updated 4/20/2007 12:21:37 PM ET 2007-04-20T16:21:37

Guests: Richard Wolffe, John Dean, Maria Milito

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

His boss nicknamed him Fredo Gonzales.  The Senate may now nickname him “I Can‘t Recall Gonzales.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Sir, I don‘t want to quarrel with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t want you to either.  I just want you to tans question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And yet he doesn‘t answer, doesn‘t recall, can‘t be certain, 45 times, 45 times before they broke for lunch.

Now comes the rebuke from a fellow conservative Republican.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The best way to put this behind us is your resignation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The attorney general, in the Senate.  The attorney general in crisis.

Richard Wolffe on the day‘s testimony.  John Dean on Alberto Gonzales‘s tenuous hold on his job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT:  If there‘s nothing to hide, the White House should stop hiding it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But as that White House freshly finesses the latest missing e-mails in Gonzales-gate, a brief history of the search for documents lost.

The 9/11 detainee interrogation tapes, missing.  The Army engineer‘s levee blueprints after Katrina, misplaced.  The exculpatory Air National Guard records of one George W. Bush, we can‘t find them.  The administration‘s long record of forgetting where it put stuff.

Also tonight, the day after the Virginia Tech tapes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s like something you would see in horror films.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I saw one picture (INAUDIBLE).  I haven‘t forgotten it, and I probably never will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The nightmare even worked its way onto “American Idol.”  A contestant honors Virginia Tech.  Simon Cowell rolls his eyes.

And, oh, by the way—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sanjaya, you are going home tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of going home, time for Bill O.  to go home.  Another Fox Noise stakeout and ambush, following a woman from her home to a supermarket, ambushing a newspaper TV critic who wrote something about Bill O.  that Bill O. didn‘t like.  Yes, in America.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why are you stopping me in a parking lot?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

Chairman Patrick Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee warned the attorney general of the United States to keep his infamous “I don‘t recall” answers to a minimum.  Is 74 a minimum?  I don‘t recall.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the attorney general‘s make-or-break hearing before the Senate today looking to be irreparably broken, certainly in the eyes of at least one conservative senator, but that does not mean the White House is ready to toss him to the curb, Mr. Gonzales today defending his controversial decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys, insisting, however, that his involvement was limited, which, in turn, left some senators dumbfounded, Republican Arlen Specter, for one, calling that characterization “significantly if not totally at variance with the facts,” Senator Specter also reminding Mr. Gonzales that his track record about preparedness is embarrassingly poor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  Now, let me review some of the record with you.  And we don‘t have much time, and it‘s necessary to go through it on a rather summary basis.  But I know you‘re familiar with this record, because I know you‘ve been preparing for this hearing.

GONZALES:  I prepare for every hearing, Senator.

SPECTER:  Do you prepare for all your press conferences?  Were you prepared for the press conference where you said there weren‘t any discussions involving you?

GONZALES:  Senator, I‘ve already said that I misspoke.  It was my mistake.

SPECTER:  Were you—I‘m asking you, were you prepared?  You interjected that you‘re always prepared.  Were you prepared for that press conference?

GONZALES:  Senator, I didn‘t say that I was always prepared.  I said I prepared for every hearing.

SPECTER:  Well, and I‘m asking you, do you prepare for you press conferences?

GONZALES:  Senator, we do take time to try to prepare for the press conference.

SPECTER:  And were you prepared when you said you weren‘t uninvolved in any deliberations?

GONZALES:  Senator, I‘ve already conceded that I misspoke at that press conference.  There was nothing intentional.  And the truth of the matter is, Senator, I—

SPECTER:  Let‘s, let‘s, let‘s, let‘s, let‘s move on.  I don‘t think you‘re going win a debate about your preparation, frankly.

But let‘s get, let‘s get, let‘s get to the facts.  I‘d like you to win this debate, Attorney General Gonzales—

GONZALES:  (INAUDIBLE)--

SPECTER:  --I‘d like you to win this debate.

GONZALES:  I apologize, Senator.

SPECTER:  But you‘re going to have to win it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As to the collective answer to the question, Did he know what was going on, or did he not have any clue?  As it became painfully obvious which was the correct answer, those other answers, those 74 “I can‘t recalls,” were perhaps more painful still.  In one such instance, the attorney general could not remember when he had made the decision to go through with the firing plan, or on what the decision had been based, only that he had made the decision, sometime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GONZALES:  After the work had been completed, Mr. Sampson brought me recommendations.  I accepted those recommendations.  Those were my decisions.  I accept full responsibility for those decisions.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  So that‘s what I wanted to know.

