updated 11/21/2007 9:04:40 AM ET 2007-11-21T14:04:40

Guests: Paul F. Tompkins, John Dean, Eugene Robinson

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Plamegate reignites—Scott McClellan was lying and the president knew it.  The former White House press secretary‘s new book.  In the outing of Valerie Plame he says, he publicly exonerated Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.  There was one problem.  It was not true.  McClellan claims he unknowingly lied on Mr. Bush‘s behalf and involved in my doing so, Rove, Libby, the Vice President, the president‘s chief of staff, and the president himself.  The president himself gets it from Jack Murtha.  Two years and three days after his creed occur he vows the White House will not get another dime for Iraq this year not on simple promises.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JACK MURTHA, (D) PENNSYLVANIA:  You believe what the Pentagon says?  Huh?  With all the things they have told us?  You believe what—I mean, go back and look.  Mission accomplished.  Al Qaeda connection.  Weapons of mass destruction.  On and on and on and you believe the Pentagon?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Agitate, agitate, agitate.  Former attorney general Gonzales heckled and turned into a prop for performance art.  Civil liberties escorted off stage.  Habeas corpus.  Thanks for stopping by.  Please tip your waitress.  And the day his express secretary serves him up for Thanksgiving, it‘s the annual dumbest presidential ritual on the calendar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  You cannot take the heat, and you are definitely going to stay out of the kitchen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Carnac time.  George Bush made the turkey and flower the turkey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  George Bush made the turkey and flower the turkey.

OLBERMANN:  Name three creatures who will eventually all need pardons. 

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  This is Tuesday, November 20th, 350 days until the 2008 presidential election.  Scott McClellan today not only accused the President of the United States and the Vice President and Karl Rove of being, quote, “Involved,” unquote, in lying to the American public about who ousted CIA operative Valerie Plame but also by implication accused the President of the United States of commuting the sentence of Scooter Libby even though some of Libby‘s lies to the grand jury were lies in which Mr. Bush was quote, “Involved.”  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN:

His publishers releasing the briefest of excerpts from McClellan‘s upcoming book but those 121 words portray President Bush as, at best a passively involved liar and chief.  The timing of the release of the McClellan excerpt flopping with irony, having commuting Mr. Libby‘s sentence for his role in the scandal earlier this year.  This morning, it was time for the annual pre-Thanksgiving, commuting of the turkeys at the White House.  Same effect as a pardon so that‘s what COUNTDOWN is going to call the photo op for the rest of the Bush administration.  The president and its former press secretary in an excerpt of his upcoming book - “What happened” posted on the Web site of its publisher, recalls the time he spent stone walling and lying he says unknowingly about the involvement of top White House officials in that leak, quote: The most powerful in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  So I stood at the White House briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.  There was problem.  It was not true.  I had unknowingly passed along false information and five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president‘s chief of staff, and the president himself.”

A lot to get here on this.  John Dean on how smoking this gun is and what use it may be towards establishing inevitably what did the president know and when did he know it?  Eugene Robinson on who if anybody in politics will this up and run with and let‘s start with MSNBC correspondent, David Shuster who has covered the CIA leak case for us since its beginning.  David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If not the first time that President Bush has been implicated in this, is this the first time and the most direct link has been offered by anybody who was a principle who would have known what was going on?

SHUSTER:  Yes.  It‘s the most direct of President Bush to the public lies told by the White House.  You have to remember, Keith, that at the time that Scott McClellan was denying that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby had been involved in leaking classified information, McClellan had reason to be suspicious about both.  He first cleared Karl Rove and then Vice President Cheney demanded that Scott McClellan publicly clear Scooter Libby.  And the trial evidence from Scooter Libby‘s trial produced evidence that in fact, Vice President Cheney wrote out talking points for Scott McClellan to clear Scooter Libby.  The key question in all of this is what kind of conversation did McClellan have with President Bush?  Did McClellan say, you know, I‘m a little worried about this and the president said hey, the vice president wants you to do this, go ahead and do it, or the chief of staff wants you to do it, or Karl Rove wants you to do it?  But the Libby trial evidence, Keith, again, this is not the first time that it has shown that President Bush was involved.  The Libby trial produced evidence that President Bush in June of 2003, was interested, according to Scooter Libby‘s grand jury testimony in the very first “New York Times” column that mentioned the possibility of problems with the State of the Union Speech and mentioned that an unnamed ambassador had undermined the State of the Union because of a previous trip to the government of Niger.  And then in July, according to Scooter Libby testimony, July of 2003, Vice President Cheney asked Scooter Libby to leak classified information to the “New York Times” reporter, Judy Miller and Cheney was doing so at the behest of President Bush.  So, you‘ve got two instances already of the president being involved in the strategy and now, of course, you‘ve got evidence of the president being directly involved in the cover up on the eve of the criminal investigation and at a time when the public knew there was a public investigation and there was Scott McClellan saying nobody in the White House was involved.

