updated 12/7/2007 11:44:00 AM ET 2007-12-07T16:44:00

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Flynt Leverett, Ed Henry

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

The smoking gun: The president says he was first briefed on the NIE about Iran nukes last Wednesday.  The president‘s press secretary says he was first briefed about what would be in the NIE last august.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I can see you can see where the president should have been more precise in that language but the president was being truthful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Was he?  Was he being truthful when his rhetoric swung

from insisting it was Iran‘s, quote, “Desire to build a nuclear weapon” on

August 6th  to decrying Iran‘s, quote, “Desire to enrich uranium a step

towards having a nuclear weapons program” on August 9th.  Was he being

truthful when he knew there was evidence the Iranian nuke program had been

suspended and yet said on August 28th -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  Iran‘s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Was Mr. Bush being truthful when he knew there was

evidence the Iranian nuke program had been suspended and yet said on

October 17th -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I told people that if you‘re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight a special comment: How the president has just declared himself a liar about Iran and revealed John Bolton and the whole the new Intel—must be Koch‘s (ph) crowd are liars as well.

The Romney pledge -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNNEY, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion but I will not separate us from the God who gave us liberty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Thanks for reading that old C onstitution, Willard.  And George Clooney and Brad Pitt videotaped in bathroom stalls.  Are we sure that‘s a men‘s room?  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I (INAUDIBLE) the white stands.

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  This is Thursday, December 6th, 334 days until the 2008 presidential election.  Revelation of the Bush administration‘s deceit about Iraq came too late - too late to save a nation from the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Too late to save thousands of its sons and daughters from death on a useless battlefield. 

But in our fifth story on COUNTDOWN: Revelation of the Bush administration‘s deceit about Iran may have come just in time and its loss of skill in wriggling out of perpetuity even more evident than today as a third attempt to explain those discrepancies about Iran, managing only to entangle the president and his top colleagues even further.  You know things are going poorly for the White House when the sub-prime mortgage crisis is the preferred topic of the day for President Bush.  Late last night, the White House admitting it needed to revise its account of what precisely Mr. Bush had been told about Iran‘s nuclear ambitions over the summer. 

The revision that director of National Intelligence McConnell informed the president in August that new information might show, quote, “Iran does, in fact, have a covert weapons program but it may be suspended.”  At his news conference Tuesday, Mr. Bush saying instead that Mr. McConnell, quote, “Didn‘t tell me what the information was.”  Today all tough questions about that reversal would be handled by his press secretary, Dana Perino.  This is not to say she would handle them well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERINO:  McConnell told the president if the new information turns out to be true, what we thought we knew for sure is right.  Iran does, in fact, have a covert nuclear weapons program but it may be suspended.  He said there were many streams of information that were coming in.  They could potentially be in conflict.  They didn‘t have a lot of confidence in the information yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But the president said, quote, “He didn‘t tell me what the information was.”  But, you‘re now saying he was told that Iran may have halted its nuclear weapons program and also that there may be a new assessment, right?

PERINO:  But he didn‘t get into the details of what the information was in terms of what the actual raw intelligence was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You just said you didn‘t tell me what the

information -

PERINO:  OK, look, I can see where you could see that the president could have been more precise in that language, but the president was being truthful.

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS:  But listen to what he said.  He didn‘t tell me what the information was.  He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.  Was the president told that there was a possibility that Iran‘s nuclear program could be suspended?  That‘s what you said he was told.

PERINO:  Yes.  The president was told that there is new information in the context of raw intelligence, not told the details of what it was and told that they‘re going to have to go back and do some more checking on it because they didn‘t have a high degree of confidence in it and it could potentially be in conflict.

RADDATZ:  But he said he didn‘t know what the information even was. 

The details of it.

PERINO:  I grant you he could have been more precise in his language.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One person‘s lack much precision, another person‘s lack of honesty.  Besides the semantically equivalent of the ancient question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, a more tangible concern—the president‘s purported lack of curiosity about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED HENRY, CNN:  Is the president briefed every day by Director McConnell when he gets his daily intelligence briefing?

PERINO:  I don‘t know if it‘s him every day but he gets a briefing. 

Sure.

HENRY:  (INAUDIBLE) Director McConnell in the oval office.  So are

you saying that from August when the president was tipped off by McConnell

until last week -

PERINO:  Tipped off?  Come on.  Ed tipped off.

HENRY:  The fact the assessment may be changing.  In your own words you said he was told of that.

PERINO:  Sure.

HENRY:  He wasn‘t told all the details.  So from August until last week the president never asked Director McConnell, hey, how is that going?  Did we get anymore on Iran?  He never ask him?