GONZALES:  Yes.

FEINSTEIN:  You‘re prepared to say that you made the decision to fire these seven U.S. attorneys on that day, December 7.

GONZALES:  I don‘t recall exactly when the decision—I made the decision.

FEINSTEIN:  All right.  And you‘re testifying to us that you made these decisions without ever looking at the performance reports?

GONZALES:  Senator, that is correct.  Again—

FEINSTEIN:  OK, that‘s what—

GONZALES:  --I just want (INAUDIBLE)--

FEINSTEIN:  --I wanted to know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The attorney general also denied that politics played any role in the decision to fire those eight federal attorneys, an explanation that even some Republicans found hard to believe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  Is this really performance based, or did these people just run afoul of personality conflicts in the office, and who were trying to make up reasons to fire them because we wanted to get rid of them?

GONZALES:  Sir, I think if you look at the documentation, I think you can see that there is documentation supporting these decisions.

GRAHAM:  See, Mr. Attorney General, most of this is a stretch.  I think it‘s clear to me that some of these people just had personality conflicts with people in your office or at the White House, and, you know, we made up reasons to fire them.  Some of it sounds good, some of it doesn‘t.  And that‘s the lesson to be learned here.

GONZALES:  Sir, sir, I respectfully disagree with that.  I, I really do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If the attorney general had gone into the lunch break thinking he had been doing a good job, once he returned, the senators did not take long to disabuse him of that notion, in particular, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Republican, a conservative Republican, saying the attorney general ought to be judged by the very same standards with which he had judged the fired federal prosecutors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  Mr. Attorney General, it‘s my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled.  It was handled incompetently.  The communication was atrocious.  It was inconsistent.  It‘s generous to say that there were misstatements.  That‘s a generous statement.  And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered.  And I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And you if you thought that would have been enough to convince the president to demand or even just accept the resignation of Mr.  Gonzales, think again, White House press secretary, deputy press secretary Dana Perino issuing a statement tonight saying, quote, “President Bush was pleased with the attorney general‘s testimony today.  After hours of testimony in which he answered all of the senators‘ questions and provided thousands of pages of documents, he again showed that nothing improper occurred.  He admitted the matter could have been handled much better, and he apologized for the disruption to the lives of the U.S. attorneys involved, as well as for the lack of clarity in his initial responses.  The attorney general has the full confidence of the president.”

Let‘s turn now to our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  It had seemed as if the White House was leaving Mr.  Gonzales to dig himself out of that hole that he was in.  It certainly did not seem as if he‘d done that today.  Republicans on the committee certainly did not seem to think he had done so.  One of them called for him to quit.  And now the press secretary said the president did not see any of the testimony.  So where, how, where does it come from that the president would say that he has—he has given him his full confidence once again?

WOLFFE:  You know, this is the kind of full confidence you never want your bosses to express in you.  And I guess the White House has learned from Gonzales here the kind of defense that, well, you know, I have—I agree with everything that happened, except I can‘t recall anything that happened and I never was there.

This is the kind of structured comment, a formulaic comment from Dana Perino, in public, from the podium.  I can tell you, behind the scenes, off camera, all of these expressions of confidence have a caveat.  Well, he has full confidence, the president has full confidence, but it‘s up to Gonzales to show that he should really keep his job and not quit.  And it‘s those caveats that people are picking up on the Hill and obviously bringing out into the public, even those Republicans.

OLBERMANN:  When Mr. Rumsfeld left Defense in 2006 after the midterm elections, it was that tipping point, the midterms, that brought about certainly hastened, timed, perhaps, his resignation.  Even after the testimony today, even after a White House apologist, such as Senator Cornyn, said that the way the investigation has been handled has been—his phrase was “really deplorable,” is that what is missing here?  Do we not have that midterm election-sized tipping point about Gonzales?

WOLFFE:  Well, there are two scenarios for him to go.  One is, yes, the chief of staff, Josh Bolten, goes and says, Time‘s up, as he did with Don Rumsfeld.  You know, the president‘s friends say that the more the Democrats push, the more anyone pushes for any member of his administration to go, the more the president will resist.  It‘s a macho thing.  It‘s a question of who‘s the decider.

So let‘s say that that one‘s really off the table.  The second scenario is that Gonzales walks because, in his own words, he decides that he‘s no longer effective.  I think you can safely conclude that when Arlen Specter, the senior Republican on the committee, eviscerates you in a hearing, you‘re no longer effective.