OLBERMANN:  The two-week period to which Mr. McClellan is clearly referring to in that excerpt, September 2003, he told reporters that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby never leaked the identity of Valerie Plame and he said the president knows Mr. Rove was not involved.  Does the timing of that excerpt and the nature of what he has written here raise the possibility that the president had known about Rove and Libby‘s involvement when he said, and it was September 30th of that year, 2003, the quote, exactly was this: “I don‘t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information.  If somebody did leak classified information, I would like to know it and will take the appropriate action.  Is there an indication that he knew that wasn‘t true yet he kept on denying that he knew the identity of those who were involved?

SHUSTER:  Yes, there is every indication now that in fact the president knew that there had been people in his White House who had leaked classified information.  Again, it gets back to Scott McClellan going to the president, saying, you know what?  I have got some concerns.  What should die?  Should I publicly clear Karl Rove and Scooter Libby?  At the time, of course, the Libby trial produced the evidence.  That Vice president Cheney knew that what Scott McClellan was doing was essentially going to be lying to the American public.  Now, it‘s possible, even though Vice President Cheney and President Bush had conversations about the CIA leak case in the summer of 2003, it is possible that Vice President Cheney decided not to tell President Bush to try to distance the president from the lies and the strategy that Vice President Cheney and Scooter Libby were perpetrating on the American people on the grand jury.  And I suppose it‘s also possible, Keith, that if President Clinton says it depends on what the definition of is - is then maybe, President Bush thought, well it depends on what the definition of know is.  Clearly, this is why Scott McClellan‘s book is going to be so intriguing.

OLBERMANN:  Alright and from the intrigue and the parsing of it, what is the White House saying about this tonight, David?

SHUSTER:  Well, the White House is suggesting that President Bush was mislead, just like Scott McClellan that while Scott McClellan was mislead by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, so, too, was President Bush.  Then you have the White House in the usual position of trying to water down what Scott McClellan‘s publisher is putting out there.  And, yet, at the time that the White House is watering this down, you have a lot of people in Washington saying, wait a second, when it comes to credibility, the people who are saying, oh, no, the president did this unwittingly, these are the same people who have such huge credibility problems, Keith, because of this very CIA leak case.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC David Shuster and here we go again, the same old story coming back to get us.  As always, thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For more on the legal implications that might be gleaned from these 121 words.  We turn now to Nixon White House counsel, John Dean, author of “Broken Government - How Republican role destroy the legislative, executive and judicial branches.”  As always, John, great thanks for your time tonight.

JOHN W. DEAN, AUTHOR, BROKEN GOVERNMENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is what Mr. McClellan describes, hints at in this excerpt, could this be framework of criminal conspiracy in the White House?  Is there the possibility here that President Bush took part in the cover up?

DEAN:  Well, certainly it is pregnant with that possibility, clearly.  What you have here is what was conspicuously absent from Fitzgerald‘s investigation or certainly anything in the indictments was a conspiracy.  And there is a very clear statute, 371 of the Criminal Code, that says if two or more people get together to defraud the government and this is a very sort of thing that could be defrauding the government by denying honest information to the government and that indeed is, a very serious felony.  So, there, indeed, is the suggestion here.

OLBERMANN:  Can Fitzgerald reopen or can somebody else reopen on his behalf or is there a way for the White House to quash that?

DEAN:  Well, I understand his investigation is ongoing, that he has never formally closed it, that he hasn‘t said that it‘s over and he would probably have to impanel a new grand jury.  But it certainly doesn‘t mean if he thinks he has been deceived.  And if he thinks there has been an offense and conspiracy that has been—he has been somehow eluded from learning the true facts, I think he‘d go for it.

OLBERMANN:  Have you have had any success in finding precision in this excerpt, that Scott McClellan has previously said he and Bush were mislead in the same way.  We just heard what Shuster was reporting about the White House reaction tonight.  Dana Perino has said this, the publisher has said this, does that mean Bush was not there for origin of the lie but Cheney was or Rove or Libby or card?  Is there anything specific in this?

DEAN:  Well, there is very little specific in this.  I actually thought about calling the publisher today.  He‘s a very able publisher, Peter Asnows (ph) at public affairs.  Good journalist, he knows exactly what he is doing.  But if he says there‘s not much more, and that‘s the indication, I think that‘s maybe why they put this out as a good tease to get bookstores interested in the book.

OLBERMANN:  Is there a straight line, do you think?  Or does this give us any better suggestion or throw any better light on whether or not there is a straight line from the lie to McClellan or whoever originated that and Libby‘s lies to the grand jury?

DEAN:  Well, I think, David Shuster put it very well.  Indeed, there has been an implication of that line all along.  And it‘s a question of whether what he adds next in this very pregnant clause or few paragraphs he has put out in the book.  It could well be a direct line.  We just don‘t know at this point.

