updated 9/11/2007 11:23:46 AM ET 2007-09-11T15:23:46

Guests: John Dean, Joel McHale, Howard Fineman, Frank Rich

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The Petraeus report, 30,000 troops might be withdrawn after 30,000 troops have been added. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, TOP IRAQ MILITARY COMMANDER:  I believe that they will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Like one of those store-wide 25 percent off sales, after prices had been raised by a quarter.

The Petraeus report, wait until 2006, wait until September, wait until next year. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS:  The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So we won?  And so we need to stay there indefinitely? 

The Petraeus report.  Have you heard the good news from Anbar? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS:  When I testified in January, for example, no one would have dared to forecast that Anbar Province would have been transformed the way it has in the past six months. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yet, when he testified in January, he forecasted trends in positive directions in Anbar, trends that had begun in Anbar three months before the surge. 

The Petraeus report, first, not written by General Petraeus, then not written at all—only oral—then almost never happened. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. IKE SKELTON, (D), MISSOURI:  Would somebody please fix the microphone? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Petraeus report, a majority of Americans assumed going in it was a cheap sales job. 

The Petraeus report, full coverage. 

Howard Fineman on the politics of Petraeus.

Frank Rich on how the surge and the report and the stall fit into the politics of the president.

And John Dean on not just a White House but an American government in crisis. 

On the other hand, good news, everyone.  Larry Craig has finally decided he‘s not guilty. 

Although, sadly, Britney Spears clearly is.  Nope, sorry, no more. 

Shortest comeback ever. 

All that and more now on “Countdown.”       

(on camera):  Good evening.  Not since April 28, 1967, when General William Westmoreland addressed Congress on Americans‘ expanding military role in Vietnam, has so much attention been focused on a briefing from a military commander. 

But in our fifth story in the “Countdown,” when General Petraeus tried to begin his prepared remarks on Capitol Hill this afternoon, not even the microphones wanted to hear it. 

The audio equipment at today‘s hearing proving to be something of a metaphor for the entire war effort.  The White House having continually evaded any question about the situation in Iraq, by saying let‘s wait until September, wait, that is, until General Petraeus testified before Congress. 

Arriving at today‘s testimony only to find that the wait would have to continue because of unforeseen circumstances on the ground that could not have been predicted. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SKELTON:  Would somebody please fix the microphone?  Is it working again?  I don‘t want to have to take a recess.  Let‘s get it fixed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  After microphone delays of nearly 15 minutes, the general joined at the witness table by his diplomatic counterpart in Iraq, Ambassador Ryan Crocker. 

Because the administration has not been calling it the Crocker Report, it was up to General Petraeus to make the claim his words this afternoon were entirely his own. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS:  I would like to note that this is my testimony.  Although I have briefed my assessment and recommendations to my chain of command, I wrote this testimony myself.  It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House, or the Congress until it was just handed out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Must have been a coincidence then that just as President Bush last week offered the possibility of future troop withdrawals during his photo opportunity/surprise visit to Iraq, General Petraeus today telling Congress he envisions the drawdown of roughly 30,000 forces by next summer, perhaps beginning with one—just one marine contingent later this month.  That maximum withdrawal just about matching only the number of troops sent to Iraq in the so-called surge.  And asking for further specifics this far in advance that, according to the general, would be dangerous. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS:  In my professional judgment, it would be premature to make recommendations on the pace of such reductions at this time.  In fact, our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous.  The events of the past six months underscore that point. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What events of the past six months, you might ask?  The ones that have had absolutely nothing to do with the surge, the ones that have nevertheless been hyped endlessly by this administration during the lead up to today‘s testimony, the relative stability in the predominantly Sunni region of Anbar. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS:  When I testified in January, for example, no one would have dared to forecast that Anbar Province would have been transformed the way it has in the past six months. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No one would have dared, General?  What about your testimony of January 23 of 2007, at that confirmation hearing you just mentioned, when you did dare to predict saying of Anbar, quote, “Right now, there appears to be a trend—a trend—in the positive direction where sheiks are stepping up and want to be affiliated with and supported by the U.S. Marines and Army forces in Anbar Province.”

None of the lawmakers, it seems, daring to question the administration on the methodology it‘s using to claim that violence is down in Iraq. 

Of the 13 charts shown during his presentation, only one of them was sourced and sourced to, quote, “coalition and host national reporting.”