PERINO:  Ed, I‘m not saying that.  If I had—I don‘t know exactly

what the president asked in the presidential daily briefing but say that I

do a hypothetical here which I usually don‘t do.  But say I had and the question from this room would be - did the president pressure the intelligence community?  Did he mettle in the intelligence?  And the answer is no.  Look, this is what -

       

HENRY:  We‘re being curious in asking, hey, you know, is there a new assessment?  I‘m out there talking about World War III.

PERINO:  No.  Ed, let me clarify that one more time.  The president said if you want to avoid World War III, you will prevent Iran from having the know-how to make a nuclear weapon.  What we know right now, for sure, is that Iran is enriching uranium, which is material to get a bomb.  They are developing ballistic missiles in order to deliver a bomb.  And we know that something that we didn‘t know before which is that they have halted a covert nuclear weapons program.  This should not give us comfort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No nukes is bad nukes.  It would be more comforting if a covert nuclear weapons program were still in existence in Iran?  As for the other mistakes in that statement particularly that part where she said Iran is enriching uranium which is fissile material.  That to today‘s news briefing, Ms. Perino was saying that what she meant to say was that Iran is enriching uranium which can lead to fissile material to get a bomb.  Asked further if the administration believes Iran is enriching uranium to the higher degree necessary for a weapon as opposed to for civilian energy production, Ms. Perino saying, the quote, “We don‘t know.”  There appears to be a lot the White House press secretary does not know including whether or not Mr. Bush briefed Israeli Prime Minister Olmert on the NIE‘s conclusion last Monday as reported by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hirsch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY:   In what day was the president actually briefed on the NIE? 

Mr. Hadley left the impression that was last Wednesday.

PERINO:  The NIE specifically?  Yes, last Wednesday.

HENRY:  Last Wednesday, OK.  There have been reports the president briefed Prime Minister Olmert last week, maybe on Monday.

PERINO:  I don‘t know.

HENRY:  Did he brief Prime Minister Olmert and how could he brief Olmert on Monday about a report he found out about on Wednesday?  Can you clarify?

PERINO:  I don‘t - I will check.  It‘s possible that he knew there was information coming to him and the intelligence community was checking it out.

HENRY:  The president just find out about it Wednesday.  This was

out there. -

PERINO:  The president knew that—no, Ed.  Think about it.  Think about it.  The president was told by McConnell that the NIE—he knew an NIE was coming.  So, he knew that NIE was going to have to be delayed because they had gotten some new information.  I‘ll get to you in a second. 

The NIE was coming, that they had to check things out.  They had to do some

more due diligence and then they would come back to the president.  So, he

knew it was coming eventually.  So, I don‘t think there‘s anything -

HENRY:  But can you clarify which day it is?

PERINO:  I don‘t know if I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t know if you can, Ms. Perino or you simply won‘t?  The time line also called into question on the point of whether Vice President Cheney had been briefed on the contents of the NIE a full week before his boss - the actual president of the United States, at least it says so on the business cards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY:  “The New York Times‘ today is saying that there was a meeting in the situation room two weeks ago about this NIE and the vice president was there but not the president.  Is that true?

PERINO:  I don‘t know but it wouldn‘t be—that wouldn‘t strike me as unusual.

HENRY:  OK but then it wouldn‘t filter up to the president if the vice president knew about the contents of the NIE two weeks ago?  It wouldn‘t filter to the president until last week?  He wouldn‘t know about the details?

PERINO:  I don‘t know.  I‘ll check for you.  But it would not strike me as unusual.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Whenever someone says I could have been more precise, are they not just admitting in fancy talk that they lied?

WOLFFE:  Well, it depends what the meaning of precise is, I guess.  You could redefined  the English language to suggest that the president meant he didn‘t know what the sources and methods were of the information that he was given by Mike McConnell or you could say, look, this president has actually been very precise in the way he has spoken about Iran.  He shifted his language a few months ago around the time McConnell spoke to him, moving away from saying Iran was seeking nuclear weapons to having the knowledge to get nuclear weapons and so this president actually is pretty competent with the English language in spite of appearances.  And you know, we all saw Dana Perino there.  She was struggling.

OLBERMANN:  What was the process of this?  Why did the White House come out with this reversal?  Obviously, under the previous scenario it looked like Mr. Bush had created a time line in which he had been told nothing from August until December or did not ask, but what precipitated this because it does seem like an extraordinary reversal and even it got the press secretary even to admit, yes, it could look like he was not precise enough.

