Guests: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Dana Milbank, John Dean, Tom O‘Neil
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
With one war-funding bill passed by Congress and another funding bill under consideration in Congress, the president tries to persuade the American people that Congress is refusing to fund the troops.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: You just shouldn‘t give me straight lines like that, sir, you just shouldn‘t.
And another one, the troops don‘t even need anything more. Things are going just splendidly in Iraq, so splendidly, the president resorts to citing anonymous Iraqi bloggers about just how good it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: “Stores that were long shut are now reopening. We feel safer about moving in the city now.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator John McCain echoes the spin, and also don‘t cite anyone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: The surge is working far better than even the most optimistic supporter had predicted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Working so well, there are certain areas of Baghdad where, quote, “you and I could walk through today.” We‘ll truth-squad that.
Freezing out Fredo. His chief of staff testifies tomorrow. His counsel has promised to plead the Fifth. And nobody in the White House or the administration seems ready to vouch for him. Is Alberto Gonzales about to go out on his last fishing trip on the lake?
John Dean will join us.
Just when will this guy go away? Unfortunately, the answer may be, never.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you are in your own universe, and it‘s people like you, good luck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And good grief.
Time for some real superstars. Just who will get the not-so-coveted Keithy Awards? Internet superstars, nonporn division. Sorry about the “non” part.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
The Internet mavens at Google recently reported that the average blog is read by an average of exactly one person. Tonight, somewhere in Baghdad, two bloggers are boasting, We found our reader, President Bush descending today into a defense of the entire war by quoting two dentists who are blogging about how much better things have been lately.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it‘s not quite Nixon talking to the paintings of Lincoln and Kennedy in the Watergate summer of 1974, but it will do. And if that‘s not surreal enough for you, wait, there‘s more.
After the historic vote last night, in which the Senate, like the House, decided to lay down a timeline for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq as part of a massive $122 billion funding bill, members of that (INAUDIBLE) debated other elements of the bill. The one thing not being debated, the one element both parties agree on, is giving that money to the president to ensure that U.S. troops have the supplies and equipment and resources they need.
And yet, on this same day, the president has warned Congress that it must give him the money as soon as possible, and in the same breath, promised to veto the very bill now in the works to give him that money as soon as possible.
It is quite possibly the first budget debate to be scripted by George Orwell, with illustrations by M.C. Escher.
The salient points are these. The Senate, like the House before it, now on track, expected this week to approve an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that includes funding for many domestic expenses, including controversial measures such as peanut storage, but also disaster relief for farmers as well as health care for poor children, the lion‘s share, however, $100 billion, slated for the Pentagon.
The Defense Department says it needs the money by April 15, but Democrats say they were told May 1, and Democrat Jack Murtha reportedly says military brass told him the real date is June 1.
The central sticking point is a series of dates mandatory in the House bill, guidelines in the Senate, for gradual departure of U.S. forces starting in four months, culminating in the complete departure of combat soldiers by fall 2008 at the latest, while still retaining troops in Iraq for security and counterterrorism training.
The president today objected bitterly to any restrictions on the money. In a speech at the Holiday Inn on the Hill in Washington, before the National Cattleman‘s Beef Association, a speech which, in terms of factuality, seemed to be more hat than cattle. His claims about the state of Baghdad by the blogger will get more scrutiny a little later on in this newshour.
But first, let‘s start with what he said today about the Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Members of Congress need to stop making political statements and start providing battle funds for our troops. Need to get that bill to my desk so I can sign it into law. Now, some of them believe that by delaying funding for our troops, they can force me to accept restrictions on our commanders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Going point by point, many if not most of the political statements being made recently are the results of Republicans who are trying, as is their right, to shape the bill to the president‘s liking. That having been said, no one in either party is trying to delay the funds. And, in fact, both Democrats and Republicans have worked together to get the bill, as the president said, to his desk quickly, so he can sign it into law.
And yet the president, in the same speech, made clear that when it does reach his desk, he has no intention of signing it into law, even if that means he will delay the funds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I have made it clear for weeks, if either version comes to my desk, I‘m going to veto it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Despite acknowledging that the funding bill is coming his way, despite his promise to veto it, the president said he will not be to blame.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: On that, at least, Mr. Bush may prove to be more prophetic than he can understand.
