Guests: Richard Wolffe, P.J. Crowley, Jonathan Turley, John Harwood, Maria Milito
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Democratic Feingold amendment to stop funding the war next March is defeated. The Republican Warner bill to dock war funding based on erasable benchmarks is defeated. Can this Senate actually do a damn thing about Iraq?
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SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I‘m not crazy about the language in the Feingold amendment, but I am crazy about the fact that we got to keep the pressure on.
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OLBERMANN: The pressure being kept on the attorney general. Senator Hagel says Alberto Gonzales does not meet the standard of honesty and capability. And now, questions about whether Gonzales lied to the Senate when he said he couldn‘t recall any internal dispute over the warrantless wiretaps, given that Mr. Gonzales‘s predecessor apparently threatened to resign over the warrantless wiretaps.
Resignation in the air at the World Bank. Mr. Wolfowitz on the ropes.
Republicans, on the offense at their second debate, try to stick each other with the title world‘s worst flip-flopper.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I haven‘t changed my position even—on even-numbered years, or have changed because of the different offices that I may be running for.
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OLBERMANN: That was meant for Romney, Giuliani, both.
Flip-flop from England. Somebody finally figured it out. Sending Prince Harry into battle in Iraq probably contraindicated.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In modern days, we always expected that the spare, as opposed to the heir, would be allowed to get killed in the service of his country.
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OLBERMANN: If you want to put him at risk, put him on “American Idol.”
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you drunk?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I, drunk?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
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OLBERMANN: No, as boring as the show has become, it‘s the viewers who need the drink.
And drink in this prospect. This woman says, depending on the outcome of five sporting events, she may do a public striptease. Now? Now you‘re going to do this?
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
It is the Senate version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the Senate today defeating a Democratic amendment that, in terms of the ending of the war, was deemed to be too hot, then defeating a Republican bill that was deemed to be too cold. No clue when the guy with the room-temperature porridge shows up, but the president has been able to find a so-called war czar, who, it turns out, was both hot and cold against the escalation of U.S. troops.
We begin in the Senate. The Democratic measure written by Senator Russ Feingold would have halted most troop funding by March 2008. The final vote was not even close, the bill defeated 29 to 67. But all of the presidential hopefuls in the Senate—Clinton, Dodd, Obama, Biden—voted for it.
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BIDEN: I‘m not crazy about the language in the Feingold amendment, but I am crazy about the fact that we got to keep the pressure on. (INAUDIBLE) the fact of the matter is that every passing day, the situation in Iraq gets worse, and the president refuses to change course.
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OLBERMANN: The second measure, drafted by Republican John Warner, would have tied aid to reforms by the Iraqi government. But as the Democratic leader of the Senate pointed out this morning, we have been down that road, and we have sipped from that cup before.
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SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: His amendment is really very tepid, very weak, a cup of tea that‘s been sitting on the counter for a few weeks, Mr. President. You wouldn‘t want to drink that tea, you wouldn‘t want to vote for this amendment.
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OLBERMANN: Iraq itself going from bad to worse, but quite literally, mortar rounds hammering the green zone in Baghdad for a second consecutive day, killing at least two. It seems there are no safe zones left in the Iraqi capital.
As for the new man in charge of coordinating the U.S. mission there, the new war czar, Lieutenant General Douglas E. Lute, apparently was against the escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq before he was ever for it, General Lute having argued for significant troop reductions. In an interview with “The Financial Times,” August 2005, “You simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward,” he said. “You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It‘s very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus largely Western foreign troops occupying the country,” national security adviser Stephen Hadley telling “The New York Times” General Lute has changed his views, at the White House this afternoon, press secretary Snow at a loss to explain why the president even needs a war czar anyway.
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TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is appropriate to have somebody coming in in a new position in support of a new philosophy and a new way forward in Iraq, not only to monitor progress, but to do everything possible to assist those on the ground to help them succeed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you think this is a new need, and that you did not need someone to do this before—previous (INAUDIBLE)...
SNOW: Well, again, I, I, I‘m not going to try to—I don‘t know. It‘s—I don‘t have an answer for you. I‘m telling you, that‘s what he‘s here to do now.
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OLBERMANN: Time now to turn 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: Back to the two votes in the Senate today. Is this what the White House is counting on, the sort of Hamlet of Congresses, the one that cannot make up its mind which of the various things to do?
WOLFFE: Well, in the fantasy sports league that this has become, I guess the White House would like this to be dragged out as long as possible, to the point where Democrats, in their view, would be overreaching, and they‘d all end up sounding like Mike Gravel.