WOLFFE:  Well, what precipitated it was McConnell‘s decision to go public with the extracts of the NIE.  Previously they had thought that the NIE would be kept secret.  There is some dispute about whether there were concerns about leaks but in any case once it becomes public, things have to change and the time line question—you know, for me the real question about the time line isn‘t so much what the president knew or how he spoke about what he knew.  It‘s why the administration continued to saber rattle and not share this information with allies according to all the recent reporting over the last couple of days at the same time as going forward with sanctions in the U.N. knowing that this information was out there.  It‘s an extraordinary policy position when you know that the underlying intelligence has changed.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  The probable latest date for that McConnell briefing is August 9th as we‘ll show later during special comment.  The World War III comment is October 17th.  It is extraordinary.  There‘s no—there‘s no slight delay in that.  That is more than two months.  Given the astonishment with which President Clinton‘s lie about his personal life was met in the media in the newspapers, where is that level of interest in this president‘s lie?  That first one was a lie about an intern and maybe some testimony.  This is a lie about the threat of nuclear war.

WOLFFE:  Well, you‘re right.  This is a very serious problem.  It‘s also a very complex one.  Everyone is suspicious about the Iranian intentions.  The nuclear law, the nuclear nonproliferation treaty is vague on the subject and so you have to approach this in a concerted way, in a clear way, and not do as was done in the run up to the war in Iraq, hype intelligence and raise the specters of all sorts of Armageddon.  They haven‘t learned those lessons.  The president, who‘s obviously thinking that he was issuing some call to action but unless you deal with these complex problems clearly, there‘s no way you can take allies with you.

OLBERMANN:  And to look at this internationally, we‘re looking at obviously the domestic import here, but regarding the allies and everyone else, no matter how this is interpreted in this country, either Mr. Bush lied to the American public or as Dana Perino put it, he was not precise enough with his words.  Did he not just suffer and consequently did this country not just suffer an extraordinary diplomatic and public relations setback to a foreign leader with one of the worst reputations on the planet?  How do you lose a PR battle to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

WOLFFE:  That‘s right.  You know, the American credibility, which was already under strain because of Iraq, has suffered another serious blow.  You know it reminds me of the Reagan years when people would say—there was once one British commentator, no relation, who said that you know the emperor really has no clothes but it seems that nudity is now in fashion.  I‘m afraid you know, this president is now naked before the world and he really has to try and improve his game and show that he has some credibility once more.

OLBERMANN:  We don‘t assume all British commentators are related to you just because you‘re British.  “Newsweek‘s” Richard Wolffe, once again, joining us from Des Moines, great thanks for your time tonight especially, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  By the way, the presidential diversion today, even it met with disaster.  His message to those homeowners in crisis, quote, “Phone a mortgage hotline.  The best you can do for your family is to call 1-800-995-HOPE.  The actual number turned out to be 1-888-995-HOPE.  The president lies about Iran are not only disastrous they are moronic.  They can be mapped with an etch-a-sketch.  My special comment on the extinction of credibility at the White House later here on COUNTDOWN.

What we learned today only reproves the case.  Next: Four former CIA officials say we should have known the president was misleading the nation about Iran much earlier.  So, does a former member of Mr. Bush‘s own National Security Council.  He will join us.

And the speech was supposed to calm any fears about Mormonism in a White House.  Instead, it has only raised them about a presidential candidate who says you must be religious to be elected.  You are watching COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  With the White House hemorrhaging credibility about Iran, why we shouldn‘t have known long before Dana Perino‘s admission about McConnell-Bush briefing that the president was lying about this.  And later: My special comment on the president‘s latest lies and the smoking gun that he is changing rhetoric.  And Bill O and Beck both back in play for Worst Person Honors.  All ahead here tonight on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Even before the White House revealed that President Bush‘s honesty about the NIE depends on what the meaning of information is, at least four CIA veterans knew he was full of it and so did a former staffer on Mr. Bush‘s own National Security Council.  In our fourth story: we will speak with that man in just a minute.  But first: The CIA vets calling out Mr. Bush include Ray McGovern who briefed Mr. Bush‘s father every day and knows exactly what kind of information a president gets.  In fact, two reports say the information was around a year ago, one report goes so far as to say Mr. Bush knew all this a year ago.  If true, it might explain why early this year the Bush administration launched a concerted PR campaign to sell Americans on Iran as a threat for other reasons—specifically accusing that nation of helping Iraqi insurgents target U.S.  troops with both the personnel and deadly weaponry - an acquisition that gained little traction.  Then in August, Intelligence Director Mike McConnell told Mr. Bush the NIE might include the report that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program as we will detail later tonight‘s special comment.  The rhetoric about Iran took a sudden turn.  On August 6th, he was still talking about Iran‘s desire to build a nuclear weapon.  On the 9th, he started to couch his claim as Iran‘s desire to be able to enrich uranium which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program.  Let‘s turn now to Flynt Leverett, a former senior director for Middle East Affairs on Mr. Bush‘s National Security Council and now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.  Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

FLYNT LEVERETT, FMR. BUSH NSC STAFFER:  Thanks for having me.

