updated 12/13/2007 1:10:41 PM ET 2007-12-13T18:10:41

Guests: Richard Wolffe, John Dean, Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, Michael Musto

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Waterboardinggate and again the story changes.  The CIA director tells the House Intelligence Committee he did know about these tapes before he moved from National Intelligence to Central Intelligence as long as two and a half years ago.

The Democratic chairman of that committee and the senior Republican both slam the White House and the CIA for not keeping House Intelligence in form.  They say they will call ex-CIA directors Tenet and Goss.

And a district court reveals it had ordered the Bush administration to not destroy any evidence related to torture.  That was in June of 2006.  The destruction was in November of 2005.

Of course, this is all still academic to some Republicans.  Acting assistant attorney general Levin said waterboarding is torture.  Zubaydah interrogation team leader Kiriakou said waterboarding is torture.  But Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri says, waterboarding is closer to surfboarding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIT BOND, ® MO:  It‘s like swimming, freestyle, backstroke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Waterboarding is to the back stroke as Kit Bond is to an actual leader.  The gang is all here again.  Republicans debating in Iowa.  The big news, Alan Keyes is running for president again?  Are we sure this was a 2008 debate and not an old videotape from 1996?

The latest from the tense situation at Britney Spears‘ house.  Due at a deposition she claims to be sick.  Packs of paparazzi mill about her home.  The atmosphere heavy, uncertain, overtones of ugliness.

Speaking of which, the White House Barney Christmas movie is out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s great!  We love the national parks. 

Remember?  I got engaged in one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  They destroyed the torture tapes but they didn‘t erase that?  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Come here, Barney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Wednesday, December 12th, 328 days until the 2008 presidential election.  The essence of obstruction of justice, the definition of when destroying tapes showing, say, the CIA torturing an al Qaeda minion on a waterboard is a George Tenet style slam dunk crime is whether the materials used were relevant to an ongoing legal case.

Thus, our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN is unusually clear for this nearly seven year fog of Bush.  The revelation that not one but two U.S.  district judges issued orders in June and July of 2005.  That the government had to not destroy any evidence relating to the mistreatment of detainees at Gitmo.

And the CIA destroyed some of that evidence in December of 2005 the inevitable loophole in this presidency of loopholes, the detainees were not yet at Gitmo when they were tortured and videotaped.  President Bush still claiming he did not know about the tapes until last Thursday morning even though that claim must now be viewed through the prism that the administration destroyed those tapes even though under a court order to not discard torture of detainee torture and abuse or even of mistreatment.

The tapes documenting hundreds of hours during which two al Qaeda suspects were tortured and interrogated erased by the CIA November 2005 but five months earlier in June, U.S. district judge Henry Kennedy had ordered the Bush administration to safeguard, quote, all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.

One month later in July of 2005, U.S. district judge Gladys Kessler issuing an order nearly identical.  In January 2005, then assistant attorney general Peter Keisler, most recently the acting attorney general before Judge Mukasey took that job assured Judge Kennedy that government officials were, quote, “well aware of their obligation to not destroy evidence that may be relevant in pending litigation.”

In the wake of the tape scandal, the intelligence community, perhaps more concerned with protecting itself than protecting any evidence, abcnews.com reporting that CIA director Hayden sent out a classified memo to all agency employees warning them, quote, “of the importance of protecting classified information.”

The memo did not name former CIA officer John Kiriakou but it might as well have.  Some CIA officials believing that whistleblower with the mixed message revealed classified information about waterboarding in his interviews with the media and should be prosecuted for it.  Something that apparently will not be happening, at least not yet.

A senior Justice Department official telling ABC, quote, they were furious at the CIA but cooler heads have prevailed, for the time being.

On Capitol Hill this afternoon, after meeting with members of the House Intelligence Committee for three hours, CIA Director Hayden answered questions about the day‘s other big revelation that he actually had found out the tapes had been destroyed more than a year and a half ago, before he moved from his job at National Intelligence to Central Intelligence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR:  I did not personally know before they were destroyed, no, not at all.

I was aware of the existence of the tapes but really didn‘t become

focused on it until the summer of ‘06 when I became director and, at that

point, was preparing to come up in September to brief the committee on all

the full committee, all members, on all aspects of the detention and interrogation program.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMAN:  When the CIA director and bipartisan leadership of House Intelligence come out of that he meeting in the afternoon the one thing they all apparently agreed upon, the committee had not been kept fully informed about the existence of the tapes, the destruction of the tapes.  This is something of a change in tone, is it not, from a week ago when General Hayden was saying that Congress had been fully informed all the way?  Did the scandal take a toll on the Agency in those seven days?

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s quite a reversal, wasn‘t it?  It makes you wonder what harsh interrogation methods they used.