Democrats, however, did not miss the obvious threat, the leadership in Congress today suggesting, however, that this standoff need not turn into an impasse, and in the space of 51 seconds, House Speaker Pelosi managed to assert the right of Congress to oversee funding, managed to open the door for compromise, managed to sneak in a jab on her way out, and, in an act of political judo, use the urgency of the funding to underscore mounting concerns about the president‘s leadership.
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER: Why would he be saying to us, We‘re running out of money, and we need—it‘s only a few weeks? Leadership would have required for him to have anticipated his needs.
But this is a war without end, where the president is used to a blank check. This president is not getting any more blank checks from the Congress. This Congress will hold him accountable for the conduct of this war, and we will have legislation that will give him every dollar he asks for for our troops, and more, but with accountability in there.
What the president is saying, Give me the money, but don‘t expect me to be accountable. That‘s what the president is saying.
So I say to the president, You‘re the president, we‘re the Congress.
Let‘s work together for the American people. Take a deep breath, Mr.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Breathing along with us, Dana Milbank, our political analyst, also, of course, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”
Dana, as always, great thanks.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
OLBERMANN: Let me start the big picture here, what Speaker Pelosi said there, what Harry Reid said today about the president, which was, “His arrogance is getting real out of touch with what‘s going on with reality,” and the president quoting these two blogger dentists. Is there an implication in what‘s being said here, not just that people might think he‘s out of touch or in denial, but it‘s something clinical, something that might be like Nixon talking to the paintings?
MILBANK: Well, you don‘t want to write off the notion of talking to paintings. I think they‘re the only ones that are not giving the president bad news at this particular moment in time. And they‘re certainly not giving him news like General Barry McCaffrey is, who‘s made his presentation today, saying to the White House, saying the population in Iraq is in despair, the mission is in strategic peril. And this is a guy who‘d been fairly enthusiastic about things before.
So the president‘s having a particularly difficult time, not just with Democrats, you have Chuck Hagel now saying, you know, Look, Mr. President, this isn‘t a monarchy, we tried that once.
OLBERMANN: The president‘s prediction regarding who the country will blame if the funding bill is vetoed or does not go through the way he wants it, is even he not capable of the sleight-of-hand convincing enough to veto a funding bill and then say, The devil Congress made me do it?
MILBANK: Well, you don‘t want to dismiss the possibility that he can win that battle somehow. It‘s very hard to tell how that plays out. But if you listened to his speech today, he sort of has a fallback plan, and that is, he‘s talking, and making a very legitimate point, about all the pork that‘s in this legislation. The Senate has literally has money in here to promote Christmas trees.
So, you know, if the—the very fact that the president is going before the Cattleman‘s Beef Association and talking about pork would indicate he‘s got sort of a plan B here.
OLBERMANN: Something on the menu here. We might be trying the other, you know, chicken dinner or something.
What, what—but what -- Now, on the other hand, on the possibility of an imp—of a—of this impasse, not becoming an impasse, but there being some sort of agreement here, what would the nature of that be, and which is more important to the Democratic leadership, legislating this timeline, mandatory or otherwise, or leveraging a congressional role for the conflict?
MILBANK: Well, the goal, obviously, is the timeline. But it seems pretty clear that they would settle for some sort of a role in the discussion here. It‘s—we can sort of see where this plays out and to the point at which it reaches the president‘s desk, and there is a veto. At some point, somebody is going—you know, it‘s a game of chicken, and somebody is going to have to give in. It‘s very hard to game that out right now and see how it works out. It‘s going to be very fascinating to watch.
OLBERMANN: The White House, the Republican Party, has been painting the Democrats as defeatists, especially in the last couple of days, as this has neared that veto point. What is to stop the Democrats at this point from flipping the equation and saying, No, no, we want to leave because we think our troops already did what they want there for, we won, taking out the threat that Mr. Bush sent them to go and take out.
Would the—would that force the president in this battle, this really nip and tuck battle over who gets the upper hand here, to say, No, I‘m sorry, the troops have failed, we have to keep them there, and then he defines whatever mission it is he thinks they have failed at?