OLBERMANN:  Of course, the whole point about the Democrats pushing for his resignation is—would be—would have to be accepted in this, in this context, that the best thing that happens politically for the Democrats is for him to stay in that position, is it not?

WOLFFE:  As a piece of strategy, yes.  I think the Democrats have enjoyed this hugely.

OLBERMANN:  The attorney general testified today that he thought that appointing new U.S. attorneys without Senate approval under that act, the part of the PATRIOT Act, was a dumb idea that he never liked.  Is that to some degree beside the point, though, Richard?  I mean, is not the issue here that, as attorney general, as the defender of the laws, as the nation‘s top lawyer, he executed what he believed to be a bad plan solely because the White House told him to do so?

WOLFFE:  Yes, except that it‘s almost impossible to separate the White House and the Justice Department, because of Alberto Gonzales and who he is.  This plan started when Gonzales was White House counsel.  It was executed when he was at the Justice Department.  This problem has arisen because of the unique position of Gonzales, his relationship to the president, his relationship to Karl Rove.  He can‘t say, I was just following orders.  They were his orders.

OLBERMANN:  Blame it on that guy at the White House, Gonzales, it was his fault.

WOLFFE:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  Stay with us for just one moment.  I have—I want to ask you about this other story that has broken tonight.

An aggressive new tack from congressional Democrats in the war of words over the war in Iraq, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, today accusing the White House of knowing that the war in Iraq is unwinnable, but staging the surge anyway so that the inevitable loss in Iraq would come on the next president‘s watch, again, the White House spokeswoman, Ms. Perino, responding this afternoon that if this is his true feeling, then it makes one wonder if he has the courage of his convictions, and therefore will decide to defund the war.

Richard Wolffe, first of all, those are powerful words, obviously, from the senator.  And given the collision course that this debate seems to be on about funding, what does the endgame look like now?

OLBERMANN:  Well, I still think the Democrats cave.  They‘re already drawing up basically a transition from a deadline to a timeline, something that would be advisory, would be a guide for the president, the president could ultimately sign.  Harry Reid‘s in a difficult position here.  He‘s made it clear that he likes the deadline approach, and he obviously thinks this war is over, effectively.  But the Democrats in general, they are going cave, and the White House knows it.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  As always, Richard, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  The White House says thousands of documents have been turned over in Gonzales-gate, but we have no idea how many thousands or even millions of e-mails that could be pertinent are missing.  From this and other White House scandals, the checklist of the-dog-ate-my-homework stories from this administration.

And the day after we heard the words of the Virginia Tech shooter, how the campus and the families are reacting to those words, and to this network‘s decision to disseminate them.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If it seemed as if there was no smoking gun in today‘s testimony from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, it may well be that the gun or guns in question have been lost, destroyed, or locked away.  The battle over White House e-mails about the U.S. attorney firings, for instance, continues today, Congress laying down a deadline of tomorrow for the Republican Party to reveal exactly who in the White House had private RNC e-mail accounts, the RNC refusing to turn over those e-mails, written by public servants about public matters, after the White House demanded the chance to look at them first.

In other words, the administration perfectly happy to have its e-mails read by members of a political party, civilians both unelected and unaccountable, but not read by the people‘s representatives in Congress.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, some of those e-mails have allegedly been lost, and, as Glenn Greenwald chronicled on Salon.com, this is hardly the first time members of this administration have benefited from lost documents or information.

The Scripps News Service found that even though President Bush sold himself as a CEO president, the ratio of allegedly missing records has skyrocketed under his administration.  At Gonzales‘s FBI, for instance, from 2001 to 2006, the proportion of documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act, but not released due to the claim that they could not be found, rose from 56 percent to 75 percent, meaning when anyone, reporter, official, you, me, asks for FBI records to which we are entitled by law, the Gonzales reply three out of four times is, Can‘t find it.

It is a reply heard with increasing frequency at other agencies as well, and most notably in the midst of scandals, big or little, that call this administration‘s ethics into question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Closest to home, Mr. Bush‘s own military service provides one well-documented example.  During his 2004 campaign against a decorated veteran, Mr. Bush said he fulfilled his obligations with the Texas Air National Guard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   Yes, I was served in the National Guard, I flew up on a two (ph) aircraft.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But the military could never supply the required documentation providing official explanations or approval for gaps in that service, such as reports that should have been filed after he skipped his physical in 1972, and five months of drill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I‘ve been, I mean, people have been looking for these files for a long period of time, trust me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But even after 9/11, even recent documents, evidence potentially vital to our national security, can disappear when it might be to the disadvantage of this administration.