OBLERMANN:  First, why even before Ms. Perino‘s statement, was it obvious to those of you in the know that Mr. Bush had heard about all this before last week, and is there reason to think he could have known as long as a year ago?

LEVERETT:  Two reasons why it seemed obvious.  First of all, it is just inconceivable that DNI, McConnell or some other senior intelligence official went into the oval office in August, said, Mr. President, we have new information about the Iranian nuclear program that we‘re going to have to work on but it‘s causing us to reevaluate things in a serious way but I‘m not going to tell you what that information says even in summary form, Mr. President.  That is just inconceivable.  It could not have happened.  And then as you alluded in the setup, there are these very significant changes from August on in the president‘s rhetoric about the nature of the Iranian nuclear problem and, you know, there was a reason for those changes.

LEVERETT:  So, what do you think occurred in August with McConnell because the president‘s language did change?  Was it not a question of him hearing this for the first time that the NIE might include this but something stronger as in by the way all 16 Intel agencies are going to be unanimous in saying this?

LEVERETT:  Well, I think, clearly, you know the essence of the substance was that whereas Iran may have had very specific weapons related programs going on in the past, you know, the current information is saying that those purely weapons related aspects of the Iranian nuclear program had been suspended and this put the White House in a position where it needed to redefine the nature of the threat and that‘s why you see the shift from talking about it‘s unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon to it‘s unacceptable for Iran to know how to enrich uranium.  They needed to change the nature of the problem so that they could try and get ahead of the release of this NIE.  I think it really didn‘t work as a way of blunting the impact of the NIE but I think it puts the rhetorical shifts of the last few months in a very important context.

OLBERMANN:  And that rhetorical shift included two months later invoking World War III, if you combine that with the Iran-Iraq claims earlier in the year.  Is the administration trying to raise the clock on its own tenure?  Is it trying to promote conflict with Iran before the term ends?  Was it trying to do so before the NIE got out?

LEVERETT:  Well, I think that was the agenda before the NIE got out.  The NIE clearly represents a setback, at least in the short term, but I think you‘re already seeing what‘s going to play out over the next several weeks and months where you‘re going to have you know, a hard line officials on background from the administration, Conservative commentators who are close to those officials.  You‘ll have the Israeli government and pro-Israel voices here in the United States who are raising various questions aimed at discrediting the NIE and showing that Iran is still a very, very significant threat to American interests.  We‘re going to have a kind of battle of intelligence estimates going on over the next several weeks and months and I think how that battle plays out is really going to shape the political climate in which the Bush administration can either pursue a bellicose agenda again or not.

OLBERMANN:  Well, of course, this may be my last piece of na‹vet’ here but wasn‘t that battle already answered because if the NIE was in some way false, cooked, exaggerated, designed to take the pins out from under the president why would he have gone along with it when he first found out details of it in August if that‘s when he first found out details of it?

LEVERETT:  Well, because when he knew this information was going to come out, whether the intelligence community released it as they did or whether it leaked out, you know, you weren‘t going to be able to keep this a secret and he needed to try and get in front of it and that‘s why I think he shifted his rhetoric.

OLBERMANN:  Flynt Leverett, the former senior director for Middle

East Affairs at the National Security Council for the current Bush

administration.  Great thanks once again for your insight, sir

LEVERETT:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  From the ridiculous to the other kind of ridiculous.  Political satire combined with bathroom humor.  George Clooney and Brad Pitt your co-stars.  I don‘t know, that violin section sounds mechanical to me.  Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1833 was born one of the legends of the civil war, the southern guerrilla leader John Singleton Mosby (ph).  In March of 1863, he and his band of confederate partisan rangers conducted a raid at Fairfax County courthouse in Virginia, kidnapping three high-ranking union officers including the brigadier general.  Another officer escaped.  Only by hiding, as James Thurber used to say, showing the utmost ingenuity and the highest form of courage, naked under the seat of an outhouse.  As you contemplate that picture, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Tokyo where robots are learning now to do everything.  This latest model from Toyota plays the violin.  Trying its hand at “Pump and circumstance.”  A rendition that has been described as technically correct but lacking in flare.  Everybody is a critic.  Not sure what Toyota plans to do with a violin playing robot.  Perhaps stick it in the backset of your SUV to soothe your nerves during the rush hour.  Where they should make the robot that will drive the damn car for you.  Let‘s hope it takes requests.  Thank you.