There is a toll being taken throughout the administration on this story.  I was at a Christmas party at the vice president‘s mansion, no less, and they were all talking about the story about the political impact of this story and, also, there is a personal impact, too, which is that if anyone talks about this, at least on the record, they may face legal jeopardy and have to hire their own lawyers.  So, there is concern throughout the administration about where this will lead.

OLBERMANN:  Wow!  To that point, and where it‘s going to lead, you have also been out on the campaign trail of late, is the story resonating out there or is it just in the vice president‘s residence?

WOLFFE:  You know, the subject itself comes up more broadly.  The CIA tapes hasn‘t really emerged in itself.  But look, waterboarding and torture in general is a big issue for Democrats.  It‘s a standard applause line when candidates like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton say the United States does not torture and that will be put to an end if they are elected president.

I have to say though I have heard Rudy Giuliani talk about waterboarding on the campaign trail and he says it‘s not torture because it depends who does it and how it‘s done.  So, there is a difference there between the candidates.

OLBERMANN:  Getting back to the administration and its reaction and what you have gauged and what has also come out publicly, is that fear, personal fear?  Does that have anything to do with why the administration has at least for the time being decided prosecuting this whistleblower who led the team that interrogated Zubaydah on the tapes?

WOLFFE:  Well, again, I think people are scratching their heads about why the CIA official, former CIA official is singing out there and revealing everything he knows.  Some people inside the administration question whether this is second-hand, third-hand information, how much direct knowledge he has.  But it‘s actually extremely hard for them, given the legal restrictions on what they‘re allowed to say in public for them to really question his credibility.

And nobody questions that these tapes existed or that they were destroyed.

OLBERMANN:  Well, to that point, your magazine, in fact, is reporting, as Howard Fineman mentioned last night, let me read it exactly, “detailed written transcript of the tapes‘ contents, apparently including references to the interrogation techniques was subsequently made by the CIA.”

Apparently that‘s still in existence.  If that gets out could that be almost as damaging of the administration as the tapes themselves would be or would still be if the other ones get out?

WOLFFE:  I don‘t think it is as damaging.  To the point that Don Rumsfeld made about Abu Ghraib.  Abu Ghraib was out there and people were shocked by it.  His big concern was there were photos of it.  Photos have a lasting damaging impact.  They fixed in the public imagination.  That‘s what the administration was most concerned about here.  At least people in the CIA.

OLBERMANN:  As they wrote in the “American President,” the movie, “There is art.”  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek.”  As always, Richard, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to John Dean, author of “Broken Government, How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches.”  For the latest in our series of segments, exploring the themes of his book, John, thanks for your time tonight.

JOHN DEAN, Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is this—I think I have asked you the same question the last six or seven times.  Is this the paramount example of broken government?

DEAN:  It is certainly another example.  It seems to be what is a very consistent pattern of behavior when you have authoritarian conservatism guiding and ruling the government.  It‘s unfortunate, but it‘s another example, yes.

OLBERMANN:  Obviously well before his presidency and with remarkable clairvoyance your former boss, President Richard Nixon observed that it is not the crime that brings you down it‘s the cover-up.

Was he aware of the corollary that would seem to apply here that all of the above that both can do you in just as nicely as the cover-up can?

DEAN:  Well, this is certainly in a different league.  Obviously a bungled burglary, as stupid as it was, is not in the same league as torture and recording that torturing as well as you are doing it and then destroying the tapes.  So we are really talking about very different things.  This could be very difficult for both, not only the underlying crime but if there is an destruction of justice that‘s going to be serious, too.

OLBERMANN:  To this point of obstruction of justice and what the revelation of the judge‘s rulings in 2005, before the destruction of the tapes really means, it‘s a question of mechanics.  The court orders in the summer of 2005, how much do they hinge on what that—what they were defining?  Are they referring to torture of detainees who were at—at any point in their detention, Guantanamo Bay or is it specific?  Does the videotape, does the torture, does the evidence have to be of things that happened at Guantanamo Bay because, clearly, Zubaydah was at a black site.  He was not in Guantanamo Bay.

DEAN:  It really has to be rather specific and it has to put the person who is subjected to the order on notice.  Keith, what‘s missing in mentioning just two, is there is actually a third court order that I think is much more troubling for the administration in many ways because the judge in the Freedom of Information Act case brought by the ACLU looking at all the treatment of all the detainees asked that they preserve the record and this happened again in June of 2005, well before the destruction.

So there actually is a third court order out there.  And you have a judge who has a record of indeed—he is the one who disclosed the Abu Ghraib photos and had no hesitation to go eyeball to eyeball with this government.

OLBERMANN:  So the two circuit court cases that we are referring to, the Kennedy case, Judge Kennedy and the other one were really splitting hairs for no particular reason, there is actually one that is much more clear cut?

DEAN:  I think there is.  I think the ACLU today filed a motion for contempt and I think they have got a real case.  So I think that‘s one to watch.