Lawyers for Jose Padilla, U.S. citizen, enemy combatant, argued his interrogations left him not competent to stand trial, a judge ordering prosecutors to turn over a DVD of his last grilling by the military.  But as of this February, the Defense Intelligence Agency could not find it, the military agency charged with finding things claiming to have lost its own recording of one of the most notorious accused terrorists in American history.

Hundreds more videos went missing after the administration rounded up 1,200 detainees post-9/11.  When allegations of abuse surfaced, federal prison officials claimed they had recycled more than 300 surveillance tapes.  None of the guards was charged.  It took the Justice Department inspector general to reveal that the tapes confirming abuse of inmates really did exist in a storage room kept secret from investigators.  None of those detained, by the way, ever was charged with terrorism.

After the FBI claimed to have no record of participating in an interrogation of protesters back in 2002, it took five years for the Washington, D.C., police logs to emerge confirming that, in fact, the FBI did just that.

Other small cases, like that of Teresa Chambers, are plagued by missing documents.  Chambers, the former chief of the U.S. Park Police, sued the government, claiming she had been fired for whistleblowing about lack of resources, seeking her performance review to prove that.  The Interior Department first said that performance review was missing, then had found it, then refused to release it.

And even on matters that should be nonpartisan, that should inspire openness, cooperation, secrecy is the byword, missing documents the rule.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm, but—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The American Society of Civil Engineers, trying to determine what worked and what did not work with the New Orleans levees, was told by the Army Corps of Engineers that it could not find its own technical drawings of failed levees, could not find specs for the ramparts that meant life or death for a major American city.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  Why was the president of the United States left so uninformed—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And while Senator Joe Lieberman, running for office, demanded that the White House turn over internal documents about its handling of the whole Katrina situation, including warnings it got, including details on what Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney did and did not do before, during, and after, Lieberman, once back in the Senate, decided not to use his power of subpoena to get any of those documents.

And even turning back to the White House e-mails, this administration already fell short of the law and knew it fell short of the law more than a year ago, prosecutors revealing that the offices of the vice president and president failed to keep all their e-mails through the normal archiving process, this in the case of the People versus Lewis Libby, Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald telling lawyers for the vice president‘s chief of staff, in the legal fight of his life, that the emails he needed, e-mails which might, however, reflect badly on both of his bosses, well, they were missing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  A disturbing trend, when it‘s all laid out.  And that list was just the materials the White House says it can‘t find, a drop in the bucket when you factor other areas the Bush administration refuses to turn over or claim are protected by executive privilege.

We‘ll be joined by John Dean to analyze this and the bigger picture problems laid out by the attorney general‘s leadership issues in the Justice Department.

And also tonight, the shooting at Virginia Tech, the raw reaction on campus to Cho Seung-hui‘s manifesto, and our decision to disseminate portions of it.

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A century ago today, Tom Longboat of Canada won the 11th running of the Boston Marathon in two hours, 24 minutes, and 24 seconds.  This past Monday, Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya won the 111th running of the Boston Marathon in two hours, 14 minutes, and 13 seconds.  So, if you‘re wondering how much faster life is today, there‘s your answer, exactly 10 minutes and 11 seconds faster.

Let‘s play Oddball.

OK, it‘s been a few days since we‘ve had this segment, so obviously we‘re a little bit behind on the Oddball sports report.  Let‘s pick it up in Boston.  Sox and Angels on Monday, and the best highlight of a pop-up foul since Steve Bartman (ph).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Think he made a good call here, as he--  Let‘s see, how does this happen?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ooh, wow, that‘s funny.  What did it—

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What was that that came flying in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I can‘t share it, but I don‘t have my Telustrator cable.  What, here comes a pizza, see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh!  Geez.  Highly unnecessary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Down at the Patriots‘ jacket, and of course he‘s been asked to leave the ball game for ruining a good piece of pizza.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE).  And here it comes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Lots of pizza.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, I wonder what—why did he do that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s a good question, Jerry, considering the price of a piece of pizza at Fenway Park.  Guy could have just as easily thrown his wallet at him and saved some money.  Yeah, have a slice to go, please.  Actually, the fan who got hit with the pizza had previously been haranguing the pizza-flinging fan for having a whole pizza at the ball game.  Swing and a miss.

The Big Sky Resort in Montana for our favorite end-of-the-season skiing event, when there‘s just enough snow and just enough icy water to create perfect conditions for the 15th annual Big Sky Hypothermia Challenge.  All right, I made up the name, but, oh, is that water cold.  More than 70 participants came out this year, and amazingly, there were no major injuries except maybe this guy.  And possibly that guy.  This guy might have gotten hurt.  So, yes, he definitely got hurt.  And him, too.  All right, that‘s enough.