OLBERMANN:  But, to that point, David Gregory reporting earlier tonight from the White House, that there is not going to be a retraction from McClellan, but it‘s also unlikely that the revelations would go any further.  The phrase was the president—the former press secretary is not going to be taking a hatchet to the president.  Is it nonetheless, with this time for the house judiciary committee to hold some sort of hearing and call Mr. McClellan as a witness and ask him publicly what did you know?  When did you know it?  Not to mention what did the president know and when did he know it?

DEAN:  Well, if the situations were reversed and the Republicans were in control, you can be sure they would be running something like this down from the Clinton administration.  But I don‘t know why that the Judiciary Committee couldn‘t make at least first an informal inquiry of McClellan‘s counsel if they get stiff-armed just subpoena the manuscript and bring it in and decide whether it should go forward.  I would be surprised if Conyers doesn‘t do something like that or Pat Leahy in the Senate.

OLBERMANN:  Does this whole story here call the Libby commutation into question because of the point that I raised earlier that whoever started these lies, the lies to McClellan and the lies to the grand jury by Libby were on the same material and here is a guy saying I got this from within the White House?  Is there the possibility that a commutation can be overridden in some way if a president were found to have been doing that for purpose of protecting himself or is the only avenue against in an impeachment?

DEAN:  Keith, this is about as plenty power as a president has is the power to pardon.  A lot of Ps in there.  But anyway, there is little that can be done after a president issue as pardon.  And it‘s really not reviewable by anybody.  It‘s not subject to revocation.  So, it‘s a fact.  It‘s going to stand.

OLBERMANN:  Last point, john, is there something in this for the Wilson‘s, for Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson to add the president to the civil suit that they had filed against Rove and Libby et al and might that be the root by which we finally get the absolute truth in this thing?

DEAN:  That‘s a thin possibility.  The case was dismissed on a jurisdictional base that the people involved were all immunized.  Judge Bates said that even lying didn‘t seem to trouble him that they were acting beyond their scope of employment.  We just don‘t know what this leads to and it could well give them another opening.

OLBERMANN:  John Dean, White House legal counsel under Richard Nixon, author of “Broken Government.”  Great thanks for your insight on this one, John.

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, a second former Bush administration key figure goes not into publishing but becomes, instead, a straight man for a series of surprisingly entertaining public protest.

Plus: The political fallout of the Scott McClellan clip.  And while Democrats in the Senate are talking about an Iraq funding bill more palatable to the president, Congressman Murtha asks “You believe the Pentagon?” and calls the Pentagon quote, “Despicable.”  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As if the president did not have enough trouble with his alumni association after the Scott McClellan book excerpt, Freido stands and watches as protesters dressed up as civil liberties and habeas corpus get literally pulled off the stage.  And the outrage of outrages tonight, the military demanding refunds from wounded Iraq veterans.  The Worst Person segment and everything else, ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The good news for the White House tonight, at least Alberto Gonzales has not written a memoir yet.  At such no McClellan as bombshells for him for the time being.  The bad news though, in our fourth story tonight.  The McClellan political fallout along with overnight what became the almost comic relief.  The former White House counsel turning attorney general is making public appearances at which the public turning against him.  Freido getting more the bargain for the first stop in a nationwide college speaking tour last night.  The former A.G., a few minutes into his speech at the University of Florida in Gainesville, when a protester dressed like a detainee took the stage, the front of the detainee‘s slash demonstrators shirt reading civil liberties, how appropriate for then for Mr. Gonzales to do nothing, say nothing, and pretend he saw nothing as civil liberties was literally taken away.  The crowd clearly on the protester‘s side throughout.  Its joy only magnified when a second young man took the stage try ignoring this man, Mr. Gonzales.  His sign declaring habeas corpus which you might remember used to be one of the cornerstone of the U.S. Law since the founding of the nation and originally in the magna carta with too under threat of Mr. Gonzales‘ ideas of justice and it, too, was marched off the stage, good night, everybody.  Mr. Gonzales, one of the 23 officials with known connections to the outing of Valerie Plame.  More on the politics of cover up and scandal and the absence of justice, let‘s turn now to Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor at the “Washington Post.”  Thanks again for your time tonight, Gene.

EUGENE WASHINGTON, WASHINGTON POST:  Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Immediate impact of this McClellan book nugget

do some Democrats run with this?  Do some Republicans try to distance themselves?  Did McClellan just refresh the bloody shirt of Plamegate?

WASHINGTON:  Did (INAUDIBLE) is playing his honest man on this administration.  Look, I think Democrats would be crazy not to run with this because whenever the subject of the discussion turns back to George Bush and his administration and the failings and the lies and the deception and the outing of Valerie Plame.  It‘s a complicated story.  But it‘s got to work in favor of the Democrats.  So I would assume they would all pick it up.  And I would assume the Republicans will probably kind of moonwalk away from it as quickly and gracefully as possible and not say very much about it at all.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, you have to parse to get away from the idea whether McClellan intended this or not or back it up or not, you have to parse it to get away from the idea that he has called George Bush out as one of the fabricators of this story that nobody in his administration had anything to do with the outing of Valerie Plame.