I don‘t think that‘s going to happen here, but that‘s what the White House would like to see. They think this is still winnable in a political sense, because Democrats can be tagged with denying the troops any equipment they need, stopping certain missions. And in the end, they can pin defeat on the Democrats, rather than having to deal with it themselves.
OLBERMANN: And what is the plan, then, for when lawmakers, presuming there‘s a when to this and not an if, but when they again reach consensus, is it back to the veto?
WOLFFE: I don‘t think it is back to the veto. I think what we—for all the focus on the Democratic vote on cutting off funding, really, the outlines of a solution came with that Republican proposal, benchmarks with real consequences. Now, they didn‘t really come up with consequences, because they said the president could have a waiver on them today.
But actually, everyone‘s finding it very easy to attack the Iraqis. I‘m hearing it from White House officials, I‘m hearing it from Republicans, and obviously Democrats themselves too. So that‘s where the consensus lies, a benchmark with real consequences.
OLBERMANN: That situation inside that green zone, talking about attacking Iraqis, if even that is no longer safe, if U.S. government workers can‘t be protected, might that impact the White House as it moves forward politically?
WOLFFE: Well, I think they‘ve discounted the idea that you can really get a handle on the violence here. And that should be the measure. What they‘re focusing on now is really the political solution. Remember, the so-called surge was really just to buy time for Iraqi politicians to get their act together. They‘re not getting their act together.
White house officials are telling me they‘ve got two months to show some progress in terms of Iraqi politicians coming together. We‘re not seeing (INAUDIBLE) they‘re talking about taking two months‘ vacation. So that‘s really the measure, I think, for the White House. It‘s not the violence, it‘s some political agreement.
OLBERMANN: Perhaps, Richard, Iraq needs a war czar. And speaking of war czars, Tony Snow‘s attempt to explain today, or his lack of attempt to explain today, why there is one, if even the spinning champion does not have a spin for why there is a war czar needed now, what does that tell us?
WOLFFE: It tells us this is a fake job. It‘s a PR job, and clearly someone needs to develop some talking points for why you‘d need someone. But look, Steve Hadley has all the authority, the national security adviser has all the authority to do this job. It‘s not about tidying up the bureaucracy, it‘s about going out and selling the war one more time. That‘s why you want a general to do it. Good luck to General Lute.
OLBERMANN: Is there—it was raised—the possibility was raised that he‘s there basically to take the fall for the next thing that doesn‘t work. Is there any political sense that that‘s the case?
WOLFFE: I don‘t think you could pin it on him at this late stage. But they need someone to go out there, other than Tony Snow, and there are a shortage of surrogates. They can‘t get the armchair generals to do it. Steve Hadley doesn‘t like going out there. Who else is there? And unfortunately, it‘s fallen to someone who‘s already in the Pentagon.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and, of course, of “Newsweek.”
Always a pleasure, sir. Thanks for your time.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: And to focus in on more of the questions created by that appointment of the new war czar, we‘ll turn now to former Pentagon spokesman P.J. Crowley, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
P.J., thanks for some of your time tonight.
P.J. CROWLEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Since it could be argued that constitutionally, there‘s already a war czar, in the form of either the commander-in-chief or the secretary of defense or, if you prefer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, do you have an explanation for why the White House felt it needed a war czar four years into a conflict, since Tony Snow did not have one?
CROWLEY: Yes, actually, I could add the commander of Central Command and several others to your list.
I mean, it‘s tried and true in Washington that when you‘ve either confronting a insoluble problem or you‘re not willing to admit that your strategy is failing, you create a czar. We created a czar in the drug war, we still have it, obviously. We have a czar who‘s working down in New Orleans and doing a brilliant job of reconstructing the Gulf Coast.
So, you know, I mean, I thought about this, and you and I both baseball fans. You know, you‘re on—your team is losing, you‘re unwilling to confront the star players, perhaps, and so you create a second-base coach, and there‘ll be a lot of motion and activity, but it‘s hard to see how the game will be played any differently.
OLBERMANN: There was a reference on a blog, and not to take these things too seriously, but Intel Dump has quote from an Iraq veteran, national security analyst, Philip Carter, who asked, How broken is the U.S. national security apparatus that we need a czar to run it? Does it need a three-star with some juice in the Pentagon to make things work? Is it pointing at something systemic about our military, that this would even be considered?
CROWLEY: Well, I think there is a very legitimate question that Philip Carter and others and others have raised. We have a cold war national security apparatus stemming from the National Security Act of 1947 that created, among other things, you know, my former employer, the United States Air Force.
And we have the situation where we have the Department of Defense to fight wars. We have the Department of State, you know, to manage the peace. We now find ourselves in the middle with a long war or peace building, whatever you want to call it, and we are not really organized effectively. We don‘t have a coordinated ability to do this well.
