Guests: Pat Leahy, Bruce Fein, John Daniel Shannon, Paul F. Tompkins
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Contempt of Congress, the Judiciary Committee votes out contempt citations for Harriet Miers, for White House chief of staff Josh Bolten.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Why are they doing this rather than the people‘s business?
OLBERMANN: Possibly for the same reason those Republicans who truly believe that Bill Clinton had done something wrong did that.
Is Attorney General Gonzales next on the contempt express? His version of the briefings on the NSA domestic spying program, the four Democrats at the briefing all say that there is at best something inaccurate about his recollection.
The day after for Fredo, assessed by our special guest, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who also tonight, for the first time, he says, tells what really happened at his infamous photo op with Vice President Cheney in 2004.
Tacoma Park, Maryland, hello. The 81st local community to vote to impeach the president and the vice president. That president, who just signed an executive order allowing him to confiscate property of people he deems are hurting the government of Iraq. Conservative constitutional scholar Bruce Fein has had enough. He joins us.
The outrageous treatment of our injured vets.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We owe our wounded soldier the very best care and the very best benefits and the very easiest to understand system.
OLBERMANN: Too bad they‘re not getting it. That, the damning report today of a bipartisan committee headed by Clinton‘s secretary of health, and Clinton‘s 1996 presidential opponent.
And “Saddam and Osama‘s Gay Wedding.” “Batboy Leads Cops on Three-State Chase.” “Man Takes One Look at this Gal‘s Figure—and Dies!”. The home of the greatest headlines in print, the Weekly World News will publish no more. In made up news, “Tabloid No Longer Able to Compete with FOX Noise.” All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening, breaking news at this hour of documentary evidence that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to the Senate yesterday when he repeatedly testified that eight congressional leaders were not briefed in 2004 about the administration‘s domestic spy program, but rather about some other program.
Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, the dramatic revelation based on documents from the Bush administration‘s own director of national intelligence, obscuring what had already been the first vote charging criminal contempt of Congress since 1998 against two of the president‘s other senior staffers. Our interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy presently.
First, the new documents, then the contempt. Yesterday‘s testimony by Attorney General Gonzales to the Senate, specifically his references to the gang of eight, the congressional leaders he claimed were given briefings about Justice Department dissent over “other intelligence activities” and not the so-called terrorist surveillance program in 2004.
His out-of-left-field new account of that late-night trip he took to the hospital bedside of a heavily-sedated Attorney General John Ashcroft. Congresswoman Jane Harman, a former member of that gang of eight, saying she was unaware of other intelligence activities, quote: “The program had different parts, but there was only one program.”
Ms. Harman adding that Mr. Gonzales was “selectively declassifying information to defend his own conduct.” Senator Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, also disputing the attorney general‘s account, saying that based on what he knows about it, he would have to say Mr. Gonzalez has committed perjury.
And tonight, the Associated Press saying it has obtained a May 17th, 2006 memorandum, four pages in length, from the then-director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, to the then-speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert, which details the White House briefing with the gang of eight on March 10th, 2004. And which refers to “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the terrorist surveillance program” on March 10th, 2004.
Please remember exactly how Mr. Gonzales had contradicted that statement under oath yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The reason for the visit to the hospital center was about other intelligence activities, it was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: More details from David Shuster in a moment, first, the preceding trouble with testimony. The House Judiciary Committee today voting contempt of Congress citations against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers for their refusal to testify about the firings of those nine U.S. attorneys while citing claims of executive privilege.
Committee Chairman John Conyers saying the panel had nothing to lose by advancing those citations to the full House because it could not allow presidential aides to flaunt congressional authority. The last ones found guilty of criminal contempt of Congress was an EPA official who went to jail for three months in 1983. The White House, however, denying that any authority is being flouted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: We have a situation where there is an attempt to do something that has never been done in American history, which is to assail the concept of executive privilege which hales back to the administration of George Washington.
And in particular, to use criminal contempt charges against the White House chief of staff and the White House legal counsel. Because interestingly enough, nobody has cited or recited anything that they think they‘ve been denied.
Instead, there has been constantly, and it seems a desire to provoke a confrontation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Before Senator Leahy refutes that particular point, let us turn to our correspondent in Washington, David Shuster.
Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Bolten and Miers in moment. First, flesh out this Gonzales story and the development. The attorney general testified under oath to the Senate yesterday about this 2004 briefing. It was not about the terrorist surveillance program, and there was already a memo in the speaker‘s file from the director of national intelligence saying it was?
How much trouble is the attorney general in?