OLBERMANN:  Oops.  There is so much, as you have suggested, there is so much of potential crimes here.  Even to the point of this Mr. Kiriakou saying, sure we waterboarded Zubaydah, sure we tortured him.  He may be a material witness in who knows how many cases.  Why are we not already seeing the formation of the proverbial selectivity in the Senate?  Why are we only talking or only hearing about vague support for the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor at some point in the future?

DEAN:  It certainly is indicative of the change of times.  I think the search simple police explanation to me is we didn‘t have a strong right wing radio.  You didn‘t have Fox News.  People are out telling Americans that this kind of behavior is acceptable.  And when you have that, it results in getting a lot more leeway than you would in the past.  So that explains, I think, why it‘s been so slow in getting off the ground and they have had cover for a lot of the things they have done.

OLBERMANN:  And how does it explain the Democrats dragging their feet on even coming out and saying we want a special prosecutor on this?

DEAN:  Well, they are afraid as being attacked as being wimpy and weak and less than fully patriotic and enthusiastic and how tough they are.  This is their wussing factor that I have talked about before that they are going to have to heal before they go into the general election.

OLBERMANN:  Well, that can be solved very easily.  Demand a special prosecutor who waterboards all of his witnesses.  John Dean, once again with his latest in the recurring series on “Broken Government.” author of the book by the same name.  As always, John, our great thanks.

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s exactly like learning how to swim the backstroke.  So says a United States senator.  No, a living one from this century.

And the Republicans getting a surprise at debate number 9,000 in Iowa.  Alan Keyes is making dents?  A debate so frustrating that the moderator was actually heard on the air using the word “sheesh.”  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s something that every American should be proud of.  It‘s part of the Democrats blame America first attitude, it has never produced false leads nor information.  It‘s like a swimming lesson.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, those all stated positions from right wing politicians, pundits and personages about waterboarding.  The forcible drowning of another human being without actually letting them die, if you do it right.  An act, that according to the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence committee, Mr. Bond of Missouri.  Not only does not constitute torture but is more akin to, say, swimming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you think that that waterboarding as I described it constitutes torture?

BOND:  There are different ways of doing it.  It‘s like swimming.  Freestyle, backstroke,.  If the waterboarding could be used, almost to define some of the techniques that our trainees are put through, but that‘s beside the point.  It‘s not being used.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  According to a candidate for president, any disparagement of waterboarding is a political plot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think it‘s part of the democrat blame America first.  It goes right along with their desire to close Guantanamo where the terrorists are gaining weight on American menus that include honey glazed chicken and rice pilaf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of Guantanamo, the legal advisor to that institution, when asked whether confessions obtained by waterboarding would be admissible in court could not give a yes or no answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. THOMAS HARTMANN, LEGAL ADVISER, GUANTANAMO BAY:  The evidence that we are gathering, whatever the methods that have been used to gather that evidence will be evaluated in connection with the law and in the trials.  It can‘t be—it can‘t be defined in an abstract way like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  Abstract.  Yes or no.

A murky position echoed by the attorney general himself who is still reviewing memos to figure out whether waterboarding is, in his opinion, torture.  Despite all the precedent set by U.S. law before the bush administration and despite the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 which specifically states, “No person in the custody or under the control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by or listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.”

In the Field Manual under the heading, “If used in conjunction with intelligence interrogations, prohibited actions include but are not limited to waterboarding.”

In black and white, according to U.S. law, waterboarding specifically is illegal.  And for those who claim it was not illegal in 2002, when Abu Zubaydah was subject to it, a Japanese officer was successfully prosecuted by the U.S. for waterboarding one of our civilians in 1947.  And in 1992 the Army training manual clearly stated, “It is critical that the Geneva Convention provisions concerning protected persons be strictly adhered to in the quest to identify legitimate threats and gain needed intelligence.”

The Geneva Convention, that specifically states, “prisoners of war must at all times be protected particularly against acts of violence or intimidation.”

Joined now by Rachel Maddow, the host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air American Radio.  Thanks for your time tonight, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There is no question about this.  This is not an opinion or—I heard Joe Scarborough going off on this morning as if we were going to put it to a vote.  It‘s torture.  The head of the Zubaydah interrogation, even while extolling it says it‘s torture.  It‘s chapter and verse in the legal system.  It‘s illegal.  How is the right wing managing to extend this debate as if there were a debate, persuading people that this was somehow murky?

MADDOW:  In any rational universe this would be recognized torture now as clearly as it was recognized as torture when we, as you mentioned, prosecuted those Japanese officials in World War II for having done it.  When the Khmer Rouge did it.  When it was done in Algeria.  When it was done in the Spanish Inquisition.  All of these times it‘s been recognized clearly as torture.  There has never been a question about that.  If anything is torture, this is torture.