The general not so much explaining his methodology as touting it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS:  We do not, however, just rely on gut feel or personal observations.  We also conduct considerable data collection and analysis to gauge progress and determine trends.  Two U.S. intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology and they concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  General Petraeus adding that the military‘s methodology has been in place for well over a year, and what a precise measurement that is over the course of a nearly 54-month conflict.  Never mind the various other reports last week, General Accounting Office, General Jones, “The Washington Post,” which had conflicting data, most of it overwhelmingly negative about the state of the war effort. 

Last, but certainly not least, came the Q&A portion of today‘s proceedings.  General Petraeus responding to claims by Democrat Gary Ackerman that the war in Iraq created a safe haven there for al Qaeda. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETRAEUS:  There is no question that al Qaeda Iraq is part of the greater al Qaeda movement.  We have intercepted numerous communications between al Qaeda senior leadership AQSLs, as they‘re called, and the...

REP. GARY ACKERMAN, (D), FOREIGN AFFAIR COMMITTEE:  Isn‘t it true, general, al Qaeda in Iraq formed in 2005, two years after we first got there? 

PETRAEUS:  Congressman, I‘m not saying when it started.  I‘m saying merely that al Qaeda Iraq clearly is part of the overall greater al Qaeda network. 

ACKERMAN:  But they didn‘t exist until we...

(CROSSTALK)

PETRAEUS:  We have intercepted numerous communications.  And there is no question, also, but that al Qaeda Iraq is a key element in igniting the ethno sectarian violence. 

ACKERMAN:  Are they a threat to us? 

PETRAEUS:  Al Qaeda Central is a threat to us.  I don‘t know what the result would be if we left Iraq and left al Qaeda Iraq in place. 

ACKERMAN:  If we end the sectarian violence, how can we leave without killing everybody who we‘ve identified as part of a terrorist organization such as al Qaeda in Iraq? 

PETRAEUS:  Well, al Qaeda, again, as I mentioned, Congressman, is part of the sectarian violence. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to turn to our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine. 

Howard, good evening. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Did the Petraeus-Crocker appearance today accomplish what the administration wanted it to? 

FINEMAN:  Sure it did.  It got the whole world to focus on those reports, which stated the obvious, which was essentially that this administration is going to continue the policy it launched with the invasion in 2003.  That‘s what this was about.  And more narrowly it was about trying to shore up Republican support—forget the country as a whole, they‘ve lost the country—but Republican support to keep Republicans from defecting.  And there was just enough in the report, just enough plausible, just enough statistics so that Republicans could hang their hats and not bolt. 

OLBERMANN:  To quote the general this afternoon, “The security goals of the surge are being met—a decline in sectarian violence, a decline in overall civilian deaths.”  If things in Iraq are actually as great as General Petraeus and his charts claim, should we not be wondering why U.S.  forces can‘t start withdrawing immediately, relatively soon at least, or at minimum the goal is not for next year, withdraw more than we had added for the surge? 

FINEMAN:  Well, Keith, the answer to that question was contained in the answers given by Ryan Crocker, the ambassador sitting next to the general.  And Ryan Crocker said there‘s been no political progress whatsoever, meaning there‘s no real government in Iraq.  And the place will fall apart if we pull out too many troops.  That‘s the answer to the question. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Either we‘re losing so badly politically that we have to keep the troops there or we‘re winning so well militarily that we can‘t risk leaving.  Whenever the administration puts out an argument, wherever it fits on the spectrum against all its previous arguments, it always has the same result, does it not, that we must remain in Iraq indefinitely.  Why is this still playing politically? 

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s not really playing politically except, as I said, to the narrow Republican base which, if you look at the numbers in the United States Senate, and that‘s the bottom line, the Democrats can‘t override a veto or probably can‘t end a filibuster by Republicans.  George Bush knows that.  He‘s back timed everything to that.  That‘s been a strategy from the beginning. 

As I said, just enough progress on the military front, just enough promise of just enough troops beginning to come home to prevent a massive revolt by his own party in Congress.  That‘s what he‘s aiming for.  And don‘t forget George Bush doesn‘t have a vice president running for the Republican nomination that he has to protect politically. 

Dick Cheney isn‘t running for anything.  So their holed up with their strategy and they‘re going to keep it. 

By my count, there are at least nine different rationales have been offered for the war since the beginning.  They all have the same bottom line, the maximum number of American troops in Iraq by the time George Bush leaves on January 20, 2009. 

OLBERMANN:  One egregious thing that happened that did not involve the Petraeus per se, that I wanted to ask you about.  Instead of weighing the merits of the Petraeus testimony, the presidential candidates put out statements criticizing moveon.org for its General Petraeus or general “betray us” ad today.  The ranking Republicans in their opening statements at the joint hearing this afternoon did the same thing.  Congressman Hunter saying attacking the messenger was outrageous, not to defend that phraseology.

