANN: For science enthusiasts they provide tantalizing glimpses into the wider cosmos. For science fiction enthusiasts, they provide evidence that Ming the Merciless is indeed targeting this obscure planet.
Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, unidentified flying objects and unexplained attacks from outer space. One visitor from the skies was strong enough to break threw the roof, break bathroom floor tiles and embed itself in the wall of a home in Feehold Township, in New Jersey, a kidney-shaped chunk of something, with a dull metallic exterior.
Police have ruled out it was part of a plane, now believe it might be a small meteor, or perhaps the first salvo of Ming‘s hot hail attack.
And then there‘s the story you may have already heard bout, the United Airlines employees who swear it was something other worldly in skies above Chicago‘s O‘Hare Airport on November 7th, but neither the FAA, nor indeed their own employer, appears to be taking them seriously. “Chicago Tribune” interviewing several people anonymously, including maintenance workers, baggage handlers and pilots, who each and all described a dark gray, saucer-like object that hovered low over Concourse C, what is it, C of the United Airlines terminal, just before sunset, before shooting off into the sky.
This isn‘t a picture of it. That‘s a plane. Some say it moved so fast it literally punched a hole in the clouds. United airlines claims it had no record of the sighting, even though employees say they filled out reports. The F.A.A. initially told the Tribune that it had no information on the U.F.O. Then, after the newspaper filed paperwork under the Freedom of Information Act, the F.A.A. turned up a call from a United Airlines supervisor to the airport control tower, asking whether the object was on radar. And now the agency has concluded it was, quote, weather phenomenon, and it considers this case closed.
As we always do when the mysteries of space elude our feeble understanding, we turn to the chief astronomer for the Franklin Institute, Derrick Pitts. Derrick, thanks for being with us again.
DERRICK PITTS, FRANKLIN INSTITUTE: My pleasure Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right, let‘s start with the U.F.O. sighting at O‘Hare. When it‘s pilots saying this, do we have to listen? What is it they could have seen, but not been able to identify?
PITTS: Well that‘s a really difficult question to answer, because there are all kinds of sky phenomena that could have manifested themselves, even though the F.A.A. says it was some kind of weather situation. There are lots of different things that could be seen in the sky. A lot of them are actually unexplainable, but that doesn‘t necessarily mean that they are alien spacecraft.
Now, seeing that it came at this close to the holiday, I wonder if it was a little holiday cheer involved here, Keith, or maybe it was the specter of high jet fuel prices, or something like that. I‘m not sure. But the idea that they would suddenly turn up this report really is a little suspicious to me. Although, you would think that pilots would be able to describe, pretty accurately, these odd things that they do see. I‘m sure there are many of them. The question though is, is it just an unidentified flying object, or if it actually was an alien spacecraft. We‘ll have to hear from the aliens to find out.
OLBERMANN: Yes, the file footage we always show for U.F.O. stories, again, this was just a plane, was actually taken by the Mexican Air Force, and that government at least acknowledges we don‘t have a clue what this is. Why can‘t the U.S. government just say, we don‘t have a clue what this is that the United Airlines workers might have seen on November 7th? Why do we get this one version of the story, followed by a Freedom of Information Act measure, and then another version of the story?
PITTS: I don‘t know why they would do something like that. It‘s a completely legitimate response to say, I don‘t know. There are plenty of phenomena that aren‘t identifiable immediately, and this could certainly be one of them. So, rather than create this air of suspicious and all this other stuff that they have going on, it‘s much better for them to just say I don‘t know.
And you would think the number of objects that get seen by pilots over and over again, that would immediately crop up.
OLBERMANN: It seems to me that the likeliest conclusion here is that the aliens have landed many years ago in this country, in this world, with one goal in mind, to create conspiracy theories and then just sit back and enjoy them.
PITTS: And I think they‘re doing a great job at that.
OLBERMANN: They are. Unlike the Mexican Air Force pictures, there‘s no video of what these guys at United Airlines may have seen. So does something happen now? There‘s no visual form of evidence to back them up.
PITTS: Unfortunately, the only thing that they have to go on is just the reports provided by the pilots and the baggage handlers that saw it. It is possible that someone might try to create an actual U.F.O. report. There is an organization that does take these eyewitness viewings of these things and try to make scientific sense of what they actually were, so that they could get to the bottom of whether or not it‘s unidentified or whatever. But in this instance, if there‘s no corroboration anywhere, for example, the F.A.A. has no radar record or anything of that sort, it‘s going to be pretty tough to tie this down as something other than, gosh, we don‘t know what they saw.
OLBERMANN: Plus, if they‘re intelligent aliens, they would have known that at that hour of the day, you don‘t fly into O‘Hare, you go to Midway to avoid ramp saturation. Let me ask you lastly about the thing in New Jersey. Is that meteor, moon rocks, space debris, Ming‘s revenge, what was that?
PITTS: High school students down the street with a big sling shot, throwing things into the building. This one is going to be a little easier to come to an answer on, because all that has to be done is just analyze the object and figure out what the material is. It‘s quite simple to figure out whether or not it‘s of terrestrial, of terrestrial origin, and that will tell us right away whether it‘s a meteorite.
First of all, it looks like it has all the signs. It came through the ceiling. Nobody really knows where it came, from but if they just check out the material, they‘ll know from there.
OLBERMANN: Yes, it‘s real shiny and you have to throw it real hard to get it through a roof. Derrick Pitts, the chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, as always sir, great thanks for your time.
PITTS: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right, that‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,342nd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. From Washington, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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