SHUSTER: This is a really, really big deal and a big problem for Gonzales, Keith. I had been speaking with a legal expert earlier tonight. And reading back the way that Gonzales was facing the questions from Schumer, the way he responded, the fact that he was given an opportunity to correct itself, and Gonzales repeatedly said it was about other intelligence activities.
But the fact that there is now documentary evidence, never mind the testimony of these members of Congress who were there, but documentary evidence that in fact this meeting was about the terrorist surveillance program, TSP, and there you have Gonzales flatly saying, no, it was not.
I mean, the legal expert I spoke with tonight said that just based on the documentary evidence that might exist, which we now know does exist, this is a clear case of perjury and that it is not even close. And so now the question is whether Democrats want to call for a special prosecutor and say, look, a U.S. attorney needs to bring this to a grand jury, seek an indictment, of course, because Gonzales is in charge of the Justice Department, he should not be—he should be recusing himself.
But the question is, will Democrats demand a special prosecutor at this point?
OLBERMANN: Now he can review his testimony. They give you—all witnesses the option to review and revise. But assuming that that doesn‘t happen, what—the administration must think under these circumstances that there is wiggle room here. They asked him this question umpteen times yesterday, is there any idea what the out would be other than revising the testimony?
SHUSTER: Well, and tonight, Gonzales‘ spokesman is saying that he stands by his testimony, that this was not about the terrorist surveillance program, this March, 2004, meeting. So the only thing that they could do now is they could, I suppose, suggest that this administration document was wrong.
That perhaps the document misidentified what the meeting was about. But then you have a correction that stands in contrast with what members of Congress are saying. Or, the only thing that Gonzales could then do, I suppose, is tomorrow he could say, you know what, I did make a mistake, I was thinking about another meeting and here is my corrected testimony.
But that makes the point for members of Congress who say that every time this guy testifies, he says something that is not true. I mean, this is a really big deal, according to legal experts, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Or it makes the other point, David, which is that there is another surreptitious spying program that the attorney general thinks was discussed that day, which is an entirely different set of oil cans catching fire.
SHUSTER: Yes. That nobody else knows about, because members of Congress say they haven‘t been briefed on any of that.
OLBERMANN: Right. And the other, what was the lead story until about an hour ago, what specifically in the House are Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers being accused of? Because Congressman Conyers put out this 52-page laundry list of possible offenses committed by the administration, you could argue that might be a little short. What part of it actually pertains to what they did not say?
SHUSTER: Well, the contempt citation is related to the White House with Miers and Bolten refusing to provide testimony and documents related to the firing of these federal prosecutors. As it stands, lawmakers have already collected evidence from the Justice Department that suggest a high level of White House involvement in the firings, and that Bush adviser Karl Rove was among the first officials to suggest the firings.
So Congress is convinced that Miers‘ testimony could add to the level of detail and that the White House documents, which essentially are under the purview of the chief of staff, Bolten, would also help provide a complete picture.
However, just based on what Congress has been able to get so far, Congressman Conyers has found evidence that White House and Justice Department officials, in firing the prosecutors, violated federal statutes that protect civil service employees. And Conyers has also found evidence that suggests Justice Department and White House officials then sought to cover up what they had done by obstructing justice and giving false testimony in statements to Congress.
And again, Democrats say that they need access to these White House documents to determine what the full picture is. And they are essentially holding the White House—holding the White House officials in contempt for refusing to provide these documents in testimony.
OLBERMANN: If they get them, I just have this vision of a constant, unbroken chain of couriers going back and forth from the White House to the Congress and to the Senate. MSNBC‘s David Shuster in Washington. As always, David, great thanks.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And I‘m sure we‘ll hear more about this from you tomorrow.
OLBERMANN: Just when the reputation of the attorney general looked like it could not get any worse, first came yesterday‘s appearance before Senate, and tonight‘s revelation of Bush administration documents evidently showing him up as a liar. Earlier this evening I spoke with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy about what steps should be taken in the light of the administration‘s continued stonewalling and secrecy.
And our conversation taking place shortly before the Associated Press revealed it had the memo from the director of national intelligence.
OLBERMANN: Senator Leahy, thank you for your time tonight.
SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-VT), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Happy to be with you.
OLBERMANN: The latest account from Attorney General Gonzales about his late night trip to the hospital bedside of the then- attorney general, John Ashcroft, Congresswoman Harman has summed it up, that he seemed to selectively declassify information to defend himself. Do you agree with that assessment?
LEAHY: I do. I also advised him very strongly, as did at least one other member of the committee that he wants to look at the transcript of what he said, and let us know if that is really the answers he wants to stand by.