A Republican senator calls on Attorney General Gonzales to resign.  The White House says it was pleased with his testimony.  John Dean joins us to analyze these events taking place through the looking-glass.

And our long national Sanjaya nightmare is over.  Maria Milito on “American Idol.”

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, your federal government, about reports that Cho Seung-hui was on antidepressants.  ABC News reports that, quote, “Senior federal officials say they can find no record of such medication in the government‘s files.  This does not completely rule out prescription drug use, including samples from a physician, drugs obtained through illegal Internet sources, or a gap in the federal database.  But the sources say theirs is a reasonably complete search.”

Comforting.  The government has a list of antidepressant users, and a list of every prescription drug you‘ve ever bought.  I mean, they know about your outbreak of psoriasis?

Number two, Brenda Comer of Rock Hill, South Carolina.  An 80-foot oak tree crashed through the kitchen in which she had been standing Monday morning.  Why did it not kill her?  Because, she said, she‘d just finished the dishes and had gone outside for a smoke.  OK, Ms. Comer, tobacco just saved this part of your life.  Now, you save the rest of your life and stop smoking.

Number one, Buddy.  The first witness in a lawsuit between two neighbors in Dallas.  Witnesses report Buddy walked quietly to the bench and said nothing, then showed perfect manners and a gentle demeanor.  Although he did stare at the jury.  Buddy is a donkey.  The suit was by one man who said his neighbor‘s jackass was a danger, a health risk, and he made a lot of noise.  Buddy‘s silent testimony so startled the litigants that right after his appearance they settled out of court. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you had to boil down today‘s interrogation of the U.S.  attorney general by both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate into one short question it would be this:  Are you, A, incompetent, or, B, corrupt. 

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, will the U.S. attorney scandal and the Alberto Gonzales hearing prove to be this administration‘s Watergate, a seemingly minor matter that crystallizes the profound flaws in and mounting opposition to what amounts to a deeply un-American administration. 

While we are all told that security trumps everything after 9/11, we saw today in Alberto Gonzales, the nation‘s top law man, unembarrassed to say he did not know why he fired some of his top prosecutor.  This, be it politics or incompetence from the man trusted by our president to oversee not just the prosecutors, but the FBI, Immigration and Naturalization, Federal Bureau of Prison, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S.  Interpol Bureau, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals and more. 

Let‘s turn now to the unique perspective of John Dean, an observer of White House scandals from outside and, as White House counsel during Watergate, from inside as well, more recently, of course, author of both “Worse than Watergate,” and “Conservatives Without Conscience.”  John, as always, great thanks for your time. 

JOHN DEAN, FMR. NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  Thank you Keith.

OLBERMANN:  From what you saw of the Gonzales testimony today, were these the words and actions of a man trying to explain his at best incompetence or one trying to mask the machinations of his boss and the others he works for? 

DEAN:  Keith, I think giving my reaction to his testimony is that it showed incompetence itself.  I am not sure he is clever enough to really hide the machinations of his boss, because I think they came through when you look at the totality of his testimony. 

OLBERMANN:  The idiocy defense has worked in many cases, mostly, I guess, criminal cases and lawsuits, but can you actually go the Senate and pretend that you are just too dumb to have done any of this deliberately?  Is that—could that possibly work, even in this day and age? 

DEAN:  Well, I thought that, you know, at one point Senator Coburn from Oklahoma, who is a Republican and typically plays on the team, said, listen, you made mistakes.  You‘ve shown your incompetence.  It‘s time you pay for your mistakes.  And I think you ought to put the same standard to yourself and your own behavior as you do to the U.S. attorneys you removed.  And he called for his resignation.  So I am not sure that ploy is working. 

OLBERMANN:  And where, after something like that, would the president be able to come up with the phrase that he is pleased with the testimony he heard.  Does it matter to him whether Congress still has confidence in the attorney general and shouldn‘t it, if it doesn‘t? 

DEAN:  I doubt the president actually saw any of his testimony.  I just don‘t think that was possible.  I think probably what he did was a second hand report, was told it was fine.  But this issue of confidence is very important.  An effective attorney general can be very helpful up on the Hill as a first line of defense, particularly when you have divided government, as we do now, with the Democrats controlling the Congress.  So he should be concerned, but apparently he is not. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking to the media after the hearing today, Senator Schumer of New York said that the lack of specificity from Mr. Gonzales and from his deputies about the genesis of these firings implies that the origins lie in the White House.  If that is true, that would make this, in effect, a full blown 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue cover up.  Can you refute or explain the senator‘s conclusion there? 