But, the problem is that under the Bush administration, there is documentary evidence that American officials, with direction from the White House, with the direction from the administration have done this.  It‘s also very clear that torture is illegal.  In order for nobody to go to jail, we have to go down—we have to go through the looking glass.  We have to go down the rabbit hole in all of this and somehow decide that waterboarding isn‘t torture.

We just need to undefine it in a way that‘s rationally been defined for centuries.

OLBERMANN:  The administration rejoinder to abiding by the Geneva Conventions is that the Military Conventions Act of 2000 which stated - let me read it exactly, “The president has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.”  Does he likewise have the right to interpret United States law as he sees fit?

MADDOW:  No.  He doesn‘t have that right to interpret law as he sees fit, although he has claimed that right.  When I think of the most under covered Washington stories of the past week or so was when Sheldon Whitehouse stood up on the floor of the Senate within the last few days and said that he had reviewed the Office of Legal Counsel memoranda by which the White House - the administration explains to itself what it thinks is legal.

And according to his readings of classified Office of Legal Counsel documents the White House—the administration not only believes that the Bush administration and the president, specifically, get to decide every grounds on which every action of the president‘s is constitutional.  But every executive agency is then bound by what the president has decided he can legally do.  So they are claiming the right for the president to define all U.S. law according to his own terms.  The question is whether or not that makes sense and whether any future president will be able to undo that.

OLBERMANN:  And there could be a problem with that in later life if you have one guy interpreting the laws.  The last thing is strategy.  Is there strategy here in the last couple of days or are we getting super paranoid.  This story of waterboarding tapes and waterboarding tapes destruction crashes around the administration which suddenly gets a gift a gift.  An ex-CIA man says it was torture but it produced 100 percent accurate intelligence even though I can‘t remember it right now and it was necessary then but we shouldn‘t do it again.  Is that coincidental?

MADDOW:  We don‘t know why John Kiriakou came out now and we don‘t know why he said exactly what he said when he said it but I do know what the effect of it has been.  And the effect of it has been that the story is oh, does waterboarding actually give us good information.  Which, it seemed clear before it didn‘t.  And we are not talking about the fact that General Hartmann said today that if U.S. prisoners are tortured with waterboarding abroad the U.S. can no longer say that would be a crime.  That ought to be the story today.

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.

MADDOW:  Yeah.

OLBERMANN:  Good luck out there, boys.

MADDOW:  Yeah.

OLBERMANN:  Something else we are sending you in to battle without. 

Rachel Maddow of Air America.  As always, great thanks, Rach.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The annual White House Christmas video is out.  And the rumors are true.  Barney the dog walked out in the middle of a scene.  This is over.

And when you say you saw a pig floating over Battersea Power Station, what exactly do you mean, ma‘am?  That‘s ahead.

But first time for our nightly visit to three of the other 47 Bush scandals squeezed off the front page by the current Bush scandal.  “Bushed.”

Number three Blackwatergate.  Kevin Berry, the head of the State Department‘s Bureau of Diplomatic Security which was overseeing State‘s contract with Blackwater USA has retired.

He announced it about November 26.  He retired November 30.  Bye bye.

Number two Commutationgate.  You‘ll remember Scooter Libby dropped his legal appeal of his conviction.  But just when you think the White House might now think itself able to say something about Libby or the president‘s commutation of his sentence, even though he worked for the president and even though the commutation occurred before the appeal process had ended?  Nuh-uh.  Dana Perino has found a new excuse.  I forget there is a civil case pending on this issue.  I did forget.  The Wilsons have filed a case in civil court it was dismissed and they are on appeal.

And number one, Gonzogate, the most perfidious attorney general gets a farewell gift.  “The American Bar Association Journal‘s” lawyer of the year award.  And before you say, huh?  The quote from its publisher Edward Adams, “Think about ‘Time‘ magazine‘s person of the year.  In years past they have named people like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin.”  Nice comparisons, I understand that a letter to the editor in protest is being written right now by Stalin‘s ghost.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this day in 1968 we lost one of the singular characters of the 20th century when the brilliant actress Tallulah Bankhead died after lifetime of excess at the age 66.  Though her last performance was on “Batman” 41 years ago, her appearance in and during the filming of the 1944 film “Lifeboat” is still a favorite legend in Hollywood.