Senator Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senator Intelligence Committee, feels it is not accurate. I‘ve actually sent the transcript over to the Intelligence Committee and told them to take a look at it. Former Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, who was at the meetings of the so-called gang of eight, he says it is not what he remembered at all.
And I‘m wondering—we pushed him very strongly on this. Many people who had been briefed—in fact, members of our committee that were on the Intelligence Committee seemed rather amazed at the answers.
OLBERMANN: Senator Rockefeller, you mention, actually went a little further than that. He said that he believes Mr. Gonzales may have been—possibly committed perjury with that answer regarding the hospital visit. Do you think a perjury investigation might be in order at this point?
LEAHY: Well, I have asked him to look at the transcript and get back to us. Our normal practice is, you testify, you get the transcript. You are given at least a reasonable time, a few days to look at it. If you find you made some glaring mistakes, send us that in writing saying what the mistakes were.
The last time Mr. Gonzales came and testified, about 75 to 80 times he said, I don‘t remember, I don‘t know. I can‘t answer. One of the few things he answered within that, got a very long letter from him saying, I want to correct my answers in this, this and this position.
If there are no corrections and if it turns out that there were inaccuracies in there, I would remind that this was under oath, I will refer it to the inspector general, take whatever action he thinks should be taken.
OLBERMANN: How can ultimately though the Senate and the House, either or both, do anything about the attorney general under these circumstances between the two branches of the government at the moment?
Can you create an office of special prosecutor in this case? Could the Senate, could the House impeach Mr. Gonzales?
LEAHY: Technically we could. This would take really until he was going to be out of office anyway. I find it amazing, I cannot imagine—I have been here for six administrations, I can‘t imagine any president, Democratic or Republican, who would keep an attorney general like this—even keep them on.
I‘ve said to people, this apparently is the way President Bush wants to be remembered in the history books. I‘m a former prosecutor. We have a lot of former prosecutors on my Judiciary Committee. They are rather attracted to being on the committee.
Every one of them, Republican and Democratic, has said they would never allow this prosecutor in their office. This is an administration that talks a big talk on law and order and they have done more to undermine law enforcement, especially law enforcement in this country, than any president I have seen in almost 34 years here in the Senate.
OLBERMANN: In response to the criminal contempt charges from the House Judiciary Committee today, the White House press secretary, Mr. Snow, not only made the claim that “nobody has cited or recited anything that they think they have been denied from the White House.”
He also is accusing Congress of provoking a confrontation with the White House. From your vantage point as chairman of the Senate Judiciary, do you agree with Mr. Snow‘s assessment?
LEAHY: Oh, of course not. And nobody agrees with it. He is putting the best face on it. I guess that is the job he is supposed to do as press secretary. But we have all subpoenaed a number of things involving the firings of the U.S. attorneys. A number of things that in all likelihood show improper manipulation of law enforcement.
They have not given them to us. In fact, I‘ll give you one example. When we subpoenaed the accounts that Karl Rove and others had used for the Republican National Committee, they were not even running it through the White House in their e-mail accounts, they said, well, that has all been erased, so there is nothing there to get.
When I suggested that of course you can‘t erase e-mails like that, I was practically ridiculed by the White House press office for suggesting that. Then lo and behold, guess what happened? They found they had 66,000 e-mails from one person, tens of thousands from another that we have asked for.
But now they say, whoops, we do have them, but we still don‘t want to give them to you. I mean, this is wrong. This is wrong. They are actually breaking the law on the Official Records Act.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, Senator, I can‘t resist this. It is not serious news, but it sure seems seriously symbolic, the new Stephen Hayes biography of the vice president, Mr. Cheney‘s version of the ill-fated photo moment with you in 2004 contained therein, let me just read this, the vice president says—this is Hayes quoting him: “Leahy came over and put his arm around me and he did not kiss me, but it was so close to it, so I flashed and told him, I dropped the F-bomb on him, it was heartfelt.”
Any reaction to that account, sir?
LEAHY: Well, if Mr. Hayes had intended to write a serious story other than a puff piece about the vice president, he would have actually picked up the phone, called me and asked what had happened, or called any one of the several senators that were standing there.
What actually happened, every vice president since I‘ve been here has made a point when they come on the Senate floor to go over and talk to senators on both sides of the aisle, the idea being that you might build up some goodwill for whoever is president.
Dick Cheney never does. He only stands on the Republican side. So I walked over and I thought, well, maybe he is being shy. I said, Dick, you know, you can come on over and talk to the Democrats too. We won‘t—you know, we won‘t bite you.