MILBANK: Well, we have to be careful about the whole Mission Accomplished thing (INAUDIBLE), the question of how many flight suits you can get for the Democrats, and how many planes would be required to take them to the battleship. But it certainly is something very much like Jack Murtha has been saying, the troops accomplished what we sent them there to do, they‘ve done all that they can.
But, you know, given that the large majority of the American public views the whole situation in Iraq as a disaster, you don‘t want to sort of be dueling with the administration in terms of who is more out of touch with reality at this point.
OLBERMANN: Yes, it‘s going to be a big, big fight, if you try to take the White House on on the unreality meter.
Our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of “The Washington Post.” As always, Dana, our greatest thanks.
MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: It is one of the most dangerous cities on earth. Yet according to Senator McCain, parts of Baghdad are safe enough to take a stroll through. Maybe he‘s actually the blogger in Baghdad.
He‘s fighting the right to keep his aides out of the U.S. attorney investigation. But how hard is the president willing to fight for his attorney general?
John Dean with the latest on Gonzales-gate. He‘ll join us.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Progress in Iraq has often been marked by President Bush, especially when he needed most to prop up public support. Further strain is showing, now that the president is citing reports from Iraqi bloggers.
In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Senator John McCain is not only mirroring the president‘s statements about the early success of the surge, he is often going well beyond them, even if he has to then back away from some of the claims almost immediately.
The senator made his pitch on the Senate floor yesterday, completely with a color-coded map.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: The Baghdad security plan, the surge is working far better than even the most optimistic supporter had predicted. The progress is tangible in many key areas, despite the fact that only 40 percent of the planned forces are in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: McCain‘s aides say it is the first time he has systematically addressed recent events in Iraq, and off the Senate floor, Mr. McCain went even further, saying in an interview, quote, “General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee.” When challenged on that statement today, the senator notably omitted any claims about unarmed Humvees, saying that he meant that there are neighborhoods that are safe, and that General Petraeus does go out into Baghdad.
Senator McCain also said that, quote, “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.”
More on the reality of that in a moment.
Meantime, President Bush today eager to cite an unimpeachable source.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I want to share with you how two Iraqi bloggers—they have bloggers are in Baghdad, just like we got here. (INAUDIBLE). “Displaced families are returning home. Marketplaces are seeing more activity. Stores that were long shuttered are now reopening. We feel safer about moving in the city now. Our people want to see this effort succeed. We hope the governments in Baghdad and America do not lose their resolve.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining us now, the associate editor of “The Washington Post,” former Baghdad bureau chief for the publication, also author of “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq‘s Green Zone,” Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
Thank you for your time again tonight, sir.
RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Good to be on with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Senator McCain also said on the Senate floor yesterday that, quote, “Markets subject to horrific car bombings have been turned into pedestrian malls.” Obviously, you can‘t gauge progress by only one measure, but there could be pockets of safety without overall security, as you well know. But can we just start with this? Conditions in (INAUDIBLE) Baghdad today are what?
CHANDRASEKARAN: Conditions are Baghdad today are still pretty grim. There are certain places where things have improved. I will hand McCain and the administration that point. But by and large, the city is still incredibly dangerous, incredibly dangerous to foreigners and dangerous to Iraqis.
I‘m in touch with Iraqis all the time. They‘re still living under an incredible climate of fear. They‘re still afraid to go out and about. They don‘t know whether the trip they‘re making to the market or the mosque or to work is going to be the last trip they ever make. So there‘s still a climate of fear. I don‘t think that the Iraqis would take the same sanguine view that Senator McCain has.
OLBERMANN: He also, Senator McCain, that is, made this comment that we cited earlier about the neighborhoods where you or I could walk today. He‘s backed away from that one too. He also said, if we fail in Iraq, bin Laden and Zarqawi are going to follow us, which was a neat trick, because Zarqawi is dead.
But I want to ask you about this assessment, Dana Milbank referenced it, from retired general Barry McCaffrey, who was recently in there with General Petraeus and 16 other senior U.S. commanders, and the general wrote- -- let me read this in full—“No Iraqi government official, coalition soldier, diplomat, reporter, foreign NGO,” nongovernmental organization individual, “nor contractor can walk the streets of Baghdad, nor Mosul, nor Kirkuk, nor Basra, nor Tikrit, nor Najaf, nor Ramadi without (INAUDIBLE) heavily armed protection.”