But has anybody noticed that the administration and Republicans in Congress and specifically Mr. Hunter of California have spent the length of this war doing nothing but attacking the messenger when they did not like the messenger‘s message about Iraq? 

FINEMAN:  Well, look, the Republicans on the committee today needed anything they could get their hands on to try to take the offense.  That‘s the best they could do, which was to attack the left wing of the Democratic Party.  They think they can divide the Democratic Party.  I don‘t really think they can.  The Democratic Party is going to be the anti-war party come 2008 election no matter what happens here. 

I don‘t think this is the most important week that we‘ve seen politically.  I think all of this is a show that really is a prelude to what has already begun which is the 2008 campaign.  The Democrats are going to be the anti-war party no matter what the Republicans tried to do to divide them. 

OLBERMANN:  Later, rather than sooner, on that for the Democrats. 

Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  As always, Howard, thanks. 

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.         

OLBERMANN:  Another signal moment of salesmanship in the long dismal tide of this administration. 

Frank Rich of “The New York Times” on the latest pitch and the latest pitch man.

And one bigger picture still, the government is broken.  John Dean‘s sobering analysis all ahead. 

You are watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Exactly eight months ago today, President Bush appeared on national television and announced the surge in Iraq.  Tonight, our fourth story in “the Countdown,” the author of that surge, General David Petraeus, has issued his report on the surge saying in essence, good job, General Petraeus.  He was not the biggest victor in his assessment of his own performance, nor was the military itself, yet alone the country. 

More than anyone today, it was President Bush who got what he wanted -

time. 

Prior to today‘s testimony, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked whether the Petraeus report would, in effect, serve merely to kick the can down the road another six months. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  What we‘ve said is wait until September so you can see if the surge is working and every network here has been reporting that, in significant ways, the surge is working.  It‘s not kicking the can down the road.  That‘s trying to have a factual assessment of a change in policy that the president outlined in the State of the Union address and also in an address to the nation.  And that became the focus of a shift in military and on the ground strategy. 

It is clear that there have been, in fact, some positive results from that so I don‘t think—I think it‘s a little glib to try to characterize it as kicking the can down the road. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Less than two hours later, General Petraeus kicked the can down the road, endorsing the sustained presence of which Mr. Bush had spoken, until at least next summer or, as it is known on political calendars, the eve of the 2008 presidential elections. 

Let‘s turn now to a veteran observer of administration marketing jobs, Frank Rich, author of “The Greatest Story Ever Sold:  The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina,” also, of course, a “New York Times” columnist. 

Thanks for your time tonight, Frank. 

FRANK RICH, COLUMNIST, “NEW YORK TIMES” & AUTHOR:  Great to see you. 

OLBERMANN:  Was today‘s testimony a sales job and if so was it by a man who genuinely believes in his product? 

RICH:  Well, it definitely was a sales job.  It was sort of a prefab sales job because we all knew what he was going to say.  And he believes in the product because he‘s associated with it.  It‘s his baby.  And so he believes in it.  That doesn‘t mean that we have to accept it. 

OLBERMANN:  The president is going to speak later in the week about all of this.  We imagine that‘s what it‘s about.  Are we expecting anything in terms of daylight between the position that were staked out today by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and what Mr. Bush says? 

RICH:  I think there will be no daylight whatsoever.  We‘re talking about a president who, according to the latest CBS/”New York Times” poll 5 percent of the country believes that he can be counted on to move anything forward in this war, so he has got to, as he‘s been planning to do for months and advertising for months, use Petraeus as his shield because that‘s the last one he has left. 

OLBERMANN:  A poll number of any kind, I don‘t care—you know, do you think the president is actually a Martian?  A 5 percent is remarkable statistic of any kind.  If you‘ve been following this in terms of... 

RICH:  It‘s unbelievable.  Yeah, go on. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it an indicator that the customers have stopped coming to the tent?  Are people not buying any of this anymore? 

RICH:  I think not only are they not buying it, they‘re not tuning into it.  I don‘t mean to your show particularly, but it was interesting to me today that the three broadcast networks did not cut into this testimony.  This was not a great moment in Washington.  It wasn‘t the Army-McCarthy hearings.  It wasn‘t Westmoreland appearing before Congress or Watergate. 

I think the country is just turned off.  They want a new order in Washington.  And they realize they‘re going to have to wait for that for anything to change because clearly nothing is going to change before then. 