And he reacted as he has described he reacted. The irony, Keith, is that the Republican senators who were there are the ones who told the press about it. They were so shocked. I did not say anything to anybody about it. This is the first time I think publicly I‘ve stated exactly what happened.
But the man who wrote this book, as most people have acknowledged, it was intended to be favorable to the vice president. That is why he spent time with him. If he really cared, he would talk to any one of the senators—Republican senators who were there or talked to me to get the real story.
OLBERMANN: Apparently just one side of it is bad enough from the vice president‘s point of view. Not just a president but a vice president challenging imagination and challenging it in both parties.
LEAHY: Of course, he is the fourth branch of government, apparently.
OLBERMANN: Apparently, or a different state. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, great thanks for some of your time tonight, sir.
LEAHY: Good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of Mr. Cheney, the grassroots effort to impeach him and impeach the president, a conservative constitutional lawyer arguing it is necessary.
And what is necessary for our wounded heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else? And the new bipartisan report tonight that states simply, our government is not giving it to them. You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
ANNOUNCER: This is a MSNBC Special: “White House in Crisis.” Here is Keith Olbermann.
OLBERMANN: The profound unpopularity of President Bush reached historic proportions today. In our fourth story, a new poll finding that no president in modern American history has been so unpopular for so long. And only one president ever racked up a higher disapproval number.
The Washington Post‘s new survey finding that nearly two out of three Americans, 65 percent, disapproving of Mr. Bush‘s performance as president. On August 5th, 1974, at the height of Watergate, four days before those images, with 50,000 dead in Vietnam, 66 percent of Americans disapproved of Richard Nixon‘s performance as president.
Other than Mr. Nixon, only Harry Truman matched Mr. Bush‘s 65 percent. Once he did that compared to Mr. Bush‘s three times so far. So little surprise, perhaps, that Tacoma Park, Maryland, city council this week voted unanimously to impeach both Mr. Bush and, of course, Mr. Cheney as well. It became the 81st municipality to do so.
In addition to Mr. Nixon‘s departure, Lyndon Johnson had decided not to seek reelection after just 52 percent disapproved of his performance. President Clinton‘s worst numbers, 51 percent, came in his first term, and got better during the push for impeachment in his second.
Let‘s turn now to Bruce Fein, who served President Reagan as deputy attorney general, and is an old colleague from what seems like nine lifetimes ago, the original “White House in Crisis” program on this network.
Bruce, great to talk to you again, sir.
BRUCE FEIN, FMR. REAGAN DEPUTY ATTY GEN.: Thank you for inviting me.
OLBERMANN: Do you think this president needs to be impeached?
FEIN: Yes. I think the founding fathers intended the impeachment threshold to be satisfied if there were political crimes against the Constitution, against our checks and balances and separation of powers. Those are the mechanisms, what you might call the scientific method for staying on an even keel, avoiding folly and abuses. And I think that President Bush over the years has crippled that mechanism.
OLBERMANN: You remember, as well as I do from nine years ago, the practical politics of this. If you move to impeach a president, you may very well increase his popularity and decrease the popularity of the politicians who make the move. What do you do about that reality?
FEIN: Well, you‘ve got to go back more than just President Clinton. I was there when President Nixon was impeached. And I can guarantee you those who were the proponents ended up far better than those who were his defenders. The Republicans who stayed with him to the last end were the ones who lost their seats.
And my recollection also is, with regard to Clinton, the Republicans did not lose a large number or if at all, any seats in the House and the Senate. But certainly political calculations are going to enter in to how vigorously the House or the Senate pursues an impeachment inquiry.
It seems to me, however, that to move beyond that, it is the American people themselves that have to make a consensus that they do not trust Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney with the reins of power, given their very, very extravagant claims of what the president can do after 9/11.
For example, utilize the idea that all of the United States is a military battlefield and they can impose martial law anytime they wished.
OLBERMANN: This 81st municipality to make a symbolic vote along the lines of what Tacoma Park in Maryland did, it cited Mr. Bush‘s leading statements about Iraq prior to the war. Is that element the soundest legal case for impeachment, in your opinion, Bruce? And if not, what is?
FEIN: No, I don‘t think so. I don‘t think that a misleading statement by itself would necessarily show that level of contempt for the Constitution. I mean, Lyndon Johnson made misstatements about attacks by a North Vietnamese boat to get the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
But the strongest case are his claims that he can surveil Americans, intercept their e-mails in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That he can run a secret government, for example. Your program earlier, Keith, in a rather understated way, indicated that we don‘t know if secret programs that have not been leaked to The New York Times yet that our spying in Americans.