Is the distance between the kind of thing Senator McCain is saying and the reality on the ground, as General McCaffrey sees it, as great as it sounds, or are these just two people looking at two different parts of the same picture?
CHANDRASEKARAN: No, I think that there is a vast gulf there. And I -
you know, I think it‘s worth noting that General McCaffrey, a respected military leader, was just in Iraq. He‘s been there much more recently than Senator McCain has.
It‘s also worth noting, Keith, that just today, the U.S. embassy put out an all-hands bulletin to its personnel inside the green zone. The green zone‘s that fortified part of central Baghdad, guarded by hundreds of U.S. troops, surrounded by 17-foot-high concrete blast walls. The new directive, all embassy personnel must wear flak jackets and helmets any time they‘re leaving any building inside the green zone.
They‘re also not allowed to congregate by that palace pool, the site of some fairly raucous parties in recent years. And nonessential personnel are not even allowed inside the embassy compound. Why? Because insurgents have been pelting the green zone with literally dozens of rockets and mortars in recent days, and two Americans have been killed in the past week in these attacks.
So people inside the green zone, inside supposedly the most secure part of Baghdad, don‘t feel much safer this week than they did last week.
OLBERMANN: Anybody who‘s dealt with anything ranging from recipes to wars knows the danger of outdated information. Senator McCain has said repeatedly over the last couple of days, people are stuck in a time warp about Iraq, with information from three months ago. He suggests that critics are not looking at what‘s happening now. Is there validity to that point? And on the other side of the same point, can the trees and forests cliche apply to looking at a specific lull in a civil war like this one?
CHANDRASEKARAN: Yes, well, look, you know, you want to compare headlines today to headlines three months ago, I mean, today up in Tal Afar, a place in northern Iraq that President Bush a few months ago hailed as a great success story, well, what did you have? You know, yesterday you had twin car bombings, killing a lot of Shiites, and then apparently early today, you had Iraqi security forces marauding through the town, killing a lot of innocent Sunni civilians, this sort of sectarian tit for tat that has defined much of the conflict there.
Yes, I think it‘s dangerous to sort of say, Well, look, you know, today is much better than it was three months ago. Yes, they have improved here and there. I mean, we have to admit that in Baghdad, there have been some parts of the city that have improved. I think part of it is also not because the U.S. forces are there, it‘s because Shiite militia leaders have decided to rein in their forces.
It‘s a very complicated situation, but I think it‘s still too early to say that this surge is a unqualified success. Even administration officials say, More time is needed before we can judge the efficacy of it.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, I must ask you about the blog that the president cited today. It‘s now been identified. It‘s IraqTheModel.com. There‘s a pair of dentists who‘ve generally been sympathetic to the American mission. They met with the president in the Oval Office three years ago. But as late as last Friday, on the same blog, they said (INAUDIBLE) the administration, quote, “needs to revise the way it‘s been handling and planning for this critical war.” We‘re down to the president quoting a couple of dentists to prove that the surge is working?
CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, you know, there are dozens of Iraqi bloggers. And I dare say IraqTheModel is one of very, very few to be as rosy as it is, just notwithstanding some of their own skepticism about things and some of their own critical comments. I mean, those guys aren‘t idiots.
But, you know, if we do a more representative sample of what Iraqis are writing in their blogs, and I read a lot of them, you won‘t find as optimistic of a portrait as IraqTheModel portrays.
OLBERMANN: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the former Baghdad bureau chief for “The Washington Post.” Great thanks, again, for your time, sir.
CHANDRASEKARAN: Good to be on with you.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, his former chief of staff testifies under oath tomorrow about why Alberto Gonzales fired eight U.S. attorneys. We have breaking news about what will be in his initial statement. Will his testimony topple the attorney general?
And no, this is not a visual metaphor for Mr. Gonzales‘s support in Congress. It‘s a guy on skis, on an escalator, in a subway station.