OLBERMANN:  Turning to whether anything has changed in Iraq.  According to the general, 2 million Iraqis have fled the country and another 2 million have been displaced.  Did nobody else connect the dots there?  Did another Congressman recognize that might be suggesting an alternate theory for these improved civilian statistics, that the local tribes and the ethnic militias have already won against their rivals regionally? 

RICH:  Absolutely.  There‘s been an enormous ethnic cleansing.  And some of the other statistics General Petraeus did not use today that you referred to earlier in this program show that that‘s often the case. 

Furthermore, what‘s really galling about this enormous humanitarian crisis of all these displaced people is that we have a president who keeps telling us we‘ll never let down the Iraqi people.  That‘s what he said in Anbar.  We‘re letting them down now.  Some of these Iraqis, who work for us, are in danger of losing their lives in recruiting violence and we‘re not letting them into the United States. 

OLBERMANN:  To what extent did you hear or did we hear the start of another sales job today, the possibility of the next rollout of Bushian products with those brand names Syria or Iran? 

RICH:  Well, certainly we heard the drumbeat on Iran.  And where that‘s going to take us, whether we have to have the most paranoid interpretation of this that that will become the wag the dog to get us out of Iraq, I don‘t know.  And I wouldn‘t have an opinion about it.  But certainly that drumbeat is there and was really a through-line I thought in Petraeus‘ testimony today. 

OLBERMANN:  Frank Rich, stand by, if you would.  We want to continue our analysis of the Bush administration‘s spin job with the war, including also the news of this extraordinary interview Colin Powell has given to “GQ” magazine. 

And we‘ll try to fit this into the bigger picture of “Broken government,” of John Dean‘s new book of that title.  He‘ll join me here. 

And then the cartoons, necessary tonight.  Britney Spears and perhaps the shortest comeback in show biz history, ahead on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In his testimony today, General Petraeus became only the latest once-respected military man to put his honor, his credibility on the line for the civilian president he serves.  In the four and a half years of this war, President Bush has discarded those generals who disagreed with him or tossed away those who did agree with him once their shared vision failed to bear fruit. 

Most notably, of course, his former Joint Chiefs chairman, his secretary of state, Colin Powell, who was sent out to sell the war before its launch.  General Powell now telling “GQ” magazine he is, quote, “sorry” he gave us wrong information at the U.N.

Let‘s turn once again to “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich, author of “The Greatest Story Ever Sold.” 

OLBERMANN:  Does Powell get a pass at all because he was also asked in this “GQ” interview about whether the threat of global terrorism was as great as we faced in the Second World War. 

And he said—let me read the quote from “GQ”:  “What is the greatest threat facing us now?  People will say it‘s terrorism.  But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system?  No.  Can they knock down a building?  Yes.  Can they kill somebody?  Yes.  But can they change us?  No.  Only we can change ourselves.  So what is the great threat we are facing?”

Does he get credit for that?  Is he at all redeemed by that or is he just another general, as Petraeus might be, who supported what he should have known was unsupportable? 

RICH:  Well, I think that—I have a respect for General Powell.  However, I think that he‘s late.  He‘s consistently late.  For a long time now, since he left the administration, he‘s been, through emissaries, explaining exactly what he‘s saying in this “GQ” piece. 

He‘s indicated clearly that he was not happy with a lot of the

intelligence he was given to present to the U.N.  He threw a lot of it out

at the Waldorf Astoria the night before he presented the speech, but a lot

there‘s a lot of water under the bridge, if you‘ll indulge the cliche. 

And I think, yes, he gets a little credit for this but not a lot.  He has got to, particularly given such a big—how big a figure he is in American life, much more so than any of the other generals, he‘s really got to come clean and not do this sort of striptease where we‘re getting little bits of information and remorse.  I think he owes it to the country to tell us exactly what happened and why he did what he did, a man as honorable and smart as he is. 

OLBERMANN:  In your column yesterday about Iraq and the president and the salesmanship of this again with Petraeus, you said that the Democrats lacked the votes to stop Mr. Bush.  But the leadership does not need a majority to stop funding this war, so why do they continue to do so? 

RICH:  I think they do so for political reasons.  I think that given a war that has been fought with frequently poor equipment for the troops, inadequate equipment to this day, armor and everything else, that cutting off of funding could be looked as a way of holding hostage these people who are fighting and dying now, however hopeless the cause, which I think it is.  So I understand it as sort of a political point of view and even somewhat to a moral point of view.  I‘m not sure that‘s the way to go about it. 

I think the way to go about it is to really pressure Republicans, particularly in the Senate, who may see their whole political lives passing before their eyes in the next 18 months and maybe have a lot to lose by keeping this fiasco going. 