And it may well be, as the Church Committee discovered 10 or 20 years afterwards, that there has been massive misuse of intelligence. Also his claim that he can identify any American citizen as an enemy combatant, detain them indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, without access to lawyers, utilizing secret evidence to detain them.
Those are the kinds of egregious violations of due process and notions of judicial review and checks that justify the conclusion that these are political crimes against the Constitution itself.
OLBERMANN: One more thing that may be added to this ledger, Bruce.
The conservative Web site WorldNetDaily had posted today a critique of Mr. Bush that could have read like one posted on liberal Web sites that referred specifically to this executive order that he signed last week, claiming the power to seize anyone‘s assets if he decides they have so much as received goods or services for someone who might pose a risk of committing violence in Iraq.
A, can he do this? B, can he do this to Americans in America? And C, what does that Fifth Amendment say about it?
FEIN: Well, he has claimed to do this under the International Economic Emergency Powers Act. And even if it authorized him to do that, the Constitution surely does not. Because the gist of the executive order is to impose a financial death penalty on anyone who he says on his say-so alone creates a significant risk of undermining the rehabilitation program or political reforms in Iraq.
A “significant risk.” Now they could conclude that you have a risk if you are very hostile to the various policies that he has undertaken in Iraq. And this idea that you could end your financial life unilaterally without notice is totally antithetical to the Fifth Amendment.
OLBERMANN: As clear, and as ever allegiance first to the Constitution, Bruce Fein, constitutional lawyer and former Reagan deputy attorney general. Good to talk to you, again, sir. And thanks for your time tonight.
FEIN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And a thank you from a top pop star to her fans. Thank you for not recording my stumble and putting the video on YouTube. Never mind.
And even in the tired, jaded, cliched world of car chases, this is an all-time first tonight. You will not believe it, next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On or about this date in 1775, the then colony of Maryland issued new paper currency. Instead of trees or animals, the bills bore the likeness of King George of England trampling upon the Magna Carta, the original codification of citizen‘s rights. Oh, historical ironies untold. Let‘s play Oddball.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): We begin in Switzerland, where we get a look at Al‘s Porn Convention—no, sorry, I read that wrong. It‘s the Alp Horn convention. Dozens of competitors from all around the world competing for the title of world‘s greatest Alp horn player. While only one Alp Hornist could take the coveted title, one thing is for sure, they all blow.
An American ended up placing second in the competition. And we will now play for you the prize winning toot.
All right, nobody saw that coming. To Phoenix, Arizona and the Oddball car chase of the century. Police in pursuit of a bank robbery suspect in a white pickup. This punk is going out in a blaze of glory or maybe a haze of tobacco. During the chase, with cops not far behind, the perp stops at a convenience story, walks in and buys a pack of cigarettes.
He then walked back out to his car and continued the chase. Well, this crook clearly was not smoking Lucky‘s, because this Marlboro man was arrested before he could get over the Benson and Hedges. Now he will be eating cold turkey and possibly getting himself traded for some smokes in the big house.
Finally, to Orlando, where there is new footage of the latest young celebrity diva having trouble with a 12-step program. Down goes Beyonce. To her credit, Miss Knowles finished the song even though her body was bruised. She reportedly requested that any fans taping the show not post the incident on Youtube.
As you can see from the multiple angles of her fall, her fans honored both her work and her wishes.
OLBERMANN: Are this nation‘s patriots, our wounded veterans, getting anywhere near the treatment they need from this government, let alone the treatment they deserve? A one word answer from a bipartisan commission, tonight. Take a guess.
The last surviving true supermarket tabloid will publish no more. Bat Boy can steal all the cars he wants. Details ahead, but time now for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Yves Leterme, the likely next prime minister of Belgium until this week. He has called those of Belgians who only speak French too stupid to learn Flemish. When he was asked to sing the Belgian on national day there, he began (INAUDIBLE), which are the first words of the French national anthem. Then during a religious service that day, he was filmed making a cell phone call. And on National Anthem, which celebrates the ascension of Leopold 1st to the Belgian throne in 1831 he said the date actually commemorated the proclamation of the constitution.
Here‘s a home version of the Belgian game. Now go home.
Number two, the Reverend Robert Nichols, municipal anger management council for defendants in the criminal system of the city of Gary, Indiana. He is charged by that criminal system with domestic battery, of grabbing and beating his wife during an argument.