And it‘s next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Fifty-seven years ago tonight, City College of New York did the impossible. Its basketball team won the NCAA championship tournament by beating Bradley. Ten days earlier, CCNY had already won the more prominent basketball tournament of the time, the NIT, same season, also by beating Bradley. People marveled at how CCNY had beaten the odds. Little did they know. It later turned out that a couple of CCNY players had taken money to deliberately lose three games during the regular season. Please remember, no wagering on this next segment. It is fixed.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in the Angel subway station in London, home of the longest escalator in Europe. And this is where we find Norwegian freestyle skier Arild (ph), who put a camera on his head and hit the slopes. Do not try this at home, nor in a subway station. You know, come to think of it, try it at home all you want. You can‘t possibly have an escalator that long in your house. Just don‘t do this in a London subway station. Police there are furious. They say they will arrest Arild for his reckless stunt, if they can catch him.
To the Internets, for another installment of our award-winning series, 575 Reasons Why Japanese Television Is Better Than Ours Is. Number 180, we never make game show contestants navigate a giant clock surrounded by whipped cream. Hey, boys and girls, what time is it? Time to take a shower, Skinny.
(INAUDIBLE) Germany, for a real-life King Kong story playing out at a local pond. Only it‘s a swan, who‘s fallen in love with a big paddleboat. Otherwise, it‘s just like King Kong. We‘re not sure what the real swan is hoping to get out of this relationship, but they make no more of an odd couple than do the world‘s tallest man and his new bride. That will make sense to you in a moment.
The fun is not over. The latest nominees for the first annual Keithy Awards are ahead, tonight‘s category, Internet Superstars, meaning nonporn, only slightly less nudity.
And will the attorney general or Harriet Miers or Karl Rove be exposed when Kyle Sampson testifies tomorrow? John Dean.
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Sylvester Stallone. At age 60, he is coming pack to do another Rambo movie for next year. Don‘t worry, because between the growth hormone they found him with in Australia and the 30-year-old body double, he‘s going to look fantastic.
Number two, Bao Xishun, of inner Mongolia, the world‘s tallest man, finally found love. He was married this week to saleswoman Xia Shu Jun (ph). He‘s 7‘9. She‘s 5‘6. This is the wedding photo. You can let your sick mind do the rest.
But number one, Toby, the two year old golden retriever. His owner Debby Parker of Calvert, Maryland, choked on an apple. Miss Calvert began to attempt the Heimlich maneuver on herself, unsuccessfully, whereupon Toby got up on his hind legs, knocked Miss Calvert down, and began jumping up and down on her chest, which helped dislodge the food. Toby can also purify poisoned springs, and writes his own blog about life in Baghdad.
OLBERMANN: Tonight, the Justice Department releasing more documents which threaten to further inflame the Justice Department scandal involving the firing eight U.S. attorneys for what, at best, leaves the sticky residue of apparent pure politics.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, an e-mail, just released to congressional investigators, in which Attorney General Gonzales‘ former Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson wanted the White House counsel to approve a Justice Department statement that, to its knowledge, Karl Rove played no role in the replacement of the U.S. attorney in Little Rock. He happened to be replaced by one of Rove‘s close aides.
Senator Chuck Schumer already reacting, saying, quote, in effect, the White House was involved in denying its own involvement. A growing number of Republicans see this story as a paralyzing distraction. Senator John Thune telling reporters today it steps on our message for sure. That could make tomorrow‘s testimony to the Senate by Mr. Sampson seem like River Dance.
The other imminent tangle for Gonzales involves Monica Goodling, the former Department of Justice White House liaison. White House e-mails indicating Miss Goodling took part in meetings about replacing attorneys, but she‘s telling senators she won‘t tell them anything. She‘ll plead the Fifth Amendment rather than answer their questions, a stance that FBI Director Robert Mueller thinks may be unprecedented for any employee at the Justice Department, ever.
Joining us now to preview tomorrow‘s testimony, White House counsel to Richard Nixon, John Dean, author, of course, of “Worse Than Watergate,” and “Conservatives Without Conscience.” John, good evening.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Late today the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Leahy and Mr. Schumer suggested there would not be a bombshell for Kyle Sampson. In fact, we have this statement, part of his opening statement, that indicates that he believes that everybody knew at Justice what was happening with the U.S. attorney firings, but none of it was political, and none of it was an effort to intervene or interfere with any ongoing investigation.