DEAN:  Well I listened to Schumer‘s remarks and I thought they were fairly piercing and sort of nailed it, in fact.  It is a very logical conclusion.  I think what was even more important, and it actually was information that did not come from the witness, but rather from one of the members of the committee, one of the newest members of the committee, Sheldon Whitehouse, where he, indeed, laid out a chart that showed who could contact the White House. 

And it is staggering for this administration.  While there were some four people in the Clinton White House who could contact Justice, there are 417 people in the Bush White House, which really shows it is a tightly politically connected operation, which it should not be.  I think that was fairly damning and Gonzales did not have a good answer to Whitehouse‘s comment and his observations.  So I think that that was very revealing to me. 

OLBERMANN:  One other observations in this whole process here, the constitution is explicitly dependent on an adversarial relationship, a tension between the branches, as well as the parties, which evolved after the constitution.  But those two things ensure the health of the democracy.  Have Democrats today and overall lived up to their role in this equation? 

DEAN:  I think they have.  It is rather interesting, traditionally the Democrats have done so, even when there‘s been a Democrat in the White House.  You can ask Lyndon Johnson, and he would tell you, in his days of grief, when he had Democrats breathing down his throat.  Bill Clinton would tell you the same thing.  It is odd and interesting and kind of a commentary on the fact that when Republicans control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, they do no oversight and you have more presidential policy than anything else with the Congress actually running interference for the president. 

So yes, the Democrats are fulfilling their responsibility with a hearing like today. 

OLBERMANN:  Can they or anybody else do anything about the subject we discussed earlier in this news hour, about the examples of cases besides just this one of the U.S. attorney scandal, in which these monumental amounts of vital federal documents have simply vanished, have not been able to be found, have not been able to be produced?  What can be read into this pattern?

DEAN:  Of course, as you know Keith, during the Nixon administration, there was the famous 18 and a half minute gap that vanished.  There were tapes that vanished.  There were documents that vanished.  And at one point, the White House chief of staff, Al Haig, was called in to the courthouse and told in front of a judge to explain what was happening.  And Haig, under oath, said he knew what it was.  It was a sinister force.  So I suspect Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rove hope the force is with them now. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, well, we know the name of the sinister force during the Nixon administration, and we can leave it to the viewers to fill in the blank in this one.  John Dean, White House counsel to Richard Nixon, author of “Conservatives Without Conscience,” once again, great thanks for your time. 

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith.   

OLBERMANN:  To Virginia Tech, as that campus again honors the victims.  There is reaction to the killer‘s multimedia presentation, and to the NBC News decision to disseminate portions of those materials. 

“American Idol” dealing with its own backlash from the Virginia Tech tragedy.  Simon Cowell forced to explain an eye role when a contestant mentioned the shootings.  Oh yes, the kid with the hair is finally out.  our “American Idol” princess joins us ahead here on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is something we have heard too many times about a crazed killer, stories former classmates tell of a troubled student, laughed at, bullied and eventually lost in the mental health system.  Number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the Virginia Tech story rapidly becoming a reality check on how the mentally ill are treated and tracked. 

At Virginia Tech today, the head of campus counseling saying it was not the school‘s responsibility to see that Cho Seung Hui received court ordered mental counseling.  We‘re not part of the mental health system, he said.  Not surprisingly, the governor of Virginia, Mr. Kaine, today announcing an independent panel to look at the rights of people with mental problems and the way the shooting was handled by campus police. 

Also today the superintendent of the Virginia State Police criticizing this network‘s decision to air the video Cho had sent to NBC News.  That something of a turn about.  Not only had the same man, Colonel Steven Clarity, praised NBC for turning over the mailing from Cho yesterday, but last night on this news cast I specifically asked NBC News President Steve Capus if investigators had had any objections about airing the images of Cho which they had already seen.  This was Steve‘s response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE CAPUS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENT:  We had a conversation with the Virginia State Police about that and their cautionary words were to be mindful of that, but they also said, you know, that they looked at this and they said they understand that it was, you know—their words were it is OK to release this.  It will not jeopardize the investigation. 

They said just be mindful of how much you use, because they did not want to get into a situation that you described.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Today NBC decided to strictly limit the use of the Cho footage.  The opportunity though to look inside a deranged mind and try to find meaning in it was, we believed and believe, news worthy.  But without question, it was also undeniably overwhelming for those within the nightmare.  Our correspondent Mike Taibbi addresses that component of this sad week. 