(INAUDIBLE) New York City, a couple newlyweds dancing for “The Today” show audience, Michelle and John Brubaker (ph) of San Diego, do they look familiar to you, maybe from the Internet?  They are re-creating their wedding reception triumph.  They had taken to the floor for their first dance when the Righteous Brothers love song scratched.  They boogied instead to that song about the big butts and, yes, they did stage the whole thing and now it‘s an Internet sensation.

Married performance artists.  The so-called JFK speech by Mitt Romney.  Yes, President Kennedy never insisted that to be president you have to be religious.  Willard Romney just did exactly that.  And not even George W. Bush has previously lied this much this obviously leaving a trail a mile wide about Iran in tonight‘s Special Comment.  All that ahead, but first time COUNTDOWN top three best person of the world.

Number three, the best new hire.  On Tuesday, the Kansas City Royals signed free agent outfielder, Jose Guillen with three-year, $36 million contract.  Today, Major League  Baseball suspended Jose Guillen for the first 15 games of next season for evidently purchasing human growth hormone.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Today, major league baseball  suspended Jose Guillen for the  first 15 games of next season  for evidently purchasing human  growth hormone.  Number two, best “do as I say don‘t do as I do”, the supervisor of all traffic policemen in the United Kingdom, Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes—he pushed  for cameras to catch speeders,  insisted on tougher sentences  for drivers involved in  accidents, and has now lost his own license for doing 90 in a 60-mile-an-hour zone. 

Number one, best “incitement to yuletide protests”, the Caillouet family of Princeton, Louisiana, go for some sort of satirical Christmas display.  This time, they‘ve got a Santa holding a shotgun pointed at Rudolph.  Nice touch.  How about one where the bumble falls on Herbie the Elf, the one who wanted to be a dentist?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In a milestone speech in  1960, the national candidate for the Democratic Party, John F. Kennedy, told this nation why his Catholicism would not  interfere with his responsibility as president, explaining he believed religion was a private matter, that separation of church and state should be absolute, that his presidential decisions should be made without any regard to any outside religious pressure. Tonight in our third story on  the “COUNTDOWN” a shameful and  shameless self-comparison to the 35th president by a man who did  not abdicate that separation,  nor say that privacy was sacrosanct in religion nor insist that you have as much much right not to believe as he  does to believe.  Willard Mitt Romney, introduced but not endorsed by former President Bush at the latter‘s presidential library in Texas, Romney sought to dispel Republican fears about his  Mormon faith while only once using the actual word, Mormon. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLARD MITT ROMNEY, PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  Let me assure you that no  authorities of my church, or of  any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on  presidential decisions.  I will put no doctrine of any  church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign  authority of the law. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Notice the careful phrasing there: he will not allow any church to  influence his presidency but as for religion as a whole, specifically a monotheistic religion, well, according to Willard Mitt Romney, that is at the very core of what makes us American. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  In John Adams‘ words, we have no government armed with power  capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.  Our constitution, he said, was  made for a moral and religious people.  Freedom requires religion just  as religion requires freedom.  The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square.  We are a nation under God and in God we do, indeed, trust.  We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders in ceremony and word.  Our greatness would not long endure without judges who  respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests.  I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from the God who gave us liberty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re joined now by Eugene Robinson, associate editor and  columnist of “The Washington Post”.  Eugene, good evening. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST:  I can barely hear you over  the roar of the founding fathers worrying in their graves as they hear Mitt Romney deliver his peroration on religion and freedom.  It was quite amazing. 

OLBERMANN:  And some one of them is saying—and, you know, by the way, John Adams was the guy behind the alien and sedition acts, too—maybe, you do not want to quote him of all people among the founding fathers on what to do with the government today.  Besides us, did anybody notice this extraordinary insult, almost a warning Romney just gave to every American who  believes in maybe more than one god or doesn‘t believe in any god or just isn‘t sure or just  isn‘t sure it‘s anybody  else‘s—and I‘m going to  choose my words carefully here—just isn‘t sure it‘s anybody else‘s goddamn business?

ROBINSON:  Really, you know, all day, I‘ve been hearing people say what a great speech it was and, you know, the best speech of the  presidential campaign.  I  thought—obviously, I heard a  different speech.  What I heard was, essentially, a  form of bigotry, essentially saying, you know, you have to be at least a churchgoer in order  to be a good American—not just  a believer but a churchgoer  because freedom requires religion, not just faith or belief.  You got to go to church.  It‘s just extraordinary. 