Number one, Cenk Uygur of the radio show the “Young Turks.” With a suggestion about the news channel that identified Mark Foley last falls and Arlen Specter yesterday as Democrats; I will defend Fox‘s right to exist to my dying breath, he writes. But if Fox won‘t label themselves honestly, it is time for progressives to start doing it for them.
Institutions like Daily Kos, the Democratic National Convention and Democratic presidential campaigns should fire a shot across the bow by making Fox walk around with opinion media credentials instead of the standard media credentials given to other media outlets.
OLBERMANN: The White House calls it the president‘s Commission on Care for America‘s Returning Wounded Warriors. Noble and eloquent words, ones which could make you forget the reason for appointing the commission in the first place, the embarrassing news stories of shameful medical treatment and crumbling facilities for badly wounded war veterans, or that the president is threatening to veto an increase passed by the Senate today to address these very problems.
It has gotten so bad that this week two veterans groups sued the government over how it treats injured vets, especially those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In our third story in the COUNTDOWN, judging from the final report, just released by that bipartisan commission, that lawsuit may have a good case behind it.
Former Senator Bob Dole and former Health Secretary Donna Shalala giving the president six major recommendations to correct problems that Dole says are entrenched.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. SEN. ROBERT DOLE, COMMISSION CO-CHAIRMAN: We went way back to the report by General Omar Bradley in 1956. I mean, that is how long this problem has been out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Among those recommendations, a boost in benefits for veterans and their families, slashing paperwork and stripping the red tape from the process of getting treatment and awarding disability. The commission all recommending more aggressive treatment for tens of thousands with brain injuries or post traumatic stress caused by improvised explosive devices in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
We‘re honored to be joined by Staff Sergeant John Daniel Shannon, who was called to testify about his frustrating encounter with the veterans health care system. Sergeant Shannon was wounded in Iraq. He is now awaiting surgery at Walter Reed. Great thanks for your time.
STAFF SGT. JOHN DANIEL SHANNON, WOUNDED IRAQ VETERAN: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: Last March, the vice president promised no excuses, only action. Today the press secretary, Mr. Snow, said the president would not act immediately on any of these recommendations. What do you think? Do you think the commission‘s recommendations are going to make a difference here?
SHANNON: Well, it goes back to what the president said, no excuses, only action. The simple fact is they have made the recommendation and there are only recommendations until someone acts on them. The benefit that the soldiers are going to receive from those recommendations directly related to how quickly they are acted and the degree to which they are acted on.
OLBERMANN: One lawsuit claims that the VA has a backlog of 600,000 disability claims. You‘ve been waiting for more than two and a half years. You told the Walter Reed hearings many vets just give up trying to get help. Who dropped the ball here?
SHANNON: That is a good question. One of the situations I have dealt with in the system is I am not trained to know how the system works. However, 600,000 backlogs—you know, the 2.5 years I have waited is simply a matter of myself getting to the point where I can be retired from the military and receive a disability rating and go on to the VA. I‘m not waiting on the VA. This is a potentially scary area for me to think about as I look into getting on with my life.
OLBERMANN: On this specific issue of post-traumatic stress, which every time we hear something about this it seems to get a little worse. I heard last month about soldiers—the ones who can‘t prove that they actually witnessed horrible violence, that they weren‘t part of the action reports, they are given in the field as treatment Motrin.
I heard from the father of a vet who has been in three tours in Iraq, says the Army diagnosed his son with post traumatic stress disorder, treated him in a hospital for a while. Now they‘re sending him back to Iraq for a fourth tour with a prescription for Prozac. Is this possible? Are we actually sending psychologically wounded vets back into battle with a gun and a handful of Prozac?
SHANNON: I‘m certain it‘s possible. The simple fact is that soldier may be pushing to go back, shades of Vietnam; service members that would go back into combat. However, just hearing about that story is something that requires further looking into, because to send a soldier back into a combat zone who is prescribe a serotonin retake inhibitor is clearly an indicator that service member is not mentally prepared to be there.
Sure, keep him in the service, if someone has determined that he his fit for service. But don‘t send him back in there if he is potentially going to be a detriment to his unit under fire, rather than a help. That is something that young man probably would not want to hear. However, that is something that is the responsibility for higher authorities, medical authorities, to make the determination, and commanders on the ground, to say if this gentleman is on the same level of medication, he needs to have a further look into his—fit for duty is one thing. Fit for combat is another.
OLBERMANN: Last question; in those lawsuits against the VA, the returning veterans were not named. They said they fear retribution. Do you think speaking out puts you at some risk or do you think it has helped?