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t you think sometimes, though, does it not cross through your mind that the Democrats could thread the needle if they really wanted to on this?  Does it—is it too cynical to suggest that some, at least, are stalling almost as much as the administration is because it sometimes seems as if there is, at least the outskirts of an either/or here, that if they wanted to, if with the supreme effort they could stop this fight, stop the war, still fund the troops, get them home safely, put in all sorts of legislation that might do that.  But there‘s some of them who would rather have it continue into 2008 so it is a campaign signal point? 

RICH:  Well, I hope you‘re wrong.  I fear you may be right. 

Certainly, the Democrats are as capable of cynicism as the Republicans.  And if that is what some of them are thinking—and you may be right, Keith, that‘s really deplorable in my view.  And there‘s no excuse not to do everything possible, that‘s reasonable, to thread that needle, as you said, and try ways to make this work.  Indeed, there‘s been interesting legislation that might work by Jim Webb, the Senator of Virginia, that has not come to fruition in the Senate.  We‘ll have to see. 

OLBERMANN:  Frank Rich of “The New York Times” and author of “The Greatest Story Ever Sold,” available now in paper back form.  Great thanks for your time tonight.

RICH:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  It isn‘t just this report.  It isn‘t just Iraq.  The government is broken.  John dean joins us to try to figure out how it got so and what on Earth to do next. 

Well, at least Senator Larry Craig has made up his mind, today anyway.  He reaches for papers in Minneapolis.  I‘ll rephrase that.  First, here is a brief birthdays only edition of COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day. 

Number three, Walter Schneller, one of the great high school history teachers of all time.  I think I had four courses with him in five years.  I wish it had been 40. 

Number two, Sanjaya.  He‘s 18.

And number one, Bill-O.  He‘s 58.  And we have got a birthday present for him.  Friday night we beat him in the ratings.  Viewers 25 to 54, 365,000 to 324,000.  Louffas for everybody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It must be true.  If you live long enough, news begins to have a Deja Vu quality.  Hearings interrupted by protests, generals called on the carpet to explain an unpopular war, books cooked, and young people dying unnecessarily, the public with little or no faith in government or its leaders.  That was then during the Vietnam War.  It‘s also now. 

Our third story tonight, the slow and disastrous breakdown of our government and the link between that time and now.  Consider Richard Nixon in the ‘70s, an imperial president determined to expand his power, even if it meant lying, bullying and breaking the law; finally driven out of office as much by his own party as by his political rivals.  Today, an even stronger version of the imperial presidency, another leader mired in an unpopular war, with a record of twisting the truth, the constitution, and the law. 

This time there is little resistance coming from members of his own party, nor much legislative resistance from a Democratic controlled Congress, despite polls showing overwhelming opposition to George W. Bush and his policies.  Unlike Nixon, he is likely to remain in power to the bitter end and bitter it will be.  And although history never repeats itself precisely, there are those who were there then who see similarities and draw a link between the age of Nixon and the age of George W. Bush. 

John Dean is one of them, White House counsel for Richard Nixon, whose latest book is “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches.”  It goes on sale tomorrow.  We‘re delighted to have you here, John. 

JOHN DEAN, AUTHOR, “BROKEN GOVERNMENT”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Good to see you.  Draw this line for me.  You argue in the book that the government breakdown has taken place over time.  Did it start with Goldwater conservatives during your years in the White House, not to attribute it personally or anything, the rise of the neo-cons?  Where did this tree begin to grow and when? 

DEAN:  Not with Goldwater, who was against government secrecy.  He didn‘t like aggregation of power.  Somewhat with the neo-conservatives coming in during the Reagan years.  But it was true that the Nixon administration sort of laid the platform upon which future presidents would build. 

OLBERMANN:  And what we‘re seeing now, what is the value of a continuation of a war, Vietnam to Nixon.  Obviously he had campaigned on his secret plan to end it and there was no plan.  There was no immediate plan to end it.  He expanded it further.  Why would it have been a value to him?  Why is Iraq of value to Bush, in terms of—there are obviously forces that want our government to be broken.  How does the concept of war play into that bigger picture thing? 

DEAN:  Well, our founders certainly understood the value of war, because that‘s why they diffused the power and the ability to make it.  It‘s something that modern presidents know they can get their greatness.  It‘s something modern presidents can also get into a whole heap of trouble with, as LBJ discovered.  I think this president right now saw value going in that isn‘t coming out, and he‘s now trying to do his best to hang on and keep it going so he can pass it off onto the Democrats. 

OLBERMANN:  And the value is what?  I mean, I guess that‘s the great question of our decade.  What was the—was it political capital that he was going to get?  Was it freedom to do what he wanted in terms of changing the nature of our society?  What was it supposed to be? 