OLBERMANN:  So, if you have a religion that basically says churches are wrong and you should worship one-on-one, that doesn‘t count or no religion -- a religion that says we don‘t have a religion—that doesn‘t count, either.  But, besides this, the pandering to the evangelical base, bringing up judges in relation to constitution which just  should have a big flashing neon sign that says, “Code word to Evangelicals,” is that going to work?  Is that going to accomplish what he thinks it‘s going to accomplish?

ROBINSON:  Maybe on the margins.  I actually think, Keith, though, that for Evangelicals who have, you know, a real problem, doctrinal problem with Mormonism, he certainly didn‘t address them because he didn‘t talk about Mormonism and didn‘t talk about doctrinal issues at  all.  So, I don‘t see how it  really advances the ball with  them.  On the margins, you know, maybe people will say, “Gee, you know, he does believe in God!”  And for others, for people who read  the constitution, I don‘t see how it helps him.

OLBERMANN: If he believes in God and he gets elected, you‘d better believe in God, too.  Let me play you something else he says about people who want complete separation of church and state.  Here is that tape. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God.  Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life.  It‘s as if they‘re intent on establishing a new religion in America, the religion of secularism.  They are wrong. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, apart from sort of  nominating himself to be a  fill-in for Bill O‘Reilly, did he not recognize the hypocrisy in that?  He called secularism a religion and then called it wrong, ostensibly, while giving his speech asking for  religious tolerance. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  Apparently, that slipped right past him.  You know, we‘re talking Mitt Romney here who has been known to pander, let us say.  I guess, we‘d be more worried if we thought he really meant to act on these words.  I personally would be more concerned about Ayatollah-like tendencies in, for example, Mike Huckabee who, I think, takes it very, very seriously. 

OLBERMANN:  Why, lastly, was this televised live? Why was this platform given to this man under these circumstances?

ROBINSON:  It‘s a very good question.  I mean, he‘s got plenty of money.  He could have bought the time on the networks if he had wanted to.  It was an extraordinary coup for the Romney campaign to get that much coverage on all the  networks.  So, I‘m sure, maybe Rudy Giuliani will now give a speech on marriage and that will get a lot of coverage, too. 

OLBERMANN:  You just made my day.  Eugene Robinson, columnist and, of course, associate editor of “The Washington Post”.  As always, Eugene, great thanks.

ROBINSON:  To you, too.

VOICE-OVER ANNOUNCER:  Attention, ladies:  George Clooney and Brad Pitt on tape in a men‘s room.  Do we have to say anything else?

And while you may have been wondering why Mitt Romney made that speech, a fellow Mormon is insisting he shouldn‘t have had  to insist his faith at all.  It‘s the same man who has questioned the religion of a Jewish senator and a Muslim congressman.  He‘s up for worst person honors  tonight on COUNTDOWN.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you thought Mitt Romney‘s religion speech was disingenuous, wait until you hear the insistent that nobody cares about whose religion is what.  From a guy who once asked a Muslim congressman to prove he was not working with America‘s enemies, the race for worst person on earth is one bat taking on Bill O. and Joe Clyde.

And, tonight‘s “Special Comment,”  it‘s bad enough he lost the public relations war, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but now the  evolution of the president‘s language about Iran proves he has been  deliberately lying to us about that country for, at least, four months.  That‘s next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Briefly “Keeping Tabs” tonight: the possibility of Senator Larry Craig, the movie, hasn‘t quite come to that but  it‘s getting close.  The toe- tapping senator from Idaho, who insists he‘s not gay, has been satirized aplenty.  The police report on his interlude in a Minneapolis airport men‘s room, even re-enacted here on COUNTDOWN.  But if they ever cast the Larry Craig movie, they might keep in mind the screen test to actors named Pitt and Clooney who show last night during an AMC salute to Julia Roberts. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR:  Sorry, I couldn‘t be there tonight.  I know it‘s a great night for  you.  I‘m in New Jersey.  I‘m shooting a film.  Fans outside are crazed.  I‘m hiding in the bathroom right now so I can talk to you.  But, I wanted to say congratulations.  It‘s a huge night for you and I‘m so proud and I really wish I could be there with you.

BRAD PITT:  Hi, from the white sands!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Rarely has the evidence been so easy to digest or did it come in such a straight line?  The president lied to you  repeatedly and knowingly about  Iran.  My “Special Comment” next. 