SHANNON: Well, I have an ethic that I will die before my men in combat. I was shot keeping one of my men from being killed or wounded in combat. For me, the people who have asked me if I was worried about getting any kind of retribution don‘t understand that ethic. I don‘t care. If that‘s what it takes to take care of my service members, those service members that are required to make the military work, than the units starts to fall apart.
OLBERMANN: Staff Sergeant John Daniel Shannon, wounded in Iraq. Thank you, sir, for your time. Thank you for your service on all of our behalves.
SHANNON: Thank you very much for having me.
OLBERMANN: These guys need a break. And so do we, of a different kind. Mr. and Mrs. Britney Spears always happy to provide one, a silly one, for all of us. Plus, the latest communique from Lindsay Lohan. She says the mother of her fired assistant almost hit her. Lindsay Lohan once again in the rearview mirror next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Britney Spears just can‘t catch a break. “OK!” Magazine says that she was a massive mess at a photo shoot. Her own mother reportedly prefers the company of her ex-son in law, Kevin Federline. Keeping Tabs, our number two story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, and old Fed-ex himself is ready to battle for sole custody of their two children. According to a “Life and Style” magazine insider, quote, Kevin is convinced she‘s not fit to raised the kids. He‘s done tolerating her behavior and is gearing up to fight for full custody.”
That behavior includes Miss Spears gallivanting in her underwear on a beach in front of photographers recently. Federline‘s concerns had peaked before the word of his ex-wife‘s disastrous chicken ridden photo shoot with “OK! Magazine.” That publication, by the way, also weighing in on Federline‘s intentions. Citing a source close to K-Fed, quote, “Kevin is worried about Sean and Jayden‘s safety. He heard bits and pieces of what was going on from Brit‘s mother, Lynne, and from the body guards. But he didn‘t want to believe she had completely lost it.”
So Mr. Federline has already spent hours with his legal team to get his children out of Mrs. Spears care according to “OK! Magazine.” K-Fed may want to bid on a recent e-Bay item and use it as evidence. It is the SUV which Miss Spears attacked with an umbrella the night before she went to rehab in February. Asking price 25,000 dollars, umbrella included.
Maybe Lindsay Lohan could use that umbrella for her latest rainy day or even for anger management. Miss Lohan defending her honor one day after being arrested for suspicion of drunk driving and cocaine suspicion. The actress responding to an email from Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood,” asking if she was OK—sorry, OK.
“Yes,” she writes, “I am innocent. I did not do drugs. They‘re not mine. I was almost hit by my assistant Tarin‘s mom. I appreciate everyone giving me my privacy.”
That is the news right there, somebody is giving her privacy? Lohan was referring, of course, to the cocaine that police reportedly found in her pants pockets and to allegations that she was actually chasing the mother of that assistant, Tarin Graham.
Meantime, Mr. Rob Schneider had no trouble filling in for Miss Lohan on Jay Leno last night after Miss Lohan canceled her appearance, apparently heading for a third trip to rehab instead.
Programming note for Harry Potter fans; tomorrow morning begins NBC‘s exclusive interview with author J.K. Rowling. You will see Meredith Vieira‘s interview Thursday and Friday mornings. We plan on carrying them for you on here on COUNTDOWN as well. And there is actually something to this.
If you want to hear which character Rowling originally planned to kill off but did not, and the details that she left out of the last book about the future lives of the key characters, we have hot and cold running info. “Today” in the morning, COUNTDOWN in the evening this Thursday and Friday.
The paper that once claimed Abraham Lincoln was actually a woman will publish no more. The demise of the “Weekly Word News” next. First, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze to Jerry Tibidou (ph) of the Republican Committee of Manchester, New Hampshire, offering $25 tickets to a fund raiser, at which participants and their families will be invited to fire military style weapons ranging from Uzis to M16s. It is fun day, he says. It‘s a family day, especially for large families, who wouldn‘t miss a kid or two if there‘s an accident.
Our runner-up, Australian Prime Minister John Howard confirming a report in a new biography that at least once in 1990 he addressed the Australian parliament while drunk. I had a couple of south Australian reds, the P.M. said. I remember that night, yes. I can‘t dispute that story. Well, historians, now we know how Australia wound up joining the coalition in Iraq.
Your winner, Bill O‘Reilly. He is coming unhinged about the website the Daily Kos. Having previously compared it to the Nazis and to the Ku Klux Klan, Mr. O‘Reilly has now said anything good on it reminds him that, quote, Mussolini made the trains run on time. And he added, of the site, it is kind of like Al Capone.