DEAN:  There‘s no better way to exercise the powers of the government than through national security.  This is when the president is at his max.  Presidents like this.  This is where they can go around everybody.  And this is one of the problems I discuss of how our government got broken and by going into wars we shouldn‘t be in—is no better way to get the government off of the tracks it‘s supposed to be on. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, the premise of “Broken Government,” what you write about, how we would not be in this particular spot that we‘re in now were it not for broken government.  Give me an example of that.  What does that mean tangibly? 

DEAN:  Well, that means if, indeed, the president had to go through the processes that were laid out in the constitution, we wouldn‘t be in this war right now and the mess we‘re in.  If the courts would stand up to the president, rather than become a privy counsel of sorts for him, it would put great restrictions on the ability of the president to use bogus legal opinions to go to war on, or to institute torture on. 

All these systems have broken down, Keith.  There are no checks. 

There are no balances.  The separation of powers is really in jeopardy. 

OLBERMANN:  In some senses is this the new domino theory that you‘re positing here, that as one part of the—one fundamental check on war making has gradually—and it didn‘t start with George Bush.  He‘s not the first guy who threw us into war without bothering to consult the legislative branch.  But that‘s the first one and everything else topples as a result of that? 

DEAN:  It‘s a great start.  The use of national security can override so many things because the Congress is afraid of it.  They don‘t get all the information.  The president tells them, well, we have to be careful.  It may leak up here.  The courts won‘t even go into this area anymore, particularly conservative judges, who think, well, this is something the executive should be doing and not the courts who can‘t compete. 

That isn‘t true.  Courts used to get right in the middle of this.  And that‘s another way the government‘s broken down. 

OLBERMANN:  But where are they now?  Obviously you would presume that the ones that share that, as you described it in the previous book, the authoritarian point of view, and they‘re not going to interfere with what an authoritarian party president is doing.  But where are the others and where are the other political leaders, given the political capital that they would seem to be given by the polls, by the overwhelming opinion regarding this war, in particular, but the administration in general, that this is not what this country wants now. 

DEAN:  Well, we know how we got here, because the GOP Congress was not inclined to check the president at all.  In fact, they aided and abetted.  The Democrats, now that they‘re in, are having a little trouble finding their spine so far.  And this is—part of the reason is that Republicans and the authoritarians who control the party and their unquestioning compliant followers are pretty tough.  They‘ll play hardball and Democrats don‘t like to play it in the same nose-to-nose rough play that the Republicans are so good at.  They‘re very—they can play it like we haven‘t seen. 

OLBERMANN:  Who can play the route out?  Who can play the end of the game?  If it‘s broken, and I don‘t want—obviously I want people to buy your book.  I don‘t want you to give the whole thing away.  There must be some suggestion offered in it to get out, otherwise there‘s no reason to get up in the morning.  What in broad terms is the way out? 

DEAN:  The people actually do have the way out.  And I think the simple answer has always been when the American people have the information, they intuitively do the right thing.  This book deals a lot with process.  They don‘t have to understand all these processes.  They get it on a very visceral level, if it‘s working or they‘re getting screwed by it.  And so once they get the information and know where they stand, they do the right thing.  And they‘ll fix the broken government. 

OLBERMANN:  What is the healing estimate?  Do you have any idea?  Obviously you were there for the great political rupture of probably the last century and a half in this country, and I know a lot of us who were just bystanders of the thought it‘s going to be decades before we fully heal from this.  Obviously, there are still scars.  But the immediate fissures were cleaned up surprisingly quickly.  Could we redeem ourselves quickly enough in this? 

DEAN:  The Congress has to step up first and then the courts can.  One of the problems is the fact that if we get another Republican president in there, and he pushed the judiciary even further to the right, to the fundamentalist right, then it‘s beyond the pale.  I think my grandchildren will have to be worried about another constitutional convention some day. 

But if the Congress stands up and does the right thing on behalf of the American people, they can start, as in the post-Watergate years, bringing the president, putting it back on its constitutional tracks, because we know that the presidency—an imperial presidency doesn‘t sell with the American people.  They don‘t want it, particularly on stilts and steroids, where it is right now. 

OLBERMANN:  John Dean, whose new book is called “Broken Government” and despite the steroid reference, I don‘t think there‘s a Barry Bonds part to it. 

DEAN:  There‘s not.

OLBERMANN:  Great thanks for joining us.  And as always, great thanks for your contributions to COUNTDOWN.