So I do think that there is this larger question of adapting our national security apparatus to the 21st century, but adding one more, you know, box to the organizational block, in my mind, is not the answer.
OLBERMANN: Do we know what the guy in this organizational box is going to be doing, what kind of power he has, what his responsibility or role will be? Has that become clear to you?
CROWLEY: Well, I think Richard put his finger on some aspect of it, which is, you know, to explain it better, if it can be, although really, you know, you have a strategy that is not working, you have lost control of the situation on the ground, you‘ve lost control of the picture, which influences public opinion both here in the United States and also in Iraq.
I mean, you have a three-star general, he—I‘m very skeptical of ad hoc arrangements. The best example is the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, which turned out to be a institutional disaster. It was driven by ideology, and it did not have institutional support. So—and you also have these people in the chain of command for the secretary of defense, the secretary of and state. You have day jobs, and it really is supposedly their function, you know, to do the president‘s bidding and to pay attention to his priorities.
And it‘s hard for me to see what Steve Hadley, Bob Gates, Condi Rice, what is more important than focusing on this, so why do we need, you know, one more adviser? What the president really needs is better advice.
OLBERMANN: And of all the ad hoc arrangements, this is one that requires confirmation by the Senate. How did it—how did that happen, and is that likely to be the case for General Lute?
CROWLEY: Well, unlike every other assistant to the president, you know, this one will require congressional approval, Senate approval, because he is a three-star general. All three-star generals, four-star generals, have their new jobs approved by the Senate. Ironically, this will be the only time, as an assistant to the president, you know, that General Lute will come before the Congress, because, you know, Steve Hadley, by tradition, consults with the Congress, but he‘s not—he cannot be called to testify.
This is one of the reasons why Tom Ridge ultimately moved from being an adviser to the president to the secretary of Homeland Security, in part so Congress could have access to him.
OLBERMANN: A second-base coach. P.J. Crowley, former Pentagon spokesman, long line of baseball folks, now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Thank you, P.J.
CROWLEY: A pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Prince Harry will not be going to Iraq, not be leading his men there. The spare is spared the front line.
And the daily call for the attorney general to resign coming from a Republican, along with the daily evidence that there was another lie by the attorney general to Congress.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews said today it sounded like the hospital scene in “The Godfather” after the assassination attempt on Marlon Brando. And just like “The Godfather,” there is a sequel.
Our fourth story tonight, the dramatic testimony yesterday about the White House attempt in 2004 to circumvent its own Justice Department to continue its warrantless wiretapping by going to a bedridden attorney general and demanding his signature.
Today, four senators sent U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales a letter asking, in effect, about this, Did you lie under oath? Democratic Senators Durbin, Feingold, Kennedy, and Schumer asking whether Gonzales still stands by his testimony in 2006 that top Department of Justice officials never had any concerns about the wiretaps.
That letter, and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel‘s call today for Gonzales to go, follow yesterday‘s testimony by Gonzales‘s former deputy, James Comey, who revealed that when Gonzales was White House counsel, he tried to get then-attorney general John Ashcroft to reauthorize the wiretaps while Ashcroft was hospitalized with pancreatitis, disoriented, and had already turned power over to Comey, who had himself already refused to authorize the wiretaps because they did not comply with the law.
Ashcroft also refused, and when the White House went ahead and continued the wiretaps anyway, Ashcroft, Comey, both their chiefs of staff, and FBI chief Robert Mueller all threatened to resign in a funhouse-mirror reflection of the Nixon Saturday night massacre.
After the resignation threats, testified Comey, Mr. Bush backed down. A few weeks later, the wiretapping was revised to comply with the law, kinda. All of this, plus the DOJ‘s Office of Legal Counsel‘s opposition, and yet, Mr. Gonzales told members of Congress to their face last year that there had been no real concerns among top DOJ officials.
Let‘s get ourselves a lawyer in here, constitutional law scholar Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington University.
Jon, thanks again for your time tonight.
JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW EXPERT, GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So four top officials at Justice and the head of the FBI threatened to quit about this, but there was no dispute that Mr. Gonzales could recall? I mean, how does Congress—how should Congress respond to this? I mean, is the first step to offer to pay for a memory improvement course for the attorney general?
TURLEY: Well, first of all, the I-don‘t-recall is not going to work on this one. If he doesn‘t recall this, then he would be effectively brain-dead, because these are the top people within the government who are threatening to resign. And even Alberto Gonzales‘s memory must have this somewhere rolling around in there.