But this was before the latest e-mail. How does that e-mail change the playing field do you think?
DEAN: Well, I think it is going to be rather interesting for him up there. There‘s no question—let me back up. He was reported today as a good point guard, and very quick on his feet. So, I think we‘ll see some of that tomorrow when he testifies.
OLBERMANN: The latest USA poll, speaking on the subject of testimony, shows that Americans, by a margin of nearly three to one, want Congress to issue subpoenas, force the White House officials to testify in this case. Your latest column, you present a theory about why the president will never allow that to happen in a million years. Explain that theory. Expand on that theory for me. And if we won‘t allow to that to happen, gravity and logic and the laws of physics suggest he has to let something else happen instead. What would be that be?
DEAN: Well, it‘s a little bit more than a theory, Keith. I‘ve watched the conservatives over the last three decades, in particular, adopt the stance of really insisting, as part of their cannon, at least the hard right, that you have a strong president. One of the prerogatives of a president is to protect his staff from giving any information about the operations of the presidency. Bush has come down very hard on that. I think that‘s one of the reasons, since he does adopt and embrace that philosophy, he‘s not going to let anybody testify over his dead body, if you will.
I think he is really going push it. He also probably likes the distraction politically from other things that are going on.
OLBERMANN: Obviously something else has to go on to get him out of this, because there‘s a push to do this. The idea of whether or not anyone can invoke the Fifth or use Executive Privilege to cover conversations among White House staffers is completely untried. What does he do to let the wind out of this particular saga?
DEAN: Well, if it comes down to—you know, if he refuses to give and the Congress refuses to change its position, the next step is that the Congress has to declare somebody in contempt of Congress. At that stage, what happens is the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia then goes to court and takes it in front of a Grand Jury and decides whether or not you will prosecute the person who is in contempt of Congress.
It typically is resolved before it gets to that stage, but it can get fairly thrilling for the person who‘s being instructed by the president not to testify, if, indeed, it does go that far. So that‘s what often lets the wind out of it, to see who will blink first. And usually the White House is the one that blinks.
OLBERMANN: And thrilling, by the way, is a brilliant euphemism for, I‘m sure, what that feeling actually is. But turning to Monica Goodling and this story. This Department of Justice official taking the Fifth before the Senate, never mind if it‘s unprecedented, never mind if it‘s unseemly. Is it legal? Can you actually do that, in theory, to someone who has oversight over your job, while you‘re still in that department?
DEAN: You just can‘t willy-nilly take the Fifth as an excuse not to testify. You really have to have some kind of jeopardy, or some kind of legitimate reason. That‘s typically discussed between counsel, or if you‘re really not testifying and using it improperly, the Senate will blow right through that and force her to testify. The other thing they could do is say, all right, we‘re going to immunize you, which they have power to do.
It takes a couple steps to do it, but that doesn‘t mean they can‘t do it pretty quickly. It is highly unprecedented for anybody from the Justice Department to invoke the Fifth Amendment. I think that was a good observation from the director of the FBI. I‘ve been scratching my head ever since I heard about this. I think she‘s also probably alerted her BAR Association to look at her law license as a result of what she‘s doing.
OLBERMANN: John Dean, author of “Worse than Watergate,” “Conservatives Without Conscience,” for whom all of this has a very loud echo, certainly. As always, John, our great thanks for joining us.
DEAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the cartoons. He can‘t sing. He can barely dance. He does things with his hair. We have a prediction tonight that he is not only going to survive, he‘s going to win.
Much better to watch real talent on the Internet, and to create an entire award category for such heroes. Tonight, Keithie nominees, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: When something is so bad, it‘s good, it‘s hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it. How convenient, since our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, how do you quantify, qualify or otherwise attach adjectives to this, Sanjaya Malakar, a contestant of the wacky singing game show “American Idol.” What he stands for now hotly debated among those with nothing better to do. What sat atop his head last night, more easily detailed as something between a Mohawk and pony tail, and a debilitating head wound, a pony hawk.