WASHINGTON:  Right.  You have to take to us a secure route to conclude that he‘s not calling the president out.  Maybe he isn‘t.  And I suppose it is conceivable that there aren‘t more huge bombshells in the book.  But, just, you know, it would be enough just tell me everything you know about this incident and why do you say that the president himself was involved in leading you to go out and lie to the world about Scooter Libby and Karl Rove‘s involvement in leaking Valerie Plame‘s classified status?   You know, you have to—it‘s a flight of the imagination to find a way that the president gets kind of Scott-free on this, so to speak.

OLBERMANN:  Nevertheless, McClellan‘s job was White House spokesman and whether he was at the podium or Tony Snow or now, Dana Perino, or long ago, Ari Fleischer.  Is there anything left to believe from anybody‘s standing at the podium or a deputy or whoever whether they‘re lying knowingly or they‘ve been kept out of the loft in the name deniable plausibility or plausible deniability, is the credibility of that office now shot?

WASHINGTON:  The credibility was not shot, when?   The credibility was shot a long time ago, I think, when we were told about weapons of mass destruction.  We were told, you know, all sorts of fables about Iraq and the war on terror.  And now are being told, also, fables about Iran.  So, you know, it‘s a tough job.  You go out and you say what they tell you to say, often.  I think it‘s to Scott McClellan‘s credit that he‘s calling him on it and saying, you know, you sent me out to say something that is just a bald faced lie and you and you and you are responsible.  And one of the you‘s is George W. Bush.

OLBERMANN:  It would have helped in 2003 or 2004.

WASHINGTON:  That would have been nice.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I understand that.  You know, one of the other you‘s in there is Karl Rove that story about him possibly being in charge of the presidential library, the creation museum of presidential libraries then.  What does this tell us about the relationship of the truth to now not the administration of George W. Bush but the legacy of George W. Bush?

WASHINGTON:  I think it will be a tenuous relationship, at best.  I think clearly, if you look at everything Rove has said and written since leaving his office in the White House, it‘s been designed to do two things, I think, kind of burnish and preserve the image and reputation of George Bush and burnish and preserve the image and reputation of Karl Rove.  That‘s what he‘s doing.  I think they‘re instructively linked,  those two.

OLBERMANN:  Well, Scott McClellan got him on the way out the door here too.  Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post.”  As always, great thanks, sir.

WASHINGTON:  Good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  The writer to the wounded Iraq vet outside Pittsburgh actually uses the phrase indebtedness owed us.  Why the Pentagon is demanding refunds from some of our main veterans.  To the officer if its police car.  To the deer it‘s apparently his hurdle, of course.  Wee.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1975, after an illness of several months, the fascist dictator of Spain finally died or at least his fellow criminals there announced he has died.  In this country, nearly 40 years of its oppression has been almost totally subsumed by Chevy Chase eternal joke on the nonstop American news coverage of the dictator‘s sickness in passing.  This just in Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.  Forgotten, Chase‘s nearly as impressive follow-up after that punch line started to get stale, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still valiantly holding on in his fight to remain dead.  Let‘s play Oddball.

Now we begin in Jackson County, Missouri, Monday November 19th, it was a cool night, dark, quiet, a little too quiet.  This is dash cam video from a patrol car and what looks like a 10 point buck taking a running start and jumping over the hood of the car.  It just happen once not a whole series of them.  Like smoky the bandit jumping his car in front of the train.  The sheriff‘s deputy fires up his cherries thinking about a chase or maybe trying to spook the deer, there was no chase.  The deer fled to the safety of the woods and presumably the sheriff‘s deputy fled to his home to change his drawers on count deer and get some to sleep.

To St. Louis, where man and a female accomplice were caught on tape of actually stealing a woman‘s purse in a restaurant, sick, I know, wait, there is more.  After the robbery this guy does a victory dance for a security camera at a nearby convenience store showing off some roger rabbit running man overbite kind of moves and a complete disregard for the law.  Both Fred and Ginger remained at large but you can bet they will be big hits at the warden‘s talent night doing their break in two electric bungalow in the big house.

Finally, in the Internet, where we find footage from Scandinavian TV, a live fashion show type broadcast at the bottom of a snow boarding ramp.  The model is showing off this stunning gold number which looks warm and stylish although clearly is not snow boarder resistant.

Did we mention they were at the bottom of an active snow boarding ramp?   Did they tell her?

               

Jack Murtha asks another $64 billion question after last five years of lies about Iraq, you believe the Pentagon about the Iraq budget?