But I think what we have here, again, is a very serious question of a testimony by Gonzales which, at the very best, is intentionally misleading and seems, quite frankly, to be false. And what Congress will do about that is an excellent question, because this isn‘t, as you note, the first time. And really, the committee is losing all credibility every time this guy walks out of the committee room after being confronted with another falsehood.
OLBERMANN: It‘s also been reported that the president personally killed a Justice Department internal probe into all this, and he did so by denying the investigators security clearance. Given Comey‘s testimony appears to implicate Mr. Bush himself now in the implementation of this wiretap program, and we also know U.S. Justice Department considered the program illegal, is this meeting the standards for appointing an independent counsel, at minimum, at this point?
TURLEY: Oh, I think that long ago we passed that line. When the Congress was under the control of the Republicans, the Democrats couldn‘t even get a committee hearing or room. I was called to the first hearing on this by John Conyers. We had to meet in the basement because they wouldn‘t open up the doors to the committee room.
So long ago, there should have been an independent or special counsel.
But the problem comes down to the failure of Congress to deal with what is a very ugly and unfortunate fact. This would be a clear impeachable offense. I don‘t know of a more clear potential charge of impeachment within the modern presidency. I mean, this law makes it a crime to order domestic surveillance without a warrant. The president ordered it and renewed it 30 times. And now we find out that the very top of the Justice Department told him, This is unlawful.
OLBERMANN: Acknowledging that 50 percent or more of an impeachment process is political, and that is not likely to occur, nobody probably on the Democratic side who would have to push for it will be willing to do so. What can be done relative to Mr. Gonzales, especially if Congress doesn‘t want to say try to impeach him? Does the—does his conduct open the door for any kind of remedies from the bar association, the Better Business Bureau? Can somebody go in and get this man out of there?
TURLEY: Well, the answer is, probably not, that, you know, the bar is going to look at this and really give it back to Congress. (INAUDIBLE) probably an independent prosecutor investigating the president. They‘re all going to say, Hold it, the framers gave you the authority and the obligation to act when the president or one of his people engages in unlawful conduct, whether it is lying to a committee or whether it‘s violating federal law with domestic surveillance, that‘s your duty.
And in some ways, the framers did it right. You know, the members of Congress, Democrat or Republican, have no excuse not to call a hearing to look at these offenses. They give them all the power they need, but they need to have the conscience and the principles to use this power.
OLBERMANN: On this—the attorney firings, we got this word tonight that Justice had released two, two e-mails, Karl Rove e-mails, the day after the deadline to do so from Congress, and they were not from Rove, they were to him, and they were not during the start of the scandal or before it, they were after the scandal had erupted. What legal power does Congress have to compel Justice to fork over e-mails that Rove might have been sending people over there in the relevant time period?
TURLEY: It has a lot of power, and it would win this fight. They were very smart in looking for e-mails that essentially dead-ended in the Justice Department. The terminus is an agency that they clearly have oversight responsibility over. They‘re investigating potential crimes and violations of federal law. I think they would win. The problem is that the White House may try to run out the clock, and that‘s going to be the issue.
OLBERMANN: Jonathan Turley of George Washington University. As always, thanks for your time tonight, sir.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A quick footnote on the U.S. attorneys scandal, a footnote that will grow into full-blown headlines one week from today. Monica Goodling, the 1999 Regent University Law School graduate at the center of the scandal as the Gonzales White House liaison will testify to the House Judiciary Committee next Wednesday. Gonzales had empowered her to hire and fire U.S. attorneys, at least those in the staffs of those offices, despite her lack of prosecutorial experience, but she pleaded the Fifth when Congress first asked her what her role was—or what role the White House, and particularly Karl Rove, played in those firings, granted limited immunity for her testimony.
She‘s now expected to come clean about what she knows about Rove‘s involvement.
And in an indication of how Mr. Bush‘s nominees fare when they venture outside the bubble, word tonight that Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the Iraq war, is willing to resign as president of the World Bank, but only if the bank‘s board first says he did nothing wrong enough to merit his resignation or firing.
Wolfowitz, of course, has been embroiled in scandal over the raises he gave to fellow Bush administration vets, but especially to his girlfriend, a bank employee, his lawyer saying tonight that his client will push for a vote of the bank board. Quote, “If the full board does not clear his name and exonerate him, he will not resign,” and, “He will not resign under this cloud.” So look for sunnier skies and a firing next week.
Tonight, the Democratic National Committee announces six more debates. On the other side, six more Republicans have called each other a flip-flopper.
Let‘s get the fat cats out of government. If you failed to weigh your vote, at least you can weigh your mayor.