DEAN:  It‘s always my pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, John.  And we need to thank Senator Larry Craig as well.  He has now officially filed to overturn his own guilty plea.  Will this reach for paperwork in Minneapolis be as disastrous as his last one? 

And somebody else who seems unsure if she‘s staying or finished, or maybe she just can‘t remember what she was supposed to lip-synch to, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For 17 years he‘s been creating the laws of the land in Congress.  Yet, in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Senator Larry Craig now expects a judge to believe that a veteran lawmaker such as himself did not understand what pleading guilty really means.  He filed court papers this morning alleging that manifest injustice occurred when he submitted his guilty plea, because he did not make it knowingly and understandingly that he was panicked and in a, quote, state of high anxiety, when he pled guilty to disorderly conduct, even though he filed his plea by mail in August, two months after his June arrest and without consulting counsel.

And high anxiety, enough with the Mel Brooks movie references.  That‘s not Nesa (ph).  His counsel now is going so far as to say that what Craig did in that Minneapolis airport bathroom was not even a crime.  So there was nothing to even anything for him to plead guilty to. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILLY MARTIN, ATTORNEY FOR SENATOR CRAIG:  Senator Craig stepped into the bathroom to do a perfectly legal function, that is to relieve himself.  Senator Craig admits to going into the bathroom.  He admits to moving his foot.  He admits to reaching his hand down.  That‘s all. 

That is not a crime.  Those acts do not constitute a crime.  So we are alleging no crime occurred.  We‘re asking that it be dismissed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The local prosecutor is planning to oppose that motion, pointing out that the case is already over.  Though given Craig‘s appeal, the prosecutor will now have the option to refile a gross misdemeanor charge of interference with privacy, which stemmed from Craig having peered into the officer‘s stall.  The charge which was dropped in return for his original guilty plea. 

Her victim says the Norma Desmond character in the movie classic “Sunset Boulevard,” I didn‘t know you were planning a comeback.  She screams, I hate that word.  It‘s a return, a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen.  Ladies and gentlemen the Norma Desmond of pop music.  Joel McHale of “The Soup” joins me next. 

But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.  The bronze to Brit Hume of Fox Noise, host of its newscast of record.  He has asked the rhetorical question now about Iraq, who are we fighting there now?  Al Qaeda in Iraq.  They were there before we got there and they‘re there now. 

Yes, except our government says bin Laden‘s al Qaeda wasn‘t in Iraq before we invaded, and that actual group called al Qaeda in Iraq wasn‘t founded until after we invaded.  They didn‘t pledge loyalty to bin Laden until October of 2004, and it‘s not under his control now.  Brit just thought it was OK to make all that stuff up. 

A tie at runner-up, former Bush Undersecretary of Defense Jed Babbin and John Gibson and Greg Gutfeld of Fox Noise, each of whom has now parroted the desperation in the far right-wing lunatic fringe by comparing Osama bin Laden‘s latest tape to my Special Comments. 

Actually, if you read the bin Laden text, in terms of structure and grandiosity and paranoia, it reads much closer to one of the president‘s stump speeches.  But anyway, this obscures the question you boys ought to be asking, which is who shifted the resources away from capturing bin Laden and why?  Oh, and Gibby, congrats on that new co-host they‘re bringing in to save your program. 

But winner, former White House chief of staff Andy Card, with a classic after the bin Laden tape.  I can‘t believe, he says, that there are people in Congress that will actually follow the direction of a sworn enemy of this country, rather than take the direction of the person sworn to defend the country, the president of the United States. 

If you want to get a textbook definition of the straw man argument, that was it.  According to Mr. Card, there are only two choices in the world; follow Bush or follow bin Laden.  Thank goodness the real world includes mostly people who do not have the tunnel vision of Andy Card, today‘s Worst Person in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:   Step aside Lindsay Lohan, take a pass, Paris Hilton, and don‘t even think about it Nicole Richie.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Britney Spears once again rules as the train wreck du jour.  Last night she turned in a super hyped comeback performance that was met with the universal cry of “Go Back!”  The event, MTV‘s Video Music Awards, live from Las Vegas.  Miss Spears opening the show with her new single unfortunately titled “Gimme More.”  As Spears dipped her toe back in to the entertainment pond, you could figuratively feel it freezing over beneath her. 

It was that skimpy, glittery bikini, give me more clothing.  There were the tentative dance moves.  Give me more rehearsals.  And sometimes the lip-synching was not exactly synched.  As for the reviews, you know you‘re in it trouble when even the Associated Press begins, somewhere Kevin Federline is laughing.  But, hey, judge for yourself. 