But, first, I‘ve got the worst three persons in the world: the bronze to Bill O.  Taking a  moment away from time spent on identifying David Beckham as an  actor, he teamed up last night for White House Press Secretary Perino, telling her, quote, “you know, I‘ve never understood why you, Tony Snow Mcclelland, and White House spokespeople and President Bush  himself, the president himself,  didn‘t get as angry as I get  from the ‘Bush lied crowd‘.  They can‘t prove any lies.  They say it over and over and  over.  Somebody accused me of being a  liar like Biden just did, I‘d be all over them.  I‘d be all over them.  Okay.  You‘re a liar.  Come get me, tough guy.  I‘ll get to Bush‘s lies in a moment. 

Our runner-up: “Time” magazine‘s Joe Kleine on this network this morning about the NIE.  He said the president, quote, “didn‘t try to block it.  He didn‘t try to postpone it.  He did spend weeks.  He didn‘t ask the intelligence  committee give me a couple weeks, let‘s see if we can figure out some kind of negotiating initiative or some way to respond to this.  He didn‘t try to spin it to our advantage.  This is an amazing moment of candor by the United States.” 

Well, there‘s the vice-president blocking it for up to a year and the president having  known the he essence of it for four months and trying to spin it to  his advantage.  If that‘s an amazing moment of  candor by the United States, Joe, evidently we‘ve gotten out  of the candor business. 

But, our winner, CNN‘s Glenn Beck, getting one step closer to being officially declared a cartoon.  Asked to analyze on “Good Morning, America”, for some bizarre reason, Governor Romney‘s speech,  “First of all,” Beck answered, “why are we having a candidate asking about religion?  Who cares?”  One year and 22 days ago, Beck, on TV, to the then Congressman-elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota,  quote, “OK, no offense and I know Muslims, I like Muslims.  I‘ve been to  mosques.  I really don‘t believe Islam is a  religion of evil but, I have to tell you, I have been nervous  about this interview with you  because what I feel like saying  is, “sir, prove to me you are not working with our enemies.” 

Explanation?  Romney is a Mormon.  Beck is a Mormon.  Ellison is a Muslim.  Ellison‘s religion, Beck can question him about it or, as he did in May, he can question the impact Joe Lieberman‘s religion would have on a hypothetical Lieberman presidency.  But questions about Romney‘s religion or Beck‘s?  Those get a “Who cares?”  Glenn, my religion cannot be  questioned but yours can.  Beck:  today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Finally, as promised, a  special comment about the  president‘s cataclysmic deceptions about Iran.  There are a few choices more terrifying than the one Mr. Bush has left us with tonight.  We have either a president who  was too dishonest to restrain  himself from invoking World War III about Iran at least six  weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic irresponsible  hyperbole or we have a president too transcendently stupid not to have asked what now appears to  have been a series of opportunities to do so whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed were still  even remotely plausible.  The pathological presidential liar or an idiot in chief, it is the nightmare scenario of  political science fiction, a  critical juncture in our history and contained in either answer a president manifestly unfit to  serve and behind him in the vice-presidency an unapologetic  warmonger who has long been seeing the world visible only to himself. 

After Miss Perino‘s announcement that the White House last night  that the timeline is inescapable and clear now.  In August, this president was told by his hand-picked majordomo of intelligence, Mike McConnell, a flinty, high-strung-looking worrying warrior who will always see more clouds than silver linings, that  what everybody has thought about Iran might, in essence, be crap. 

Yet, on October 17th, the president said of Iran and its president, Ahmadinejad, “I‘ve  told people that if you‘re  interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to  be interested in preventing them from “have” the knowledge to  make a nuclear weapon.  And as he said that, Mr. Bush  knew that at bare minimum there  was a strong chance his rhetoric was nothing more than words with which to scare the Iranians.  Or was it said to scare the Americans?  Does Iran not really fit in the  equation here?  Have you just scribbled it into the fill in the blank on the same template you used to scare us about Iraq? 

In August, any commander-in-chief still able-minded or uncorrupted or both, sir, would have invoked the quality the job most  requires—mental flexibility—a bright man or an honest man would have realized no later than the McConnell briefing that the  only true danger about Iran was the damage that could be done by an unhinged irrational chicken little of a president shooting his mouth off backed up only by his own hysteria and his own delusions of omniscience.  Not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. Bush.  The chicken little of presidents is the one, Sir, that you see in the mirror. 