Any likeness to dead animals notwithstanding. And four Idol now know that. Despite another sub-basement effort from his pipes, Mr. Malakar will probably sail through his next round based on his yikes?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”: Look, Sanjaya, I don‘t think it matters anymore what we say, actually. I genuinely don‘t. I think you are in a your own universe and if people like you, good luck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining us now columnist for TheEnvelope.com from the “L.A. Times,” Tom O‘Neil Tom, good evening.
TOM O‘NEIL, “L.A. TIMES”: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right, the opening proposition first, does this kid deserves the appellation he‘s so bad, he‘s good?
O‘NEIL: Oh, this guy‘s so bad, he‘s too good to be true. Really, forget the singing for a minute. Think of the great camp tradition of American show business. Think of Liberace and Tiny Tim. There is something to be said for showmanship and this kid has it. Inside this little boy is a big Dame Edna screaming to come out.
OLBERMANN: I was just going to say Dame Edna. Barry Humphreys lives with a microphone. You actually see this. He‘s in on the joke? He‘s more than ready to push the button? He knows that—this is planned to be this way?
O‘NEIL: I think that‘s what we learned last night. Before that we weren‘t sure. He was always kind of playing and toying with us, but last night, when he came out with that hair, it was so over the top, it was genius. I found out, by the way, that his mother went back stage right before the show, and saw that hair and said, Sanjaya, you can‘t go out. You can‘t go out. And he said mom, butt out. I know what I‘m doing.
OLBERMANN: Thank god somebody over there does. Listen, I don‘t personally care who wins, but I will admit this now, I picked him in the office pool two weeks ago. I have money on this.
O‘NEIL: All right!
OLBERMANN: If he does wins, does it destroy the slim veneer of credibility that the show clings to? Would that finally be the end of this whole mess?
O‘NEIL: In a way, it could, because he‘s thumbing his nose and giving the finger to this show every moment that he is off key up there. So people who vote him are doing the same thing. But, you know what, Keith, this is exactly what the show deserves, if he wins. Because they set this up as a gong show at first. They show the worst acts at the beginning of the season. Well, now one survives and goes all the way.
By the way, as a side note, I hear from my sources at Fox News Channel, Bill O‘Reilly is terrified of this guy. I think there‘s a puppet theater in this for you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Why is he terrified of him?
O‘NEIL: I don‘t know. This is not part of the Eisenhower America, old conservative world that Mr. O‘Reilly is used to. This is from the other planet, the scary planet.
OLBERMANN: I was going to say, this is not part of any world that we‘re used to in the slightest, but it does reflect well under the lights. Tom O‘Neil, columnist for TheEnvelope.com from the “L.A. Times,” thank you, I think, for joining us.
O‘NEIL: Thanks Keith.
OLBERMANN: And Maria Milito, the princess of “American Idol” will be back tomorrow to review what we saw. Turning from Sanjaya to people with actual talent, nominees in for the first annual Keithie Awards in the Internet superstars category. Your voting in a moment. First my voting, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze, Sam Fox, the man nominated by the president as America‘s ambassador to Belgium, found to have donated $50,000 to the slanderous, anti-John Kerry Swift Boat Vets For Truth group. He‘s no longer the president‘s nomination for ambassador to Belgium. The president said today withdrew the nomination. Still to come, the Swift Boat Vets ad blaming the Democrats for the nomination.
Runner up, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, arguing against a withdrawal timetable on the floor of the Senate, saying, quote, it is clear that for the first time in a long time there is reason for cautious optimism about Iraq. For the first time? What about all the other times you‘ve been optimistic, telling us about all the great progress, like during the 2006 campaign?
But our winners, the Sports Information Department at the College of Southern Idaho. Its media guide for its women‘s softball team presents answers to either/or questions from each of the players, you know, hamburger or hot dog, mountains or beaches, vanilla or chocolate, shaven or unshaven. Women‘s softball team shaven or unshaven? Must be referring to the bat barrels, shaven or unshaven bat barrels. Shaven or unshaven, the College of Southern Idaho Sports Information Department, today‘s Worst Persons in the World.