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, it often happens in the place most affected by a huge and tragic story, a debate over the role of the media and over how the story should or should not be reported. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAIBBI (voice-over):  In this grieving university community, there was disappointment and anger over the decision to broadcast some of the killer‘s photos, videos and spoken words. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Maybe some more time would have been nice before they released it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She was the most special daughter. 

TAIBBI:  And two victim‘s families, who had early done interviews with NBC News, canceled their “Today Show” appearance.  The parents of Austin Cloyd said through their preacher they did not want to have the horror of their daughter‘s last moments highlighted so graphically.  And the father of Jeremy Herbstritt wrote to NBC: “When you release the tape, do you know how much our family and all the other families are hurting?”

The vast Virginia Tech extended family is hurting for the 32 innocent dead. 

(on camera):  What I did not see in any of these inscriptions, and I had a chance to read hundreds of them, was a single reference in name or message to the killer.  None of this was about him. 

(voice-over):  Some mourners said news organizations had to report the latest story. 

CHEVON DUNNINGS, STUDENT:  On the one hand, people do want to know who this guy is and why he did it. 

TAIBBI:  But others here said they simply refuse to be manipulated by a killer seeking infamy from the grave through the release of his confounding manifesto. 

LAWRENCE O‘NEIL, STUDENT:  I made the decision not to watch it, because I knew it was just some psycho that was going to be rambling on about how his life was terrible and stuff. 

TAIBBI (on camera):  So you did not want to do what he wanted you to do. 

O‘NEIL:  Exactly.

TAIBBI (voice-over):  What many here want is for the media to go home, for the killer to become yesterday‘s story as soon as possible and for his victims to be the story that endures and matters most. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAIBBI:  One other note about those victims, university officials announced today that all of the student victims will posthumously be awarded the degrees they had been pursuing until Monday. 

Mike Taibbi, NBC News, Blacksburg, Virginia.

OLBERMANN:  Is the Virginia Tech nightmare somehow interconnecting with “American Idol.”  Simon Cowell has to deny insensitivity.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for worst person in the world.

The bronze again to the “National Review‘s” John Derbeshire, who along with the Michelle Malkins and Neil Boortzes of this world actually continue to blame the dead at Virginia Tech for not having overpowered their murderer.  This is really by way of thanking the “National Review‘s” John Podhoretz, who today wrote his dissent on the same website, quoting, the notion that a human being or a group of human beings holding no weapon whatever should somehow fight back against someone calmly executing other people right in front of their eyes is ludicrous beyond belief, irrational beyond bounds and tasteless beyond the limits of reason.  Correct, amen, thank you. 

The silver to Karl Rove.  He took questions after a speech he gave at Alliance, Ohio.  One of them, whose idea was it to start a preemptive war in Iraq.  His answer?  I think it was Osama bin Laden‘s.  Did you ask him, Karl?  Because if you‘re really taking bin Laden‘s lead that would pretty much explain everything. 

And the gold tonight?  We‘ve got to comfort third place Bill-O.  The “Denver Weekly Westword” reports that after “Denver Post” TV columnist Joanne Ostrow accused O‘Reilly of using racist language in that interview where Geraldo Rivera beat him up.  Bill-O demanded Ostrow appear on his show.  When she would not, he sent his producer minion to stake her out in Denver, eventually ambushing her outside the Wild Oats supermarket. 

Ms. Ostrow tells Westword that she had driven to that market not from work but from her home.  The publication thus infers that if the producer did not stalk Ostrow in the legal sense, he came mighty close.  No spin, plenty of psychosis, but no spin.  Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s Worst Person in the World. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Whether he jacked up a dull season of “American Idol” or nearly hijacked it, there is a 17-year old singer now available for weddings, high school proms and Barmitzvahs.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Sanjaya bye-bye-ya.  Though he was often able to turn Idol on its head, Sanjaya Malakar unintentionally toyed with irony this week, singing “Something to Talk About,” and then leaving the audience, so I‘m told, not very much to talk about.  It is over. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN SEACREST, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  America voted.  After the biggest top seven vote in Idol history, over 38 million votes, Sanjaya, you are going home tonight. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  His big exit almost eclipsed by Simon Cowell‘s and Idol‘s exemplary effort at damage control in response to Mr. Cowell‘s exchange with the contestant the previous night.  He had complained about another contestant‘s nasal singing, and later he rolled his eyes at an inopportune moment, to say the least. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nasally is a form of singing.  I don‘t know if you knew that or not.  Nasally is a form of singing. 

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Oh, so it was intentional. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If I had done it every single week. 