All that and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1931, the late actor Jack Dodson was born. You probably do not know him by that, his real-life name, nor in his work in the movies “Munster, Go Home,” or Pat Garrett in “Billy the Kid,” but rather for forever tugging at his bow tie and trembling at the prospect of the wrath of his unseen mother as he played the town clerk, Howard Sprague, in “The Andy Griffith Show” and its successors.
On that note, let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in High Wickham, England, for some old-fashioned political checks and balances. It‘s an age-old tradition dating back to medieval times, in which the mayor and other officials are weighed on a big brass scale in the town square to see if the politicians are getting fat on the taxpayer coin. If they‘ve gained weight since this time last year, they are jeered by the crowd, which appears to consist of guys from the 13th century, or Monty Python extras. Now, if we could only try this here with Halliburton dividends.
To Berlin, where the future is now. They call this the Spirit of Germany, a computer-controlled vehicle that can drive around in circles all by itself in a parking lot. Yes, the Spirit of Germany is a minivan. Given the alternatives of the 20th century, take it and run with it. Researchers at the University of Berlin say the van is equipped with sensors to prevent collisions, and it‘s the perfect answer for anyone who‘s feeling sleepy at the road—or on the road, but has run out of methamphetamines. Unfortunately, it needs an electronic roadway to work, and so far, the only place in the world that has one of those is this parking lot in Berlin. So for now, you‘re going to have to keep popping them pills.
Three frontrunners who say they‘re different from the other two, each accuses the other of flip-flopping. Republican debate number two.
And no flipping, just flopping, another tepid edition of “American Idol,” accompanied by another ratings plummet.
But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, the late Mandy Deschambeault of Hawkesbury, Ontario, Canada. Not to wish this on anyone, but the story has a certain morality-play quality to it. She was hitchhiking when an elderly man gave her a ride. He got out for a moment at a stop. She stole the car, and promptly drove it into a tree, killing herself.
Number two, Sunshine Bus Company of Chicago handles the school bus routes for the Morgan Park area. One of its passengers, a 9-year-old girl, complained to her dad that she didn‘t like the ride to school. Then she started coughing. Turns out Sunshine school bus driver chain smoked in the school bus. When this fact was brought to the local newspapers attention, the company got him to stop. Good for everybody.
Number one, the television entertainment licensing authority of Hong Kong, which says it says it is considering reclassifying a well known book as, quote, indecent after it received 838 separate complaints that this book had excessive sexual and violent content, including rape, incest, a lot of smiting. If it is reclassified, the book in question will be available for sale only to those 18 and older and would need to be sealed in a wrapper, complete with a warning notice. The book in question, the Bible.
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OLBERMANN: The second Republican presidential debate is over, but one salient truth is just beginning to manifest itself. Unlike they‘re Democratic counterparts, the Republican hopefuls seem to have not the slightest hesitancy to bash each other over the head with very large pointed rocks. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the scribbling sound you hear is all the campaign chiefs of all the Democratic candidates furiously writing down all of the accusations of flip-flopping made by Republicans about Republicans.
The big three did not originally use names. Nonetheless, McCain attacked Romney. Romney attacked McCain. They both attacked Giuliani. Also, Giuliani attacked the liberal media, reminding us that the wife who found out he was divorcing her when he mentioned it at a news conference used to be a news caster.
Former Virginia Governor Gilmore was the first to put a face to a charge, aiming at Giuliani‘s nuanced stand on opposing abortion but tolerating those who do not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM GILMORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Rudy Giuliani, of course, has taken that position with respect to abortion. With respect to taxes, Governor Huckabee has raised taxes in his state significantly. On health care, Governor Romney has said in the last debate that this was a privately sanctioned type of program for health care, when indeed, it is not.
MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let‘s get the record straight. First of all, there is no question that I support second amendment rights, but I also support an assault weapon ban. And with regards to gay rights, I have always somebody who opposes discrimination, but I also consistently feel that it‘s critical to have marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Conversions on gun, conversions on abortion, conversions on immigration. It‘s beginning to truly sounding like a Baptist tent revival meeting here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: You may have heard that the biggest applause of the night came after Rudy Giuliani‘s response to Congressman Ron Paul, the Texas libertarian, trying to explain that the fight against terrorism is historically much more complicated than the simplistic view that they hate us because of our freedom.
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RON PAUL ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we‘ve been over there. We‘ve been bombing Iraq for ten years. We‘ve been in the Middle East. I think Reagan was right. We don‘t understand the irrationality of Middle East politics.
GIULIANI: That‘s an extraordinary statement. As someone who lived through the attacks of September 11th, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don‘t think I‘ve ever heard that before and I‘ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Once again for analysis, we turn to John Harwood, “Wall Street Journal” senior contributing writer and CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent. And good evening to you John.
JOHN HARWOOD, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Hey Keith.