OLBERMANN: On this news hour, credit is always given where credit is due. Thus, we must thank the current president, George W. Bush, for it is he who unintentionally gave us the best definition for the world wide web and all its wonderful list, quote, the Internets. It is because of them, it, those that years later we are able to bring you this: The first annual best of the stuff we found on the Internets awards.
We‘ve already announced the nominees for stuff that you missed on the TVs that the Internets made famous and the everyday idiots. Tonight‘s category, Internets superstars, non-porn. Again, our apologies for the non part. The nominees in a moment. First the super star spectrum.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): Talent is not an absolute necessity to become the Internets superstar, non porn, award winner. But give us something. Write a little song and sing it.
OLBERMANN: Maybe get your pals involved. Make a day out of it.
OLBERMANN: You have to have a plan and execute it, like Chad Vader did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have failed me for the last time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is what you said the last time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not fail me again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because that will be the last time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, maybe, I don‘t know. Continue stocking.
OLBERMANN: Or the evolution of the dance guy. A few people thought he was funny. Or the OK Go Boys, who unlike some our Internet idiots, figure out how to use a treadmill.
Some have fun with science, like the Diet Coke and Mentos guys.
Others try to make finance fun.
OLBERMANN: Yes, that‘s never going to work. How about fitness? OK, that is just—what the hell‘s going on here? As in every Keithie category, there are reluctant superstars, folks who never sought the spotlight. The spotlight found them. Like, maybe you just had a bad day and you hate balloons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s not a joke. It‘s not a joke, Alex. Look at me being serious.
OLBERMANN: Or maybe you hate something else.
GEORGE ALLEN, FORMER SENATOR FROM VIRGINIA: Let‘s give a warm welcome to Macaca here.
OLBERMANN: Or perhaps you just love wrestling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to thank each and every one of you for all you have done to your bodies. It‘s still real to me, damn it.
OLBERMANN: Here, you are among the Internet giants. The Chinese Back Street Boys, The Numa Numa kid, Denny Blaze, the average homeboy, and Montgomery Flea Market guy.
OLBERMANN: You want to make it onto the Internets, you better bring your A game.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Winnebago concepts and engineering departments have developed a multi-functional bathroom, privacy—I don‘t even know what the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) I‘m reading. Why don‘t I say it (EXPLETIVE DELETED) right? Why does the god (EXPLETIVE DELETED) line say, Tony? Son of a bitch. Get out of here you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) flies.
OLBERMANN: If you can dance, come on down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I‘m Dianne Warner and welcome to country hip-hop, the newest trend in country line dancing.
OLBERMANN: Can you fit into a Tron costume? Let‘s get it on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Becoming the Tron guy really changed my life.
OLBERMANN: Internet super stardom is not for the faint of heart.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And tell mommy again what you said you were going to do to him if he came here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I said, I‘m going to kick his ass.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, that‘s not nice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he‘s going to come in here, he‘s going to kick my ass.
OLBERMANN: It‘s a moment in time, your one shot at glory. And good or bad, it is going to live forever, whether you like it or not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Passes it to the man, and boom goes the dynamite.
OLBERMANN: And the nominees for Internets superstar, non-porn category, are the worst dive in city council history. It‘s the one we call best actress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had it in the eye. Stop that man from leaving the room. She struck the woman. She should be arrested.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Down goes Frazier, a rolled up wad of paper can be fatal.
Nest, the original reluctant superstar, the Star Wars kid.
Our third nominee, that creepiest thing from India, the littlest superstar.
He is dating the “kick his ass” three-year-old, charming guy.
Our next nominee is not, we repeat, is not former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
And our final nominee for Internets superstar, non-porn category, oh baby, that is funny.
There you have them, the nominees for the first ever Keithie award for Internets superstar, non-porn category. Now we turn it over to you, the real deciders, to figure out who is the most deserving of the top honor. Vote on our website, COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com. I‘ve suddenly become Lawrence Welk. And vote as many times as you like. You have until noon Friday to pick your favorite superstar. You can even watch all our nominees in all our categories and vote for them too.
Your Keithies winners will be revealed on this show Friday night. Tomorrow night‘s slate of nominees, the animals of the Internets, again, non-porn. That is it for COUNTDOWN for this 1,445th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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