The mind reels at the thought of a vice-president fully briefed on the revised intel as long as  two weeks ago, briefed on the  fact that Iran abandoned its pursuit of this imminent threat  four years ago.  A vice-president who never bothered to mention it to his  boss.  It is nearly forgotten today but throughout much of Ronald Reagan‘s presidency, it was  widely believed that he was  little more than a front man for some never viewed  behind-the-scenes string puller.  Today, as evidenced by this  latest remarkable malfeasance, it is inescapable that Dick Cheney is either this president‘s evil  ventriloquist or he thinks he  is.  What servant of any of the 42  previous presidents could  possibly withhold information of this urgency and this gravity  and wind up back at his desk the next morning instead of winding  up before a congressional  investigation or a criminal one? 

Mr. Bush, if you can still hear  us, if you did not previously  agree to this scenario in which Dick Cheney is the actual  detective and you‘re the Remington Steel, you must disenthrall yourself.  Mr. Cheney has usurped your  constitutional powers, cut you out of the information loop, and led you down the path to an unprecedented presidency in which the facts have become optional, the intel is valued less than the hunch, and  the assistant runs the store.  The problem is, Sir, your  assistant is robbing you and your country blind not merely in monetary terms, Mr. Bush, but, more importantly, robbing you of the traditions and righteousness for which we have stood at great risk for centuries—honesty,  law, moral force. 

Mr. Cheney has helped, Sir, to  make your administration into the kind our ancestors saw in the 1860s and 1870s and 1880s, the ones that abandoned  reconstruction and sent this  country marching backwards into the pit of American apartheid: Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland—presidents who will be remembered only in a blur of failure, Mr. Bush.  Presidents who will be remembered as  functions only of those who  opposed them—the opponents who history proved  right—Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, Bush.  Would that we could let this president off the hook by seeing him only as marionette or moron but a study of the mutation of his language  about Iran proves that though he may not be very good at it, he is himself still a manipulative Machiavellian snake oil salesman. 

The Bush analogy was tracked by Dan Funcken(ph) of “The Washington Post” website and it is staggering.  March 31st - “Iran is trying to  develop a nuclear weapon.”  June 5th - “Iran‘s pursuit of  nuclear weapons.”  June 19th - “consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon.”  July 12th - “the same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons.”  August 6th - “this is the  government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon.”

Notice a pattern—“trying to develop, build, or  pursue a nuclear weapon”?  Then, sometime between August 6th and August 9th, those terms are suddenly swapped out, so subtly, that only in retrospect can we see that somebody has warned the president not only that he has gone out too far on the limb of terror but that there may not even be a tree there.  McConnell or somebody must have briefed him then.  August 9th - “they have expressed  their desire to be able to  enrich uranium which we believe  is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program.”  August 28th - “Iran‘s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons.”  October 4th - “you should not have the know-how on how to make a  nuclear weapon.”  October 17th - “until they suspend and/or make it clear that they—that their statements aren‘t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon.” 

Before August 9th, it is “trying  to develop, build, or pursue a  nuclear weapon.”  After August 9th, it‘s “desire, pursuit, want, knowledge, technology, know-how to enrich uranium.”  And we are to believe, Mr. Bush, that the national intelligence  estimate this week talks of the Iranians suspending their  nuclear weapons program in 2003  and you talked of the Iranians suspending their nuclear weapons program on October 17th and that term “suspending” is just a  coincidence.  And we are to believe, Mr. Bush, that nobody told you any of this until last week.  Your insistence that you were not briefed on the NIE until last week might be legally true, something like what the definition of is is but with the subject matter being not interns but the threat of  nuclear war.  Legally, this might save you from some kind of war crimes trial but, ethically, it is a lie.  It is indefensible.  You have been yelling threats into a phone for nearly four months after the guy on the other end had already hung up.  You, Mr. Bush, are a bold-faced liar and, moreover, you must  have realized that John Bolton and “The Wall Street Journal” editorial board are now also  bold-faced liars.  We are to believe that the intel community or maybe the state  department cooked the raw intelligence about Iran, falsely diminished the Iranian nuclear threat to make you look bad and you proceeded to let them make  you look bad.  You not only knew all of this about Iran in early August but you also knew it was all  accurate and instead of sharing this good calming news with the people you have obviously forgotten you represent, you  merely fine-tuned your  terrorizing of those people to  legally cover your own back  side.  While you filled the factual gap with sadistic visions of, as you phrase it on August 28th, a, quote, nuclear holocaust.  As you phrased it on October 17th, quote, “World War III”.  My comments, Mr. Bush, are often dismissed as simple repetitions of the phrase, “George Bush has no business being president.”  Well, guess what?  Tonight, hanged by your own words and convicted by your own deliberate lies, you, Sir, have no business being president.

Good night and good luck!

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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