OLBERMANN: That line from Giuliani last night probably helped his lead, but the abortion nuance, has he succeeded in convincing Republicans to accept a slightly more tolerant stance from him at least on abortion?
HARWOOD: I think the evidence so far, Keith, is that it‘s not succeeding. We‘ve seen that Rudy Giuliani‘s lead over John McCain in the polls has been coming down. It‘s now in the single digits in most of the most recent polls. His position on abortion, Keith, is right in the sweet spot of national opinion, but the beating heart of the Republican party consists of social conservatives, who feel very strongly about this issue.
What he‘s trying to do is not easy at all. He‘s trying to ask those social conservatives to set that issue aside, ignore the fact that he disagrees with them and focus on things like security after 9/11.
OLBERMANN: Govern Romney‘s explanation that he can be anti-assault weapon, but pro NRA, that he will not discriminate against gays, but he will not allow civil unions. This has been already termed chameleon politics. Is he able to thread those needles?
HARWOOD: Well, that‘s a challenge. And it‘s a different picture nationally and in the key primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. He‘s fairly competitive with McCain and Giuliani in Iowa and New Hampshire. He lags way behind the national polls, behind Fred Thompson who is not in the race. Look, every politician tries to please all the people all the time. But Mitt Romney, coming from running in Massachusetts to running in the Republican primary, is trying moves with a somewhat higher degree of difficulty than most politicians ever try.
The danger for him is that he looks like he‘s working a little bit too hard to make everyone happy. Politicians have to show some grit. Sometimes you have to say no to do that.
OLBERMANN: It seems pretty evident that the Democrats in the first debate were not trying to draw that much blood from each other, maybe a black and blue mark per. But based on last week at the Reagan library, and last night at South Carolina, there seems to be no such self-restraint among the Republicans. Is that fair and if so, why are they not pulling back a little bit on the punches?
HARWOOD: It‘s absolutely fair and the reason, Keith, is that Democrats are a lot happier with their field than the Republicans are. The Democrat candidates are looking stronger. You also have the first African-American candidates with real shots to win the presidency. That causes other people to be a little bit hesitant about attacking.
On the Republican side, especially these second tier candidates who are not even in the game, they have got every reason to go after the people at the top of the ticket. And even the big three, McCain, Giuliani and Romney, see these big flaws in their rivals. And they feel like they need to open up some damage and go after them.
OLBERMANN: And last night was a very conservative audience in the south on the day that Jerry Falwell died. That was the backdrop, the environment. But there was one question here that some found troubling. Let‘s listen in to this silence when McCain, who has been actually tortured, has credibility and credentials on this that the rest of us only have nightmares about, explained why he was against it and then Giuliani‘s response to the torture question. Here‘s the tape first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: It‘s not about the terrorists. It‘s about us. It‘s about what kind of country we are. And a fact, the more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they‘re going to tell you what they think you want to know. It‘s about us as a nation.
GIULIANI: Well, I‘d say every method they could think of. And I would support them in doing that, because I‘ve seen what --
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OLBERMANN: Governor Romney also said he would like to see twice as many terror suspects put in Guantanamo Bay as are now there. Obviously that stuff‘s going to play very well in Republican primaries, but what happens if a candidate Giuliani or a candidate Romney gets this stuff thrown back in his face by a Democratic next summer or fall?
HARWOOD: Well look, Keith, I think those answers by both McCain and Giuliani help both men perhaps in the primary and in the general election for different reasons. McCain‘s core message is toughness, and that I‘m tough enough that I can go against my party on this issue. Why? Because I‘ve been in combat. I‘ve been tortured myself, as you mentioned.
Rudy Giuliani also has a bit of a claim to combat in a different way, because he was on the ground in 9/11. And he‘s saying something popular when he says, look, we‘ve got to do anything possible to prevent that from happening again. Mitt Romney is somebody who doesn‘t have that credential and when he says I‘m going to double the size of Guantanamo and make sure that there are no lawyers available for these terror suspects, it sound a little bit tinny and thin.
OLBERMANN: John Harwood of CNBC and the “Wall Street Journal.” Great thanks John.
HARWOOD: You bet.
OLBERMANN: Prince Harry will not be fighting in Iraq. The top general in Britain decides it‘s safer for everybody, including his mates, if Harry stays put where he is in England.
And Sofia Lauren naked for soccer. The explanation ahead on
OLBERMANN: His very namesake is one of the most famous soldiers in British royal history, Henry V, the boy king, who led the English to victory against the French at Agincourt in 1415 and in doing so was immortalized by Shakespeare as a great patriot, mighty warrior, rallying his troops to charge into the breach once more with exhortation, “Cry god for Harry, England and St. George.” But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, that all works less well in 2007 than it did in 1415, where, among other things, you needed members of the royal family to lead the fight because you couldn‘t trust any other general to not turn the troops around and shoot at the royal family.