The movie set was accessible only by climbing a ladder.  Ms. Bankhead

never wore underwear.  She always climbed up first.  When he was here,

Norman Lloyd told me that, as news spread around the studio lot, everyday

the number of stage hands working on “Life Boat” mysteriously increased.  A

studio mogul supposedly went to director Alfred Hitchcock to complain about

Bankhead‘s exhibitionism.  But Hitchcock reportedly answered, “That‘s not

my department.”  The mogul supposedly demanded then to know whose

department is it?  “Make-up,” Hitchcock replied.  Or, perhaps, hair-

dressing.  Let‘s play “Oddball”

We begin at the Battersea power station in London.  You may recall the painting of the power station from a cover of Pink Floyd‘s 1977 album “Animals”, the one with the pig flying over it.  And, 30 years ago - 30 years later, rather—pigs might fly again.  This time it‘s no normal pig, it‘s spider pig.  Can he swing from a web?  No, he can‘t.  He is a pig.  It‘s another genius marketing ploy by the “Simpsons” people on the day that the DVD of the movie is released.  What‘s even more genius: the marketing hired an armed guard equipped with a high-powered rifle trained on old spidey just in case he decided to wander. 

To Tokugawa, in Japan, where scientists have created the world‘s first fearless mouse.  Either that or the cat here is a double agent.  Japanese scientists have genetically engineered the mouse to have no fear of felines by removing the receptors of the brain-sense odor of the cat.  Scientists thus removed the stimulus that invokes the sense of fear.  Scientists think they may be able to use what they learned here and apply it to congressional Democrats. 

Another Republican matinee debate.  What a surprise.  Alan Keyes?  Alan Keyes is making sense?  Alan Keyes?  That‘s better than Alan Sense is making keys. 

And the hostage drama at Britney Spears‘ house.  Alright, that‘s overselling it—she is not a hostage.  She just doesn‘t feel well.  The story‘s ahead but time now for COUNTDOWN‘s best three persons in the world.  Number three, best in rationalization:  I received this today from a colleague.  Why Cornell should get a shot at this year‘s college football championship game: Ohio State lost to Illinois which lost to Michigan.  Michigan lost to Appalachian State which lost to Walford.  Walford lost to Elange.  They lost to Ferman and Ferman lost to Hostra.  Hostra lost to Northeastern.  Northeastern lost to Rhode Island which lost to Fordham.  Fordham lost to Bucknell and Bucknell lost to Cornell.  My alma mater has not won the national football championship since 1939.  We need all the rationalizations we can get. 

Number 2, best warning label: Bob D. Jones, organizer of the Whacky Warning Label Contest selected this warning from a small tractor: “Danger!  Avoid death.”

And number one, best picture: Simon Johnson of Britain‘s Wild Trout Trust who says he can explain this trout on a farm in Allsport, Hampshire, England, leaping three feet out of the water into a drainage pipe only eight inches in diameter.  Is it legit?  Who knows?  But Johnson says it could be.  Brown trouts do have migratory tendencies and swim upstream.  The water coming down from the pipe is oxygenating the pond.  They might well think it is a waterfall and trying to head up it to find a place to spawn.  Never mind spawning!  If they can do this, they need a theatrical agent.  I mean, it‘s better than dancing with the stars.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses: the final chance for candidates to stand out from the pack.  And, instead, in our third story in the COUNTDOWN, substance gave way to showmanship as a man almost nobody knew was running for president joined the eight other candidates on stage.  Former MSNBC host Alan Keyes, the guy who once did a show here in which he looked around the studio as he spoke instead of looking straight at the camera, leading some viewers to say to themselves, “I‘m the one in the middle, buddy.”  Mr. Keyes had been at the “Tavis Smiley Debate” in September, skipped by the top five Republican candidates.  Previously, Mr. Keyes had apparently been trying to be the first man to be nominated in secret.  Today, he reminded everybody that he was still around, especially the moderator, the editor of the “Des Moines Register”, Ms. Carolyn Washburn.  She is the one you will hear muttering, “Sheesh!” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROLYN WASHBURN, EDITOR, DES MOINES REGISTER:  Mr. Keyes, how would you guarantee an open White House?

ALAN KEYES, PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDER:  I think, the most important thing is to be absolutely authentic about who you are.  What I think is that a lot of folks out there ought to understand that what you are watching represents the situation in our country. 

WASHBURN:  Congressman Paul, what‘s the biggest obstacle standing in the way of improving education?

KEYES:  Excuse me, do I have to raise my hand to get a question?  I would like to address that question. 

WASHBURN:  I‘m getting to you. 

KEYES:  No, you are not.  You haven‘t in several go-around so I have to make an issue out of it.  I would like to address the question of education. 

WASHBURN:  Go ahead. 

KEYES:  I don‘t wish you to pass on without me.

WASHBURN:  Go ahead.  Please.  You have 30 seconds. 

KEYES:  They have a minute, why do I get 30 seconds?  Your unfairness is now becoming so apparent that the voters in Iowa must understand there is a reason for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Moderator Washburn will be trying this again; discovered what all of us who have tried to do one of these things have discovered: candidates may promise to abide by the debate rules but once it starts, they view each oxygen atom in the room as being worthy of a battle to the death. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WASHBURN:  I would like to see a show of hands: how many of you believe global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity?

KEYES:  I‘m not doing hand shows today. 