Well, she was wearing pants.  Miss Spears was barely backstage, reportedly crying, when the host Sarah Silverman let loose. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SILVERMAN, COMEDIAN:  She is 25 years old and she‘s already accomplished everything she‘s going to accomplish in her life.  But have you seen Britney‘s kids?  Oh, my god, they are the most adorable mistakes you will ever see. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to the host of the pop cultural critique of record, “The Soup” on the E! network, Joel McHale.  Good evening, Joel. 

JOEL MCHALE, “THE SOUP”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Hard to over state the sorry notices Miss Spears received.  The AP said she looked bleary and unprepared, which, you know, is me most nights.  “USA Today” called it truly forgettable.  The always unkind “New York Post,” jiggled like jell-o.  And good old TMZ.com headlined with “RIP Britney‘s Career: 1998-2007.”  But that pales in comparison to the final word from Joel McHale and “The Soup.”  What is your thumbnail review? 

MCHALE:  Oh, Keith, way, way better than I expected.  I am still dancing.  I mean, her eyes were open.  Her lips were moving.  She remained conscious the entire time.  It was the greatest impression of an office worker embarrassing themselves at a holiday party I have ever seen.  Five stars, Britney.  Bravo.  Bravo. 

OLBERMANN:  That was dancing?  I thought she was just having trouble -

some sort of inner ear problem and she had trouble standing up. 

MCHALE:  Well, yes, it‘s a mixture of those.  I have the same problem. 

OLBERMANN:  There seems to be this debate over whether she forgot the words at one point, or if this was just part of the non-synched lip-synching.  I‘m not sure which would be worse.  Meantime, there was this illusionist, Chris Angel, said the original act, which he inspired, was canceled.  Was this a rush job?  Was it under rehearsed?  Did Chris Angel, mind freak, put a hex on the thing?  What happened? 

MCHALE:  Yes, he put a very gothy, New Jersey hex on it.  But in Chris Angel‘s original piece, it involved a lot of mirrors.  And when Britney was rehearsing it, she kept stopping the song and saying, who hired the fat girl? 

OLBERMANN:  Thank goodness you said that and not me.  There were actually several reports that, as we mentioned earlier, she shed tears backstage.  “Extra” claimed that she was seen texting somebody immediately after her performances.  Any guesses on the nature of the text, Joel, and the recipient of the text? 

MCHALE:  Well, I‘m not sure, but I think we can rule out dietitian, personal trainer, psychologist, clothing stylist, makeup artist, nanny.  I can keep going.—actual musician, songwriter.  Stop me at any time, Keith.  Personal bleacher. 

OLBERMANN:  Lingerie wrangler. 

MCHALE:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  There was one other notable adjustment made last night, in terms of public appearance—this is almost unrelated.  It‘s Paris Hilton‘s new hairdo, which has been described as—um—how would you describe—do you have to describe this?  Do you have to explain it?  Is it geological phenomenon?  Is it global warming?  What is that? 

MCHALE:  Well, Keith, it‘s actually a new hairdo.  It‘s called the post surgery Barbara Bush. 

OLBERMANN:  Looks like one of the Gabor sisters.  Doesn‘t that look like Zsa Zsa Gabor in “Green Acres?”  Off stage, we have this big news at the awards that the various ex-husbands of Pamela Anderson, Tommy Lee and Kid Rock, got into a fight.  Mr. Rock was the one cited for misdemeanor battery.  What would that have been about, other than being sort of a meeting of minds and/or has-beens? 

MCHALE:  Well, actually, “Has-Beens” is a show premiering on E! later this fall, so thanks for mentioning that.  But, as far as Tommy Lee and Kid Rock are concerned, that‘s what happens when you get two guys having a flare-up and they fight over one dose of Valtrex.  It‘s kind of like “Lord of the Flies,” but with more flies. 

OLBERMANN:  What happens—getting back to the original subject of Britney Spears.  What happens to “The Soup” if Britney Spears—if her career is actually over, if she‘s finished?  Do you cut back to 15 minutes or what happens to your program and your continuing investigative series on this woman‘s life? 

MCHALE:  Are you trying to make me cry, Keith?  Nuclear winter?  You know, if she actually no longer appears on our show, hopefully that means she‘s gotten better, and that frees up a little bit more time for us to hit Meryl Streep, because she is out of control. 

OLBERMANN:  A special comment coming on Meryl Streep from Joel McHale.  That was an excellent special comment you did.  The host of “The Soup,” new each Friday night on the E! network.  Always a pleasure to talk to you, sir. 

MCHALE:  Thanks Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Take care.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,594th day since the declaration of mission accomplished.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

END   

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