The current Prince Harry is not going to Iraq after all. Our correspondent in London is Keith Miller.
KEITH MILLER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two years in training at Sandhurst, Britain‘s premier military academy, molded the 22-year-old prince into a first class officer, ready to serve the commander-in-chief, his grandmother the queen.
PRINCE HENRY CHARLES ALBERT DAVID, GREAT BRITAIN: The last thing I want to do is have my soldiers sent away to Iraq or someplace like that, and for me to be held back home twiddling my thumbs.
MILLER: But Prince Harry was a special target of Iraqi insurgents.
British intelligence intercepted specific threats to kill or capture him.
SIR RICHARD DANNATT, BRITISH ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: These threats expose not only him, but also those around, him to a degree of risk that I now deem unacceptable.
MILLER: The British zone of combat around Basra, where Prince Harry would have served, has deteriorated. A dozen British soldiers killed in the past month. Yesterday, the prime minister, Tony Blair, told Brian Williams the decision was up to the military.
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Well, I know he is a very brave young man and is determined to go. But I think in the end this is a decision for the army and for his commanders.
MILLER: The monarchy has always played a role in the military. Harry‘s uncle, Prince Andrew, served in the Falklands war. Even his grandmother served briefly in World War II. Since he was a boy, Prince Harry has dreamed of being a soldier. Tonight the prince is reportedly deeply disappointed, but has no plans to quit the armed forces.
Keith Miller, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: In the theme of celebrity continues, as we round up the nightly entertainment news in Keeping Tabs, and the startling word from Italy that the woman generally acclaimed one of the most beautifully in history says she will do a striptease if her favorite soccer team wins the last few games of the season. The caveat here, the woman in question is 72 years old.
Sofia Lauren, the actress who has made the wrist watches of several generations of men run fast, is a life long supporter of the Italian soccer team Napoli. The franchise has not won the Italian championship in 20 years. In fact, it was relegated—it finished last so often that it was dropped to the Italian B league. But fortunes have reversed. And if Napoli wins its last five games, it gets promoted back to the A league for next season.
And Ms. Lauren tells an Italian newspaper, quote, you watch, if we go up, I will do a strip tease. No details offered, but if it happens, the dance will test one of Ms. Lauren‘s most famous statements, sex appeal is 50 percent what you got and what people think you got.
Speaking of what you got versus what people think you got, fresh on the heals of the between the battle of the bands between CBS newsman Bob Schieffer and his retro country band and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and his jazz flute, we here at COUNTDOWN decided to hold own our own music competition, DC Idol. Once again, here are the nominees.
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OLBERMANN: To vote on your favorite, just go to COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com. Balloting open until Friday afternoon. Then we will announce the winner right here, right live on COUNTDOWN on Friday night. Our idol competition is just two days old and already I‘m tired of it. So what about “American Idol” after six seasons, seemingly without a pause. Our idol princess is in the wings to discuss the show and the bum ratings.
But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. The bronze to the Ludwig family of Illinois. Grandpa Ludwig was so proud of his grandson that he gave the boy a shotgun. So the boy‘s father applied for a firearm owner identification card from the state of Illinois. And now that boy, right of the screen, Howard David Bubba Ludwig, has his own state gun I.D. Bubba is ten months old.
Keeping with the theme, the silver to Kerry McWilliams of Fargo, North Dakota. He is very upset with the state of Minnesota because it will not give him a gun permit. Mr. McWilliams says he would only use the gin in self-defense at point blank range. He is claiming discrimination because Minnesota denied him the permit. Minnesota did this because Mr. McWilliams is blind. Before you shudder, McWilliams has already been given gun permits by North Dakota and Utah. Stay away from there.
And our winner tonight, Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. A campaign aide of his has been indicted on charges of voter fraud, of illegally voting in two Congressional runoffs three years ago. McHenry won the runoff by exactly 86 votes. Mr. McHenry claims he and his aide are the victims of political prosecution. A spokesman says that the Gaston County District Attorney Lock Bell has led a, quote, three-year smear campaign against McHenry. That‘s a McHenry spokesman who said that.
A Republican county chairman there says District Attorney Lock Bell is trying to destroy the life of McHenry‘s aide for political reasons. Punch line, District Attorney Lock Bell is not only, like McHenry, a Republican, but Bell now reveals he co-hosted a fund raiser for McHenry‘s campaign and contributed money to it. So we have a Republican Congressman claiming he‘s being politically targeted by a Republican district attorney. Congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: No wonder “American Idol” producers were not bothered when that Sanjaya guy kept surviving from week to week. Now that he‘s three weeks gone, the ratings have been sliding. And even when Sanjaya was providing regular train wrecks, the audience for Idol was down from the year before. Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it may be time to say it, “American Idol” has peaked.