And the president and some turkeys.  That‘s him at the left in the tie. 

These stories ahead.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

No. 3, best effort at an omelet.  The unnamed driver of a tractor trailer that overturned on a local road 10 miles east of Paris, California, where everything seems to happen.  He spilled the contents of the truck, 30,000 pounds of eggs. 

Mass quantities of bacon bits were rushed to the scene, to no avail. 

No. 2, best set-up.  Laura Ingraham, filling in over there for Bill O., wondering why the far left isn‘t hitting Hillary Clinton.  Quote, “They need to paint her as another version of George Bush.  George Bush in a skirt.  They really have to paint her as that, and they‘re really not willing to do that for some reason.”  That‘s the setup part. 

Well, Laura, maybe because presidential candidate who actually already has a monopoly on the George-Bush-in-a-skirt vote would be him, Rudy Giuliani. 

And No. 1, best dumb criminals.  Asia Cox, Denise Lewis and Alexandra Selmon, all arrested after a series of thefts at the Natick Collection shopping center outside Boston.  They were allegedly working as distractions for the male thief, but a problem arose with the caper when the woman approached a policeman in a mall parking lot and explained they had forgotten where they parked their car. 

The officer recognized one of them as matching the description of one of the robbery suspects.  He played along.  He helped them find the car and all the stuff they had stolen sitting on the backseat of the car. 

They had forgotten where they parked the get-away car. 

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OLBERMANN:  Two years and three days since Jack Murtha stepped before a news conference on Capitol Hill and eviscerated the Bush administration over the war in Iraq.  Two years and three days since his comments, which inspired Congressman Jean Schmidt of Ohio to call him a coward and Republicans to figuratively try to stone him to death and, to their shock, watch as the stones bounced back and ultimately cost them the election a year later. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, 3,875 Americans now dead in Iraq.  Two more today in a helicopter lost near Baghdad.  Roughly 1,800 of them since Congressman Murtha drew his line in the sand. 

And today Murtha decided another line needed drawing.  This tipping point, President Bush‘s demand for $188 billion on top of the Pentagon annual $470 billion-dollar budget to fund the war in Iraq. 

The House offered up $50 billion with withdrawal date strings attached.  Senate Republicans effectively stalled that measure in the face of a promised presidential veto.  So now the Pentagon is warning that, unless it gets some money soon, contractors and nonmilitary personnel will have to be let go, and then soon bases will have to close. 

Such claims prompting a rare holiday week appearance from House Democrats.  Representative Murtha, along with David Obey of Wisconsin you see there, launching a blistering attack, accusing them of, quote, “despicable behavior at the Pentagon,” by playing politics and scaring the families of troops.  The four finally calling the credibility of the entire department into question. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  We believe we‘re doing the right thing.  The public spoke at the last election, very overwhelmingly, and they said they want us out of Iraq.  They still want us out of Iraq. 

We have provided the money for the troops.  We‘ve provided the money to transition out of Iraq.  And it‘s up to the president.  They don‘t need to do the things—you‘re missing the point.  Because the Pentagon says it, you believe it?  Do you believe what the Pentagon says?  Huh?  All the things that they have told us? 

You believe—what, I mean, go back and look.  Mission accomplished.  Al Qaeda connection.  Weapons of mass destruction.  On and on and on, and you believe the Pentagon?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re joined now by our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Good to see you here. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That “ha” in the middle of Murtha‘s remark.  You book back to November 2005, and Murtha and that landmark moment of that speech which really did change the temper of the discussion about the Iraq war, but Iraq continues apace.  Today, similar impact, perhaps rhetorically, but does it have any practical impact?

WOLFFE:  You do want to say “huh?”  I mean, look, the Democrats have ramped up their rhetoric.  But predicting a turnaround among Democrats is like predicting a turnaround in Iraq.  It‘s always six months away. 

And in this case the rhetorical lines are drawn around what happens in February.  The White House clearly going out there today saying, “We‘re about to lay-off all these civilian workers.  It‘s going to be apocalyptic.”  And Democrats are trying to call their bluff.

But what matters here are the independent voters who swung so heavily behind Democrats in 2006.  Where will they go?  Is the White House going to be effective in changing their minds?  It doesn‘t look like it right now. 

OLBERMANN:  But do the independent people know where the Democrats are just making a list of this today.  Murtha and Dave Obey suggested this today and had this line that we just heard.  Harry Reid said no blank check.  Dan Inouye in the Senate is pushing for a revised gentler version of the new bridge bill.  He is their one Democrat position on Iraq funding?

WOLFFE:  Well, no, there isn‘t.  And actually, you‘ve got to include Nancy Pelosi, who says the troops will always get what they need, which is the bottom line for the White House.  They think the Democrats are always going to blink because of that now.  I think the real leadership on this, if there‘s any hope for Democrats on this, is going to come from the presidential candidates. 