COWELL:  So that was intended to sing nasally. 

SEACREST:  Obviously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My heart and prayers go out to Virginia Tech.  I have a lot friends over there and be strong.

SEACREST:  Yes, well said, absolutely.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So a contestant commented on the tragedy at Virginia Tech and Mr. Cowell made a face, or so it seemed.   Cowell went out of his way to explain himself last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COWELL:  And after I finished talking, I was talking to Paula, and unfortunately I didn‘t hear Chris mention the people of Virginia.  On camera, I gave a look, but, in fact, I was giving a look to Paula, and the implication was that I was disrespecting the victims.  I just want to absolutely set the record straight.  I didn‘t hear what Chris was saying.  I may not be the nicest person in the world, but I would never, ever, ever disrespect those families or those victims.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To back up that version, the entire exchange was played again, this time with the TV equipment called double boxes, and with Cowell‘s mike turned up as he talked with Paula Abdul. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COWELL:  That‘s what you said, Paula. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- Virginia Tech.  I have a lot of friends over there.  And just, be strong.

COWELL:  That I intended to sing nasally, I don‘t get that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now, after we‘ve done that bit of investigation, to our own “American Idol” princess, also mid day host of New York‘s classic rock station Q104.3, Maria Milito.  Good evening Maria.

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3:  Hello, how are you?

OLBERMANN:  So Mr. Cowell simply had some bad timing with the eye rolling, and now through this extraordinary explanation, anyway for him, he got past it?

MILITO:  I think so.  I think the whole double box, as you call it—

I watched his lips to make sure they did not dub different words on what he was saying.  And it was really—I think he really was talking to Paula and didn‘t hear the kid.  And I hate to say this, and you know I am cynical, I really thought Chris, because Simon was critical of him, I thought Chris said that to kind of get a sympathy vote and that‘s why Simon rolled his eyes.  But I thought this is bad to do this. 

OLBERMANN:  The replay would have been something if you had heard him saying, I am not paying attention to what this lad is saying.  That would have been more suspicious.

MILITO:  But the fact that they did the double box, and I read his lips, and he really was talking to Paula, so I think it was sincere that he didn‘t hear what the kid said. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, moving on, as you know, I had Sanjaya in the office pool, but even you said he might have gone the whole distance.  Had this whole thing just run its course, where even the Idol haters were tired of watching just for the sake of voting for this kid? 

MILITO:  I think it was overload.  You know, the guy who runs VoteForTheWorst.com was on Letterman talking about, and I think that it was just too much.  Sanjaya was in every newspaper.  I think people just got sick of it.  So, sorry about the pool.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s all right.  It wasn‘t a lot of money involved.  What happens next on the program?  Are there other contestants?  Is there a swimsuit competition.  Is there any chance Simon Cowell has to have a dual with somebody. 

MILITO:  No, stop it, I think now it‘s going to be a real competition, in the sense of a singing contest.  Because now, I think probably, you know, Phil Stacy, the bald guy with the big ears, did well because they had country music this week, but he is probably next to go, because he is the weaker singer.  But I think after that all strong singers.  So now it‘s a real competition. 

OLBERMANN:  But what about Sanjaya‘s competition with reality?  I said on the radio today that I thought as long there are weeping 12 year old girls out there, he can probably pack a coliseum full of them somewhere. 

MILITO:  Well, he‘s going to be part of the Idol tour, because he still made top 10.  So all those little crying girls like the plant from weeks ago, they will all be happy.  You know, he can always tour with his sister.  His sister now is doing all her photos and going to Hollywood.  So they could be like a duo or something.  He definitely has a future, unfortunately, but he does.  

OLBERMANN:  So, the ratings are already slipping.  If the show really begins to tank, whether it‘s the rest of this year of next season, will we be able to say that a 17-year-old kid who needed a shave somehow managed to pierce this veil of invulnerability? 

MILITO:  Yes, absolutely.  And I think the producers, between now and hopefully the start of season seven, if it happens, they really need to look at the voting, because he definitely pierced that bubble.  It can be done, that somebody who is not a good singer—look how high he became.  It‘s crazy.  So they really need to look into it and change the voting maybe. 

OLBERMANN:  So, in the interim, if they kill the thing off, Americans owe Sanjaya a great debt of thanks, I guess.   

MILITO:  I guess, but they‘re not going to kill it off.  Come on.  Come on.  I have to be back as the princess next season.  They can‘t kill it off.   

OLBERMANN:  Maria Milito of New York‘s Q104.3, good to talk to you, as always, Maria. 

MILITO:  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,467th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  From New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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