Even though the judges kept telling last night‘s semifinalists how brilliant they were, the show served up the kind of snooze fest that has caused alarm even among my idol blathering co-workers. And according to last night‘s preliminary rating ratings, the show had an audience of 23 million, down from nearly 29 million for the same week last year, down eight percent from last week‘s audience, which was itself lower than the week before.
The program may still rank number one, but the sagging ratings create the chance that next spring some show out there could go in for the kill. For now, Idol simply limped to this year‘s finish line.
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RYAN SEACREST, “AMERICAN IDOL”: Yo, yo, yo, she did, did, did.
SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”: Are you drunk?
SEACREST: Am I drunk? Are you looking at me asking that?
COWELL: I‘m asking you.
SEACREST: No, I‘m totally sober. We are going to take a quick break right now, get a cocktail.
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OLBERMANN: All right, let‘s turn to somebody who has actual talent, COUNTDOWN‘s very own “American Idol” princess—I didn‘t say extraordinary amounts of it. Also the mid day host of New York‘s classic rock station Q104.3, Maria Milito. Good evening, my friend.
MARIA MILITO, Q104.3: Hello. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Is that last bit that we showed there some wishful thinking, maybe some cocktails or what‘s needed to give the program a little life?
MILITO: I think so. They also came back from a commercial break last night and Paula was kissing Simon. And Ryan Seacrest was standing behind them, and he was like, guys, guys, we‘re live. So maybe you need alcohol to make the show better. We need them to make out. It is boring. The show is really boring now.
OLBERMANN: All right, if you are confessing that, and I don‘t feel any guilt at all in asking this question, has it jumped the shark? There was a time that “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” was the unstoppable juggernaut of television, or “Laugh In”. “Laugh In” was very big. Did “American Idol” pass its peak somewhere here?
MILITO: It could have. I mean, think about it, last year at this time we had Katherine McPhee. And everybody was talking about her being a Scientologist. I think the contestants in other seasons made it more interesting. I think these contestants, as good as they are, they are kind of boring. And it is true, Sanjaya really added to it. He was terrible, but he added to it. So, it could definitely have jumped the shark. I hate to say that. I‘m the princess. But—
OLBERMANN: You can become the princess of something else. Is there a moment—is there a something we‘ll look back on and say, that‘s where it fell out? Could it have been Sanjaya? Was he the shark in the tank?
MILITO: I think he was, because as much as it was interesting to see someone who wasn‘t even talented enough to be in a high school audition—well, it‘s true. He couldn‘t really sing well. But the flip of it is for the people who, like I used to be, think its “American Idol,” the American dream, people can get a chance who wouldn‘t normally get the chance. It kind of lost it because of Sanjaya.
So I think he was the shark. We should have harpooned him a long time ago.
OLBERMANN: Is there a remedy for next season? Is there something to reenergize this franchise?
MILITO: Well, I think two things. I think they need to do something about the voting so that somebody like a Sanjaya can‘t get to the level that he got. I also think they need to do something with the guests that they have on. I don‘t mean to say the kids, but they don‘t know the music even if it was from 25 years ago. So maybe they need today‘s pop stars to be on the show and have the kids sing—the contestants sing current songs.
I don‘t know. It bothers me when Jordan Sparks sang “Wishing On a Star,” and she said, you know what, I never heard of this song before. It is not that old of a song.
OLBERMANN: For those of the viewers who are betting based on this, your choices for the top two?
MILITO: Top two I think will be Jordan Sparks and Melinda. But I think Melinda is going to win. She has been my favorite the whole time, because she really is very original with how she sings. She is a professional back up singer. She doesn‘t have a neck though, but OK, we can do something about that.
But she‘s a very good singer. And, you know, Jordan Sparks, it bothers me, but she‘s a pro-lifer. I just have to get that in.
OLBERMANN: All right, and if the last three shows do really well in the ratings, do you think Sophia Lauren will come out and do a strip tease in celebration?
MILITO: No, but I think that Paula Abdul will get up on the table on all fours and bark like a dog. What do you think? She might do that.
OLBERMANN: Another reason not to watch. Maria Milito of New York‘s Q104.3, our “American Idol” princess. As always, my friend, great thanks.
MILITO: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,477 day since the declaration of mission accomplish in the Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night, and especially in light of that imagery that Maria just created for us, good luck.
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