Because remember, this whole thing is going to blow up once we basically know who the nominee is.  And that is going to be handed to them to deal with.  Could they provide some leadership?  Maybe.  They‘re not going to find a congressional strategy.  But they could give a message. 

OLBERMANN:  I keep coming back to the cynical lessons that we thought we learned during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980.  That it might have been in Ronald Reagan‘s interests to prolong the unofficial negotiations that the people he was in contact with or his people were in contact with in Iran to make sure that did not become a Jimmy Carter success. 

Is there a fear that some sort of—is there still some sort of operational fear among the Democrats that, if they do too much now, that this could really be improved to such a situation that it‘s no longer an issue in the 2008 presidential election?

WOLFFE:  There is clearly fear among congressional Democrats.  And I think the question again for these presidential candidates is how are they going to confront the politics of fear?  Are they going to just talk about it in rhetorical terms?  Can they do something to change the dynamic?

But as long as this debate is about whether troops have equipment, I think Democrats are actually going to lose it.  They‘re going to have to come up with the money. 

What they really need to be talking about, as some candidates have tried to say is, looking after the troops means bringing them home. 

OLBERMANN:  But the other thing in here about funding and particular issues and equipment, another story that we heard this week.  And I‘m wondering if it might set off kind of an alarm.  Monty Meigs, who used to work with us here at NBC.  Former general, family of generals, one of the generals in the Meigs family laid out Arlington National Cemetery during the Civil War.  This is real Army, straight-shooter guys for generations. 

Now he‘s in charge of the anti-IED program.  And he comes out and says it‘s running out of money.  In the context of get them all the money you can get them, is there any Democrat saying, “Hey, wait a minute.  It‘s $804 billion by the White House estimate.  We don‘t have money to continue the program to stop the IEDs?  George Bush, what did you do with this money?” 

Is that not a cogent argument?

WOLFFE:  Absolutely.  And look at the polls.  The Democrats‘ strongest card in 2006 was about investigations, contracts, about where the money went.  I don‘t think people have got a full accounting for it.  If Democrats want to go on a good campaign, it would be to say what happened to the money?  And, you know, following the money trail is a good strategy for them right now. 

OLBERMANN:  And, briefly, is the Blackwater fiasco, has that stopped?  Is that—is there going to be further investigation of that, if that‘s one of those areas of traction for the Democrats?

WOLFFE:  Well, the investigation obviously isn‘t going to come from Buzzy and Cookie.  But there is—there is plenty to go out.  Look at how many civilians died.  America has to reestablish some credibility on this one.  And I think congress has to step up. 

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  And here in person.  Great to see you. 

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Safe travels, sir. 

And there‘s one more Iraq story that will make your head swim tonight.  Our military contacting many of our most wounded Iraq veterans, not with thanks or in concern but demanding from them refunds.  Refunds from the wounded veteran to the U.S. military.  Explained in our worst persons segment tonight on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A hospital nightmare for the newborn twins of the actor Dennis Quaid. 

Instant ookiness as Neil Diamond reveals the inspiration for the song “Sweet Caroline.”  It was a photograph of a pre-teen girl. 

And in worsts, Glenn Beck vs. Tom DeLay going for the “P” word, versus the U.S. military demanding refunds from our wounded soldiers.  That‘s next. 

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  An evident medical mistake at one of the famous hospitals for the stars is leading our No. 2 story tonight, “Keeping Tabs.”  The newborn twins of actor Dennis Quaid and his wife, Kimberly Buffington, are fighting for their lives at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A., listed in stable condition.

The Web site TMZ.com reporting that Quaid‘s—the Quaid babies were accidentally given massive doses of a drug used to prevent blood clotting.  The newborns were supposed to get 10 units of Heparin on Sunday.  They were given 10,000 units instead. 

The Quaids tonight not confirming details of this story but thanking everyone for thoughts and prayers.  TMZ says as many as 13 other patients at Cedars-Sinai also received the wrong dosage of Heparin.  The hospital refusing comment on the story. 

The doctor who performed plastic surgery on the mother of Kanye West 24 hours before she died has broken his silence, Dr. Jan Adams telling the “L.A. Times” that nothing went wrong during Donda West‘s surgery earlier this month.  Adams says he performed liposuction, a tummy tuck and breast reduction.  There were reports the surgery took eight hours, which is said to be twice as long as usually necessary.  Ms. West died the day after her surgery. 

An initial coroner‘s review found the death was a result of surgery or anesthesia.  Dr. Adams says West was fine when she left his office.  He told the “Times” West may have overdosed on Vicodin he prescribed for her pain.  A heart attack, perhaps, or a pulmonary embolism.  The physical cause of death still pending. 

Meantime, in Oklahoma City today, Kanye West,     his family and friends gathered to say goodbye to his mother.  Some 2,500 other mourners attended.  West returns to his European tour on Thursday, a performance Monday.