WASHBURN:  No hand shows?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE CANDIDATE:  I‘m with him. 

WASHBURN:  Does that mean—is that ‘yes‘ or ‘no‘ for you?  Do you believe that global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity?

KEYES:  Do you want to give me a minute to answer that?

WASHBURN:  No, I don‘t.  I.

KEYES:  Well, then, I‘m not going to answer it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, the national front runner who is currently scraping along with only five percent of the Iowa vote, according to the latest MSNBC McClatchey poll there, facing questions on his own credibility on actions trying to explain away putting his mistress‘s security on the taxpayer dime in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR, NEW YORK CITY:  This was a bookkeeping practice.  The way it was done, actually made it more available to freedom of information act requests.  Had it been done just in the police department, nobody would have ever found it and everything that was laid out a few weeks ago have been laid out six years ago—very well known.  Some of the things that I wish—if I had led a perfect life would have happened differently - but it was all very well known.  On the issue of transparency, I can‘t think of a public figure that‘s had a more transparent life than I‘ve had. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joined now by “Washington Post” associate editor and columnist Eugene Robinson.  Gene, thanks for your time tonight. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: 

Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right, “everyone knew everything six years ago”, says Mr. Giuliani.  Did everyone know that he was telling the truth today?  Did anybody buy this? 

ROBINSON:  You know, just move along, folks, nothing to see here.  Just move along - no!  Not everybody knew this.  Not everybody knew that Rudy Giuliani had hidden, had not only paid these expenses on behalf of his mistress but hidden them in the accounts of the Loft Board and other obscure agencies in New York City where, obviously, no one was ever supposed to find them.  You have the notion that, somehow, this displays his transparency and this made it easier to find rather than putting them, you know, under the budget line that says, oh something like “police department security detail for mayor and mistress” or something like that.  I mean, it‘s just absurd.  And, I can‘t imagine that anyone is going to buy that.  And, in other forums, one would hope his opponents would pounce on this as lustily as we in the media have. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh but, you know, one of them at least has corrupted his own visiting nurse association or something like that with something similar, so they are probably leaving it alone for that reason. 

ROBINSON:  Probably. 

OLBERMANN:  Walk me through one of the war games that‘s played with the Republican nomination.  Huckabee surges up in Iowa which has happened, neutralizing Romney which has to some degree happened.  Romney then knifes Huckabee which certainly is happening.  Giuliani is then left to fend off Thompson who gets bored and goes home.  Did we see any of that beginning to play out today?

ROBINSON:  We saw some of it.  I wish we have gotten to see a little more of it.  You know, this kind of fight between Romney and Huckabee.  It‘s being waged largely on the field of theology.  And the reported comments by Huckabee, for example, about Mormonism and—don‘t they believe—aren‘t they the ones that believe that Satan is Jesus‘ brother or something like that?  You know, it would have been good to have them, see them go after each other on that.  Since, after all, each claims to be basically divinely inspired and commanded by the Almighty to become president of the United States.  I‘m defined by my faith.  Freedom requires religion.  So, you know, duke it out. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but it‘s more than that because Huckabee has got - I would just like to hear you ask him this question.  Huckabee has got a degree in theology which he has brought up several times in the campaign.  And somebody said, “You have a degree in theology and you don‘t know the answer to your own question about somebody else‘s faith?  Where did you get this degree?”

ROBINSON:  You‘re right.  It makes one suspect that he actually knew the answer quite well and that he might have been just, you know, kind of dropping a little hint with the little deniability there. 

OLBERMANN:  And then apologize for it afterwards what nobody knows about that. 

ROBINSON:  Oh, so sorry.

OLBERMANN:  Or, it. Be honest with me, Gene, did you know that Alan Keyes was running for president or were you like me in thinking this was a tape from 1996 or 2000?

ROBINSON:  I did watch the Morgan State debate.  I thought it was like some sort of acid flashback.  I didn‘t really believe what I had seen.  But, here he was in full flower, obviously not taking his meds.  It was, you know, it was just kind of a bizarre side show.  I did, like you, feel sorry for poor Carolyn Washburn having to deal with the likes of Alan Keyes who runs for president professionally.  This is what he does to make a living, apparently. 

OLBERMANN:  And, incidentally, six MSNBC executives keeled over when he popped up on our network this afternoon.  Anyway, Eugene Robinson from “The Washington Post”.  As always, our thanks. 

ROBINSON:  Good to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  No debate at the White House.  Barney, the dog, has left the set, bowing out - in this case, bow-wowing out  -- of the presidential Christmas movie.