I‘m going to say this nice, Bill; you‘re sounding like Father Coughlin. Stick to what you know.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Is it two women together? She could be dressed in some kind of dominatrix thing. OK, it‘s not a negligee situation or anything like that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Bill O‘Reilly of the Playboy—Fox Noise, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Desperate as the Bush administration has been at times, it is a true wonder that they never used this news. The publication, complete with photos, that definitely provided a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Saddam and Osama‘s gay wedding. Not only were these two bad guys co-conspirators, they were also mixing their personal and professional lives clearly. It must have been a challenge.
Also, one of many exclusives from “Weekly World News,” which proudly billed itself as the world only reliable newspaper. But now, in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, after 28 years, the publication will stop the presses. We bring you this shocking story, non-exclusively, but with a keen eye to the jaw dropping, earth shattering, never-before-seen monumentality of it all. The paper‘s publisher, American Media, the tabloid will issue its final print edition on August 27th, but will continue online.
So you will have to go there for you continuing coverage of Bat Boy, there or Fox Noise. He is, of course, the half bat, half human found in a cave who was eventually recruited to help find Osama bin Laden‘s cave. You guess Bat Boy was not invited to the wedding though. Anyway, the circulation for “Weekly World News” had dropped to 83,000 in 2006. It had been 153,000 two years earlier.
Apparently reports about ghosts and aliens, and, of course, alien ghosts aren‘t the draw they once were. By the way, Abe Lincoln was a woman. On that note, to help us bid adieu to “Weekly World News,” let‘s turn to comedian Paul. F Tompkins, also a contributor to VH1‘s best week ever and, of course, VH1‘s best Bat Boy ever. Paul, good evening.
PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN: Good evening to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I‘m not sure the world of journalism can weather this blow. Not only did the reporters at this august organization give us Saddam and Osama the wedding, they had an equally exclusive follow-up, Saddam and Osama adopt shaved ape baby, which is posted in our news room, by the way. Describe—Quantify the end of this era for us.
TOMPKINS: You know, all jokes aside, it really is the end of an era. I personally will miss the “Weekly World News.” When people would talk about tabloids in the abstract, they would talk about Elvis marrying an alien and stuff like that. The “Weekly World News” was the only tabloid that was doing that. It was almost like the Kleenex brand name that became the thing.
It‘s sad to see it go. For all those years that they were in publication, remained black and white. They were never glossy. It was just straight-up hard, unvarnished, insanity.
OLBERMANN: It just seemed like the publication had this bizarre fascination—appreciation of hybrids, the bat-human. That is bat boy.
But also this piece recently on alien telemarketers. The reporters there -
Probably this was the most close to being accurate, right? Alien telemarketers?
TOMPKINS: I think it‘s no coincidence that this story broke around the time of the creation of the national do not call list. So what is our government trying to keep from us. My favorite hybrid I think was probably the alien ghost.
OLBERMANN: The alien ghosts. And yet the publisher is a billion dollars in debt, including all 16 his publications. The “National Enquirer” is another one. Is this an example of the Internet taking over, I mean, just wiping the newspaper off the beaten track. Who needs Abe Lincoln was a woman when you can go to Youtube and find George Bush is president?
TOMPKINS: Exactly. I think this is an example of the “Weekly World News‘” tough luck when it came to providing footage of any of these occurrences. It‘s a shame they could never quite seem to find any video to back up their stories, and that‘s really what people want these days.
OLBERMANN: The thing is though, we could always count on it for sightings of aliens, for sightings of Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, Elvis. We eventually learned that the Sasquatch was just Elvis letting himself go. With all these things now confirmed—the validity of these sighting has been verified many times over on the net, there‘s just nowhere to go with sightings now, right?
TOMPKINS: I think the problem was the “Weekly World News” was not for the casual reader. You had to follow the stories of these creatures over and over again. A story would typically start out—you know how the Loch Ness monster has been walking around all over the place? Here‘s what happened lately. You lost the thread.
OLBERMANN: In the 30 second we have left, a couple more items. Kitten guilty of murder, sign the petition inside or she dies. And then there was man takes one look at this gal‘s figure and dies. Do we know what happened to either the kitty or the guy?
TOMPKINS: I don‘t know if the gal was sentenced to look at the kitty or the kitty was sentenced to look at the gal. I don‘t quite know what happened. It‘s best not to speculate. At this point they both belong to the ages.
OLBERMANN: Unfortunately, we don‘t have any more time to get ourselves into trouble between more jokes about kitties and gals. Comedian Paul F. Tompkins, contributor to VH1‘s Best Week Ever. We‘ll have to struggle along without the “Weekly World News.” Thanks, Paul.
TOMPKINS: Indeed. Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,547th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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