And one of the great musical mysteries of the last 40 years has been settled.  No, not exactly who Carly Simon is singing about in “You‘re So Vain,” but about who “Sweet Caroline” is.

Neil Diamond‘s 1969 hit enjoying a sales renaissance after becoming part of the ballpark rituals of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets was inspired, he says, when he saw a photo of a young woman named Caroline in “TIME” magazine dressed in horse riding gear a, quote, innocent, wonderful picture, he says, which inspired him a few years later to write the song. 

That is “Sweet Caroline” then.  This is “Sweet Caroline” now.  Caroline Kennedy, JFK‘s daughter.  Now Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and 50 years old. 

Diamond performed at her 50th birthday celebration.  One problem: do the math.  Even if Diamond saw the photo in 1967, Caroline Kennedy was at most 10 years old. 

Makes you think twice about singing along with those lyrics, don‘t it?  “Now I look at the night and it don‘t seem so lonely.  We filled it up with only two, warm touching warm.”  Check, please. 

And you name it, George Bush will pardon it. 

Also, good news politically for Hillary Clinton.  She may have converted Elisabeth Hasselbeck into a supporter.  Those political fallout (ph) is next.  But first, time for worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to former House Republican leader Tom DeLay.  Attending John Bolton‘s book party in Washington, Mr. DeLay, in the words of conservative Web sites, started to poke fun at “New York Times” columnist Paul Krugman, saying, quote, “I‘d like to bitch slap him,” unquote. 

Well, we‘re playing (ph) with this language again.  That grammatically does mean that whoever does the “B” slapping is the “B.” 

Our runner-up, CNN‘s Glenn Beck.  He blew that Robert Novak story, Novak‘s little well-poisoner over the weekend, claiming the Clinton camp had damaging info on Senator Barack Obama. 

Novak admitted yesterday morning that his source was a, quote, “neutral Democrat,” not an insider with the Clinton campaign.  So Beck announces last night, quote, “Wait a minute.  Hang on just a second.  Novak said it was an insider on the Clinton campaign.” 

Swing and a miss. 

But our winner, the Pentagon‘s SEB bonus division.  Jordan Fox, a wounded soldier from Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, an IED got him last spring.  Back injuries, he lost all vision in his right eye.  No longer fit to fight in Iraq. 

Jordan Fox was enough of an American hero that President Bush met with his mother last spring.  Now the military says Jordan Fox owes it money. 

He says he got a bill a few days ago for $3,000.  The Army wants part of Jordan Fox‘s recruitment signing bonus back, because he was unable to serve his full tour in Iraq and had to go home three months early. 

He is apparently far from alone.  Fox says he believes the number of other wounded soldiers who are being asked to return part of their bonuses, because they were wounded is in the thousands.  We‘ll talk to his mother here tomorrow night. 

But even if his was the only case like this, the Pentagon and the administration should be hanging its collective head in shame. 

The letter Fox received about his SEB, his selective enlistment bonus, uses the phrase “indebtedness due us.” 

You, you jackasses, are indebted to Jordan Fox and everybody like him. 

The military‘s SEB Division, today‘s worst persons in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The president has completed his annual commuting of the sentences of the turkeys.  I know, I know.  You thought he‘d done that on July 2 with Lewis “Scooter” Libby, but you and I are not being metaphoric here but literal. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN: humor, politics and the feeling that inside every politician is a standup comedian yearning to be free. 

Two birds spared today, actually including the back-up, courtesy of the National Turkey Federation, hand-picked so as not to raise a fuss, just like any other presidential audience. 

The annual pardon, a landmark victory for the domestic fowl lobby since Harry Truman left (ph) it in the door.  President Bush ripping on that straight away. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  To paraphrase Harry today, we have has a message for our two feathered friends: you cannot take the heat.  And you‘re definitely going to stay out of the kitchen. 

I also thank everybody who voted online to choose the names for our guests of honor.  And I‘m pleased to announce the winning names.  They are May and Flower.  They‘re certainly better than the name the vice president suggested, which was Lunch and Dinner. 

(TURKEY GOBBLING)

BUSH:  Thank you.

They will be shortly flown to Disney World, where they will serve as honorary grand marshals for the Thanksgiving Day parade.  I hope that honor doesn‘t go to their head. 

May they live the rest of their lives in blissful gobbling. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The other suggested names, Mick and Clellan. 

By the way, according to the “Philadelphia Daily News,” the blissful gobbling will not last very long.  Yam and Marshmallow, the turkeys pardoned by Mr. Bush two Thanksgivings ago, died within weeks at the Magic Kingdom, since domestic turkeys are bread to be fat and juicy and not geriatric. 