And, he‘s back: Bill O., explaining he has now won the war to defend waterboarding, facing Messrs. Romney and Thompson in an epic battle for “Worst Person” honors tonight on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Britney Spears refuses to leave her house.  Barney, the dog, refuses to stay in frame for the annual White House Christmas video.  A huge battle for “Worst Persons” tonight between Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney taking on the return of the titan, Bill O. is back in competition.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Evidence tonight that the writers‘ strike, now in its sixth week, is taking a toll even on our nation‘s capitol.  Our number two story tonight “Keeping Tabs”.  Barney cam is back and literally ‘badder‘ than ever.  This year‘s theme: “Holiday in the National Parks.”  Barney and Ms. Beasley frolic about the White House, helping decorate while learning what it takes to become junior park rangers.  The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair—that was not he.  That was country music star Alan Jackson.  They both make quick guest appearances:  But the marquee performances come, of course, from the first family. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  Hey, Barney, I love the outdoors.  And there is nothing greater than our national parks.  You and Ms. Beasley could be junior park rangers if you want to.  But you are sure going to have to learn about the national parks if you want to be a junior park ranger. 

PRESIDENTIAL DAUGHTER 1:  Hey, Barney, did I hear you and Ms. Beasley are trying to become junior park rangers?  That‘s great! 

PRESIDENTIAL DAUGHTER 2:  We love the national parks.  Remember? I got engaged in one.

FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH:  Barney and Ms. Beasley, look at all the exciting things that park rangers do.  Park rangers are scientists and historians.  They do everything from law enforcement to fire management to search and rescue.  Our national parks are so important. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So important that our First Lady had to tell us twice. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MRS. BUSH:  Barney and Beasley, I‘m so proud that y‘all wanted to become national park junior rangers.  Our national parks are so important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Was she reading to those dogs?  The only actual funny moment came in an unscripted blooper—one the White House included after the credits.  In the year that has seen the president lose Karl Rove, Alberta Gonzales, Karen Hughes, Dan Bartlett, and Harriet Myers, it makes you wonder if the president‘s insistence that he stay his course even if his only support came from the First Lady and Barney might have deeper meaning than we suspect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BUSH:  Barney, I know you love the national parks, too.  Hey, did you know the White House grounds are a national park?  Come here, Barney.  Yes, you come here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Barney doing what Britney Spears would not: leave the house.  After months of pretty tepid news on this subject, this is actually a dilly.  That‘s ahead but, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World”.  The bronze for Republican candidate Fred Thompson on the national intelligence estimate which all 16 intel agencies agree Iran stopped its efforts to create nuclear weapons in 2003.  The former senator says, quote, “they are undoubtedly intent upon nuclear weapons.  I don‘t care what the latest NIE says.  That‘s foolishness!  Represents their own inability to get a handle on it more than anything else.” 

Fred Thompson knows more than our intelligence agencies combined.  This is the same Fred Thompson who said in October that in trying to squeeze Iran, we should not count on any help from the Soviet Union. 

Our silver medallist tonight: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  After Governor Huckabee was quoted as asking if he was right that Mormon theology included believing that Jesus and the devil were brothers, before Huckabee apologized to Romney by phone, Romney said it was not that.  He slammed Huckabee and added attacking someone‘s faith, that‘s simply un-American.  That‘s the same Mitt Romney who explained last month that he would not have a Muslim in his cabinet because there were not enough Muslims in the country to justify appointing one.  Say nothing of how he attacked people who were not religious or not fervently religious. 

The winner, oh, he‘s back: Bill O. with another triumph.  Talking points believes firm legal boundaries must be set but the president should have a legal authority to order things like waterboarding.  For years, opponents of harsh methods have said they don‘t lead to reliable information.  But that is not true.  How does the Frank Burns of news know this?  The CIA agent who supervised the waterboarding of Al-Qaida big shot Abu Zubaydah said the interrogation method broke him and that means the waterboarding saved lives.  Perhaps, thousands of lives. 

Bill, when you are right, you are right.  John Kiriakou didn‘t witness the waterboarding but he claims Zubaydah did detail some terrorist plots.  Unfortunately, can‘t remember any of the plots and, I guess, he never checked to see if what Zubaydah checked out or was just crap he made up so he wouldn‘t drown him.  If such a reliable expert can base his absolute conclusions on absolutely nothing, then, Billy, so can you.  One guy who wasn‘t there and doesn‘t know what was said or if any of it was true, Bill O.‘s decisive source on why waterboarding is mandatory.  Bill O‘Reilly:

today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Britney Spears is a fugitive from justice tonight.  OK, not exactly, but this morning, she did stiff the lawyers for ex-husband who were set to depose her in the couple‘s ongoing custody battle.  Her excuse for skipping the deposition: high anxiety and we are not suggesting she rented the DVD of the Mel Brooks movie.  Our number one story: stand-off at the Britney Spears mansion.  When I say stand-off, I mean, she is not feeling at all well.  Spears was to appear this morning at 10:00 a.m. at the law offices of Mark Vincent Kaplan, Kevin Federline‘s attorney.  She never showed up. 

According to tmz.com, she was overwhelmed by the media attention outside her home and could not leave her house because she was sick with anxiety.  Spears was to be grilled by the ex‘s attorneys.  The deposition was expected to last all day. 

Questions range from her alleged drug and alcohol use to her general fitness to be a parent.  Federline‘s attorneys telling the media outside his offices he would seek relief for having had his time wasted and that Spears will show at another date.  Attorneys for Ms. Spears have yet to comment.  When celebrities don‘t show up, our next guest does.  Michael Musto of the “Village Voice”, author of the great holiday stocking-stuffer, “La Dolce Musto”.  Michael, good evening.

MICHAEL MUSTO, VILLAGE VOICE REPORTER:  Thank you for the plug. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, let‘s dig right into this.  Our reporter says she did not show up because she had anxiety.  Are you buying that?

MUSTO:  Yes, she always gets nervous about exams.  She even skipped finals at the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts.  The only test that Britney does well at are, like, home pregnancy tests and her STD tests.  You know she‘s excited because, like, “I came up positive!  Isn‘t that great?”

OLBERMANN:  Thank you for that “All About Eve” reference.  Everybody.

MUSTO:  I‘m glad you got it.  And you‘re straight.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s not forget about the real victims in this tragic no-show today—the people that really wind up suffering because she couldn‘t drag herself away from watching “Card Sharks” or whatever she was doing—the media, the throngs of  photogs who never got a shot at her entering or leaving those law offices.  Is this not a slap in the face of those reporters and, by extension, to you and me?

MUSTO:  No.  I got the book, didn‘t I?  I‘m the one people turn to when nothing happens: “no news, get Musto.”  Britney not showing up - that means I‘m bigger than Boy Shakira - or something.  I think, that‘s just fantastic. 

OLBERMANN:  Is that crowd - somebody said there was more than 100 photographers outside her house—is that standard for her or was there unusual swelling?  Was there any explanation for it?

MUSTO:  The only unusual swelling is on her boobies.  No, Britney the new Liz Taylor, minus the two Oscars and the charity work.  She is famous even when she is not famous.  100 photographers makes perfect sense for everything that she does.  I do wish, however, that some of them had covered the important stuff today, like Amy Winehouse used a clean needle and Jodie Foster came out as female.

OLBERMANN:  Where does this rank on the celebrity legal no shows because they do happen from, you know, the Michael Jackson infamous late arrival at the courtroom while wearing pajamas—if that‘s a one—and a Simpson-Brocko chase is a 10, where is this?

MUSTO:  Well, at least, O. J. didn‘t have tots on his lap when he was driving, but, I think Britney surpasses Jacko.  I mean, he was just late.  Britney didn‘t show up at all.  And if she did show up, she would have been on the same nightie that he wore.  Giver her credit here, Keith.  She‘s number one on this list.  Not her record, mind you, that was number two to the Eagles because of Wal-mart. Not that I read the Enquirer. 

OLBERMANN:  Spears and Federline, the ex, had been civil in the recent past.  They agreed out of court on a shared Christmas schedule on the two boys.  Is that, you know, all down the crapper now?  What are the holidays going to be like at shared Spears and Casa del Federline?

MUSTO:  Oh, they are going to have a white Christmas, if you know what I mean?  Getting the visual here?  She is going to have k-fed‘s nuts roasting on open fire.  I do think also the kids are going to gather around yon virgin—maybe not.  Look, I think, they are going to roast K-Fed‘s latest white rap record  with some stuffing and razzleberry-dressing.

OLBERMANN:  If they can find a copy of it. 

MUSTO:  He has got a copy.

OLBERMANN:  How is this all going to end, Michael, or maybe I‘m assuming too much in asking this question.  Let me rephrase it.  Will all this end, Michael?

MUSTO:  Yes, and it‘s going to turn out that they are already dead.  And Britney had a penis and K-Fed didn‘t and they are all going to drive off a cliff but not with tots on their lap and so am I.

OLBERMANN:  Last point: after the Paris Hilton story yesterday are you just glad we are not talking about Britney Spears and oompa-loompas tonight?

MUSTO:  Was the Paris Hilton story that she is now taking credit for keeping the elephants off the booze?

OLBERMANN:  No, no.  She saved an oompa-loompa yesterday. 

MUSTO:  She did?  Well, you know, there are a lot more oompa-loompas out there to save.  One oompa-loompa is not going to change the world.  That takes precedence. 

OLBERMANN:  The one and only Michael Musto as I duck in the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” reference to faze(ph) him.  I‘ll see you.

MUSTO:  And you‘re straight!

OLBERMANN:  Great thanks, Michael.

MUSTO:  OK.

OLBERMAN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,687th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  From New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann.  I think, I may take a couple nights off.  All right, I will be back tomorrow.  Good night and good luck.

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

END   

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