On a happier note, a little kindness apparently improved the political humor of Elisabeth Hasselbeck, famous for her run-in with Rosie O‘Donnell.  “The View‘s” resident Republican giving birth 10 days ago and, according to the “New York Post,” a congratulatory note from Senator Hillary Clinton was all it took to make her considering—consider jump the party line.  Clinton‘s gesture to her was, quote, “truly a thoughtful and warm act.  I may actually change my vote.” 

We haven‘t even touched on the political effects of banjos, Chuck Norris or professional wrestlers in the presidential campaign.  That‘s where our guest, Paul F. Tompkins comes in tonight, a regular contributor, as you know, to VH1‘s “Best Week Ever.” 

Paul, good evening. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, VH1‘S “BEST WEEK EVER”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  So if this Hasselbeck story is correct, didn‘t Hillary Clinton just win the election?  All she‘s got to do is write a note to the mother of every newborn in this country and the next year, and she‘s in.  And she wins that demographic, like 4 million to nothing, then. 

TOMPKINS:  Yes, it‘s just that simple.  And each woman on “The View” represents a segment of the nation‘s populace.  You know, Barbara represents the elderly.  Joy represents the New York Jewish liberal, even though she‘s Italian.  Whoopi represents the Hollywood Jewish liberal, even though she‘s black.  And Sherri Shepard, who admitted that she wasn‘t sure if the earth was flat, represents creations.  But as the old saying goes, though, as goes Hasselbeck, so goes the nation. 

OLBERMANN:  And steady on Barbara Walters.  She can buy and sell both of us. 

Given the—given the McClellan story today about lying about Scooter Libby, was this a bad day for the president to be seen on tape pardoning anything, even turkeys?  Shouldn‘t he have just skipped it this time? 

TOMPKINS:  Yes.  There‘s a number of people in the country who are calling for the head of someone in the Bush White House, and if it‘s got to be turkeys so be it.  You know, if you want to carry out the sacrificial turkey metaphor even further, maybe he can appoint them to some sort of high office in the administration and then chop their heads off. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, if you‘re suggesting he hasn‘t appointed attorneys -

rather, turkeys as attorney general or turkeys elsewhere in the—that would have been a better joke if I hadn‘t blown the punch line at the beginning there, right?  I‘ll leave it to the pros.

TOMPKINS:  I get your meeting, though.

OLBERMANN:  The president‘s joke about Dick Cheney suggesting that the turkeys be named Lunch and Dinner.  Boy, that‘s groundbreaking material, as well, is it not? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, we all know how hilarious Dick Cheney is.  But I think that President Bush might be trying out some material.  He might be auditioning to be the entertainment himself at the next White House press corps dinner.  You know, Colbert was a little bit too mean, and Rich Little, it turns out, was Canadian. 

OLBERMANN:  And if you‘ve got a writer‘s strike still going on by then, well, apart from the fact that everybody will be in trouble.  There will be nobody to write material for anyone. 

TOMPKINS:  That‘s right.  It‘s time for the writers of “Small Wonder” to come out of retirement. 

OLBERMANN:  The president was in Virginia the other day with some pilgrims, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.  But—what the White House ignored the request there for him to pardon a pig, since Virginia is the big ham state.  What does this tell us about the politics of pardons?

TOMPKINS:  In a sense, it‘s encouraging that he‘s taking them on a case-by-case basis.  You know, but I think what really is happening here is that all of the goodwill towards pigs has been erased by the live action remake of “Charlotte‘s Web.” 

OLBERMANN:  Back on the campaign trail here, the “New York Times” called Mike Huckabee one of the funniest political candidates, which I guess is relatively a compliment. 

He‘s been using Chuck Norris in an ad that made a big splash.  He‘s also played the banjo.  He‘s made self-deprecating jokes: “I feel as out of place as Michael Vick at the Westminster Dog Show.”  He‘s now announced that he‘s been endorsed by former world heavyweight champion wrestler Ric “Nature Boy” Flair. 

Where does a campaign go after the endorsement of Nature Boy?

TOMPKINS:  Well, what I‘m really hoping is that the craziness will be upped exponentially and he will eventually get the endorsement of Mike Gravel. 

OLBERMANN:  Mike, after endorsing himself, will endorse somebody else. 

The further we get away from it, the weirder—the weirder that Pat Robertson endorsement of Rudy Giuliani gets, doesn‘t it?

TOMPKINS:  Yes.  I don‘t know if that makes Pat Robertson look better, because he‘s going against own rigid conservatism to go for Giuliani, or if it makes Giuliani look worse, because he‘s not as liberal as his critics have made him out to be. 

So, I don‘t know.  This is the kind of thing that makes you think maybe Nader will get in the race this year. 

OLBERMANN:  Paul F. Tompkins, comedian and contributor to VH1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Great thanks, Paul.  Happy Thanksgiving. 

TOMPKINS:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,665th day since the declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq.  From New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.

Our coverage continues now with “MSNBC LIVE” with Dan Abrams.

Dan, good evening.

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

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